Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Raheem..
I ask Allah ta’ala to preserve, protect and bless Shaykh Muhammad al-Ya’qoubi,- hafiDHahullah – and his family, for without his counsel, permission and blessing, none of the below might have transpired.
One of the primary reasons for travelling to Damascus was the specific nasiha that Shaykh Muhammad – hafiDHahullah – had given, that we should go to Damascus and visit Shaykh Shukri al-Lahafi, hafiDHahullah, even if only for a day, just to obtain his blessed du’a.
It is not a small thing, it is expensive, and one day, at such expense I imagine would be disregarded by many people, aside from the fact that it may be outside their means. Furthermore, many of us, despite being Muslims, still function primarily in the temporal realm rather than the otherwordly. So pragmatism takes precedence over what could seem like a big ask. Spending that amount of money for one day, with no guarantee that you’ll even actually get to achieve the objective for which you’ve undertaken this journey, would in many cases, probably outweigh the desire to indeed obtain such a blessing. So we’d seek to justify the expenditure by drawing out the trip and including more on the itinerary. Which is fine, my point is only for those who would place the monetary cost ahead of the value that such a blessing may yield. As that is an objection I have encountered by those who perhaps may not appreciate the value and importance to oneself of such spiritual wayfaring. I ask Allah ta’ala to allow the below reflections to insha’Allah be a means in offsetting such understandable questions in these days we find ourselves in.
The entire trip was hastily arranged, last minute, with considerable uncertainty about not only what we were going to do, but how exactly we were going to do it once we got there. So we resolved to entrust the entire affair to Allah ta’ala, and I admit to a sense of trepidation, such is the poverty of my condition. Still, we set out with this intention, expecting nothing – for we were but unworthy – with hope’s flame burning bright within our souls. Speaking for myself, I had no expectation, and we all placed our reliance solely upon Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
We arrived in Shaam. The following morning we awoke, and made preparations to attend the Fajr jama’ah in the Grand Umayyad Mosque. With my travelling companions walking briskly ahead of me under the dull orange lighting of Souq Hamoudiyyah, I trailed behind them, with sleep and that early morning dullness still affecting my eyes. But the determination not to miss that first congregational prayer was there and kept pushing me to keep up with the brothers, as I fumbled with my bag and tried to avoid twisting my ankle on the cobbled stone walkway.
As I entered one of the entrances to this incredible mosque – fully aware of it’s intimate connection with our history and the spirit of current/past awliya/mashayikh permeating it’s huge walls – I could not help but feel daunted by the dizzying array of incredible names that were flashing across my mind, who have prayed, taught, sat, and made dhikr in this amazing amazing place.
With my shoes in my hand, I carefully took my first steps inside, behind my friends, treading lightly, so as to not disrespect the honour of this sanctuary that Allah ta’ala had allowed me to visit once again. It is one of my most favourite places in the world.
As soon as I entered, one of my friends turned to me whispered, “There’s Shaykh Shukri!” (HafiDHahullah.)
My pulse quickened as I laid eyes on a face – for the first time in real life – that I can only describe, without a hint of exaggeration, as light upon light. Those were the very first thoughts that came to me. His beautiful, white, elderly, face radiated light so bright, and it was as if a cloak of wilaya enveloped his entire being. His blessed hands were outstretched in front of him, palms facing upwards, with the frailty of age, yet quietly rocking back and forth in short motions, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings, engrossed in the dhikr of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
He – hafiDHahullah – was sat facing one of the pillars near the front of the masjid. It was impossible not to notice his luminescence.
My eyes were transfixed, and my breathing seemed to have gained volume, as I became suddenly aware that I was totally overwhelmed by the moment. A combination of the realisation that, right now, I was looking at one of the greatest of the living awliya of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala – hafiDHahullah – and the humility resulting from knowing that here I was, a nobody, yet a nobody whose du’a His Lord – subhanahu wa ta’ala – had answered, in making true this fervent wish to have sight of this friend of His, azza wa jal. It dawned on me that our trip had only just begun, yet already we’d been blessed to part-fulfil the nasiha that Al-Sayyid al-Shaykh Muhammad – hafiDHahullah – had given us.
We are talking about seconds, not minutes, as the jama’ah was about to convene.
I found myself staring, I could not help myself, totally self-conscious that I probably wasn’t being subtle in looking at a face which just manifested noor in every direction. I suppose I’d seen that manifested this clearly so few times in my life, that it really took hold of me, and I didn’t want to stop looking, such was it’s esoteric beauty. It was just, so undeniable. Like a posteriori evidence. The light from the huge chandeliers seemed dim in comparison to what was emanating from his truly radiant – as Allah ta’ala is my witness till I die – face. Would that in that moment, Shaykh Shukri – hafiDHahullah – cast but a passing glance on me and I was somehow included in his du’a, I felt as if that would count for more than every paltry act of ibadat I’ve ever done. That yearning, right then, inside me, was tangible. It brought tears to my eyes, and as I sit here writing these words, I sense those same tears, from these recollections, welling up again.
This was dhawq [taste]. Not tales from books. Not listening to talks. Not attending classes. Not reading/hearing about the awliya. All of which have their place, and value. But none of which substitute for presence. So this was dhawq [taste], and I don’t even have an acquired taste. That moment ranked amongst those select few moments in my life that I consider invaluable and priceless. An experience so personal that it becomes inviolable, locked within, and kept precious. A well from which I (can) draw spiritual sustenance and inspiration, time and time again. And I made a heartfelt du’a of thanks to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala for gracing us to be amongst the audience that evening whom Shaykh Muhammad – hafiDHahullah – had addressed, directing us to this intimate friend of Allah ta’ala, for those that are not thankful are not grateful.
Before me, I saw the manifestation of a dream come true. The previous time I was honoured to be called to Damascus, I had not been granted the opportunity to meet with the absolutely seminal, and peerless, Shaykh Ahmad al-Habbal, rahimahullah. And some months after my return, Shaykh Muhammad – hafiDHahullah – gave us the devastating news of his passing. Upon listening to Shaykh Muhammad – hafiDHahullah – relay the story of Shaykh Ahmad’s incredible life and legacy – rahimahullah – it dawned on me how big an opportunity we’d passed by in not making more effort to meet him when we were in Shaam last time. I really felt that acutely. As I think of that and write these words, it is making my breathing stall.
So I was determined, insha’Allah, to not let another nasiha of Shaykh Muhammad – hafiDHahullah – pass me by. But there was always the problem that nags. Namely, you don’t visit awliya, awliya call you. And I could not, and still cannot, imagine, any wali wanting their surroundings soiled by me being within any kind of distance to them.
Yet, here I was, through the immense favour and mercy, of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Unable to turn away from this giant of our times, sat before me, in a state of seemingly complete intoxication of the dhikr of Allah ta’ala. A piercing awe had gripped me tightly, and I was simply overwhelmed, such was his incredible presence. Try as I might, to convey a sense of that, I am painfully conscious of the fact that words just seem inadequate. I totally recognise that these words simply are not enough. You had to be there. You have to experience it for yourself. Until then, no matter how hard anyone else tries, it just will never be the same. Do not, ever, underestimate the value and utility to yourself, of being in the company of the awliya. And we were just near him, rahimahullah. I may not – well, I know I don’t – appreciate the impact that being in their presence, on their radar so to speak, has upon my soul, but I have conviction like the yaqeen of iman, that it has an undeniable impact, that could be my only currency to the akhira. I certainly cannot rely on my broken and embarrassing half-hearted acts of ibadat. So it is down to the mercy of Allah ta’ala completely, and here I was, trying desperately to maintain my adab, whilst observing one of the greatest evidences of the Rahma of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, personified before me. As Shaykh Muhammad – hafiDHahullah – has echoed on more than one occasion, notably in his loving eulogy after the passing of Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri – rahimahullah – that the existence of the awliya is cause for the mercy of Allah ta’ala to descend, for they – may Allah ta’ala bless them and allow us to be close to them all, always – shoulder the brunt of the calamities which come the way of creation. Were it not for them, we might face far more hardship than the little that we do. Wallahu ta’ala a’lam.
Fajr salat was beckoning. And as I tried to look away, another, this time crushing, realisation dawned on me. That – and Allah ta’ala knows best – here I was, so close to Shaykh Shukri – hafiDHahullah – with my entire being consumed with a very real sense of love for this wali of Allah ta’ala, that seemed to engulf me, yet what if he was completely oblivious to my being there? Could I be so close yet so far? It hurt, the thought that despite being a touch away he might not even have seen me, having travelled so far for a moment like this. What if this ended up being the only chance Allah ta’ala blessed us with to see this chosen friend? May He – subhanahu wa ta’ala – include us in every du’a the Shaykh makes that could include us, hafiDHahullah.
People were approaching him – hafiDHahullah – and leaning down to kiss his blessed hand, and I so wanted to be one of them. But I also didn’t wish to be a cause for disrupting his du’a/dhikr. My nafs was tugging hard at me to approach him, hafiDHahullah. But it just seemed like the wrong time. And the iqama was imminent.
So I sat down in a row some distance to the left of Shaykh Shukri, hafiDHahullah. It felt too overwhelming to sit closer. Reluctantly I faced forward, stealing an occasional glance his blessed way, to placate my heart, before the prayer began.
Thoughts were racing through me. And it was strange to think that the aura of this wali – hafiDHahullah – had such a magnified place on my shelf of honoured figures from these times of ours, despite not actually knowing that much about him, hafiDHahullah. It is a testimony to his maqam that I held/hold him – hafiDHahullah – in such awe and deference despite my minimal knowledge about his place in our times. But the rarest of jewels need not shout itself, if you are able to distinguish between types, you can recognise it from afar. And it’s shine will draw you to it, for that is it’s nature. It is not about everybody knowing, and hence it becoming popular. It is about you being part of that circle that knows. And truly, that is a humbling experience.
We prayed fajr and I had resolved to give salams to Shaykh Shukri – hafiDHahullah – thereafter.
By the time we finished salat and got up to find him he’d gone, hafiDHahullah! So quickly! I was gutted. We’re talking maybe a couple of minutes after the prayer ending. But he vanished as quickly as he’d emerged before my sight. So it wasn’t to be. And I had to reconcile myself with the thought that Allah ta’ala didn’t want this for me right now. No doubt for the best as I wouldn’t want to meet any friend of His – subhahanu wa ta’ala – unprepared. And He – azza wa jal – knows better my state than I do. So it was not about what I wanted, but what I needed to submit to, namely, the acknowledgement that now was not the time. It still hurt, but that was my own flaw.
I resolved to console myself by at least obtaining tabarruk from sitting where he’d – hafiDHahullah – sat, and maybe absorb some of the after-presence of his noor. Quietly I went and sat in the exact same spot that Shaykh Shukri – hafiDHahullah – had been sat. Clearly I completely underestimated what I was about to do. The instant I sat in his blessed place, it was if electricity was surging through my body from his blessed seat. I could palpably sense it, and it overwhelmed me. I started sobbing, trying desperately to muffle my sound. But it was simply too much for me, and I had to submit to the moment.
I tried to purify my intention and muster all the little ikhlas I possess, to make a du’a permeated with the ihsan required from the adab and blessing of being sat in his – hafiDHahullah – place, though I knew I could only fail in such an effort. I beseeched Allah ta’ala to include me in every du’a the Shaykh – hafiDHahullah – had made whilst he’d been sat there, which I could be included in. And I begged Him – subhanahu wa ta’ala – to carry my du’a to Him with Shaykh Shukri – hafiDHahullah – as my wasila to both Rasul’Allah – sallallahu alayhi wassalam – and to Him subhanahu wa ta’ala. I couldn’t stem the flow of my tears, and in front of me were the blurry likenesses of people milling about. But I was zoned out, knowing that I had to make the most of this temporary state I was in, because it was so far from my normal pitiful state. When Allah ta’ala favours you by enabling such a moment, only heedlessness or lack of attunedness to your own condition would render you unaware that right now, you have an opportunity to become close to Him, azza wa jal.
Some of my tears came due to the immensity of feeling that had overcome me. As if by being sat in such a place, I was out of place, and could not bear the weight of the spiritual shadow that was moments ago left here. Other tears were due to the realisation that despite being sat in this incredible spot, moments after Shaykh Shukri – hafiDHahullah – had been sat here, that rather than obtaining the baraka of being here, my presence was probably removing any purity that remained behind. But most of my tears were flowing due to the circumstances about which I was making du’a. I was honoured that Allah ta’ala facilitated for me the chance to be able to make such a (hopefully) sincere du’a, in such a special place, under the spiritual trail left by undoubtedly one of the greatest of his living awliya. I truly didn’t wish to leave that spot, for who knows when, or indeed even if, they will be granted another such blessing? We always strive to maintain the best opinion of, and adab towards, our Lord, subhananu wa ta’ala. For me, right there, right then, that connection, by whatever slim strand, given the tumult and turmoil I was going through, meant everything.
Moreover, there was another thought vying for my attention as well. It related to a definition that our beloved Shaykh Muhammad – hafiDHahullah – had presented once, in a more refined way than I’d previously ever heard it expressed. Namely, the definition of a Sahabi. One condition of the honour which was bestowed upon the Sahaba in being considered Sahaba – may Allah ta’ala be pleased with them one and all – was not in them seeing Rasul’Allah – sallallahu alayhi wassalam – but in Rasul’Allah – sallallahu alahi wassalam – seeing them. As I reticently rose from his place, with each passing step away, though I knew that I had just seen, I wondered if I myself had been seen.
Allah ta’ala enabled me to remove this doubt too, as He – subhanahu wa ta’ala – allowed us to meet Shaykh Shukri – hafiDHahullah – just a few days later. Insha’Allah (I hope) I was seen by him internally as well as externally, when I was humbled in being permitted to (try and) kiss his soft, gentle, blessed hand. It is my ardent du’a that in those few passing seconds, he – hafiDHahullah – took me to a place in Jannah for time eternal…
A Sister’s Account
Rare Footage of the Blessed Shaykh :