Amin Maalouf On Expanding Our Definition Of Prayer
In his stunning historical fiction Samarkand, Amin Maalouf crafts a historically-based story about Omar Kayyam during the time he was composing his famous Rubaiyat. Omar Kayyam was an 11th century poet, astronomer, philosopher, and mathematician.
In the fictionalized account, Omar has been accused of insulting Islam (for many reasons including sleeping in a Mosque) and has been dragged before a judge. He defends himself by saying:
Only a man at peace with his Creator could find sleep in a place of worship.
The idea that true connection with God can run contrary to the performative expectations of a religious or non-religious society at large is nothing new. Omar expands the idea into a little bit of a speech whereby he breaks down his impression of prayer:
I am not one of those for whom faith is simply fear of judgement.
How do I pray?
I study a rose, I count the stars, I marvel at the beauty of creation and how perfectly ordered it is, at man, the most beautiful work of the Creator, his brain thirsting for knowledge, his heart for love, and his senses, all his senses alert or gratified.
The qadi who is judging Omar is moved by the speech and rather than giving Omar trouble, offers a warning to keep silent around other people so he doesn’t get in trouble again and a gift. He says:
We live in the age of the secret and of fear. You must have two faces. Show one to the crowd, and keep the other for yourself and your Creator. If…