A while ago I attended a class at a masjid in which the sisters sat on a balcony overlooking the brothers’ area, and that has a microphone system set up so that everyone could hear. A few minutes into the class a group of sisters came in with a number of children and starting having Quran lessons. The noise they made effectively drowned out the voice of the shaykh, and I spent the majority of the class struggling to hear what I could from the lesson, and giving meaningful glances to the group to keep their voices down.
It was so frustrating to be there, ready to learn, with my book open, looking at the teacher and seeing him speak, knowing he was sharing beneficial knowledge with everyone, but not being able to access it because of the noise around me.
It made me think about how often we must be in this same situation in terms of the spiritual realm… missed opportunities for knowledge, enlightenment, or remembrance due to inner static, distractions and noise… from sins, heedlessness, carelessness… and we walk away from gatherings of knowledge wondering why we don’t feel any different.
I read an interesting phrase in my Mustalah book the other day, that knowledge is “fi butoon al kutub wa sudoor al ulema” (lit. in the stomachs of books and the chests of the scholars). The last thing in this world I want to be is a book, just digesting information that I’m learning and storing it up like caloric intake, and without feeling. I want it to be in my chest, my heart, pumping in my blood, felt like a human being. But how can it be, if it’s drowned out by things that are already present there?
Ibn ‘Ataa’Illah said in his Hikam:
Rubamaa waradat ‘alayka al-anwaar
Fa wajadat il-qalbu mahshuwan bil-aathaar
Fartahalat min haythu nazalat
“Perhaps illuminations (ma’rifah…) passed by you and found your qalb (heart) filled, buried, occupied with vestiges of creation. So it took off from whence it had come.”
Imam Shaf’ii said,
My knowledge is with me, and wherever I turn it follows me,
For my heart is its vessel, and not a ‘chest’ stored at home.
(Written June 2007)