Event Review: Sacred Path of Love 2012 – The Meaning of Servanthood – Day 1
Where: Masjid Sultan Auditorium
When: 1 December 2012
Who: Imam Abdoulaye Ndaw, Shaykh Dr Thaika Shuaib, Shaykh Afeefuddin Al-Jailani, Ustaz Fizar Zainal
By: Sout Ilahi[/box_light]
Now in its third year, Sout Ilaahi’s annual conference The Sacred Path of Love brings together scholars from Singapore and around the world to speak on topics related to Islamic spirituality. Held once again at the Masjid Sultan Auditorium, the theme for this year’s Sacred Path conference was “The Meaning of Servanthood”, and speakers from the previous conferences such as Maulana Shaykh Afeefuddin Al-Jailani and Ustaz Fizar Zainal were joined by notables such as Shaykh Dr. Thaika Shuaib from India and Imam Tahir Anwar from the United States.
Keynote Address by Habib Hasan Al-Attas
Habib Hasan Al-Attas, the Imam of Masjid Baalwie, delivered the keynote address for the conference, introducing the theme of “The Meaning of Servanthood”. Speaking on the topic of humans as the servants of Allah, he related that the true servants of Allah did not have arrogance in their hearts, and would only see other mahkluk (creations of Allah) when they looked around. Arrogance, the Habib said, was not a quality of servants of the All Merciful.
He noted that the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) is called by many names in the Qur’an, and the name Muhammad itself means “continually being praised”. However, the first verse of Surah Al-Isra, relating to the Night Journey, described the Prophet (SAWS) as the slave of Allah, a description the Prophet loved even as he was being raised to the highest heavens.
He noted that all the great saints and scholars of the past, such as Sayyidina Ali Zain al-Abidin and Shaykh Abdul QadirJailani, were known to make sujud more than 1000 times daily in their prayers in recognition of their status as servants of Allah.
Before leaving, Habib Hassan asked the members of the audience to recognise that it was not Brother Khalid Ajmain, director of Sout Ilaahi, nor the staff and volunteers of Sout Ilaahi who had brought together the speakers for the Sacred Path of Love conference. Instead, Habib Hasan reiterated our servanthood towards Allah and stressed that it was Allah who had brought the speakers to grace the event.
Popular local Qasidah ensemble Maadihul Mustafa came to the stage next to perform two qasidahs. They promoted their upcoming concert at the Kallang Theatre happening 13th January 2013 and stated that proceeds from ticket sales would go to suffering brothers and sisters in Syria.
Ihsan: The Spiritual Message of Islam
Imam Abdoulaye Ndaw, born in Senegal and currently serving as the Imam of the Tidjani Community of Michigan, was the first of the speakers to take to the stage. Taking the definition of ihsan from the Hadith of Jibril, Imam Ndaw said that ihsan was to worship God as though you were seeing Him, and if you do not see Him, know that He sees you. He stated that while ihsan was difficult to translate, one of the meanings of ihsan was to do good to others, whether or not it was mandatory to do so, and that one of the favours that one could do for others was to pass on their knowledge.
Elaborating further, Imam Ndaw said that one who reaches the level of ihsan would not commit sins as they would seek only the pleasure of Allah, and with ihsan one feels the Nur of Allah in his heart, and in his mind everything dies except Allah.
Speaking from his experience as a physical therapist, Imam Ndaw said that in his line of work he had seen many who could not do simple tasks such as moving their legs or placing their fingers on their nose, and stated that we should all recognise that every step we take is from the Mercy of Allah.
Remembrance of Allah: Refining the Character
Imam Tahir Anwar, a teacher at San Francisco’s Zaytuna College, was the next speaker. Speaking on the topic of “Remembrance of Allah: Refining the Character”, Imam Tahir noted that human beings have a need to imitate and this can be seen in how young people look up to celebrities, atheletes and entertainers, to the point of wanting to imitate their dress and speech.
However, Imam Tahir stated that in seeking a role model we should follow the words of the Qur’an, “Verily, in the Messenger of Allah you have an excellent example, for everyone who looks unto Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah much.” Unlike celebrities, the Prophet (SAWS) lived like a common person and through his character was renowned as As-Sidq and Al-Amin before prophethood.
He spoke on the need to avoid boasting about one’s tariqa, as the tariqa is meant to build a bond with Allah and improve our character.
Imam Tahir also spoke on the companions of Rasulallah (SAWS) and how, though they did not have conferences the way we did now, managed to attract people through the strength of their character.
The Beauty of Shukr: Appreciating Life, Family & Friends
Ustaz Nuzhan, executive imam of Masjid Jamiyah Ar-Rabitah, went onstage next to deliver his talk on shukr. He began by repeating the Arab maxim that “you will know something by its opposite” and began by explaining takabbur, or arrogance. He spoke on how, before the creation of Adam (AS),Iblis made sujud to Allah for every step that he took. However, Iblis refused to prostrate himself before Adam (AS) out of a sense of arrogance and this was a trait he shared with Firaun, Abu Lahab and Abu Jahal.
Ustaz Nuzhan noted that in our times, arrogance was repackaged. Among the victims of takabbur were those who did not see the need to make du’a, those who dislike visiting the sick, those who were constantly worrying about one’s appearance and how others perceive you, and those who constantly interrupted the conversations of others. The sins of riya’ ,ujub, and hasad were all based on takabbur.
Once he had defined takabbur, Ustaz Nuzhan spoke on its opposite, shukr, stating that shukr had 3 parts, the intention, action and recitation. Just as it was important to feel gratitude towards Allah in our hearts, it was equally important to actually say Alhamdulillah.
In order to feel a true sense of gratitude towards Allah, Ustaz Nuzhan gave several steps. These were recognising that all gifts were from Allah, and that people were merely the middlemen, regularly counting the blessings of Allah, feeling happy with one’s situation, and finally intending to do good to all of creation.
The heart of the shakirin, Ustaz Nuzhan stated, would take him all the way to Jannah.
Sidi Idris Kamal chaired the first question and answer segment, with Imam Ndaw, Imam Tahir and Ustaz Nuzhan answering questions from the audience. Imam Ndaw answered a question on whether it was wrong to keep away from one’s parents should they be overly critical, by saying that others attitudes should not dictate our actions, and we should continue to do good by our parents unless they stand in the way of our ibadah.
A question directed to Imam Tahir asked whether tariqa was required for one to realise ihsan. Imam Tahir replied that tariqas must be based in the Qur’an and Sunnah, and that people who joined such tariqas would only reach higher levels of spirituality and better themselves, and that it was important for people to find tariqas that resonated with them in their hearts and that they could follow through with commitment.
Return to God: A servant’s repentance
After a break for lunch and zuhur prayers, Shaykh Dr Thaika Shuaib spoke about tauba, or repentance. Shaykh Dr Thaika noted the hadith that stated that every disease has its medicine except death, and stated that similarly every sinner has medicine in the form of tauba. Shaykh Dr Thaika related that the advice of all the great saints was to hold to the kalima shahada, and in doing so believing that everything comes from Allah, and to always seek forgiveness.
He noted that Allah had protected the Prophet (SAWS) from sin, even before his prophethood, and despite being protected from sin, the Prophet used to make istighfar at least 70 times a day.
Shaykh Dr Thaika also explained that Surah Al-Fatiha, which Muslims recited at least seventeen times a day in prayer, also contained words of tauba in asking Allah for guidance towards the straight path.
He stressed having dependence on Allah in all situations, which included reciting verses from the Qur’an to protect one’s self. Shaykh Dr Thaika especially emphasised recitation of Sayyidil Istighfar, which if recited before Subuh prayers in the morning would protect one from hellfire until nightfall, and if recited in the evenings would protect one from hellfire until dawn.
The Key to The Spiritual Path is Understanding the Sacred Law
Maulana Shaykh Afeefuddin al-Jailani, at his second time speaking at the Sacred Path of Love conference, explained the importance of the shariah by relating the hadith of Jibril, and its explanation of Islam, Iman and Ihsan. Using the metaphor of a tree he stated that Islam, or the sharia, was the seed from which a tree grew and Ihsan was its fruit, and that the alim, murshid and murid alike must all start with the seeds.
Shaykh Afeefuddin then went on to explain that Iman was to be found in the sweetness in ibadah, in understanding the meanings behind the prayers and other forms of worship. He related that unlike the jamaah today, the companions would gather early in the mosque for prayers, even before the adhan, and the Prophet (SAWS) would ask Sayyidina Bilal to call the adhan so they could enjoy the sweetness of its sounds.
Shaykh Afeefuddin related that Shaykh Abdul Qadir Al-Jailani was once out walking at night when he saw a throne in the night sky, surrounded by light, and from the throne he heard a voice calling out to him. The voice told Shaykh Abdul Qadir Al-Jailani that he had reached such a high spiritual state that worship was no longer obligatory on him, and that he could live the rest of his life any way he wanted and simply wait for jannah. Upon hearing this, Shaykh Abdul Qadir simply recited “Audhubillah”, and the lights disappeared and Shaytan fell to the ground before him.
When asked how he knew the truth, Shaykh Abdul Qadir replied that Rasulallah (SAWS) had never received a commandment from Allah not to pray despite his status as the best of creation, and who was he next to Rasulallah (SAWS)? The shaytan then told him that 40 alims of similar rank had all been led astray by this deception. This story helped emphasise the importance of the sharia in our lives.
Beyond the sharia, Shaykh Afeefuddin emphasised that the sharia needed to be secured by both akhlaq and ikhlas, saying that children would be confused by the fiqh of fardh ain and fardh kifayah and others, and that their knowledge would have to begin with akhlaq. Similarly, he pointed out that the Meccan verses of the Qur’an related mostly to iman whereas the Medinan verses related mostly to fiqh, showing the importance of understanding iman before one can understand the sharia.
The Rope that Binds: The Importance of Compassion in a Passive Age
Ustaz Fizar Zainal, manager for the Education Department at Masjid Al-Iman, began his talk with a reference to verse 103 of Surah Ali Imran, “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided.”This rope was the Qur’an and the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS), as stated by Rasulallah (SAWS) himself in his last sermon. He asked all those present to look within themselves and see where Allah and His Messenger (SAWS) stood. He advised everybody to return to their fitrah as human beings, find common ground and eliminate those things that divide us.
Ustaz Fizar spoke on the need to avoid passivity, especially in seeking knowledge as though there were many sources of knowledge to be found online, such usage of technology divides us from living people and parts us from the spirit of da’wah. As another example of passivity, he cautioned those who post du’as on Facebook without following up their posts with action, as being guilty of merely paying lip service.
Instead, he advised that people act out of love, saying that Allah gave knowledge and other blessings to the Prophet (SAWS) out of love, and the Prophet (SAWS) passed it on the sahaba with love. Muslims should have love for humanity, for our religion, for tranquility and other things that brought us together as an ummah.
Discerning Prophetic Footprints on the Path to God: A Sufi Perspective
Sitting cross-legged at the front of the stage as he spoke; Shaykh Naeem Abdul Wali, resident scholar at the Sunna Institute in Houston, Texas, delivered a highly academic talk. Returning to the topic of the hadith of Jibril, Shaykh Naeem explained Islam as an engagement with the dunya to perform acts of ibadah, Iman as a recognition of higher realms of reality and Iman as a belief in the Ultimate Reality of Allah (SWT). Allah lends his attributes to us beginning with existence.
Elaborating on the topic of ihsan, he explained that ihsan, otherwise known as tasaquf or tazkiyatul nafs, was a form of experiential knowledge. Ihsan could only be known by taking the knowledge we learned through discourse and experiencing it, and that such experiential knowledge was true knowledge. The sweetness of faith as described by scholars was not just a metaphor, Shaykh Naeem stated. Ikhlas, or sincerity, was the removal of the debris of kufr, or things that distracted us from Allah, from ourselves.
Returning to the topic of the Reality of Allah, Shaykh Naeem stated that only Allah could truly say “I” or “Ana“, as existence was an attribute of Allah that is merely lent to creation, and asked us to evaluate whether our existence was closer to the Muhammadan or the Pharaohnic examples.
A question was asked on how we could truly know ourselves. Ustaz Fizar answered by saying that we could know ourselves by first understanding why we were put on this Earth and recognising our servanthood towards Allah. If we did not know our own servanthood, how could we know we have a Master?[divider]
Ahmad Zhaki Abdullah
Ahmad Zhaki holds a degree in English Literature from the University of London. He is a full-time executive at a local training institute and a part-time writer.