Saturday, September 29, 2007
My journey within started about 2 years ago, shortly after a near-fatal car accident early one Sunday morning. I won't go into the detail of this life-changing experience, but suffice it to say that there is a decided before and after my life, in terms of this accident. Shortly afterward, I started having the most vivid, clear and living dreams that I could possibly imagine. In these dreams, in a variety of contexts, I would be in a mosque making sajdah (prostration) in salat (prayer). Frequently, I would wake up from these dreams with tears of joy, familiarity and peace streaming down my cheeks. I had no idea what was happening to me. I could not process these dreams and the undeniable sense of satisfcation and contentment that they left me with. My lifestyle was thoroughly Christian, and I was a happy one at that. I was a member of a local rather fundamentalist Baptist Church (long, long, long story!), and I enjoyed every moment I spent in the congregation. I loved the people, I had a personal experience of the mercy and love of God, and I was happy, truly happy. And yet, these dreams continued week after week. It seemed the intensity of the dreams grew stronger as time passed. Words fail me to express my experience of these dreams. I still have vivid memories of waking up during the night, or sometimes only in the mornings, and weeping as if I had lost something or someone dear to me. I was sometimes crying for joy, and sometimes with inexpressible sadness, mourning for something (Islam) I knew, and yet did not know. I recall, at times, saying to myself: I just wish I could accept Islam, but everything in me rejects it! So, this process continued for many weeks and months, until shortly before I left for the UAE, just over a month ago.
A Muslim colleague and friend at the college where I taught one day remarked in passing that I should check out a certain website that advertises jobs in the UAE. I had mentioned to her before that that I needed an adventure and a new challenge in my life which, somehow, seemed to have become staid and boring. From the day she mentioned this, to my arrival in the UAE was just under 2 weeks! This is the pace at which my uprooting in South Africa and my settling down in the UAE happened. Still, after my arrival, I still very much considered myself to be a happy, contented Christian. I planned to join the local Evangelical congregation here in Al Ain, but somehow never got to go there.
When classes started at our school, I suddenly became intensely aware, once more, of the dreams I described above. I felt so close to the energy and purpose that was invested in them and day by day I took a step closer to embracing Islam. A number of my students would not believe that I was not a Muslim. They refused to. (It is not uncommon amongst Muslims to "discern" the religion of another person!) Many of these boys were convinced that I was a Muslim. Well, I just shrugged it off, and told myself that God would work things out in His way, and in His time. I bought a few Islamic books and got stuck into reading them for many hours a day. I just couldn't stop. Every word seemed to sink into my thirsty soul. At about this time, we had a beautiful rain storm right here in the desert. It was awesome to see something so unexpected! I felt like the dry desert sand on which the peace, mercy and blessing of Allah was starting to rain - absorbing every drop of this pure life-giving essence, and feeling my inner person becoming alive again. (You may want to read of my "Rose of Jericho" dream on my blog - www.satsuka.blogspot.com).
None of this experience is quantifiable in the positivist sense of the word. What point is there to giving my experience a 1-10 rating, or to dissect it in the laboratories of rational and objective analysis? My experience itself defied even my best attempts to understand, and yet I was carried along by its potent force, ever closer to that blessed moment when I uttered the shahadah in faith and with much gratitude, just over a week ago.
Interestingly, the hadith has many references to the power of dreams. Here are some:
Hadith - Bukhari 9:168, Narrated Abu Salama
I used to see a dream which would make me sick till I heard Abu Qatada saying, "I too, used to see a dream which would make me sick till I heard the Prophet saying, "A good dream is from Allah, so if anyone of you saw a dream which he liked, he should not tell it to anybody except to the one whom he loves, and if he saw a dream which he disliked, then he should seek refuge with Allah from its evil and from the evil of Satan, and spit three times (on his left) and should not tell it to anybody, for it will not harm him."
Hadith - Sahih Bukhari 9:144, Narrated Abu Huraira
I am not surprised, then, that my own dreams were fulfilled this way, since the Prophet (peace be upon him!) pointed out that every believer's dreams is one forty-sixth part of prophetism.
So, my own experience has been rather like yoking the oxen behind the wagon, in some sense. It has been a most mystical journey, most of which I still do not understand, cognitively. But when I make salat, either privately or in a masjid, there is absolutely no doubt in my heart (as opposed to my "mind") that this is who I truly am. In a profound sense, to me, I have become who I once was - a Muslim. May Allah guide me through the next few years as I learn to appreciate and understand this experience. Here are the words of the Holy Qur'an in conclusion:
O you that believe! Fear Allah, and believe in His Messenger, and He will bestow on you a double portion of His mercy: He will provide for you a Light by which you shall walk (straight in your path), and He will forgive you (your past): for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful [Al-Hadid - 57:28].
Friday, September 28, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
My colleague and brother Muslim, Abdullah (at whose house I had Iftar last week), is stricken with tragedy. His nephew tragically died in a car crash over the weekend. They were sharing in Iftar at the weekend. With tears in his eyes he told me yesterday that we all have to be ready to meet our Maker. Maybe some of us have 40 years left to live, others maybe have a day. Who knows? This point was driven home clearly today when 2 of my Grade 11 students were absent from class because they had a death in the family - one boy's grandfather died, the other boy's father died.
Earlier today I was called over to the office of the Head of the Arabic Department in our school, and I sat down to a chat with Adil about my recent conversion to Islam. I am overwhelmed by the goodwill and kindness of Muslims and how they accept me into their lives and community without the slightest trace of animosity or reservation. When I made my Shahadah at the Zayed House for Islamic Culture last week, a brother there explained to me that Islam is universal and that the call to true faith and repentance by Allah is for all people, everywhere. I am beginning to see the practical side of this and I am saddened to know that in "the West" we still propagate such unfortunate bias and prejudice against Muslims. When I stand on these soils in this desert, as a Muslim, I begin to understand the perspective that Muslims have. The Islamic Ummah (community, people of faith) are close-knit and we share in fraternal love and respect for each other. I have never felt so much at home in a foreign country among people whose language I adore (because it is beautiful in itself and because the Holy Qur'an was given to us in this language) but whose language I don't yet understand!
Ah, I am so happy for one of my Grade 9 classes who managed to up their class average in an exam by about 30%! Prep F - you guys are stars. Well done!!
Man, am I looking forward to this weekend - I just want to sleep, sleep, sleep...
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Today I made my Shahadah at the Zayed Centre for Islamic Culture in Al Ain. Alhamdulillah! I have come home to the religion of Allah.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Monday, September 17, 2007
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Saturday, September 15, 2007
A year ago, I had a dream that would prove to be a sign post on my way to the United Arab Emirates. I was looking at a protest march of Palestinians, protesting over the murder of their brothers by Israeli soldiers. We have all seen the suffering and tears of the Palestinian people. We know the pain. As I watched in awe with much agony, I heared a voice repeat a few times: The Rose of Jericho, the Rose of Jericho. I had no idea what this meant, but for some reason or other the words clung to my soul like a choice blessing of the Almighty. I googled "Rose of Jericho" and discovered that it is a breath-taking plant. Evidently, this plant ostensibly appears to be dead, until water is poured over it. In a flash, it appears to be resurrected from the dead and before your eyes new life sprouts in its dry twigs. So awesome is this that many people refer to this plant as the "Resurrection Plant" and they may leave it at the graveside as an expression of their faith in the Day of Resurrection.
After reflecting on this awesome plant for a while, I knew that its message to me was this: In the desert you will live again! I have no doubt that my being here in the UAE, in the desert of Al Ain, is a fulfilment of the promise of this plant in my dreams. Here in the desert I am living again! The name "Al Ain" refers to "The Eye" that gives water in a dry land. It is here that fresh water is being poured over me. It is here that the dryness of my own life revives!
There is no way to describe the uncanny familiarity that I have with this land, its people, its culture and its religion. It's like all of this is part of the unfolding mystery of my personal purpose.
Thank you UAE, thank you my students at the Military High School in Al Ain for allowing me to be a part of your dream and for embracing me. Alhamdulillah!