Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Day 4: First Day of Classes

Today was the first day of classes, and now I understand why very few Dowra students have attempted to put down in words what the experience is like. Words are really not adequate enough to convey the experience—like what was said in a class today, zawq (taste) must be felt, it cannot be conveyed. Honey and sugar are both sweet, but how can you describe the difference to someone who hasn't tasted either?

But another reason I'm sure no one has written extensively about the experience is that they're simply too tired! At the end of the day everyone is so exhausted that it's hard to even attempt to be as articulate and eloquent as you need to be to describe the experience. But I'll try my best and insh'Allah I'll dedicate half an hour of my day to updating this blog. I'll also try and upload as many pictures as I can that I've taken here.

Today, I'll write about the day and insh'Allah I'll elaborate more about the schedule in further entries.

The day started out with tahjud (night prayers) and dhikr (remembrance) before fajr prayer. Subhan Allah I am able to concentrate and focus so much more on prayer when I feel that I have 'prepared' for it. I didn't just get up and stand in a corner and take 5 minutes out of my day; I made wuduu' (ablution), walked to Dar al-Zahra, prayed the greeting of the mosque, and recited my wird (litany), all before praying, and even then it was in jama'a (congregation).

After praying and doing the dhikr, all the sisters get up for mosafaha: The imam gets up first, and the first person to shake her hand stands next to her. Then the next person shakes both their hands and stands next to them. In this way, we all shake each other's hands. It sounds a bit strange, but it really 'cultivates' a sense of community, and for some reason, it really makes me smile. Plus, there's a hadith (prophetic saying) by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) that says when two Muslims shake hands, their bad deeds fall from them like leaves falling from a tree.

We then had our first class with Habib Umar (the head of Dar al-Mustafa) in his house studying Iman Al Hadad's The Lives of Man. I saw Habib Umar walking to the mosque, and Subhan Allah his face is so peaceful and at ease. That's something that all the habayeb have here—their gaze is utterly serene and they have faces that seem divinely illuminated.

(The words habib and hababa (for a woman) are used to refer to scholars who are descendants of Prophet Mohammad PBUH)

The best way I can put is like this: Imagine the look in a child's eyes who you've just given candy to. And then the look in an adult's eyes who has so much to do, and doesn't really like dealing with you. Visualizing it? See how the subtle nuances in a person's gaze speak volumes? Now, the habayeb's eyes are so much closer to a child's than an adult burdened with worldly cares—without guile, honest and content, only of course without the naivety and unawareness of the world around them.

Which makes it all the harder that we can't really see them. I mean, the Dowra team have provided us with all the equipment necessary to engage in the lecture—a TV and radio that provide audio and video, but of course it's not the same as actually sitting right in front of them, and being in their presence. Basically, how it works is that we have a TV in front of us broadcasting video and a radio broadcasting audio from the classes in Dar al-Mustafa—one channel Arabic, one channel English. In Habib Umar's house it’s the same thing only we don't need a radio, just a microphone.

After the first class, I moved into the Dowra dormitory. True, the apartment I was staying in with my family was much more comfortable, and sharing a flat with three people is easier than sharing a house with almost 30 women but I'm glad I moved in. I'm glad because a big part of the Dowra is the okhowa (sisterhood), and another is enduring difficulties and learning to be patient.

I've lived in a dormitory before, but it was in Birmingham and there we each had our own bedroom and bathroom, and only shared one communal kitchen, which we never used since we ate out all the time. Plus, someone came to clean, so I've never had 'kitchen duty' or chores to do. Basically, I've never shared such close quarters with other women, and my knowledge of doing so is limited to sharing a bedroom with my sister when we were kids and what I've seen on America's Next Top Model :)

The house is really big, and there are five/ six of us in each room. It sounds really harsh when I say that each room is equipped with only five mattresses but in reality it's not at all that tough. Some rooms have marble tiles and others have vinyl flooring, and all of them have a small night light so if some people want to sleep and others don't, everyone is happy since it's not too dark or too light.

There's also an air conditioner and two fans in each toom, so the room doesn't get too hot (still hot though), and there are no curtains which means we take our morning naps in full daylight (and I've always been the kind of person who needs complete and utter darkness to sleep, and even pulls the curtain shut at night). But after a long day I could probably be sleeping on the floor and still be happy, and the truth is the moment I put my heads on my pillow I'm out like a light. But it's definitely not my room at home, and it's going to be hard getting used to living out of a suitcase:

My roommates are pretty diverse. One is a British convert, one is an African American convert from Seattle, one is a Brit of Somalian descent, and the last is also a Brit but of Yemeni/Omani descent. And then there's me, the Saudi born and Egyptian raised. So it's pretty cool getting to know everyone.

Anyway, after the zuhr (noon) prayer we all got our books, schedules and notebooks and I was so excited—I guess the nerd inside me still lives on :)

After the 'asr (afternoon) prayer we had Al-Rawha with Habib Umar—he has this really joyful laugh by the way, just like Habib Ali has a beautiful smile—which is a class we have every day that talks about spiritual issues/ disciplining the self.

Then we had a class after the maghrib (sunset) prayer and one after the 'isha (night) prayer. The two classes really made me think about an important issue, intentions, which I'll try and talk about in a separate post. Tomorrow I'll also try and talk more about the classes and the schedule.

Oh, after 'isha the Dar al-Zahra administration had a welcoming session for us, which was really nice of them. I got asked to introduce myself and how I found Tarim, as well as translate my roommate Lara's story about how she converted to Islam (she's the Brit). It was kind of scary but elhamdulela I think we did ok.


Luji said...

How old are the participants? i have a feeling they aren't teenagers!
plus, i tried to imagine myself being there, i would probably break in a few days, i'd be terribly stubborn! you do realize that there's a movie that sounds just like the title of your blog, made me spooked and laugh cuz one movie is a horror one and the other is totally not ( you know the one with josh hartnett when he stops dating for 40 days! hehe) tottaly not appropriate, but still funny.
oh and what do u do for humor? i mean i can't stand being in a place hwere i don't have something to laugh about...ooh do you know any australian comedians that are good, i want to attend a comedy show when we get to the great oz, but the comics i heard suck, terribly!
oh, i miss you tutti, enjoy and i'll continue reading this, you are very talented mashAllah, and it's very riveting, you make me feel as if i was there, minus the reese's chocopeanutbutter cup i just sent the driver to get :p
love u!

Anonymous said...

assalamuailikum sister i am from Dominican Republic and just finish going through the whole blog,wow very beautiful experience you had in tarim .shaykh abdulkareem was arranging something for me to go but at the end i was not able to.May Allah bless you,and this is a blog my wife and i started but we kind of new at it.http://el-islamenlaisla.blogspot.com/