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Duke Islamic Studies Prof. Safi: “Don't be pre-life.”


He began with a piece of advice spoken by Prophet Muhammad: Have your heart be where your feet are.

Omid Safi is director of the Islamic Studies Center and professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University, specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and Islamic spirituality. He visited Hamilton on Jan. 23 to discuss “Radical Love: Rumi as an Islamic Voice of Divine Love” as a part of Spirituality 101, a week of programs to deepen the Hamilton community’s spiritual understanding.

Safi expanded on Muhammad’s advice, explaining the significance of being mindful of the present, especially as college students who seem to be relentlessly working for the future.

“When you ask people, ‘What are you doing at Hamilton College?’ [The answers are] ‘Oh, I’m pre-med, I’m pre-law, pre-business, I want to leave here and get a job in that city, work for that corporation,’” Safi said. “It seems like so much of our educational process has become a pre-life process, and I just want to remind you that these are good years … Have goals, have dreams, have aspirations, but don’t be pre-life. When you’re here, be fully present here.”

Safi discussed the common misconception that people have of their lives being loveless, most often when one cannot find a romantic partner.

“We are surrounded by culture where every song is about ‘looking for love,’ but so many people describe their existence as one that is lacking in love,” Safi said. “So I’ve turned to the teachings of some love poets and mystics from a thousand years ago.”

He has translated the works of these poets, who claim that “You are actually not living a loveless life. You are so saturated in love that you don’t see it.”

“Fish probably don’t have a word for water,” Safi said. “If you’re sitting here today and you’re still alive, the reason that you’re alive is that somebody loves you … You are the fish in the water.”

Safi shared several ideas and stories of mystics Rumi and Rabia, and their perspective of love in connection with devotion to God. He also commented on the state of our nation today, the divisiveness and the turmoil, and looked to the Constitution (“We the People … establish Justice”) to share guidance.

“If you know the heart of the Islamic tradition, the Hebrew Bible, the faith of Jesus, of Martin, of Malcolm,” Safi said. “This is what all of them say, ‘All that we mean by ‘justice’ is love when it comes out into the public.’”

Safi offered an invitation to the audience, something that he believed could move this nation forward: to travel, whether it be a flight to Turkey or a 20-minute drive to Utica.

“Get to know your neighbors,” Safi said. “And something magical happens when you sit down with folks. Something beautiful and remarkable happens when you eat with people … And you come to see that your humanity and their humanity are woven together.”

He concluded his talk with the necessity of love and encouraged the audience to find out what rejuvenation looks like for each of them in order to practice that love most effectively.

“Why is it that I’ve asked you to take this hour of your life to think about love?” Safi said. “Because in this marathon that is ahead of you, you will have to do something that previous generations did not have to. They would get to move from crisis to crisis and in the middle, they had normalness. You will not have normalness.

“The era that you are moving into, the whole damn thing is an age of crisis. So you’re going to have to learn to rejuvenate yourself as you are struggling … Explore your heart. Explore your body. Know what it is that rejuvenates you. This world needs you, your community needs you, and you need the fullness of you.

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