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Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība

By Dawud Israel

Imām al-Junayd said that the stories of the righteous are the marshaled soldiers of God. I found the autobiography of the 18th century Moroccan Ṣūfī Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība to be full of stories and lessons that motivate one to strive as if they were a soldier of God. Beyond usual hagiography, Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība gives us an account of the details of his life, his upbringing, how he struggled, his spiritual development, and his miracles. I found many aspects of his life similar to those of the early Imāms of Islam – his learning, his imprisonment, his traveling, and his routines. He brings much of the early days of Islam back to life, when the himmah (exertion) for Islam was far greater. This is relevant to our time when due to the chasm of time it has become difficult to bring that level of zeal to our diīn.

His grandmother was a majdhuba and had numerous miracles attributed to her serving the people of Tetuan. When his mother was carrying him she often repeated: “Oh God grant me virtuous progeny!” and repeated this after each prescribed prayer and during the whole month of Ramadan. Her prayers were answered and from the time he started going to school he would go to the mosque in the middle of the night and remain there until dawn.

tumblr_lfgsjonHxT1qew2flo1_500His beginnings on the path

He had zeal for Islamic knowledge and received ījāza from his teachers to teach in various Zāwīyas. The Ḥikam of Ibn ‘Aṭā’illāh had piqued his desire for taṣawwuf early on and after spending many years as a student of Islamic learning (aalim), he desired to delve deeper into taṣawwuf.

In the mornings he would read ¼ of the Qurʾān in the day and ¼ of the Qurʾān at night in addition to making dhikr of God’s Name. Then he became connected to prayers of peace and blessings upon the Prophet (endless peace and blessings be upon him) until he could repeat the whole Dalā’il al-Khayrāt by heart. He desired to possess the Qurʾān, learned to read it in the 7 modes of recitation and would complete 14 khatms of the Qurʾān every month. This lasted for 3-4 years. Then he married and started teaching while continuing this routine for 15-16 years before meeting Shaykh al-Buzidi.

What we can take away from this is that many years may pass in a high level of ibādah until one’s soul becomes ready to undergo a greater transformation. From this we can see how much perseverance and exertion is required in coming near to God. Rather than relying on a murshid in the beginning, he sought God with whatever means God had given him, for God is enough for His servants. This can be seen as preparation for his spiritual opening later on at the hands of Shaykh al-Buzidi.

Around this time he saw Shaykh Abū’l Ḥasan as-Shadhili in a dream saying “Persevere! By God, there will be 44 learned men who will receive knowledge from you!” Many times we may feel escapist, as if its best if we just abandon the dunyā and simply worship God in khalwa. Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība felt this way too and even though he sought to abandon everything for spiritual pursuits, God intended for people to benefit from him. The lesson from this is that God may plan something different for us, for us to benefit people in a way perhaps no one else can benefit them. It may also suggest that guiding and teaching people the dīn is a crucial part of one’s spiritual development.

What his Shaykh said about him

Shaykh al-Buzidi said about him: “Sidi Aḥmad has the qualities of detachment, scrupulousness, trusting God, constancy, forbearance, contentment, serene submission, piety, compassion, generosity and magnanimity.”

To which Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība replied: “Master you are already talking about Sufism!”

Shaykh al-Buzidi: “That is just exterior Ṣūfīsm, there is still interior Ṣūfīsm which you will know later God willing!”

Here the Shaykh is talking about a view of taṣawwuf and tazkīyya that is different from the usual Muslim discourse of the outer and inner, the Ẓāhir and the bāṭin. Here he is speaking of layers to spiritual purification beyond what is outer and inner, but what is even more inner and even deeper than what we understood the spiritual to be.

His miracles in his own words 

“I remember once when I was invoking God’s name in my house. The books were sitting on a shelf above me. Just then I saw a little bird up there, completely devoid of feathers as if it had just been born. He was moving his beak vigorously, opening it and then closing it over and over again, such that I realized that he was also invoking. I stood up and got closer to him, but he kept up with his invocation. When I tried to reach out to him, he withdrew and disappeared from my sight. I looked everywhere in the room, but the bird was not to be found. One of my disciples was there, sitting across the doorway. I asked him, but he assured me that he had seen nothing. That is when I realized that the bird was an angel.”

I had gone to pray in a room near the tomb of Sidī Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Fahhar during Laylatul Qadr and found myself alone in the dark room, when I was suddenly surrounded by birds: there were in front of me and behind me, with others fluttering above my head. I paid no heed, but I knew that they were angels that had come to greet men during that night.

One day when I went to visit my mother’s people, in the mountains, noon came earlier than I expected, but I could not find any water. I thought to myself: “There are saints who have had miracles happen; for example, they have seen water flowing out of a wall. Oh God, provide us with water so that we might perform ablutions!” Just then, I heard the trickling of water above the road and went toward the spot: water was flowing down the mountain and I did my ablutions. When we reached the spot in question, I told my brother that I had found water there; but when we looked we could find nothing but dryness.

While I was exercising in the Casba mosque – I was still a bachelor at the time – it happened that I finished my teaching of a book. To celebrate the event, I gave the muezzin, Sidī Muḥammad al-Sagir, two or three small bushels of flour with which he prepared a meal. From sundown to the evening prayer, he did not stop serving guests: one group got up, and another replaced them. Mysteriously, enough food was left that the mu’addin took it home. His family and his neighbors ate it, after which he told me: “It was a true marvel! And to think that I was under the impression you were not giving me much flour at all!”

Another time when I had gone to the Qarawīīn Mosque in Fez during Laylatul Qadr, I remained to make invocation after the dawn prayer and suddenly saw a man walking between the columns saying “La ilaha illallah; the market is finished (insarafa l-suq)!” I retorted: “There is still the Living One, who does not die!” He then disappeared from my sight and replied: “What you say is true!” Then he added: “I composed a book in which I wrote, ‘so and so said,’  ‘so and so said’ and did I get results?” Then he continued: “If you want to write, let it come from you!” I understood that he was referring to a work that I was writing in which I was repeating lots of things the ancient authors had said; he was bringing my attention to the fact that I should use my own faculties of thought to take out what was inside me.”

Select advices from his letters

“Wandering is indispensable for the faqīr who is beginning the way. Travelling reveals faults and purifies souls and hearts; it expands one’s character and, thanks to it, knowledge of the King and Creator is broadened. In fact, the traveler contemplates a new ray of divine light every day, and encounters aspects that he did not know and that were unfamiliar to him. His knowledge and his intellectual horizon are stretched. They say that the faqir is like water: if he stays in the same place too long, he stagnates and putrefies.”

Every time you see someone indulging in one of these practices, using hashish or tobacco, for example, flee and say, “I take refuge from him in God!” The person is a demon among the human demons, sent by God to try the initiates, to see if they remain firm on the straight path or if they stray. Beware of following them, of allowing yourselves to be seduced by their words or of letting yourselves be trained by them toward easiness or toward arbitrary interpretations, for you would risk seeing your good actions invalidated and would be running toward your loss.

Know how to restrict your means of subsistence as much as you can, and be content with the subsistence that becomes your lot. Subsistence of the body is, as a matter of fact, guaranteed and, however paltry it might be, and it suffices. Do not be greedy except for subsistence of the spirit, which is the invocation of God, visiting Shaykhs and brethren, and the service one renders them: of this subsistence do not be satisfied with either less or more; any more than with meditation or contemplation, if you have an aptitude for it, because they are the means of acquiring the Great Richness, the Supreme Success which is obtained only by intense dedication of the heart and of the body. Peace!

Peace and blessings be upon Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība!

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Source: The Autobiography of a Moroccan Soufi Ahmad IbnAjiba

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Sultan of the Path- Imām al-Junayd

By Mohamed Ghilan

When I received the invitation to write in the Luminaries Series, I was surprised that I thought of Imām al-Junayd first before someone like Imām al-Ghazālī. Imām al-Ghazālī is well known and widely quoted. His books serve as immense sources of wisdom and prescriptions for how one can purify their heart and elevate their station with their Lord. After the words of God and the words of the Beloved (endless peace and blessings be upon him), we often hear the words of Imām al-Ghazālī when it comes to setting on the path of purifying our hearts. But now as I think of it, in our times we desperately need to get to know Imām al-Junayd.

You know you are dealing with a special person when much of his personal biography is lost, and no major text of his was left behind, yet scholars from all streams within the Islamic Tradition quote his counsels throughout their various works. Across the intellectual divides within the Muslim Ummah, one can find the influence of Imām al-Junayd scattered throughout. In fact, for one to gather a collection of the counsels of Imām al-Junayd, they have to pick up the works of scholars like Imām al-Ghazālī, as well as the works of scholars like Imām Ibn Taymiyyah and step outside their familiar comfort zone of only reading for one type of scholar. It is a true testament to the sincerity of a scholar that more than a millennium after his passing, and no available books attributed to him; he still manages to bring divided Muslims together on a common ground.

Abū al-Qāsim al-Junayd ibn Muḥammad al-Zajjaj was born in 220 A.H./830 C.E. in Baghdad, Iraq and was raised there. His family was originally from Nahavand, the capital of Nahavand County in the Ḥamdān Province in Iran. His father used to sell glass bottles, which is where the family name “al-Zajjaj” comes from.

An incident at the age of seven marked the path Imām al-Junayd would eventually be named the “Sulṭān” of. As he was playing in the presence of a gathering of scholars, his maternal uncle, al-Sarī al-Saqaṭī, asked him, “Young man, what is thankfulness?” The young al-Junayd replied, “That you do not disobey God with His blessings.” al-Sarī remarked, “I fear that your only share from God would be your tongue.” The weight of this remark was so great that Imām al-Junayd said later in his life, “I have continued to cry over the remark that al-Sarī directed at me.”

As this story implies, Imām al-Junayd began his studies at a very young age. His intelligence and insight qualified him to achieve the status of muftī by the time he was merely 20 years old. One contemporary scholar said about Imām al-Junayd, “I saw a scholar among you in Baghdad called ‘al-Junayd’ who my eye has never seen anyone like him. The linguists would attend his gathering for his rhetoric, the philosophers for his precision, the poets for his eloquence, and the theologians for his meanings.” Another scholar remarked, “We did not see among our scholars one who combined between much knowledge and spiritual presence other than Abū al-Qāsim. Most of them have either a lot of knowledge but little spiritual presence, or some have much spiritual presence but very little knowledge. Al-Junayd had a dangerously immense spiritual presence and copious amounts of knowledge, such that if you experienced his spiritual presence you would assume it outweighed his knowledge, and if you saw his knowledge you would assume it outweighed his spirituality.”

Imām al-Junayd is unique in this way among the luminaries in his combination of knowledge and spirituality. If there is such a thing as “Sufi’izing Salafism and Salafizing Sufism,” it is embodied in the person of Imām al-Junayd. He was one to act upon authentic evidence from the Qurʾān and Ḥadīth, while at the same time preserve the spirit of the text in a way that many of us seek to accomplish today. One important counsel of Imām al-Junayd states, “Whoever does not memorize the Qurʾān, does not write the Ḥadīth, and does not gain an understanding of both is not to be followed, because our path is restricted by the Book and the Sunnah.” To fulfill this counsel the Imām offered another one to set the seeker on the right path, “The beginning of knowledge is from scholars, the middle of it is action, and the end of it is from the Exalted.”

Imām al-Junayd was highly concerned with translating knowledge into action. As he said in one of his counsels, “We did not take Sufism from hearsay. Rather, we took it from hunger, abandonment of dunya, and severing familiar luxuries. Because Ṣūfīsm is the purity of relationship with God.” This statement of Imām al-Junayd should not be confused with not enjoying the pleasures of life. It is known that he was a successful merchant in Baghdad and earned his own provisions. However, he did not allow the luxuries of this life to take over his heart, which he preserved for God in keeping with the statement in the Qurʾān, “The day on which neither wealth nor property will avail, except him who comes to God with a sound heart” [26:88-89].

One of the most important issues Imām al-Junayd dealt with were the rampant claims of love of and nearness to God that many were making during his time. To the Imām, claims negate sincerity and lead to arrogance. Moreover, claims of elevated stations and nearness to God are not permitted as the Qurʾān states that only “God knows who is purified” [53:32]. For these reasons we read another counsel of Imām al-Junayd reminding us that, “Whoever sticks to the path with sincerity, God will suffice them from making empty claims.”

The extent to which Imām al-Junayd went with regards to claims was to remind Muslims not to be overtaken by miraculous demonstrations known as karāmat. The true measure of anyone in Islam is not based in fantastic events that occur to them. Rather, we measure on the scale of righteousness, which is defined by how one upholds the injunctions and abstains from the limitations that God has set.

It is not that Imām al-Junayd rejected miracles of saints. He rejected having miracles as a measure of anything relevant to our estimation of whether someone is righteous or not. Here we realize the importance of having knowledge in Islam. Imām al-Junayd warned us in one of his most famous counsels, “If you see a man sitting cross-legged suspended in the air, do not follow him until you see his actions with regards to commands and prohibitions. If you see that he upholds all the commandments, and avoids all the prohibitions, then believe in him and follow him. But if you see him not upholding the commandments, and not avoiding the prohibitions, then avoid him.”

One can spend a great deal of time commenting on the scattered pearls of wisdom we have from Imām al-Junayd. But even he would not approve of us spending our time in this way. As one of his companions relates a dream he had of the Imām after he passed away in 297 A.H./ 910 C.E., in which he asked him, “What did God do with you?” The Imām replied, “Those indications have fallen, the counsels have become hidden, the knowledge has disappeared, the appearances have been withered, and nothing has benefitted us except for a few cycles of prayer we used to perform before the break of dawn.”

15-Episode series on some of the counsels of Imām al-Junayd by Mohamed Ghilan can be found here

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Healing Hearts presents in collaboration with other blogging friends, a 7 day series from Monday 10 March 2014. 

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Contributions by:

Mohamed Ghilan- Mohamed Ghilan

Kamran Haikal- Ahlul Bay

Sidra Mushtaq- Healing Hearts

Kamran Shaheen- The Conscious Muslim

Dawud Israel- Muslimology

Zara Nargis- Treasures for the Seeker

Tariq Yusufzai- Tariq the Pilgrim

May this special series be a source of inspiration, healing and learning. May we benefit from learning about some of the great luminaries that stepped on this earth. Amin!

Please keep the contributors and their loved ones in your excellent prayers!

Every Muslim grows up knowing the significance and importance of Makkah and Madinah. From a very young age, we feel a familiarity and closeness to those two Holy Places. Yet the sanctity of Masjid al-Aqsa doesn’t always get a significant mention. The name Masjid al-Aqsa (Bayt al-Muqaddas) translates as the “Farthest Mosque”. It’s the second house of Allah built on earth, and the first qibla for the Muslims. This is where our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ came on the miraculous night journey from Makkah riding on the Buraq, the winged horse.

My parents had briefly told me about Masjid al-Aqsa when I was younger. Yet it was only in later years when I developed an interest in Islam and began learning more about the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ that Al-Aqsa and the Holy Land began to feature more prominently in my mind. After visiting the two Haramain, Makkah and Madinah, I longed to visit the third: Masjid al-Aqsa. There was something mysterious about Jerusalem (Al-Quds) that always filled me with a deep sense of awe. I was yet to visit, but I felt sure it was a special place and I needed to go and experience it for myself. I had been under the impression that it’s extremely difficult to get into Jerusalem as Muslims, and that it wasn’t safe. My family was also under the same impression so nobody tried or even looked into going. It was only when one of my best friends Asma went travelling around the Levant at the end of 2009, that I started believing that I too could visit Jerusalem. I kept my wish within my heart and knew that one day, it would happen, if Allah wills.
—–

A few years later, my friend Sheba and I planned to visit Jerusalem. We sought all the travel advice we needed from our friend Asma. We had almost booked our flights, but due to unforeseen circumstances, we were unable to go. Although it was disappointing, I still held onto the hope that Allah would give us another and better opportunity to go, where everything would be facilitated for us by Him. We just had to hold on tight to that thought and stick to our intentions.

Three months later, I got an email from Sheba about a trip to Jordan and Jerusalem. She was planning to go with her mother and sister and asked me if I wanted to join them. My cousin Anam had also been looking into trips to Palestine, so when I mentioned this to her, her immediate reaction was “lets do it!”. Of course, I didn’t require much encouragement; I had been ready to go for years.

We booked our trip with Islamic Travels Islamic Travels and everything went smoothly, thanks to their level of service and professionalism. I’ve never known a Muslim organisation that responds to queries and deals with bookings so swiftly!

——–

So finally, we were going to visit the Land of the Prophets! I felt the need to prepare a bit, so as a reminder, I started reading the famous “Stories of the Prophets” by Ibn Kathir. My anticipation grew each day, but I tried restraining my excitement, as there was always the possibility we might not get entry into Jerusalem. I wanted to let go of all expectations and maintain a positive attitude, so kept telling myself “If it’s meant to be, it will be”.

Sunday 2 June 2013

The day arrived when we were leaving for our trip. At London Gatwick, we met the rest of the group for the first time; there were 50 of us in total. There was quite a mixture of people, some who were familiar to me from Islamic circles in London, some who were not. I was content being there with Sheba and Anam, two people whom I love dearly and knew would be great travelling companions.

Although we would be in Jordan for a greater part of the trip (five days), I was looking forward to the three days we were going to be spending in Jerusalem, out of which one was going to be the blessed night of Isra wal Miraj, and the other was the day of Jummah (Friday prayer). Jordan had its attractions too, the two main ones for me being the Cave of the Sleepers (their story is mentioned in Surah Kahf), and Prophet Shoaib’s (peace be upon him) Maqam in the city of Madyan. (Since this travelogue is about Jerusalem, I will skip the next couple of days we spent in Jordan, and move straight onto Jerusalem)

Wednesday 5 June 2013

At last, the day arrived when we were leaving Jordan to enter Jerusalem. We got to the Jordanian border at 9am and had to queue for a visa. The Israeli authorities at the border gave visas to all the seniors who were aged 50 plus in our group without any questioning. The rest of us were held back and we just had to sit there and wait. I was mentally prepared for this situation and knew we would be hanging around for a very long time. The only thing I wished I had done was taken a good book to read.

We weren’t the only group that were held back, there were lots of other groups and individuals who also had to undergo the “interrogation process”. The Israeli officials selected randomly, calling one person at a time for questioning. It was a very slow process.

As a group, we stuck together, sitting on benches and on the floor. This was the point where we all actually started getting to know each other, bonding as a result. It reminded me of Hajj, where at the beginning you hardly know anyone, but then after spending hours at the camp in Jeddah and the road trips, you become one family.

Everyone in the group was patient. Nobody complained or provoked the officials. 12 hours had gone by and they had questioned almost everyone in my group apart from me and four others. As long as we got into the Holy Land, I didn’t care how many hours they detained us. Yet it was only human to have that natural feeling of fear, that natural question which was at the back of my mind, “what if I get turned away?”. It was only at that point that I started feeling a little bit anxious as I thought only those questioned would get visas.  It was getting quite late, and the closing time of the border was near. Everyone was hungry and tired by this stage, but the thought of praying at Masjid al-Aqsa gave us energy and kept us all going.

Finally, an officer came out and started handing back some of the passports with visas. They staggered the process of returning everyone’s passport, but again, everyone waited for each person to get theirs back. I was lucky to be one of the few people who got a visa without questioning, not that I would’ve cared if I’d had to undergo it. It all worked out well, Alhumdulilah!

The coach journey to our hotel in Jerusalem went smoothly, we did not get stopped at any checkpoints. Our hotel was located on the top of Mount of Olives, which provided us with a panoramic view of Jerusalem. As we reached our hotel and got off the coach, our eyes witnessed the splendid Dome of the Rock Masjid (Masjid Qubbat As-Sakhrah) for the first time. It felt surreal; we actually made it to al-Quds! I was rather overwhelmed, so the first thing I did before even checking into my room was call my mother back in the UK. I wanted to share the moment of being in a blessed place with her. My mother was thrilled that we had made it to Jerusalem safely, especially since it was the blessed night of the Isra wal Miraj the following night.

It was almost midnight and the fajr prayer was at 4am. You could feel everyone’s eagerness to pray fajr in congregation at Masjid al-Aqsa. We knew we had to leave the hotel around 3:30am to make it on time. I tried sleeping, but my mind was too restless. The excitement was just a bit too much! We only had three days scheduled for Jerusalem, out of which the first had already been spent at the border. This meant we only had two days to fit a lot in, so sleep was not going to be part of the agenda.

Thursday 6 June 2013

The coach dropped us off at a coach stop and it was a good 10 minute walk up a steep hill to Masjid al-Aqsa. We had a lovely elderly couple in our group, aunty and uncle we called them (we are desis after all!). They had come on this trip with some members of their family. Uncle has been afflicted with Parkinson’s, which meant he had days where he could not move at all. Since our flight from London, and throughout our time in Jordan, uncle had been motionless and his wife and sons were helping him in the wheelchair. However that morning, as we were all walking up to Masjid al-Aqsa, uncle was there in front of us, racing to get to the fajr prayer! It was like a miracle, he wasn’t even using his walking stick!

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As we were walking towards Masjid al-Aqsa, there were guards stopping and searching whomever they could. I had mixed emotions. Part of me was elated and overwhelmed, I simply couldn’t believe where my steps were taking me. The other part of me felt immense sadness because of what our Palestinian brothers and sisters have to go through. Many of them can’t even pray at Masjid al-Aqsa. Being stopped and interrogated unnecessarily will outrage any normal person, but imagine how the Palestinians feel when this is an almost everyday reality for them?

We prayed the first fajr prayer in congregation. The recitation was absolutely beautiful. I still couldn’t believe I was sitting in Masjid al-Aqsa. After the prayer, people gathered for Qur’an and study circles within the mosque. Escaping the oppression that lay beyond those walls, people still managed to find time for their Lord. It was a moment to behold.

Masjid al-Aqsa at fajir time (morning prayer).

Masjid al-Aqsa at fajir time (morning prayer).

We had a packed schedule for the day so we had to leave the Masjid straight after fajr prayer. Our first stop was going to be Masjid-e-Khalil in Hebron. Below is a snapshot of some of the places we visited during the day.

Masjid-e-Khalil in Hebron

Masjid-e-Khalil, also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs, is built on Mount Nabi Yunus, the highest peak in the West Bank. The Masjid is built over a small cemetery and the following Prophets and their wives are buried there: Prophet Ibrahim and his wife Sarah; their son Prophet Isaaq and his wife Rifaqah; their son Prophet Yaqoob and his wife Liah, and their son Prophet Yusuf. Peace be upon them all.

Masjid-e-Khalil, also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs

Masjid-e-Khalil, also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs

The place is split into two; on the right you have the Masjid for the Muslims, and then on the left is a synagogue for the Jews. The entrance is guarded and controlled by Israeli soldiers. Within the Muslim side are the tombs of Prophet Ishaq, his wife Rifaqah and his mother Sarah (peace be upon them all). Within the Jewish side are the tombs of Prophet Yaqoob, his wife Liah and Prophet Yusuf (upon them all be peace). Prophet Ibrahim’s (peace be upon him) tomb is in the middle and accessible from both Jewish and Muslim sides. The tombs are directly over the graves, which are below ground.

Inside Masjid el-Khalil. Tombs of Prophet Isaaq and his wife Rifaqah (peace be upon them both)

Inside Masjid el-Khalil. Tombs of Prophet Isaaq and his wife Rifaqah (peace be upon them both)

Maqam of Prophet Lut alayhi salam

The Maqam is situated in the town of Bani Na’im.

The Maqam is situated in the town of Bani Na’im.

Maqam of Prophet Yunus

Prophet Yunus (peace be upon him) Masjid, with his tomb inside.

Prophet Yunus (peace be upon him) Masjid, with his tomb inside.

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Bethlehem

Separation wall

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Graffiti art on the Separation Wall

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Masjid of Salman al-Farsi

Inside the Masjid is the grave of one of the most famous of the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ: Salman al-Farsi (may Allah be pleased with him). It marks a place where he once stayed and is located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Masjid of Salman al-Farsi

Masjid of Salman al-Farsi

By the time we had finished visiting all these places, it was nearly time for the Magrib prayer. It had been an intense, but amazing day. We had visited the Maqams of some of the Prophets who had stepped on this Earth; it was a truly special experience and it only increased the desire of wanting to actually meet them in the next world, in al-Jaanah (May we all reach al-Jaanah without any reckoning and be with all the Prophets. Ameen!).

We prayed the Magrib prayer in congregation inside the Dome of the Rock Masjid, and then went back to our hotel to freshen up for what was going to be a very blessed night: Isra wal Miraj. (Women can only pray the fajr prayer in congregation in Masjid al-Aqsa due to limited space. For all their other prayers, they make their way to the Dome of the Rock Masjid).

We arrived back at the Haram just before the Isha prayer. Whilst walking towards the Dome of the Rock Masjid, I pondered on how the environment was different to Madinah and Makkah. It was less crowded with no skyscrapers surrounding the Haram, or any shops in close proximity, unlike at the other two Haramains. When you are there, your experience is not hindered by worldly distractions. But sadly, access to al-Aqsa is far more restricted. Whilst the Ka’aba is always open and the Prophet’s ﷺ Masjid closes well into the night, both Masjid al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock are locked after each prayer. (This I believe also varies from time to time; it all depends on what the political situation is like at the time. Unfortunately, there are occasions when the Masajids are locked during prayer times as well.)

After praying Isha in congregation inside the Dome of the Rock Masjid, Sheba and I went and sat inside Masjid al-Aqsa. Since it was a special night, both Masajids were remaining open until 11pm. The Masjid was full and there were no strict segregation barriers. Women generally were praying and sitting at the back, but it was perfectly fine for them to explore other parts of the Masjid if they just wanted to have a look. 

“Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.” [17:1]

Interior of the Dome,  Masjid al-Aqsa

Interior of the Dome, Masjid al-Aqsa

Inside Masjid al-Aqsa

Inside Masjid al-Aqsa

Ceiling. Masjid al-Aqsa

Ceiling. Masjid al-Aqsa

After a while, we went and sat in the courtyard, a large area between Masjid al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock Masjid. To our right was the breathtaking Dome of the Rock Masjid in full sight; its beauty reminded me of the Prophet’s ﷺ Masjid in Madinah. To our left, we could see the majestic Masjid al-Aqsa, which reminded me of the Ka’aba. It was a beautiful spot to sit. My heart felt at peace; I had so much to talk to Allah about, so many loved ones to pray for.

The Dome of the Rock Masjid

The Dome of the Rock Masjid

“There is not a single inch in Al-Quds (Jerusalem) where a Prophet has not prayed or an Angel not stood”. (Tirmidhi, Ahmad)

I was trying to capture and behold everything around me, and the above Hadith was being repeated in my mind. This is the Holy Land, the place where hundreds of Messengers came with Allah’s message.This is the Holy Land, a place where angels have descended with Allah’s message. This is the Holy Land, the only place in this world where all the Messengers of Allah prayed at the same time led by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. And it wasn’t just any night, it was the actual night of the Miraj, where the Prophet ﷺ ascended to the highest heavens, and then all the way up to the Lote Tree, the farthest boundary and met his Lord. What an incredible night to be there where the beginning of that event took place. How could my mind not be blown away? It was too much to take it all in. Glory be to Him!

Allah could have chosen any other time of the year for us to go, but He facilitated our trip to coincide with the blessed event of Isra wal Miraj. That certainly was a great honour and gift from Him, something which I felt completely undeserving of, but Allah gives without measure, even to those who are not worthy because He is Ar-Rahman (the Most Merciful) and Al-Kareem (The Most Generous). This trip became a reality only because of His Mercy and Generosity. Allah truly plans beautifully.

There was only an hour left before everything was going to be locked up for the night, only opening again for fajr prayers. Sheba and I decided to spend that last hour inside the Dome of the Rock. The Masjid was more crowded than Masjid al-Aqsa. We went and performed 2 rakat nafl (optional/voluntary prayer) underneath the actual rock which the Prophet ﷺ stood and ascended to the heavens.

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The actual rock which the Prophet ﷺ stood and then ascended to the heavens.

The actual rock which the Prophet ﷺ stood and then ascended to the heavens.

O best of those to whose courtyards repair the seekers of blessings,
On foot and on the backs of laden camels.

O you who are the greatest sign for the one able to perceive,
And the most sublime blessing for the one desiring benefit.

You travelled by night from one sacred place to yet another,
Just as the full moon travels across the pitch-black sky.

That night you ascended until you reached a station of nearness
Only two-bows-lengths distant,
A station never before attained or even hoped for.

Thus all the Prophets and Messengers gave precedence to you
The precedence of a master over those who serve him.

You traversed the Seven Heavens with them.
And you were the standard bearer- leading their procession.

Until you left no greater goal for the seeker of eminence and proximity,
Nor any higher station for the one seeking elevation.

All other stations seemed lower in comparison with yours,
Since you were proclaimed in the highest terms- the unique one.

So that you would achieve a station of perfect proximity
Hidden from the eyes,
And obtain a secret concealed from all creation.

So you attained to every excellent without equal,
And you passed alone through every station, far from all others.

Sublime indeed is the measure of the ranks you have been granted,
Beyond comprehension the blessings bestowed upon you.

Glad tidings for us, O assembly of Muslims,
For truly we have a pillar of support and solicitude
That can never be destroyed.

When God named the one who called us to obey Him
The noblest of Messengers,
Henceforward we became the noblest of peoples.

~ Chapter 7 of the Burda by Imam Sharaf Ad-Din Al-Busiri

The hour went by quickly, and soon the Masjid was empty; only Sheba and I were left. If there was one place I would not have minded being locked up for the night, it would have been there. We stayed there as long as we could, and probably got an extra 10 minutes before the guards came over to us and alas, told us we had to leave so they could lock up. As much as we wanted to spend the night sitting in the Haram, it was impossible to do so, mainly due to the restrictions and we just wanted to be safe. Alhumdulilah, for every second we were able to spend there that night.

Friday 7 June 2013

After praying fajir in congregation at Masjid al-Aqsa, our group met Shaykh Yusuf Abu Sneina, one of the Imams of Masjid al-Aqsa. Shaykh Sneina very kindly gave us some of his time and took us for a historical tour around the Haram. I had only slept for a few hours over the past few days, so the sleep deprivation was really catching up with me (bad timing or what?!). I was struggling to function and just stay awake, but somehow I managed.

Shaykh Yusuf Abu Sneina

Shaykh Yusuf Abu Sneina

After our tour, we went back to the hotel to pack and check out. I managed to fit in a quick 20-minute power-nap (it was the best thing ever!), and then drank as much coffee as I could to wake myself up. We only had a few more hours left in the Holy Land, I was not going to waste a single minute.

Sunrise over Jerusalem. View from our hotel, top of Mount of Olives.

Sunrise over Jerusalem. View from our hotel, top of Mount of Olives.

We got back to the Haram at around 11:00am. Jummah was going to start at 12:30pm. This was the only time we actually got to really walk around and explore the place. We headed to what was the original Masjid al-Aqsa, which is in the basement of what the Masjid is at the moment.

Masjid al-Aqsa in its full glory.

Masjid al-Aqsa in its full glory.

Original part of Masjid al-Aqsa.

Original part of Masjid al-Aqsa.

View of Masjid al-Aqsa from the Jewish quarter.

View of Masjid al-Aqsa from the Jewish quarter.

The Golden Dome

The Golden Dome

Detail. Surah Yasin inscribed around the Dome of the Rock Masjid.

Detail. Surah Yasin inscribed around the Dome of the Rock Masjid.

Detail. Beauty.

The time of Jummah was approaching, so Sheba and I went to the Dome of the Rock. It was overcrowded, very hot and humid, but the sweetness of where we were made it all bearable. Sheba and I separated, as it was difficult to find a spot to sit together. I ended up sitting next to a bunch of local Palestinian women. Although my Arabic (which is very limited anyway) is appalling, and the Palestinian ladies could not speak English, we somehow managed to converse and understand each other. I always remember what one of my best friend’s mother, who is Turkish (and can’t speak English) said to me when I met her for the first time in Germany many years ago. She said to me that Muslims communicate with each other through their eyes; so a Muslim will always understand what the other Muslim is saying, or trying to say. I believe this is true as I was able to communicate with these lovely Palestinian women through a mixture of sign and body language, and broken Arabic!

After Jummah prayers, we had to find our group, as it was almost time to depart and leave the Holy Land. But before we found our group, we sneaked in a quick visit to a place we hadn’t seen: Masjid al-Buraq. This is where the Prophet ﷺ tied the Buraq, which transported him to the Dome of the Rock and ascended to the heavens. We had to be quick as we didn’t want our group to be waiting for us. We managed to find our group on time, and see Shaykh Sneina once more who came out to bid us farewell.

Masjid al-Buraaq

Masjid al-Buraaq

Inside Masjid al-Buraq

Inside Masjid al-Buraaq

The ring to which the Prophet ﷺ tied al-Buraq. There is a difference of opinion whether this was the actual ring or not. Allah knows best.

The ring to which the Prophet ﷺ tied al-Buraq. There is a difference of opinion whether this was the actual ring or not. Allah knows best.

And then, sadly, the time came when we had to get on the coach and leave. My heart felt really heavy, it’s always difficult leaving such places. I wished we had more time to spend in the Holy Land, but was grateful to Allah for giving me the opportunity of visiting and making this trip possible, even if it was just for two days.

The Dome of the Rock Masjid in its full glory.

The Dome of the Rock Masjid in its full glory.

Our last stop out of Palestine was Prophet Musa’s (peace be upon him) Maqam in Jerico. The Maqam is located 11km south of Jericho and 20km east of Jerusalem. Sadly, we only had 10 minutes to spend at the Maqam, just enough time to recite Fatiha and make a short du’a.

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Courtyard inside the Maqam of Prophet Musa (peace be upon him).

We had a 3-hour drive ahead of us and we had to make it to the Aqaba border before it closed. The driver really had to put his foot down! As soon as Prophet Musa’s (peace be upon him) Maqam was out of sight, I dozed off as by that time I was completely exhausted and was really struggling to stay awake. The caffeine had lost its effect, and the only thing that my body needed was sleep……

———

I wrote this travelogue as a way of sharing my experience of the Holy Land, and to encourage others to visit, especially whilst its still fairly open to Muslims, and for those who have the financial means to do so. Reading about Jerusalem, seeing photos and videos does not give the place the justice it deserves; you have to physically go, breathe the air, step on the soil, meet local Palestinians, pray inside Masjid al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, visit the Maqams of the Prophets etc, in order to truly experience it. The two days I spent out there only gave me a glimpse, and a feel for what the place is all about. There is so much more to see and experience, I mean, it’s not just called the Holy Land for no reason. I’m already looking forward to going back one day, if Allah wills.  Actually,  what I would really love to do is go on the three Haramain tour: Al-Aqsa, Madinah and Makkah. Now that is what you call a dream tour…… one day, if Allah wills! 🙂

If you are planning a trip to Jerusalem and need some advice, please do not hesitate to contact me. Just drop me a message in the comments section and leave your e-mail address. If you are a bit of an Instagrammer like me, then I would recommend following this profile: ZALAMEH, who shares live photos from Palestine and highlights what the current situation is like out there.

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