Recently, one of my teachers visited Egypt from Malaysia and for the first time, I was able to sit with him in person and benefit from his presence. It was a great time, but the one thing I came away with was an increase in my love for the opportunity that has been placed before me.
So of all the locations I could have gone to for my studies of Islam and Arabic I decided on Egypt, why? With all that has been going on, why here?
- Africa. To be completely frank, since being here I’ve been placed at the feet of a shaykh from the Gambia. I’ve become close friends with a bunch of brothers from Ghana, and been introduced to so much more of Africa.
- I have a love for Naguib Mahfouz. Yes, I’m quite aware his writing may be very antithetical to those of us within the circle of religion but, my goodness, that man can create a story. I’ve yet to go to the cafe named after him here, but as a student and teacher of literature, this country gave birth to him and also. . .they love them some “Alf layla wa layla” (A Thousand and One Nights).
- There is so much culture here.
- It’s cheap. . . this might have been a bigger factor than I’ll admit.
- Azhar. Azhar. Azhar.
Now if you know me you’ll know a few things. I’m a brand name person, but not just any brand names. I won’t buy a bag just because it’s well known and has a name on it, nope, but I will buy it if I find out it is handmade in the corners of Bari by some Christian guy who doesn’t put up a Christmas tree because he knows it hasn’t a thing to do with Christ (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him). Those are the types of brands that I am into. And so when it came to deciding what school I would eventually want to pursue my Islamic studies at, it only made sense that I would go for one of the oldest universities in the history of, well, universities. A school with a traditional uniform that everyone recognizes, a name that everyone recognizes, a name with some serious pull.
There has been many a man that has told me that Azhar doesn’t have the strength that it used to have, and I would argue that their wives would argue the same thing. . .it doesn’t mean they aren’t still amazing! But on a serious note, I agree that with the political issues going on and some of the globalization of academia (both secular and religious) knowledge has been watered down.
Yet, I’ve heard the same discussion about many other universities (which I won’t list as I don’t care for controversy). Also, there is the issue of whether I feel comfortable living in these other countries. So how did I make my decision? I prayed on it, I sought advise from loads of teachers and I looked at how much it would all cost and I packed up our bags and came here.
But this past week, when I was with one of my teachers, he solidified my decision. Not only did he get extremely giddy and happy when he walked into the Masjid of Azhar, he began to tell me how, on the flight here, he wrote a poem on the history of Azhar. When we walked in, there were various classes happening all around. Inside the masjid, various graduates of Azhar had just sat down to begin reading Quran over the loud speakers.
Egyptians have a statement, “The Quran was revealed in Mecca, its writing perfected in Turkey, and its recitation beautified in Egypt.” I can’t disagree with them; when you sit and listen to them read the Quran, it’s angelic, you know these are people of God, despite the difficulties they have gone though, they still hold on to the book.
I sat there and listened; I recorded; I was enchanted by the book that brought me into this religion of God and I remembered why, of all the places in the world, I wanted to come to Egypt. Sure, I might sound like a child who is overly excited with a piece of candy that will eventually melt and be gone, but nonetheless, I’m excited. Nonetheless, I love this place and I love its love for the book of God, the book that, when I first heard it being recited, compelled me to follow its call and its tenets.
I’m not there yet. I’m still on the journey, but I do hope that one day I can call myself an Azhari. And if not, it’s only because God has better for me.
And I’ll continue to remind myself of the immense blessings I have been able to receive, continue to receive and of the blessings for all of those who believe.
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