We all start connected. Every embryo is connected to the mother, who is connected to life around her. I remember starting life connected, not just to my mother, but also to my culture and to the Islamic faith that permeated my country, Iran since the 7th century.
I was a curious child and my early years were full of existential questions. I remember asking my grandmother about God whom she was talking to at 4:30 every morning as she stood on her prayer mat. One day, when I was four years old, she took me to the Amir al-Mumeneen mosque, in Tabriz, Iran, to more deeply connect me to what had been, for centuries, the faith of her ancestors.
One day her brother, Agha Dayi, who was highly versed in the Qur'an and Sharia (Islamic Law), took me to the mosque by the hand. As he introduced me to the mullah, he said: "This is my daughter and she will take the Qur'an classes that you are teaching to the boys." Thus, although I was a girl, I was allowed to go with my male cousin into the men's section of the mosque.
A new world opened up to me there. I remember the mullah would sit and speak to us with such love and openness in his face. All of the kids would sit around him as he would patiently answer all the "grand" questions of the kids. He used to say, "all answers are right here, in the Qur'an, which is the letter that the friend, Allah, sent us through his beloved postman, prophet Muhammad many years ago."
I was content with our kind mullah's sweet answers and I remember then, life made sense. But as I grew older and became more like a woman, I felt the local mosque community I so embraced were no longer embracing me back in the same way. The kind mullah had left and the new mullah didn't approve of females, including the ten-year-old Parisa, walking around in the "men's section."
As years passed, I was exposed to the poetry of the great Persian mystical poets like Hafiz, Saadi and Rumi. I began to realize that my spiritual thirst was not to be quenched in either the male or the female section of the mosque, but maybe somewhere along the Madhhab-e Eshgh or the "Path of Love" in Islam.
A new friend and a true "Lover" himself, Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic Studies and expert in Sufism explains:
" What holds this thousand-year-old "path" together is neither creedal statements nor particular initiatory rituals, but rather an aesthetic, a "mood", a rasa: the intuitive experience of love, which must be tasted personally. This is what the Sufis of this path referred to as the 'taste' of love."
Rumi transcended time, religion and gender. His poetry became the timeless temple in which I could disappear to everything but love. His tavern attracted a gathering of intoxicated lovers, people committed to going directly to the source, as fearlessly as the moth who flies straight into the candle flame. In his passion for union with the Beloved, Rumi attracted not just Muslims, but also Jews and Christians, not just men but also many women who heard the echo of their true nature in Rumi's voice:
"This woman, who is your beloved, is in fact a ray of His light,
She is not a mere creature. She is like a creator."
The One Through Love project is an expression of my deep yearning for the essential Oneness in all creation. The project has also connected me with Sufi circles in the US, Europe and Turkey where one can find powerful Sufi women like Cemalnur Sargut, who told us:
"On the path of love, we believe that we come from God and we return to God. We therefore create a circle, and our continual moving around this circle is the most important movement in this life. This constant turning is our true movement, because in this way, we tell God: I've come from you and I'm returning to you."
Cemalnur brings a special Sufi understanding of "a true woman." She speaks with the deep wisdom of my grandmother, and of so many others who travel on this "path of love."