I’ITIKAAF 1436. Ramadaan.
MASJID UL HUDA: SHARPEVILLE, SOUTH AFRICA.
“The world is held up by four pillars: The wisdom of the learned, the justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous, and the valour of the brave.” (Muslim Spain)
I contemplate during this LOCKDOWN with deep sadness on how our mosques are closed to worshippers who long to be in the sanctity of the mosque and share in their spiritual pain. This feeling engrossed me in the following ayah (evidence) from the Holy Quran (Sura Al-An’aam.The Cattle ayah 61)
﴿٦١﴾ وَهُوَ الْقَاهِرُ فَوْقَ عِبَادِهِ ۖ وَيُرْسِلُ عَلَيْكُمْ حَفَظَةً حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَاءَ أَحَدَكُمُ الْمَوْتُ تَوَفَّتْهُ رُسُلُنَا وَهُمْ لَا يُفَرِّطُونَ.
(61) He is Irresistible, (watching) from above over His worshippers, and He sets guardians over you. At length, when death approaches one of you, Our angels take his soul, and they never fail in their duty.
It made me feel so important with the whole ummah because here Allah the Majestic is saying that He is watching over the worshippers and that He sets guardians over us. This is so special of Allah, the Compassionate for the believing men and women. It made this LOCKDOWN feel light and more special because staying at home we get the reward of a martyr and; our actions in this blessed month of Ramadaan is multiplied by Allah’s generosity.
I sit here thinking on what the mosques will be like in the last ten days when worshippers will not be allowed sit for I’itikaaf. The loneliness is intense and the separation is heart wrenching but, the patience is rewarded by Allah, the Generous. I recall a time, five years ago, when Allah provided the opportunity to me to sit for I’itikaaf in Sharpeville. The indulgence of thinking of that time gives way to the reflection captured below.
In midst of a sprawling township of Sharpeville there appears like an oasis in a desert to save life, a masjid to nourish the soul in preparation to meet its Maker. Masjid-ul-Huda in Sharpeville is the only masjid that stands to illuminate the skyline and beckons more to establish Islam. It’ikaaf was the answer to the call and today it adorns the walls of the masjid so that its blessings will remove the spiritual blemishes of the soul that enters to pray long after Ramadaan has said its forlorn goodbyes.
We were five brothers that sat for sunnah It’ikaaf and five that sat for nafl It’ikaaf. It was strange at first to be the only Indian amongst the people of the soil and it was the moment of test. The test of faith began as a result of this racial mix which looked odd from the word go: an ex prisoner, a university graduate who works as a packer in chain store, an unemployed man, a grade 10 student of a local school and then me, principal of a school. Added to the mix (nafl brothers) a self employed builder, another ex prisoner who now owns a small shop, a three week revert to Islam, the son of the builder who drives huge trucks on long hauls and a young man who faced great trial to become Muslim. In this way we became to know one another and we understood that it was going to be an awesome experience.
Awesome indeed! Away from the masjids that dominate our traditional ‘Indian’ set up. It was important to remind myself that Islam should NOT be branded by traditions I am part of rather, it should be practiced without prejudice and preconceived notions of all and sundry. How important this frame of mind was necessary then and; how more important now and forever cannot be underestimated. It’ikaaf started and this is how it became an indelible imprint on my heart, mind and soul. I pray that Allah inspires and remove any form of show in the indulgence to express an experience of note.
Day 1 – 5
It was really amazing to connect with each other to the point of knowing each other personally as brothers. Our likes and dislikes became clear to all including habits that would irritate you if you dislike tolerance. Alhamdulillah, we established a daily routine that solidified after the first five days. It was truly mind-blowing to note that the eldest amongst us who is an ex-convict would be up at 2:00am! Having memorized only a few short surahs, he would perform his Tahujud (pre dawn supererogatory prayer) salaah and then sit with the English Translation of the Holy Quran until the time of Sehri i.e. until 4:30am. One would see him lift his hands to Allah in silent prayers and that would invigorate the heart.
The brothers were taught salaatul-tasbeeh( supererogatory prayer of 4 units wherein the third kalima is recited 75 times in each unit) and this became a habit at Tahajud or after Ishraaq ( supererogatory prayer about 30 minutes after sunrise). True to word, no ibadah (act of worship) was taken on the lips and left there. Every thing taught was put into action. Do understand that we are talking about people who were to new to Islam and if they were Muslim they knew little in comparison to many of us who are born Muslim and have more knowledge but mediocre sincere practice.
With the Ijtimae Am’aal (congregational action) of the talk by Iman after Fajr salaah, which was rooted in the Fajr Reminders of Sheikh Yawar Baig, it became clear that the brothers had a deep hunger to learn about Islam and to lap up as much as they could. It extended to the time of Ishraq with Q & A. The moments of delight were the anecdotes of how the brothers embraced Islam and how blessed they feel to be Muslim. The depth of inspiration cannot be summed up in words save to say that we are chasing the life they ran away from.
At 10:30am the second Ijtimae Am’aal (congregational action) took place. The elders of the community would come and sit with pen and paper. The brothers would also join in. The programme was scheduled for an hour but, the brothers’ interest made it such that the programme went on until 12 noon. In this programme, discussions of faith was the mainstay. A short break and it was salaatul Zuhr. The brothers secluded themselves only to revise the few surahs (chapters from the Holy Quran) they knew, learn a new ayaat (evidences) of another surah and read the English translation of the Holy Quran or a book of Hadith. The thing is each moment was given its full due right.
DAY 6 – 10
New brothers joined us for Nafl I’itikaaf (supererogatory seclusion) and this turned a new spell of inspiration. Yes, food…food…food! It is really awesome to note how much emphasis we place on food and how important it is to us. It sometimes feel that we fast to give our women some extra excitement to prepare unique savories to the delight of people we don’t really know, to impress people we really don’t like and to generate a craving we really didn’t have. Having said that, we ate what was sent from home and what was prepared by the local brothers on daily chores for us and the general body of Muslims that came to the mosque to break their fast and pray. That is a story on its own. Yes, the story of how the two brothers who did the chores, cleaned the mosque was amazing. I noted that they were up long before all of us only to get their tahajud (pre dawn supererogatory prayer) before preparing meals for us.
The day was normal and nothing was out of routine. During the day a brother came in for nafl I’itikaaf and his two young children accompanied him. His eldest son was sitting for sunnah I’itikaaf. The young girl of about 6 years was ever so obedient in making zikr and revising the Arabic alphabet and this was encouraging. At the time of Iftaar there was nothing extra-ordinary as we ate dates and prepared ourselves of salatul magrib.
After salaatul magrib, we sat to eat and this startled me. The father sat next to his two children and shared the meal. In front of me was a white box that came from Roshnee (my home town). I did not know what was in there until it was requested for. Without any extra-ordinary feeling I opened the box and passed it on. Instantaneously there was a hush of excitement. The father leaned over and gave a hearty chocolate covered doughnut to his daughter who was absolutely gob smacked at the reality of beholding a whole doughnut entirely for herself. She exclaimed ‘Eedougnut’ in an elated African accent nourished with jubilation. She smacked her lips, put her finger on the chocolate and relished every bite. The father smiled. He then asked her if she knew what was a croissant and she only explained that she had an idea of what it was. When her father handed her one, it was like a heavenly gift! Words cannot express the child’s delight and awestruck mindset at having a doughnut and a croissant for herself! We are spoilt for choice and luxury!
After meals the child was in delight of her own world because of the lovely gifts. Then the father requested if his two children can stay in the masjid. The Imam said that it is advisable that they sleep in the adjacent dormitory. The father describes to us the incident when his children saw the dormitory. Elation supreme! The girl actually let out a cry of utter surprise because she saw a double bunker and her desire to sleep on the top. She could not believe that she would be sleeping on a double bunker. Furthermore, there were two blankets and a pillow. I leave the rest to your imagination. What could we say when the reality we complain of our luxury? We can say nothing because we choose not to eat a doughnut because it will sit heavy on the hips and leave the croissant because we don’t like the texture in comparison to other brands.
It can be said that the salaah after that was something else! Can you imagine why? Well, it was unique because the local imam led us in prayer as we had made Khataam and our Huffadh were now in Roshnee. However, it must be said that they persevered from 1996 reading taraweeh in Sharpeville. An amazing feat and a story of struggle tied to patience, love and adoration of the Allah (swt), HIS Nabi (s) and for the Holy Quraan continues up to today. I am left tearful to think how the very Huffadh lamented their grief in not been able to read taraweeh salaah in Sharpeville, Masjid-ul-Huda this year, 2020. It is a story on its own. A story of young boys starting out 23 years ago and who are parents today looking back and tearful that their taraweeh has been disrupted by the LOCKDOWN OF COVID-19. Allah, the Compassionate fill there hearts with peace – Ameen.
Then there was a loaf of bread! Yes, in the normal way I asked for bread to have with the meals. The one brother left to ask the Imam. He came back and said that there is no bread. I felt so bad asking that it hurts me as I pen this reflection that I ask myself, “What were you thinking?” Having said that we sat down and continued to eat. Little did I realize that the brother was not present with all of us. The imam sent him to buy bread. He walked a good distance to buy it. Please note that a township is not a place like what we have. It is very different.
With all this and more It’ikaaf in Masjid-ul-Huda, Sharpeville was an experience best described in one word as: extraordinary. We pray to Allah to accept our prayers and make us of those who are sincere in intention, action and deed. Ameen.
Let use this month to reflect on our blessings and know that there are people out there scavenging for food in rubbish heaps and rubbish dumps, foraging for food in dustbins, living in dumpsites in squalor and deprivation and making it through the dire conditions. Save the day by giving gratitude to Allah, the High because on our tables today at the time of Iftaar, we will have more than a doughnut and a croissant to satiate our hunger.
‘And there is nothing for man except that which he works for.’ Surah Najm