Of ISNA, Friends, and the Messenger

In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

I have always enjoyed attending the annual conference of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). For the past several years, I have been particularly blessed by its being held in Chicago, which is right in my backyard. The thing to which I most look forward – apart from shopping for books and CDs in the bazaar – is seeing all my friends from across the country (and across town). On many occasions, the last time I had seen these friends was last year’s ISNA convention, and when I do see them, I always give them (the guys, anyway) a big, hearty hug and a huge smile beams across my face. It is always great to see these beautiful brothers and sisters each and every year.

This year’s conference was no different, and I truly enjoyed seeing friends from all across the country. I especially enjoyed seeing Eboo Patel, author of Acts of Faith, and Shahed Amanullah, editor-in-chief of altmuslim, to which I have been blessed to contribute for a number of years now. Yet, the highlight of my ISNA experience this year, by far, was finally meeting Javed Ali, editor-in-chief of Illume Magazine.

Although he knew me from last year’s conference, where I participated on a panel discussion about Muslim media, I had no idea who he was…until he contacted me to be a columnist for a new Muslim magazine called Illume. I must admit, I was hesitant at first, because I had been seriously burned by writing for other Muslim websites in the past. Yet, when I researched the other contributors to the magazine, including my beloved Imam Zaid Shakir, I happily obliged, and I am very thankful to the Lord that I did. Illume has been an enormous success, thanks be to God, and I see this magazine playing a very important role in the realm of American Muslim media for years to come, God willing.

For several months, he and I had been corresponding via Google Talk. Many times, he would ask my advice on various topics related to Illume magazine. Other times, however, he and I would just shoot the breeze, and he kept me company (and prevented me from sleeping) many a night I had to work. I loved him almost immediately after I got to know him. After many weeks of IM communications, we spoke once on the phone, and I got to liking him even more. When he said he would be coming to ISNA, I was very excited, because I would finally get to meet him after so many months.

This is one of the beauties of this faith: the brotherhood and sisterhood of the believers. Even though I did not know Javed, I felt a connection to him because of Islam. I feel that same connection with almost every Muslim across the world, because they and I share the testimony that there is nothing worthy of worship except God, and Muhammad is His Messenger. I said almost every Muslim, because, among the Muslims are criminals and neoKharijites with whom I want nothing to do and whom I oppose with every cell and molecule of my body.

When I finally met him, my heart leaped for joy. I gave him a big, hearty hug, and a big smile beamed across my face. He was passing out copies of Illume Magazine to the bazaar goers, and so we did not have a chance to sit and talk then. But, later, we did sit down together, and it was a very nice time. We got to know each other even more, and I loved him even more. I truly treasure the friendship we have, and I hope and pray he and I remain good friends and brothers for years to come.

This experience made me think about Abu Dharr (r). He was a companion of the Prophet (pbuh) who was from the tribe of Ghafar, who were known to be thieves and brigands. He heard about this man named Muhammad, but he could get no information about him from anyone (the Meccans prevented anyone from saying anything about the Prophet to anyone coming from outside Mecca). Thus, he set out for Mecca himself, seeking to find the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

When he got there, he could find no information about the Prophet (pbuh), and whenever he asked anyone about him, he would be beaten. He stayed like this for several days, and one night, he saw two slave girls walking, and he thought to ask them about the Prophet (pbuh). When he asked them, they said, “What are you doing with Muhammad? Will you leave Isaf and Na’ilah for any other gods?” To that he replied, “Weren’t they nothing but fornicators, anyway?”

Isaf and Na’ilah were two lovers who lived many years prior to the time of the Prophet (pbuh). Their families prevented them from getting married, and so during the Hajj time, they met at the Ka’abah and slept together. God then turned them into stone, and the people placed these two statues on the mountains of Safa and Marwa as a reminder of what God can do if you do wrong. With the passage of time, the people forgot this story, and they came to worship these two statues as gods besides the One.

So, when Abu Dharr (r) reminded them of this fact, the two slave girls ran away screaming. It so happened that the Prophet (pbuh) and Abu Bakr, his closest friend and companion, were walking around the Ka’abah at the time. They saw these two slave girls running and screaming and asked them what was the matter. They said that there was a man who had maligned Isaf and Na’ilah. The Prophet (pbuh) was elated at this, and he set out to search for this man.

They soon met, and Abu Dharr, after months of searching, finally found the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). What must it have been like to finally meet this beautiful man? What must it have been like to be face to face with your heart’s desire? What must it have been like to sit with him and get taught the tenets of the religion from the very mouth of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)? It must have been absolutely ecstatic, much more happy than I was seeing Javed passing out Illume at ISNA.

I am sure I got a small glimpse of that feeling when I myself visited the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in Medina in 2003. I was on the Hajj, and before the formal rites began, we took a trip to the Enlightened City. We arrived in the city late at night, and I could feel the beautiful, gleeful, soothing presence of the Prophet (pbuh) all around me as we rode toward the city center. The Prophet’s mosque was closed at that time, so I had to wait until morning. When it came, and it could not come soon enough, I dashed to the mosque to see my beloved.

The mosque was absolutely gorgeous, and its beauty rivaled that of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. As I walked toward the place where the Prophet (pbuh) was buried, the grand marble pillars of the mosque slowly passed me by, and they almost seemed to beckon to me to come closer and finally meet the man to whom I owe everything. Before I knew it, I was standing face to face with the Prophet’s grave, and I said to him, “Peace be unto you, O Messenger of God. Long have I waited to be here with you.” The tears flowed down my face uncontrollably. I was absolutely ecstatic with glee, and that feeling has always stayed with me. Even though this occurred more than 4 years ago, the memory is still ever so fresh in my mind, and tears are flowing down my face right now as I write this. I love the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) so much, and I long to go back to Medina and be with him again.

As I said, I was very happy to meet Javed at ISNA. Yet, no matter how many friends I will meet in the future; no matter how happy I will be at that time to meet a new brother or sister; no matter how much my life will be enriched by knowing another member of the Muslim family, nothing will ever compare to meeting the beloved Messenger Muhammad, may the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him until the end of time.


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