“Abu Ja`far? Abu Ja`far! Brother!” I felt a plump hand prodding me and attempting to bring me back from the other side of the barzakh that I had migrated to for the night. “As-Salaamu `Alaikum.”
I looked up and rolled over to face the nemesis in the darkness that cloaked him. From the gravelly sounding voice I recognised that it was Matloob. “It’s time for fajr.” There in the darkness I looked out of the window and when I saw no neon signs, puddles of vomit on the ground or drunks stumbling diagonally across the street, I happily realised that I was still in Madinah and not dreaming.
In just the few split seconds that I took to amble from the mattress I slept on, Al-Hajj `Ismah had dashed into the bathroom and slid the door shut with a very slight snap upon its’ closing. How did he beat me, I asked myself.
“See what happened? Now we just have to hold out for Al-Hajj to come out. It’s your fault you didn’t go in first,” Tanweer laughed out loud. To our surprise (indeed our pleasure) he emerged after only twenty minutes and not his traditional period of time that would leave us to take five minute ghusls in order to strive to get to the masjid on time.
Matloob was up next and was eager to begin Saturday and enjoy the last days in Madinah. I went in just before Tanweer and upon emerging he dashed past and shut the door behind himself. The lights in the room had been turned on, the curtains opened and we could hear the Adhan.
No sooner had I turned around, than that Tanweer had come from the bathroom and we were hoofing our way up to the masjid. Would we get inside al-Masjid un-Nabawi or would we be in the courtyard? Seeing doors still open to the masjid, we were grateful that we would be inside for the Fajr in order to pray behind the Imam.
As the Iqamah was pronounced after we completed our two raka`ah, gaps opened that gave us the opportunity to go forward where we were now only three rows back from the Imam. The coughing that I heard around me did not bother me as just being able to hear these Madinans cough was blessing enough for me.
Fajr prayer was soft and beautiful, the Imam only interrupting his prayer for the occasional cough, wheeze or sneeze. I felt such calm in the twenty five minutes in the prayer that it felt odd once the prayer ended. I felt as if I had always been in prayer.
Conversation on the way back to the hotel was brief. “Are we going to Jannat ul-Baqi` later today?” Tanweer’s words hung in the air and evaporated before a response was tendered. “I’d really like to, just for the sake of history and knowing more about Madinah,” I finally offered.
“Then it’s settled. We’ll go after 9am or after. Will you be at the library or at the hotel room?” Tanweer’s mind was trying to solidify plans and true to his doctor’s profession, he was ruthless in his precision.
“I’ll stay at the hotel. I might just have some sweet rice and read for a little bit. Matloob, are you okay.” The pace of Matloob had slowed and he had broken out in a sweat. His health was very fragile since the Hajj and the sudden change in weather had brought him from the arid landscape of Makkah and his surroundings to Madinah and its’ soft palm trees and weather that was similar to the brief stint I spent in Washington State on the West Coast of the United States.
“I think if I lay down I’ll feel better and I can just rest. Maybe it’s the humidity after the dryness. I’m going to check my suitcase and take a few meds and see how I feel. If I still feel bad by 9:30, you guys will have to go without me.”
I put my arm around his broad shoulders and offered support for him to lean on. Matloob was definitely not looking his normal self. Back at the hotel room, he took a few tablets, slept fitfully; waking up every ten minutes over two hours to offer his unique take on the conversation we were having.
We found it humorous how his comments would somehow blend in with our discussion. “So what will you be speaking on today in the Shama’il?” I opened the book and looked inside and found the chapter. “It looks like we will be in the chapter on the food of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and the bread that he ate.”
“Do you think they have any chicken wraps with Arabic bread…?” Matloob’s words were strangely out of place. “He’s delirious with cold,” Tanweer diagnosed while smiling and moving on with the discussion.
Once the time for departure came, we knew that the best option would be to leave Matloob to rest and tell him of our exploits upon our return. I gave him a quick salam and explained that when I returned I would need to take DNA samples to confirm a rumour that he was part wolf.
Looking at his exposed chest and arm hair that would normally be covered by a shirt or jalabiyyah, he offered a barb, “You wish you could have this much testosterone in your blood stream.”
“He’s still got it!” I laughed while heading out the door and locking it behind me. Even in sickness, Matloob had his quick and wry wit in full display. We came to Jannat ul-Baqi`’s opening just in time to see one of the Salafi megaphone warriors berating a now swelling crowd for its’ committing “shirk in worship.”
Not content with just Arabic, he had his ranting and chanting translated into Urdu and Bengali using two Asian Salafi Servant Boys next to him. Dressed like their master but differentiated with the ubiquitous flip flop slippers, they were eager to please and show their servitude.
“What is that guy saying?” Matloob walked with me while I stormed way from the spectacle. He managed to take a few pictures of the spiritual paedophile, which upon careful examination seemed like he was making the punk rock sign for the horns of Satan. This kept Tanweer laughing the rest of the day. “Wait until brothers see this and what he was saying and doing,” he enthused.
Jannat ul-Baqi`, this graveyard of the faithful and the noble among the Companions and their Followers, had the right owed to it – just like every other graveyard – that we discard our shoes. Barefoot on the slightly warm brick ground, the vandalism visited upon the graveyard in photos could not have prepared me for what I saw in person.
Sickened beyond belief, I looked at the paved road and wondered if the road was paved over the graves or if they had used enough sense to pave around them. My thoughts were interrupted by the approach of a Kurdish man who greeted us.
He understood some Arabic but only enough to make some small talk. So he resulted to the language of Islamic small talk. Pointing to himself with both arms open and smiling, he proudly said, “Shafi`ii. Qadiri. Kurdi.”
Brother Tanweer obliged him with, “Hanafi. Naqshabandi. Pakistani.” Looking at me, the man said, “Hanbali?” I laughed and smiled along with him. For him, this was my nationality, tariqah, everything. It must have been the jet black `imamah with stripes and starch white jalabiyyah.
Just before the end of our meeting, he asked brother Tanweer to take a picture of him in the graveyard making du`aa and then he also said he would make du`aa for us and asked that we make du`aa for him. We hugged and the man made his way to the entrance of Jannat ul-Baqi`, conspicuously avoiding the megaphone tactics of the Salafis.
This reminded me of when we visited `Arafah before the Hajj season and the Salafis rode up like Rollin’ 60s at Leimert Park in their jeeps, flashing their colours (the red and white head kerchief – rather than the sunnah `imamah – and the jalabiyyah made into a maxi skirt).
“Brother, I have some books that will help your Tawhid. We have a selection,” the brother that had approached while I was standing alone evangelised. Looking in the goodie back of the cocktail of kufr offered, I could only answer, “I already have these copies.”
Buoyed by such a response, his face lit up. “Masha’allah, are you a student of knowledge?” If only this poor man knew, I thought to myself. I must not engage in any confrontation. “Yes, but I…” words could not confirm how grateful I was when Matloob interrupted me on the fateful day.
Just as that brother was wise in his avoidance of kufr on that day, so was I when Allah sent that brother back to me to interrupt what could have been a debate. The rest of the day was just as calm until after Maghrib prayer when I headed back from the masjid to meet brother Uwais. In the room were brothers Mumtaz, `Irfan, Saghir, Khan Sahib and brother Uwais.
“Listen, we just cannot say that whoever does not have bai`ah to a shaykh or in a tariqah is sinful. Some people have been lied to and they do not know the Shari`ah.” Uwais was a staunch lover of the Shadhili tariqah but was worried about some of the brothers and how inflexible he perceived them to be on the issue of bai`ah.
“Listen to me,” brother Mumtaz began, wrapping his green `imamah around his head and speaking slowly as if teaching a lesson. “This is not something that people don’t know. People know what Islam is…for someone to deny something so fundamental as this is to deny Islam! The very basis of Islam. This is what is wrong with the Najdis!”
`Irfan, able and brilliant poet that he is, began making up poetry right then on the spot about the wretched Najdis, how their necks are ripe for the cutting and that they are shaggy dogs with wet fur. He laughed while translating.
The temperature in the room heated up to the points where brother Uwais turned to me as if requesting help. “Oh, listen. We’re going to be late. Remember the Shama’il.” The brother’s face responded and we prepared to head out with great swiftness. Now that the subject was on the Shama’il, they debate about bai`ah swiftly ended.
The Shama’il selection of ahadith was a pleasure for me to read and I felt favoured that we had ever been in front of the green dome and privileged to hear it. We came to the chapter on the bread of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. To the best of my ability, I tried to describe it but said repeatedly that I was unable.
“If I had an example in front of me, I would tell you more of it.” No sooner had I said the words than that a man came with a black bag filled with bread and gave a portion to each one of us. This was the exact same bread that I had struggled to describe in the Shama’il.
But now with the bread in front of me I felt the veils of description removed from my eyes and I could go into detail about this bread and give discussion about what was in the Shama’il (of course while looking at and taking small morsels of the bread).
Everyone had been taken aback by this karamah and after the dars we returned to our rooms in stunned silence. Looking at the dome while departing, we could thank Allah that he kept the miracles of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, in perpetuity even after he died. And with Allah is every good and blessings.