The Gospel of Damascus
An excerpt from the novel The Gospel of Damascus.
The Gospel of Damascus
A Manual of Faith for the Ends of Time
The Words of Yahya Nouri
(Compiled by Yunus Bukhari)
An uncompromising monotheistic sensibility of the heart will rise in the third millennium as the spiritual bond of the global community of believers. It will uphold an invitation to every member of the human race to have a direct personal relationship with the One who created this entire universe from naught. An invitation that does not entail casting aside the discoveries of science or the principles of universal human rights. A direct relationship with the Creator of the billions of galaxies and all that they contain. From the snowflake to the supernova. What is an individual human heart in front of such glory? Yet, it is invited to have a direct relationship with the One who is both completely transcendent and at once overwhelmingly immanent. How special we must be to receive such an invitation.
For thousands of years the vast majority of humans couldn’t relate to the divine except through the mediums of sculptures, images, and even people, righteous and otherwise. Later, they needed Hellenic mythology to help mediate the idea of pure monotheism. But this invitation implies that none of this is necessary – especially now. It implies that our hearts, insignificant as they may be, are equipped with the capacity to experience the majesty of the One.
The heavens and the planets failed to embrace My Majesty and yet the heart of My believing servant succeeded where they have failed.
Then escape now unto the One from all that is false…
Around 1418 years ago, the Prophet and his companions undertook a hijra – a departure. They left their homes in Mecca and traveled to Medina. Abraham began his spiritual journey with a departure. Moses and the Children of Israel also undertook a departure. Egypt was where the seeds of their faith were planted. The Promised Land was where the tree bloomed. At times, such departures may entail crossing physical distance, but they always entail crossing spiritual distance.
So, ask yourself, where are you now? Has your heart departed yet? Are you still in Mecca? Have you arrived in Medina? Or are you perhaps somewhere in between? You need a manual for your departure – a manual that will guide the child within you out of the cellars of your world.
First, you need to know what you must leave behind. It’s really a very simple equation: everyone and everything that refuses to come with you. Next, you must determine what you will bring with you. Over time, departure experts have realized that it is impossible to leave without a companion to hold your hand and a guide to hold your heart. There are a few things that many bring along – maps, a compass, and a watch – but eventually they discover that they are useless, if not distracting.
But most important, you must know why you have departed. People depart for different reasons. Some depart in hope of more wealth, power, or status. Some depart for a beautiful woman or an attractive man. Some have more subtle objectives. Perhaps they are drawn to the celebrated image of an idea. Perhaps they want to be regarded as part of a glorious project. Or perhaps they are simply following someone who wants to be on this path. Everyone is allowed to depart. But after a day of traveling, a month, a year, at times even decades later, that very objective, that hidden intention, is suddenly transformed into a large wall blocking their path. Observe the irony! The only way to keep walking on this path is to cleanse yourself of the very objective of your journey. Some turn back. Some spend whatever is left of their lives trying to penetrate the wall. They cannot. This wall cannot be penetrated. Yet, it can disappear, but only if those types of objectives are cast aside. You see, only one type of objective or intention is permitted on this path: Love. Love of what? It doesn’t really matter. True, sincere love is of one source, and it always leads to the same place. Love anything you wish and be truly loyal to this love. This experience of love will then lead you to the love of the One. The more loyal you are, the faster it will take you to the only One worthy of such intense and complete love.
Have you experienced this type of love? Before your heart falls in love, you must first have a heart. The Qur’an states: ‘This is a reminder for the one who has a heart.’ Everyone is born with a heart that pumps blood. Its activity is consistent, involuntary, and indispensable. The heart that pumps love in a consistent, involuntary, and indispensable way is not something you are born with; it’s a gift that is born under very specific conditions.
My heart was born when I was around twelve years old. I was on my way back home when I noticed some boys my age harassing a kitten. They were trying to chase her into a corner. I wasn’t the type who could scare anyone. I didn’t have the body or the personality for that. But when I approached them, I just screamed. I screamed until they all ran away. I still wonder why my voice had that effect on them. Then it was time to take care of the kitten. My first impulse was to carry her home, away from the dangers of the road. But then it occurred to me that she was so young. I had heard my mother mention once that a recently born kitten cannot survive without her mother. I was confused. If I left her, the boys may come back and harass her, and if I took her home, she may not survive because I deprived her of her mother. Finally, I decided to just sit there on the pavement and wait until her mother showed up. I waited for four hours. I was hungry and tired. I was about to give up when I noticed the kitten rushing toward another cat. It was her mother, and my duty was over. At home, I was shouted at and sent to bed without dinner for having disappeared like that. But I had a very sweet feeling, and I slept smiling.
Years later, I shared this story with my teacher. He told me it takes around four hours for a heart to be born. Four hours of doing something caring and compassionate that makes absolutely no sense to anyone, not even to your own self.
And remember the Name of the One and devote yourself completely.
Once a heart is born, it must learn how to breathe, otherwise it will suffocate under the darkness of your own neglect. The Qur’an states: ‘It is not the eyes that go blind; but rather it is the hearts…’ Only zikr, or spiritual meditation that has as its objective direct communion with the One, will teach your heart how to breathe.
Do you remember how Moses was first selected? Moses was searching for fire to keep his family warm when instead he encountered the burning bush which illuminated the earth with light. I wasn’t searching for zikr when I first encountered it. It seems it was searching for me. My uncle had sent me to find a chimney cleaner. It was late fall, and the house was getting cold. But the chimney was so full of soot that it was unhealthy to try to light a fire. When I finally reached the shop of a famous Damascene chimney cleaner, way up on Mount Qasiyoun, I found his shop locked. A man standing nearby told me that I could find him at a mosque even further up the mountain. So, I headed to the mosque. I didn’t know what this man looked like, and I was too embarrassed to ask anyone in the mosque because everyone seemed so consumed with their prayers. I sat in one of the corners of the mosque, exhausted and disappointed. Then I heard a man saying, “Come sit next to me.” He was an older man with a white turban on his head. He gestured to me to take hold of his hand. Then he said, “Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and observe your heart repeating, without moving your tongue:
The One is with me,
The One is with me,
And I did. Then he asked, “Can you see the name of the One engraved inside your heart with white light?”
I looked within, but all I could see was darkness. I felt as though I was standing on the roof and looking down our dark chimney. I wanted to open my eyes and let go of his hand. But he pressed my hand harder and asked me to take a deeper breath and to focus more this time. Suddenly, I saw something, vague and dim, but nevertheless, I saw something, something resembling a white flame that took on the shape of a word. Was it the name of the One? Was it in Arabic script? Was it written from right to left? I was still trying to focus on this image when the old man said: “Don’t be consumed by the word. Move from the name to that to which the name refers; allow yourself to contemplate that majesty.” He said this, and I felt as though I had an electric shock. He let go of my hand and with a comforting smile, he quietly said: “As you lie in your bed, observe your heart repeating the words I taught you until you fall asleep. Now, my son, you can move on to cleaning chimneys. The man you are searching for is standing near the window.” It’s been sixty years since that day, and as my teacher once instructed me, I haven’t slept once except in a state of zikr.
So he acquired poise and balance.
Being on the higher horizon.
Then he drew near and drew closer,
Until a space of two bows or even less.
You cannot walk on this path unless your heart knows how to listen to the divine voice. To some, the Qur’an is a book of law. To others, it is a book of theology. And yet to others, it is a manual for the struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. But to those who walk on our delicate path, the Qur’an is a record of those sacred moments when the divine voice spoke through a human heart.
There are many ways to taste the spiritual implications of what it means for the divine voice to speak through a human heart. The Qur’an relates the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It’s an intense and beautiful account. In the midst of the story, you suddenly encounter a verse that appears inexplicable: ‘And you weren’t with them when they cast their lots to determine who amongst them would be entrusted with Mary.’ We know the Prophet wasn’t with them. The Prophet himself knows he wasn’t with them. Why then does this verse suddenly appear? The same verse appears in the midst of the account of Joseph and thrice in the account of Moses.
But the mystery is resolved once your heart begins to listen. This verse appears because the divine voice had lifted the Prophet to such a state of transparency that he can now clearly see the events being revealed to him. It is as though he is standing next to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, as he takes hold of Mary’s hand and leads her to the Temple. It is as though he is walking along with Moses as he enters the city of Midian. It is as though he is standing next to the brothers of Joseph as they plotted against him. But the divine voice suddenly interrupts the narrative and proclaims: ‘And you weren’t with them…’ It is almost like the Prophet is gently being brought back from where the eyes of his heart have carried him; and then, having protected him from ascending too high, the divine voice resumes the account.
None of this can be understood by simply reading the text. You must allow your heart to experience the words.
Once you are able to experience the Qur’anic voice, the true message and intended purpose behind the verses of the Qur’an will begin to unfold. The Qur’an is a record of how the One spoke to us through the Prophet’s heart not only in different circumstances, but also at different stages of our spiritual evolution. Yet, scholars come and tell us: ‘This is what the Qur’an is saying, and these are the laws it upholds.’ But all of this, all of their books of theology and law, are based on reading the Qur’an with eyes, rather than listening to it with our hearts. The Qur’an teaches us that it is inside the heart where true comprehension takes place: ‘Or do they have hearts through which they can comprehend things?’ If our scholars were to truly listen, most of what they have recorded in their books would have to be dramatically revised. If our scholars were to truly listen, a spectacular reformation would begin. Close your eyes today and start listening with your heart.
O My servants who have sinned in abundance. Do not despair of the mercy of the One. Indeed, the One forgives all sins.
Far more profound than all of these books of theology and law are two stories which the Prophet shared with us. They summarize our entire path. One is about a cat, the other about a dog. A woman who dressed modestly, prayed, and fasted was not invited into the bliss of Paradise. Why? Because she failed to care properly for a cat that lived in her house until it died of hunger and thirst. The cat died and so, too, did the woman’s spiritual worth. Her modesty, prayer, and fasting were for naught! Another woman sold her body for material profit. She didn’t commit such acts out of passion or desire. No, she sold her body for a few silver coins. Once, as she was traveling, she found a well and decided she would fetch water for herself. She suddenly noticed a thirsty dog and, just as she fetched water for herself, she fetched water for the dog until its thirst was quenched. This woman was invited into the bliss of Paradise. She wasn’t even seeking forgiveness. Yet, she was forgiven, and she became special in the eyes of the One.
Sin humbles us. It humbles our hearts. But if we are stubborn and we go too far, it can also burn us. Most of what religious laws ask us to refrain from has now been explained by science. Everything that is proven medically to be harmful to our bodies should not be part of our lives. But those sins are less, far less, than the sins we commit against each other. The sin of mistreating a cat, let alone a human being, can forever block you from the majesty of the One.
And from water, We made all that is alive.
Once your heart is humbled by sin, it will become like water, always seeking to disappear into the lowest parts of the earth. There is so much we can learn from water. You must be as lenient as water. Observe how it takes on the various shapes of the objects it is poured into without changing its true nature in the process. Be as persistent as water. Observe how it falls upon a rock, century after century, until it reduces it to sand. Be as wise as water. Observe how it evaporates when the weather is hot and how it returns back to earth in the form of rain when the weather is cooler. Be as embracing as water. Observe how when it falls from the sky, it falls upon the shacks of the poor and the castles of the rich alike. Be as loving as water. Observe how its dew kisses the grass at dawn. Once you become like water, everything that touches you will come to life.
Proclaim to them: Everyone is waiting in anticipation for the events they believe will unfold.
The Prophet spoke of the end of time. He described minor signs and major signs. All the minor signs have been fulfilled. We are now at the beginning of the final stage. The final stage may last years, and it may last centuries. Only the One knows how long it will last. But we are now at its beginning. Many are those who realize this. They are burning with anticipation. But what are they waiting for? Victory? Justice? A better world? You can tell a lot about a person if you know exactly what they are waiting for.
To live at the ends of time is to live in the age of Christ. It is to live in a state of waiting for his return. The return of Christ is the most important of the major signs. It will eventually lead to the end of war and the culmination of our human civilization. An age when we will become everything we are supposed to become.
But the earth needs to be prepared for this event. So much needs to be done. Significant changes must take place in the way people think and feel. Most of these changes will be taken care of. The forces that will lead to these changes have long been at work. And yet, very important tasks remain untouched.
Just as it was in the age of Christ, our world today is being taken over by an empire, a new Roman Empire. An empire that respects humans, their freedoms and their intrinsic rights, yes. But also an empire that does not respect the sacred, that is spiritually depleted, that has lost its sense of purpose. And just as it was in the time of Christ, this empire is home to four major groups, each with their own object of waiting.
First, there are those who are preparing for a final battle. They are waiting for a military victory against this new empire. They come from different religions, but they are united in this purpose, in this hatred. Yet, the age of Christ is about life, not death. A victory will take place, but it will not be a military one. The son of Adam once said to his brother, ‘If you are to raise your hand to strike me, I will not raise my hand in return and strike you. I fear the One, the Sovereign of the Worlds.’ We are finally ready to grasp these words, to cast violence aside. It took the development of nuclear weapons for us to finally realize that the age of violence must end, or we will end with it.
The second group is the law protectors of this age who are waiting for a time when the religious laws they have devoted their lives to articulating are adopted by a state that applies them in their entirety. They are waiting for a legal victory. But most of the laws they have articulated have lost touch with their intended purpose. And while these scholars are still disputing legal matters which have nothing to do with the lives we are living today, we are losing entire generations of believers.
Those who have been lost are the third group. They are the most numerous of all the groups. Millions upon millions of people have been lost to materialism. They wait, indeed, they strive, for the day when they can become full citizens of the new empire.
And then we have the fourth group, the group that embraces those who are waiting for the righteous teacher who will guide this world out of its darkness – who are waiting for Christ. True, the new empire will be victorious over all its enemies. But it will be taken over from within by the new followers of Christ, just as his previous followers permeated the Roman Empire with light. Among this group are the select few who will play a special role when Christ returns, who will be there to welcome him in Damascus. This is a task that remains untouched.
Jesus, the son of Mary, will descend on the White Tower, east of Damascus. He will be carried by two angels, his hands holding on to their wings. When he raises his head, droplets of water will fall like scattered pearls.
There will be among those of our age successors to the Disciples of the Christ. But these disciples need to be identified, their hearts need to be captured, and their lives must become an experience of intense anticipation. If I were young, I would go out and search for them. And when Christ descends on the White Tower, east of Damascus, when he arrives in layers of light, I would hope I would be there to kiss his hand.
The One was pleased with those companions who made a covenant with you under the tree…
A covenant of faith unites members of this fourth group. It is a covenant that not only cuts and polishes the diamond, but it is also the sealed box that will carry it through the ends of time:
We will uphold and respect the unity and majestic transcendence of the One and we will open our hearts to experience the presence and love of the One,
We will devote ourselves to selfless giving that we may be blessed with real hearts,
We will depart the paths of materialism and we will do so for love,
We will instruct our hearts to breathe before we fall asleep,
We will listen with our hearts to the words of our sacred books,
We will be humbled, though not burned, by sin,
We will embody the secret qualities of water and seek to give life to everyone who crosses our paths.
And we will master the art of patient and tranquil waiting for the arrival of the Prince of this age, Christ.