I am seated in the second row, feeling a little guilty at having partaken a second helping of gajar ka halwa at the community dinner. I had been quite circumspect about the dinner servings to keep my Nafs in control and to prepare myself for a spiritual evening with Sheikh Mokhtar.
When I placed the first bite of this home made gajar ka halwa in my mouth, I was transported to the little crowded bazaar of my childhood, where the treat after a hot day of shopping would be either lassi, Rabri or rarely because it was considered suspect in its level of hygienic preparation was gajar ka halwa.
Standing in the hall of a Midwest Community Center, millions of miles away from my hometown, with this delicious bite, I can see the simple Pakistani man, sitting on a raised platform in a large open-air café, where you buy food and eat it in the street. He is stirring a large shallow steel like container over a gas burner, sweating profusely in the hundred plus summer heat cooking the halwa. Despite the heat he has a smile for the little girl with the sweet tooth.
Later as a med student I ate at the street bazaar without guilt convincing my careful mother that no bugs could survive the 400-degree heat that was needed to cook the halwa.
I am once again seated in a gathering of Sheikh Mokhtar and am reminded of the weakness to my Bahemi Nafs.
The opening of the Sheikh ‘s talk has the effect of unraveling my cares, unwinding from a long arduous day of dunya and settling down into the time machine that will slowly rise and take me on a spiritual journey.
He gives salutations to Allah SWT, and Prophet Muhammad Peace and blessings upon him and I understand only those two though he continues with many others and like always I make a note to check on their meaning when I get back.
He begins with ………..”Hearts are the containers of Love”. How true but what when your heart breaks, does all the love spill out? He continues” If we do not fill our hearts with the love of Allah and His Rasool (PBUH) then our hearts will fill with the love of others.” This is a statement that I have had to grapple with. Does it mean that to the exclusion of Allah there is to be no love of any one else in our hearts?
Listening to the Sheikh more carefully, doing some homework with his CDS, earlier, reading up and discussing it with the sages in our community here is what I understand:
Starting with a quote from my mentor in Residency, “we have to remember three things: The car, the road and the driver”. The car being my body, the road is my journey and my spiritual self is the driver. I realize now that sometimes my Nafs is in the drivers seat and sometimes my heart.
The main highway in our life is the road to the love of Allah. Our main goal of traversing on this main artery is to eventually be able to see Allah’s Nur and end up in Jannah. So what about all the other legitimate loves in our lives? Our spouse, our children, our kin and our friends? In this analogy they are the little rest stops we take while we are on The Road to Love. At these stops we nourish ourselves, we help and nourish them keeping in mind that we are doing it so that we can be fit and able to be back on The Highway to Love again.
Sometimes many of us including me are so entranced by one of the rest stops that we don’t want to get back on the road again. On some occasions closing time comes sooner then I think and I am literally pushed out to go back on the road. Sometimes we get so attached that losing the possibility to remain at the rest stop devastates us.
The Sheikh interrupts my reverie to quote the Quran “ There are of human beings who take friends, allies/confidantes to whom they express love like they have for Allah” My guilt titer rises. And yet ……I think Love calls us to Allah, and as we turn our face to it, the breeze of the Rahma of Allah SWT caresses us and we re -begin our journey.
My musings end as the Sheikh embarks on his next statement laden with a million nuances:“If we do not fill our hearts with the fear of Allah SWT then we will fill it with the fear of others”
Going back to my analogy of The Road to Love, fear may stalk us on the road in many guises. These may be a flat tire, lack of food, an ice storm, a cop, or a bandit, stopping us and threatening us. Translating it into the real world we may be oppressed by our bosses, our fears and anxieties or other emotions or entities. We may become paralyzed or so afraid that we may promise the perpetrators of fear that we will never to go back on the road of love.
We may end up fearing them more than we fear the disobedience of Allah and or more than our desire for attaining the Love of Allah.It is my impression that Allah calls kindly, and gives us his mercy and love but if we do not fear him and continue to disobey him, the climate changes.
The Sheikh very gently throws in a bombshell “ Tawheed can only come genuinely alive when you feel with your heart what you say with your tongue”
This is a sentence of reckoning, I look around there is pin drop silence everyone is deep in thought.He continues” those who live experiential emaan, they are more intense in their love of Allah and the highest level is to be “Khaleel”.
I recall that Allah SWT mentions Ibrahim ( AS) as His Khaleel in the Quran. Can we even aspire for that level I think feeling deflated.
The Sheikh gives the examples of the many Prophets and ambiyas who loved Allah. Dawood AS (David’s) love for Allah is illustrated by his supplication to Allah SWT:
Ya Allah my ‘ hub ‘(love) for you—let it be more beloved for me than the ‘hub’I have for my Nafs (my self), my wife, my family, and my children. (this kind of a love is experiential).
Here the talk becomes more complex.How does one gain access to the love of Allah, and why do we love Allah? Usually one has to see someone to fall in love with them, but we do not see Allah! Do we know Allah?
We cannot see Allah but we can get a glimpse of him through His attributes and the results of His attributes. His siffaat (attributes) are veiled from us by his acts. Do we actually see His acts? No we only see the results of His acts. We love him by gaining knowledge about Him via observing and realizing his actions and connecting them to His attributes (sifaat) Thus if we don’t know Him we cannot love Him.
Our first step to start on the path of the Love of Allah is to get to know Him through his siffaat (attributes) by connecting them to the acts of Allah Subhanawataala.
In a hadith Prophet Muhammad PBUH said” Do you love Allah on account of the bounties that he nourishes you with?” That seemed like a very superficial reason for loving Him, important though superficial.The reason we love Allah is because He is our Creator, and the Creator of all beauty.
The Sheikh then smiles and throws in a soul searcher Hadith: “ How often do I sit quietly and calmly and reflect on Allah SWT’s Naimah (bounties)?If our cup is filled with distractions there is no place for reflecting on Allah’s naimahs.Allah is loved because we have knowledge of Him and Rasool Allah is loved because he is the means to Allah SWT and taught us “How to love Allah”Thus anyone missing to obey, to follow and to send salawaat (durood) to Prophet Muhammad PBUH has missed the way to Jannah and the love of Allah.
The Sheikh calls this an evening of Dhikr, not a lecture. I look around, the chairs are situated in an L, with each arm of the L holding women on one side, and men on the other, I can see a fourteen year old young boy, his attention is rapt.
We are truly in dhikr, we are being gently pulled away from dunya to raise our psyches towards Allah and leave the static of this world even if it is for a brief period.
As I listen to the Sheikh’s resonant voice ringing with sincerity, inviting us to love Allah, the background noises of children playing in the other room and the clanging of the dishes recede and I think of RasoolAllah……… without a doubt a beloved of Allah and yet so humble and so fearful!
Love fills my heart edged with gratefulness.