Monday, 30 June 2008
Day 3: The Habayeb
How to describe today? I write for a living, but I'm finding it difficult to find words to describe what today was like for me. Basically, all we did was visit some westerners who live here and the hababat—the female family members of the sheikhs who will insh'Allah be giving the lectures. But in reality, the visits were so much more.
The first thing you realize when you meet the hababas is how much hayaa they have. Hayaa is loosely translated as modesty, but the word doesn't really cover the meaning it has in Arabic. They have hayaa not only in the way they dress, but in the way they talk and interact.
The hababas reminded us of how lucky we were to be chosen to come here, and of the importance of renewing our neya (intention) all the time.
The people here are so sincere. There isn't any of the social games that we play back home, where being friendly and genuine is perceived as a weakness. Everyone is so generous, so hospitable, and so welcoming. The trip is so cheap (only $700) because none of the teachers or members of the Dowra adminstration are getting paid-they are doing this because they genuinely want us to learn and benefit. Here, you know that what you see is what you get; nothing is complicated because there's nothing to gain from being aloof and detached.
The normal way to greet people here is to make a movement to kiss their hands and bring it to your heart or mouth, and really kiss their hand if they are old and/or a scholar. I'm starting to get used to it and I think it's a beautiful sign of respect.
The houses are all as simple as I imagined them to be, even the houses of the habayeb. Sparsely furnished, the houses all have the bare essentials and no more.
Its incredible how spiritual the place is, and how life revolves around the prayers and not vice versa. Too often back home I find myself slotting prayers into time between work tasks, and finishing them hurriedly. Here, prayers are a big chunk of the day, and no one gets up immediately after them—everyone sits to make dhikr (remembrance of Allah) and du'aa (supplication).
It's so so hot here. It's hotter than Cairo by only a few degrees, but somehow it's a different kind of heat, an opressive one. I am dehydrated all the time, and it got me thinking about how we take all the modern appliances of our daily lives for granted. I mean, the air conditioner was only invented recently, before it people lived in this heat normally.
But it's good to endure a little tribulation. Our lives back home are so comfortable that we’ve become complacent, taking all the blessings we have for granted. A little discomfort makes you grateful for what you have, and teaches you patience.
It was wonderful to meet the western sisters who are studying in Tarim. Again, like I said before, it will never cease to amaze me how they can pack up and leave everything they know to come to somewhere that is so different from their home to study Islam. They greeted us singing the song the people in Yathrib sang when the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) arrived there, Tal'aa albadro 'alayna, and it was an honor.
While we were there, we were given us a short dars (lecture) by a female scholar. It's amazing to see and meet real women scholars, and it proves wrong the misconception that says that there aren't any real ones. One of the most profound things she told us was that the people who are close to Allah worry so much about wasting time that they call themselves to account for every breath they spend—how many of us wonder about how we spend our day, let alone each breath?
I went to the Dowra house today, and I met the rest of the Dowra participants. Mash'Allah they come from so many different countries—the UK, the US, Bulgaria, Australia and even Brunei. The feeling of camaraderie in the house is so evident it's almost tangible. When the time comes to eat, everyone eats together from the same plate.
And on that note, the food here tastes so good. Everything—the tea, the cakes, the bread, the tuna, the grilled chicken. Maybe it's partly because everything is fresh and natural here, but I'm sure part of it is due to the baraka (blessings) of Tarim. And for those of you wondering, yes you can buy a lot here—peanut butter, Kellogg's cornflakes, and even skittles.
Today was a wonderful day. I haven't felt so at peace in a long time. And we haven't even started yet.
Tomorrow morning at 3am insh'Allah the Dowra begins.
Tawakalto 'ala Allah.