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Positively Muslim in The West: Blind and in her 70s | Hifdh Student Umm Uthman

Gateway to all Ramadan related posts on MM

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This is the newest monthly recognition of outstanding and inspiring Muslims, residing in the West. We hope to showcase the talents and contributions of these individuals to the Muslim Ummah. Feel free to nominate other talented Muslim individuals, who have made a positive contribution to the society by emailing: info@muslimmatters.org.

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Our newest, “Positively Muslim in the West” recognition specifically for Ramadan goes to Umm Uthman, an elderly blind sister residing in the East Coast.

Asma bint Yazid raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) reported that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Shall I tell you who is the best of you?” “Yes,” they replied. He said, “Those who remind you of Allah when you see them.” [Adab al Mufrad]

I love watching her, especially when she prays. She doesn’t see me looking at her, but every time I see Umm Uthman, I become overwhelmed with emotion and humility. She is of the few people that truly remind me of Allah azza wa jal every single time I see her. She is one of the even fewer people that I truly see noor glowing from their face. Whenever I go to greet her, she will hold my hand tightly and feel my wrist, as if it’s how she recognizes me now that she cannot see. Her strong memory puts me to shame as she asks me about things I told her months or years ago like I told her about it yesterday.

The reason why Umm Uthman is receiving recognition is not because she is a blind elderly woman, but because she is a blind student of the Qur’an striving to complete her memorization in her 70s.

Umm Uthman, as I will refer to her in this post, is a family friend of my parents. She is a woman in her late 70s who still wears full khimar (below her knees) and jilbab although she is beyond the age of covering.

I first met her nearly 10 years  ago when she still had her eyesight, but it was beginning to weaken due to a brain tumor which alhamdulillah was removed. I remember going to visit her and she would use the walls as a support/guide to navigate in her house. As her sight started to go and ultimately went, she never once openly complained or talked in such a way that caused others to pity her. Now being completely blind, she has the support of her children or grandchildren guiding her and a walking stick.

After Umm Uthman and her family moved a bit further away from us, we didn’t see her and her family as much but still stayed in contact.

Last year, while attending a fundraiser for a local Qur’an school, the director of the school announced that they would like to introduce one of their special students. I thought it was going to be a very young child who perhaps finished their memorization, but instead I see Umm Uthman walk on the stage with the help of a sister. The director, knowing that Umm Uthman does not know English, goes on to tell the audience her story and that Umm Uthman is a hard working student of their school, coming regularly even though she crosses into the neighboring state to attend. He asked her to recite some Qur’an and she began to recite from a powerful surah that she recently finished memorizing:

ص ۚ وَالْقُرْآنِ ذِي الذِّكْرِ

Saad. By the Qur’an, full of reminders. (38:1)

I sat there, in complete awe, as this blind elderly woman recited the Book of Allah moving  many in the audience to tears. I had no idea that she was a student at the school, so I was eager to talk to her after the event. She told me she just finished memorizing her seventh juz of Qur’an, mashaAllah. I asked her to recite her favorite surah to me, and she began to read from Surah Zumar:

تَنزِيلُ الْكِتَابِ مِنَ اللَّهِ الْعَزِيزِ الْحَكِيمِ

إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ فَاعْبُدِ اللَّهَ مُخْلِصًا لَّهُ الدِّينَ

The revelation of this Book is from Allah, the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. Verily We have sent down the Book to you  in truth: So worship Allah (Alone) by doing religious deeds sincerely for Allah’s sake only. (39:1-2)

I finally got to see Umm Uthman again at the masjid for tarawih prayers. It has become my habit now that I ask her how much more she has memorized since our last conversation because she always increases in her hifdh mashaAllah. When I asked her after prayer, she told me she couldn’t remember the name of the surah but read the first ayah to me and I told her the name of the surah and that she has almost completed a third of the Qur’an mashaAllah.

I think of myself and all of the youth who have the ability to read and see the words of Allah while she cannot, who may know Arabic while she does not, who have easy access to knowledge while she does not, yet we do not have a relationship with the Qur’an like Umm Uthman. Her determination and love for the Qur’an is an inspiration to me, so I hope that inshaAllah you will be inspired as well.

I interviewed Umm Uthman after tarawih prayers and asked her a few questions (this is a translation of her answers):

Q: Why do you memorize the Qur’an?

I memorize to remove myself from the hell-fire and to receive the bishaarah (glad tidings) of Jannah. Through the Qur’an I seek the hereafter.

Q: What is your routine like for memorizing and reviewing?

Before I started going to the Qur’an school, I would memorize only one ayah every week. I memorize more at the Qur’an school now, maybe seven-eight ayat a week. I have tapes that I listen to and repeat with, that is how I memorize, repeating the ayah over and over. I ask my grandchildren to help me with the tapes and to read the ayat with me as well.

Q: Did you hear any negative words from anyone, such as you’re too old to memorize?

A man once came to the school and saw me reviewing and told my teacher, “why is this old woman here?! what is the point of her learning??” and the my teacher responded, “you don’t know her, she is almost done memorizing the Qur’an!” Alhamdulillah, no one else at the school said anything to me, they all encourage me.

Q: What is your favorite surah to recite?

Surah Zumar! I love reciting it in prayer.

Q: What is special to you about the Qur’an?

It is my way of coming close to Allah. Through the Qur’an, I seek nearness to Him. [Note: she then began talking about the Qur’an like it was her friend]

Q: What advice do you have for the youth and those who want to memorize?

May Allah guide them and us! I advise them to seek to come closer to Allah and to find peace in memorizing His Book – may Allah continue to guide them. Our deen and imaan are the most valuable to us.

After asking her these questions, I narrated to her the hadith qudsi of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him):

“Allah, the Glorious and Exalted said: “When I afflict my slave in his two dear things (i.e., his eyes), and he endures patiently, I shall compensate him for them with Jannah.” [Bukhari]

She responded to me in the affirmative, that she knew this hadith and that she is patient with her eyesight only for the sake of Allah. She then said to me a beautiful statement: “When you have imaan in your heart, true imaan, then that is your eyesight.” Indeed she spoke the truth as Allah ta’ala says in surah Hajj:

فَإِنَّهَا لَا تَعْمَى الْأَبْصَارُ وَلَـٰكِن تَعْمَى الْقُلُوبُ الَّتِي فِي الصُّدُورِ

Verily, it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts which are in the breasts that grow blind. (22:46)

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) narrated in an authentic hadith, “The helpers (awliya’) of Allah the Exalted are those whom, when they are seen, Allah is remembered.” (Sahih al Jaami’)

I ask Allah ta’ala to make Umm Uthman from His Awliyaa’, from the Companions of the Qur’an and its People. May Allah grant her a good end with the glad tidings of angels in this life and ultimate success with the greetings of the angels in the next, Ameen.

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Amatullah is a student of the Qur'an and its language. She completed the 2007 Ta'leem program at Al-Huda Institute in Canada and studied Qur'an, Tajwid (science of recitation) and Arabic in Cairo. Through her writings, she hopes to share the practical guidance taught to us by Allah and His Messenger and how to make spirituality an active part of our lives. She has a Bachelors in Social Work and will be completing the Masters program in 2014 inshaAllah. Her experience includes working with immigrant seniors, refugee settlement and accessibility for people with disabilities.

27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Amatullah

    August 31, 2009 at 11:21 PM

    One thing I did not include in the article that I really love about her is that she actually FACES you when you’re talking to her. She knows which direction you are even if you’re 20 feet away, subhanAllah.

    I am truly mesmerized by her, and I ask that our love for her is a sign of Allah’s Love for her, Ameen.

    (PS- That is an actual picture of her I took tonight at the masjid)

    I only got to speak to her briefly for this interview, so if anyone has anymore questions, please add to the comments and I will talk to her tomorrow inshaAllah.

    • Avatar

      Yusuf Smith

      September 1, 2009 at 4:38 AM

      As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

      This is fairly common with people who have lost their eyesight; they still have all the mannerisms and habits they had as a sighted person. A person who lost their sight early on, or never had it, often won’t ‘look’ at you when they speak to you, since they never picked this up.

  2. Avatar

    isms

    September 1, 2009 at 12:09 AM

    This post made me all teary eyed. May Allah SWT grant her jannah for all of her hardwork. She is truly inspiring.

  3. Amad

    Amad

    September 1, 2009 at 12:33 AM

    Truly a star and role-model mashallah.
    Jazakillahkhair for sharing.

  4. Avatar

    vindicated

    September 1, 2009 at 1:03 AM

    Her efforts to learn the Qur’an definitely put my efforts to shame.

    Insha’Allah I’ll use this opportunity to increase my efforts too!

  5. Avatar

    abu abdAllah Tariq Ahmed

    September 1, 2009 at 2:12 AM

    Ameen to all your duat and hers, sister. MashaAllah, beautiful is the subject of your article, beautiful is the objective she seeks, and beautiful is the language with which you convey these reminders to us of the Mercy of Allah and the strength of the believers.

    Allaho Akbar! Takbeer wa tabaarakAllah!

  6. Pingback: Positively Muslim in The West: Ramadan Special with Umm Uthman … | Online - Online.com.pt

  7. Avatar

    Arif

    September 1, 2009 at 2:33 AM

    وَقِيلَ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَـلَمِينَ – And it will be said, “All the praises and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of all that exists.” (Last Ayah of Surah Zumar)

  8. Pingback: Positively Muslim in The West: Ramadan Special with Umm Uthman | MuslimMatters.org « Yahyasheikho786's Blog

  9. Avatar

    Sadaf Farooqi

    September 1, 2009 at 3:39 AM

    So, so inspiring! May Allah grant her the highest level of Jannah, and us a will and resolve such as hers to become one of the Ahl Al-Quran..
    Jazaakillahu khairan, Amatullah. Great interview and beautiful article!

  10. Avatar

    Anisa

    September 1, 2009 at 6:32 AM

    Asalaamu Alaaikum

    MashaAllah tabarkAllah, such a beautiful article, I love this great Muslimah may Allah bless her and grant her the ability to finish the Quran ameen

    I look forward to each article in mail may Allah reward all the MM authors/contributors, ameen

  11. Avatar

    ummimaryam

    September 1, 2009 at 6:35 AM

    Alhamdulillah..Alhamdulillah..Alhamdulillahee rabbil aalaameen

    Jazakumallahu khairaa sister for the beautiful article.Mashaallah.

  12. Avatar

    Abu Harun

    September 1, 2009 at 6:44 AM

    salaam alaikum wr wb,

    This story had me at the first hadith

    Asma bint Yazid radi Allahu anha reported that the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam said, “Shall I tell you who is the best of you?” “Yes,” they replied. He said, “Those who remind you of Allah when you see them.” [Adab al Mufrad, Graded Hasan by Shaykh Albaani]

    And the story of that old lady can surely make a grown man sub.

    wa salaam alaikum wr wb

    Abu Harun

  13. Avatar

    MR

    September 1, 2009 at 9:26 AM

    This post has humbled me to an ant in front of an elephant.

    May Allah grant the highest Jannah for Umm Uthman. Ameen!

  14. Avatar

    Tanveer

    September 1, 2009 at 10:47 AM

    SubhanaAllah.

    Its truly inspiring and heart warming, jazakallah khair.

    I am shameful that I do not posses the love and respect to book of Allah, as she does. I ask Allah to guide and help me and all those who still have eyesight and have neglected Quran to thank Allah for the blessing (eyesight) and be inspired to memorize and understand Quran.

    Jazakallah khair

  15. Avatar

    Yus from the Nati

    September 1, 2009 at 12:41 PM

    La ilaha illAllah! Abooto puts us all to shame. She’s a living Torch Bearer, these types of stories are too unbelievable to read about (I believe it…I’m just saying!)

  16. Avatar

    sis

    September 1, 2009 at 5:22 PM

    Asalamu Alikum

    Allahu Akbar! what a moving an inspiring sister, mashaAllah tabarakaAllah. Jazaki Allah khair.

  17. Avatar

    Rafa

    September 1, 2009 at 5:42 PM

    Masha Allah, this article has truly inspired and humbled me. May Allah bless Umm Uthman with Jannah! And may He guide us all so that we may be like her. Jazakallah khair.

  18. Avatar

    ASC

    September 1, 2009 at 7:33 PM

    Truly a touching story, their are many lessons for us to learn from this article..JAK for sharing..it brought tears to my eyes

  19. Avatar

    Umm Ahmad

    September 2, 2009 at 4:11 AM

    Asslamu alikum

    Mashaa’Allah very very inspiring article,may Allah reward Umm Uthman and gather her with the mothers of the believers in the highest rank of Jannah .
    Jazaki Allah khair sister for sharing and Please convey my greetings to Umm Uthman.

  20. Avatar

    Abu Zak

    September 2, 2009 at 5:52 AM

    Mashallah!!

  21. Avatar

    mcpagal

    September 2, 2009 at 5:12 PM

    mA – so inspirational and touching!

  22. Pingback: Big Damn Hero. « Running Muslimah

  23. Avatar

    aicha

    September 10, 2009 at 1:12 AM

    Assalamoalaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh,

    I know one sister who is blind but so determined to learn the deen, reading the story of Umm Uthman reminded me of the sister… I pray that Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala make us follow the footsteps of these pious sisters… May Allah increase us in Eman and love for Allah, His Book and His Prophet SallAallahu Alayhi Wassalam. This is Allah’s love for Umm Uthman that so many people who dont even know her are making Dua for her – it is beautiful! May Allah give us taufeeq to learn and memorize the Qur’an as well and make it means for us to come closer to Allah and may Allah make the Quran the means to raise our levels in Jannah – verse by verse InshaAllah. O’ Allah make us of those who love Quran, love reading it, love learning it, love memorizing it, love teaching it and love living it. Ameen.

    • Avatar

      sis

      July 27, 2012 at 3:50 PM

      ameen!!

  24. Avatar

    Bint Alam

    April 21, 2011 at 4:58 AM

    @ Sister Amatullah, I know a sister who has a four months old daughter, her first child, who continuously cried for 4months and didn’t sleep at night at all, this mother when diagnosed her child found she had a heart problem, they did a surgery on her, then after it when they did her eco the doctors found her left artery is smaller than her right one…subhaanAllaah…Allaah truly tests the believers….and this siter has been a live example of strength, patience and trust on Allaah for me…..is it possible that I get an interview from her and send it to you to check it and if you think it’s suitable for MM readers you could post it in sha Allah.

  25. Avatar

    Musodiq Bello

    July 1, 2012 at 7:22 AM

    Very inspiring! May Allah bless Umm Uthman and sis Amatullah. Three years after this article was written, I would love to have an update on Umm Uthman please.

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#Society

Obituary of (Mawlana) Yusuf Sulayman Motala (1366/1946 – 1441/2019)

Monday, September 9, turned out to be a day of profound anguish and sorrow for many around the world. In the early morning hours, news of the death of Mawlana* Yusuf Sulayman Motala, fondly known as “Hazrat” (his eminence) to those who were acquainted with him, spread. He had passed away on Sunday at 8:20 pm EST in Toronto, after suffering a heart attack two weeks earlier.

Dar Al Uloom Bury, Yusuf Sulayman Motala

A master of hadith and Qur’an. A sufi, spiritual guide and teacher to thousands. A pioneer in the establishment of a religious education system. His death reverberated through hearts and across oceans. We are all mourning the loss of a luminary who guided us through increasingly difficult times.

Monday, September 9, turned out to be a day of profound anguish and sorrow for many around the world. In the early morning hours, news of the death of Mawlana* Yusuf Sulayman Motala, fondly known as “Hazrat” (his eminence) to those who were acquainted with him, spread. He had passed away on Sunday at 8:20 pm EST in Toronto, after suffering a heart attack two weeks earlier. (May the Almighty envelope him in His mercy)

His journey in this world had begun more than 70 years ago in the small village of Nani Naroli in Gujarat, India, where he was born on November 25, 1946 (1 Muharram 1366) into a family known for their piety.

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His early studies were largely completed at Jami’a Husayniyya, one of the early seminaries of Gujarat, after which he travelled to Mazahir Ulum, the second oldest seminary of the Indian Sub-Continent, in Saharanpur, India, to complete his ‘alimiyya studies. What drew him to this seminary was the presence of one of the most influential and well-known contemporary spiritual guides, Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi (d. 1402/1982), better known as “Hazrat Shaykh.” He had seen Mawlana Zakariyya only briefly at a train stop, but it was enough for him to understand the magnitude of his presence.

Mawlana Yusuf remained in Saharanpur for two years. Despite being younger than many of the other students of Shaykh Zakariya, the shaykh took a great liking to him. Shaykh Zakariya showered him with great attention and even deferred his retirement from teaching Sahih al-Bukhari so that Mawlana Yusuf could study it under his instruction. While in Saharanpur, Mawlana Yusuf also studied under a number of other great scholars, such as Mawlana Muhammad ‘Aqil (author of Al-Durr al-Mandud, an Urdu commentary of Sunan Abi Dawud and current head lecturer of Hadith at the same seminary), Shaykh Yunus Jownpuri (d. 1438/2017) the previous head lecturer of Hadith there), Mawlana As‘adullah Rampuri (d. 1399/1979) and Mufti Muzaffar Husayn (d. 1424/2003).

Upon completion of his studies, Mawlana Yusuf’s marriage was arranged to marry a young woman from the Limbada family that had migrated to the United Kingdom from Gujarat. In 1968, he relocated to the UK and accepted the position of imam at Masjid Zakariya, in Bolton. Although he longed to be in the company of his shaykh, he had explicit instructions to remain in the UK and focus his efforts on establishing a seminary for memorization of Qur’an and teaching of the ‘alimiyya program. The vision being set in motion was to train a generation of Muslims scholars that would educate and guide the growing Muslim community.

Establishing the first Muslim seminary, in the absence of any precedent, was a daunting task. The lack of support from the Muslim community, the lack of integration into the wider British community, and the lack of funds made it seem an impossible endeavour. And yet, Mawlana Yusuf never wavered in his commitment and diligently worked to make the dream of his teacher a reality. In 1973 he purchased the derelict Aitken Sanatorium in the village of Holcombe, near Bury, Lancashire. What had once been a hospice for people suffering from tuberculosis, would become one of the first fully-fledged higher-education Islamic institutes outside of the Indian-Subcontinent teaching the adapted-Nizami syllabus.

The years of struggle by Maulana Yusuf to fulfil this vision paid off handsomely. Today, after four decades, Darul Uloom Al Arabiyya Al Islamiyya, along with its several sister institutes, also founded by Mawlana Yusuf, such as the Jamiatul Imam Muhammad Zakariya seminary in Bradford for girls, have produced well over 2,000 British born (and other international students) male and female ‘alimiyya graduates – many of whom are working as scholars and serving communities across the UK, France, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, the US, Canada, Barbados, Trinidad, Panama, Saudi Arabia, India and New Zealand. Besides these graduates, a countless number of individuals have memorized the Qur’an at these institutes. Moreover, many of the graduates of the Darul Uloom and its sister institutes have set up their own institutes, such as Jamiatul Ilm Wal Huda in Blackburn, Islamic Dawah Academy in Leicester, Jami’ah al-Kawthar in Lancaster, UK, and Darul Uloom Palmela in Portugal, to just mention a few of the larger ones. Within his lifetime, Mawlana Yusuf saw first-hand the fruit of his labours – witnessing his grand students (graduates from his students’ institutes) providing religious instruction and services to communities around the world in their local languages. What started as a relationship of love between a student and teacher, manifested into the transmission of knowledge across continents. In some countries, such as the UK and Portugal, one would be hard-pressed to find a Muslim who had not directly or indirectly benefited from him.

Mawlana Yusuf was a man with deep insights into the needs of Western contemporary society, one that was very different from the one he had grown up and trained in. With a view to contributing to mainstream society, Mawlana Yusuf encouraged his graduates to enter into further education both in post-graduate Islamic courses and western academia, and to diversify their fields of learning through courses at mainstream UK universities. As a result, many ‘alimiyya graduates of his institutes are trained in law, mainstream medicine, natural medicine and homeopathy, mental health, child protection, finance, IT, education, chaplaincy, psychology, philosophy, pharmacy, physics, journalism, engineering, architecture, calligraphy, typography, graphic design, optometry, social services, public health, even British Sign Language. His students also include several who have completed PhDs and lecture at universities. His vision was to train British-born (or other) Muslim scholars who would be well versed in contemporary thought and discipline along with their advanced Islamic learning, equipping them to better contribute to society.

Despite his commitment to the establishment of a public good, the shaykh was an immensely private person and avoided seeking accolade or attention. For many decades he refused invitations to attend conferences or talks around the country, choosing to focus on his students and his family, teaching the academic syllabus and infusing the hearts of many aspirants with the love of Allah through regular gatherings of remembrance (dhikr) and spiritual retreats (i’tikaf) in the way of his shaykh’s Chishti Sufi order.

During my entire stay with him at Darul Uloom (1985–1997), I can say with honesty that I did not come across a single student who spoke ill of him. He commanded such awe and respect that people would find it difficult to speak with him casually. And yet, for those who had the opportunity to converse with him, knew that he was the most compassionate, humble, and loving individual.

He was full of affection for his students and colleagues and had immense concern for the Muslim Ummah, especially in the West. He possessed unparalleled forbearance and self-composure. When he taught or gave a talk, he spoke in a subdued and measured tone, as though he was weighing every word, knowing the import it carried. He would sit, barely moving and without shifting his posture. Even after a surgical procedure for piles, he sat gracefully teaching us Sahih al-Bukhari. Despite the obvious pain, he never made an unpleasant expression or winced from the pain.

Anyone who has listened to his talks or read his books can bear testimony to two things: his immense love for the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his love for Shaykh Mawlana Muhammad Zakariya Kandhlawi (may Allah have mercy on him). It is probably hard to find a talk in which he did not speak of the two. His shaykh was no doubt his link to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) in both his hadith and spiritual transmissions.

Over the last decade, he had retired from most of his teaching commitments (except Sahih al-Bukhari) and had reduced meeting with people other than his weekly dhikr gatherings. His time was spent with his family and young children and writing books. His written legacy comprises over 20 titles, mostly in Urdu but also a partial tafsir of the Qur’an in classical Arabic.

After the news of his heart attack on Sunday, August 25, and the subsequent effects to his brain, his well-wishers around the world completed hundreds of recitals of the Qur’an, several readings of the entire Sahih al-Bukhari, thousands of litanies and wirds of the formula of faith (kalima tayyiba), and gave charity in his name. However, Allah Most High willed otherwise and intended for him to depart this lowly abode to begin his journey to the next. He passed away two weeks later and reports state that approximately 4,000 people attended his funeral. Had his funeral been in the UK, the number of attendees would have multiplied several folds. But he had always shied away from large crowds and gatherings and maybe this was Allah Most High’s gift to him after his death. He was 75 (in Hijra years, and 72 in Gregorian) at the time of his death and leaves behind eight children and several grandchildren.

Mawlana Yusuf educated, inspired and nourished the minds and hearts of countless across the UK and beyond. May Allah Almighty bless him with the loftiest of abodes in the Gardens of Firdaws in the company of Allah’s beloved Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) and grant all his family, students, and cherishers around the world beautiful patience.

Dr Mufti Abdur-Rahman Mangera
Whitethread Institute, London
(A fortunate graduate of Darul Uloom Bury, 1996–97)

*a learned Muslim scholar especially in India often used as a form of address

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#Life

Reflection On The Legacy of Mufti Umer Esmail | Imam Azhar Subedar

“An ocean of knowledge which once resided on the seabed of humbleness has now submerged below it, forever.”

“Why didn’t you tell me!! You call me your younger brother, but you couldn’t even tell me you were ailing?!”

I could’ve called you or visited you so I could apologize for all the pain I caused you; thank you for all the good you did for me throughout my life despite all that pain. if nothing else, just so I could say goodbye to you.”

(My selfish mind continued to cry out as I stood in front of his grave— praying.)

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

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As I sat down to compile my thoughts, upon returning home, I put my feelings of loss aside and tried to analyze your decision of not informing me about your illness from a different perspective.

Possibly, your own.

Why would you tell me?

This was just like you. You never wanted to hurt a soul; forget about making them worry about you, augmenting their own worries. For you were the sponge for our worries, the shock absorber of our concerns, and the solid wall that shouldered the pain of those around him.

You weren’t just a big brother, my big brother, you were a true human. A lesson on humanity.

You were always there for me.

“I GOT A QUESTION” sent at 2 AM.

“Sure” was your response.

We spoke for over 40 min.

That night.

Your strength reflected my weakness- always urging me to do better, be more like you.

I was told you were in hospital by a close family member early Friday morning before Jummah prayers. I was supposed to call you. That was my responsibility. However, the preparation of the Friday Sermon was my excuse not to do so.

As I exited from delivering the Friday services, I received a message from you, the one who was spending the last days of his life in a hospital, never to be seen outside of the confines of those walls ever again.

That message you wrote- you knew me so well.

“As-salaam alaikum, I thought you were already American?”

(You were catching up with me as I had become an American citizen the day before. You wanted to congratulate me, without complaining to me.)

“I heard you are in the hospital?! How are you? What’s going on?” I asked immediately.

“Getting some treatment done. Mubarak on your American citizenship” was your response.

Diversion. A stubborn man with a heart of gold. You wanted to celebrate people even at the cost of your own life.

Your last words to me were digital, even though your connection with me spans a lifetime. As much as I wish I had heard your voice one last time, I try to find the beauty in that communication too as I can save and cherish those last words.

We grew up together in Canada in the ’80s- Mufti Umer and I. Our fathers were tight- childhood buddies. He ended up becoming the inspiration for my family to trek towards a path devoted to Islam, beginning with my brother and then myself.

He was my support from the time when I came to England to study at the Dar Al Uloom and wanted to call it quits and go home, to when he hosted me when I visited him in Austin in 2002, all the way till 2019, after I was married and settled with kids he loved like his own.

He visited us here in Dallas and had met them in his unique way of showering them with love. And why wouldn’t he? My wife and I are here under one roof all because of his earnest desire to help people.

He introduced us to each other.

“I want you to marry my younger brother.” A message he sent to my wife over 17 years ago.

She was his student. He was her mentor, support beam, confidante, and best friend. (Well, we all feel like he was our best friend, only because he truly was.)

I am sharing my life story not only because he was an integral part of it, but throughout (he was also a major part of my wife’s life when she really needed him) but because that final text message wrapped it all up- the gift that he was to me and my family. It showed how much he was invested in us as individuals, as a couple, and as a family.

That message wrote:

“I thought you’ve been a citizen since marriage.”

(FRIDAY, AUGUST 30TH @ 3: 07 PM)

This is just my story featuring Mufti Umer Ismail.

I am confident that there are thousands more out there without exaggeration.

I’ll conclude with a word he corrected for me as I misspelled it on my Facebook page a few months ago when Molana Haaris Mirza, a dear colleague, passed away in New York. He didn’t do it publicly, he did it through that same Facebook text messenger that kept us in touch- with love and sincere care for me in his heart.

“As-salaam alaikum the word is Godspeed. Sorry for being [a] grammar freak.”

(MARCH 28TH, 2019 @6: 04 PM)

Godspeed, my dear brother. Godspeed.

Azhar Subedar

imamAzhar.com

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#Life

The Passing Of A Mentor: Shaykh Mufti Mohamed Umer Esmail

The past couple days I haven’t been able to write, thinking and reflecting over the passing of a great man, a mentor, someone I consider among the people that helped me become who I am. He was the Imam of Austin, a man who dedicated 18 years of his life to the community I grew up in and spent a good portion of my young adult life, Austin, Texas.

It’s an understatement to say that his passing was a shock to us all. A young 45-year-old, who left behind a loving wife and three daughters. It sent a powerful moment of reflection to us all. God loves those who work for His Sake and as our Beloved Prophet (peace be on him) has said that God said,

“… I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about taking the soul of My faithful servant: he hates death and I hate hurting him.” (Bukhari)

There is no doubt that Sh Umer Esmail was one of those faithful servants of God. A pillar in the community in his work. Someone that worked at every level and left a mark in the lives of people. He was involved in all aspects of our lives; he was there for the baby showers (aqiqahs) celebrating life, gatherings where one of our young finish reading the Quran for the first time (khatm), he was there for when we married; he conducted the nikah (wedding ceremony) of my own sister, he welcomed us to faith when one of us accepted Islam, he was the counselor when there were marital problems, he listened to the struggles of thousands and imparted the blessing of Prophetic wisdom to all walks of life, and he was there in sickness & in passing of the members of our community in their final moments and prayed over them in their funeral.

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Now we have prayed over his. Thousands came to his janazah.

Mufti Umer Islamil Janazah

Moments of loss allow us all to really reflect over the impact we have left in life. Everyone remembers in sadness the person who we lost and the impact they made in their life. For me it was no different. I remember Shaykh Umer’s soft voice and calm tone. He had a soothing presence that would render you calm no matter what you were going through. His advice had helped countless university students and others going through things from crisis of faith to personal struggle or in need of advice. He taught with compassion.

One thing that struck me almost immediately, how dedicated he was to his family and his community. He taught that true impact was being in the service of people in what is tangible. Shaykh Umer was an embodiment of that.

He wasn’t involved in the non-issues of social media or the issues of matters that come and go. He was a hallmark of positivity in people’s lives and lived the Prophetic calling, servitude to God and service to creation.

I was reading over our exchanges in messages over the years remembering fondly moments with him. I remembered his soft tone in his sermons, and sometimes his humor where he literally enacted in an Eid khutbah the impact of superheroes but left us with powerful wisdom at the end. The lesson of empowering and being superheroes for others. I remembered when I went to Madinah to study, how happy he was for me. He would always remind me of the responsibility to the community. Knowledge must be imparted to those closest to you first, he would say. He would keep in contact with me and in his humility would ask me questions to ask my teachers for him.

Dec 4, 2011 he said, “As salam Alaikum, I make dua your studies are doing fine. I was wondering if you could ask your (teachers) …”

He kept a secret once when my wife and I planned to come to town to completely surprise my mother and father for my sister’s marriage nikah ceremony.

He wrote “I’ll keep hush about it. Mubarak to your and your family… let me know if you want to perform the marriage. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) did his daughter’s nikah, big bro doing little sis’s nikah.”

I responded, “I think [the] best thing to ask my family iA once I see them, I’ll talk to them about it. You are our Imam, after all, Sh Umer : )”

Every time I visited Austin, he would always insist and invite me to give the sermon and conduct classes. He was a scholar who understood that we all work together in one service to the community.

He was a silent giant that many did not know. He had not only memorized the Quran but taught the different recitations of the Quran (the qira’at) for over a decade. On Seekers Guidance, he was a specialist in financial transactions in Islam and studied with some of the most prolific scholars of our time, ie. Mufti Taqi Usmani and others.

All in all, that one lesson just rings in my heart and soul: his mark and legacy was in the lives he touched and in his dedication to a community. In an increasingly digital world where our relationships are even increasingly becoming digital, he lived and imparted that the real, lived experiences we have are what matter the most. With your family first, your community, and those around you. Shaykh Umer touched our lives because he was present and invested in these relationships.

If one can summarize his life’s work it was the example of our Beloved Prophet peace be on him lived by, a mercy to mankind, and as he said,

“Indeed, God did not send me to be harsh or to turn people away, rather he sent me to teach and bring ease.” (Muslim). The gentle and humble teacher, whose presence gave ease.

He wrote to me last month informing me that he would be coming on the minor pilgrimage (Umrah) this December. We consider this an honor and invitation from God to walk in the footsteps of the prophets and Prophet Abraham to the Sacred House that is a mark of the servitude of God. As a friend said, little did we know that “he went to meet Allah in a different way.”

Imam Al Ghazali quotes in his Ihya, Imam Ali (may God be pleased with him) said once,

“The collectors and keepers of wealth have died even though they’re alive, but the scholars live on and remain so long as time is in existence.”

Shaykh Umer will forever live in our hearts and Insha Allah, God willing, in our prayers. It is no surprise that our Prophet said that scholars are the inheritors of Prophets and that the best of people are those that teach good to others, the best that we can leave behind is the knowledge that carries on.

Shaykh Umer remains in our lives because of all of this. May his legacy remain and may we live up to that legacy to carry it on. May God have mercy on him. May his family be blessed, protected, and reunite with him in the highest levels of Paradise.

I could not help as I read his messages except to respond. I know he won’t be able to read it in this life, but we believe that our actions in this life make a mark in the next. I hope I can tell him when I see him what I wrote to him after he had passed, “I love you Shaykh Umer. May these exchanges witness for us on the Day of Judgment. May we be united with our beloved Prophet peace be on him with our families hoping to be gathered as having served Allah’s faith.”

Please donate to the fund for his family:
https://www.facebook.com/donate/1016962988662732/10219028206712024/

Hasib
Muharram 1441/September 2019

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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