My graduate research is likely going to be an examination of storytelling as a tool for social change, and to my great delight, meeting Habib Umar this weekend helped me understand storytelling in a different light. When Habib Umar told us a story, it wasn’t just a narration of an interesting incident, there was always a beautiful meaning associated with it. He told us about people who ignored a man with an impediment in his tongue so he couldn’t recite Qur’an properly, but when a lion came and sat on their clothes, the lion obeyed his command to stop scaring his guests. This was the result of him rectifing his inward state. When Habib Umar told us this story (and all the other stories he told us!) we really felt like we were there. He shook his head like a lion, his intelligent eyes sparkled, he smiled his beautiful smile, and despite the language barrier, he had our attention.
When Habib Umar told us about the Prophet Ibrahim (alayhis salaam) being catapaulted into a fire, for what some narrations say was a week and other narrations say was forty days, we felt eager to hear the next detail of the story. He told us that Allah could have sent rain down to extinguish the fire, but then people would have said ah it was because of the rain that he was saved. In the way events unfolded though, Allah showed the fire had no power except what He enabled it to have. Jibril brought Sayyiduna Ibrahim (alayhis salaam) fruits from Jannah during that time, and later on Sayyiduna Ibrahim (alayhis salaam) said that this time was the best part of his life.
He told us about the old woman who said (when told to move because Fakr din al Razi was coming down that path, and he was important because he had established many proofs for God), “does the existence of God need a proof that Fakr din al Razi needs to establish it? Fakr din al Razi’s existence needs a proof!” When Fakr din al Razi heard that he liked it and said may Allah grant us the faith of old women! It was a poignant story to hear in a gathering that had many elders in the community attending and listening keenly to the Habib’s lessons. We were reminded that hearing about these realities are one thing, tasting them and knowing them through life experiences and a lifetime of worship and closeness is entirely another matter.
I could go on about this weekend, but the point is, for someone who is always chattering away, it was an important reminder to think before I speak. Is there any good in what I’m about to say and the incident I’m about to relate? If not, keep silent.
The gathering ended with a brother taking the shahadah with Habib Umar, and we all had the enormous gift of being there and witnessing that moment. It was so beautiful and simple and quiet: he held Habib Umar’s hand, and repeated the shahahah, the fundamentals of faith, and the first chapter of the Qur’an after Habib Umar, along with their meanings as well, and we all repeated quietly along with him to renew our faith at the same time. It was a very moving moment that insha’Allah will remain imprinted on all of our hearts for a long time to come.
And insha’Allah the lessons we heard will remain imprinted on our hearts for a long time to come as well. Below are a bit of my notes from the second day.
Shaykh Yahya Rhodus
This is a brief and concise dowra packed with meaning that will insha’Allah be expanded for us. And when we realise the grace and bounty of our Lord, realise nothing is farfetched.
Every single moment of existence is a miracle. Every single moment Allah is manifesting His Names the Giver of Death and the Giver of Life, the Giver of Death and the Giver of Life, the Giver of Death and the Giver of Life. In every moment he is sustaining everything.
So important that we understand ihsan. This is the normative reality of our teachings. This is our tradition.
Whichever of you wakes up in the morning and has security of lands, has health and has enough food to get through the day, as if that person has been given whole world. ~Hadith.
Everything is a sign. A sign indicates something other than what it is. A sign points in the right direction. And everything in reality is a sign that points to His Oneness.
We should be seeking good people for our daughters. Think of the example of Sayyiduna Umar who approached Abu Bakr for his daughter, it was not seen as a bad thing to do this. We need to get away from thinking that we have to wait for people to come to us.
We are not monolithic and we do not have a monolithic response to things. What is a Muslim? We cannot fit into a monolithic definition.
Many Muslims today are still affected by the colonial mentality. We are slaves of Allah and nobody else. But we have a complex that others have a superior perspective, and we view ourselves through that lens. We view other perspectivess as set in stone. Where did we get that idea? Who said that? An excellent lecture to listen to is Dr Sherman Jackson’s lecture “White Supremacy and the Beginning of Modern Shirk” where he talks about the link between race and modernity and argues that there are racial implications to modernity. And he also mentions the whole idea of validation. What do we say when we say the names of the Companions? We say RadiAllahu Anhu, which is validation by God, the greatest thing of all. Allah is pleased with all the companions. You don’t have to be ma’soom to attain the pleasure of God. It is important to remember that despite our faults, people can still attain the pleasure of God. We do this by maximizing our potential. If you’re not a public speaker, you’re not going to be taken to account for not speaking publicly, if you’re not good with people, not going to be taken to account for that (and so on and so forth). You’re only going to be taken for account for things you were given, and asked how you used them for good. But why do we feel we have to live up to standards that we did not set? As Muslims supposed to have dignity. Who are you affiliated with? Who are you privileged to know? People of God. Where is our izza? And there is a fine line between izza (dignity) and kibr (arrogance) This has nothing to do with being arrogrant or proud. What we’ve been given (with doing nothing to deserve it) is the greatest thing of all, and we should take care to do nothing to pollute it.
People recognise beauty and people naturally incline towards tranquility and conformity. If you just be who you are, over long period of time you will affect people.
Habib Umar related a story of a bedouin man that wouldn’t break fast when someone offered him food and said :I fast for a day hotter than this. What made the food good is not the spices or the sauce you put, what made the good is wellness from Allah. If you were not well, this food would not have tasted good.”
Allah’s gifts are magnificent, unlimited. There is no extent to His Mercy. How could the ephemeral distract you from the eternal?