The Imams of ‘Ihsan’ – introducing Sh. Rabia (God’s mercy upon her)

rabia

Dear Readers, peace be with you,

Hope this beautiful spring day finds you well and your families in good health. It has long been on my mind to introduce you to the immense wealth of female scholarship and role models, the Islamic tradition abounds in.

The fact that many, including many Muslims themselves, are unaware of this rich heritage is a sad testament to the dearth of sound knowledge and/or access to the same, in the modern world.

In an older post, I introduce the three foundational aspects that make up the religion of Islam; Islam (practice), Iman (belief) and Ihsan (excellence/beauty). Each of these branches has its own ‘Imams’ or great leaders, so great is their contribution to each of the domains, that all Muslims recognize them and know them to be the foremost in their sphere.

For example, every Sunni Muslim knows the four Imams of fiqh (=jurisprudence, or law), which deals with the external practices, or ‘Islam’, in this way of life. They are Ibn Hanbal, Abu Hanifa, Shafi’i and Malik, (raheemahullah alaihum, God’s mercy upon them all). I will explain more about this later God willing, but in short, they each founded a ‘school of thought’ that laid principles of law that govern the practices of Islam.

What is less well known among Sunni Muslims of today is that each of the other two branches also has ‘Imams’. For Iman (or creed/theology), they are; Imam Maturidi, and Ash’ari (God’s mercy upon both). And for Ihsan, considered the pinnacle and adornment of this religion, they include Abu Talib Al Makki, Junaid of Baghdad, and Raabia of Basra, about whom this post will be.

Raabia is a great saint of Islam. Islam too recognizes saints, but they are not the same as commonly thought of when one brings to mind saints of the Christian tradition, so more about this later God willing.

Raabia, a woman, reached such an exalted state in her ‘knowing’ of God, that she became a teacher and mentor for some of those who went on to become among the foremost scholars of our tradition, especially in the domain of Ihsan. It is from their accounts that we know what we know of her. She is unique in that she left no known written works, but her ‘name’ is recognized by almost all Muslims, a testament to the impression she made. She lived ~1200 years ago.

Rabia (Allah’s mercy upon her) lived in Basra, in present day Iraq, she would have been born in the first hundred years or so after the death of the blessed beloved (peace be upon him). An account of her life is given by Farid ud-Din Attar in ‘Thadhkirat al-Awliyaa (=Memorial of the Friends of God), the author of the famous ‘Conference of the Birds’. She was a devoted worshipper and great lover of God, so much so that stories of her piety, and ascetism, have become a part of ‘common Muslim lore’.

She was a contemporary of a number of prominent scholars of Ihsan such as; Hasan Al Basri, Sufyan ibn Sa’id ath-Thawri, Shu’ba ibn al-Hajjaj to name a few. These great scholars are reported to have sought her advice on legal matters as well as on spiritual matters. Some accounts of these encounters are collected by the 11th century famous Sufi scholar ‘as-Sulami’ in his ‘Dhikr an-Niswa al-Muta’ Abbidat as Sufiyyat’ (translated recently as ‘Early Sufi Women’ by Rkia Cornell, Fons Vitae publishers), some of which I reproduce here;

“Sufyan ath-Thawri said about Rabia’, “take me to the mentor. For when I am apart from her, I can find no solace”, when he entered her abode, Sufyan raised his hand and said, “O God, grant me safety!” At this, Rabi’a wept. “What makes you weep?” he asked. “You caused me to weep,” she replied. “How?” he asked. She answered, “Have you not learned that true safety from the world is to abandon all that is in it? So how can you ask such a thing while you are still soiled with the world?”. In another account it was reported by Shayban al-Ubulli who said ‘I heard Rabi’a say: “For everything there is a fruit, and the fruit of the knowledge of God is in orienting oneself toward God at all times”. Also on his authority it is related Rabi’a said “I ask God’s forgiveness for my lack of truthfulness in saying, ‘I ask God’s forgiveness.’” In another narration, it is recorded that a scholar said in her presence “He who persists in knocking at the door will have it opened for him”. “the door is already open,” she replied. “But the question is: who wishes to enter it?””

She attained the highest state a practitioner of Islam aspires to, to become an ‘a’rif’ or ‘one who knows God’, a gnostic. Though strict with herself and a great renouncer of the world (thus embodying a basic Islamic ethos, that one is firm on oneself, but compassionate and magnanimous with others…a concept many Muslims seem to like to apply in the opposite direction these days – that is, being firm in judging others but lax with themselves!), her greatest contributions to Islam, is her teaching of the concept of ‘Divine love’.

This was a time when Muslims were overcome with extreme awe of God, it is said, to the extent, some of the early Sufis were scared to lift a finger lest God disproves, she showed that God’s love is to be sought for the sake of God himself, rather than to worship Him out of fear of punishment or desire for reward.

It is important to recount the time early in our history when men and women learned and taught one another – Hasan Al-Basri famously stated ‘I once spent a whole day and a night in Rabi’a’s company and never once did it cross my mind that she was a woman and I was a man’ – and it is related Rabi’a said – ‘once Hasan Al Basri visited me and so enraptured were we in talking about God that I forgot what I was cooking and it burned to a crisp’ – may these times come back to us.

Indeed, it is vital we reacquaint ourselves with such immense gnostics and teachers in our faith, especially those who are women, who taught us the all important practice of Ihsan, without which Islam can become an empty shell.

Giants such as Rabia’, so long left in the margin of scholarly enterprise, but so important for us to know today. And may God grant us a strong love for them so we follow in their footsteps, thus bridging our ‘islam’ and ‘iman’ to come to ‘ihsan’, and thereby taste the fullness and joy of what it means to be a Muslim.

Farid ud-Din Attar’s praise for her:

“No, she wasn’t a single woman, But a hundred men over: Robed in the quintessence of pain, From foot to face, immersed in the Truth, Effaced in the radiance of God, And liberated from all superfluous excess.”

  • In the ‘Conference of the Birds’

“That noble recluse who dwelled behind the cloisters of God’s elect, a matron of sanctity beneath sincerity’s veil, on fire with love, totally consumed with yearning, arduously enraptured by God’s proximity, that apostle of Mary’s purity, acknowledged by all men was Rabia al-Adawiya, God’s mercy rest upon her.”

  • In the ‘Memoirs of the Saints’

Two poems from Rabia (Allah’s mercy upon her)

In love, nothing exists between heart and heart.
Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
The one who tastes, knows;
the one who explains, lies.
How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?
And who lives as a sign for your journey?

~~

I have two ways of loving You:
A selfish one
And another way that is worthy of You.
In my selfish love, I remember You and You alone.
In that other love, You lift the veil
And let me feast my eyes on Your Living Face.
~~

May God ennoble her face, shower His light upon her grave and grant her the highest station in paradise, and may we be blessed to drink from her light and learn from her wisdom.

She is reported to have lived her last days in Jerusalem, and while the exact site is disputed, there is some evidence she was buried on the Mount of Olives. The site is just adjacent to where the chapel of the ascension is, isn’t that a beautiful sign.

I had the great honour to visit her resting site and pay my respects. It has been in the trust of a Palestinian family for centuries, whose door one knocks on to request the key to visit the tomb. A young member of the family accompanied me and indeed what a gladness to see a modern day teenager carrying on the family duty. Captions on the photos below will explain more God willing.

Peace be with you all

Reblogging -The Azhar Experience

Dear Readers,

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you),

In an attempt to introduce the beauty and diversity of the Muslim world, I am reblogging a post by Talha Ghannam on his experience in old Cairo.

Source: The Azhar Experience

As he mentions his visit to the Hussain Mosque full of common people breaking into song praising the beloved messenger, peace be upon him. I am adding a link to a very sweet rendition of one of these songs, spontaneously sung in the very place by a young boy from the UK, by name Mikael Mala

 

Hajj chronicles – 3 beginning the Hajj

Assalamu alaikum dear readers, peace be with you,

My apologies for the delay in continuing the series. The difficult world events (our prayers for those tragically affected by them, and also prayers for peace and for true justice that which can only be foundation for lasting peace) and many other pressing concerns kept me away from posting more on this series.

To continue, Hajj proper began on the 8th of Dhul Hijjah, the 22nd of September 2015 CE, with our arrival to take up our positions in the valley of Muna, or ‘Mina’. There is a vast tent city in Mina, that lays empty all year, except for the 5 days of Hajj (8th – 13th of Dhul Hijjah). During this time, it fills up with all the pilgrims – usually about 3-4 million, though much less, at just over 2 million this year. Then the ‘tent city’ comes to life – as much as there are pilgrims in every nook and crevice and corner where there is a spare bit of ground to lie/walk/sit/sleep on, there are also tea vendors and snack sellers and first aid stations and so forth.

The valley of Mina is I think about 2 million square feet in total, so you can imagine the density of people during the Hajj. Unfortunately nowadays, this density has meant it is almost impossible to feel the natural surrounding. However, the clear bright ‘bigger than life’ dessert sky always impedes into one’s consciousness, and the barren rocky mountains that surround the valley are often visible…these at least, no government has been able to alter (!) and give one a glimpse of what it must have been for the great prophet Abraham (=Ibraheem, peace be upon him), when he was there. And indeed what it must have been for every generation of pilgrim who camped there since the time of Muhammed (peace be upon him)’s pilgrimage.

Muhammed (peace be upon him) who taught us how to perform the Hajj,  banned the building of any permanent abode in Mina, saying that the valley’s pristine purity must be left untouched. I was reflecting on my own destiny, that I was destined to be there in 2015 or 1437 in the Hijri calendar, i.e., 1427 years after the blessed beloved messenger of God Muhammed (peace be upon him) performed his pilgrimage. And I was reflecting that pilgrims who had performed Hajj a mere 30 odd years ago, would still have enjoyed that pristine dessert, up until the time so many changes have been put in place.

Nevertheless the experience played out by my own destiny brings profound impacts as well. If one is not as acutely impacted by the natural surrounding, one certainly is by the incredible *number* of people – by the crush of humanity, by the sheer magnitude of it, by the vastness of the differences in peoples represented there… and by the unique leveling the Hajj is able to bring about among us all. Truly it is ‘a great leveler’, perhaps the greatest leveler humanity ever is able to experience.

The only obligation for us on the 8th of Dhul Hijja is that we stay in Mina. What we do while we are there is up to us. Needless to say, almost all were keen to soak up the golden opportunity and try not to waste any time in idleness-curiosities/chatter/distraction etc (not always easy, but that is part of the training/lessons of the Hajj!), but spend as much time in prayer/meditation/remembrance (=dhikr, a core practice in Islamic spirituality, where the person goes into a state of trying to remember God, and his or her own origin) etc.

And indeed many were in contemplation. What a great place and what great fodder for contemplation! Contemplation (=fikr, a practice as importance as dhikr and equally emphasized in Islamic spirituality, means to contemplate all the creation so as to understand what it all means – it is to seek the Creator in the created, see here for more detail on this essential, nay, fundamental Islamic practice so often neglected by modern Muslims), is highly emphasized in the Quran, where Allah (=God), subhahana ta’ala (most sublime and exalted) constantly asks the human being to think. ‘Do you not think?’, ‘Can you not see?’, ‘Do you not contemplate the heavens and the earth?’ asks God of mankind in the Quran, and praises those who engage in fikr;

They reflect on the creation of the heavens and Earth (3:190)

The prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), in an authentic narration said ‘an hour’s contemplation is better than seventy years worship‘ (please see here for sources of the hadith, and here and here for useful articles, including on Huffpost, the well titled – Thinking is an act of worship in Islam, on fikr or ‘tafakkur (=to be engaged in contemplation) in Islam). Below is a quote defining tafakkur by Islamic scholarship, from the same post, with thanks to chaplain of Duke University;

to think on a subject deeply, systematically, and in great detail. In The Islamic context, it signifies reflection, which is the human heart’s light, the spirit’s nourishment, the essence of knowledge, and the heart and light of the Islamic way of life. Reflection is the light in the heart that allows the believer to discern what is good and evil, beneficial and harmful, beautiful and ugly. Again, it is through reflection that the universe becomes a book to read and study, and the verses of the Qur’an disclose their deeper meanings and secrets more clearly. Without reflection, the heart is darkened, the spirit is dysfunctional, and Islam is lived at such a superficial level that it is devoid of meaning and profundity.

Indeed then what wisdom to bring all the world together to this little valley, full of the rich treasures of history and heritage, the legacy and the footsteps of that giant of humanity, Abraham (peace be upon him), the vast dessert sky above and a sea of white-clad pilgrim equalled-humanity below, and then be told all we need to do is be there. So what deep oceans of knowledge and as we say ‘openings’ to reflect upon. It was a time and place where contemplation is almost forced upon one. It would be a great loss indeed, for the one who missed out.

As we are taught, the greatest ‘fikr’ is to contemplate on oneself, on who one is, where one came from and where one is going. And indeed  the beloved messenger taught us (peace be upon him), by words and example to often engage in fikr.  “If the servant knows himself, he knows his Lord” = ‘man arafa nafsahu faqad ‘arafa Rabbahu’ in Arabic (attributed to as-Suyuti, Mawardi, Al-Jarrahi, and Yahya b. Mu’adh ar-Razi. –taken from this post).

I leave you with a few pictures from Mina.

 

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Hajj

My dearest sisters and brothers,

Alhamdulillah I have some of the best news a Muslim is ever blessed to share – yours truly has been invited to make the Hajj. Alhamdulillah! This great news has kept me very busy, as you can imagine, there are several preparations and arrangements to make. My Muslims sisters and brothers will know what this means. For my dear non-Muslim readers, I wish I had time to write more about it. But I leave in the morning and at least I want to gather a few links here before I leave.

So here are a few choice links for both my Muslim and non-Muslim readers. For the former, a beautiful expounding on the internal and external dimensions of this great obligation the One who made us has placed upon us, by a dear teacher, and a well-known guide of this day and age – Sheikh Mokhtar Maghroui (his physics PhD background often comes out in his talks, and I particularly love that :))

And for my non-Muslim readers, a few selected documentaries made by reputable sources. They are not Muslim sources, so the material, though watered down, is God willing easier to understand. And as a scientist – I prefer to share for my non-Muslim readers, from non-Muslim sources – to eliminate ‘ascertainment bias’ as we say. Forgive me if this often means deeper meanings are not communicated. But this post gathers from all sources, so you are free to chose what to enjoy!

Sh. Mokhtar on inner and outer dimensions of Hajj. As a personal preference, I think the inner takes precedence over the outer (think about the Meccan period coming before the Medinan period in the lifetime of our beloved, sallalaahu alaihi wasallam…), though both are important. I will therefore link the inner dimensions first and then outer dimensions as good ‘adab’ (=etiquette). I am sorry I can’t translate the beautiful and exalted du’a (=supplications/prayers) Sh. Mokhtar starts and ends with. He does often translate the Arabic words he uses in-between.

And a series of lesser-known tastefully made documentaries on the Hajj

Finally my dear readers, I ask that you pray for me for an accepted Hajj (from my Muslim readers) and that you forgive me if there have been any errors on this blog in what I’ve written or communicated. May God accept from me and guide me!

Peace be with you all

University of Karueein – oldest university in the world

Dear Readers, Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

It was a dream come true to set foot inside the famed Karueein, the oldest continually operating university in the world (Guinness, UNESCO). I will use the English form of the Arabic name, as that is more familiar to me, Al-Qarawiyyin. It was founded in 859 CE, which would be 244 AH (hijri calendar), so 234 years after the death of the blessed beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him).

It was built by a woman, Fatima al-Fihri. And what a lady she must have been. She was wealthy and endowed her wealth to build this institution. It is said, such was her piety, that she continuously fasted for the duration of the building of the institution. Indeed, as per a classical Islamic understanding of success…her intention and good deed was surely accepted by God, for it has been rewarded by the benchmark of divine acceptance – longevity! She is given the affectionate title, Al-Fihriyya – Allah be well pleased with her!

From the ‘1001 inventions exhibit’ – fatima

 

We entered the mosque of the Qarawiyyin through one of its 14 gates. In the old Muslim world (and indeed to this day, though it remains as only a slight shadow of its glorious past), mosques were a center for learning and community. Education was free in the Muslim world, the Sultan supporting the scholars, or more frequently, their work would be supported by rich endowments, called ‘waqf’ in Arabic. Awqaf (plural of waqf) would be established by wealthy families, so that scholars would be supported and could work independently from state sponsorship – ensuring free thinking. So scholars would stay behind after one of the canonical prayers and stand at a pillar of the mosque (rarely there would be chairs on raised daises – you can still see some in old Turkish mosques) and give a lecture. Anyone who wanted to was free to listen or go. One can imagine serious students keeping a timetable of talks times and scurrying from mosque pillar to mosque pillar! As well as busy merchants, housewives etc. wandering in and out catching a talk here and there as they go about their daily business.

So the mosque is an essential part of the University. The university complex grew around it, and included many amazingly beautiful dormitories (another post inshaAllah) and buildings. The mosque is not used as a lecture hall anymore, though we were treated to a glimpse of the past…when the imam came by, he sat down on the carpet by a pillar, we sat in a circle around him and he gave us a mini lecture on the history of the Qarawiyyin. Beautiful, simple, and easy – devoid of all the trappings of a modern classroom. The teacher is fully exposed and the student has full access to him. What a teacher one has to be to take this place confidently!

Before stepping into those hallowed halls of the Qarawiyyin mosque we stopped to imagine the footsteps that must have gone over the same door-sill we were stepping over; the Qarawiyyin was famed for studies in theology, jurisprudence , philosophy, mathematics , astronomy, geography and languages. It was open to students of all faiths. Maimonides, one of the most famous of the Jewish scholars (well worth looking into the Jewish golden age of scholarship that flourished in Muslim Spain in the past – a strong proof that the present Muslim-Jewish conflict has little precedent historically, as well as negating the orientalists assertion that Islam is an intolerant faith. Please look at this link from jewishhistory.org) was said to have studied there. Indeed there was a rich caravan of scholars going to and fro between the Maghreb (Muslim lands in North West Africa) and Andalucia (Muslim kingdom in Spain) in those days, a bit like scholarship travel between Canada and the USA of today if I may. Here is an excerpt about other famous scholars at the Qarawiyyin, source here

Pioneer scholars include Ibn Maymun (Maimonids, (1135-1204) who was taught at Al-Qarawiyyin by Abdul Arab Ibn Muwashah. The famous Al-Idrissi (d.1166 CE) is said to have settled in Fes for considerable time suggesting that he must have worked or studied at Al-Qarawiyyin. Sources also list a number of peers such as Ibn Al-‘Arabi (1165-1240 CE), Ibn Khaldun (1332-1395 CE), Ibn Al-Khatib, Alpetragius, Al-Bitruji, Ibn Harazim, and Ibn Wazzan are said to have all taught in Al-Qarawiyyin[7].Some historic accounts also spoke of Ibn Zuhr (d.1131 CE) spending a great deal of time travelling between Andalusia, Fes, and Marrakech.

Among Christian witnesses of the contribution of Al-Qarawiyyin is Gerbert of Aurillac (930-1003), famously known as Pope Sylvester II, and who is credited with introducing the use of zero and Arabic numerals to Europe, studied at Al-Qarawiyyin[8] . More recently the Belgian Nichola Louvain settled in Fes in 1540 and studied Arabic at Al-Qarawayyin, to be followed later by the Deutch Mathematician Golius who also studied Arabic there

N.B. – Al-Idrissi is the famous cartographer, whose maps contributed greatly to the Portugese and Spanish naval conquests. The world-map as he drew it, had what is now considered North, at the South. That is, Europe appears below Africa! This was the order of the world-view pre-Renaissance apparently. He was commissioned to do this by the Norman king of Sicily at the time, Roger. His finished product, ‘Al-kitab Al-Rujari’ (=Roger’s book). Source here

Ibn Khaldun, for those not familiar, wrote one of the most comprehensive world-histories…it is a masterful compendium of global events and civilizational analyses. Still studied to this day in the Muslim world.

I will stop myself going on about the scholarship there (this junior scientist finds it very easy to indulge in long digressions on this topic) and post pictures below. They are mostly of the mosque…where we were privileged to join several congregations and then just ‘hang-out’.

 

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Inside where the mihrab (=prayer niche) is. The mihrab is a distinguishing characteristic of a mosque, it faces to Mecca and is where the Imam stands to recite. The hollow niche acts to echo his voice so the congregation can hear him. The niche was a few degrees ‘off’ from the direction of Mecca…but to me that only spoke to how old the mosque is and I was amazed they could calculate the direction to so close to accuracy ~1200 years ago!

 

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sacred space still echoing the purity of lost knowledge…
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One of the functions of the ‘work’ on the ceiling it was found recently was that the angles created prevent the formation of cobwebs… sorry about the poor focus
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Courtyard, that features the fountains to make ‘wudu’ (=lumination, mandatory washing prior to entering the salat or prayer)
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One of two sundials found in the courtyard…this one must have been touched up with the numerals (?). The sundials were used to calculate the times for the canonical prayers -which are based upon the position of the sun in the sky

 

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Second sundial…unfortunately I am not able to read the Arabic around it yet…it is most likely Quranic ayat (=verses, literally ‘signs). In the center portion is ‘Allah’ right on top, below that ‘Muhammed’ and the four circles on either side have the names of the first four ‘rightly guided’ caliphs of Islam, ‘Abu Bakr’, ‘Umar’, ‘Uthman’ and ‘Ali’ (God be pleased with all of them)

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One of the two fountains in the courtyard is under this beautiful and intricately decorated roof. Truly breathtaking to make the ‘wudu’ under…
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Finally, the doors being opened by the beautifully dignified caretaker…what a feeling when those giant ancient wooden doors swing open and we step over the sill. A feeling of awe and being deeply honored to enter.

 

Moulay Idriss (raheemahullah alai = Allah’s mercy be upon him)

Assalamu alaikum (=peace be upon you) dear readers,

Good ‘adab’ ( =manners/etiquette) on a rihla (= journey for purpose of learning, often used for spiritual journey) entails that the first places in a new country one visits are purposefully chosen.  We chose to begin as far as practically possible, with visiting ‘Moulay Idriss’, the ‘founder’ of what is modern day Morocco and the spiritual father of the land. There is a mosque by his burial site as well as the town where he is buried is also called ‘moulay Idriss’. We stopped here on our way to the ancient city of Fez, Al-Faas in Arabic, one of the great spiritual capitals of the maghreb (=literally ‘west’, meaning the western Muslim world…the lands that would comprise Tunisia, Algeria, Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Southern Spain of today)

Moulay Idriss was the great-great-grandson of the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). We were treated to a masterful narration of his story on our bus-ride to the city by Sh. Mokhtar, which I will not be able to recapitulate. However to summarize, during the tumultuous time of the khalif Ali (karamallahu wajha = Allah ennoble his face) and the years after, there was deep discord and division as to who would become the ruler. By this time, the capital had moved to modern day Iraq and the rule of the Muslim world had entered a dynastic period with the first Umayyad dynasty established.

Dynastic rule is not something Muslims are comfortable with and that was the case at that time as well. [The preferred Muslim system of rule has often been described as ‘meritocracy’ as opposed to ‘democrasy’ or ‘monarchy’]. So not surprisingly, in Medina, there was a movement to bring rule back to descendants of the prophet (peace be upon him) not simply due to lineage, but because they embodied the truest spirit of ascetisicm and ability to rule justly. In other words most ‘taking after the prophet’ (peace be upon him). The people of Medina swore allegiance to ‘Muhammed nafsul zakkiya’ (Muhammed the ‘pure souled’), the brother of Moulay Idriss. One of those who pledged allegiance was Ja’far al Mansur, who went on to found the Abbasid dynasty at the fall of the Umayyad dynasty, and then turn against the family of Muhammed nafsul zakkiya. Muhammed nafsul zakkiya was killed in 145 AH (after hijri, 762 CE), and many of his family members captured.

Moulay Idriss escaped and was taken by his ‘servant’ (there is no modern day equivalent, but you could think of this as his ‘valet’ in the old English meaning of the word perhaps), Moulay Rashid to the maghreb. [BTW ‘moulay’ in Arabic can be used to mean both ‘master’ and ‘servant’, or ‘guardian’ as well as ‘ward’…translators of Arabic texts need to be careful of terms like this that they don’t make mistakes in translation. A digression worth the mention as the Orientalists have done plenty damage in bringing knowledge of the Muslim world to Europe by making several mistakes like this the past 200-300 years]. Moulay Rashid had family ties in the maghreb, his mother being a Berber tribeswoman, and news of Islam had already spread as far as the Berber tribes which had for the most part already converted to Islam.

Therefore when Moulay Idriss arrived in the maghreb, he was welcomed with open arms as a great teacher by the Berber tribes, who gave him leadership and pledged allegiance to him. He founded a capital in what is now the town of Moulay Idriss and ruled there for a short 3 years. The caliphs in Baghdad, afraid of his popularity and rapidly growing influence, had him assassinated by means of a spy they sent to the maghreb. His wife, the lady Kinza, was 7 months pregnant at the time. In Muslim history, much is written about the nobility and wisdom of the lady Kinza. The boy born to her was named ‘Idriss’ as well. A prodigal child, he was carefully looked after by Moulay Rashid until at a very young age (perhaps early teenhood), all the tribes pledged allegiance to him as their leader. Idriss the second, moved the capital to Fez (Al-Faas), a project begun by his father. He lived a short time, dying in his thirties, but accomplished a great deal during that period. A master orator, leader, scholar, he memorized the Quran at a young age of course, and was a saintly person.

To get back to the tale of his father, Moulay Idriss the first is buried in the town bearing his name. It is a very picturesque town high up in the mountains (chosen for it’s strategic location) close to what used to be a Roman outpost. The mosque adjoining the compound of his tomb is stunning. We joined the congregation for the noon prayer there, and spent some time wondering around the town after. Only Muslims are allowed into the mosque complex though as it is a very sacred space. In the short time we spent there, we witnessed many beautiful experiences which I unfortunately cannot include in this medium. And perhaps on hindsight it is wiser to keep the space free from tourist cameras and the like. Some pictures I am able to share are below.

There was a very peaceful feel to the whole place. It bore the traces of people who had come to find rest, and found it, over the centuries. While we were there, a group of ‘munshid’ (=those who sing ‘nasheed’, which are often poems in praise of the prophet peace be upon him) came by, sat down on the carpet and started a beautiful harmonious chanting of a poem famous throughout the Muslim world; ‘qaseeda Burdah’.  [It is a long poem (depending on style of reading/singing, can take upto 4 hours), a nice documentary on it here and partial (?) meaning in English here. – one of my have-to-blog-on in the series of ‘music in Islam’ – inshaAllah. There is a rendition of it in a very ‘olde English’ style of singing performed by Sheikh Tim Winter of Cambridge – one of the greatest scholars in the Muslim English speaking world today, well worth the listen!]

Also to note, the love and reverence the people of the maghreb have for the family of Muhammed, peace be upon him is deep and ancient. Morocco is a sunni country and many in the world today unfortunately have the impression the Sunni world is divorced from the love of the prophet (peace be upon him) and of his beloved family. This is not true, and has never been the case. It was nice to witness such deep love, unspoilt by all the modern woes, in this beautiful spot…that still bears the marks of the saintly and revered person buried there, a descendant of our beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him) who had that great noble bearing which is a mark of those of his family, peace be upon him.

I will end with a short clip of the Burdah, sung in a very old Moroccan style

Peace be with you all.

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A glimpse into the little mosque inside the compound…
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Collecting water from the fountain in the courtyard, and ‘hanging out’ there… a scene that must have played out for centuries
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One of the doors in the compound. My attempt to read the inscription on the two rows, it is in the ‘maghrebi’ script – outer row ‘Al-ghani Allah’ (God is The Rich, or God is the one who is self sufficient, independent of needs) is repeated, inner row ‘Ash-Shaafi, Al-ghafur’ is repeated. Both are names of Allah, Ash-Shaafi means ‘The Healer’ (all healing comes from God, God is the source of all healing) and Al-ghafur means ‘The Forgiver’ (God is the only One whose forgiveness is sought, or God is the one who forgives all)
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Town street with food stalls lining it
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Tagines being prepared for lunch 🙂

 

And a clip from the Burdah…if you visit me, you may hear it playing often 🙂

Peace and blessing be with you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mihrab of Lele sakeena masjid

Assalamu alaikum dear readers,  peace be with you,

Alhamdulillah the sights and history of this land have left me stunned. It has been a life changing ‘rihla’ (=spiritual journey) indeed.

A rihla is a part of traditional or classical muslim scholarship.  The student travels with the teacher, and gains from the teacher’s knowledge not just from lessons delivered during the journey, but by also observing the ‘adab’ (=manners/comportment/etiquette) of the teacher. Adab is a huge part of Islamic classical civilization and still preserved thankfully among scholars (at least if not to some extent in society). Lack of adab a sure way to tell a false teacher from a good one, as well as a false student from a sincere one.

On this rihla I am blessed with the company of a many shuyukh, among them my beloved sheikha (=female scholar, Islam has always had a great tradition of female scholarship). Here is a snippet of the many blessings I’ve partaken of due to her blessed companionship. She is reading the very ornate caligraphay in the mihrab (=niche, the essential part of a mosque, that denotes the direction of salah and historically was built to echo and thus magnify the voice of the imam so the congregation would hear…i.e., pre – microphone days). And being a hafidha-ul-quran (=one who has memorized the Quran,  a great honor in the Islamic tradition), could tell immediately which chapter it is. The translation is below video

Sura Tawba, verse 18 ( interpretation of the Arabic by Pickthall).

He only shall tend Allah’s sanctuaries who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due and feareth none save Allah. For such (only) is it possible that they can be of the rightly guided.

Lele sekeena

Assalamu alaikum dear readers,  peace be with you

Alhamdulillah (=thanks and praise be to God) I am in Morocco. We had the pleasure and blessing of spending time in this amazing mosque in Rabat. It is a fairly new masjid (=mosque) built by the sister of the previous king.

Beautifully designed and a gem of ‘maghrebi’ style architecture.  Maghreb means ‘west’ and is the Muslim name for Morocco, as it is historically the western most part of the Muslim world.
Maghreb is also the name of the prayer at sunset, since the sun sets in the west! We joined the congregation for the noon prayer, ‘dhuhr’.

Here are some pictures… the masjid is aptly named, lele meaning something like lady and sakeena meaning tranquility,  calmness, serenity…

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Pictures don’t do it justice, we were very blessed to visit there. I hope you will be able to one day too.

Peace be upon you all.

Saluting the artist Shua’ib

Assalamu Alaikum Dear Readers,

Peace be with you this beautiful sunny August day. What a blessing to enjoy that ‘glorious morning light’ (Quran 91:1) and be in good health. I pray you who read this, are all in good health, physically, mentally and most importantly, emotionally. I pray your heart is expanded and filled with that sense of true belonging that is the foundation of serenity. And who do we belong to, except to the One who made us.

This is a post about the artist Shu’aib. I was fortunate to meet him when I was in Spain this Spring. He is a beautifully humble man. A delight to be around. The type of person, one feels ennobled by, not in a grandiose manner, but due to his sincere humility and beautiful comportment. Perhaps this is what the artisans and guildsman of old were like. Truly dedicated to a craft and they have a sense of dignity in how they carry themselves. He is a Spaniard, who I believe, like many thousands of others, are discovering that centuries ago their ancestors were Spanish Muslims. Please note, ethnic Spanish Muslims and not Arabs who lived in Spain. I do not know if this is what lead him to Islam. But he converted and unfortunately then faced a lot of hostility from his surroundings. So much that he had to move.

His trade is in ceramic work and he hand crafts some gorgeous pieces. He has commissions from some major mosques around the world I was told. He lives in a complex that is somewhat like a ‘kibbutz’ I think. There is a house that has a prayer hall, his workshop, garden plots and some farm land in the back, and goats! We offered the noon prayer there and then stayed to enjoy a very special tea that he served us out in the garden.

He has a website, Al-Yarrar (linked) but I am not sure you can buy online. A speciality to the kingdom of Granada was the Nasari style pottery, a type of lusterware. Lusterware is a technique developed during the Islamic Golden Age in Iraq (9th or 10th CE / 3rd or 4th Hijri?) and then it soon spread across the Muslim world. It involves reducing elements through a firing process to produce beautiful shining gold-like effects and can be done in other colours too. Here is a nice article with information. One of the most famous remaining examples of this style is the ‘vase of the gazelles’ in the Alhambra palace. Here is a picture, it really is stunning.

To end some pictures I took. Captions on the images. I especially liked the image in the prayer hall – it is the entire quran on one sheet of paper. I could actually read the verses! I am not sure if it is a hand-written Quran or not.

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The entire Quran! And in my reading of it not a single vowel was out of place. The size must have been 1.5 ft by 2.5 ft.
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The 99 names of God in square kufic script calligraphy, the frame was surrounded by the largest rosary (Muslims use these as a means of counting when repeating the names of God in dhikr=remembrance, a common spiritual practice) I’ve ever seen. The frame was about 1.5 ft by 1.5ft
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Collage of the tile making process – from Shuaib’s workshop
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Shuaib pouring tea in the garden. I don’t have his permission to share this, but I hope he won’t mind.
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Items for sale
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Lusterware pieces
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A replica of the famous ‘jar of the Gazelles’ from the Alhambra palace
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Finally, two little pieces to grace my Quran table. MashaAllahu ta’ala

 

May God bless our brother Shu’aib and give him every success here and hereafter.

Mezquita de Cordoba

Dear readers,

Assalamu alaikum, peace be with you,

I cannot move to sharing other snippets from our rihla, without posting on the Mezquita de Cordoba. I had read and heard a great deal about it, and for me, it was a dream come true to be able to stand inside and wander through that magnificent pattern of palm-tree columns.

La mezquita’ as the locals still chose to call it, is the Cathedral of Cordoba. Recently (since a few years ago), signage has begun to read ‘Mezquita-Cathedral’, though for centuries since it was turned into a cathedral, it was still simply called ‘la mezquita’. The locals would say “I’m going to the mezquita for mass”! It used to be the ‘jamia masjid of Cordoba’ (the grand mosque of Cordoba. The word ‘jamia’ comes from ‘jumu’ah’ or Friday..as related in previous posts..the word for Friday comes from the word for gathering as it is when Muslims gather for a communal prayer. Therefore the largest mosque in a city is usually called the ‘jamia’ mosque. It often tends also to be the grandest, and so in English a more appropriate translation has become ‘grand mosque’, though perhaps ‘main mosque’ is more apt). The mosque, in the style of the great Umayyad mosqe of Damascus (God grant it is safe, and this needy abd [=slave] the chance one day to visit!] was built on where there used to be a Visigothic Catholic Church (from ~600 CE to 800 CE) that used to be an ancient Roman temple. I am not sure if any part of the original Church remains, but you can see some of the foundation of the ancient Roman temple. Perhaps the temple was used as a Church ? I do not know. What I do know, and I did some research on this, is that AbdurRahman-I who was the first caliph of Al-Andalucia bought the property for a huge sum of money (~ 100,000 dirhams possibly) from the Catholic church and then built his mosque. He bought it after a few years of sharing the property (paying rent of course) and thereafter upon needing more space for the growing Muslim population.

The original was expanded by successive caliphs to become the huge complex of close to 1000 pilars. Mosques in the Muslim world have always been more than places of worship. It’s the ‘family hang-out’, the ‘classroom and university’. Actually in the Islamic Golden Age, great teachers were born out of the mosque-circles. Usually a speaker/teacher would lean on a pillar after the salah (=prescribed 5 times a day ritual worship, I’ve described the term elsewhere) and give a talk. People would sit to listen, if the talk is good, more people join…and so a teacher’s fame spreads. Even today the mosque in Al-Azhar in Cairo (the second oldest University in the world) serves the same purpose. If you go there, you will see these circles by a pillar. In those days anyone on the street could wander in and sit down to listen. Even today you can do this, very few Muslims do have the interest to however. In them days, people would come in droves and soon a speaker would be addressing hundreds.

The pillars in the Mezquita de Cordoba have this double arch structure – so evocative of the branches of a date-palm. Others have said more eloquent things about it, so I will limit myself here. Only to add, an engineered effect of all the pillars is the feeling one gets of eternity….of a seemingly never-ending path of tall trees. This is very typical of Islamic art – you will often find repeated patterns, some intricate and elaborate. Often on nature themes. A reminder of the eternal life to come, of paradise, which was our home, and of God the almighty, who is limitless and eternal. Eternal is a poor word according to Muslim theologians, as it still talks upon the frame-work of time. And we believe God, is beyond time, being The Creator, and the Creator is not like the creation. ” …laisaka mithlihi shai =There is nothing like unto Him” (Quran 42:11). So we say, to try to capture this idea better; God is beginninglessly eternal and will be forever, endlessly (the Arabic captures this better).

After the reconqista, the mosque was converted to a church. It would have been torn down (hence why none of the Jamia masajid of other Andalucian cities remain) except the local people were so fond of it, they protested. The Catholic authorities could not therefore, and instead built a cathedral in the middle of it. The cathedral itself is quite grand. But I must be honest – the two art-forms just do not go well together. The overall effect is rather strange and unnerving. I found it very jarring to my artistic sensibilities. I was not the only one, apparently the pope of the time, when he came to visit it having being invited to see the accomplishment by the local Catholics on completion, is reported to have said something along the same lines. However it is a good thing this was done, as it is probably what saved the structure from destruction, particularly during the Inquisition. Wa Allah a’lam (=and God knows best)!

Here are pictures. Please read the captions.

A model of the mosque before the Cathedral was built in it. In the Calahorra museum
A model of the mosque before the Cathedral was built in it. In the Calahorra museum
A picture of the inside of the model - what the old mosque would have been like
A picture of the inside of the model – what the old mosque would have been like

 

columns and columns
columns and columns

 

The effect is amazing...my camera could not do it justice. It's quite dark inside now, as there is only a small entrance and not the many archways that open to the courtyard in the original design
The effect is amazing…my camera could not do it justice. It’s quite dark inside now, as there is only a small entrance and not the many archways that open to the courtyard in the original design

 

The original mihrab (=prayer niche), a staple in any mosque design, it gives the direction to Mekkah and usually is designed with great acoustics, so that the Imam's recitation as he leads the prayer from inside, is heard by all the congregation.
The original mihrab (=prayer niche), a staple in any mosque design, it gives the direction to Mekkah and usually is designed with great acoustics, so that the Imam’s recitation as he leads the prayer from inside, is heard by all the congregation.

The ayaath above the mihrab are the last lines from Surah Hashr. They are often recited in prayer.

He is Allah, than Whom there is La ilaha illa Huwa (=none has the right to be worshipped but He) the All-Knower of the unseen and the seen (open). He is the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. (59:22)

He is Allah than Whom there is La ilaha illa Huwa (=none has the right to be worshipped but He) the King, the Holy, the One Free from all defects, the Giver of security, the Watcher over His creatures, the All-Mighty, the Compeller, the Supreme. Glory be to Allah! (High is He) above all that they associate as partners with Him. (59:23)

He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor of all things, the Bestower of forms. To Him belong the Best Names . All that is in the heavens and the earth glorify Him. And He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. (59:24)

 

The top of the mihrab
The top of the mihrab
The rather strange juxtaposition of two very different art-forms. This was one of the more graceful pictures I could take
The rather strange juxtaposition of two very different art-forms. This was one of the more graceful pictures I could take

 

One of the many gates from the outside. It's walled up though
One of the many gates from the outside. It’s walled up though

The above gives you a size of the structure. It was huge, at one time the second largest mosque in the Muslim world.

I will end by saying how many a great thinker and scholar must have sat and leaned on those pillars, how many rapt-eyed students at his or her feet. The space still seems to carry echoes of their lost voices.

Ending with a prayer for peace and understanding and truth told, no matter the cost

Peace be with you all.