Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Quest For Sacred Knowledge

“You have to meet him before his death,” is what the elderly scholar Shaykh Muhammad Ma’moon told me in his humble home in Madinah, the City of the Noble Prophet of Islam, peace and blessings be upon him, (in the region that is now called Saudi Arabia). The person whom Shaykh Ma’moon was referring to is the great and noble sage, al-Murabit al-Hajj, of the Mauritanian desert lands. Shaykh Ma’moon himself had studied with him before he left his homeland to take up residence within the sacred precincts here in the blessed city of the Prophet (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him).

Due to my somewhat sheltered American cultural past I had never really heard of Mauritania before meeting Shaykh Muhammad Ma’moon, let alone know where this country was located on the globe. All I knew was that it was in Africa and that it was a Muslim country. During my stay in Madinah I did recall hearing of a great and knowledgeable scholar who lived in the deserts of this region and it turns out that it was this very man that Shaykh Ma’moon spoke of with such great esteem and honor. That was all I knew.

At the time, I was a student at the Islamic University of Madinah and was in my third year of intensive studies (five hours a day, five days a week of class time, not to mention the hours spent studying and reviewing out of class). I had received a full scholarship from the Saudi Ministry of Education after having previously studied in another Saudi-run Islamic Institute not far from my house in the Washington D.C. area. Coming from a typical, middle-class American background, born and raised into a Catholic family, I eventually made the choice to convert to Islam in the summer of 1994 after I had just turned 19. For some time I had felt a void in my chest, which, it turns out, could only be filled with Islam. That journey is a book to itself, which might get written one day, but I will leave you with that for now.

Living in Saudi was a very new and different experience for me. Before becoming Muslim I had never left the United States and I didn’t even have a passport! I had no profound knowledge of what lied beyond our U.S. borders, besides maybe a little bit about Canada and Mexico, but, as most American youth at the time, I didn’t really care that much either. While in Saudi I lived in the blessed city of Madinah, the second most holy city of Islam. I was fortunate to have been a resident there from August of 1996 until May of 1999, minus a few months for vacation during the summers, and some vacations they were, for I had to study full time in a university back in America all summer long as well!

In Madinah I was a student of Arabic and Islamic studies for several years before the time that I was blessed to meet the noble Shaykh Muhammad Ma’moon of Mauritania. The circumstances that led me to him are far too numerous to detail at this point, but what I will say is this: God works in mysterious and wondrous ways. We just have to be awake to see how. Heedlessness is the greatest veil of the heart, isn’t it high time that we remove it?

It turns out that I lived just a few minutes away from Shaykh Muhammad Ma’moon’s home in Madinah. It was located in a very humble part of the city, which his character and demeanor clearly reflected, for ostentation and arrogance where so foreign to his way. He was an elderly man of about 70 years, fairly short and very feeble-bodied, but his faith was as firm as a rock and his heart as vast as an ocean. One could sail the seven seas without ever leaving his presence. When I was first introduced to him I felt as though I was meeting someone from centuries ago. He was in this world, but not of it. He usually dressed in a long, white robe-like garment with a loosely wrapped white or black turban resting upon his noble head. His long white beard was as the clouds cast against a clear blue sky. In a word, he was astonishing.

When he looked at you, you felt as though he was penetrating into the depths of your soul. His gaze was one that could be felt with an indescribable solidity. You didn’t feel violated, merely exposed. When a man looks with the eye of purity and sanctity, he can see a very different world than the rest of us do. That is the vision that I yearned to obtain, and I still yearn to attain it.

Shaykh Muhammad Ma’moon would seldom speak with anything other than wisdom, advice, and heartfelt concern. He never liked to indulge in idle chatter nor in the affairs of the “people of this world”. The Prophet Muhammad (God’s peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Let him who believes in God and the Last Day speak good, or remain silent.” Silence was one of the modes of our communication. I remember sitting with him in his home on several occasions without either of us saying a single word. Silence allowed our souls to speak, and to breathe the breath of life between us.

His presence was one of strength and dignity, even though his body was weak and ill. Here was a man. It is ultimately the quality of your soul that determines your true position in existence, not your body. I was beginning to think more and more about the greatness of this man’s teacher whom he spoke so much about, al-Murabit al-Hajj. If Shaykh Muhammad Ma’moon had been his student, then what about the one who taught him?

... by Khalil Moore. For complete text.

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