Recently I messaged one of my teachers to explain to him of how overburdened I felt with my classes and study. I gave him the entire lowdown on all of my classes and how my day transpired. After sending this heartfelt message explaining how I have no time for myself and if he would suggest me maybe dropping a single class he replied to me, “No,” with all the emphasis on the hamza at the end of the word that Egyptians place on it. “This isn’t a lot, maybe you can even add more to that. This is how you should be, you’re a student of the sacred sciences, it’s obligatory on you to push yourself.”
I won’t deny that I was hoping he would have told me something else. Maybe explain to me that it’s Ramadan and maybe I should drop something, maybe miss Taraweeh for a night, maybe don’t worry about memorising the poem on theology, Ajrumiyyah, the poem on Tajweed and also the text on Maliki Fiqh, but instead he told me that I need to keep pushing and that there was no excuse for slowing down. I would be lying if I said I sleep like a normal person, my hours are all over the place during and outside of Ramadan. But why am I telling you all this? Because I was feeling overwhelmed and I think many of us reach these dark places of feeling like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, that things are just too much for us to handle. When I start having these feelings I do the following;
- Whenever I’m feeling down I reach into my backpack and I pull out two cards. One of them from a beautiful family in my local community back home, Sr. Iman and her family. They wrote me one of the sweetest cards before coming here, praying for the safety of my wife and I, and our spiritual and intellectual growth. I usually take a few moments to sit and read her card and my heart feels at ease again, then I look at the card I received from the local MSA. A card filled with short notes from the board, they’ll never realize how such a simple note makes such a difference in my life.
- The other thing I think about often is the future. 4,5,6 years is extremely short in the grand scheme of things. Even if I wasn’t here studying Islam, if I was doing anything else in life and looked back at this time, 20 or 30 years from now, it would be an inconsequential span of time. It will come and go in moments and because of that, I need to use every moment wisely. I need to exert myself as much as possible in order to achieve the maximum potential that I can reach.
In my first year here I remember sitting in a theology class, my Arabic was (and still is in my eyes) very weak and I could barely comprehend much of the teacher’s words but the poem we were using to understand Theology was easy to memorize. I remember complaining because though it was easy to memorize, it was difficult to understand.
“You don’t need to understand it right now, just memorize it,” the teacher would mention. I remember being so frustrated at those words, how could he possibly say that?! At the same time, I remember reading on Facebook someone back in the states guffaw at how religious clergy always speak so highly on rote memorization and how the Muslim world needs to step away from it because it is so backward, understanding should come before memorization. I agreed! But you see memorization is more than just committing words to mind, it encompasses acting upon that which has been committed to one’s mind, to find every moment to act upon those ideals that are embedded into them and to do so with a need to worship the Divine.
A year later my Arabic is much better, and I have started taking classes specific to preparing for the Azhar exam. Low and behold the book on Theology for my preparation exam not only uses the same terminology my teacher used to use, (the terminology I forced myself to endure since I didn’t understand much of it), but everything is based on the same poem I had forced myself to memorise as much of as possible. Now here I am in a class with other students, all of whom had never covered this subject before and I’m blurting out answers that I didn’t realise was inside me, all the while they are looking at me wondering if I had really only lived and started studying a year ago because why would a student from America already have been memorising a poem with over 70 lines speaking on the things that are possible, necessary and impossible for God.
Which brings me to these few lessons. There is wisdom in the words of scholars, or in the words of people who have done it before you and have spent their lives in these fields of study. Here I am now attempting to build a well inside my heart with all of the knowledge that I will undoubtedly acquire over the next several years. Right now my well is shallow and I have yet to hit the water, but I’ve placed a bucket inside, and began to tie a rope to it. Eventually, I will hit the water and the well of my heart will begin to fill.
When some people return home from their studies they understand concepts well, but they never took the time to memorize them, and for them, they will be like those that will walk to the river Nile with an empty bucket to bring water back to the questioners. They will have to spend extra time finding answers, going back to previous books and texts to find their notes and thoughts (naturally to a degree all of us will).
Others who were busy with other tasks while studying, or they couldn’t stop picking up projects back in their home community, or they decided to get caught up in wander lusting, or they just spent more time in the gym than in the books, they will return home to be asked a plethora of questions but because they neither memorized the texts and poetry, nor comprehended them at a high level, they will be like those that go back to a desert that they were supposed to bring water to. In this desert, they will have to use the people’s hard earned money and time to travel to the ocean only to bring back the people salty water that they are unable to swallow. And that is if they even make it to the ocean, they might die on the journey (a parable of those whose hearts were never ready for the job they were thrusted into).
But for the student that memorized it all, that exerted themselves, that also comprehended what they studied. They will be the one who comes back to their community with a well. That well will have been built inside their own heart, inside it will be all of the poetry, texts, books, thoughts of teachers and all of the comprehension. Their bucket will be sealed with the spirituality of their teachers, their prayers, and their love. When the people come to them with questions they will reach down into their endless well and come up with a river that will quench the thirst of all those that ask. All because they took the advice of their teachers and exerted themselves when they were given this sacred opportunity. They didn’t enjoy themselves as much as others, their spouse may not have had as much time with them while studying, they probably didn’t get to see the land like many others, but because of that. . . they, their family, and their community will never thirst while they are around.
May God make me, you and all those students out there like the final student, and this is a reminder as to the rank of those who devote themselves to the path . . . for those who believe.
Narrated Abu Musa:
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “The example of guidance and knowledge with which God has sent me is like abundant rain falling on the earth, some of which was fertile soil that absorbed rain water and brought forth vegetation and grass in abundance. (And) another portion of it was hard and held the rain-water and God benefited the people with it and they utilized it for drinking, making their animals drink from it and for irrigation of the land for cultivation. (And) a portion of it was barren which could neither hold the water nor bring forth vegetation (then that land gave no benefits). The first is the example of the person who comprehends God’s religion and gets benefit (from the knowledge) which God has revealed through me (the Prophets and learns and then teaches others. The last example is that of a person who does not care for it and does not take God’s guidance revealed through me (He is like that barren land.)”
Abud-Darda (May God be pleased with him) reported:
The Messenger of God (ﷺ) said, “He who follows a path in quest of knowledge, God will make the path of Paradise easy to him. The angels lower their wings over the seeker of knowledge, being pleased with what he does. The inhabitants of the heavens and the earth and even the fish in the depth of the oceans seek forgiveness for him. The superiority of the learned man over the devout worshipper is like that of the full moon to the rest of the stars (i.e., in brightness). The learned are the heirs of the Prophets who bequeath neither dinar nor dirham but only that of knowledge; and he who acquires it, has in fact acquired an abundant portion.”
[Abu Dawud and At- Tirmidhi].