as salaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah,
ramadan kareem and ramadan mubarak everybody 😉
We live in Rukn ad-Deen (literally, ‘the Religious Corner’ ) on the north side of Damascus. It’s a traditionally Kurdish area from the time of the Ayyubids, and Salahudin’s own family used to live here. His wife, famous for her generosity, is buried somewhere in the present day souq. The establishment of Abou Nour Institute, a center for religious learning built by the late grand mufti of Syria, has transformed the area into a largely student neighborhood. It’s quite diverse; walking down the street, you will see Malaysian sisters with pastel colored niqaabs mixing with Syrian women, who largely wear dark blue monteaus and crisp white or black scarves. The Somali sisters wear colorful long khimars, that reach to their knees, and most of the Russian sisters wear a complete and dramatic covering of black, because of the unwanted attention their fair skin seems to elicit. Many of the young men have beards and wear thaubs (you can usually discern the Westerners from the rest by their sneakers/timberland boots and their trademark Shukr clothing) The running joke among the students is that, if you see a man wearing traditional Arab clothing, then he’s got to be a foreigner 😉 Malaysians, Somalis, Turks, Indonesians, South Africans, Russians, Azerbaijanis, Daghistanis, and a number of Western students from Australia, the U.K., the U.S. and Canada and even some from Columbia, Brazil, and other South American countries make up our little community here.
Rukn ad-Deen is about half way up Jabal Qasiyoun, a huge, ancient mountain, barren of vegetation, which establishes the northern border of Damascus. The people here say that it was on this mountain that Cain killed Abel at the beginning of humanity. Imam Suyuti says it was to Jabal Qasiyoun that Mary sought refuge when she was about to give birth to Jesus (alayhima salaam). (‘Relate in the Book the story of Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East’ – Qur’an)
“Go back as far as you can into the vague past, there was always a Damascus… She has looked upon the dry bones of a thousand empires and will see the tombs of a thousand more before she dies.” Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1869
It is absolutely mind-blowing how old Damascus is; the oldest city in the world; where relics from ancient temples of the Romans are still in existence, where some of the greatest intellectuals of our history resided and taught, including some of the sahaba. Studying here is like walking in the footsteps of a thousand scholars, and it is a dazzling and overwhelmingly feeling.
I started the new school year today. I couldn’t sleep properly last night, excited and nervous like a small child on the eve of the first day of kindergarten. I got up in the morning and rushed to get ready, looking at the clock every few minutes, and made it out the door a few minutes before class was supposed to start. It was only after I began walking on the street that I realized I hadn’t turned my clock back an hour, like the rest of the country did, so I was now about an hour early for class instead of ten minutes late. Subhan’Allah, how easy it is for Allah (swt) to change our state of affairs, and how quickly He can provide “a way out” if we are so deserving.
I went to the internet café next to the school, and checked my email. My brother had sent me a questionnaire that a non-profit organization requested Muslims students to fill out about Islam. The words flowed so easily from me, things I’ve said a thousand times or more in the past.
“Islam has a rich intellectual tradition… The Prophet Muhammad (saw) never taught violence… Oppression of Muslim women does not stem from the teachings of the religion itself, but from cultural and other social and economic factors…”
I have answers to these simple questions, but a thousand more questions churn in my mind everyday. There’s so much to learn, and when you begin studying this deen you realize that it is as expansive as the night sky.
Our day starts with fiqh; it’s history, the importance of following a madhhab unless you are a mujtahid, the brilliance of Imam Shafa’ii, from whose school we will be studying. A hundred questions spring to mind.. what if there is a clear, authentic text that contradicts the ًprevalent opinion of your madhhab? What if you know a mujtahid, can you follow his ‘madhhab’ as you may follow one of the recognized four? I keep quiet. I look to my left and to my right; a sister from Somalia, another from Malaysia. They don’t seem to have these questions. We have extra challenges in the West, as a people who don’t have a generally accepted body of ulema, and such a diverse community of Muslims in terms of their methods of practice and understanding. I remember trying to explain to one of my teachers here the moon-sighting issue we have in the U.S. every year; she just couldn’t understand. “Don’t you have scholars in the U.S.?” she asked.
Hopefully my questions will be answered with time.
Our next class is inheritance, which leaves my brain swimming with too many relatives and too many equations; then grammar, then recitation of Quran, hadith terminology, then morphology. I’m exhausted by the end of it, not used to such a long schedule (Last year the Arabic course I attended was only three hours a day). This course has about sixteen subjects, and I am a mixture of excitement about learning so much, and dismay about how much work I’m going to have to do.
I leave the school, breathing in the fresh air and excited to get home in time for a nice nap.
In the evenings in Ramadan, we’ve been blessed with the opportunity to attend classes at a shaykh’s home. Most of the Western students here have a shaykh. We’re some of the few ‘free-lancers’ here, and for this reason, we are sometimes excluded from the close knit circle of a shaykh’s students. At times it’s quite frustrating and I often sense an exclusivist and somewhat narrow-minded mentality in their thinking; but this is probably the verdict of anyone on the outside of something looking in.
It’s been a very beautiful experience, studying with this shaykh, and being in his company for this short while. The problem is, I miss, I really miss my old teacher. I’ve realized that everybody’s got a shaykh, whether you know it or not My shaykh, as I have now come to realize, conveniently happened to be the imam in the community I grew up in. I don’t think it was a matter of convenience that made me appreciate him so much. I think that he is part of my rizq in this world.
These two shaykhs are very different, and I am trying to learn how to appreciate the different perspective, different styles, and the different positives that people have.
My Ramadan has been filled with many personalities and thoughts about people, which has really given me no sense of sweetness. I find myself contemplating shuyukh, their students, their commitment, analyzing their understanding, their adab with people… and it has also been filled with a lot of information… learning, books, grammar, concepts, notes & dates…. it’s no way to spend Ramadan, and I’m very thirsty for some khalwah and some spirituality that will make my heart feel alive. Insha’Allah the last ten days will nourish me.
May Allah make this Ramadan one that opens us up to sincere, full-hearted tawbah, deep understanding and knowledge of Allah (swt) that brings to our hearts sweetness and happiness, and renewed commitment to Him and love of Him, ameen.