It’s Saturday night, and the people have gathered. The lights go out. A hush descends as the crowd becomes quiet. The screen begins displaying its image.
A man appears.
He speaks. He tells of a group of people who will have lived their lives for a period, enjoying life – doing as they pleased. These people received certain information and requests – warnings that their life choices were dangerous.
But they rejected these warnings – thinking they knew better. Thinking they were entitled to continue engaging in the lifestyles that they were enjoying, and that no consequences would harm them if they continued.
But then their lives will come to an end. Death approaches them, and they see a different reality.
The curtain is lifted from their eyes. The truth smacks them like a sledgehammer. They finally realize the truth: the messages that came to them were true. The messengers that warned them were not liars, or gullible fools hanging onto a fantasy – a make-believe idea that had no bearing in the real world.
The world they existed in – where freedom and unlimited fun reigned – was an illusion. And the world they’re now facing is real. Real; troubling; and never-ending.
They beg for more time. They ask to be sent back. Now that they know the truth, if they have another chance, they’d do it all differently. They’d accept the messages. They’d believe the messengers. They’d live in the way they were asked to.
Or so they believe.
But if they were sent back, they would do the same thing again. Nothing would be different.
And they will be forced to remain in this state of regret until the Day of Resurrection – when they will be called to account for that which they used to do, and will have to deal with the consequences thereof.
You’re probably wondering what this scene describes. What movie was this? And when did this happen?
This was no cinema. And this was no movie.
This was the scene in a mosque – in Zeenatul Islam, District Six, Cape Town – last Saturday night. It was in the basement level, after the taraweeh prayers were concluded for that night of Ramadan.
The speaker – the man who described this series of events – was the esteemed Islamic scholar Mufti Ismail Menk, who is visiting from Zimbabwe. The events he described was a snippet from the Quran – and the intro to his lecture for the night. Down in the basement level, they put up TV screens so that the people downstairs can see the speaker on the main level, as he delivers his talk.
This particular narrative – about the regretful people who will want to go back – is based on Surah Mu’minoon (The Believers: Quran – surah 23 – verses 99 and 100). It describes those who, in worship, join partners with Almighty Allah (i.e. the idolaters / pagans). And when their (worldly) lives are about to end, they finally see the truth and wish they could have another chance. (Full tafseer here.) It could also describe those who have been negligent as regards the commands of Allah (Tafseer Ibn Kathir). In either case, we would do well to safeguard ourselves against the company of such people, lest we become of them – since the people we surround ourselves with can play a huge role in our beliefs and choice of lifestyle. And – even without friends like these – we would do well to guard our own selves so that we never slip into those categories; because we’re not immune – we never know where our wrong choices in life could lead us.
I began with this story because it came on a night that was very memorable. Memorable not because it was extra-ordinary in its events, but because of the epiphany that struck me during the evening.
This Ramadan, Cape Town has been blessed once more to have the visit of the always-inspiring Mufti Ismail Menk (see details in last week’s post). And my habit this month has been – on Saturday nights – to go to the taraweeh prayers he’s leading. So on this particular night, I took a break during the salaah and looked around, and just took in the atmosphere.
All these people standing, so dedicated, in long night prayer – with the Quran being recited so beautifully by one of the world’s greatest (for me, at least) Islamic personalities – and all this in the blessed month of the ummah.
I had one of those flash-forward moments: where you just appreciate the present. Something about it just strikes you deeply. You imagine that – in the future – you’re going to look back on this moment, on this period of your life, with fondness.
And for those few moments that I pondered this – those moments that this atmosphere hit me – it was just awesome. How special a time this is. How blessed. How amazing.
This experience – taraweehs with Mufti Menk – stand out for me in this month. I’ve been in that downstairs level both times so far, and when the talk starts, it’s like this huge sleepover. They put the lights off, the TV screens come on, and everyone gathers together to watch.
It’s like a cinema – and it’s a Saturday night, which makes it even more similar to that experience. But in this case, it’s actually virtuous to be in this gathering. This isn’t some Hollywood movie – designed for our entertainment.
How amazing that all these people are gathered here – on a Saturday night – to watch something ‘religious’. Everyone so eager to take in the lessons and wisdom about to be imparted, by Allah’s mercy and permission, from this tremendously-loved speaker – a caller to goodness.
The theme for this series of talks this month is the stories of the Prophets (peace be upon them all). And what amazing stories they are – so full of wisdom and lessons for all of humanity – whether we call ourselves Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, or even atheist. Humans naturally incline towards stories – and these are the stories of the best people to ever walk the Earth: the messengers and prophets – chosen by God – to convey a simple message to humanity. The same message throughout the ages: your Creator is ONE, and you should worship Him alone. And because this series draws directly from the Quran – which we believe is the pure, un-altered word of God – as Muslims we know these stories are 100% true; free of the fabrications that were introduced in other scriptures that have been corrupted.
Another event that night was while I waited outside to go home. A Somalian brother stopped by to speak to me – saying how tired he was in taraweeh – almost falling asleep, but pushing himself to go on. He’d slept only 2 hours the night before. And he said how inspirational he found Mufti Menk to be – how balanced a speaker he is: not too liberal, not too conservative; but balanced.
And, clearly inspired, he spoke of how the change of the world starts with us: if we live right, and teach our children right, they’ll be better than us; and in two or three generations, they can change this world. Bring it back to its senses.
It was such a random encounter – he spoke to me as if he knew me well; but I didn’t know him at all. It was a bond – brotherhood in Islam. That’s what made it so easy – so comfortable a conversation. And before long, he was gone. A seemingly-random experience – but one, I suspect, that was meant to teach me something.
Anyway, Ramadan is usually a special month – but this one is standing out even more for me. I know it and feel it. Like Ramadan 2007 – when I was on the verge of fulfilling my most dearly-held dream of marriage. That was such a special month – and one I look back on fondly.
And this one – this month –feels like it’s going to be the same in terms of nostalgia. I may be restricted in terms of the spiritual depth I would otherwise want to pursue (mentioned not long ago in this post), but even despite that, this month has an air to it that is definitely exceptional.
In future years, insha-Allah, I’ll look back and remember how beautiful this was. These are future memories in the making, and I’m extremely grateful to be living through these experiences.
But to make this post interactive, I ask you – the reader:
How’s your month been so far?
And have you had any of these “future memory” moments? (Either this month or at another time.)