TRANSFORMATIONS

Compiled By: Hajj Mustafa Ali

My Story: Halimah

Africa is the continent of Islam and this has been so from the time of Yusuf, (alayhi salem) and the prophets before him until the time of the Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu alayhi wa salem).  The Companions of the Prophet made two hijras to Abyssinia.  Here, they were given protection from Meccan persecution by An Najashi (the Negus), ruler of Abyssinia.  It was to Africa also that the mainly Hassani Ahlul Bayt fled to escape the persecution unleashed, after the death of the Prophet and Imam `Ali (peace be upon them), by the Umayyads and continued by the Abbasids.  The Ahlul Bayt moved across the Sahara desert and further south, welcomed by the peoples of the continent, bringing with them a strong and vibrant expectation of the coming Imam al Mahdi that has caused this part of the world, especially in the area of the present day Sudanic-Maghribi zone, to have had the greatest number of revivalist movements anywhere in the world.  Many centuries before the time of the Prophet (sallalahu alayhi wa salem) there had been migrations from the Arabian Peninsula to mainland Africa.  The Yoruba nation, the most culturally homogenous and largest tribe of present day Nigeria, are descendants of Yarub in pre-Islamic times to Africa and the linguistic structure of the Yoruba language still bears out to the connection with ancient Arabia.  Islam is thus the indigenous way of life of the peoples of the continent.

Our fitra (natural disposition) when born is to be Muslim, it is our parents who bring out that Islam in us or turn us away from it.  With a coming of age and the development of discrimination there can be a voluntary return to Islam.  My return to Islam was as Allah willed.  He does as He pleases with His slaves, both Muslim and kafir and it is not for us to say that it was some particular insight or privilege that brought us to Islam.  All of this is only a pretext since He is the only Actor.  Being African, I was born into an environment in which the overwhelming majority of the population were Muslim, but in which the non-Muslim dominant minority of Christians knew little about Islam and were even less interested in wanting to learn.

As a child growing up and going to primary and secondary schools, there was very little I knew about Muslims except for those occasional moments, during what I knew to be the fasting periods, when I would notice the alufas (alims) giving tafsirs at night, sitting down at small tables with their lamps and with groups of people from the neighborhood listening.  The Christian socialization process meant that we grew up with the notion that Muslims were basically backward, but that there were a few “enlightened” ones that we could associate with.  One strong impression that stayed with me from sixth form history classes was that the Muslims were responsible for all the ills in the East African coastal regions and that it was the European church fathers who remedied this state of affairs.  Needless to say, by extension, I felt that this was the case for the rest of the continent.

University life abroad in England was a period of confused misery.  As a social anthropology student I could not understand why all our attention was focused on the simple or so-called pre-industrial societies and why it was that all analyses of such societies had to be from a specifically Western frame of reference.  I also sensed a rather obnoxious paternalism behind all the facts, figures and theories that I wanted to reject without knowing what I could replace it with.  However, it would be wrong to say that this confusion on my part resulted from any high intellectual reasoning or perception or that I was in search of some rewarding spiritual fulfillment that would bridge this gap and make me feel “whole again”.  At a point I believe I rejected Christianity on the emotional grounds of abhorring the assisting role the missionaries gave the European agents in the colonization of Africa.  Furthermore, a declared rejection of an alien religion was expected of anyone with some measure of black consciousness.  I had heard it expressed that Islam was the solution to the problems of mankind and the oppressed but my own prejudices did not allow me to seriously review the truth of this statement.

I came back to Nigeria after having completed my studies abroad, returning to work as a Curator in that country’s National Museum.  I soon became bored with my job because apart from the fact that museums are culturally alien to most of us here, I found that African image we were trying so hard to project meant little more than paying lip service to dance, drama and a study of art objects and archaeological artifacts.  I later came to learn that most African cultures are the end result of the decadence that set in with the fall of Firaunic Egypt and the gradual loss of its sciences and knowledge and that it was the decadence of ancient Egyptian civilization itself and its idol worship that caused Allah ta`ala to send Musa and his brother Haroon (peace be upon them) to the court of Ramses 2 to challenge the power and knowledge.

A mutual friend introduced me to my husband and he was responsible for bringing me to Islam.  I became Muslim before getting married.  By the natural sympathy that exists between husband and wife, knowledge of Islam and Muslims was opened up to me, not so much by my own effort but more because the man I was married to was, at the time of our marriage in a process of tremendous upheaval and a moving away from the state of being nominally Muslim to a reawakening to Islam that shook all those, both friends and family, that had known him before this time.  In his own search and yearning for knowledge of Allah I was drawn into finding out more about Africa, its true history, the prophets and messengers and the Qur'an.  I also began to understand more about the society I had been born into and the increasing polarization and growing tensions between the Muslims and the minority Christian elite and the reasons for this state of affairs.

Africa is the only continent with a majority Muslim population and Nigeria with its enormous human and mineral resources and with the fifth largest Muslim population in the world could lead Africa in the direction of an Islamic revival if this potential were not curtailed in its embryonic stages.  Thus from the nineteen seventies and even before, international Christian bodies have heavily influenced events in the country with the establishment of lobbies whose sole aim is to monitor all Muslim activities, establish an anti-Muslim press and make all kinds of irrational demands as a means to irritate and confuse the Muslims.  The declared leaders of the Muslims have so far done little to stall this tirade but the politics of official Islam is divorced from the love of the Prophet (sallalahu alayhi wa salem) and the iman to be found among the ordinary people.

How I became Muslim or why would not say very much about Islam itself and I feel it is very necessary to include this aspect of my experience in order not to confuse this with the born-again Christian phenomenon of being “saved” but with no real life-transaction.  Several years after being married and being Muslim I began to have an uncomfortable feeling that in spite of constantly having been taught what constituted Islam, iman and ihsan, having traveled world-wide, meeting Muslims from around the world, I had missed the point of being Muslim.  There was a realization that Islam was not politics or Islamic political rhetoric or gatherings of genteel Muslim company or being religious.  Contrary to what I knew to be the experiences of other people, I had not had some overpowering internal crisis that had led me to absolute peace with Islam.  From the teachings of my husband Shaykh Najib, who is an instructor in this path of knowledge, I was made to realize the missing ingredient in my `ibada and actions was knowing that the whole and total objective of our being alive is to arrive at knowledge of the process of life and death, which governs all created things.

He made me look around at the situation I had created for myself and said that I would have to turn my heart to face the fact that my Islam was no favor to Allah or the Muslims, or that it was my effort that brought me to Islam or that I was one of the chosen few for whom the Garden was a certainty.  Shaykh Najib told me that our business here is beyond these trivialities and the problem with Muslims is that they have reduced Allah to One Whose sole purpose of having created us is to record our actions and punish or reward us accordingly.  I was told that I would have to stop seeking the reward of the Garden or fearing the Fire and seek Allah ta`ala alone.  The only way to reach this would be by the application, with complete understanding of the five principles or performance criteria for discrimination which are the declaration of the kalimat, La ilaha il’Allah Muhammad Rasulullah (the declaration of the unity of Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah), salat (prostration worship), zakat (the increase in wealth tax), sawm (fasting in the month of Ramadan) and hajj (the visit to the House of Allah, for those with the means to do so).

I wondered what all this meant.  I knew that I was Muslim and I regularly made salat that the kalimat was what I declared when I became Muslim and I understood and had performed the other aspects of these five principles.  The problem was that my knowledge was disjointed.  I had not understood the five principles as a process.  With the realization of one’s distraction and recognition of all the various carnal and animalistic forms that the destructive self takes on, one makes the attestation, the kalimat, that banishes all doubt and uncertainty and takes on the performance of salat, the turning away, five times a day from all those affairs with the potential to increase one in this distraction.  With prostration (submission and death) comes growth (zakat), which is an increase in light and purity, followed by sawm (fasting), which are the greater jihad and the striving to dry out all the carnality in one.  The end result of the greater jihad being hajj (victory), which is the arrival at the House of the Lord.  The five principles are based on the form or pattern of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and they are a life-transaction or process, which we call Islam.  The Qur’an is the basic formula that provides the criteria for discrimination for every period of social or material development or stagnation that man has passed through.  However, the interpretation and application of this formula is by the ones who have made Allah their total world view, who have forsaken religiosity and for whom Qur’an is the mathematics for decoding life forms and patterns.  The result is flexibility and spontaneity in application and not rigidity because the decoding process is by ijtihad (extraction of current patterns by deduction from principles of performance criteria).

There must be scrupulousness in the observance of these five principles – a point-by-point exactitude in performance.  The failure of most of us is in this lack of scrupulousness, which cuts one off from cognizance of being constantly in the presence of Allah.  Nothing is to be taken for granted, even if it seems as trivial as the borrowing of a small item and not returning it to its owner.  In this mode of operations, outward appearances count for nothing.  Allah looks to our intentions.  It is not our outward actions that lead us to Allah or the time or effort that we believe we expend in the performance of what we see to be acts of `ibada (worship).  We cannot see or congratulate ourselves on the good that we see in ourselves.  The best we can do is to concentrate on what is not correct that we see emanating from ourselves and ask Allah in whose hand are the will and the power, to purify our intentions for us.  When intentions are balanced and correct, the actions that flow from them must also be correct.

The wali (friend) of Allah is not necessarily the one who looks the quietest, holiest or the purest.  Allah ta`ala can veil his friends with a covering of low-ness, crudeness; abrupt mannerisms, a love of talking or even an apparent worldly appearance and love of comfort that would make the religious people turn aside in contempt.  The recognition of such people is by what Allah causes of the truth to flow from them into the hearts of others.  This has always been the case with the prophets and messengers and the Imams of the Family of the Prophet (sallalahu alayhi wa salem).  Such men were always regarded as gangsters by the authorities of the day.  Allah causes whom He wills to accept, there are no proofs that can ever cause the men of Allah to be recognized, because proofs only exist for the people of doubt.

With all of this I felt that I was facing a formidable problem.  Suddenly, how or why I became Muslim did not seem to matter.  All of Allah’s creatures, both Muslim and non-Muslim are nothing but acts in Allah’s unfolding process of creation and both groups are described in the Qur’an.  It is not for the Muslim to feel arrogant before the non-Muslim, even though his kufr is not to be tolerated.  There are balanced limits of justice for both groups.  The forming or molding of each of us, with our intentions and actions, for the Fire or the Garden is expressly as Allah wills, free of emotions.  The Muslim is expressive of Allah’s attributes so the return will be to the Garden.  The kafir is expressive of His essence so the return here will be to the Fire.  Allah can change us as He wills from Islam to kufr or kufr to Islam and whichever state we are at the time of death was our natural disposition from the moment we were born.  Our only business then is to seek the face of Allah (have knowledge of Him) with the simplicity and lack of arrogance of the slave who cleans the shoes of his master, or the petty road-side trader who does not even stop to think that there is some profound service he is rendering to his fellow men because of the ordinariness of his daily livelihood.

Realization of this condition by way of an inward state was what I was made to understand that I would have to strive for.  My Western education and my own inhibitions had caused me to believe that outward reasoning or the intellect alone would serve to put me on the road to iman.  In this I was wrong.  I then began to feel afraid of this wearying task of monitoring my every thought and action.  I was nervous about doing what was correct, in the face of opposition from family, friends and others, but I had to realize that being Muslim is to be opinionated and scrupulous in the way of truth and that true compassion and flexibility is the in built construct of this acceptance.  Other than this is nifaq (hypocrisy).

I do not as yet know if I have embarked on this tough, but sweet task of really being Muslim, or even fully understood the depth of what being Muslim is.  Allah knows best, but I ask not to be cut off from it.

Hajja Halima P. Brimah