Shaykh Osman Beshir Osman (May Allah grant him His eternal peace) was from Eritrea. He stood tall and straight, and when he walked he leaned slightly forward as though walking down- hill, always keeping a fast pace. He always covered his head with a turban and wore a tasbih around his neck. He loved you instantly upon being presented to him as a fellow Muslim. He never inquired to one’s Madhab, or sect. One’s presence and admission of faith were enough for him. Wherever he went, he brought with him the transmission of tasting the world beyond that of the senses. He lived his Deen as an example to others and gifted all, whom he met, with increase in Iman for Allah’s Domain of the Ghayib, (unseen).
He often traveled with a special clay coffeepot. Many of his friends would visit him bringing special blends from their home country. They would prepare it in the traditional way by boiling the coffee over an open flame. They would huddle around the pot in a close circle and share its contents together. There was always a designated pourer and he was sure not to let a cup go dry for too long. To attend these gatherings was like peering into a portal of timelessness. Regardless of modern day conveniences, like a stove or kettle, the Shaykh and his friends would bring a gas fire and set up the coffee making wherever they were. When they passed the cups and tasted the coffee, it was clearly a medium of communion, not only with each other, but also with the Higher Presence.
Wherever he went, he saw the realms of the unseen and with his unique gift, insight, and inspired heart, moved through the world like a sword through water. Whenever I looked into his eyes, I experienced him looking through me, and through the materiality of this world and seeing beyond its meaning and unseen realities. At the same time, love and human concern were always present in his gaze, one inextricably linked to the other.
I had the privilege to serve him on many occasions and spent many days and nights in his blessed company. I met Shaykh Osman Beshir Osman, when he was well into his seventies. The last time I was with him was around 1984. It was after an extended visit in London that I accompanied him to Victoria Station, where he was on his way to the airport flying home to Medina in the Hijaz.
At the station, there were a few moments before the train left so I remained there. Just before the last whistle blew, he took my entire face in his hands and kissed me, affectionately on my lips. He had never done this before. He then placed his hand over my head and prayed over me reciting ayats from the Qur’an as well as combinations of the Attributes (names) of Allah. As he prayed, I noticed a tear running down his face. I kissed his hand as I had done so many times before, upon taking his leave. As I disembarked the train, I began to feel an ominous sinking sensation that began in my chest spreading to my entire body. As the train left the station, I burst into deep and mournful tears, as though I was at the funeral of a loved one. I wept so intensely that people around me at Victoria station were touched and approached me offering comfort and solace. I was unable to explain to them what had come over me because I did not entirely know myself.
That was the last time I saw Shaykh Osman Beshir Osman in this world. He passed away shortly after our visit, into the next life. Just before he passed away, he wrote a letter to my teacher and guide, Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri. In it, he said that he loved me like a son and when a shadow passed across him from behind or to the side, he would think that it was I bringing some tea or food to share with him.
To this present day, although he has passed from this world, he remains very much a part of my life and alive. I often experience his presence around me, and sometimes hear his voice or see him signaling me with his eyes and hands. These occasions are usually when I am about to travel, or do something that pertains to official business. When I think of him, it is like he is only in the next room and soon I will go there and meet him.
It is my hope that in sharing these few stories about this great being, that whomever reads them will be blessed with a realization that there is more to our lives and this world than meets the outer senses. That at any given moment there is more influence by the unseen, than what we experience in the seen world. What we often see is only the shadow show of a play whose breath and length are immeasurable. That the action of Angels, prayers and Decrees are more relevant, and that Allah is forever in charge.
Passport to the Unseen
There is a great tradition within the teaching of Islam, and more particularly the Sufis, regarding the benefits of keeping the company of saints and teachers. For although there is a great deal to learn from their books, writings and teachings, the knowledge and meaning of their teachings can be most effectively transmitted from being in their presence.
Human beings are mind and soul, heart and body. The mind learns by processing information, but it is the soul that refines information and comprehends its deeper meanings. When the heart is open, unfettered, empty, and present, it reflects these meanings and becomes the source of knowledge and enlightenment.
The best way to receive this transmission is by the physical proximity to the teacher, in the acts of service. Service refines and promotes sensitivity and awareness. It requires alertness and attention away from your self and directs it towards the needs of others. It makes possible moments, where in the mundane routines of daily life, the springs of light find their way to the surface, and the drink of transmission takes place.
For many years, I had been visiting London, either passing through from travel to the east or to visit my teacher and guide Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri. Most of these visits coincided with the visits of Shaykh Beshir, in that alone, there is a remarkable story.
While on one of these visits to London, I had the honor to serve the needs of Shaykh Beshir while he and I both stayed at our Shaykh’s center in London. On one of these occasions, Shaykh Beshir had been invited by a local friend to attend his daughters wedding in Morocco. He requested me to take his passport to the Home Affairs office in Croydon and obtain a multiple entry visa for him, allowing him to re-enter England after his visit to Morocco.
With such a visa he could enter and leave the United Kingdom without any problems for at least 6 months. Although many friends informed him, to obtain such a visa was virtually impossible at such short notice, Shaykh Beshir insisted that all would be all right. It serves to mention here that it is the policy of the Home Affairs not to issue this type of visa, with the exception that the application originates from the home country of the applicant. Nonetheless, I went to the Home Affairs office as he instructed me, to see what we could do.
As usual, the Croydon office was packed with people from everywhere in the world. London is the crossroads of the world and the Croydon Home Affairs office, the Ellis Island of England. Sprawled on the chairs, on the blankets and on the ground people of every color, custom and dress, waited patiently for their numbers to be called to see what their destiny may hold for them. One could not ignore the disdain marked on the overworked faces of the clerks as they listened one after another to stories of calamities, marriages, deaths and births all legitimate reasons to stay a little longer in their already over burdened country.
There is a waiting system based on numbers. I took a number and after three hours of waiting it was finally my turn. I spoke to the already tired and frustrated clerk about the Shaykh’s request. As I was telling him, you could see that he had already made up his mind only moments into my plea. I could see that he was unmoved by my request. He expressed his inability to give the visa we requested. He cited all the policies and procedures, making it clear to me that as far as he is concerned there is no way, no how.
I returned to Shaykh Osman and reported what had happened. The Shaykh went suddenly silent. He soon asked for a piece of paper, writing down two formulas in Arabic and asked me to repeat them. I repeated the formulas in his presence and he nodded to me in an affirmative manner. The two formulas were ya Saeeru (you are the quikener) and ya Karibu (you are the nearer). He then instructed me to return immediately to the Home Affairs Office in Croydon, repeating these formulas again and again from the moment I set out and until the task is achieved. With my prayer beads in hand I was off again to Croydon, all the way on the tube repeating the formula as instructed by the Shaykh.
I entered the Croydon office, noticing that the number I took from the queue was very high compared to what was being displayed on the board. It appeared that I was in for a long wait and possibly, will have to return the next day. As I sat in the waiting area, I noticed the same clerk that served me earlier that morning. He looked over at me with more disdain. I could almost hear his inner voice saying “not him again”. After finishing serving the gentleman he was with he went over to the number counter and pulled the string to call the next applicant in the queue. He shouted out number so and so. No one answered. He called again and again and still there was no response. He looked quite perplexed, as, most people who come here do not give up their place in the queue at the Home Affairs Office. Caulking it up as a fluke, he pulled the string again, and again there was no response.
As this was going on, the dhikr I was instructed to repeat started to become more and more intense. I began feeling connected to what was happening around me and the numbers on the board were going by one after another with no response. I started experiencing a shift in my perception. It was like a tunnel vision effect, where all that was in view was what was between clerk and I, now racing through the numbers. I see the clerks face becoming more flushed and confused at this most improbable occurrence. I watched the numbers fly by until it reached my number. I called out, “yes! That’s me!”
I approached the agent noticeably in a state of shock. I politely reminded him of my request from earlier on in the day. I also communicated to him that I had been aware of what had just happened. I told him that these events are in connection to the saintly being that had sent me to Croyden. I implored him to consider the event as a proof of the legitimacy of his request. To my surprise and delight, he accepted what I was saying. He had been changed by the event, forced to depart from the norm and to look at things from a new and fresh perspective. He took the Shaykh’s passport and disappeared into a back office. He was gone for only five minutes and returned with the passport stamped with the requested visas. He said that this was the one of only a few times that he has ever given a multiple visa on request from the counter. The last time was to a visitor whose wife had suddenly died and needed to return with the body and come back to England to visit his children. He said that the gentleman whose passport I had, must certainly be a saint. I thanked him and turned walking straight out the door.
I was in a rush now because the Shaykh had already booked himself on a flight out that same evening. As I came to the street, I noticed a car speeding towards me the back door opening as it approached. As it swung open there was Shaykh Osman sitting in the rear seat with several of his Eritrean friends. He signaled me to quickly get in. Without any inquiry regarding my efforts at Croydon, he immediately asked me for the passport. His friends told me they were on their way to the airport to drop the Shaykh. I was overwhelmed. I felt the need to explain what had just happened, but before I could relate the story the Shaykh began to shake his head and laughed. He already knew, he already knew!
Just as the five senses act as windows to the world around us, there exist more subtle and unseen realities that are assessable by inner, and subtler faculties of seeing. From time to time, we may experience glimpses of these realities. Intuitiveness, Premonitions, Déjà vu, and dreams often give us access to them. Shaykh Beshir Osman had his inner sight so developed that seeing and interacting with these subtle realities was his constant state. He was blessed with knowledge of the unseen including the ability to communicate with the Jinn. I am in no position to comment any further, but what I can say is that he often provided me and others with keys and passports to the unseen in order to facilitate actions in this world for our mutual benefit.
This will be elaborated, and become self-evident in the following stories.
On another one of these occasions while in London, I was staying at our center with Shaykh Osman Beshir Osman. It was towards the end of his stay in London, after many nights of Dhikr and gatherings had passed, I noticed that the Shaykh was more tired than usual. It was on the following morning of one of these last nights of gathering that I came to the Shaykh’s room to deliver his breakfast, only this would not be a typical morning, but rather a morning of unveiling the depth of Taqwa and submission the Shaykh embodied.
As it was our routine, I knocked at Shaykh Beshir’s door just after dawn, but this time there was no answer. I knocked again and again and still no answer. I began to grow very concerned in that he was always up and ready at this time for his breakfast. I hesitated to open the door without his permission, but after considering his being noticeably exhausted the night before, I became concerned about his well being and the possibility that something untold may have happened to the Shaykh in the night. I slowly opened the door, saying Allah hu Akbar over and over again; there was no response. With heightened concern, I took the liberty to enter the Shaykh’s room.
It was dark and the curtains were still closed. The room was dead quiet. I could see the Shaykh’s bed; the covers had been lifted over his body like that of the dead. There was no movement. I thought to myself, had he died? I went over to the bed, my heart in my throat and slowly lifted the blanket over and off his face. His eyes were closed, his body still, he looked as though he were dead. I pulled the covers off more and to my utter surprise I found his entire body was wrapped in a burial shroud and around it coiled like a snake around the trunk of a tree, was a 10,000 bead Mashaha (tasbih). My thoughts raced, had he died in the middle of the night, and someone secretly came and prepared the body? While all these thoughts went through my mind, the Shaykh suddenly moved and he opened his eyes. He smiled and greeted me. As Salaam Aliekum! He immediately perceived that I was distressed at what I saw. He asked that I leave his room, and return in ten minutes at which time he would explain.
Upon returning to his room, He related to me that each night before he sleeps, he would take a ghusul in preparation for death. He would then wrap himself to the best of his abilities in a cafin and lie down upon his bed. As he would fall asleep, he would recite his wazifahs with a 10,000-bead tasbih. This tasbih would often become wrapped around him while he turned and shifted in his bed. He explained that it was his way of remembering death and that if he should die while asleep, those who would come after to wash and prepare him would have less work to do. Through all of this, the Shaykh would ask me to forgive him for causing me any undue concern.
The Medina Visit
In the spring of 1981, several members of our community in San Antonio, Texas set out to the Hijaz to perform Umra. While visiting the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina al-Munawara, we had the honor to be invited to stay with Shaykh Beshir at his home, where he lived in walking distance to the shrine, where the Prophet Muhammad is buried.
Upon arrival in the great city of Medina, we were welcomed by, the Shaykh to his family home. Inviting the guest and welcoming the stranger is regarded within the teachings and cultures of Islam, as one of the greatest acts and sources of Barakah. We had hardly arrived when I began to feel ill. Within one hour of the onset of that feeling, I was running a high fever and could all but remain in my bed. My brother travelers had to leave me behind while they went to the Masjid-un-Nabawi to make their visit to the Prophet. I was very disappointed that I had come all this way and not be able to fulfill the intended purpose of my visit. Shaykh Osman perceived my disappointment and with his overflowing kindness comforted me by reciting a tradition from the Prophet Muhammad on the virtues of becoming ill while in Medina. It was purification and I would benefit from this visit, beyond what I can perceive at this moment. That night as I lay ill in the house of Shaykh Beshir, I was taken over by a vision that began with the sound of a knock at the door. No one was home that evening, but the door was answered and four young men entered the room in which I was resting. They did not speak, nor could I utter a word as they lifted me upon a wooden stretcher and carried me out of the house onto the street. I felt as though I were being carried on the soft cushions of a celestial divan or a flying carpet. The only sound was the whispering of the cool night breeze as it wafts over me like a gentle suave cooling the burning of my raging fever. I remember thinking to myself that there were no sounds of traffic or the hustle and bustle of the Medina nights. Only the wind and its variety of tones whisking by, each one bringing a lovely tone like soft chimes on a mid-summers night. I raised my head and looked forward, gazing at what I had thought only a few hours before was denied to me. It was the Prophet’s Mosque I was being taken to, heading for one of its magnificent entrance ways. As I was carried through the door I noticed it had written on its entry arch the words in Arabic, ‘bab ur-Rahman’, the door of Mercy. I was awe struck by the entire happening. In and out of the Mosque we went like a weft through the warp of a fantastic tapestry, my borers wove in and out of each entrance of the Prophet’s Mosque. Each time could see the name of each door passing over my head. We circumambulated the entire Mosque, round and round I lost count and barring, falling into a state of bewilderment. I no longer could make out the names as we moved faster and faster through the doorways. I did not know anymore if we were in or out of the Mosque. I departed from trying to keep up and let myself go with the moment, all the tension of my body’s confines had vanished, my fever was only a long forgotten memory along with all my concerns about the journey that brought me here. I had arrived at my intention and content with the gift of gratitude.
The next moment I was being held in the arms of Shaykh Beshir on the floor of his home surrounded by his family and my travel companions. They all looked at me with deep concern, except for Shaykh Beshir. He then related to me a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. That whenever a traveler enters Medina for the sake of visiting the Prophet of Allah, and becomes ill, the Prophet will come to visit him.