Reviews by acclaimed scholars, artists and poets
The voice of a female Saudi Arabian poet expressing her deep spiritual yearnings in Sufi- inspired poetry is indeed a rare but also precious experience amidst all the din of strife and anger that surrounds so many Muslims today. This voice recalls that Islam emphasizes not only Divine Justice but also Divine Mercy and that the Blessed Prophet reflected not only Divine Majesty (Jalal) but also Divine Beauty (Jamal), the latter possessing a female dimension that is so evident in classical Sufi poetry.
The present book is significant in that it reflects something of that classical expression of spiritual beauty in a contemporary language expressed by a female poet who hails from the land where the Blessed Prophet was born, carried out his prophetic mission and died.
–Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University and the author of numerous books including Man and Nature: the Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man Kazi Publications, 1998), Religion and the Order of Nature (Oxford, 1996) and Knowledge and the Sacred (SUNY, 1989)
N’imah is a talented writer and poet who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and address issues that, quite frankly, are often ignored as a result of timidity. I commend her efforts in this noble initiative where the arts combine in powerfully written poetic compositions and a showcasing of Islamic arts.
– Sami Yusuf International Musician, composer, UN Celebrity Partner and initiator of the Spiritique genre of music.
Ni’mah Nawwab was born into the lineage of a family of scholars in Makkah. Her poems unfold the living landscapes, the horizons that hold the signs spoken of in the Qur’an, the calligraphy of the mountains dipping into the desert, the inkwell of God’s words, reflecting the signs before us into the secrets within the Book of Man.
–Shems Friedlander the author of nine books including: When You Hear Hoofbeats, Think of a Zebra Talks on Sufism and Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes. Friedlander teaches visual communications, drawing, painting and photography at the American University in Cairo.
Ni’mah Nawwab’s poetry invites the reader to delve into the expanse of the Creator’s greatness and grace. It also challenges the readers to examine the reaches of their own souls and experience spiritual serenity and radiance.
–Tayyibah Taylor, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief of Azizah Magazine.
Nimah is such a questing spirit. We will probably never find the thing we seek, but the quest is validated by the love and desire we put into it. This is the joy of the seeker who never finds and, not finding, finds. These poems are echoes of the Feryad, the spirit’s cry: “Help me! I am here, find me!” Read the poems and be there too.
—Mohamed Zakariya, is considered the preeminent ambassador of the art of Islamic calligraphy in America.
In the days of old, merchants, mystics, and travelers traveled via caravans in quest of riches from this world and the Beyond. They would stop periodically in “stations” to lighten their load, refresh their spirits, and prepare the journey ahead. In this magnificent collection of inspired and inspiring poetry, we as readers are taken along such a journey in “Canvas of the Soul.” Every poem of the remarkable poet Nimah Nawwab, who hails from the land of the House of God and carries the fragrance of the Blessed Prophet, serves as a station for readers to pause, reflect, and replenish our heart and souls. As is befitting of the poetry of the classical Sufi tradition, these poems use the richest of daily symbols to beckon us to return again and again to that majestic and celestial Home that is at once our Origin and our Destination.
–Omid Safi, Professor of Islamic Studies, University of North Carolina. Author of Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters (2009).
Echoing the traditional Arabic devotional poetry and song of an Ibn al-Farid or Ibn al-‘Arabi, Nimah Nawwab’s heartfelt, spare, and moving English verses recreate the fire, longing, inspiration, and piercing metaphysical insight of those spiritual classics in a fresh and distinctive contemporary voice, like the intimate yearning heart of the mystic’s solitary night-vigil.
-Prof. James Morris, Department of Theology, Boston College and President of the Rumi Institute’s international advisory council. His most recent books include Knowledge of the Soul (2006); The Reflective Heart: Discovering Spiritual Intelligence in Ibn ‘Arabī’s “Meccan Illuminations” (2005); Orientations: Islamic Thought in a World Civilisation (2004); Ibn ‘Arabī: The Meccan Revelations (2002);
The pieces on offer here are brilliant and enriching, drawing deeply from their well of Sufi legacy. Nimah Nawwab presents us an immediacy to the Beautiful Beyond, while refining the sensibility out of which our desires are purified. We heartily commend this volume of poems to readers/lovers everywhere.
-Daniel Skubik is a professor of law, ethics, and humanities in California Baptist University.
Nimah Ismail Nawwab, like a true Makkan mutawwif (pilgrim guide), leads our souls around the familiar and unfamiliar terrain of the soul. Come and enjoy being with God in His manifestations in His signs! In your soul! Love of God for God’s sake and for the pleasure of receiving His Love in return! Nimah succeeds as an artist, a spiritual poet in giving permission for our subjective thoughts and perceptions of God’s moments of revelation of His Light, when He touches our souls and inner thoughts and cores.
-Mohammad Mulla, a Meccan in genes and soul! and Former Director, English Language Center, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
Assistant Professor, Religion,
Central Michigan University
Rising up from the scorched ground
rise up, rise up
in the raindrops of blessings
step out into the rainbow of serenity
and inhale the aroma of blossoming acceptance
as the canvas of your soul
explodes in radiant colors
beyond our unseeing eyes.
These poems celebrate (as one poem is titled) “the power within,” while also honoring the beauty that is without and within. Often she speaks of the “core;” and it is to this core her evocations take us. (Dare I say that this is a work of “Core-an?”) This is a book that expresses the courage to seek to see the Prophet (S.A.A.W.S.). And I am personally gratified to see the balance in the subtle-sphere experiences maintained between vision and audition. These poems “…resolve the Final Riddle of the Essence / as you step into the Homeland of Certainty.” (p. 89) In this poem there is the perfect balance of attraction to God (majzub) and wayfaring (salik) and the continued meditation, sustained throughout the book on the relationship between salat/namaz and the ascension of the soul as the Prophet Muhammad ascended:
The Inner Tablet
Do you see the writing on the inner tablet of the soul
where knowledge of the intangible resides
where the darkest darkness dissipates
where the cruelty of the friendless world dissolves
As we pass through the nine spheres
entering a nascent threshold
where realities turn and spin
with the turning of the stars
in the sought horizon of Ultimate Unity.(p. 56)
And how refreshing to hear here a message to `be yourself.’ (p. 94) Both Saint Francis and Sri Ramakrushna taught that the reason people do not become saints is not so much that they sin, but rather that the carry a sense of “shame” for being who they are: i.e., that one needs to learn how to be oneself, and devote what one can do for God and people, not what one thinks one “should” do for God and people.
This book reflects on the integral relationship between salat/namaz and the blessed Prophet’s ascension. This relationship, which deserves to be retained and remembered is done so on pp. 96-97. Reading this verse reminds me of reading Rumi with its pithy wisdom and adventurous metaphors.
The turning of the planets
In the upper realm are but a minute happening
When the angels look down
And dive through the worlds to listen to souls
Speeding on a flight of Devotional Rapture. (p. 97)
I expect that my future immersions (which I already plan) in this masterpiece will yield more wisdom, context, and perspective
And this book itself is a work of art in the art of bookmaking. I am so extremely impressed with how this bookmaker has crafted and illuminated illustrations, illumination, and settings in a way that complements and accentuates the message — and is in fact a dimension I feel integral to the experience of the poems. The illuminated pages evoke the classical courtly texts of Islamic scholarship and Islamic arts. Not only is Canvas of the Soul: Mystic Poems from the Heartland of Arabia, (Tughra books) a text with a beautiful message, but this book is also an objet d’art to be treasured for one’s own experience of beauty and a perfect gift to be given and to give to people who care about beauty and to whose lives you would want to add such aesthetic beauty that advances an important spiritual message while contributing an aesthetically rewarding work of art.
Nimah Nawwab’s book is a service to humanity. Imagine if this book were someone’ first introduction to Sufism. One would immediately know that God is Beautiful and loves Beauty (inna Allahun Jami wa yuhibbu Jamal.) This is a book that attracts people to advance in their absorption in beauty and aspire “Toward the One, the Perfection of Love, Harmony, and Beauty,” as Hazrat Inayat Khan taught us is the nature of God.