To Become a “Refugee”: Emigration to Sincerity

  • To Become a “Refugee”: Emigration to Sincerity or “uprightness” of Love

To Become a “Refugee” means to make a migration to Sincerity or to the“uprightness” of Love.

What the Emigration to Sincerity demands of us

  • Emigration: Historical Hijra

Starting from a narrow family-tribal environment Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) underwent 13 years of hardship and torment in Meccan society; with the immigration (Hijra) to Medina, a new stage began. This stage, if one takes into consideration the time that it took all religions to spread, is the starting point of one of the fastest religious developments in recorded history. In this sense, when one speaks of the Hijra one is not merely speaking of a journey from Mecca to Medina, or the starting point of a calendar; one is speaking of a new start for humanity.

The Hijra is symbolic of changing those conditions that cause problems and that clash with ideals and beliefs, as well as the search for new opportunities.

The Hijra, as is expressed in a variety of verses, was extrication from a difficult and stressful situation with the aim to widen the belief and the ideals, and a search for new possibilities and new places. From this aspect, the Hijra is not something that was realized as part of a certain process or a completed historical event in the life of Muslims. The Hijra is symbolic of changing those conditions that cause problems and that clash with ideals and beliefs, as well as the search for new opportunities. Thus, the Hijra, which includes certain preconditions, is a moral duty and responsibility for every individual.

Prophet Muhammad placed the Hijra in the minds and hearts of the Islamic community with a hadith (Prophetic tradition) that expresses two basic interconnected matters.

The first is a general principle which, in particular, is considered to be one of the reference points in the evaluation of laws for Islamic jurists. This principle is connected to intentions in behavioral values, as it is the intention that gives behavior direction. As we know the Hijrawas the first and most important social movement of the young Islamic society.


As is to be expected with all social movements, it is only natural that there were people who had different intentions when participating in the emigration led by Prophet Muhammad. Prophet Muhammad drew attention to this situation and stated that those who performed the same action received different responses, each according to their intention. The matter expressed in the hadiths is concerned with a Meccan Muslim who had joined the emigration and come to Medina to marry the woman he loved. The ruling that Prophet Muhammad gave concerning this person can be considered to be a universal principle compulsory for all Muslims to take into account when performing an action.

Prophet Muhammad said: “Actions are according to intentions, whoever emigrates to Allah and His Prophet, that emigration is to Allah and His Prophet, whoever emigrates to marry a woman, his emigration is to marry a woman...” The idea of actions and behavior being judged according to intention is the clearest and most immutable rule that stands against those who desire to hide their personal or prosaic intents behind ideals and virtues.

The most important principle to learn from the Hijra is the constant observation of intention. In particular, Sufis consider the constant observation and control of intent to be a basic principle for attaining ikhlas (sincerity). From this aspect, Sufism can be considered to be a total investigation and interrogation of intention.

In other words, the thing that determines the value of a person’s action is the intention, and nothing else. In this direction, the most important principle to learn from the Hijra is the constant observation of intention. In particular, Sufis consider the constant observation and control of intent to be a basic principle for attaining ikhlas (sincerity). From this aspect, Sufism can be considered to be a total investigation and interrogation of intention.

There is another dimension to the hadiths; in particular, this aspect is widely interpreted by the Sufis. In the above hadith, Prophet Muhammad said “Whoever emigrates to Allah and the Prophet.” The Sufis carefully emphasize the phrase “Emigration to Allah and His Prophet.” What does emigration to Allah mean? Here, while speaking the emigration to Medina, the direction is changed and the Prophet speaks of “emigration to Allah and His Prophet”. This approach alone gives the possibility that the Hijra is something that every Muslim can repeat over and over again. While the emigration to Medina was a historical event, emigration to Allah and His Prophet is not limited by history or location, and thus is always possible.

In this sense Hijra gains a meaning that is parallel to the Sufi term of tawba, adding a wider interpretation to the Hijra. The general meaning of tawba (repentance) means “to repent of a sin and to decide not to repeat the sin.” The Sufis have added a special meaning to this general definition; tawba has come to mean “turning” and is thought of as an action. But, what are people turning to? To find the answer to this question we need to contemplate the question of where do people go when they sin and why they are considered to have left somewhere. When people sin, they distance themselves from Allah and they are left with their nafs. Sufis see the nafs and its desires as something that straitens people and limits them. In contrast to this, repentance turns people back to Allah; that is, it turns them to the wide expanse of the divine after the straits of the nafs and its desires. In this situation tawba and hijra take on the same meaning. Thus, for Sufis, the Hijra is the action that every person constantly experiences, internally and externally. People emigrate from bad actions and evil morals to virtues and good behavior. In this situation the emigration is towards Allah, and in response Allah turns to us.

Thus, there are two important principles or duties that the Hijra demands of us.

The first is to constantly control our intentions; we must establish our “personal place and stance”. Everyone is responsible only for their own intentions and actions, and it is these same intentions and actions that will save them.

The second principle is to remove the connection of the Hijra with actual places and times. Hijra is a turning and a change in the mind, belief, action or morals; everybody can do this at any time and in any place.

 more info see : Seven levels of Beings

  • Goethe and his poem “Hegir” : Hijra

When one speaks of the Hijra one is not merely speaking of a journey from Mecca to Medina, or the starting point of a calendar;  but one is  also speaking of a new start for humanity. And Johann Wolfgang von Goethe make his Hijra, his emigration and take refuge in Islam. He became a “Refugee”.

The Hijra is symbolic of changing those conditions that cause problems and that clash with ideals and beliefs, as well as the search for new opportunities.

In this caravan poem, Goethe gives us a picture of the restless nomad existence which early Arabian poetry had enabled him to envision.

The whole “West-East Divan” is shot through with something of this nomadic restlessness. Already in the first great poem entitled “Hegir” the poet alludes to Arabian life and traditions. He is a True Pelgrim. He turns to the wisdom of the Sufis as Hafiz.

His own “Hedschra” is an inteliectual emigration to a simpler state of existence which seems to him to be purer and righter than his own immediate world. Thus he calls out to himself:


North and South and West are quaking,

Thrones are cracking, empires shaking;

Let us free toward the East

Where as patriarchs we’ll feast:

There in loving, drinking, singing

Youth from Khidr’s well is springing.

Seeing rightly, seeing purely,

There I’ll penetrate most surely,

To the origin of nations,

When on earth the generation

Heard God’s words with human senses,

Heedless of their formal tenses.

When to fathers they gave honours

And rejected foreign manners;

I’ll rejoice in youth’s demotion:

Wider faith, narrower notion–

Words weighed then as value’s token

Since the word was one that’s spoken.

With the herdsmen I’ll go questing,

In oasis freshness resting,

Roam in caravans wide ranging

Coffee, shawls, and musk exchanging;

Every track my footstep traes

Through the sands to market-places.

On the mountain’s desolation

Hafis, you give consolation

When our guide, afraid of capture

High upon his mule in rapture

Sings, to set the stars a-blazing,

Startled thieves with dread amazing.

You at wells and inns I’ll ponder,

Holy Hafis, thinking fonder

When my love unveiled caresses,

Strewing fragrant amber tresses.

Yes, the poet’s whispered yearning

Even starts the Huris burning.

If your envy this despises,

Of belittles precious prizes,

Think awhile that poet’s diction

Is no commonplace of fiction,

Hovering soft in heaven’s portal

Life it seeks that is immortal.

  • His goal: to discover and reconcile in himself in a new, higher unity the multiplicity of monotheism’s divine expressions.  Such unity was always Goethe’s goal, for he well understood the alchemical truth that unity only divides in order to find itself again in a higher sense. As he wrote:

Anything that enters the world of phenomena must divide in order to appear at all. The separated parts seek one another again, and may find each other and be reunited: in the lower sense by each mixing with its opposite, that is, by simply coming together with it, in which case the phenomenon is nullified or at least becomes indifferent. But the union can also occur in the higher sense, whereby the separated parts are first developed and heightened, so that the combination of the two sides produces a third, higher being, of a new and unexpected kind.

Just then, the Willemers themselves appeared in Heidelberg. Goethe took Marianne into the castle grounds, where he showed her a Gingko tree. Presenting her with a Gingko leaf he suggested something of its “secret meaning” by asking:  “Is it one thing that divides into two, or two that unite into one?” On their last day together, September 26, walking through the park, he inscribed “Suleika” in the sand in Arabic. Goethe and Marianne would never meet again. Filled with emotion, Goethe plunged again into the study of Persian. The next day, he sent her the poem “Gingo Biloba,” which he would place in the “Book of Suleika”:

This tree’s leaf, which, from the East,
Is entrusted to my garden
Lets us taste a secret meaning
That edifies the learned.

Is it one living being?
That divides itself in itself;
Are there two? Who select themselves
So we know them as one?

To reply to such a question
I found, I think, the right sense:
Do you not feel in my poems
That I am one and doubled.

The two lovers become one in love—unity—but unity, which is love, is conditioned by duality. Hatem and Suleika are two, as is Goethe himself, who both loves and writes about it. His life is doubly double: hermaphroditic and inward/outward. He is both male and female, within and without. He lives and writes, is both subject and object, but what he praises and becomes is one, the unity of lover and beloved. To achieve this unity requires renunciation: to become love, he must renounce both himself and the beloved.

All this is Hermetic. The opening poem, “Hegira,” announces:

North, West, and South are shattering,
Thrones burst apart, empires shake,
Flee then to the pure East,
Taste the air of the Patriarchs:
There, with love, wine, and song
Khidr’s fountain will make you young again.

Khidr, a legendary figure in esoteric Islamic lore, is the “Green or Emerald One,” the source of all greening vegetation, freshness of spirit and eternal liveliness. He is a supra-earthly being, the throne of the angel of humanity, the true and only initiator of all saints, sages, and prophets—including Moses himself as the Qu’ran states. His fountain is none other than the fountain of life. His wisdom, drawn from “the living sources of life,” is the divine science of creation, and his disciples form the invisible, trans-historical spiritual order of those who have become truly free. Having attained the source of life, and drunk the waters of immortality so that he knows neither old age nor death, Khidr, the “Verdant One,” is the master of the alchemical elixir of life, the philosopher’s stone.

The Divan appeared in 1819. Marianne continued to write to Goethe sporadically, remembering his birthday, sending him poems, and never forgetting the gingko leaf:

It lets me savor a secret meaning
That edifies the one who loves.

Goethe , the “refugee”:

  • Zelige Sehnsucht Blessed Longing, Goethe

In the begin of “Modernity”, Goethe warns us in his poem Zelige Sehnsucht Blessed Longing





Tell no one else, only the wise
For the crowd will sneer at one
I wish to praise what is fully alive,
What longs to flame toward death.

When the calm enfolds the love-nights
That created you, where you have created
A feeling from the Unknown steals over you
While the tranquil candle burns.

You remain no longer caught
In the peneumbral gloom
You are stirred and new, you desire
To soar to higher creativity.

No distance makes you ambivalent.
You come on wings, enchanted
In such hunger for light, you
Become the butterfly burnt to nothing.

So long as you have not lived this:
To die is to become new,
You remain a gloomy guest
On the dark earth.

It is the story of moth and the candle, found first in the Kitáb at-tawasin of the martyr mystic al-HalIáj (d. 922) and then taken over by the poets of Iran and Turkey, that forms the bridge between the poezie worlds of Iran and Germany. Inspired by the great Sufi poet  Hafiz  took  Goethe “refuge” in Sufism. Goethe found  the poem  in a translation of Persian verses and transformed it into one of the most profound poerns in the German language, Zelige Sehnsucht (Blessed Longing). “Stirb und werde,,‘ “Die and become,” is Goethe’s advice to the reader in this poem, and this idea of dying and being reborn on ever rising levels of existence permeates large parts of classical Persian poetry. It is the song of the never-ending quest, the fulfillment of Love through suffering and deathi expressed in images of the journey through rnountains and deserts to end only in paradise, as Goethe says at the end of the Book of Paradise in the West-Ostlicher Divan:

Bis im Anschaun ew’ger Liebe

wir verschweben, wsr verschwinden . .

Contemplating Love eternal

we float higher and dissolve .

This poem is an example of the “helplessness that sometimes accompanies love.” He offers it as an example of the way passion causes us to surrender our “common sense, rationality and normal serious reserve;” to awaken to the creative energies, the desires and longing emmanating from the heart.

This awakening is the threshold of “salvation.” To make the realization that you are part of something so vast and lovely, it transcends form and time is like falling in love. It IS falling in love…it is seeing “sameness,” recognizing yourself in the other – realizing that you are One with the Other, falling into the universal mystery that is the Love of God! Love is the nature of this cosmic Spirit-relationship. Love is all there is. Love is who you are, where you came from, how you are to live, and that to which you will return.

Love is the truth and the life and the way

You are “saved” because you realize the eternal nature of this One Love. You are fully awakened and fully attuned to the music of the universe – the creative flux and flow of the divine and its movement through you and around you and before and after you. And you have no choice but to surrender to it, because it is who you are. As a caterpillar dies to become a butterfly and a butterfly is drawn to the light, so do we transcend ourselves for, by, and in Love.

In love we reach outside of our selves, extend ourselves, open, vulnerable and real we willingly fly into the fires of (com)passion and truth. Our need for love draws us to our Lovingness. There may be pain, but it is sacred pain. And the real tragedy would be “to have cautiously avoided these depths and remained marooned on the shiny surfaces of the banal.”

See also Spiritual exercise for the “Refugee” of our Times