September 21, 2012 By Bulend Rauf, Asghar Ali, Shameer KS

Beyond Taste: Sufi Cuisine and Dining


• Taste Extended Arms Served: Sufi Revelations of Dining by Asghar Ali
• Spiritual Rumi-nations for cooks and diners by shameer
•  Cook and Know thy Lord: Bulend Rauf’s notice to cooks

Taste Extended Arms Served: Sufi Revelations of Dining ~ Asgar Ali
Good food and drinks have always attracted man and he has readily defied attempts to deny him of the same. He landed up on earth due to this very defiance. However the taste of heavenly food and drink has been so ingrained in his senses and he will never be content with tastes and flavours that this world has to offer. So he strives in the Avatar of a celestial chef to keep adding value to what he is preparing, fervently trying to match the culinary delights of what his ancestor had relished. He draws his inspiration from his inner senses and strives to perfect his creation, thereby making the process of cooking a sublime act of meditation.

This relation between meditation and taste might have persuaded the Sufis to accord metaphorical references to food and eating in their teachings and literature. The word ‘dhawq’ -taste- for example is used to symbolize man’s direct interaction with divine grace and unity, whereas ‘Shurb’ -drinking- represents the sweetness of piety and the pleasure of intimacy.

Food and wisdom are two vital ingredients, needed for the absolute growth of human beings, never to be denied. Feeding the hungry is a distinguished trait of believers and guidance for seekers, one of the fundamental characters of prophets and scholars. The act of denying food or water is like hiding knowledge or wisdom and both are to be deemed equally sinful. On the other hand their bestowal is an act of worship.

Could this be the reason why endless amount of food is served for thousands of people in Persian Langars and Indian Khanqahs? These are manned by passionate people who consider selling of food to hungry men and women as outrageous and sacrilegious.

This way of extended arms laden with food to kin and even total strangers (irrespective of their caste and creed) is common among believers all over the world. I still remember the gratitude and smile on the face of a little boy from among the descendants of the ‘Ansar’ in the city of the prophet, when I agreed to share food from his plate on a hot Ramadan day, in the courtyard of the Holy Masjid Al Nabawi. Great souls of Madina! People all over world fondly remember their sincerity and hospitality.

Another incident happened in the mountainous land of Oman. My friend who was traveling with two of his friends halted his car to buy some dates and water from the grocery attached to the petrol station. The grocery man who came to know that he was fasting refused to sell the dates and water to him; he jumped over the wall and brought 3 plates full of food from his house within minutes to serve them, and did not forget to confirm that they are full before he allowed them to leave. Both his friends were thunderstruck to see the sort of care for total strangers; they could never digest this using the logic of their life and faith.

The following incident from the life of prophet Muhammed (PBUH) will shed further light on the selflessness that Islam espouses:

Once in the house of the prophet, they slaughtered a goat and distributed it among the neighbors. He came back home and asked his wife Aisha: “Anything left?” She replied “Nothing left except its shoulder”. He said” Everything left except its shoulder.”

In history we don’t see parallels to the noble companions who, even in the throes of death chose to pass offered cups of water to their thirsty compatriots. By choosing to do this, they were reserving for themselves the eternal bliss of ‘Al Kawthar’ (the inexhaustible source of water; a metaphor for bounty and bliss)

Spiritual ‘Rumi’-nations for cooks and diners
Review of Nevin Halici’s Sufi Cuisine  ~ Shameer Ks

Food and spiritual teachings have the rare quality of transcendence. They transcend the borders where they are born. It is said: food migrates; so do spiritual teachings. It is also said that most of the ingredients in the famed Turkish cuisine have flown to Turkey from all over the world. Yet, it is the same Turkey from where the Mevlana Tradition, known for Jalal al-Din Rumi, effloresced. Of all regions in Turkey, Konya, where after being invited by Sultan Alā al-Dīn Kayqubād bin Kaykā’ūs, Rumi settled and founded the order, can be called the locus of this overflowing of mystical consciousness. It might be a fitting tribute to the region that Nevin Halici and her exquisite book Sufi Cuisine were born.
Claudia Roden’s words in the preface of the book best capture the essence of the book:
“This book has many facets – it is a cultural history, a book of poetry, a culinary memoir and a collection of recipes. It also gives rare insight into the spiritual wisdom and philosophy that Rumi expressed through ecstatic love poetry seeking to unite humanity in love, respect and brotherhood. (p. 15).”
To cook is one of the first steps of spiritual training. It teaches as the values of patience, perseverance, and sense of proportion.
Read the following line of Rumi:
• Say nothing, froth not, do not raise the lid of the cauldron; simmer well, and be patient, for I am cooking you-Rumi
• The heart has a cauldron cooked for your sake; wait patiently until it is cooked.
• You have gone forth from the cooking pot of this world like sweetmeat, because you are now cooked for the table of that world.

So there are conditions and rules and orders for adepts to follow in a kitchen. In the Mevlavi kitchen the hierarchical order of sherbet maker, followed by coffee grinder and Kazanci Dede or the Keeper of the Cauldron. This hierarchical order reflects the ordering of seekers as per their proximity of God and divine values.
Beyond the philosophy of cooking, the book is full of Sufi recipes accompanied by miniatures by Ahmet Efe. The recipe includes Neck of Lamb, Diced Kebab, halva and every variety of Turkish cuisine. Sure, we are forced to read the book not only with our mouth filled with water but our heart vibrating with grace.

Cook and Know thy Lord: Bulend Rauf’s notice to cooks ~

Bulent Rauf, a saint who transcends all definitions on him, was born in Istanbul in 1911. Inspired by the teachings of Ibn Arabi, the Andulisain mystic, he ventured into the Sufi order. He started the Beshara School of Intensive Esoteric Education.He translated many works of Ibn Arabi into English, including his Fusus al-Hikam. One of Bulent Rauf’s priciple Sufi intructions was on the art of cooking. He personally directed the kitchen at Chisholme House in Scottish borders, where he died in 1987.  In the kitchen of Chisholme House, we can see Bulend Rauf’s insightful notice to cooks:
Now know this – that cooking is an art. It is also an integral part of esoteric training because it is a twofold means of service: service to humanity and service to the food prepared. There is no higher state than that which a man can reach; all other forms of life in this world find their possibility of reaching a higher state through their conjunction with man. The only possibility for the sublimation of some minerals, vegetables and animals in a higher state of life is through cooking. That is why the sect which has aligned itself to the great saint Jalaluddin of Rum, the Mevlevi, refer to the esoteric education of the novices as cooking, and to achievement as taste. Those who use ingredients of food without consideration of providing the best possible means of an ingredient’s expression are devaluing service, awareness and value of life. Therefore, cooking is not a mixture of ingredients but a harmonious composition of artistic value, nutrient and transcendent, giving the possibility of the best expression to the ingredients as well as to the composition in general. It should be undertaken only in an attitude of deep respect and consideration and full awareness of the bounty and clemency in the Divine order.
Note – that there is no expression of divine manifestation devoid of beauty. Beauty of taste (dhawq) is an absolutely necessary ingredient of the essential (in all senses) composition. Had it been in the Divine order of things that mankind should graze, there would have been no need for cooking at all, but such not being the case, it is erroneous to think that all value in vegetables is only in a raw or under-cooked ingestion. Therefore certain fruits and vegetables have to be cooked properly before they can be eaten. The human being has neither tripe nor crop. Hence it is an incalculable error to think mankind could or should imitate avian or bestial mores.
Know then, that cooking is a responsibility in awareness wherein under-cooking or over-cooking are equally reprehensible and a clear oversight.
May the himma of the great saint who was Rumi’s personal cook till his death, Shamsuddin Ateshbaz Wali, be upon you who undertake to serve in this kitchen.

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