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May 22, 2005
Of Fire, Clay, and Dust.

by Saleem Safdar

It’s sometime after six. Dimly lit streetlights reveal a sleepy suburban street. It isn’t night anymore, nor daylight yet. A sole light shines through one of the front windows of the masjid. The front door opens to reveal an elderly man as he steps through. He holds a broom in his left hand, and he braces the door with his right.

He begins to sweep the steps in front of the entrance.

Old Man: Subhanallah wa bi hamdihih.. Subhanahil azeem… subhanallah wa bi hamdihi…

He moves the broom with deliberation… each sweep in keeping with the adhkhar…

Old Man: Astagfirullah… [Dust particles scatter in front of the sweeping broom].

Although old, he is not fragile. The skin of his hands and face appear hardened by years like the dry, broken, desert. The lines that run through the terrain of his visage reveal a person who has been visited upon by trials and tribulations… while the lines surrounding his eyes speak of softness and patience.

He continues to sweep…

Old Man: Allahuma ajirnee min al nar…

The ground in front of the masjid is strewn with refuse, left behind by devotees as they rush from guidance towards heedlessness, thoughtlessly letting the trash fall by their sides onto the masjid grounds before they return to their jobs, schools, gossip, and play. The motion of the broom as it sweeps resembles a pendulum … it gyrates back and forth like the viccittudes of time.

Old Man: Rabbana atina fi dunya hasana wa fil akhirati hasana wa kin azabanar…

The old man stops. A lone nightingale can still be heard in the background as the sun continues its ascent, its light illuminating the ground where the old man stands through the scattered leaves of the trees above him. The old man gazes upon the small pile of refuse and dust that he has gathered.

Old Man: Haste… is from Shaytan.

He converses with himself… indifferent to appearances that deceive like the dreams of wide eyed youth…

Old Man: I knew the truth my whole life… but haste kept me from seeking it, cherishing it, protecting it. In my haste to earn an income, increase my status, and chase my false gods, I littered the masjid ground with the blackness in my heart. Like so many duas asked for so many wrong reasons… this heap of dust at my feet is the product of many seasons ill spent… looking upon this dust as what I have sent forward… I weep at what I have left behind… a prisoner in my own mind… sentenced to old age and worry… for the darkness in which I will be buried… ignorant of what will be said… what lies ahead… when Munkar and Nakir sit at my head… how I fear that most uncomfortable of beds…

A rustle is heard as a morning breeze blows through the leaves… the jarbled mumblings of a voice can be heard in the shadows beyond the brush…

Voice In Shadows: Old man, why do you burden yourself so? Why don’t you let your past go? Many years have come and gone… and still you carry that broom? No one was there for you, none ever cared… you were abandoned by those you loved in the end.. though you were the most faithful of friends! You remember your Lord by day and night, yet you worry about the afterlife? What a pitiful sight!

Old Man: Oudhubillahi minashaytan nirajeem. Allah save me from this most vile of dreams! Oh fiend! You are not a friend! You lie, deceive, and pretend to achieve your evil end! I know you now as I knew you then, and I hated you then as I do now, only then to rid myself of you I did not know how!

Voice In Shadows: You break my heart with your rebukes, though heaven knows I speak only the truth! I tell no lies, I only open eyes – sometimes the truth hurts and sometimes it makes one cry… but to rebuke me is to rebuke yourself – as I have no interest other than your happiness, health, and wealth!

Old Man: Oh deceiver! From my sight be gone! I will not again be victim to your song! In your lies have too many nights gone.. in your lies has too much of life been spent! It is you who convinced me to miss the prayer! To delay what should have been done then for later! It is you who have embittered my old soul, and pulled the wool over the eyes of the world! It is in your way that wars are fought, in your maze that mankind is lost! It is you who taught us wicked ways.. and it is you who has trapped my people in a blaze!

Voice in Shadows: Do not blame me old fool, but rather blame yourself! It is you who wasted your youth chasing after ephemeral bliss and wealth! It is you, not I, who tells the lie! Even as you approach death you still cling to life! You are alone, where are your friends? Your children? Your wife? It is not the duniya that drove them away, but you and your wicked ways! It is you, not I, who missed the prayer! You, not I, with the wandering eye! You, not I, who is quick to anger!

I am a mere mirror of yourself! I am here as an advice to you… a good word.. a counselor amidst enemies! No one loves you… only God... and I… God sees you at the masjid all alone praying Al-Fajr.. God sees you up in the middle of the night … crying to your Lord! God sees you even now as you sweep the concrete while the rest of the world is still asleep!

I am the self-doubt that has kept you company throughout the years… I am the one who knows your innermost desire and fears! I hear your heart as it sings… beautiful songs of birds in the spring! I love you more than any other! More than lover, brother, father, or mother! I am the truth that God has sent and I am telling you that you are God’s man!

Old Man: It is true, I, myself, am to blame… for my sins I cannot rightfully impugn your name… and it is true.. that my vision is weak and my hunger great … I have lost myself many times for the world’s sake… though thirsty her liquor could not slake.. the emptiness that tortured my soul. I have missed prayers, I have wronged relations with the harshness of my words! I have wasted the entirety of my life – and now I remain alone… seeking Allah day and night! I do not seek anyone’s attention – any affection or recognition … I am too old to take up the sword .. too ignorant to learn the scholarly works… I am brittle like the autumn leaf… and from this withered tree of life I will soon leave…

You may have ruled my thoughts throughout my days… set traps in my path and blinded my sight… but as my eyes have grown weak so my soul has grown strong… and I know the road is no longer very long… I recognize your tune and I know its pitch… like a poison in my blood your whisperings itch… and though I wander the lonely alleyways… I am not alone as Allah in my heart always stays.. It is in Him I trust.. to Him I pray.. To Him I weep… for Him alone I sweep…

The sounds of cars and trucks driving could be heard on the highway… A dog barks. A mother guides her child by the hand towards the Islamic School….

Ummi, what happened to him?

Lying by a neat pile of dust was an elderly Muslim man. Everyone had seen him at some point or another, but no one knew him. As the mother, with child, rushed to her home to call for help… the man could still be seen next to the dust he had spent so much time sweeping up… By his right hand was a tasbih.. and in his left a broom…

And the shadows tarried behind the brush…


of and relating to...
asif said

Salaam Akhi Safdar:

Loved the article...
Beautiful...and eloquent....Masha'Allah!

on May 22, 2005 10:12 PM
Bint Abdul Khaliq said

As Salaamu Alaikum

Beautiful piece Masha Allah.I love the imagery.

Was Salaam

on May 23, 2005 1:24 PM
Irfan said



took my breath away...very well written adn thought out. I love the lesson that was taught...a persons worst enemy is the worldy desires within themselves


on May 23, 2005 4:03 PM
Justoju said


Very heart-moving mashaAllah and insightful. Excellent design.

I loved....

...how it starts around dawn time...the night is ending and with it new life will begin.

...how his life now seems to revolve around the masjid. Others rush out and go to attend to the duniya for duniya reasons, while he only ventures out to sweep the refuse of mankind...which he identifies as his own personal refuse...as his own sins...as his own duty...the mudhakir cleans his heart--the highest of matters--while cleaning that which is most often overlooked by mankind. Drips of humility mashaAllah.

...how the writing flows from the paragraph about worshippers hastening towards the duniya, to the paragraph where the man says "Haste...is from Shaytan"...its like we can see flow of thoughts in his mind and we are with him for that moment.

...how the man has begun to see physical reality as "appearances that deceive" and has realized that the conversation one holds within one's heart regarding one's spiritual status is when one comes the closest to tasting true reality. The spiritual is the Real and the spiritual is only tasted with the spiritual. The physical is merely there to make the spiritual more fertile.

...how the devil loves to disguise himself as the word of God...as the word of good tidings and comfort...

...how the one who man so quickly takes to be the closest of friends and advisors winds up being the first to say that the fault lies entirely with man.

...how this despicable one even uses something as pure and sacred as God's love for mankind as a ploy to sow the seeds of arrogance.

...how the Devil is the father of all contradictions...

...how "I am brittle like the autumn leaf" conjures up beautiful imagery. Its amazing how man is colored by the most beautiful colors of wisdom and realization right before he is about to leave the tree of life.

...how with his right hand he cleaned his heart while with his left he cleaned the duniya. Combined, he, with both hands, swept away at his sins.

...how when the man died he died alone. The shadows were done with him and stayed on stage for the next person. Shaitan has no use nor concern for the dead.

...and finally I absolutely LOVE
"It is in Him I trust.. to Him I pray.. To Him I weep… for Him alone I sweep…"


on May 25, 2005 1:06 AM
Justoju said

oh and I loved the title too...

on May 25, 2005 1:10 AM
Justoju said

oh and how it points towards how waswasa can only exist within the shadows...when one studies the deen and strives in it, things become more black and white and there is less gray area for waswasas to thrive in...

on May 25, 2005 1:13 AM
saleem said

jazakallah khair for all the generous words...

i think sister justoju's analysis was better than the actual piece itself :)

on May 25, 2005 3:20 PM
asif said


******* J U M M A H - M U B A R I K *******

I wonder what would be like the day of Jummah in Jannah, Insha'Allah...May Allah bring us all, and our family and loved ones together in Jannah...Ameen

on May 27, 2005 1:57 PM
saleem said

it would be beautiful!!!

thumma ameen!

on May 28, 2005 12:18 AM
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