Bishop Street Press; by Albert Fletcher
Hiklals, often called "Sufi Koans", are a sort of poem studied my the Sufi mystics of old as a tool to reach mystic states of conscioussness. Like Koans, the Hiklals are bits of nonsense designed to jerk your mind in novel directions; however, while Koans make no sense because of their logical structure, Hiklals exploit the syntactic structures of language itself (in the case of Hiklals, 19th century Turkish) to provoke mystery. This explains why they have remained so obscure--they are virtually impossible to translate.

Recently, noted MIT psycholinguist Albert Fletcher has made a painstaking effort to analyze and explain the syntactic structures involved, and to find their closest analogues in English. As a result, he doesn't exactly translate the Hiklals, but find unique English constructions that preserve their spirit. Upon first reading, they all seem jarringly misformed; however, with concentration their meaning jumps out, sort of like a verbal stereogram. Here are some examples:

The man carefully walked up the Allah's mountain finds the path to Paradise.

Since Allah ponders a riddle is apparent to all.

The revelation that one of the prophets reviled is blasphemous has no mercy for Allah.

Hmmm. I still don't get the third one.

I found much of Fletcher's book ("Hiklals: Comparative Structure", Bishop Street Press) a little hard to follow because of the linguistics. At times it can't seem to make up its mind if it's a book for linguists, or the general public. But what I did catch was interesting. The history section is well done, particularly the part about the Sufis being persecuted by the Islamic establishment for studying something that couldn't be translated into the language of the prophet. And the Hiklals are sort of fun even if I didn't reach enlightenment. I can see them becoming the next fad, replacing stereograms as magnets for bored mall shoppers and filling up the best seller's list. I'm sure someone savvy could make alot of money getting Dr. Fletcher to write a pop book. For now it remains an interesting, if obscure, corner of human thought.

-- Mitchell Frisken

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