A Sufi Muslim Woman's "Journey Through Ten Thousand Veils"
The Alchemy of Transformation on the Sufi Path
Maryam Kabeer Faye, author of a fascinating spiritual sojourn, Journey through Ten Thousand Veils, is a person who literally glows with serenity and love. I know this because I met her myself, in what would seem a most unlikely place to meet a Muslim woman unaccompanied by a man, a metaphysical fair. She was selling tapestries at a table next to me, as I was reading tarot cards, and selling a poetry book I authored. We spoke for a bit, but as the fair got busier, we spoke in slow spurts during it. I purchased a copy of Sheikha Maryam’s book, and she wrote a touching note in it. I could hardly wait to begin reading it, and now am both humbled and honored that Maryam Kabeer Faye crossed paths with me, because I know that in life, there are no accidents. This is the story of a spiritual, strong, joyous pilgrim, who begins on a path, not sure where she will end up, but knowing in her heart that it will be somewhere well worth going.
A Riveting Read
The story of Maryam's spiritual journey is fascinating, and I learned so much reading this book, and speaking with her. I think you will enjoy it as much as I did, you won't be able to put it down!
We Choose our Life Circumstances, or Journeys
Sheikha Maryam knew from the time of her childhood that she was different. She believes that we choose the circumstances we are born into, and live that incarnation on Earth for a specific purpose. We all have a limited time in each incarnation in this world, and come from a realm of souls where we existed with the Divine. Once we are born into a family, it is time to find our reason for this life, to find out what our astral tests will be, and what lessons we came to learn. This is a viewpoint that many advanced Astrologers such as myself takes about life, or more specifically, lives. She was born into a liberal Jewish family in Hollywood, California, and vividly recalls times in the temple, where she felt great power in the joining of hands, and the strong sense of belonging.
Her parent’s divorce while she was young affected her deeply. But she feels that her mother did teach her that it was imperative to find her own truth in life. Her new stepmother was a free spirit just like her father. It was through their influence of embracing peoples of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds, that Sheikha Maryam gained her own acceptance of people of all cultures and religions. She never expected her journey to lead her to be a Sufi Muslim, but this journey has lead her around the world numerous times, and she respects and has love for people of all faiths.
Spiritual Journey, a Time for Purification, Transformation, Elevation
Maryam volunteered for many causes in her teens, with racial equality high on her list. She was highly intelligent, and able to skip two years of school, so began college at UC Berkeley during the 1960’s, only fifteen years old. She was influenced by the music of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Pete Seeger, and marched with Martin Luther King. She practiced yoga and meditation, and had the opportunity to study Zen with Master Shunryo Suzuki Roshi. Although she greatly enjoyed her college years, despite her youth, she felt she needed “purification, transformation, and elevation.” This alone is fascinating, as her college was a veritable hotbed of cultural and social change, located in the heart of the hippie movement.
Maryam asked a friend to drop her off near the wilderness for a time, taking only a copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. She decided that she would go wherever her path led her, and just have faith it would show her the way. She stayed alone in the woods for several days, hopelessly lost, hungry, and heavily bitten by insects. She felt overwhelmed and frightened. But as she clutched the book, she realized it was not only a book, but a vehicle through which knowledge was being transmitted. She also came to the realization that she was in a transitional period, where a choice was going to be necessary. This would be the choice through which Faye eventually would find her true purpose and path.
Maryam returned home knowing both that she would be guided on her journey of spirituality, and that eventually her life would be offered up, so that her strong longing to be guided and motivated would begin. She was very inspired by the Bhagavad-Gita, and by passages in the Holy Koran. Occasionally she spoke with the spiritual teacher Ram Dass, (the former Richard Alpert) and began to feel that she must journey to India to meet his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaj-ji, who was sending out messages of Universal love and truth to her, Ram Dass, and a few other serious seekers. She wrote to Ram Dass to discuss her situation, and he understood her passion. It was then she made the decision to travel to India. She never followed a map, or made plans, only trusted that God would provide her with food, protection, and guidance.
Prayer Mats, Piety and Peace in Afghanistan
Maryam began her Journey Through Ten Thousand Veils in London, but in a short time found herself aboard the Orient Express, and on her way to Afghanistan. Although the book was written in 2009, this trip was taken before wars took their toll on the country, so she recalls that “it was beautiful and light, filled with people dressed in colorful robes, and had a sense of stillness and peace”. Here Maryam decides that, “when one has a true identity as a seeker, they will always return to their path. But that path never lets us dwell in one place for too long.” When a tour bus Faye was traveling on stopped in the middle of the desert, and all the passengers took out their prayer mats and began to pray, she was touched beyond words.
The lilting call of bells came from a near-by minaret. This vision of piety and peace, seen outside of any political context, was a completely amazing experience. Maryam felt an awakening in her soul when she saw people just stopping whatever they were doing, in submission to their Creator, to praise the One who created everyone. She came to understand the beauty of Islam, the mercy, kindness and peace, the way it was meant to be. This vision was so powerful; it was the opening of the door that led Faye to further study of the Muslim religion.
Traditional Prayer Mat
People Need Not Fear Islam
Faye bemoans the fact that in our political times, people are now frightened when they see a group of people bowing down in the Islamic congregational prayer. She was able to see this moving act of faith in a time of peace, and understands there are those misguided ones who caused the Islamic religion to be so misrepresented. She came to the realization that her Creator is merciful and compassionate, and that only true believers bow down in praise. This was the experience which led her to see that beneath the veil of war, injustice, brutality and strife, there is only love, peace, greatness and glory. The root word of Islam is salam, or Peace.
What amazed this reader was Faye’s willingness to trust her instincts and have faith that whatever she needed on her journey would be provided for her. She never made plans, or brought large amounts of belongings with her. She received “messages” about what to do next, and followed them without question. She next found herself in Pakistan on the way to India, and received a message not to buy any food, that it would be there for her.
A man in a horse drawn cart offered her a ride, which she accepted, based on the fact he reminded her of a professor from Berkeley. He took her to a bus which she boarded, and it seemed she was the only passenger, on a flying carpet. The bus let her off at the border of India, on the night of a full moon. “Full moon in the valley of death,” she thought, and recalled that her journey had all the stages described in the mystic book Conference of the Birds, by Farid al-Din Attar. The seventh valley is death, so she knew that while in India she would experience a mystic dimension of some kind of death, meaning a transformation of sorts.
A Purification Stage
Faye sat at the border waiting for its gates to open, and a young Danish man approached her. He told her she was going to stay at the Green Hotel, and offered to accompany her as a friend. Now, don’t forget she hasn’t eaten yet, as food has not been provided. The proprietor of the hotel was glad to serve her, and immediately set out a meal of several courses. She knew from the first bite this meal was going to “kill” her in some way. Everyone knows that foods in foreign countries do not always agree with travelers, yet Faye knew this was part of her initiation. As soon as she finished the meal, spasms overtook her body, and she lay fevered and vomiting for so many days she could not recall how long it was.
Her Danish friend fled, not ready for such an intense spiritual experience. True to her upbeat and ever-searching quest, she viewed this as her stage of “purification,” and got back up and continued onward, weakened, but as determined as ever. She was excited by India, and recalled all Ram Dass had told her about it. Faye was soon approached by a Sikh Elder, who told her he was waiting for her all his life. He offered her food from a pot covered with a white towel, and when she looked, it was filled with white rice totally covered with big, black ants! Thankfully, she decided it was not her he was waiting for, and continued onward to look for her Master.
Sheikha Maryam Travels Far
Faye’s journey takes her to many countries, in which she said she was always able to see God in herself and her horizons. When she returned to America after her first sojourn, she experienced culture shock, because she had already become accustomed to a more holy way of life, and the culture in the United States had undergone profound changes while she was away. She travels constantly, even until this day. Her openness and honesty about her journey, and her impressions as she travels through Jerusalem, goes to the Hajj, and continues on with her own life are so interesting, I could not put this book down.
Apparently Sufism allows women much more freedom than other sects of the Muslim religion, because once she was praying on her mat in a mosque, and a Sheik corrected her. She immediately left his mosque, quickly deciding that nobody was going to tell her how to pray! The way she holds onto both her faith and her independence are told through so many of her anecdotes, and this reader does not wish to spoil that for others.
One scene that touched me deeply was the first time Faye is able to go to the Hajj, as every Muslim should try to do so at least once in their lifetime. She had one son, who was only about ten years old. At a certain point, the men separate from the women, and she had to make a choice whether to let her son go on alone, in such a crushing crowd. What a difficult that decision was for her! When we spoke at the metaphysical fair, my own son was there, and she backed away after coming to talk, thinking he was a customer. When I introduced my son, she smiled, and determined our sons were the same age. Later, as I read, I learned she suffered six miscarriages to have that one precious son.
The Dome of the Rock
It's All about Love
The most heartwarming thing about Journey Through Ten Thousand Veils was Faye’s discussion of how much better the world could be if everyone realized that we are all basically on the same path, the path of love and spiritual growth. No one religion is better or worse than another, they all lead to the same place, The Divine, God, Allah, Jehovah, whatever you call him/her. It is sad when people engage in the “my religion is better than yours” or “my religion is more/less inclusive than yours” kind of attitude. Whatever your belief system, or whatever journey you are on, this book really deserves a place on your reading list.
Our world needs more open minded, spiritual people who can see past petty differences to get to the heart of the matter. We are all searching for Truth. Is it really so terrible that we approach that task in our own individual ways, according to our beliefs, levels of maturity, and attitudes of acceptance of ideas different than our own? Sheikha Maryam Kabeer Faye is an amazing person, and expresses her views with courage and wisdom. This reader highly recommends this book, it is truly eye-opening. Not only because it corrects misconceptions people have about Islam and Muslim people, but it also shows what a difference one person as wise as Sheikha Maryam can make. You will love seeing the world she has traveled around so many times through her kind and loving eyes.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Jean Bakula