Making Butter from Whole Milk

A few years ago at a weekend intensive with Shaykh Yahya Rhodus he mentioned that sometimes you can’t just go to a teacher and get a response to your questions right away, sometimes you receive the answer later on. In the interim though, you strive. I remembered his words today because in many ways, they describe my retreat experience this year. I moved to Toronto four months ago to start grad school at the University of Toronto (I’m a planning student studying the social policy and planning side of cities) and while it’s been a beautiful move and Toronto is a good place, the whole move has also been very challenging, and I don’t think a day has gone by when I haven’t thought about my schooling, the opportunity cost (being away from family for instance) and how my planning education relates to how I can best contribute now and in the future. It’s a topic that has been the subject of many a late night cup of tea, and much personal reflection and prayer.

Today though, along with Dr Tariq’s last session with us,  Habib Ali’s  beauty, Imam Zaid’s humour and so so much more..I received an incredible gift in the form of Dr Umar’s class because it addressed the internal angst I’ve been feeling.

It was during Dr Umar’ssecond session in his class about the aphorisms of Ibn Ata’illah. Though the entire session was wonderful, there are two things in particular that Dr Umar mentioned today that I found meaningful. One, while commenting about the first aphorism about not relying on deeds and not losing hope when you make mistakes, he mentioned the example of a horseman/horsewoman and said,

When your horse stumbles, you get back on the horse and keep going. When your horse stumbles you don’t decide to never get back up and say “oh that’s that, I guess I’m not such a good rider. And we too are horsemen and women. So when you make a mistake, rectify it and keep going.

And when he said that I started to think about new experiences and doing new things and building new projects and learning about new fields, and how much I tend to take the experience of stumbling to heart when it is true, a rider wouldn’t say that. Whether it is cooking or writing or puzzling through maps or Arabic lessons or losing my temper, thinking about mistakes as just a stumble, or a fall leads to the conclusion that of course, losing hope and getting discouraged when mistakes occur isn’t a productive attitude, hope and reliance should be with the Divine. Prayer coupled to consistent effort and a commitment to become more than you are will insha’Allah always yield results. If you get disheartened though, you won’t get anywhere,  you’ll still be on the ground like a fallen rider.

( A fairly intuitive, obvious point I know, but on a personal level,  potentially very very huge).

The second insight was during Dr Umar’s commentary on the 2nd aphorism which is about the desire to be removed from where God has placed you. In three different moments in the lecture Dr Umar said the same thing:

“You need to be where you are right now. You are in the situation you are in right now for a purpose. God put you there. God has a process of tarbiyyah.  The situation you are in, you have to take charge and make it right. When you want to go to the mountains, and God has put you somewhere, it won’t work out the way you want it to”.


Essential of path is to learn to live in present, and look at the situation you are in because God has put you in that situation with all of its problems. You’re meant to work and grow in that situation. And when He wants to move you into a new situation He will do that. But don’t say you don’t like what you have, and you want to go to an imaginary world.

And again in the question period:

Let God guide you. Leave yourself open to God’s management of you. Do istikhara. Stick with things in your life and work, and God will graduate you. This process is about there being something good in you that God wants to bring out.

He qualified all of this of course and insha’Allah we can talk about that more later, but the exciting thing is that I found my answer or at least the beginning of one insha’Allah. Striving, hope, being open, praying, being present and focusing on growth, these are things to focus on in order to to engage deeply with the process of tarbiyyah and become what and who you’re meant to be. Never fully being present though and being fearful and wrapped up in your own limitations, limits the potential for growth.

Till tomorrow..

* The title of this post is from a comment Dr Umar made about what we are doing in these lessons, we have whole milk and we’re making butter. If you don’t have rich milk though, butter can’t be made.


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