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About

Kabir Helminski's Biography, Honors, Publications, and Organizational Accomplishments
 

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Kabir Edmund Helminski is the author of a number of books on contemporary Sufism, a translator of Sufi poetry (especially the poetry of Rumi), and is the co-founder and co-director of Threshold Society (Sufism.org). He is also a Shaikh (spiritual teacher) in the Mevlevi Order, a 750 year-old tradition based on the teachings of the thirteenth century Muslim mystic, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi.

 

 

International Influence

 

Helminski has been named as one of the “500 Most Influential Muslims in the World” by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center, and in 2001 he was the first Muslim to deliver the  Harold M. Wit Lecture on Spirituality in Contemporary Life at Harvard Divinity School. In 2007, he was one of the original signatories of “A Common Word Between Us and You,” an open letter by Islamic scholars to Christian leaders, calling for peace and understanding. He has also been an advisor to Ansor, the World's largest Muslim youth organization, as it formulated a detailed roadmap for the reform of Islamic Orthdoxy. He has written for The Huffington Post, Patheos.com, and Tikkun Magazine, and was  identified by popular Turkish author Elif Shafak as being a significant influence in her novel The Forty Rules of Love.

 

The holistic spirituality he promotes is summarized by Professor Kathleen M. Moore (writing for the American Academy of Political and Social Science) as follows, “Shaykh Kabir Helminski of the Mevlevi Order of Muslims has written that God has not granted a spiritual monopoly to any one religion, and that the Qur’an in fact encourages competition among people of faith to promote virtue and cooperation. Islam is uniquely situated to reconcile the various religions because it is inherently tolerant and respectful of all faiths.”

 

 

Early education

 

Helminski studied World Religions at Wesleyan University and has an M.A. in Transpersonal Studies from the Institute of Transpersonal Studies (now Sophia University).

 

 

Mevlevi Order

 

Helminski studied under Mevlevi teacher Suleyman Hayati Loras of Konya (commonly referred to as Suleyman Dede) and was officially recognized as a shaikh of the Mevlevi Order in 1990, by the late Celalettin Çelebi, head of the Mevlevi Order. He was the first “Westerner” to be officially recognized as such and at a time when there were only four other shaikhs in Turkey. Between 1994 and 2000 he toured with the whirling dervishes of Turkey, offering ceremonies in such places as Town Hall and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York, as well as performing arts venues at the University of California (Berkeley, Santa Barbara, San Diego), introducing the spiritual culture of the Mevlevis to more than 100,000 people in the USA.

 

 

Threshold Society

 

In 1983, Helminski (along with his wife, Camille) co-founded Threshold Society, a non-profit organization offering educational programs and retreats in spiritual psychology and traditional Sufi practice, as well as books, audio recordings, and content on their website sufism.org. While centred in the USA, Threshold Society is recognised as an authentic source of Mevlevi teaching with close links to the International Mevlana Foundation in Turkey.

 

Since 1980 Kabir has been formally associated with the Mevlevi tradition and in 1990 was given the Mevlevi Ijazet (Diploma) and "Destar"(Ceremonial Turban) and thus recognized as a fully authorized "Shaikh" by the late Celalettin Çelebi, direct descendant of Rumi and the highest authority within the tradition.

 

Historian Mark Sedgwick notes that the society ‘favors liberal interpretations of Islam; not all of its members self-identify as Muslim. [...] The Threshold Society draws on the centuries old Mevlevi tradition, while also adapting it to contemporary culture.Dr. Marcia Hermansen, researching in the 80s similarly notes a wide range of direct influences, including 'Samuel Lewis, Ram Das, Reshad Feild, Tosun Bayrak, and Murat Yagan, among others.' In fact, what has appeared in academic articles is both inadequate and incomplete. Helminski, while being wholeheartedly devoted to Rumi and the Mevlevi tradition since the late 70s, has received profound friendship and support from many important spiritual teachers, including William Segal, Hasan Shushud, Murat Yagan, Asad Ahmad Ali, Cemalnur Sargut, Metin Bobaroglu, Şefik Can, and Nur Artiran.

Sedgwick notes a number of Threshold Society groups are now in operation around the world, all part of 'a single global movement', each group meeting regularly to engage in the spiritual practices promoted by the society (particularly zhikr and the study of Rumi’s poetry). The main group, led in person by Kabir and Camille Helminski, currently meets in Escondido, California, while there are also a number of groups meeting in other locations, including the USA, Canada, UK, Turkey, South Africa, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

 

Books on Sufism

 

Helminski’s books on Sufism have been translated into a number of languages, including French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Turkish, Russian, Arabic, and Indonesian. They are particularly concerned with Sufi psychology and with expressing the subtle relationships the author sees between the ego (the lower levels of the nafs), the soul (the higher levels of the nafs), the heart (qalb), and Spirit (Ruh). Providing a metaphysical context for human consciousness, and practical means for refining and expanding it, are major concerns. Helminski presents Sufism as a training system that allows the human being to develop "presence," to awaken will, spiritual perception, and love,  and to fulfill the purpose of life: communion with the Divine.

 

Living Presence: The Sufi Path to Mindfulness and the Essential Self, was first published by Tarcher/Putnam in 1992. A “Revised and Updated 25th Anniversary Edition” was published in 2017 as part of Tarcher Cornerstone Editions. The book aims to convey “the basic principles of Sufism, and how these ideas can lead to the experience of presence.” Presence is defined as: “The state of being consciously aware, in alignment with our deepest and highest capacities.” Buddhist author and teacher Jack Kornfield describes the book as, “A heartfelt modern illumination of the Sufi path, filled with the fragrance of the ancients.”

 

The Knowing Heart: A Sufi Path of Transformation, was published by Shambhala in 1999. The book explores how for Sufis “the human heart is not a fanciful metaphor but an objective organ of intuition and perception” and presents Sufism as “a practical spirituality suitable for all cultures and times.” Drawing on the examples of Muhammad and Rumi, it highlights the Islamic context of Sufism and is described by Library Journal as “A clear and well-grounded introduction to Sufism, liberally seasoned with insights from the Koran and the writings of Rumi... Perhaps the best beginner’s guide now available.”

 

Holistic Islam: Sufism, Transformation, and the Needs of our Time was published by Threshold Books in 2019. The book uses Quranic arguments to express a spiritually progressive Islam. Dr. Rüdiger Lohlker (Professor of Islamic Studies at Vienna University) describes it as presenting  'a new way of being Muslim outside the traditionally Muslim regions of the world,' whilst Dr. Khalid Abou El Fadl (Distinguished Professor of Islamic Law at the UCLA Law School) describes it as “a sagacious and indeed perspicacious walk through the heart and soul of Islam.”

 

Helminski has also authored two volumes for the Book Foundation: The Book of Language: Exploring the Spiritual Vocabulary of Islam (2006), and The Book of Revelations: A Sourcebook of Selections from the Qur’an (2005).

 

 

Written translations of Sufi poetry

 

Helminski’s translations of Sufi poetry, in particular Rumi’s poetry, have been made available in a number of books. In recognition of his contribution to the understanding and appreciation of Rumi’s poetry, in 1996 he received an honorary Ph.D. in literature from Selçuk University in Konya, Turkey, and his translations have been lauded  as being uncommonly faithful to the original Persian, yet in contemporary, poetic English. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Professor of Islamic Studies, George Washington University), commented on the Rumi collection Love’s Ripening, “[The] central message of Rumi, that incomparable troubadour of love, is reflected with great care, devotion, authenticity, and yes, love in this book. There are now many translations of Rumi's poems in English, of various qualities. And yet, deposit all works in print on this subject, and it is certain that this book will stand out among them."

 

Helminski’s translations of Rumi’s poetry include the following volumes:

 

  • Ruins of the Heart, Selected Lyric Poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi (Threshold, 1980)

  • Love is a Stranger, Selected Lyric Poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi (Threshold & Shambhala, 1992)

  • Rumi: Daylight (translated with Camille Helminski, Shambhala, 2000)

  • Jewels of Remembrance: 365 Selections from the Wisdom of Rumi (translated with Camille Helminski, Shambhala, 2000)

  • The Pocket Rumi (translated with Camille Helminski, Shambhala, 2008)

  • Love’s Ripening: Rumi on the Heart’s Journey (translated with Ahmad Rezwani,  Shambhala, 2008)

  • The Rumi Daybook: 365 Poems and Teachings from the Beloved Sufi Master (translated with Camille Helminski, Shambhala, 2011)

 

In partnership with Refik Algan, Helminski has also translated a collection of poetry by the 13th century Turkish poet Yunus Emre entitled The Drop that Became the Sea (Shambhala 1999). In collaboration with Camille Helminski, Mahmoud Mostafa, and Ibrahim Shihabi, he translated two collections of poetry by contemporary Syrian poet Asad Ali, entitled Happiness Without Death: Desert Hymns (Threshold Books, 1991) and Civilization of Paradise: Revelation Poems (Fons Vitae, 2014).

 

 

Audio recordings of Sufi poetry and music

 

Helminski has produced a number of albums of Sufi music over recent decades. These include  Ocean of Remembrance  and Rivers of One by Oruç Güvenç and Tümata; and Praise, by Ahmed Tijani and Friends, a collaboration between the Helminskis, Ahmed Tijani, Asabea Cropper, and other musical friends.

 

In 1997, Helminski formed the Dost Quartet (Kabir Helminski, vocals and saz; Camille Helminski, vocals and bendir; Fred Stubbs, ney; LuAnne Hightower, vocals) and released Garden Within the Flames (Interworld Music), an album of Sufi songs (ilahis) with lyrics inspired by Yunus Emre, Pir Sultan Abdal, Ibn Arabi, and Jalaluddin Rumi.

 

On the live album Embracing Both Worlds (Threshold Productions) and the studio album Wheresoever You Turn, There is the Face of God (Water Lily Acoustics), Helminski oversaw the release of music and poetry from the Whirling Dervish tours of the USA that occurred between 1994 and 2000. Both albums feature vocalist and Quranic reciter Kani Karaca.

 

2004 saw the release of the album You Are Joy (Threshold Productions), consisting of selections from the words of Jalaluddin Rumi, translated and read by the Helminskis. The poetry was accompanied by original, traditional Sufi music composed and improvised under the direction of Helminski.

 

 

The Book Foundation

 

Beginning in 2000, Kabir was the co-director of a publishing program in Islamic education for The Book Foundation (TheBook.org), publisher of The Message of the Quran, by Muhammad Asad. This series of books represented an original approach to Islamic education for young adults, as well as mature adults. The books produced included:

 

  • Fragrance of Faith, The Enlightened Heart of Islam

  • The Book of Revelations, a Sourcebook of Selections From the Quran With Interpretations

  • The Book of Essential Islam, The Spiritual Training System of Islam

  • The Book of Hadith, Sayings of the Prophet Mohammed Selected by Charles le Gai Eaton

  • The Book of Character, Writings on Character and Virtue From Islamic and Other Sources

  • The Book of Nature, A Sourcebook of Spiritual Perspectives on Nature and the Environment

  • The Book of Language, A Deep Glossary of Islamic and English Spiritual Terms

                                                                                     

 

Threshold Books

 

From 1980 until 1999, Helminski was the director of Threshold Books, a publisher of Sufi literature. Threshold Books stopped its publishing program in 1999, and a number of its books were subsequently taken up by Shambhala. Threshold Books became active once more in 2017 however. Titles currently offered by Threshold Books include Rumi’s Sun: The Teachings of Shams of Tabriz (translated by Refik Algan and Camille Helminski), and The Mevlevi Wird: The prayers recited daily by Mevlevi dervishes (translated by Camille Helminski and Mahmoud Mostafa). Threshold Books now also features the imprint Sweet Lady Press, offering the poetry of Camille Helminski.

 

 

Baraka Institute

 

Helminski co-founded Baraka Institute (barakainstitute.org) in 2005 as an organisation based on universal spiritual values, yet particularly aimed at younger adult Muslims in America and Europe who "have had little exposure to the spiritual legacy of their own tradition”.

 

The institute describes its mission as being:

 

  • To nurture a community of men and women committed to spiritual transformation,

  • To sponsor events that offer sacred knowledge and the experience of divine love,

  • To awaken creativity and the arts within a spiritual context,

  • To develop programs for the education of the heart,

  • To encourage the learning of Quranic Arabic as a vehicle for spiritual wisdom.

 

 

Inter-spiritual work

 

For ten years Kabir and Camille Helminski collaborated with The Spiritual Paths Foundation, a group of respected contemplative teachers from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Native American, and Hindu traditions, to offer programs in applied inter-spirituality. He was instrumental in developing a two-year training program in inter-spirituality comprised of four semesters: Introduction to Metaphysics; Maps of the Journey; Applied Spirituality; Global Vision. Their work is archived at spiritualpaths.net

 

https://www.themuslim500.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/TheMuslim500-2009-low.pdf

https://sufism.org/threshold/kabir-camille/kabir-and-camille-helminski-threshold-society-founders-2

https://www.acommonword.com

https://www.baytarrahmah.org/media/2017/Gerakan-Pemuda-Ansor_Declaration-on-Humanitarian-Islam.pdf

Kabir Helminski, https://www.huffpost.com/author/kabir-helminski?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9kdWNrZHVja2dvLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAI2pBTsbnhSEv_67aoY5OyJEjVOyPUzhsAezD5Ws489kaGdEBtspIW1atIDdtP3jU1ALNA7Ns5rRm_sfiPLqsk2qwzNJ2I6D6PW6eClAAlVqXyc89mxHenchIXJm9Zgf8worD1s12AbK7Qyr7u2NoSviAgn8xPi5VoSKCZjUHJlI

Kabir Helminski, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingtradition/author/khelminski/

Kabir Helminski, https://www.tikkun.org/author/a_helminskik

https://sufism.org/threshold/kabir-camille/kabir-and-camille-helminski-threshold-society-founders-2

Marcia Hermansen, 'Hybrid Identity Formations in Muslim America: The Case of American Sufi Movements'

The Muslim World, Volume 90, Spring, 2000

Embracing Both Worlds: The Whirling Dervishes in America: The Mevelvi Ensemble with Kani Karaca, Recorded Live  at Harvard University & the University of Arizona, Threshold Productions

Saglam, Burcu, “How does prohibition stop working? The visibility and legitimacy of Mevlevi ceremonies in modern Turkey”, a thesis submitted to the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences of Istanbul Sehir University

Mark Sedgwick, ‘Eclectic Sufism in the Contemporary Arab World', Tidsskrift for Islamforskning 11 (1), 2017, p.65-82

Marcia Hermansen, 'Hybrid Identity Formations in Muslim America: The Case of American Sufi Movements'

The Muslim World, Volume 90, Spring, 2000

Mark Sedgwick, Sufism in Latin America: A Preliminary Survey, Melancolia 3 (2018) pp. 4-34

https://sufism.org/local-groups/threshold-society-centers

Kabir Helminski, Living Presence: The Sufi Path to Mindfulness and the Essential Self, Tarcher Cornerstone Editions (2017) 9780143130130

Graham Christian, review of The Knowing Heart: A Sufi Path of Transformation, Library Journal, May 1, 1999, p. 86

R Lohlker (Hrsg.), Arabische Miszellen: Studien zur arabischen Welt. Schriftenreihe Schriften zur Kulturwissenschaft, Bd. 124, Verlag Dr. Kovac, Hamburg, S. 3-20.

Kabir Helminski, Holistic Islam: Sufism, Transformation, and the Needs of our Time, White Cloud Press (2017) 9781940468556

https://sufism.org/threshold/kabir-camille/kabir-and-camille-helminski-threshold-society-founders-2

Nazar Ul Islam, G K Sharma, Riyaz Ahmad Ganai Amin Karimnia et al, 'Mawlana and the west: with special reference to translation', Elixir Linguistics and Translation, 46 (2012)

https://www.shambhala.com/love-s-ripening-968.html

http://barakainstitute.org/about/

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