A Teacher's Understanding: There and Back Again, Part I
by Talal Sarwani
Manama, Bahrain -
Living in the United States, the seekers of Knowledge often find refuge in the assortment of books available on the subject of this Deen. Some look to the Internet, others to lectures available in audio or video form, and still others who physically attend various lectures on Islam. These are efforts put to good use, but in the past two weeks, I have been reminded of an oft-forgotten, as well as often-maligned, source of knowledge; the scholar.
The other night, I walked into the Faateh Masjid to catch the 'Isha congregation. Sometimes referred to as The Grand Mosque, Faateh Masjid is a magnificent example of the kind of Islamic Architecture sometimes seen in photos or videos. As you walk in, an inspiring echo is heard reverberating through the expansive chambers. When you walk into the prayer hall, the marble gleams against the amber glow cast by the chandeliers, the temperature being a cool escape from the humid desert outside. What immediately struck me was that the congregation's first line, it's first saff
, was in the middle of the hall, not in the front as is usually expected. So the prayer is over, and the Imam delivers a lesson meant solely to purify one's self (i.e. not to fill one's mind with political rhetoric, which is the prevailing notion being permeated to the outside world by the shoddy "journalism" of mass-media conglomerates). Then the lesson is over, and the question remains: Why was the first line in the middle of the prayer hall? Walk up to the Imam and ask him why, and you'll get an answer. You won't get a look of annoyance ("What do YOU care?"), you'd get a smile, and with that smile, you're told that since the prayer hall is so large, in an effort to help those who walk in late for the prayer, the first saff
is kept in the middle of the masjid, so that latecomers would not have to walk all the way to the front and end up missing even more of the congregation.
Maybe it was the way in which the answer was delivered, perhaps it was just the after-'Isha mood in the air, but the laid back vibe I got was one which exemplified the being of a person who has done will in the way of this Deen.
Then came another night, and another tale...
It was of a dars being given in Arabic. In the Q&A session that followed, a question was asked of the teacher in charge. "What's up with the different ways of placing hands when standing in prayer? Some hold it up by their chest, some in the middle, and still others let the grip hang pretty loose. Which is the right method?"
The different methods are derived from differences in the major schools of Islamic jurispudence, specifically the Big Four. The teacher went on to mention the genius of the four Imams, and the enlightening work they carried out. The question however remained, which method was right? The answer... ALL OF THEM. Then another question; how can this be, there must be one correct way.
Then the chill set in:
"Think about it this way", said the white bearded Shaykh, "the Prophet(SA'AS) received the revelation at the age of forty, an age in which a man is in his prime; vigor and all. When he stood in prayer, he stood with the strength that befitted his age, and he was well-able to hold his hands at the level of his chest. He grew older, and he was better able to hold his hands a little lower. He was severely sick during his last days, and so he held his hands lower, close to the navel. Different companions had seen him at different stages, and so we have different, yet authentic, hadith in which we find these apparently contradictory methods. However, with some thought, we see that the methods are in fact not contradictory, and that each of the Imams made his decision based on the evidence available to him, thereby causing difference among the schools of Jurispudence. Hence, the at-first-glance differing methods are just an evolved form of the same act, and it harms none to choose from either of them."
It might be the sheesha
talking now, but boy-oh-boy did I find that to be chillin' like a villain.
The problem of defining what exactly a scholar is, and then finding such a person is a task better left to the more fitra
-fied, but the moments written of above just put in my mind the fortune of having a teacher at one's side when embarking on a journey of increasing one's knowledge of this Deen. The above instances aren't meant to suddenly convince you that life without a teacher is a life less worth living. I heard of these happenings, and it compelled me to write of them, to write of what hit me in my head when I heard them. It may just be my severe lack of 'ilm
that hinders me from ever being able to make such profound connections on my own. Whatever way things go, may Allah grant us all the strength and guidance to increase us in our knowledge, as well as giving us the ability to put the knowledge to the best of uses.
Your brother in Islam,
of and relating to...
Thanks for sharing that. You're right, in the busy life we all have, we do tend to ignore, or forget, that having a scholar around helps tremendously, in everyday life, and during the hard times. I wish there were more such stories to tell our muslim student communty.
Great little piece Talal. I must say that I have to agree with you in spending time with scholars. TRUE scholars I must add. There's something else in learning at the feet of scholars, something that lives with you forever. I have just come to realize that.