God is love
Reflections on Shabbir Banoobhai’s
a mountain is an upside down valley

by Mphutlane Bofelo


This talk in Durban, at the occasion of the launch of Shabbir Banoobhai’s a mountain is an upside valley, provides an insightful look at the spiritual and mystical elements of Banoobhai’s writings. It links the writer’s works to the Sufi tradition and discusses some of the impacts of this tradition. Mphutlane wa Bofelo is himself a well-known South Africa poet, essayist and socio-political critic and activist.

Like most of Shabbir Banoobhai’s recent works, a mountain is an upside down valley contains poetry and prose that reflects on the real nature of things visible and invisible to the human eye and investigates the essence of concepts and values such as love, compassion, justice, and knowing God. While the very act of engaging in serious critical reflections of this nature is a bold exercise, it is a much bolder act to actually share these deeper feelings, emotions, thoughts and imaginations with the rest of humanity.


even in the darker aspects of humanity
he sees a flicker of transcendental light


The very act of Banoobhai opening up not only to his immediate family but also to the rest of the world, and sharing with all humanity his feelings, thoughts and reflections, is an expression of love and faith in humanity. It is indeed an act of surrendering the self to the real purpose of our being on earth – knowing the Ultimate Truth. Through deep and serious reflection, Shabbir Banoobhai seems to have arrived at the point where he sees in all human beings and all creatures – in all of creation – reflections of the light of God. Even in the darker and darkest face of humanity he sees a flicker of primordial and transcendental light.

How is this possible? The answer to this, besides in Banoobhai’s own collection, may be found in the assertions of Sheikh Muzaffar of the Sufi Helveti Tariqa: the purpose of remembrance of the creator (Zikr) is to open the eyes of the heart, to make us graduate from seeing with the eyes of the head to seeing with the eyes of the heart. Sheikh Muzaffar says: “If you can see through your heart you will know all men, all things, you will see like a telescope with wide lens. When you see with your heart’s eyes, all space opens for you.”


looking within allows us
to discover buried treasures


Banoobhai’s collection of prose and poetry encourages us to believe that it is complete devotion to immersing the self in the remembrance of the Creator that allows us to see light everywhere. What runs like a thread in this book, and indeed in all his work, is that looking within allows us to discover buried treasures and gain the ability not only to live in the moment but also to see beyond it, so that we are not deluded into living for the moment. a mountain is an upside-down valley, shows us that seeing beyond form, tasting the essence of life, being in touch with the reality beyond the moment, is possible through real awareness.

Real awareness is moving beyond the knowledge and sight of ‘something’, to being within something and ultimately becoming it. In a mountain is an upside-down valley and other works by Shabbir Banoobhai that ‘something’ is love. For Banoobhai it seems, God is love and love is Godly. Loving is seeing God. Knowing God is being in love. Being in love is being in God. It is not enough to know about love, God. Real knowledge is seeing the love of God in everything, being consumed by that love, and ultimately becoming that love.


love is the only thing on the lips of the poet


If you read a mountain is an upside down valley carefully, with the eyes of the heart, you will see that, like most of Banoobhai’s work, it is all about love. The book is a reflection of a person who has arrived at a point where the only thing in his eyes, mind, ears and heart is love, a person who has surrendered his whole being to love, therefore becoming a living expression of that love himself by living for nothing else but to be a loving person. When I read a mountain is an upside down valley, I could not help but think that love is the only thing on the lips of the poet, so much so that, even when he wants to say such simple things as ‘you’ and ‘me’, he ends up saying ‘love’.

I would like to end these thoughts and reflections about Banoobhai’s work with an extract from a poem of my own, ‘This love’, inspired by the writings and thoughts of Banoobhai and Rumi:

This love
It seems to me
Even when he wanted
To say such holy
Things as light
Or utter mundane
Stuff like candle
All Rumi could say is
Shams of Tabrizi
Simply because all
He could see
In the man freed of ego is
Love trapped in nothing but itself.


© Mphutlane wa Bofelo. All rights reserved.