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“O Beginninglessly Eternal! O Endlessly Everlasting! O Formlessly Manifest! O Apparently Hidden! Hear my call as You heard the call of Your servant, Zachary; grant me victory through You, for You; support me through You, for You; join me to You; come between myself and anything other than You…”
Excerpt from as-salat-al-mashishiyya, the sublime benediction upon the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), by the venerable Moroccan saint Abd al-Salam ibn Mashish–student of Sidi Abu Madyan and shaykh of Abul-Hasan al-Shadhili–may Allah sanctify their secrets. One scholar has written that in this prayer “the believer calls upon Allah to bless the Prophet as if to thank him for having received Islam through him.”
You can hear the full prayer here
I recently had the honour of interviewing Sidi Abdul Aziz Suraqah, an inspiring translator, editor and educator, currently based in Toronto (Canada), who has translated some of the best available Classical Islamic text out there from Arabic to English. Moreover, he is famously known for his fantastic website and blog: Ibriz Media.
(The interview below has been checked and approved by Sidi Abdul Aziz Suraqah, and I am publishing this after his consent)
Sidra: Please could you share a bit about yourself?
Abdul Aziz : My name is Abdul Aziz Suraqah. I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. During the golden age of Hip Hop, when I was 14 years old, I was inspired by groups like Public Enemy and KRS One to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. That led to an interest in Islam, and so after reading a translation of the Quran I embraced Islam, al-Hamdulillah. A couple of years later I began to study Arabic and soon thereafter pursued further studies in Yemen, Mauritania, and Morocco. I currently teach at Dar al-Ma’rifah and Risalah Foundation here in Toronto, Canada. And since 2007 I’ve been translating Islamic texts full time. The name of my service is Ibriz Media.
Sidra: What inspired you to become a translator?
Abdul Aziz : It all came about quite accidentally I must admit. Upon returning the US and becoming a teacher at a private Islamic school, I found myself translating things here and there to go along with the class material for the students. There were also certain smaller texts that at the time seemed worthwhile to translate, so in 2002 or so I began working on them (some of them were completed and others were shelved—which is for the best, as the first attempts were all cringe worthy :)).
There’s this expectation among many people that a returning “student of knowledge” will be, or should be, in the community delivering talks, lectures, engaging with the people, etc. That’s perhaps true for many who return to the west after studying Islamic sciences overseas, but as an introvert that’s terrifying. And besides, I never really considered myself a “student of knowledge” so to speak. The question for me early on after returning from my formal studies was: how do I take my passion for the Islamic sciences and contribute and serve in a way that best fits my introverted nature?
Teaching small groups of teenagers and young adults has been very fulfilling, but the answer to that question didn’t become clear till 2006 or so, when I was blessed with the opportunity to translate selections from various classical and contemporary works that deal with Islamic spirituality, theology, etc. Those samples were put up on www.marifah.net and are still available today. A year or so after working with www.marifah.net, the brother running the site, Sidi Hamoudeh, founded Sunni Publications and asked me to co-translate and edit Shaykh Ramadan al-Bouti’s Al-La Madhhabiyya:Abandoning the Madhhabs. After that he asked me translate full-time for Sunni Publications, and so I began working daily—sometimes up to 12 hours a day—on Shaykh Muhammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki’sNotions That Must Be Corrected. After a while I had found a flow and continued working non-stop, five days a week, from home (wearing regular clothes, not pajamas :)).
Al-Hamdulillah, it really is a great blessing to translate traditional Islamic texts—to wake up in the morning and spend hours alone with the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), the Companions (Allah be pleased with them), and the saints and savants of this Umma, and hopefully convey some of those meanings for the benefit of others.
Sidra: Please could you tell us about some of the books you have translated?
Abdul Aziz : They are exclusively in the field of Islamic studies, particularly books on Islamic spirituality, theology, and prophetology. Most of the titles I’ve been blessed to work are found on my portfolio page at Ibriz Media.
Sidra: What books have most influenced your life most?
Abdul Aziz : With regard to books on Islamic subjects, I’d start with The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as that was my first exposure to Islam and what led me to become a Muslim. After that, the most influential books for me were Imam al-Ghazali’s al-Munqidh min al-dalal (Deliverance from Error), Ibn ‘Ata’illah’s al-Tanwir fi isqat al-tadbir(Illumination in Dropping Self-direction), Shaykh Ahmad b. Mubarak al-Lamati’s al-Ibriz (Pure Gold from the Words of My Master ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Dabbagh), Shaykh Muhammad al-Qandusi’s Sharab Ahl al-Safa (The Drink of the People of Purity), Shaykh Yusuf al-Nabahani’s Jawahir al-bihar, Emir ‘Abd al-Qadir’s al-Mawaqif, Gai Eaton’s King of the Castle, and virtually everything written by my two favorite authors, Imam ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha’rani (his al-‘Uhud al-Muhammadiyya is my favorite) and Sidi Ahmad Ibn ‘Ajiba.
As for books that are not explicitly Islamic, some of the most influential for me have been Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Rene Guenon’s Crisis of the Modern World and The Reign of Quantity, Weston A Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Paul Chek’s How to Eat, Move, and Be Healthy, Robert Greene’s Mastery, and Charles Moss’ Power of the Five Elements.
Sidra: What are your current projects?
Abdul Aziz : Right now I’m working on Sidi Ahmad Ibn ‘Ajiba’s tafsir of Sura Maryam, Shaykh Salih al-Din al-Tijani’s collection of spiritual discourses and aphorisms called al-Tanazzulat al-Ilahiyya (Divine Inspirations), and Shaykh ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi’s Takmil al-nu’ut fi luzum al-buyut, whose title will probably by paraphrased in English as The Virtues of Isolation in Times Tribulation, or The Virtues of Seclusion in Times of Confusion—it’s a small work on the virtues of keeping to one’s self in times of fitna.
Besides these three books, there are a number of other projects going on, either in their beginning stages or final editorial stages, so an average day for me consists of translating new material for two, sometimes three books, editing finished works, and researching.
Sidra: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Abdul Aziz : The most challenging thing in translating Islamic literature, for me at least, is maintaining a good intention and upholding adab in the entire process from beginning to end. It’s not always easy to translate these incredibly profound spiritual or theological works day in and day out—it’s hard to be “on” and in the moment with the texts every single day. When I experience constriction (qabd) or a mental block or setback, I’ll work on less intensive projects or even pull back for a day or two and double up when my energy returns.
For example, one of the translations recently published, Sidi Ahmad Ibn ‘Ajiba’s explanation of the meanings of the Ninety-nine Divine Names, was simply too overwhelming to translate all at once. The sheer majesty (jalal) of the meaning of the Divine Names became very difficult to bear and I had to limit how much of it I worked on each day. Translation of Islamic texts on spirituality are particularly difficult since they shine a light into the darkest corners of the soul and show you how far you are from what they describe.
From a technical perspective, the biggest challenge is striking a balance between fidelity to the source language, i.e., the original words of the author, and readability in the target language. It’s incredibly challenging and there are several possibilities to choose from, so the first rule I try to observe is “Do no harm.”
Sidra: What are the most rewarding elements of translating a book?
Abdul Aziz : By far the most rewarding element of translating is when the book brings you into a spiritual state where you are so engrossed in the content that you lose sight of the ink, the pages, the daily word count, and you feel as if you are in the presence of the author, or better yet spiritually uplifted by his or her words. The best example of this for me was when translating Shaykh Muhammad al-Qandusi’s The Drink of the People of Purity. My family and I were packing our things and moving to a new apartment when it was being translated, but I still put in 12 hours for many days working on it—but it never felt like more than 4 hours. Opening The Drink and translating it entered me into a spiritual time warp of sorts, and the content of the book was so uplifting I wished it never ended.
It’s also very touching to meet someone who says they benefitted from a book I’ve translated. Translation work is lonely and most translators don’t get to hear back from readers, so when we do hear that someone has enjoyed or benefitted from our work it makes all the efforts worthwhile, al-Hamdulillah. The best feedback I’ve received was from a friend who read The Drink of the People of Purity and saw the author Shaykh Muhammad al-Qandusi in a dream. Here is what he said:
I fell asleep reading The Drink of The People of Purity. As soon as I fell asleep, I found myself at Bab al-Futuh [a large cemetery in Fez, Morocco in which lie thousands of saints and scholars] in front of the Maqam of Sayyidna Abdul Aziz al-Dabbagh. At the Maqam, I found an old man sitting with his back resting on the outer left wall of the Maqam. I walked to the man and asked him to make du’a for my affairs. He raised his head and said, “What more is there to give you after my book?” I was puzzled and then I asked him, “Are you Shaykh Muhammad al-Qandusi?” The man replied with a very intense stare, “I am him but he is not I. He knows where I am.” I lowered my gaze and begged for du’a. He said, “Do not wait to drink until you are overcome with thirst. Drink! And always stay hydrated.” He then said “If you don’t know what I mean then ask my Translator.” After he said this, His Jalal [majesty] immediately turned into Jamal [beauty] with a radiant smile. I kissed his forehead and woke up.
Sidra: Can you give us some examples of a word or phrase that just doesn’t translate well?
Abdul Aziz : Let’s see. Taqwa comes up a lot and there doesn’t seem to be good translation of it that is accurate and a single word. You’ll see renderings such as Godfearingness (my preferred choice when it is not used in a different context), mindfulness (a nice sounding translation but still a bit opaque), God-consciousness, and even fear.
When translating Shaykh Yusuf al-Nabahani’s Wasa’il al-wusul (Muhammad: His Character and Beauty) I had to wrestle with an oft-used word pair, mudarat and mudahana. Mudarat is defined as “the sacrifice of a worldly interest in order to attain either a worldly or a religious benefit, or both together,” so after much mental wrangling I settled on the word sociability. The other word, mudahana, literally means lubricity (yeah, that’s a word). It is defined as “the sacrifice of one’s religion for the sake of attaining a worldly benefit.” (Bajuri) The late translator Muhtar Holland (Allah have mercy upon him) translated it is “fawning flattery.” That’s a sound translation, but after consultation with some teachers I decided to translate it as sycophancy.
In Arabic there are many phrases that are hard to turn around into English. Sometimes the original flow is lost in order to preserve the structure of the target language; but over the years translators develop a repertoire of maneuvers and turns of phrase that get them out of tight spots.
Sidra: Which book past or present, do you imagine was the most difficult to translate?
Abdul Aziz : No need to imagine that one! The most difficult translation by far was Shaykh Sa’id Foudah’s A Refined Explanation on the Sanusi Creed. That project cost me blood, sweat, and tears (the latter two literally!) It’s an intermediate text in classical Sunni-Ash’ari theology detailing the textual and rational proofs for the tenets of faith. What made the project so challenging was the footnotes, as Shaykh Sa’id was quoting from earlier theologians who are known to use a very tightly packed style of speech where detailed meanings are crammed into terse phrases. It’s no exaggeration to say that unpacking those into clear English was at times terrifying. This is theology after all; who wants to mistranslate something about belief in Allah and His Messengers and unknowingly mislead innocent readers? Ya Latif!
Sidra: How long does it take you to translate a book roughly?
Abdul Aziz : It all depends on the nature of the book, the time period in which it was written, the size, etc. For a book in Arabic that is, say, 100 pages with average sized font, it can take anywhere from a month to two months to translate it provided it’s the only thing I’m working on. But that doesn’t factor in all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into preparing a book for publication: self-edits, research, copy editing, typesetting, proofreading, etc. It usually takes 18 months or more for a book to get from A to Z and in bookstores, so when you see a translation made available at a bookstore or online, it was probably finished around two years ago. (Sometimes it can be more; Shaykh ‘Abdallah Siraj al-Din’s book, Sending Prayers Upon the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), was completed in 2008 and came out just this spring.)
Sidra: What does Ibriz mean and what inspired you to come up with that title for your services?
Abdul Aziz: The name was inspired by the work al-Ibriz of Shaykh Ahmad b. Mubarak al-Lamati and the Golden Ratio.
Ibriz is “Pure Gold”
The word Ibriz (pronounced like e-breeze) is Arabic for pure gold. Ibriz is also the title to one of my favorite books: al-Ibriz min kalam Sayyidi ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Dabbagh (Pure Gold from the Words of My Master ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Dabbagh).
Ibriz is Equilibrium and Beauty
The logo for Ibriz is a drawing of the Golden Spiral representing the Golden Section, also called the Golden Ratio and the Divina Proportione (the Divine Proportion), which represents beauty and balance, rigor and equilibrium. The golden ratio and the sacred art that is produced through it are extremely direct expressions of the idea of the Divine Unity underlying the inexhaustible variety of the world. It is through harmony that the Divine is reflected into the world, which is called “unity in multiplicity,” and “multiplicity in unity.”
Sidra: If it were up to you, what would be your dream project?
Abdul Aziz : If I were on a mountain top and had all the time and resources I need, there is no question about it, I would do an annotated re-translation of al-Ibriz (the current translation by two Orientalists has several fatal errors), a complete translation of Shaykh Yusuf al-Nabahani’s three volume compendium of Prophetic Love Jawahir al-bihar (Jewels of the Seas), Shaykh Muhammad al-Qandusi’s 300 page magnum opus al-Ta’sis fi masawi al-dunya wa mahawi Iblis (a book about combating the traps of Shaytan through love and attachment to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)), and a recent five hundred page work that has collected numerous stories of saints and pious people who saw the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in their dreams and conversed with him.
Sidra: Jazak’llahu khayran for your time, and for sharing and inspiring your journey as a translator so far with us!
“There is nothing on earth that God loves more than His slave, hands raised helplessly in supplication, weeping, and pleading.” (Signs on the Horizons)
Towards the end of November 2014, I was sent for a week long work assignment to Dubai. Whilst I was out there, I had a wonderful meeting with Michael Sugich (whose Muslim name is Haroon), author of the beautifully written book: Signs on the Horizons. Sidi Haroon came to the UK in May 2014 and conducted a book reading at Rumi’s Cave. As much as I wanted to attend that event and meet Sidi Haroon, I was unable to go because of work (it was quite an intense period at work and I could not make it to the event in time). Six months down the line, not only did I get to meet Sidi Haroon, but I also was fortunate to be able to spend a couple of hours with him, talking and discussing his book, and simply listening to the many wonderful stories he had to share. It’s amazing how work was the reason I could not attend his event in London, but then, work was also the reason I was out in Dubai and had the meeting with Sidi Haroon. Allah plans beautifully! For those who have not read the book: Signs on the Horizons is a memoir written by Michael Sugich (Sidi Haroon) about his spiritual journey of finding his spiritual guide, meeting and interacting with men who have transcended the ordinary and achieved stations of spirituality and enlightenment. I won’t reveal details about the book, but all I can say is that it is one of those books that you must all own and read at least once in your lifetime because it is full of stories that are inspiring and REAL. The interview below has been checked and approved by Sidi Haroon, and I am publishing this after his consent. If you have a chance of meeting him, please make sure you do! —- Sidra: What inspired you to write the book? Haroon: I started writing these stories down over a period of years because I was afraid I was going to forget the details as the years went by. And I began to write them mainly for my children because, while the older children remember some of these great people (who are mentioned in the book), but the younger ones had no connection with them. That was initially the motivation for writing these stories down– basically just to preserve the memories. Shems Friedlander, a very close friend of mine, was publishing a journal on Sufism and he asked me if I would contribute something, and I had one of these stories to share. The story was on Moulay Abu Qassim as the story had a big impact on me when I was young. I had a story already written, I sent it to Shems, and he included it in his journal. What surprised me was the reaction. People would say: “You really met these people?” “These people really exist?” The reaction from people started to make me think that it would be useful for a wider audience, there seems to be a longing for this sort of thing. The response to the book has validated that idea because I have come to learn that many Muslims have become disconnected from these kind of people (those mentioned in the book). They exist, but they have receded. When Sidi Abdul Adheem (Peter) Sanders and I were young, we would be in a room where you might have 50 Awliya (Friends of God)! This is very hard to find anymore. It’s not because they don’t exist, but they’ve withdrawn to a certain extent because people have lost interest in spirituality. Also, I have spent the last 20 years writing for other people, and I felt I wanted to write something that had meaning for me. My daughter was studying in an art school in Paris in 2009. She would go off to school in the mornings and I would spend the whole day writing and loved it because I got to think about these people, it was a wonderful experience, and I would like to do more of it. Sidra: A lot of your book covers personal experiences, in fact all of it is based on your personal interactions with these great people. Many people shy away from writing and sharing these kind of experiences where as you have been very open. How comfortable did you feel about writing and sharing such intimate and personal experiences? Michael: I wrote about things I felt I could write about. I am an old man now (laughs), so something that I might not have written 25 or 30 years ago, because it’s something in the distant past (most of the stories are recounted from when I was so young), there was less to reveal in a spiritual way back then. Sidra: What was the hardest part about writing the book? Haroon: I would not say that writing the book was hard. However, what was difficult was that I had to be careful, true and accurate to the memory and try not to embellish things or make up things for the purpose of impact and literary effect, which can be a temptation. I had to be very careful as this was going to be something before Allah. Once the first draft of the book was done, I spoke to a lot of friends and asked them to share some of their memories to make sure I didn’t get it wrong. What I found out though was that most of my friends have a worse memory than I do! (laughs). I did not get as much detail back from my friends as much as I thought I would. An example of this is as follows. There is a chapter in the book called “All Night Long”, and it’s about a wonderful Naqshbandi Shaykh, Sufi Abdullah (who is based in Birmingham, UK). I wrote the story, and it was about a night of Dhikr we had. It was an amazing night, but what I completely forgot, and my friend Abu Qassim Spiker (who was there that night reminded me, saying, “Don’t you remember Sufi Abdullah was wearing Christmas lights around his neck!” (laughs). If I do another version of the book, I will add that in because it was so bizarre and funny, and it reminds us that people are human. Sufi Abdullah is a great man and I was able to see him recently, he is old and frail now, and it was a poignant and beautiful meeting with him. Also, when we were putting together the book, Shems insisted that each chapter ends with a quote or epigraph. That was the hardest part and took me longer than actually writing the book!
Moulay Hashem said, “It is through the prayer on the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ , and love of the Prophet that you receive knowledge and an Opening.” He admonished us to balance the invocation of the Great Name (Allah) with Prayer on the Prophet ﷺ .” The Name of God is hot,” he said. “The Prayer on the Prophet cools the heart.” (Signs on the Horizons)
Sidra: What was the best part of writing the book? Haroon: The best part was to be able to spend a lot of time thinking about these great people. I loved it. I loved thinking about them. Next to that, the best part has been meeting people who have read the book, who have come to the readings, it’s been a wonderful experience. It has given me a lot of opportunity; there are a lot of wonderful young people out there. People need to understand that my generation dropped out: Peter Sanders, Yusuf Islam, Richard Thompson, Abdul Latif Whiteman, etc, most of us dropped out and left everything we were doing because there was no social context; there were no communities. The communities that existed forty years ago were immigrant communities with dysfunctional families, but now it’s completely changed. Your generation have a lot of young people who are vibrant, intelligent, active, who are Muslims but also living in mainstream society, working and achieving. This wasn’t the case back then so it’s so encouraging to see. As troubled as young people seem to be sometimes, it’s encouraging to me to see how much faith young people have. There is so much publicity about extremists and fanatics, but there are many more young people who have their heads in the right place and are decent and productive. Sidra: Your book has been well received. How does that make you feel? Haroon: It’s great. I said to Shems Friedlander that if one person is moved by the book or the book has meaning for just one person, then that would make the effort worth it. However, it has been thousands of people who have appreciated and taken the book to heart. It’s gratifying, I am truly grateful for that.
One member of our group had been struggling on the Path. He asked the Saint (Sidi Mohamed Al- Sahrawi), “What do you do if you perform remembrance of God for year after year but it never reaches the heart?”. He replied, “You keep on invoking God because you never know when your invocation will take hold of the heart. Sometimes the effects of remembrance cannot be felt until the moment before you die. Have patience. Persist. Never give up.” (Signs on the Horizons)
Sidra: In your opinion, do you think every soul needs to go out in search of a teacher or spiritual master? Haroon: I am not really qualified to answer something like that. I think every soul longs for God and Knowledge and wants to tread this path, and should find someone whom is alive to take the path with. But should every simple human being do it? Maybe, but they don’t. Sidra: What would your advice be to the younger generation who are struggling to find that balance of seeking God and living this worldly life? How do we find that balance? Haroon: Firstly, we tend to romanticise the past thinking the past was so perfect and if we were living in another time, everything would have been different. The fact of the matter is that people have always struggled with this, struggled to find a balance of being in the world and heading into the next world, and being distracted by the world. The first thing our society exalts is the accumulation of wealth and fame. I am not sure that was as intense in earlier times as it is now. Someone nowadays can become famous for no reason. We definitely live on a much higher level than our ancestors lived in terms of greater comfort. But are we closer to God? I don’t know. I doubt it. The most important thing young people have to remember is that: you are going to die. The most insane thing in existence is the denial of death, because its the only thing that is certain. My friend Faarid Gouverneur once said to me “There are three certainties: Now, Death, God”. You are not going to live forever, and you won’t be able to retain things forever. Imam al-Ghazali said: ‘Love whatever you like but you will lose it. Live as long as you like but you will die’. And this is the reality. But in this age people think that it is being morbid. It is not morbid, and it’s real and a relief. Why do you want to keep struggling along as a donkey in this life when there is the next life? If you don’t believe in a next life, then I believe you are in trouble. That’s why we remember God. My advice to young people is to remember God standing, sitting and reclining. Moulay Abdul Salam ibn Mashish said, ‘There is nothing acceptable to Allah except DhikrAllah’. What does this mean? It means that if you are doing Salah and you are not remembering Allah, then your Salah is useless. If you are fasting and not remembering Allah then your fasting is useless. If you are giving Zakat and you are not remembering Allah, then your Zakat is useless. If you are struggling for the sake of Allah and you are not remembering Allah then your struggling is useless. Everything is remembrance and this is what absolutely transforms the soul. So this is what young people need to embrace. Everyone makes the way and path harder than it is. Part of the reason I wrote the book is, if you read the existing text on the Awliya, especially in English, you read someone (I am making this example up) who prayed and fasted all the time for 40 years, which seems like an extreme thing and then has an incredible opening. What you don’t read about is all the hundreds and thousands of men and women who had tremendous spiritual benefits from just being ordinary people and remembering Allah. With regards to young people, what I have seen is a lack of confidence. This is because of the inordinate influence of Salafis who see everything in black and white terms. For example, if you sin, you will go to hell, that is what is taught to the youngsters, but Allah is Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem. He is the Most Forgiving, and His Mercy precedes His wrath. My teacher Sayyid Abdullah said that if you read the Qur’an carefully, you will see that most people go to heaven. I found that Muslims feel insecure and they feel they are sinners. Of course we are sinners, but the Rasul ﷺ said that if you did not sin, Allah would destroy you and replace you with the people who did sin so they can make tawba (repentance) and ask for forgiveness. That is the transaction: tawba and istighfar, that is what it is all about. What is the sin of a Wali of Allah? Forgetting Allah for a split second. That is what his sin would be in this world. In our world today, remembering Allah for a split second is a great thing! We are in that cycle where we make a mistake, we correct ourselves. We make a mistake and correct ourselves. And so on until we are finally purified. We live in an instant age! We want instant Nirvana, everything has to happen tomorrow. You have these insane weekend groups, enlightenment weekends and after one weekend, you are supposed to have changed! People spend 30,40, 50 years on the path, day in and day out doing the same thing. This is what it is all about, not instant results. Yes, some people who are very pure and have sudden openings when they are very young, however these people are exceptional. My teacher Sayyid Umar used to say “The later the better”. By this he meant that later in your life you have maturity and can handle deep spiritual openings.
“God is so immensely generous that He gives His servants everything that they ask for, even if only at the moment of death” (Signs on the Horizons)
Sidra: Your book does not cover or mention any female Saints. I am curious whether you met any? Haroon: No, mainly because of conventional Muslim societies. Men do not meet women. I have met 1-2 women who are Saliheen, but I did not mention them in the book because it would have imbalanced it (i.e more men featured than women). Sidra: As a writer, what would your advice be for aspiring writers? Haroon: Write every day and find a way to do that. Read a lot. If you are writing on Islamic subjects then be humble and refer to people who know more than you. One of the worst things that has happened in modern times is you have a lot of ignorant people writing about Islam and we have to be very careful about that. However, in terms of pure technique, write and re-write. Good writing is re-writing. Basically good writing is part of good thinking. My advice is keep at it. If you don’t have any talent for writing, then don’t do it! Find something else you have a talent for. But if you do have a talent for writing then refine that and get better and better at it, love language. Language is a beautiful thing which separates us from animals. We are able to express ourselves. Therefore it’s a responsibility if you have a gift for writing. One of the reasons I wrote the book is I felt the need to use what small talent I have and do something that has some meaning, rather than just do it. John Steinbeck, when he was young, wrote two huge novels that were never sold. Then he wrote a book called “Tortilla Flat” which was a success. He then wrote “Cannery Row”, which was a huge success, and then he wrote “Grapes of Wrath” which was his masterpiece and while he was writing it he knew that it was going to be a masterpiece. Steinbeck wrote to his friend saying that ‘it was all those millions of words before’. Sidra: When can we expect your next book and what will it be about? Haroon: I am working on 3-5 books at the moment, it’s not a good thing! I’m working on a book on extremism, another on the turning of the heart (tawba), a third is a kind of sequel to Signs on the Horizons. We have a project pending on Morocco. It will take me a while, but something may come. The answer is, I don’t know!
“I told him with some pride that three people had just converted to Islam with me. He smiled sweetly and said, “Why not three hundred?” His response left me deflated. Was he teaching me humility? Was he teaching me not to be satisfied with a small achievement but to aspire to greater things? I expected a pat on the back and felt that my efforts had been dismissed by this great man. In retrospect, it occurred to me as I was setting down these memories decades later that one of the three souls who had converted to Islam was an intense and brilliant 18 year old former theological student who subsequently learned Arabic, travelled the world in search of knowledge, sitting with many of the great men of the Way and emerged as one of the most influential Muslim thinkers and orators in the West, reaching millions and guiding thousands on the path of Islam. He is known today as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. In balance I would say he counts for three hundred, at the very least. Perhaps Shaykh Al- Azhar understood this with the eye of insight” (Signs on the Horizons)
—– The book is available to buy from Amazon. You can also follow the Signs on the Horizons Facebook Page. Please keep Sidi Haroon and his family in your prayers! Special thanks to my dear brother and friend “The Conscious Muslim” for his help and support in checking this blog post for me before I published it- please recite a prayer for him too!
Please be aware that these are my notes; I was unable to write down everything, but what I have, I pray it’s of some benefit to the readers. Any mistakes, errors or misinterpretations of words are from me alone, so please do forgive and overlook my shortcomings!
May Allah reward all those who were involved in organising and facilitating this blessed course, and may Allah elevate the rank of Shaykh Yahya, bless his family are teachers. Amin!
“The Wonders of the Heart” by Imam al- Ghazali
Taught by Shaykh Yahya Rhodus (USA/Yemen) on 19th December 2009, Woodlands Road Mosque, Birmingham (UK)
Shaykh Yahya began by introducing the Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din (Revival of Religious Sciences). He said that it’s the most important text Imam al-Ghazali wrote. The Ihya is divided into 4 parts, each part consisting of 10 chapters thus 40 parts in total. Shaykh Yahya briefly spoke about how 40 is a special number for various reasons. For example, each Prophet received prophecy at the age of 40; if you do something for 40 days, it becomes a habit and so on. That is one of the reasons why the Ihya is divided into 40 parts.
- If Allah is remembered, shaytan is withdrawn from that gathering- prophetic hadith.
- Shaytan can only have power as much as you give him power.
- People have lost the ability to see things holistically like the scholars did.
- Every single verse in the Qur’an has 60,000 ways to understand it!
- Any knowledge that doesn’t lead you to the presence of Allah has no benefit in it.
- Allah is Infinite, anything you put over infinity is zero!
- Who knows what is hidden in the hearts? Who knows what the human beings conceal in their hearts? Allah sees everything in your heart!
- The “Wonders of the Heart”- its something internal without our hearts. If you deny there is such a thing as a ‘heart’, how will you experience these wonders? Experience these jewels?
- Anyone can build outwardly- but what about building the inner?
- The outward heart is a vascular system, spreading the blood around the body etc- that’s the outward ‘wonders’ of the heart. The inward wonders of the heart is the spiritual heart, which has more ‘wonders’ but you might not even know what is there! For example, when you clean the house, you might clean it well, but may not see the dust. Then you might do a ‘deep clean’ of the house and see things you do not normally see, like the dust. This is the case of the heart, you need a deep cleansing of it. We have regular cleansing of it like in Ramadan when we fast, pray tarawih etc. The ‘deep cleansing’ is like hajj- when you come back, you are all purified and ready to meet your Lord.
- The Prophet sallaAllahi ‘alayhi wasalam said that religion started strange and will end strange. If you are considered as ‘strange’, then that is a good sign. Nowadays, if you have a beard, don’t drink alcohol etc, you are considered as ‘strange’. The Prophet sallaAllahu ‘alayhi wasalam said glad tidings to the strangers- you are entering the ‘bisharah’ (glad tidings)
- The honour and excellence of man (humankind) which he surpasses all other creatures is to know Allah- ability to have Marifah. This knowledge is man’s duty.
- Every human being wants glory, perfection, beauty etc. Despite how you look outwardly, it doesn’t really matter, it all depends on your ability to know your Lord. Your knowledge of Allah is storing up your provision in the next world.
- The way that you prepare yourself to have this knowledge is through your heart. It is the heart that knows Allah, the heart that works, strives for Allah, and it’s the heart that has secrets unveiled to it.
- We get distinguished from the rest of creation because of the heart.
- Its at the level of the heart that received unveiling, and feels the intimacy with Allah.
- It is the heart that is accepted in the presence of Allah.
- There are people in this world who can be walking outwardly in this world, but their hearts are connected to the celestial realm. It is important that you are mentioned in the higher realm.
- There is a hadith which goes along the lines that if Allah comes to love a servant, He calls Gibreel alayhi salam to love them. When you are beloved to Allah, Allah announces it to Gibreel alayhi salam, who then announces it to the rest of the angels and then the creation becomes inclined to you.
- If you are sincere, you will always be tested by Allah.
- It is the heart that is veiled from Allah.
- Every container pours out what is in it. If your heart is good, it will only pour out khair- goodness.
- If the human being comes to know the heart, he comes to know who he is, and then he comes to know his Lord. If they are ignorant about themselves, then they are ignorant about their Lord. If you are ignorant of yourself, how can you know anything else? Allah says in the Qur’an how those who have forgotten Allah, He has caused them to forget themselves. These are the people who will not be able to do anything good.
- The human being must know their place in the hierarchy of existence. If we don’t know where we are, how will we get to where we want?
- The intellect is never enough; knowledge, information is not enough itself. You need belief in Allah and the love for RasulAllah sallaAllahu ‘alayhi wasalam
- If you forget Allah, He will make you forget yourself. If you forget yourself, how can you know anything?
- The knowledge of the heart, its true nature, its qualities is the foundation of the deen. If you want to be firm, you need to know this!
- To speak about the ‘Wonders of the Heart’ is from the unseen, most peoples’ hearts can’t comprehend this. There is a whole realm with the heart which we do not perceive.
1. The pine shaped organ located in the left; it’s a flesh of a particular sort. This is the physical heart. It’s a piece of flesh which is from the seen world and doesn’t have much worth.
2. The spiritual heart, it’s a latifa, subtlety. The spiritual heart can be killed, can die, just like the physical heart. The spiritual heart is from the unseen, but has a connection to the physical heart. Majority of people are bewildered in perceiving its connection.
This also has 2 meanings:
1. The subtle body- connection to the physical heart.
2. The subtle thing which knows and perceives.
As long as the spirit in your body is there, you are alive
It’s essentially who you are.
1. Lower intellect, which is the brain
2. Higher intellect, which is located in the heart
Heart- Place which we know Allah
Soul- Who we are
Spirit- The tool in which we love Allah
Aql- That what we know
All actions come from the heart, and all actions come from thought:
Thought- Heart- Action
1. The first thing that comes to the heart is a thought.
2. The second thing that comes to the heart is the natural inclination towards that particular thing.
3. The third thing is the judgement of the heart- if you should do it or not
4. The fourth is having firm resolution and actually having the intention of doing it.
In the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd stages, you are not taken into account for it, its only when you get to the 4th stage, you are taken into account for. For example, a thought of stealing something comes to your heart, it then moves onto the next stage which is the inclination of the heart about stealing, then it moves onto the 3rd stage where you judge whether to steal or not, then the last stage is when you actually intend to steal, or don’t intend to steal. And its only at the 4th stage, when you have made that intention to do it, you are held accountable. You can’t control the thoughts that come to your heart. Sometimes they come even if you do not want them to. No matter how many thoughts that come to your heart, you are not accountable as long as you do not intend to do it. With the stealing example, you will only be held accountable if you actually reach the 4th stage and intend on stealing. You can have all the thoughts and inclinations, but its only when you actually intend on stealing, you are held accountable for it.
- If you want strong ‘Yakeen’ (Certainty), then give charity, give your wealth.
- The people who were around the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wasalam were saturated, wrapped in his light. The Prophet sallaAllahu ‘alayhi wasalam is your door to Allah.
- People have forgotten Rahma. Where is the Rahma in your heart? The Prophet sallaAllahu ‘alayhi wasalam had Rahma in his heart for everyone, even when he made du’a against people, it was out of Rahma for them.
- Different people get tested in different ways- Allah is Just, He will only try you with what you can bear.
- Allow people to better themselves- we should want people to change, better themselves and get out of these lower stages.
- You get certainty if you open your heart to it- polish it, and you will get certainty, Yakeen!
- The heart has a homeland, you are either travelling to your destination or away from it.
- The heart is the place of knowledge.
- Every known thing has a reality.
- We have to remove obstacles from our heart to obtain what we set to obtain.
Jaza ‘Llahu anna Sayyidina Muhammadan sallaAllahu alayhi wasalam ma huwa ahluhu
Jaza ‘Llahu anna Sayyidina Muhammadan sallaAllahu alayhi wasalam ma huwa ahluhu
Jaza ‘Llahu anna Sayyidina Muhammadan sallaAllahu alayhi wasalam ma huwa ahluhu
Subhana Rabbika Rabbi l’izzati amma yasifun, wa salamun ala l’mursalin, wal-humdulillahi Rabbi l’alamin.
A wonderful friend narrated the following to me; a beautiful, consoling and refreshing reminder.
“ Our bodies are on a lonely path, yet our souls are connected beyond the end. That is why your dhikr is your companion in this life and the next; treat it with familiarity and closeness, and it shall return the favour”
A beautiful and heart warming rendition masha’Allah tabarakAllah! May Allah ta’ala bless our dear brother in abundance, Amin!
Here is the translation of the qasida by our beloved shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad
Should you not gain your wants, my soul, then be not grieved;
But hasten to that banquet which your Lord’s bequeathed.
And when a thing for which you ask is slow to come,
Then know that often through delay are gifts received.
Find solace in privation and respect its due,
For only by contentment is the heart relieved.
And know that when the trials of life have rendered you
Despairing of all hope, and of all joy bereaved,
Then shake yourself and rouse yourself from heedlessness,
And make pure hope a meadow that you never leave.
Your Maker’s gifts take subtle and uncounted forms.
How fine the fabric of the world His hands have weaved.
The journey done, they came to the water of life,
And all the caravan drank deep, their thirst relieved.
Far be it from the host to leave them thirsty there,
His spring pours forth all generosity received.
My Lord, my trust in all Your purposes is strong,
That trust is now my shield; I’m safe, and undeceived.
All those who hope for grace from You will feel Your rain;
Too generous are You to leave my branch unleaved.
May blessings rest upon the loved one, Muhammad,
Who’s been my means to high degrees since I believed.
He is my fortress and my handhold, so my soul,
Hold fast, and travel to a joy still unconceived.
~ Shaykh Ali bin Husayn al-Habshi
The Intimate Prayer of Ibrahim Ibn Adam
I have left men utterly, out of love for you,
And orphaned my children, that I might behold You
Though, You dismemebered me for love’s sake limb by limb,
Yet would my heart yearn for none besides You
Overlook the faults of a weakling who is come to You
If he has disobeyed You, O Vigilant Master,
Yet he has never bowed down to another besides You,
O Lord, Your ill-obeying slave has come to you,
Admitting his sins, though he has prayed to You
Should You forgive, it well befits You,
And if You reject, who should show mercy besides You?