Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Shaykh, the Smoker, the Soccer Ball and a Tasbih

The beautiful dream that is my pilgrimage is continuing.

A SHORT INTRODUCTION. As you may have read from my Page about The Writer and the Blog (and if you haven’t, why haven’t you?), I admitted some lingering acquaintance with a gang of Sufis who weekly congregate in a zawiya (small mosque) near my house. As with all Sufi groups, they have a Kalifah (leader) whom I shall refer to as ‘the Shaykh’. So he knows of me and I know of him. Well, perhaps that’s a little presumptuous of me – he probably knows me a little better than I know him. Okay, on with the story…

A WHITE TASBIH. I was resting at home after my pilgrimage and arranging gifts for my friends and family when suddenly I realised that I have bought no gift for the Shaykh. Feeling guilty, I found a string of 33 white turquoise bead tasbih (rosary) which I thought fitting for him. Well… that’s the best I can find from my little treasure trove.

In time however I started to question my choice. After all, as a sufi master, surely the man probably has a whole shed full of tasbih. And I felt shameful that the gift is merely an after thought. So in the end I decided not to give the Shaykh any gift at all (he would understand, surely…) and to instead give the present to my good buddy, Shal. On Friday evening I arranged to meet with him at a nearby coffee shop.

CAUGHT SMOKING. So I was there with Shal, happily drinking, eating and smoking, recounting my experiences while he was busy going through the pilgrimage pictures on my laptop. My reverie ended when I heard a customer remark from an adjacent table, “Cigarette smoke makes me cough…” I turned to see who the wise guy was when I suddenly jumped from my stool in fright – it was the Shaykh, you see, sitting not more than a feet to my right. All Shaykhs of this particular Sufi Order really (really) dislikes smoking and continuously advise all their stubborn and disobedient mureeds (students) to quit. So you can understand why I was surprised and embarrassed…

Well, anyways, the Shaykh was with his companion and driver. I kissed his hand, and we made light talk. All the while I felt the white tasbih burning a hole in my pocket as I contemplated what to do now. Should I give him then? What shall I give Shal in return?

MAY I GIVE YOU A GIFT? Finally, I resolved to give the Shaykh the tasbih anyway. I felt that I had no choice given the circumstances. Nervously I offered the tasbih to him. He tried to make a joke that the beads (white with some fine lines of yellow / gold) reminded him of a soccer ball (The Jobulani ball, I think he meant). I laughed even though it was not very funny. It is always a good policy to be polite when you are talking to a Sufi Master. Ha ha ha …

YOU ARE SMOKING IN THE HOLY LAND! We spent the rest of the hour showing the Shaykh pictures of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and Jericho (he hasn’t been to Israel). Whenever we came to a picture of me holding a cigarette in my lips or hands (which is often, I admit) I quickly clicked to the next photo. Shal noticed and could barely contain his mirth and entertainment at my discomfort.

After our holiday snap session, the Shaykh finally left with his companion en route for his house which lies on top of the hill. My buddy didn’t go home empty-handed, for I recalled that I still had one turquoise tasbih available (blue this time), which I shamelessly gave him in replacement. But I confessed to Shal what actually happened. He remarked ruefully, “Well, to be honest, I kinda liked the white one better… but I guess that’s the Shaykh’s good fortune!”

Is there any better way to return from a pilgrimage than to be greeted by a Shaykh? And is there a finer companion than an accommodating friend who is willing to forgive the faults and eccentricities of a sinner? I am happy, sunshine.

167. World Weary

World weary, The mind becomes numb,

And because it considers itself superior,

It feigns deafness to the good advice,

And exhortations of the heart.

The heart, unbowed, unbroken,

Takes its sustenance from a fountain In the heart of a Shaykh,

Who draws sustenance From the heart of Muhammad,

Who in turn, drinks from The Fountain of Divine Presence,

Beyond which there is no further Drawing or taking that we are aware of.

And Allah knows best.

May God shine a light in your life, better and brighter than mine, sunshine… for surely you deserve it more than me, your irredeemable sinner.

Pax Taufiqa.

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