by Ammar AlShukry

Haunting my mind for the past year or so has been the fact that I have not seen a starry night in almost a decade.  As a child, I would take frequent trips to my family's village in Sudan (that did not have electricity until the late 90s) where we would sleep outside to escape from the heat, our nightly ceiling being the North African sky in all its splendor. The stars were simply incalculable. I learned the constellations from my grandfather and songs to be sung to the moon from my great-grandmother. Only on dark nights would we be in need of kerosene lamps or flashlights; otherwise, when the moon was full, we would simply walk in its glow.

That image of a night filled with stars stayed imprinted in my mind.  I started off locally, searching online for “the best places to see the stars in New York”.  My searches brought up the names of restaurants and clubs where celebrities were most likely to frequent.  It was easy to see that the Big Apple was not a place for the type of star-gazing I was looking for.  As I traveled from city to city and town to town, I would often ask locals if there were any locations where one could see the stars.  Finally, in Los Angeles, I read that the Nevada Desert was of the best locations in the country to see the stars, but it was a four hour drive and my stay would not allow for such an aggressive undertaking.  It would have to be at another time or in another place.

Yesterday, I happened to be speaking with a friend who lives in New Jersey, a good sixty miles west of New York City and its suburbs.  Before he hung up I asked him if the stars could be seen from his house.

“The sky is filled with stars here,” he responded.

With the phone still in my hand, I reached over to my computer and began searching for hotels in his area. I hadn't found any hotels that I was satisfied with, but I assumed that I could simply book a room somewhere with my phone when I got there.  I jumped into my car and began driving west.

It was appropriate that my phone would die 15 minutes into the drive.  I mean here I was, chasing a memory imprinted from a world long past, so how could I do it depending on a cell phone and GPS?  Although I was confident I'd still be able to get to where I wanted to go, I would no longer have the flashlight application that I would probably need on my phone.  No matter.

It wasn't long before I reached my exit off of the highway. I turned on to a main road and, looking up at the sky through my windshield, I could see maybe one or two stars above me and an airplane.  I continued to drive until the street lights became fewer and, finally, the main street forked into a smaller winding road no longer surrounded by gas stations, car dealerships and offices but by trees.

I wouldn't say traffic disappeared so much as human company at all did.  Every few minutes a car would drive by from the opposite direction and blind me with its high beams.  I turned off my headlights ever so briefly and the sky filled with stars. I spent another few miles looking for a place to park off road where I would be able to soak in the majesty of the night's canopy.  I finally found a decent sized lot that may or may not have been part of a large house that stood a few hundred feet away.  The house actually reminded me of the cover of Welcome to Deadhouse, the 1st issue of Goosebumps, a popular horror book series that I used to read as a child. It was as though my childhood was coming back, just like I wanted. I pulled into it, my headlights shining into the dozens of trees behind the metal railing off the road.  When I stepped out of the car and turned off the lights, I looked to the sky but what I saw in my periphery distracted me.

I was swallowed in darkness; complete and utterly perfect darkness. I looked up at the sky and saw what must have been thousands of lights shining. Then I looked down and could not see anything.  I stood for a while, waiting for my eyes to adjust, checking to see if my phone would decide to heroically give me a good few minutes and turn on again but neither my phone nor my eyes did what I expected.  I began to think of where I was: the middle of nowhere, by a thicket of trees, a wide lot, an open space, a dark house…without being able to see anything near me…I began to read Ayatul Kursi.

The star-gazing was very anticlimactic. I took a few more glances at the sky before jumping into my car and driving back towards civilization. It was the darkness that had captured my imagination- darkness and fear.

I'm not afraid of the dark, I was pretty confident about that. Then why would I cut short the entire purpose of my trip and something that I had waited so long for? I realized that as city dwellers, we very rarely come across the power of nature.  We walk from electricity-lit homes to streets to cars to buildings.  Even when we turn off the lights at home, to test whether or not we are afraid of the dark, we still know where the light switches are and that we are in a controlled darkness, a comforting darkness. We know we are protected from the elements, that we are safe and secure. I imagine the darkness experienced by caravans traversing deserts throughout history or by sailors at sea to be of a much different kind.

In Surat Al-Noor, Allah describes the darkness of a “…vast sea with waves, above which are waves, above which are clouds, darknesses – some of them above each other. If a person were to stick their hand out in front of them, they would not see it…”

I thought of a sailor's predicament under stars hidden behind clouds, when even their light and guidance is hidden. In my temporary darkness, I was comforted by glancing upwards at the sky even if I could not see what was around me. How could the two darknesses be the same?

And if light, no matter how distant, was of comfort as compared to not having any light, then it makes perfect sense why the request of the hypocrites from the believers on the Day of Judgment – the day of the extinguishing of all previously known sources of light – will be that they give them some of their light.  They will be without light on that day due to their lack of preparing to have their path illuminated, just as I had assumed my phone's flash light application would carry me through the darkness here only to have it die sooner than I expected.  If only I had charged it more, if only I had prepared.

I thought of how many times darkness is mentioned regarding the world of the Hereafter: the darkness of the grave, the darkness of a person resurrected blind after having sight, the darkness of the bridge over the Hellfire, and the darkness of the Hellfire itself.

What induces fear of uncontrolled darkness is the unknown, what may come out of the thicket, the house, the trees, the open space. So when everything about the Hereafter is new and unknown, then the thought of the darkness that it brings is terrifying.

I drove back feeling so foolish.  How could I possibly have let myself go so long without this experience?  How could I fall to the illusion of a manmade world? An illusion carved up in my mind into countries and cities that are traveled to, from one manmade airport to another. All the while, thinking that I've traveled across the world when I have seen none of the world nor the signs that Allah has placed within it.

How can I appreciate the power of the verses that I recite describing the stars falling, the mountains crumbling and the oceans ablaze if I have never appreciated the innumerability of the stars, the might of the mountains, the utter vastness of the oceans?

I have heard many times that the Universe is among the Signs of Allah that are witnessed, and the Qur'an is comprised of the Signs of Allah that are recited. What happens to a people who neither witness nor recite His signs? Isn't that a sure recipe for a hardened heart?

 

41 Responses

  1. Aliza

    I was drawn to this article by the mention of darkness and lack of stars in the night sky. I could relate to the experiences.
    And I am leaving the page utterly humbled and in reverence of Allah.
    Wow.

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  2. broAhmed

    Well that was something. I think experiencing fear or at least a sense of unease in utter darkness is something most anyone can relate to, and I’ve certainly gone through feelings of both before. And yet I’ve never contemplated the parallels of this fear to the fear experienced by those in the Hereafter. May Allah protect and guide us. Thank you and jazaakAllahu khairaa for the wonderful article. Keep writing!

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  3. Abu Ahmad

    Incredibly powerful piece Ammmar. JAK.

    I remember once driving from Chicago to Tulsa at night alone during the fall season. I stopped in the Middle of
    No Where Missouri to get something from the car and when I looked up and around me I had the same experience you mentioned. I was so overwhelmed that I had to go right back in my car.

    “..and whomsoever Allah does not give light – for him there is no light.”

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  4. Believer_sis

    SubhanAllah, I never thought about darkness this way. On my visit to Pakistan about 10 years ago I was pretty awed by the number of stars in the sky (when the lights went out). Something I’d not seen before. But to think about utter darkness, “natural darkness” … Its true, our westernized lives have limited a lot of our experiences of the signs of Allah swt. May Allah swt fill our graves with light, and grant us light on the day of resurrection. Ameen, Thumma Ameen.

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  5. Bint A

    SubhanAllah, that was really moving. I was trying to imagine myself in your shoes, being enveloped… and its almost impossible to imagine complete darkness. Even trying to imagine the verse mentioned of the waves and clouds, you still ‘see’ the waves and the ship…. however what would truly be the immense feeling of seeing nothing? and as for the darkness in the grave, that is something we must all experience at one point… subhanAllah.

    JazakAllahu khairun fir sharing this. I too am inspired now to seek out magnificent instances of Allah’s Signs as imagination just cannot do it justice…

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  6. Kallawala

    Salam!!!

    This story was very well articulated, and it tells of how we are so distant of the constant wonders of the creation of Allah, which also means that we are, by definition, so distant from Him.

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  7. Nadia

    Masha Allah amazing description of an experience shared by so many of us. I’ve always been the one in a group of friends or family waking at night, looking up at the sky trying to count the number of stars above. It’s obviously not as bad as your situation in NY, but like you said, when compared to what we see back home, it’s nothing. Nothing at all!

    I Palestine, we would sleep on the roof and stay up all night watching the universe as shooting stars moved across the night sky. When I was younger, I always remembered the night sky over there being soooo starry, and that’s all I would wish to see when we came back to the states. Last time I went there – after I had learned my way around the night sky like my way to school – looking at the night sky was a different experience. In places that are so dark, one can actually see the band of the Milky Way Galaxy! That view is something you will never understand unless you’ve seen it yourself.

    jazak Allah khair for the article! Brought back many memories and reflections :)

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  8. Powerimage

    Jazak Allahu khairan for sharing your experience and reflections. I only wonder how different your experience would have been if there was a full moon out?

    Subhanallah, I experienced something similar in our village in Sudan about 5 years ago. I was completely surrounded by darkness really late at night but I didn’t consider my surroundings at the time since I was in a rush to get home safely. It was only when I returned to the States that I read the ayah from Surat alNoor and made the connection and stopped to reflect. I then remembered that without the blessing of the full moon, I was completely blind. The fact that the intensity of this source of light cyclically changes is another amazing creation of Allah.

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  9. Adam E

    Subhan alKhaaliq! In So Cal, I took a trip with some bros last month and we also encountered some stars. It wasn’t on Rodeo Drive, but rather on the side of the road in the middle of the desert on the way to Arizona. Absolutely stunning! Star gazing is definitely of the most under-appreciated experiences.

    Barak Allahufeek Ammar!

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  10. hafsa

    “………….just as I had assumed my phone’s flash light application would carry me through the darkness here only to have it die sooner than I expected. If only I had charged it more, if only I had prepared………”
    just as v all hv assumed !!!!!!!!
    KEEP CHARGING !!!!
    jazakallaahukhair …. kaseer

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  11. Hijaabi in the rain

    Beautiful reminder . I relate very much to what you are saying . The need for light, the stars , the darkness these words reverberate such that I know that the heavens and the earth are vast but can never truly appreciate it . And I wonder how will I ever be able to appreciate the glory of Allah . May Allah make us among those who are in awe of his signs and those whose foreheads will be like shining lamps on that day.

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  12. Aash

    I’ve always felt deprived of nature myselfvsince I live in a city as well, I cling onto sunsets and stare at stars around the time of suhoor. I never reflected on it the way you did but I definitely will remember your words next time iA.

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  13. Bint Ashfaq

    Assalaamu’alaykum
    I also want to observe this universe… I tried many tym bt honestly never reached to that level as you reached…..
    And verily in this universe there are many signs for the man of understanding…

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  14. MoSoof

    Simply Beautiful akhi. Simply Beautiful! After all we are Naas and we need to be reminded of the Ma’roof so Barak’Allahu Feekum to such a beautiful reminder habibi!

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  15. Jami

    Asalam Walaikum Warahmatulahi Wabarakatuhu,

    SubhanaAllah how easy it is to recite a verse from the Quran, but to actually understand the depth of its meaning requires our ability to use a completely different facet of our mind. And what more beautiful way is there than to find remembrances of our creator through the experiences he allows us? Very good piece mashaAllah.

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  16. ShamsiyaNQ

    SubhanAllah
    never thought of it in this perspective!
    Jazak Allah khair for the beautiful write up
    A big eye opener!
    May Allah protect us from darkness on the day of judgement
    YOU DEFFO NEED TO WRITE MORE!

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  17. Gibran

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    I remember going on a myg trip to the mountain.

    I was so awed by the stars-subhanAllah. I literally want to move to Texas or something so that I can view them. I’ve had this desire for the sky I think ever since.

    I do get that SubhanAllah and that awe. There is nothing like it to be honest. Glad to know someone shares my feelings!

    Inshaa Allah we will make it into Jannah, Al Firadus and see better then this.

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  18. Carlos

    How do stars “fall?” Some of our ancestors might have thought meteors are falling stars, but we know now, of course, that meteors are not falling stars.

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  19. ShyHijabi

    Assalamualikum Warahmatullahi Wabrakatuh!
    In my opinion the title was attracted me the most because Subhana’Allah this world is living in so much darkness and seeing what you had to say was a great eye-opening expericance. I myself love the stars, and can tottaly relate to the urge of longing to view the beautiful scene that unfolds once the darkness sets in and the stars come out. Living in the United Arab Emirates, i hardly ever see stars and look out my window every night. If i even see one, it’s a really big thing for me, cus it’s like a sign of hope and lightness. I really enjoyed reading what you wrote here, and your style was both captivating and exciting Masha’Allah. May Allah grant you and your family Jannah-tul-Firdows and make things bring us closer to our dreams in Jannah Insha’Allah! :)

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  20. Inqiyaad

    JazakAllahu khairan! MashaAllah, it was succinct and profound. Alhamdulillah, like you and others here, I can completely relate to your feelings in that moment of overawing helpless solitude.
    Another thought that comes to my mind when reflecting on these moments is the courage of Moosa ‘alaihi salaam. Imagine traveling with your family through a desert at night, in the darkness and without the support of a caravan.
    Also, we get so uncomfortable when faced with a single moment of darkness while stationary, yet keep traveling on the path of our lives without seeking light, why? Imagine driving your car without headlights in that darkness.

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  21. Nur

    Mashallah….Is the story real??? It sounds like a fiction. I wish I would have a chance to find such a place here near Toronto so I can experience what you experienced.. you enjoyed it didn’t you?? Well I will never be able to do it all alone though…YOU ARE BRAVE BROTHER…..when I was a child I would never forget that my uncle would carry me on his shoulders and takes me out in our huge back yard and would ask me to count the stars in darkness. I was able to see the decoration of the sky from my own back yard and I still have the memory of it……Since I came to Canada, I only witnessed once in the suburbs of Saskatchewan…We were driving out of the city and we came across to an area where there was no street lights and seeing the moon and stars clearly was new to us…..Also my co-worker in Vancouver Canada asked me if I can go to a park where people can see the shooting stars in a particular day every year….I said shooting stars no thanks….May be the shaitans are gathering there…..

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  22. Muslimah

    Subhan’Allah. It touched my soul. This was absolutely wonderful. May Allah The Almighty keep the darkness far away from us in this world and in the Hereafter. Ameen.

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  23. fascinatedmuslim

    Wow, mashallah what a beautiful artical im just so amazed and fascinated by this artical and about the stars and universe. great example of the signs of allah.

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    • Gibran

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      I think Ammar is a he wallahu A’lam.

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  24. Hassan

    …((speech less))… Masha Allah! Barak Allahu Feek ya Ammuri
    ps. Yes, I can assure u it’s real, Nur. I know this br. he wouldn’t post anything fake.

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  25. Siraaj

    Salaam alaykum Ammar,

    Next time you’re in NorCal, let’s get a few brothers and I’ll take you to the log cabin my family and I stayed in. It’s halfway up to Yosemite, and at night the area is pitch black with billions of stars are wide open for viewing.

    Siraaj

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  26. UmmHamzah

    Assalamualaikum

    Jazakallah khair for sharing the experience. Try New Mexico or AZ. We see the night sky and mountains in the backdrop everyday subhanaAllah. I particularly love when we do road trips and we drive at night time. You look up at the stars and then you look back down at the truck lights from the other side of the Interstate and the ones in front of you and you realize how weak humans are. There are Muslims in New Mexico by the way *smile*

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  27. Jameela James

    Mashaallah this is a beautiful narrative essay that illustrates the knowledge of true power in relation to the power than man manufactures for his everyday comfort. Nature demonstrates the only true power, the power of Allah (swt).

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  28. Komal

    Very powerful, mashaAllah. God is greater than anything that we could ever associate with Him. Amazing read to say the least. Darkness is tangible in a sense and I feel like we were walked through your journey that night when you sought to stare at the majestic sky.

    Speaking of fears, there is this unconscious habit to stray away from any type of disorder that creeps into our lives. So we take the easy route, the shortest way, the quicker choice. This concept has manifested our lives and we are no stranger to it. Isn’t it amazing then, that during some of the darkest times, when our lives are far from orderly, God shows us his light. Perhaps we can use these moments to remember that trials are truly a reward, if only we were to reflect. Just like the night sky, the darker and more “disorderly” it is, the greater its brilliance, and the finer its intricacies.

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  29. kamg6

    Really nice story and reflections, ma sha Allah. All praise is due to Allah. May Allah make your life easy and good. amin

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  30. sa

    This was relevant to the predicament of many in the tri state area after Hurrricane Sandy who lost their electricity. JazakAllah Khair

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  31. tarannum

    ASA,
    Beautiful article Br Ammar. We visited the caves in Asheville, NC for EID and tour guide wanted to show us what pure darkness looks like and turned off the lights! Subhan’Allah! I couldn’t see even my own hand or anything. It was scary!
    For those who love to stargaze you can search for your local anstronomical society and they open stargazing for the public every month or so when its clear. They bring their telescopes and you can even view the planets. It is really an adventure!

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  32. Muhammad

    Masha’Allaha – such a beautiful piece of writing – May Allah reward you for sharing it. Aamiin.

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  33. Marya

    Beautiful piece masha’Allah.

    On my recent trip, I tried to find a star-filled sky while in the desert. Unfortunately, wasn’t able to.

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  34. Safina

    Ma sha Allaah what a beautiful take on such an inconceivable yet simple topic! How ironic that although your article was about darkness, it brightened my understanding of the innumerable blessings and miracles of Allaah (swt) we are enveloped by every moment of our lives. An AMAZING article which opened my eyes to the inexpressible beauty of Allaah (swt)’s creation! SubhanAlllah!

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  35. Kulz

    Subhanallah what an event and description. Mashallah. You’re very talented.

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  36. Muhammed

    “If only I had charged it more, if only I had prepared.”
    BarakAllahu fikhum akhi, trully inspiring article!

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