Sunday, 6 July 2008

Day 9: Humility

Today I learnt a lesson in humility.

Yesterday I wrote a post about Arabic and the Qur'an, how lucky I was to know Arabic, and how ashamed I was that my Arabic is so weak.

But today I realized that even though I meant every word in that post, inside I felt that I was going to be better than everyone in the house in my recitation, by virtue of the fact that Arabic is my first language and that I had learned Qur'an as a child. Kind of like the way a third grader would feel if he was put in a second grade class. He's still a third grader, but better than a second grader.

Well, nothing put me in my place faster than spending 10 minutes with my Qur'an teacher correcting the way I said the Este'atha and Basmallah (literally "a'ootho beelahi men alshaytan alrajeem, beesm Allahi alrahman alraheem"), which is how we begin reciting any sura in the Qur'an.

One of the best things about Tarim is that you know that you are definitely not the best person around. Back home, it's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking "oh, it's ok that I pray late, no one at work prays anyway," or "it's ok that I don't review my Qur'an, at least I've memorized some of it unlike so and so." Even if you don't intend you, you always seem to end up comparing yourself with those that seem worse off (religion wise) than you are and coming out on top. This, in turn, keeps you from resting on your laurels.

Here, you feel (and know) that everyone is better than you and so you cannot fall into that trap. You'll always feel lacking, and that will insh'Allah make you better.

I forgot to mention that yesterday we began fiqh classes. I follow the Shaf'ii madhab (school of thought), who are a minority here, so our class was held in a separate location, in Habib Umar's library. His library has 56 bookcases (they're numbered) with literally hundreds and hundreds of indexed books spilt up into topics (ex Shafii fiqh, mawlids, hadith explanations, etc) mash'Allah.

I was reading The Black Swan right before I came to Yemen, and seeing Habib Umar's library reminded me of something the author had said in the book. He said that he knew someone who had a library with 30,000 books and that most people would admire that someone greatly and ask him how many of the books he'd read. Only a very small minority would understand that: (and I'm adding this quote in late August):

"A private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market will allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books."

This quote reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “What we know can fill a book. What we don’t know can fill a library.”

But I digress.

In the first class Shaykh Omar talked about knowledge, how to retain it, and opened the book we are studying (Mukhtasar al-latif) to the first page and explained about how beginning your book with Bism Allah and elhamdulela are so important. He told us this really nice story about the importance of saying elhamdulela about everything:

A man was learning about Islam, and his sheikh told him how important it was to always thank Allah (say elhamdulela), even for things youmay think are bad for you, because you never know how something may be good for you.

One day, the man was sick. His sheikh visited him and told him to say elhamdulela. The man did so.

Another time, the man got thrown in jail when he was innocent. His sheikh visited him and told him to say elhamdulela. The man did so.

Another time, the man was in an accident and he lost an eye. His sheikh told him to say elhamdulela but the man couldn't, telling him "how could this be good?"

Losing all trust with the sheikh the man decided to leave his country and find a different sheikh in another one. He got on a ship, and the ship sank. The people on board grabbed planks and drifted until they reached an island.

It turned out the island was inhabited by carnivores, whose custom was to eat anyone whole and healthy. But because of the man's eye, they let him live.

So it's a small story, but I thought it really illustrated how we never know what might be good for us, and where our benefit lies.

Today in class Sh. Omar asked a question, and wondered out loud if any of the women would like to answer. Until now, he is the only teacher who has actively acknowledged us, and it made me so happy I answered straight way. Elhamdulela my answer was correct (4 ways to retain knowledge: Review with others, teach others, repeat what you've studuied over and over, and write it down).

Yesterday was also the anniversary of the Rihla.

I realized that in terms of classes, the Rihla was definitely more intensive, or at least I felt that we covered a lot more material. And because the classes in Habib Umar's house are not translated simultaneously, lesson time is automatically cut in half.

However, I feel that I'm learning more from this experience than in the Rihla. As strange as it sounds, Tarim seems to be more spiritual than Saudi Arabia; I feel that here religion is really reflected within the people and that they really have faith, and not just the outward manifestations of religion. That influences us in ways we might not even feel. Personally, I feel that I'm getting more out of the place and the people than the classes, which is more than enough for me. Just being here I do things that I find so hard to do back home, and what's more, I wonder why on earth was it hard?

Today we ate Tarimi bread, heef, which looks like roti, and it was really good. We also had spaghetti for dinner, and you could just see the joy on everyone's faces. We definitely eat enough here, but the menu is always more or less the same: curry and rice.

Today I also bought the edition of the book we are studying in the rawha printed specially for this Dowra, Mannerisms of the Self by Imam Abd-Allah Al-Bosayry and elhamduela it makes the rawha so much easier to follow. It wasn't included in our packet because it's only available in Arabic, and hopefully it can also help me improve my Arabic.

Today's Quote: Guard your tongue. A scholar once said, when asked why he didn't speak often: "I have two ears and one tongue. And that tongue is guarded by two sets of barriers: the teeth and the lips." Backbiting is worse than 36 acts of fornication. You see how Islam protects the reputation of the Muslim? You are backbiting even if you think the thoughts in your heart and don't say them out loud. Habib Kathim

A chilling thought. That you are not only judged for vocal backbiting, one of the sins of the tongue which, according to the Qur'an, is equivalent to eating the flesh of your dead brother, but for backbiting him (or her) in your mind:

This video refers to this verse in the Qur'an:

O you who believe! Avoid most of suspicion, for surely suspicion in some cases is a sin, and do not spy nor let some of you backbite others. Does one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? But you abhor it; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, surely Allah is Oft-returning (to mercy), Merciful. (49: 12 Yusuf Ali translation).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So true about comparing yourself to those less religious than you. The Prophet (pbuh) told us to compare ourselves to those more proficient in religion and those less fortunate in material possessions and we all end up reversing that to make ourselves feel less guilty and more entitled to wealth/material things.

- Nora