Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A journey that began with uncertainty

I start in the name of Allah the most gracious the most merciful and peace and blessings be on our beloved prophet Muhammad.

The most important thing I wrote whilst at High School was in the front cover of my English book. It read:

Four things come not back:

(1) The spoken word;
(2) The sped arrow;
(3) Time past
(5) The neglected opportunity

Why am I stating this? As I sit here in a tranquil park gazing across a valley over a month after coming back from the Rihla with a pen in my hand trying to write down my physical and spiritual experiences but finding that words to describe what I went through elude me, my thoughts turn back five months and how I nearly neglected the opportunity to take a journey that would change my life forever.

Thanks to the constant encouragement and support of my family especially my aunt and my uncle and with the immense mercy and blessings of Allah, I was after eight long years, once again preparing to visit the holy cities of Makkah al Mukarramah and Medina al Munawwarah. Unbeknown to me then, Allah had shown tremendous courage in me as I was one of a select and privileged few to have been chosen by Him to visit His house and our Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) from numerous others who I have no doubt would have fulfilled the rights of the two holy sanctuaries much better than I ever could. For this I can not thank Allah enough.

Medina. How can I put into words the emotions I went through when entering the city of our beloved Prophet Muhammed (صلي الله عليه و سلم), and on seeing the minarets that seem to touch the sky and the green dome that is so simple yet so beautiful. No words can fully do justice to the ethereal quality that the illuminated city has. I could only express my joy at being here once again from the tears that rolled down my face, the same tears that so many others have shed upon entering the city, the same tears that are such a noble and humble companion for the duroods that flowed from my tongue and the same tears that I will shed many a time before I leave.

So many times one can not express his true feelings of hope, gratitude and joy due to the fear of opening ones heart – the most sacred of places – and relaying emotions that no words can fathom. It is easy to leave what is in ones heart between him and his Lord, but with Allah’s guidance we try our utmost in expressing our thoughts so insha’allah others can take inspiration and courage. For me this is one of those times.

The most poignant part of my journey was the farewell visit to the Rawdah. Standing in the lobby of the hotel, my heart fluttering and smiling but tinged with sadness, knowing that very soon it will see its Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) again but wary that with every breath and every step its time in the illuminated city was ebbing away. The courtyard passes by where so many people are supplicating and so many young, innocent children are playing seemingly unaware of the beautiful mosque that is their backdrop. Everything is so peaceful as I enter the mosque. The mosque is quiet. My heart has never felt safer as I walk towards the Rawdah. Praying peacefully behind every pillar that I can, I feel so privileged.

The time has come. I walk slowly and stand humbly before my prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم). I am here standing in front of the best of creation, the one who spent night after night weeping for forgiveness for his Ummah and I am standing in front of Him knowing I am not worthy of this moment, knowing I have done nothing, sacrificed nothing for my religion but still Allah has seen something in me to bring me thousands of miles from my home and stand me in front of the one he loves the most. I am truly fortunate. My heart prays, prays that the prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) would just glance at me for a millisecond and acknowledge my presence and my heart would be content. Before a word even crosses my lips tears stream down my face and nothing matters to me at that time for I am in front of my prophet praying for salvation, doing the exact same thing that millions of people have done before me and millions will do after me, praying that with his intercession I will cross the bridge of sirat, praying that with his hands I will drink the sweet water of Hawdhe Kawthar and praying I will see him again.

As I walk back wiping the tears from my face I feel happy and immensely privileged to be part of a group that had an opportunity to be so close to the prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم). As a group we experienced so much that we can only thank Allah for choosing us.

My journey that started five months ago with uncertainty ends with happiness on a rain lashed landing strip at Heathrow Airport or, has my journey to eternal bliss only just begun? Only Allah knows.

Finally I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the shuyookh, Sheikh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qadi and Sheikh Jamal for their guidance, knowledge and inspiration and to all the Rihla participants for their kindness and patience. To the friends I made at the Rihla and to one friend who said I should try and write a podcast (you all know who you are), jazakamullahu khair for putting up with me and giving me the most unforgettable three weeks of my life. I miss you all. Insha’allah we will all meet once more in the city of our beloved prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم).


Monday, September 19, 2005

By the gate of your generosity stands a sinner

Photo: Shaykh Abdallah Al-Kadi and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

To be invited to Madina is indeed a great blessing, and, truth be told, it is sufficient as a blessing. But Allah is wonderfully Generous. Not only were we present in Madina, we were there with some of the most gifted Shuyukh of our time, luminaries on the path to God. Among them, a direct descendent of he who came to illuminate the hearts of men and to take humanity out of darkness into light like the dazzling full moon on a black night. It was a truly humbling experience to sit at the feet of Shaykh Muhammad al Yaqoubi, who taught us the Shama’il of Imam Tirmidhi. Shaykh Muhammad is truly awe-inspiring, explained in part, by him being from the blessed progeny of the Beloved of God, peace be upon him.

A description of Shaykh Muhammad here is but laconic; there is little chance of doing justice to him in such few words. Just by looking at him, it instils in you a thirst for knowledge about our Nabi, peace be upon him.

He is in the room but I’m convinced he isn’t. As some brothers mentioned, it’s like he’s from a different era. Throughout his classes I was mesmerised by his deep insight and candour. His joy at discussing all the different aspects of Rasoolullah’s (صلي الله عليه و سلم) life is a joy to behold. It made me think at some points that he didn’t need any of us there. He would get the same joy at just teaching to an empty room – such is the love that he has for his grandfather, the Messenger of Allah, صلي الله عليه و سلم. How could I be grateful enough to the Prophet of Islam, صلي الله عليه و سلم, when I was still benefiting from that which he left behind?

The study of the Shama’il was nicely complimented by the class taught by Shaykh Abdullah al –Kadi, which was titled Buyut an-Nabi: ‘Houses of the Prophet’, صلي الله عليه و سلم. I had never met or even heard of the Shaykh prior to this trip, so it was a gift from the Rihla organisers to unite us here in Madina. It was Shaykh Abdullah who had facilitated for us most of our trips around the Holy cities, and he worked around the clock to ensure our stay was comfortable and enjoyable. Shaykh Abdullah warms the heart with his amazing personality. He narrated inspiring and moving stories about our Nabi’s (صلي الله عليه و سلم) relationship with his wives. His (صلي الله عليه و سلم) undying love for Khadija, may God be pleased with her, her sacrifices for him (صلي الله عليه و سلم), and the deen of Allah, her belief in him as a Messenger of God (صلي الله عليه و سلم); we were taught that their relationship is a time-honoured template for those looking for success. We covered all of the wives of the Prophet – raised by Allah with the title Umm al Mu’mineen: Mothers of the Believers. The class on his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) relationship with A’isha, may God be pleased with her, was particularly memorable as it highlighted the everyday matters of relationships and some of the hardships that he (صلي الله عليه و سلم) experienced. But it was constantly peppered with insights into the Prophets’ character and kindness. ‘I am no longer concerned about death because I know you will be my wife in Jannah’ he used to say to A’isha.
On another occasion we learnt of his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) tenderness with Saffiyya, may God be pleased with her. He (صلي الله عليه و سلم) wiped away her tears with his thobe because she had become upset at being called a Jew by the other wives. He (صلي الله عليه و سلم) told her ‘Say to them: My husband is a Prophet, my father is a Prophet [Aaron] and my uncle is a Prophet [Moses], whereas only your husband is a Prophet.’

Shaykh Abdullah – himself from the blessed family of the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) – advised us throughout to be gentle with our spouses, to resolve disputes in the best of ways and to have excellent character when dealing with one another. A beautiful class taught by a beautiful teacher.

In the blessed company of Shaykh Jamal Zahabi, a hanafi scholar, we covered the fiqh of Umrah. Shaykh Jamal would often mix with the brothers at meal times and his patience and good humour really left a mark on me. And who could forget his heart-stirring voice? His rendition of ‘Ya Imam al-Rusli’ brought tears to the eye, joy to the soul and cultivated the seeds of love for the Best of Creation, peace be upon him.

And, of course, inspiring us with his very presence was Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. The inimitable Shaykh Hamza, under whose guidance and leadership this sacred journey came to fruition. I’ve been deeply moved by Shaykh Hamza ever since I came across his lectures and writings and the Rihla proved I’m not alone. If I was to write about every person whose life he has touched I would need to write a few volumes and that would just be brushing the surface. During the three weeks, I saw glimpses of what makes him the man he is. Anyone who observes, with a clear mind, will see a man lost in the love of the Prophet, صلي الله عليه و سلم. Shaykh Hamza carries with him the spirit of Islam: deeply sincere, magnanimous in nature and a truly selfless soul. On one of the nights we went to visit the Rawdah, he made a plea to the brothers not to elongate their Nawafil prayers at the various places of worship and to give other brothers and sisters the chance to pray there. He said, ‘that is where the reward is, to think of your brother before you think of yourself.’

Shaykh Hamza taught from the Reflections of Pearls dua’a book and although we never managed to complete it, what we did cover was sufficient. Mainly, that if we take up the sunnahs of the Messenger, صلي الله عليه و سلم, we will find barakah in our lives and the road to paradise becomes smooth, God Willing. Commentating on the dua’a for the market place, Shaykh Hamza reminded us, ‘God purchased your soul for your life and against it is paradise. That is the souk of the Akhira.’

Along the way we celebrated the life of the Prophet, صلي الله عليه و سلم, by visiting the many places he visited, masajid he prayed at, wells he drank from, streets he walked by, battlefields he negotiated, and the sites of historic speeches he gave, صلي الله عليه و سلم. It was surreal. This is where it all began. One man (صلي الله عليه و سلم) with a small band of followers. They gave their lives so we could live to say ‘La ilaha ilallah.’ What a legacy they left behind. At masjid-e Aqabah, where the first Muslims from Madina came to pledge their allegiance to the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم), I felt as though we had been moved back to that very time; such was the spirit of chivalry, brotherhood and sacrifice that still emanates from within those four walls.

The moments spent in the Rawda of the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم), were moments from another world. Spending time in his company (صلي الله عليه و سلم). Tears flowed naturally here, hard hearts melted; arrogance wilted. Minutes seemed like days. Everyone longs for their beloved. I was at home here. Shaykh Muhammad reminded us: ‘We go to him, peace be upon him, with no knowledge and no claims – except with the claim that we love him, peace be upon him.’ My feelings are conveyed far more eloquently than I ever could in the poem of the great scholar Shaykh Ibn Hajar Al-‘Asqalani:

By the gate of your generosity stands a sinner, who is mad with love,
O best of mankind in radiance of face and countenance!
Through you he seeks a means [tawassala], hoping for Allah’s forgiveness of slips;
from fear of Him, his eyelid is wet with pouring tears.
Although his genealogy attributes him to a stone [hajar],
how often tears have flowed, sweet, pure and fresh!
Praise of you does not do you justice, but perhaps,
In eternity, its verses will be transformed into mansions.
My praise of you shall continue for as long as I live,
For I see nothing that could ever deflect me from your praise.

- G. H.