Remona AlyTuesday 27 December 2016 Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2
Wine of divine love
For Christmas Day, we purchased a new libation to go with the halal goose, and cracked open our first batch of mulled wine – of the non-alcoholic variety of course. After hours of repeated hand to mouth action, in between the annual ritual of charades, we were stuffed and mulled up to the eyeballs – and were practically horizontal on the sofas as if in a drunken state.
While we were surrounded with half empty bottles of the fake mulled wine, it reminded me of the real stuff and of the times when I was growing up, that guests would bring a big bottle of wine as a gift for my parents, even though as Muslims we were all teetotal.
My obliging parents refused to embarrass their guests by pointing out we couldn’t drink their offerings, and instead said in a very polite and awkward English way, ‘Oh how lovely, thank you, so kind of you. Oh it’s a good year! You shouldn’t have. No, you REALLY shouldn’t have.”
My parents would secretly stash each bottle away in a cupboard, and eventually, after years of unintended accumulation, it looked like we’d created our very own wine cellar. It was our dirty secret.
Even though Muslims aren’t meant to drink alcohol because of the dangers that can come with intoxication, I used to find it intriguing that Muslim Sufi singers from the Indian subcontinent – known as Qawwalis and the Persian Sufi Muslim poets who inspired them – would sing and write devotional odes to wine. But the wine they celebrated was far beyond the bar. Because this wine was a symbol of divine love, and of sacred knowledge. The image of drinking from the wine cup, was drinking in God’s eternal essence. It was about being intoxicated in love for the Creator of Love.
In fact, wine is mentioned in the Quran as a gift in Paradise where we can indulge in a special river of flowing wine – enjoying its sacred pleasures without getting at all tipsy.
The Persian Muslim poet, Rumi tells us to “fill up like a chalice, like a chalice with the wine of love. Metamorphose purely into soul, make yourself worthy of the Soulmate.” Rumi is telling us to fill our hearts with the sacred wine of love so that we can transform into souls ready to unite with God.
For a person who’s stayed away from drink all my life, I have to admit that I’m looking forward to that day. But in the meantime, it’s back to the fake mulled wine.