Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam: A Personal Perspective
By. Ghazala Qadri
Turning 70 is a milestone for anyone who is fortunate enough to reach it, and even more so if the devasting consequences of covid-19 are borne into mind. This last year has been an extremely tense one for our elders, as many have lost their lives to this terrible virus. Although we all know that it is Allah’s decision as to whom is bestowed with a long life and whose time must come to an impromptu end, this last year has served as reminder of the vulnerability of our lives and the fragility of our existence. If we are one of the fortunate ones to be blessed with life then it is imperative that we asses our lives and see how we have utilized this immense blessing. If Allah has gifted us with the beauty of life, then have we done justice to that life? Have we lived it according to the wishes and demands of our Creator and Sustainer? That is something we should always be thinking about, but particularly during these difficult times.
With this perspective in mind, there is no doubt that Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam has done justice to every second of the life that he has been blessed with. Although many facets of his unique and exceptional personality are divinely gifted, it is how he has used these wonderful capabilities that is so commendable. Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam considers his life as a sacred trust, with every single moment just as important as the next. Each day is a new beginning, to be utilized to its maximum. Every action of Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam is full of purpose and resolve, where he truly believes that he has been created to serve others. It would be no exaggeration to say that he is indeed the most selfless person that I have ever had the pleasure to meet.
As Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam reaches the milestone of his seventieth birthday, there are many facets of his personality that one could write about. There is his zeal for knowledge and a constant thirst to understand every element of Islam. He also has a perpetual desire to assist and help others at all times, without any benediction. His life is full of kindness and compassion to all those that are around him, an ocean of love for all that encounter him. There is his ability to remain humble and modest, despite being beloved by millions of people all around the world. Indeed, the list is endless. Perhaps what is key, is that Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam is able to retain all these beautiful attributes, in the midst of modernity and all that it encompasses.
In this modern age, each one of us live very busy lives. Whether it is attending school, college or university; going to work; looking after the home and children or other members of the extended family or doing dawah work, life is a never-ending cycle of responsibilities, obligations and even burdens. As a consequence, our lives have become disconnected. Many of us may live under the same room, do household chores for each other, even sit down together for meals, but we can still act like strangers towards each other. We go through the motions of daily life but create no meaningful connections with each other. We are not in tune with each other’s feelings, hopes and aspirations and can often ignore the distress and pain of others. It may be because we too are overwhelmed in our own lives, and so it is easier to stick our heads in the sand or it may simply be that we do not care.
Yet, it is caring that defines the life of Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam. Caring for his family, friends and acquaintances; caring for all those he knows personally; caring for the members and affiliates of MQI, and indeed caring for not just the entire Muslim ummah but for humanity itself. It is that care, consideration and mindfulness for others that is the driving force behind all that he does, permeating every element of his life.
This care and concern is evident from just a simple daily morning routine. Every morning when Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam awakens, he will immediately come out of his bedroom and call out ‘Assalam u Alyakum’ to whoever is available at home. Each person’s name will be called in loving a voice, using their own particular endearment asking, ‘where is everyone?’
‘How is everyone?’ He will ask ‘has everyone had breakfast’ and then in a playful manner offer to take us out for breakfast if anyone hasn’t. This suggestion, whilst said in a playful manner is always made with great sincerity in the hope that one of us may say yes. However, since most days are busy with the children at school or university the offer is respectfully declined. Yet, Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam asks whoever is at home the same question every day without fail. It is a daily ritual that has been going on for decades. This may seem a small event but it epitomizes the nature of Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam. It is his unique and beautiful way to connect with everyone at home as soon as he awakens. It makes us all stand still for a few moments and think of each other. To take time out of our busy lives and have a purposeful conversation. This brief conversation every morning; negotiating who is willing to go out for breakfast and who is not makes us all stop and smile. Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam will even laugh and offer to cook breakfast if we do not have the time to go out together. These are just simple gestures of love but are always made with great earnest. It is also a way of reminding us the importance of family, which is easily lost in this day and age. It is also important to remember that Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam is no different from most people and leads an extremely busy life. He can spend up to 16 hours a day on his academic works, which requires intense focus and concentration. Often, he will be up late into the early hours of the morning, trying to complete a particular portion of his work. Yet, no matter how late he may have slept, or how disturbed his sleep may have been, his first thoughts are always directed at those around him. And that is the essence of his being, the nucleus of his person. Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam is always thinking and caring about others; concerned about their wellbeing, worried about their health and interested in their happiness. The daily ritual of calling out to all family members is not just a fun past time, but instead creates a deep and lasting connection between him and those around him.
Part of the charm of Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam is also his beautiful and unique countenance, which is a reflection of his inner-self. Every morning when he awakens, there is always a smile on his face and a certain radiance shines from within it, permeating from his every pore. Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam’s skin has a luminous quality, as if there is an internal light shining from within. His eyes sparkle with a boyish charm which belie hide the hidden depths of his soul. His entire demeanor radiates peaceful serenity and just gazing at his face provides much solace and comfort. One is always certain in the knowledge that no matter what the day holds, these precious moments are enough to get through it. There have been many times when people have met Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam in person, and then recalled how just gazing at his face was enough to bring them contentment. In recent months, Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam has become very adept at video-conferencing. Where once many were craving to just hear his voice, in this new strange era of the pandemic, Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam can often be seen having a video chat with different members of MQI all over the world. In fact, during the last several months, he has been inundated with calls and texts by people who are unwell, suffering difficulties, have family problems, experiencing a financial crisis or simply having a crisis of faith. It would be entirely easy to dismiss such people with a rudimentary call, a quick du’a’ and a brief show of concern. For his many followers, that would be more than sufficient. Yet that has never been the case for Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam. Whenever he finds out that someone needs assistance and help, he always goes over and beyond what is required. This can consist of making numerous phone calls providing moral and social support, advice on the best way to recovery or arranging financial help for those who in need. However, quite often people are just satisfied in gazing at the face of Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam. They are in no need of words or even supplications. It is enough that their Shaykh has called.
Another aspect of Sayyid Shaykh-ul-Islam’s life, which has always both fascinated and surprised me is his continued patience towards people when they ask him questions. We all know that Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam is an ocean of knowledge regarding Islamic law, and the depths of that knowledge are unsurpassed. It is human nature therefore to develop a supreme confidence in one’s natural ability. However, this confidence can also lead many towards arrogance and pretention. So, if one has spent a lifetime reading and studying every possible element of the deen, invested years in gaining and then conveying knowledge to others, the temptation to give an abrupt answer to a trivial question can be very tempting. But that has never been the case for Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam. Time and time again I have witnessed Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam take immense time and effort to explain and provide answers to very simple and rudimentary questions, with the utmost patience and ease. The question may have been asked a hundred times of him, or the answer can be found quite easily in one of his books or lectures. However, Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam will always ensure that the person is completely satisfied. And this is no mean feat. It is so easy to become agitated, annoyed and quite frankly angry when people ask trivial questions, whose answers can be found in basic textbooks on Islam. Rather than do their own research, strangers often approach Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam in public and ask him such questions. For a public figure, this kind of life can be very intrusive and disruptive. Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam may be out walking for some well-deserved fresh air, or enjoying a quiet meal with his family. No matter where or what the occasion may be, there are always people who will ask quick questions regarding some element of the faith and their own life.
However, Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam has never considered these as intrusions or encroachments upon his life. He firmly believes that it is his duty to satisfy the need of anyone who asks from him, even if that means doing extra research on their behalf. This kind of humility and humbleness is a rarity in today’s modern age. With the advent of social media curtailing a lot of intra-personal human interaction, we have become more insular individuals. Although we may be able to interact with each other more frequently through social media platforms, having peripheral knowledge at the touch of a button has also meant we are more used to instant gratification. We demand immediate answers, request short-cuts to problems making us less patient and more distant towards others. We have become so used to short and immediate fulfillment that we are often not prepared to invest our time and energies in others. This is particularly so if they are complete strangers and have no bearing on our own immediate lives. But this modern-day phenomenon has not affected the life of Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam in the least. He will never opt for the easy route for himself or take short cuts in the quest for knowledge. In the same way he will never answer a person with a perfunctory answer to save his own time and energies. That is simply not in the DNA of Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam. There have been so many instances when he has stopped working on an important project and asked his research assistant to bring up hordes of ancient manuscripts and books so that he can rifle through them and answer a query, no matter how obscure or irrelevant it may be to his own work.
It is this altruism that truly defines the personality of Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam. He has given so much of his life to the deen of Islam and to this ummah. He has dedicated his life for the betterment of humanity, often at the expense of his own health and personal needs. His life revolves around helping and assisting others. If he wished to retire today and spend the rest of his time dedicated to personal worship and enjoying life with his family, no one could possibly begrudge him that now, as he turns 70. Yet, whether he has brought people closer to the faith, provided them with spiritual enlightenment or relieved them of their anxieties and problems, Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam considers he has done very little of what he has been entrusted with. Despite his manifold achievements, he truly believes that he has only just begun and that there is so much more that he still wishes to give. Such humbleness is a rarity in this modern age and serves as a lesson for us all.
I pray to Allah Almighty, through the wasila of the Holy Prophet (saw), that He provides a long and healthy life to Sayyidi Shaykh-ul-Islam and keeps us all forever in his company. Ameen.