Seven Valleys From Faith to Enlightenment
I owe my enlightenment to the Quran. I was among those fanatical fools who did not want to read anything written against Islam. Sadly, that is the majority. When I read the Quran from cover to cover with the intent to understand its message, something hardly Muslims do, it became clear to me that this book is not from God. It is the drivel of a madman, filled with absurdities and violence. It was then that my journey to enlightenment began. The following is the tale of that odyssey.
I found myself traveling on a torturous road riddled with torments. While I was a believer, I lived in a blissful garden of ignorance where all my questions were answered. There, I did not have to think. All I had to do was to believe. When I read the Quran and asked the questions I was not supposed to ask I was kicked out of that paradise. The gates of that garden were closed to me forever. I had committed the unthinkable sin of thinking. I had eaten from the forbidden tree of knowledge, and my eyes had been opened. I could see the fallacy of it all along with my own nakedness. Everything with which I had rapped myself with, were not there anymore. I felt like the emperor who after shedding the lies finds himself naked. The fact is that I was naked all along, but lived in denial. I knew I would not be let into that paradise of oblivion again. Once you start thinking, you don’t belong there anymore. I had only one way to go and that was forward.
The road to enlightenment proved to be more arduous than I was prepared for. There were mountains of obstacles to climb and precipices of errors to avert. I traveled uncharted territories alone, not knowing what I would find next. This became my odyssey in the realm of understanding, which eventually led me to the citadel of enlightenment and freedom.
I will chart these territories for all those who also may want to commit the sin of thinking, find themselves kicked out of the paradise of ignorance and are en route to an unknown destination.
If you doubt, if the mantle of ignorance in which you have wrapped yourself in is shredded into pieces and you find yourself naked, know that you cannot stay in the paradise of ignorance any longer. You have been cast out forever. Just as a child, once out of the womb cannot go back, you will not be readmitted into that blissful garden again. Listen to one who has been there and done that and don’t cling despondently to those gates. That door is locked.
Instead look forward. You have a trip ahead of you. You can fly to your destination or you can crawl. I crawled! But because I crawled, I know this path quite well. I will chart the road, so hopefully your passage will be easier.
The passage from faith to enlightenment consists of seven valleys.
Valley of Denial
Denial is the state of oblivion. This is the paradise of faith. In this stage everything is rosy. Believers can’t see anything wrong with their faith. The majority of Muslims, actually all of them, are trapped in this stage. They are unable and unwilling to see anything wrong with their faith. Muhammad to them is the perfect example of human being even when they know he was a pedophile, a mass murderer and a rapist.
They can’t see what everybody else can see. The Quran says the earth is flat, sperm is created from the backbone, the sun sets in muddy water, the stars are below the moon, etc. but they explain away the unexplainable, bend all the rules of logic and find miracles in the Quran and convince themselves that it is right. Each time they are exposed to a fallacious statement in the Quran or a reprehensible conduct of Muhammad, they either deny the sources or justify them with moral relativism.
This is what I did in the first phase of my journey. Denial is a safe place. As long as you live in this state, you will not have to face the truth. As long as you don’t eat from the tree of knowledge you can remain blissfully in the paradise of ignorance indefinitely. In denial you find your comfort zone. In this state of oblivion you will not have to struggle and to find answers to your questions because you will have none. Here, everything is okay and fine.
If you have lived in a bubble of lies all your life, facing the truth can be painful. What hurts is the shattering of lies, the lies with which you are accustomed and have grown to love.
It is not easy for a Muslim to see Muhammad for who he was. How would a child react if he is told that his father is a murderer, a rapist, and a thief? A child who adulates his father will not be able to accept it even if all the proofs in the world are shown to him. He will call you a liar and will hate you for hurting him. He will curse you, consider you his enemy, and may even explode in anger and attack you. The bigger the adulation, the greater is the adverse reaction.
Denial is a self-defense mechanism. If pain of facing the truth is too great, denial will take that pain away. If a mother is informed that her child has died in an accident, her first reaction is often denial. At the moment of great catastrophes, one is often overwhelmed by a weary sense that all this is just a bad dream.
Muslims are cocooned in lies. Because speaking against Islam is a crime punishable by death, no one dares to tell the truth. Those who do don’t live long. The critics are quickly silenced. So how would you know the truth if all you hear are lies? On one hand the Quran claims to be a miracle and challenges anyone to produce a Surah like it, (Q: 2:23) and on the other hand it instructs its followers to kill anyone who dares to meet that challenge. If you ever dare to take up the challenge and produce a Surah as poorly written as those in the Quran you will be accused of mocking Islam for which the penalty is death. In this atmosphere of insincerity and deceit, truth is always the casualty.
The pain of coming face to face with the truth and realizing all that we believed are lies is very agonizing. The only way to avert that pain is denial.
Believers live in a blissful garden called certitude. This garden is reserved for the faithful, for those who don’t doubt and don’t think. They can believe that night is day and day is night, if it is written. If God says so, then it must be so. They can easily believe that Muhammad climbed to the seventh heaven, met with God, split the moon and conversed with jinns. The absurdity of such fairy tales does not bother them. If the Quran says so, then it must be true.
As Voltaire said, those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities. And this is so true, when it comes to Islam. Muslims believe that killing infidels is good, bombing is holy, stoning is divine, beating wives is okay and hating the unbelievers is the will of God.
How can they see the truth if they are so hermetically cocooned in lies? They read only lies and refuse to read anything that may cause them doubt their belief. They are not blinded to the deplorable state of the Umma, the Muslim community at large, but they deceive themselves and tell themselves that if only they practiced the true Islam, all their problems will go away. They are convinced that the problem with Islam is actually the Muslims and not Islam itself.
These deniers come in two categories. One group holds the view that the solution is to follow Islam more. These are the Salafis, the ones we call the “extremists.” But there is nothing extreme about them. They just want to practice Islam as it was intended by its founder.
The second group believes that the solution is to practice Islam less. They think that if Muslims ignore what Muhammad actually thought and dilute his teachings with western values of democracy, freedom and equality, Islam can be a perfect religion.
Both these groups live in denial. The first group is unable to admit that the problem with Islam is Islam itself and the more you immerse yourself in it the worst it becomes. The second group is unable to see that Islam cannot be reformed, that this religion is rotten to its core and that if you mix ice cream with dung you don’t get chocolate fudge.
Muslims are no worse and no better than others. It’s Islam that makes them commit atrocities. When they follow Islam and try to emulate their prophet they can become monsters. Islam rears the criminal instinct in people. The more a person is Islamist, the more bloodthirsty, hate mongering, and zombie he or she becomes.
I wanted to deny what I was reading. I wanted to believe that the real meaning of the Quran is something else, but I couldn’t. I could no longer fool myself saying these inhumane verses are taken out of context.
Valley of Shock
It is not that I did not know the things I was reading. I had read them and heard them before and did not pay attention. I liked to live in denial. It was the best place to be. Why would I want to doubt and put in jeopardy my faith and peace of mind?
As I kept reading, the questions kept popping up and I would brush them off. Eventually there came a time that I could no longer deny. It wasn’t just one thing, but the sum of many things. One more absurdity or evilness was the straw that broke the back of the proverbial camel, in this case, my faith. That was the crucial moment that changed my life, when I entered in the state of shock. My perspective of reality was jolted and all the questions that I had previously brushed off became important again. They hadn’t gone away. I had merely ignored them. I found myself standing face to face with the truth – the truth that I had done everything to avoid. I thought I was after the truth but I was not. Far from it, I was doing everything I could to cling to my faith. Truth was the last thing I wanted to see. It is amazing how we humans can deceive ourselves. All my life, I only saw things I wanted to see and was deliberately blind to things that I did not want to see. This came to me so natural. I could see a mole as mountain, if it confirmed my bias and don’t see the mountain if it challenged my faith. Banal teachings in the Quran such as be good to parents, relatives, orphans, and the needy; speak kindly and pay the poor-due, sounded divine, and evil teachings such as casting terror in the hearts of unbelievers, crucifying them and chopping their hands and arms were insignificant.
This truth was not what I wanted to see. But there it was, glaring at me right into my soul. I had no one to blame or to curse. I had found the truth on my own. Whom could I call a liar? My own eyes? And that is what I did. I took the blame on myself. I denied my own intelligence and cursed my own self.
I had seen the truth and there was no denying it anymore. This was the most painful process, the hardest valley to cross. But it is a necessary one. There is no going around it. You must cross this tortuous land if you want to reach the citadel of enlightenment.
However, each person is different. What shocks one person, may not shock another. I was shocked for example, when I read that Muhammad had instructed his followers to beat their wives and called women “deficient in intelligence.” Yet, I have come to know Muslim women who defend him and have no difficulty accepting these misogynistic teachings. It’s not that they agree they that are deficient in intelligence or that it is okay to be beaten by their husbands. They just block out that information. They read it, but it doesn’t sink in. The denial acts as a shield that covers and protects them, saves them from facing the truth and its painful consequences.
Once that shield is up, nothing can bring it down. But if their belief is attacked from all directions they can’t shield themselves completely. Everyone has an Achilles heel. If they are bombarded with many shocking verses of the Quran and horrendous tales about Muhammad, they will be eventually hit. And once that happens, it will have a domino effect. The first falling denial will flip over other walls of denial and suddenly their entire faith will collapse like a house of cards. That is what happened to me.
Shocks are painful, but they can be lifesavers. Shocks are used by doctors to bring back to life dead patients.
The Internet has changed the landscape. Now, guns, prisons and death squads are much less powerful and pen is almighty. For the first time Muslims cannot stop the truth by killing its messengers. Now a great number of them are coming in contact with the truth and they feel helpless. They want to silence this voice, but they cannot. They want to kill those speaking the truth, but they cannot. They try to ban the sites exposing their cherished beliefs, sometimes they succeed momentarily, but the message gets out anyway.
When I first started writing about Islam I hosted it at Tripod.com. Muslims forced Tripod to shut it down and they complied without notice to appease the Muslims. I got my domain and started again. So the old way of killing the apostates, burning their books and silencing them by terror does not work anymore. They cannot stop people from reading. Even though my site is banned in most Islamic countries, the message has gone out and a great number of Muslims who never knew the truth about Islam have been exposed to it for the first time, and are shocked.
I met a lady on the net who converted to Islam and started to wear the Islamic veil. She had a website with her picture completely covered in a black veil along with her story of how she had converted to Islam. She was very active and used to advise others not to read my writings. But when she read the story of Safiyah, the Jewish woman that Muhammad captured and raped after killing her father, husband and many of her relatives, she was shocked. She questioned other Muslims about it and received no response, only warning that she should not ask impertinent questions. Then the floodgate of doubts opened and she was cast out of the paradise of ignorance. She kept writing to me and asking questions. Finally, she passed through the other stages from blind faith to enlightenment quickly and wrote to thank me for guiding her through this arduous path.
When people learn about the unholy life of Muhammad and the absurdities of the Quran they are shocked. My goal is to unveil the truth about Islam and Muhammad and bombard Muslims with facts. They will be angry. They will curse me, insult me and tell me that after reading my articles their faith in Islam is strengthened. That is when I know that I have sown the seed of doubt in them. They say all this because they are shocked. The seed of doubt is planted and it will germinate. In some people it may take years, but it will eventually germinate.
Doubt is the greatest gift we can give to each other. It is the gift of enlightenment. Doubt will set us free. It’s through doubt that knowledge is advanced and the mysteries of the world are unlocked. Blind faith is what keeps us ignorant.
One of hurdles we have to overcome is tradition and false values imposed on us by thousands of years of religious upbringing. People still value faith and considers doubt as the sign of weakness. They talk of “men of faith” with respect and disdain men of little faith. We are screwed up in our values.
Faith means belief without evidence. Gullibility also means belief without evidence. There is no glory in faithfulness. Faithfulness is synonymous with gullibility, credulity and susceptibility. How can one be proud of such qualities?
Doubt on the other hand means the reverse of the above. It means being capable of thinking independently, of questioning. We owe our science and our modern civilization to men and women who doubted, not to those who believed. Those who doubted were the pioneers; they were the leaders of thought. They were philosophers, inventors, and discoverers. Those who believed lived and died as followers, made little or no contribution to the advancement of science and of human understanding.
Shock shatters the walls of denial. One cannot stay in denial forever. Soon the night will fall and the cold shivering reality freezes one’s bones and you realize that you are out of the paradise of ignorance. When you know too much you become an outcast. Fearfully you look at the dark and twining road barely visible in the twilight of your uncertainties, and gingerly you take your first step towards an unknown destiny. You grapple and fumble, reluctantly trying to stay focused. Fear overwhelms you. You try to run back, but the door is closed. Whoever eats from the tree of knowledge can no longer return to ignorance. What is learned cannot be unlearned.
Valley of Guilt
Those who read my articles and are hurt by what I say about the Quran and Islam are lucky. They have me to hate. They can curse me and direct all their anger at me. But I had no such luxury. I could not blame someone else for I had come to that truth on my own without help. Whom would I hate? Myself? And that is what I did. I hated myself. At this stage I felt tremendous guilt. I felt ashamed of my thoughts and my doubts. I thought maybe God is testing me, or perhaps he is punishing me. Why would he put these doubts in my mind? I committed no sin. I never read any book that was slightly against Islam. One friend of mine expressed her curiosity about Salman Rushdie’s book and I gave her a piece of my mind. I thought books that may rob one of faith are like poison. they should be avoided. My doubts were not the result of me deviating from the “right” path. I got them after reading the Quran, with the intention to understand the message of God to mankind. And what I read sounded more like the message of Devil.
The guilt lasted for many months. I hated myself for having these thoughts. I spoke with learned people whom I trusted, people who were not only knowledgeable but also wise. I heard very little that could quench the burning fire within me. One of these wise men told me not to read the Quran for a while. He told me to pray and read only books that would strengthen my faith. I did that, but it did not help. The thoughts about the absurd, sometimes ruthless and ridiculous verses of the Quran kept throbbing in my head. Each time I looked at my bookshelf and saw that book, I felt pain. I hid it behind the other books. I thought if I don’t think about it my negative thoughts will go away and I will regain my faith. They didn’t go away. I denied the truth as much as I could, until I could no longer.
I hated myself for thinking, for doubting and finding fault with what I regarded to be the words of God. One day I decided enough is enough. I told myself that it is not my fault. I am not going to carry this guilt forever. If God gave me a brain, it is because he wants me to use it. Why should I feel guilty for asking questions? The questions were unanswered. And this led me to the next stage, the valley of confusion.
Valley of Confusion
If what I perceive as right and wrong is skewed, then it is not my fault. God tells me killing is bad and I know it is bad because I don’t want to be killed. Then why did his messenger kill so many innocent people and ordered his followers to kill those who don’t believe? If rape is bad, and I know it is bad because I don’t want it to happen to people I love, why did Allah’s prophet rape the women he captured in his raids? If slavery is bad, and I know it is bad because I hate to lose my freedom and become a slave, why did the Prophet enslave so many people and made himself rich by selling them? If imposition of religion is bad, and I know that it is bad because I don’t like another person to force on me a religion that I don’t want, then why did the Prophet eulogize Jihad and exhort his followers? If God tells me something is good, and I know that it is good because it feels good to me, then why did his prophet do the opposite of that thing?
Like all Muslims, I was exposed to, and had gobbled all the lies, absurdities and inhumanities that are inherent in Islam, uncritically. I was brought up as a religious person. I believed in whatever I was told. These lies were given to me in small doses, gradually, since childhood. I was never given an alternative to compare. To make an analogy, think how vaccination works. I was immune to the truth. But when I started to read the Quran seriously, with intent to understand it, I felt nauseated. It was just too much of it all at once. I had taken that poison in bits and pieces all my life, but once I devoured all of it, I felt sick to my stomach. Hardly I have read a book as evil as the Quran. yes I’ve read also the Mein Kampf.
I don’t think I was an irrational person, but somehow I managed to silence my rational thinking when it came to Quran and Islam. I had become insensitive to lies. When I found something that didn’t make sense, I brushed it off and said to myself that one has to look at the “big picture.” That idyllic big picture, however, was nowhere to be found except in my own imagination. I was connecting the dots as I pleased and making an abstract ideal image of Islam in my mind. But that beautiful Islam was my Islam and not the Islam of Muhammad. I was its founder not that mass murderer. It was good because I was its prophet.
That is why Muslims love Islam. Very few Muslims have read the Quran to understand it. Yes they chant it and often in a language that they don’t understand, but few know what they read. Even fewer are those who have read the Sira and the hadith. The Islam they live is the Islam made by them. They create the best religion in their mind and when you tell the truth about Islam they see no resemblance of it with the one they have envisioned.
When I read the Quran I discovered a distinctly different picture than the one I had created in my mind. The new picture emerging from the pages of that book was a violent, intolerant, irrational, arrogant religion, a far cry from the religion of peace, equality and tolerance.
I had to deny all that so I could keep my sanity, but for how long? How can one face sunshine and still deny the existence of the sun? I was reading the Quran in Arabic so I could not blame a bad translation. I used translations in Persian and in English side by side, just to make sure I am not misunderstanding. I realized many translations in English are not entirely reliable. The translators have tried very hard to hide the inhumanity and the violence of the Quran by twisting the words and adding their own words, sometimes in parenthesis or brackets, to soften its harsh tone. The Arabic Quran is more shocking than its English translations. The Persian translation is a lot closer to the truth. And I believe it’s because the English speaking people need to be deceived whereas the Persians are already Muslims and there is no need to sugarcoat the Quran for them.
I was confused and I did not know where to turn. My faith had been shaken and my world had fallen apart. I could no longer deny what I was reading. But I could not accept the possibility that this was all a huge lie. How could it be, I kept asking myself, that so many people have not seen the truth and I see it? How could great seers, like Jalaleddin Rumi not see that Muhammad was an impostor and that the Quran is a hoax? Am I getting mad? Do I pretend to understand better than a billion plus people who believe in Muhammad? I had troubling question and no answers. Confusion is the best way to describe it.
eventually I learned that the whole humanity can be wrong, and in fact given the inherent silliness of our species it is more likely that the majority be wrong on any given subject than right. Great sages can be also very wrong. They are humans and fallible like everyone else.
Valley of Disillusionment
After overcoming the denial, going through the shock, getting rid of my guilt and experiencing confusion, dismay and disillusionment followed. I felt sorry for having wasted so many years of my life and for all the Muslims who are still trapped in these foolish beliefs. I felt pity for all those “sages” such as the great Rumi who spent all his life searching for meaning and truth, but found nothing except lies and like a blind leading other blinds led countless others into their perdition. Great men like him, suddenly appeared as great fools. So many millions of souls were perished for a lie. Muslims massacred over 280 million people and that does not count the number of people they killed among each other. So much pain, so much sorrow for nothing – all for a deception, all for believing in the lies of a madman. How many people gave their lives and cherished in the thought that they will go to paradise when in reality, if there is an afterlife, they went to hell for the crimes that they committed against their fellow beings in the name of God.
Millions of believers left their homes and families to wage war in the name of God, never to return, thinking they are spreading the truth when all they did was spread evil and suffering. Civilizations were destroyed, libraries were burned, and so much knowledge was lost, all for nothing. I recalled my father waking up in the early hours of the morning and in the icy water of winter performing vodu. I recalled him coming home hungry and thirsty during the month of fasting and I thought of the billions of people who torture themselves in this way for a lie. The realization that all this was a sinister deception and that my life was a waste, and a billion other people are still lost in this arid desert of ignorance, chasing a mirage was very saddening.
Prior to this awakening God was always in the back of my mind. I used to talk to him in my imagination and those conversations seemed real. I thought God was watching and taking account of every good act that I do. The feeling that someone was watching over me, guiding my steps and protecting me was very comforting. It was difficult to accept that there is no such thing as Allah and even if there is a God, it is not Allah. I did not give up the belief in God, but by then I knew for sure that if this universe has a maker, it cannot be the deity that Muhammad had envisioned. Allah was ignorant to the core. The Quran is full of errors. The creator of this universe cannot be as stupid as the god of the Quran. Allah could not have existed anywhere else except in the mind of a sick Man. It became clear to me that Allah was a figment of Muhammad’s imagination, indeed his own alter ego. How disappointed I was when I realized all these years I had been worshiping a fantasy at best and the Devil at worst.
Valley of Depression
This feeling of loss and disappointment was accompanied by a sense of sadness – a kind of depression. It was as if my whole world had fallen apart. I felt like the ground I was standing on was no longer there and I was falling into a bottomless pit. It felt like being in hell.
I was bewildered, pleading for help and no one could help. First I felt ashamed and hated myself for having such thoughts. The guilt was accompanied by a profound sense of loss and depression. As a rule, I am a positive thinker. I see the good side of everything. I always think tomorrow is going to be better than today. I am not the kind of person who is easily depressed. But this feeling of loss was overwhelming. I still recall that weight in my heart. I thought God has forsaken me and I did not know why. “Is that God’s punishment?” I kept asking myself. I do not remember hurting anyone ever. I went out of my way to help anyone whose life crossed mine and asked me for help. So, why would God want to punish me in this way? Why was He not answering my prayers? Why has He left me to myself and with these thoughts with no answers? Does he want to test me? Then where are the answers to my prayers? Would I pass this test if I became stupid and ignore my reason? If so, why did he give me a brain and the ability to think and reason? Does God want only stupid people in his paradise? Will he send all the thinking people to hell?
I felt betrayed and violated. I cannot say which feeling was predominant. At times I was disillusioned, sad, or dismayed. Even though faith is false, it is still sweet. It is very comforting to believe.
Juxtaposing my feelings of sadness and loss, I felt liberated. Curiously, I no longer felt confused or guilty. I knew for sure the Quran was a hoax and Muhammad was an impostor.
To overcome this sadness I tried to keep myself busy with other activities. I even took dancing lessons and experienced what it means to be alive, to be free of guilt, to enjoy life and to just be normal. I realized how much I had missed out and how foolishly I had deprived myself of the simple pleasures of life. Of course this is how cults exert their control over their believers. I was living in constant fear of God, and I thought this was normal. I am talking of pleasures like sleeping in the morning, dancing, dating, or sipping a glass of fine wine.
Valley of Anger
At this time, I entered another valley in my journey towards enlightenment. I was anger. I was angry for having believed in those lies, for wasting my life chasing a wild goose, with my culture for the wrong values that it inculcated in me, angry with my parents for teaching me a lie, with myself for not thinking before, for believing in then uncritically, for trusting an impostor. I was angry with God for letting me down, for not intervening and stopping this lie in in its inception – a deception inseminated in His name.
When I saw pictures of millions of Muslims who, with so much devotion, go to Saudi Arabia, many of them spending their life’s savings to perform hajj, I felt sorry, and angry. Who will awaken these people and tell them you are chasing a mirage? When I read someone had converted to Islam, something Muslims love to advertise and make a big issue of I became saddened and angry. I was sad for that poor soul and angry with the lies.
I was angry with the whole world that tries to protect this lie, defend it, and even abuse you if you raise your voice to tell the truth. It is not just Muslims, but also the non-Muslims who do everything they can to defend this lie. I can understand Muslims. They are deceived, but what is wrong with the non-Muslims who shamelessly defend Islam and attack its critics? It’s okay to criticize anything but Islam. What amazed me and made me even angrier was the resistance I faced when I tried to tell others that Islam is a lie.
Citadel of Enlightenment
The anger did not last long, but it was good because it energized me. It made me more resolute and determined to fight this evil and eradicate it. I knew that Muhammad was no messenger of God, that he was a charlatan, a mentally deranged man, a demagogue whose only intention was to beguile people and satisfy his own narcissistic needs. I knew all those childish stories of a hell with scorching fire and a heaven with rives of wine, milk and honey and high bosom virgins were the figments of a sick, wild and insecure mind of a man in need to dominate.
I could not be angry with my parents, for they did their best and taught me what they thought to be the best. I could not be angry with my culture because my people were just as misinformed and misguided as my parents. In Islam everyone is a victim. They are victims and victimizers at the same time. They believe in this lie and are sincere in their belief. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and Islam is a perfect example of that.
Truth is liberating. Not only it breaks the shackles of lies, the freedom will allow you to get out of the cave of ignorance and explore the world and see things that you could not envision exist. For the first time I could see people as people and not as believers and non-believers. Suddenly you don’t see yourself as a member of a group but of all mankind. This is an exhilarating feeling of liberation. The distrust and estrangement gives way to the realization of the oneness of humanity.
Today, I am determined to fight Islam, spread the truth and awaken as many Muslims as I can. I do this for them and for their victims. The only remedy to darkness is light. The only cure to lies is truth. Islam can be eradicated with the spread of truth. Truth will set the world free.
This was the tale of my odyssey from faith to enlightenment, or rather from slavery to freedom. Like all believers I started with denial. But I had also a desire to know and to learn. When I learned the truth I was shocked. I felt guilty and confused, disillusioned, depressed and angry. But once I crossed all these valleys, I felt liberated. Now I understand things I could never understand as a believer. I have reached enlightenment and that is a great place to be. I crossed the seven valleys from faith to enlightenment and made it successfully.
Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar, in his celebrated book mantiq al-tair, The Conference of the Birds, makes the birds cross seven valleys in order to find the Simorgh, the mythical bird (equivalent to Phoenix) to be their leader. When they reach the pond where is believed to be the dwelling place of the Simoragh only thirty of them are left. Si morgh also means thirty birds. The thirty birds look into the pond and see their own reflection, the reflection of thirty birds (si morgh). They realize they were the object of their quest, and that the Simorgh is them. (then like Obama they say, we are the one we were looking for!)
The seven valleys, as defined by Attar are Talab (Yearning), Eshq (Love), Marifat (Gnosis), Istighnah (Detachment), Tawheed (Unity of God), Hayrat (Bewilderment) and, finally, Faqr and Fana (Poverty and Self Effacement, i.e. Oblivion in God). These stages represent the stations that a Sufi or any believer must pass through to realize the true nature of God.
My seven valleys take you from where Attar leaves you, i.e. from faith to enlightenment, from self effacement to self discovery. I crossed Attar’s valleys and went beyond it. I saw what he failed to see, i.e. the true nature of God. Lo and behold God is not a being. It is not a HE but an IT. God is not the lawgiver, but the law itself. It is the Principle underlying everything. It does not send prophets nor does It answer prayers. It governs the universe without governing. It doesn’t do a thing and everything is done because of It.
I passed that stage of oblivion of which Attar talks about. That was the paradise of ignorance where I found my illusory bliss. My journey began from there and I will never want to experience that bliss again. The peace in ignorance is death of intelligence. My journey was towards enlightenment. Enlightenment is not about living blissfully. It is about understanding and living responsibly. It is the stage of maturity of mankind. You can go through Attar’s seven valleys and attain SELF-effacement and oblivion and live blissfully, or you can go through my seven valleys, learn the truth that is often not pretty and suffer. Life is suffering. It is a constant struggle, but it is in this struggle that humanity advances. Attar’s oblivion is stagnation of the mind. His ultimate destinations are faqr and fana, (poverty and self-annihilation) , in other words nihilism. My journey takes you to enlightenment, to enrichment of your soul, to understanding and to life. Attar’s destination is perdition; mine is self discovery, awareness and understanding.
Maybe those who have seen the movie Matrix can understand the difference. You can take the blue pill and live in lies and happily, or you can take the red pill and awaken to reality and see the world as is, which is not a happy place.
I wrote this article in 2001. This is the edited version.
Important: I wrote this many years ago. I accepted Jesus in 2013 and now believe in a personal God who answers prayers.