Egypt: The Return of a Pharaoh

As-salamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah

For those of us who lived in Egypt recently, the events that are currently unfolding were actually seen brewing quite some time ago. Much of today’s brutality does not come as a surprise unfortunately. It was just a few months ago when my own aunt was robbed by an armed man as she walked home. He held a machete to her neck, grabbed her bag and threatened to kill her if she fought back. He ripped her hijab and her niqab (face-veil) off and threw her viciously to the floor. Thankfully he didn’t have a chance to do more damage as two men shouted from a nearby building and he simply walked away, without fear. What was surprising though, was the fact that despite many calls to the police, they did not turn up. We ran to the crime scene, we then went in different directions for help, we went into pharmacy stores and dialled for the police, but they failed to come straight away (they turned up after hours). As crowds gathered around my aunt, and helped pick up her torn clothes, a man came to her, lifted his shirt and pointed to a bandaged wound on his back. “You were lucky,” he said, “I was mugged here just last week by a thief, but he actually did stab me. The police did not come to help.” I had been hearing of many incidents of muggings, burglaries, and armed criminals, but that day I realised something very sinister had began. Security, for all intent and purpose, had been decreased, and thugs were now on the scene and they carried a horrifically surprising level of confidence. This explains the phenomenon of the ‘Baltagiya’ (thugs) that we see in today’s chaos and mayhem. It isn’t just the army that is killing its people, but the thugs who’ve been given the license to kill are also responsible for many of the deaths.

I have been a private student in Nasr City over the years, living and mixing with locals, and in 2012, I too cheered along with the people when Morsi came into power. Not because I was a member of the Ikhwan, or that I was an Egyptian – I am neither. But I didn’t have to be to see the relief and happiness of the people. A lot that I met and spoke to were not Ikhwani, but they were just glad that Egyptians could finally choose their own leader and the country could progress forward.

But then the problems started. It wasn’t just security and police presence that had been lowered. But water issues had began to crop up, gas and electricity worsened, and management had generally become shoddier. This wasn’t the fault of the new President or the revolution, but it was becoming increasingly clear that some people some-where were doing everything they could to dismantle and sow seeds of unhappiness in the general public, all in the hopes of it reflecting back badly on current rule. And indeed it did.

The Massacre of al-Rabi’a

For several years, I used to go past and at times pray in Masjid al-Rabi’a and I often witnessed the incredible fortress that it was in society. Al-Rabi’a was a place where the poor would be fed on a regular basis, the homeless used to take shelter in it, the charity-givers would visit it hoping for some reward, and the ill were treated at its low-cost hospital often for free. But the 14th of August was the bloody day that witnessed armed men move in after shedding much blood outside, and it witnessed the burning of the House of Allah down to cinders, along with the hundreds of corpses that it held inside. This was a message firstly to the people of Madinat Nasr – a town known for its religiosity and conservative ways, a town housing a number of the Ikhwan. The fortress of al-Rabi’a which had been a towering figure throughout the sit-ins, remained so until the very last martyr; holding its worshippers tightly like a mother holding her dying child.

“And who is more unjust than those who forbid that Allah’s Name be mentioned in His Mosques and strive for their ruin? It was not fitting that such should themselves enter them (Allah’s Mosques) except in fear. For them there is disgrace in this world, and they will have a great torment in the Hereafter.” [al-Baqarah: 114]

However, it didn’t stop at al-Rabi’a. Masjid al-Iman and Masjid al-Fath also bore the tyranny of the military coup as the minbars took the suffocation of tear gas canisters and the minarets took bullet after bullet, and its refugees witnessed martyr after martyr. Mosques across the country were then taken up as a symbol of defiance and unity and as estimated, the masses pushed back as powerful waves from the doors of at least 28 mosques nationwide.

As difficult as it is to say this, the massacres at Rabi’a, al-Nahdah, Ramsis, and other parts of the country were not done haphazardly. It was part of an execution that had been planned beforehand by an army and a police force still loyal to their military man and president of the previous regime. Hosni Mubarak may be behind bars today, but he is still very much operative in the form of his man and loyal friend, ‘Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, and tomorrow he will re-emerge.

But for every Pharaoh, there is a Musa, and for the people of Egypt, there will be salvation insha’Allah, although it will come at a cost. Shaykh ‘Abdul-‘Aziz al-Turayfi recently wrote, “There is no salvation from the punishment of Allah. Pharaoh killed the newborns of Egypt out of fear that Musa would be born, and Allah made it such that he (Musa) would be raised in his home and nurtured by his wealth.” Today we are witnessing just that. To date, 4 or 5 children of high-ranking members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been purposely singled out, targeted, and killed. The army has an agenda to sever the Ikhwan movement from its roots, take out any offspring that can continue the struggle, and remove its memory from the next generation. But for a movement that has existed for more than 80 years, that has struggled, strengthened itself and survived the brutality, oppression, and repression of leaders long before al-Sisi and Mubarak, it is an agenda that will not succeed easily. The movement – like every other movement – has its own methodology that is subject to agreement and disagreement, but there is something to admire about them, and that is their love and sacrifice for Islam and da’wah.

Today in Egypt, it really is upon the Muslims who wish to see Islam included in the future of the country to support their brothers and honour the martyrs. Putting aside differences, it is clear that that the battle of old between Pharaoh and Musa is repeating itself as Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyyah, al-Nahdah, Ramsis and other places witness the unarmed civilians killed and fall down dead all because they wish to see ‘La ilaha illa’Allah’ raised in the country, and for their rightful leader to be reinstated. The greatest treachery and breach of loyalty is to turn away from your brother at the point of death and side with his killer. I was dismayed to hear voices of people who pray as much we do, who revere scholars and Islamic scholarship as much as we do, but who betrayed the trust of brotherhood in the hour nigh. It is hypocritical and from ignorance to consider the brutal army as being the legitimate figure of authority when events show us clearly that they were never a rightful authority, nor did they deserve that. They are a group who took up arms against the Muslims, betrayed their leader, and went out against him in enmity. To thus support them means to wash your hands in the same blood that they have shed unlawfully, and to remain silent about their actions means to give your consent to a marriage like the virgin bride-to-be.

The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) said, “Whoever takes up arms against us is not from us.” [al-Bukhari]

But dictators and the hypocrites who side with them, never learn. The more force they use, the stronger the waves return. The more they kill and oppress, the more they ignite the fire in people’s hearts. The more they subjugate and repress, the more they force out the Musa from among the masses. And the more they stomp their oppressive boot on the ground, the more they shake that ground beneath their own feet. A President was democratically elected after decades of state repression, but democracy has failed Egypt. Not because of the masses, but because the ‘Democracy’ that the West keeps pushing down the throats of Muslims world-wide is one that is highly intolerable of Islam and incapable of giving it due ground or due rights to lead a country and be a legitimate authority in the land. We have seen example after example that when this happens, the West and its allies raise the dreaded ‘Terrorism’ card and it all crumbles apart.

As I watch the events unfold in Egypt, I can’t help but see many parallels in the story of Musa. As the powerful but deceitful Egyptian media and the elite powers-that-be twist and tell tales against the protesters, eventually raising the red ‘terrorism’ card like their Western fathers, there were two verses that particularly struck me:

The first is when the chiefs of Pharaoh cry out in incitement against the innocent: “…Will you leave Musa and his people to spread mischief in the land, and to abandon you and your gods?” He (Pharaoh) said: “We will kill their sons, and let their women live, and we indeed have power over them.”

And the next is the verse after; and this is the only thing left for us to say to the people of Egypt: “Musa said to his people: “Seek help in Allah and be patient. Verily, the earth belongs to Allah. He gives it as a heritage to whoever He wills of His slaves, and the (blessed) end is for the righteous.” [al-A'raf: 127-128]

As for that powerful and deceitful media, I have one befitting verse for them: “He (Pharaoh) said: ‘Throw!’ And when they threw, they cast a spell upon the people’s eyes, and overawed them, and produced a mighty spell.” [al-A'raf: 116]

The Pharaoh of today’s Egypt has his magicians in the form of al-falul (remnants of the previous regime) and the Egyptian media, and for months they have been working hard to brainwash and cast the spell of enmity against their brothers, such that they do not even feel shame when they see innocent blood being spilled. But as the story of old tells us: it is Musa who will be aided and it is the righteous worshippers of Allah that will be given the land as inheritance.

Studying Abroad: What no-one really prepares you for.

As-salamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah

I felt like writing, so… :)

I took this picture while I was studying out in Egypt. It looks so cool and ‘talib al-’ilm’-y right? Studying under candlelight and all…

Pfft! Truth is, electricity had gone out for what seemed like the hundredth time, and I was reduced to cowering in my room, with a candle and a blanket, looking up sharply at every howl of the wind and then looking away pretending not to notice the dark flickering shadows across the walls and curtains that candles can make (I used to believe whoever said candles are romantic, and they are, until you’re left in a pitch black apartment with winds and dogs howling outside, metal gates creaking, and those dreadful eerie shadows. The worst is when you hear something fall from the cabinet in the toilet… why is it always the toilet!)

Not to exaggerate, one thing is for sure; when the electricity blows out, life suddenly transforms. After about an hour, it makes you want to cry. I couldn’t really do anything when this happened; no light, no heat, no internet, the fridge starts melting (when summer), entire street is plunged into darkness so you can’t even go outside, flatmates grab you like you’re the security guard, or you all sit there watching each other and then eyeing the one candle you’re forced to share between you.

The reality of how people must’ve lived in the past and just how much our generations rely on technology kinda hits you in the face, and it’s humbling.

Most students from the West often get a harsh reality check when they go abroad to study. We’re fed with an idealistic view of talab al-’ilm so when we meet certain inconveniences such as lack of water or electricity, or dealing with a difficult system or people (or the bureaucracy that’s associated with that), we’re suddenly made to realise (and appreciate) the comfortable, protected, and luxurious life we live back home.

Maybe one day I’ll write about each of these ‘inconveniences’ because I’ve unfortunately witnessed many students cut their journey in half and return home because of the shock or inability to deal with things. I remember walking down from the shops with a few sisters one time, and we were just chatting away in English (as you do when abroad… typical!), when a couple of sisters literally came running to us. They say you recognise your own, and that’s a truth right there. We didn’t know who they were, but straight away we knew they were from the UK.

“As-salamu `alaykum!!”
*Shriek!* “Wa `alaykumusalam!
“OMG, we heard your accent as we passed!”
“OMG, you’re from London!”

Lol, I don’t know which group was happier as we all gleefully grinned from ear to ear, and caught up with each other like we were old friends. But these two sisters, poor things, had only been in Cairo for a month. They initially intended to come for a longer period, but because of the culture shock and obstacles they faced, they were already preparing to leave.

“But what about your studies?” We asked.
“Sisters, we really can’t take it here, our apartment is infested with cockroaches, we had a bad experience with x-y-z, maybe we’ll come back another time.”

I didn’t really blame them. Infestation is one thing that I believe can truly drive you insane, especially if you like things clean and orderly like me :( But it begs the question, is it enough to make you abandon studies and depart? And it’s a question that everyone who plans to go out there and study should ask themselves; will a series of issues make you turn back on your feet, or will you pull through no matter what?

You might be thinking, ‘Whatever! I could so handle that.’ Haha, I thought so too… until I found myself in major battles against mosquitoes and other 2cm animals every single night. Just think: sleep deprivation, trying to hit something that’s flying at the speed of light, and being forced to do acrobatic moves as you leap from one side of the room to the other just to escape that.. that.. whatever that new species of animal that is!

When you see students returning humbled and shy, sometimes it’s because of their studies, but sometimes it’s because they’ve lost about 50 battles against tiny creatures and flying cockroaches.

Patience is key, and this is one major principle that talab al-’ilm (seeking knowledge) will teach you again and again. Mark my words, dear brethren.

The first ever time I went abroad, the main pipeline which delivered water into our town burst. Now, if this ever happened in England there’d probably be mass panic, emergency services would quick come onto the scene, maybe every home would be given replacement water or a water tank etc. But here, nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. We were left wondering who stole our water! We called the plumbers and they left after a few mins scratching their head. Subhan’Allah as the day dragged on, I never realised just how much we depend on water; from drinking it, to washing the dishes; it’s a right spectacle when a family home does not have running water. I’m sorry but I’ll tell you now, the first places to suffer are the bathroom and the kitchen. We had no water for 10 days. Yes, that’s 10 whole summer days. It was crazy (and crazier to realise that for some people out there in the world, this is life!), but alhamdulillah we quickly improvised and adapted, and learnt how to use just 1 bottle of water for a million uses. Everyone in town was buying water bottles until the stores ran out, and then the people turned to taking water from the sprinklers outside (until we were informed it was actually semi-filtered sewage water!). Honestly, never again did I complain about the bleached tap-water once it returned to our town and home. I drank glass after glass in sheer gratitude.

So, if you’re going out there to study, have patience. And when you’re coming from the West, it’s the small things that can build up and really test your limits. And I’m not talking about a harf or two in the books… think of other small things (that have more arms and legs than you).

Have patience, and trust me, after all is finished and done, you’ll love to return and thank every single person, creature, and eerie shadow for teaching you the most beautiful thing in life: patience and the gift of appreciation.

Ma’asalam!

Rabi’ah al-`Adawiyah: Her legacy lives on.

As-salamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah,

When I lived in Egypt, having left just earlier this year, every time I walked past the Rabi’ah al-’Adawiyah mosque, I remembered the amazing personality that this masjid was named after. Rabi’ah was a 2nd century devout worshipper (‘abidah) from Basra, who was loved, respected, and revered by all those around her; from scholars to lay men, women, and children, from rulers to village-dwellers.

Today, that mosque continues her legacy as it shelters and holds countless oppressed worshippers in Nasr City, Cairo; burying its martyrs, feeding its poor, and sheltering its oppressed.

I thought to translate a few paragraphs from her biography in the books of Siyar for those not well-acquainted with her words of wisdom:

Rabi’ah al-`Adawiyah

Ibn ‘Asim and Riyah al-Qaysi reported: “We witnessed a man going to Rabi’ah al-‘Adawiyah and giving her forty Dinar. He said to her, “Use this to serve your needs.” She wept and raised her head to the sky saying, “He Knows that I am too shy of asking Him for the Dunya (world) although He owns it, so how can I seek to take it from someone who doesn’t even own it?”

§-§

Al-‘Abbad ibn al-Walid said, “Rabi’ah used to say, “Astaghfirullah (‘I seek the forgiveness of Allah) for the lack of truth in my saying ‘Astaghfirullah’.””

§-§

Sajaf ibn Mandhur: “I went to Rabi’ah while she was in prostration, and when she felt I was there, she lifted her head. There was a mark of prostration on her forehead looking like that of a murky pond due to her tears. I greeted her and she came to me saying, “O my son, do you have a need?” I said, “I only came to give you salaam (greeting).” She wept and said, “O Allah, conceal me.” She then supplicated with various supplications and got up to pray, and I left.”

§-§

Riyah al-Qaysi, Salih ibn ‘Abd al-Jalil, and Kilab went to Rabi’ah one day and began to mention the Dunya, criticising it and dispraising it. Rabi’ah said to them, “I see this world and its four corners present in your hearts.” They said, “And how do you know?!” She said, “You saw the closest thing to your hearts and began to talk about it!”

§-§

‘Abis ibn Marhum al-‘Attar said, “`Abdah bint Abi Shawwal was from the best of the women worshippers of Allah and she used to serve Rabi’ah. She said to me, “Rabi’ah would pray the whole night and just before Fajr (dawn) came, she would lie down for a light nap until Fajr came in. I would hear her jump from her sleep saying, “O soul, how long will you sleep for? When will you get up? I fear you will sleep such that nothing gets you up other than the screams of the Day of Rising!”

§-§

It was once said to Rabi’ah, “Have you ever done a deed that you saw to be accepted?” She said, “If there ever was, then I fear it is rejected.”

§-§

Sufyan al-Thawri was in front of Rabi’ah when he said, “Alas for the sadness!” She replied, “Don’t lie. Rather say: ‘Alas for the lack of sadness!’ For if you were truly sad, then life would not be so sweet for you.”

§-§

A man once said to her, “Make du’a for me.” She leaned against a wall said, “My Allah have mercy on you. Who am I? Rather obey your Lord and ask Him, for He indeed answers the call of the distressed.”

- Taken from ‘al-Atqiya’ al-Akhfiya’, by Sh. Sa’id ‘Abd al-’Adhim

“My daughter, where exactly are you?”

As-salamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah

They say that you learn from the etiquettes of a scholar more than you learn from his knowledge. This just couldn’t be more true. Every scholar I’ve seen, heard of and spoken to always amazed me with his/her character. And the greater their ‘ilm, the finer their character was.

Recently I began classes with a shaykh but the masjid he asked me to come to (where he did the classes) was quite complex to get to. I managed to reach a nearby location and gave him a call to get directions as I didn’t know any of the students. He tried to explain at first but the line was so bad that it cut off halfway. After 5-10 mins, he calls me back and says, “My daughter, where exactly are you?” As I was telling him, I saw a car pulling up across the road with the shaykh inside indicating for me to come. Subhan’Allah, it turns out he had actually stopped his class, brought a student along and came to pick me up! I was completely taken by surprise… A great shaykh like him coming to pick up a complete nobody like me. The humbleness and good character/gesture was extremely touching.

On top of that, he had brought along a student who wanted to recite to him (as he is a scholar in the 10 qira’at and grants ijazahs), so all the way along the road the student was reciting off by heart to him while he was listening/correcting and at the same time, showing me the route for when I next come.

I learnt so many lessons from this (and other incidents), mainly:

  • When serving in the way of Allah, humble yourself to those below you. Being a scholar or a learned one will always earn you respect but it is from lofty character to lower yourself for those below you.
  • Make great use of time. If you can kill two birds with one stone, do so. In the time I’ve spent with this shaykh, one of the striking things I’ve noticed about him is that despite his age, he never fails to make use of time. I was told of how a brother once came to visit him to recite and get ijazah but the shaykh was due to go on a long journey, so instead of telling him to come back on another day, he took the brother with him! He told him to prepare and the 10hr journey (with a 3-day stay), was enough for the student to recite nonstop and gain certification.
  • Although it’s good to have personal schedules, it is at times also extremely helpful for others if we go out of our way to fit them into our busy schedules. Be helpful. Maybe people’s circumstances are tough and they’re coming to you as a resort and a solution. Help them and Allah will help you!
  • In relation to the above, it’s really crucial for our scholars to make time for the women and sisters of this Ummah, particularly in the absence of female scholars. Sometimes, we see brothers crowding around a shaykh or taking up all his time and attention such that he’s not able to give equal time to sisters. What really impressed me about this scholar was the way he treated his female students. He would dedicate his time and efforts to whoever came, and let them complete their learning. In fact many times, he would give more time to the sisters than the brothers! His wife told me that once, two sisters travelled in from distant towns (one from North Egypt, the other from South Egypt) to learn from him and get an ijazah. He told his family to accommodate for one of the sisters so she lived with them, while the other one stayed nearby with a friend. In just 3 days, he managed to listen to and review their hifdh/qira’ah. I was surprised and asked ‘how’, because he has lots of students, particularly brothers. She replied that wherever he went, he took the sisters along with him and they would recite. If he went to do classes in another institute, he would take them and they’ll be reciting in the car (btw, he’s very talented in listening to two different people reciting at once!). In the masjid, they only brought water and dates as food while they would recite the whole day from morning till evening (very strong sisters, masha’Allah!) until they completed their ijazah in just 3 days and returned to their respective cities in a short time. Oh and his family (including the women!) are all educated and qualified in this ‘ilm, showing that he dedicated a great deal to them.
  • Age is nothing but a number. The shaykh – like many shuyukh – is just as active as the youth that I see. After Fajr prayer, he sits in his mosque for a minimum of 12 hours, receiving students, teaching them the Book of Allah and helping them return home with some ‘ilm from him.
  • While we should give our utmost respect and honour to our scholars, we should also realise that they are human beings too, and sometimes they are also struggling with the trials of fame. So whenever possible, we should help them in their struggles, i.e. we shouldn’t idolize them or make them into celebrities. The celebrity culture which has infiltrated Islamic knowledge particularly in the West is breaking the backs of our du’at and scholars!
  • Seize opportunities that Allah presents to you and don’t let shyness prevent you from progressing and taking up opportunities.
  • I would write more but I must dash!

Luqman said to his son, “O my son, sit with the scholars, crowd them at the knees! For indeed, hearts come to life with words of wisdom just like the dead earth comes back to life with the downpour of rain.”

- Mukhtasar Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din, by Imam al-Ghazali


May Allah place us in the company of the righteous and allow us to benefit from them and be of benefit to others, ameen.

Broken pieces of clay and pottery: A lesson in Humanity

As-salamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah

I was once walking along a narrow but busy street in Cairo when ahead of me was a donkey-cart laden with handmade pottery and clay utensils. It was owned by an old man who had been walking slowly beside it, and trying to sell whatever he could to make an income. He walked with hunched-shoulders, a turbun tied round his head like a Sa’idi from Upper Egypt, his face wrinkled by age and the harsh Egyptian sun. It wasn’t hard to see that many difficult years had passed over him and he had probably been doing this for a long while.

As I continued to walk, I heard a cry and some commotion. The donkey had staggered back (probably startled by something) and as a result, the harnessing pushed the cart upwards, sending the pottery and clay shattering out into the street. It was heartbreaking to see the poor man’s face turn dark and sorrowful. With a heavy heart, he began to pick up the broken and chipped pieces of clay and pottery; his livelihood and merchandise which no-one was going to buy now.

But as he did so, I began to see random people come out of shops and apartments, hurrying towards him and picking up his pottery from the street. There was no more hustle and bustle; just a quiet silence as people stopped to help him. Cars stopped out of respect, or slowly diverted around the broken and chipped clay. What was truly moving was to see many people pull out money and give it to the man as if they were purchasing the broken clay, except they weren’t buying anything (other than Paradise I guess). Drivers stuck out money from their window for the poor aged man, and almost every person who helped pick up the pieces also chipped in with sadaqah. They realised that today, he wasn’t going to be making much money… in fact for that whole month to come, he probably wasn’t going to be making much at all.

It was incredible to see the hearts of people move like this. Humanity may disappear and people may be cruel towards the poor in certain places and at certain times, but in other places and at other times, the humanity is truly beautiful.

Keep your heart close to the poor and needy, they help to keep it alive.