Saturday, April 29, 2006

Morocco Week Two (Part One)

Thursday, 30th March

I walk down to the zawiya in the old city after maghrib. As I cross the railway bridge, I notice the crescent moon, very bright even through the clouds. It doesn’t click in my head until the next day that it’s the hilal, the new moon, signalling the first of Rabi’ al-Awwal. I suppose I’m used to the new moon as something elusive, necessitating a frantic evening of phone calls and internet browsing in order to discover whether everyone will be fasting or celebrating Eid on the same day. This new moon, however, is unmistakable; even though I’m in the city, and it’s not the clearest of nights, there it is for all to see.

There’s a big turnout at the zawiya tonight; I’m pleased to see that all the munshidin (singers) have come this week. Because of the occasion, we start by reading the names of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) from Dala’il al-Khayrat in unison. Back home, I went to a gathering in Bradford a couple of times where they read the same thing, so I’m interested to see the difference between how it is recited here and there.

We read the Salat of Moulay Abd as-Salam ibn Mashish, and as usual when we get to the end where the Name of Allah is repeated three times, we carry on repeating it, first drawing it out for five seconds or more, then gradually becoming faster. This takes us into the hadra, and we stand and form a circle, holding hands. The hadra is long, and intense; when all the munshidin are here, its nicer because they have a bigger pool of songs to draw from. Although they might all know them, different people have different poems beloved to them, staying at the forefront of their minds, easier for them to summon up at the right moment than others.

When the hadra reaches its natural climax, we sit down, and sing a poem by Sheikh al-Alawi in praise of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). It is probably my favourite poem. The refrain asks the ‘coolness of the afternoons’ to deliver the poet’s greeting to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). I was confused to the meaning of this for a long time, until I heard a talk where it was explained that the ‘coolness of the afternoons’ refers to the easterly winds that blow in the afternoons in this part of the world. The winds go on into the east, and the Sheikh is telling them to carry his greeting on with them to Madina. The poem is so lovely it brings tears to my eyes every time I read it; no doubt it will to yours, too: here it is at

Look for the one at the bottom of page 83 (according to the page numbers on the text, not the Acrobat numbers). It deserves to be translated, I know, but I’m no great shakes at translating poetry and it takes a lot of time to do them justice. Maybe some talented individual out there can do it for us.

Hajj Sa’eed delivers the lesson as usual. He talks about the importance of sending blessings on the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and comments on a reading from a book of Sheikh al-Alawi’s that I’ve never seen before. He talks about the saying of Junaid which I’ve heard many times from him before, and never get tired of. One day someone came to Junaid and said ‘where are all those Arifin (Gnostics) that you talk about?’ Junaid answered, ‘and where is the eye that can see them?’ Hajj Sa’eed says that we don’t see the People of Allah because we are too distracted by the world around us. He says that it is an incredible blessing from Allah that He even lets anyone see one of His Awliya, never mind be among them.

Hajj Sa’eed mentions the Hadith when the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said ‘I am but an apportioner. It is Allah that gives.’ He says that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is the one who distributes the treasures of Allah throughout His creation, and he (Allah bless him and give him peace) is the Seal of Prophets, the final apportioner. So how could he die? How could the one who distributes the blessings of Allah to all peoples, not only his own, ever die? Hajj Sa’eed says that it was not death for the Prophet, (Allah bless him and give him peace), but simply a change of place; he moved, not died. He tells the story of an old faqir who used to come to the zawiya and stay all night reading the Quran and weeping. Hajj Sa’eed asked him one night, and he told him of his sorrow that he had never performed the Hajj. He was desperate to visit the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and beginning to despair of Allah that he had not found the means to go. ‘How could you despair so,’ asked Hajj Sa’eed, ‘do you think that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) has left his Ummah to fend for themselves? Do you think he has abandoned us? He is with us, remains with us always. Do not despair of him.’

Hajj Sa’eed then says that the faqir must have generosity above all else. Even if he has many acts of devotion and litanies, it is generosity and good character that define him.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Morocco Week Two (Part 2)

Friday, March 1st

I go to the Grand Mosque in Sale for Jumu’ah again this week. The Khutba is about the character of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). The Imam says that the Prophetic characteristics include strong faith, piety, sincerity in dealings with Allah and with other people, generosity, truthfulness, a cheery disposition, compassion, tenderness, honour, modesty and shyness. He says that we as Muslims have lost these qualities, and that this is the root of our problems.

He mentions several actions that are essential to good character. These are visiting the sick, being friendly with neighbours, smiling to each other and giving Salams, and returning ill deeds with good deeds.

The Imam says that we must seek the pleasure of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) by taking on his characteristics, or he will not recognise us on the Day of Judgement when his intercession is sought by all. He says that we can only attain his pleasure (Allah bless him and give him peace) by adorning ourselves with his qualities as much as we are able.

* * *

After the prayer, I go to the nearby cemetery to visit my wife’s grandfather. He was a Sufi of the Shadhili - Darqawi tariqa, and a Faqih. He was a carpenter by trade, and students of Islamic law used to come to his shop to seek knowledge from him while he worked.

When I get to the cemetery, the chap who works there comes to greet me. He tells me to come more regularly, and asks where I’ve been. I was in England for most of the time, but he’s right; I didn’t come last week, after all. I go to the grave and greet my grandfather-in-law, and read Ya Sin for him. When I get home, I look for a passage in a book by al-Hafidh Abdullah al-Ghumari, a 20th-Century Hadith scholar from Ghumara (or Ghimara) in northern Morocco. I find it at last. He says:

“Ali ibn Musa al-Haddad relates that he was with Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Muhammad ibn Qudama al-Jawhari at a funeral prayer one day. After the deceased when buried, a man sat by the grave reciting the Quran. Imam Ahmad said to him ‘this is an innovation, leave it,’ so the man left. Muhammad said to Imam Ahmad ‘O Ahmad, what is your opinion of Mubashir al-Halabi?’ The Imam identified him as a trustworthy narrator, so Muhammad gave him a narration from Mubashir back to ibn ‘Umar in which he advised for Surah al-Baqara to be recited over the deceased. Imam Ahmad immediately called back the man and said ‘recite’.”

After Maghrib, I go back to the Grand Mosque. It’s the first of Rabi’ al-Awwal, and in Morocco they have Sirah lessons every day of the month after Maghrib. The lesson will be given by the Khatib from earlier, whose name is Qabbaj; I think his first name is Muhammad but I’m not sure. In any case, he’s one of the Ulama’ of Sale, and a brilliant speaker.

He begins by introducing the book we’ll be studying, the Shifa of Qadi Iyad. He says that Allah raised the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) with a Quranic character, as Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) said: ‘his manner was the Quran’. He says that Sirah is not just an additional part of Islam, or an optional extra which can be taken or left; rather it is impossible to understand the Quran or the Deen without studying the Sirah.

The Imam gives us an example of this by quoting the Ayah from Surah an-Nahl:

“Call to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and good counsel, and debate with them in a way that is better.” (Nahl 125)

He says that this Ayah is well-known amongst the Muslims, and that most of us feel we understand it. The Imam asks us, what would we say if asked if the Sahaba (Allah be pleased with them) understood the Ayah? Of course, we would say that they did. The Imam tells us the story of the Bedouin, new to Islam, who came one day to the masjid and, upon hearing a call of nature, proceeded to urinate on the floor of the masjid as was his custom. The Sahaba became enraged at once, and fell upon the man, some of them drawing their swords, but the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) told them to leave him, and when the Bedouin had finished he instructed them to clean the spot with pails of water. He then took the fellow aside and explained to him gently that the masjid is a sacred place, not to be despoiled by such acts. He explained the importance of ritual purity in Islam. The Bedouin was so impressed by the Prophet’s calm manner and compassion (Allah bless him and give him peace), says the Imam, that he became more firm in his faith and was more receptive to the rest of the Prophet’s teachings (Allah bless him and give him peace). When the Bedouin went to leave, he raised his hands and prayed ‘O Allah, forgive me, and forgive Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), and forgive no-one else besides us!’

The Imam says that although the intention of the Sahaba was sound, and showed their protective love of the Deen, the prayer of the Bedouin showed that their understanding had not yet reached the level of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). The Bedouin invoked Allah’s Compassion upon he who had shown him the same compassion, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). The Imam says that this shows us that although the Sahaba were familiar with the aforementioned Ayah, and knew about ‘wisdom and good counsel’, they had not yet arrived at a complete understanding. It was the action of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) that showed them the way. This shows us, the Imam says, that deep study of the Sirah is the only way to unlock the secrets of the Quran and implement its teachings.

The Imam then talks about the importance of a cheery disposition, smiles and kind words. He says that this is what is missing now in our dealings with one another, between husbands and wives, fathers and sons, teachers and students, scholars and laymen, Muslims and fellow Muslims. He reminds us that Allah will not change our situation until we change what is in ourselves. The circle closes with a rendition of the Burdah by some rather fine singers, one of whom I recognise from the zawiya.

Saturday April 1st

After Maghrib, my wife and I head down to the old city for today’s lesson. The Sheikh begins by talking about love. He says that if you love something, you show this love by obedience. Whether the beloved be God, or dunya, money, sex, or anything else, a person’s love for the thing will manifest itself with obedience to it.

He says that if we are to follow the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), it is essential that we love him. He mentions the Hadith of Umar (Allah be pleased with him), who announced to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) that he loved him more than everything except his own self. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said that this was not enough, and that true faith would only come when he loved him more than his own self. After a moment, Umar said that he now loved the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) more than even his own self. The Prophet looked at him and said ‘Now, O Umar!’

The Imam mentions another hadith when a man came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and said ‘I was in my house thinking about you, O Messenger of Allah, and I felt I had to look upon you, so I came to the masjid. But I am worried that when I die, even if Allah grants me from His Mercy that I may enter Paradise, my station there would be far lower than yours, and I would never see you again.’ The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was silent, until Allah revealed:

‘And whoever obeys Allah and the Messenger, they are with those upon whom Allah bestowed favours from among the prophets and the truthful and the faithful and the righteous, and a goodly company are they!’ (Nisa 69)

The Imam says that these stories show the love that the Sahaba had for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and the concern they had to be with him. He also comments that the action of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in waiting for Allah’s answer is a lesson for all of us. It teaches us not to answer questions unless we are sure of the answer. The scholars in the early generations were afraid to answer questions in case they spoke incorrectly about the Deen of Allah. The Imam says that these days, people say ‘does anyone have any questions, that I might answer them?’ We have lost our humility.

Sunday, April 2nd

The lesson continues from yesterday. The Sheikh says that we should consider one of the signs of love, which is imitation. He mentions the definition of ‘Sunnah’ usually given by jurists as being of three kinds: The actions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), his sayings, and those things which he tacitly approved by being silent concerning them. The Imam says that Imam Malik added two additional categories to these three, namely the physical appearance of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his dress etc, and his characteristics and ways of behaving. The Imam says that the imitation of these character traits is the purest expression of love for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his Sunnah.

The Imam mentions the saying of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) ‘the Resurrection Day of the believer is the hour of his death,’ meaning that whether or not we live to see the final day, our deaths represent the same thing: the end of our chance to find salvation, and so we should work for it before that day comes. He relates that Hadith to the one in which the man came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and asked ‘when will the Hour be?’ the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) replied ‘and what have you prepared for it?’ the man said ‘nothing, except that I love Allah and his Messenger.’ The Prophet replied (Allah bless him and give him peace) ‘a person will be with those he loves.’ The narrator said that this was the happiest day for the Sahaba when they heard this. They all loved the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). He taught us that is was not a plethora of spiritual works that saved this Sahabi, but nothing more than his pure love for Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace).

The Imam gives us some examples of the Prophetic character which we often neglect. The first is not having rancour toward anyone for more than 3 nights. He says it is very important that if we have arguments or falling-outs, we must endeavour to reconcile them as soon as possible, and not try to ‘save face’ by waiting for the other, even if we have been wronged. He says that the three night rule is like football, first a yellow card, then red, and you’re off. This gets a laugh (though baseball would probably have been better: three strikes and you’re out. I guess they don’t play a lot of baseball in Morocco).

Another habit the Imam mentions that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) never did was to turn from someone in the street as though he didn’t see him. You know, when you don’t really have time/inclination to talk so you pretend you don’t see the person coming. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) didn’t do this, he always had time for everyone.

The Imam again emphasises the importance of smiling with people. He mentions a Hadith which says that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) never frowned at a believer.

He ends with the story of a man who converted to Islam but couldn’t shake off the habit of drinking. He was punished several times for this, until some of the Sahaba became frustrated by his behaviour. One day, when he was being hauled in again to be disciplined, Umar became angry and said ‘Allah curse you, will you not repent?’ The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) became angry and reproached Umar for cursing a believer, and said that the man loved Allah and His Messenger, and would be with him in Paradise. The man was surprised by this, and said to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) ‘do you mean to say that even with my sins, I will be in Paradise because of my love for Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace)?’ the Prophet assured him that this was so. ‘So by Allah,’ the man said, ‘I will never let it pass my lips again until I drink it in Paradise.’

Again, the kindness of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) affected people more than sternness, even though this sternness was out of jealousy for the Deen. The man did not repent, even after being punished, but repented because of the compassion of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace). It was another manifestation of ‘wisdom and good counsel’.