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Positively Muslim in the West: Umm Yousuf

MuslimMatters would like to recognize Umm Yousuf as the latest “Positively Muslim in the West”

Background:

Yousuf, son of Shaykh Waleed Basyouni and Umm Yousuf, was diagnosed with leukemia in June this year. Umm Yousuf was in the bookstore, when she came across a Dr. Seuss book, carrying a photo of a bald kid who had a sad expression. She didn’t want Yousuf, bald due to the chemotherapy, to see the picture. But she didn’t stop there. She wrote up a Dr. Seuss type poem and dispatched it to Random House, the publishers. Her request was simple, the message powerful. Let the bald boy smile!

MM published the effort and while we were highlighting it on our pages, Random House acknowledged Umm Yousuf’s request and promised to take care of it. Thus, we recognize Umm Yousuf, not only for this positive act, but also for all her efforts and hardships in taking care of little Yousuf.

Interview with Umm Yousuf:

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How is life as the Shaykh’s wife?

It has its advantages and disadvantages like anything.  I would have to say definitely more advantages, of course.  I love having fatwas answered at my convenience, but I also notice that I don’t strive as hard to gain knowledge as much, in Fiqh issues for example.  People think because I’m married to a shaykh I must get SO much knowledge from him but unless I attend his classes like anyone else, I don’t get many other opportunities other than watching him, listening to him or an occasional help in him preparing for classes.

It can be difficult seeing him come and go so much but when I see him at work or hear others positive feedback, gifts and prayers it reminds me of what he’s out there doing and I feel happy and reassured.

When did you find out about Yousuf’s illness and can you share your reaction?

I knew he was sick for about week or so before he was diagnosed, which was June 22, 2009. Remembering that day creates so much pain in my heart and I don’t like to think about it much. Yousuf didn’t have usual ‘sick’ symptoms and since he’s been one to dramatize small minor aches and pains, I didn’t pay much attention to it in the beginning. If there was anything I could have done differently would have been to listen more and be there for him more even if he had been ‘dramatizing’ something minor.

I think his father had the best example of what an initial reaction is supposed to be, masha’Allah. For myself, I felt as though the world was spinning until I entered some imaginary world or dream. I cried right away and felt devastated despite the fact that it didn’t feel real. Like instead of “It’s too good to be true”, It was too bad to be true. When his father heard the news he was sitting and just slapped his hands on his legs ready to leave to go do what we needed to do with a big “alhamdulilah”. As the hadith says, “The real patience appears in your initial reaction when the calamity first strikes you.”

Being much weaker than him I just looked at him and wondered if he had heard the doctor correctly.

How do you deal with moments of despair and sorrow that must crop up at times, when you find yourself questioning the decree of Allah, “Why my child?”. What do you do at such times of despondency?

Firstly, I have it deeply imprinted in my heart that Allah (swt) does not decree for me something I cannot bear, therefore there is wisdom in it, even if I cannot see it sometimes due to overwhelming sadness…but deep down I know I will come through, insha’Allah. That’s also part of loving Yousuf, staying strong for him.

Secondly, I don’t ask ‘Why?’ in a negative connotation or as if I am questioning Allah’s Qadr, rather I start searching for the POSITIVE reasons and acting upon it. For example, our eating habits were extremely poor so I immediately starting watching everything I fed myself and my kids. I searched out nutritious and whole foods as well as those foods that are known to help fight cancer.

I’ve become active in areas that I didn’t really understand or experience the importance of before. For example, I helped coordinate a toy drive for the patients at Texas Children’s Hospital; I’m also arranging a blood drive to be held at our local Clear Lake Masjid, insha’Allah, next month.

Lastly, I cannot underestimate the support I have received from my husband. Whenever it starts to get too much for me or I need time away to rejuvenate myself he’s there to help with the kids while I get some time away. I think this is important for all moms, though, not just one’s with sick kids.

Is Youssef ever socially ostracized by other children, or ridiculed/laughed at? How do you deal with these situations?

I only remember one time when (on Eid) one of the kids at the masjid made fun of Yousuf’s hair…or lack thereof. I was fortunate that one of his older sisters was there to defend and stand right next to him so I didn’t have to do anything, alhamdulilah.

Another time he was playing with the neighbors (alhamdulilah, Muslim neighbors) and they were play fighting with swords and one ‘new’ kid said to Yousuf playfully, “I’m gonna kill you!” So the other boy, who knew about Yousuf, told him not to play like that because he has cancer. I thought that was really cute.

So obviously, Yousuf does notice some reactions from people and knowing that most people DO have hair so he has a hard time with it. He’s made many comments about how he doesn’t like it and sometimes wants to tear up pictures of himself when he had hair.

What is your advice for other parents in the same situation?

That is a difficult question to answer because none of us are in the same situation. Even among the many leukemia patients and their parents I share the waiting room with, each of our story is different. We obviously share a lot in common but our kids are each unique individuals and so are the parents. For me my healing came through writing which for some they said it makes the feelings of sadness that much stronger.
On the other hand, like with any test we should look at the reasons why Allah (Swt) might be testing us. There have been numerous aspects of my life that I have disliked considerably, but deep down almost every time I knew it was good for me. It was only the times that I tried to deny that reality and fight against that I would have a difficult time in my life. However, when I surrender to the Will of Allah and knowing he has chosen that, in which has the potential to bring out the best of me, though the test is still difficult, you still feel a sense of peace. We are only responsible for what we do and not what is done to us.

Referring to the Dr. Seuss situation,

a) How did you come up with the idea?

The idea to write a letter was just from my initial reaction when seeing the picture of the sad face drawn on a bald headed kid. The WAY of doing it (in the Dr. Seuss style) actually was not planned at all. I just sat down at my computer ready to compose a regular letter to them and jokingly typed in the first line with a rhyme. At first I was confused on what I was going to say in my letter since I wanted to sound as nice as possible. When that first line came out I smiled, pulled myself close to the keyboard and the entire letter just flowed out, subhan’Allah.

b) What was your reaction when you saw the letter from Random house?

Okay, so call me immature but I was holding the letter jumping up and down. I was happy and very shocked at the quick response.

c) Were you surprised by the support on MM and on your blog?

Yes, I was. Despite the fact that I was very excited about the idea I am not always sure how Muslims (being from so many different backgrounds) would interpret my approach to such a small matter and why I felt it was important. I was glad to see the positive feedback on that.

d) Should we expect more poems from you?

Not just poems but books, insha’Allah! I am aiming towards Islamic books for kids in a ….Dr. Seuss fashion?

As a convert yourself, when did you convert? I am sure you have been asked this question a thousand times, but we’ll ask anyway… why did you turn to Islam?

I don’t mind answering this question repeatedly…it serves as a good reminder to me and therefore is a sort of eeman renewal for me.

I was 19 years old when I declared my shahadah in the old Clear Lake Masjid. There were many different factors in what exactly drew me into the religion but simply put I was looking for direction not faith(because I already had that) and Islam offers both. I used to attend church twice a week and had many dreams in doing work for the sake of my Creator and my religion, one of those dreams was to travel across the world and spread belief to others. I didn’t have the means to do so so I just kept on praying for direction. I took the means by meeting with my church minister and asking him a million questions that I didn’t understand about Christianity. My father is a pastor of a church in another state but I didn’t want to ask him to think I was questioning my faith…but I was. The answers were always, “Pray and read the bible.” I would explain to him I was doing that but then what? He would just repeat the same sentence until I just tried to continue on doing that faithfully accepting what I didn’t quite understand.

It was at that time I started meeting Muslims, at my job, book stores and school. I thought my prayers were being answered but instead of traveling to meet people God had brought them to me to help guide. We would sit and have many discussions, most of which impressed me on how much Muslims knew about my religion more than I did. They were answering many of those questions that the minister could not answer and while making a lot of sense.

I was not going give up that easy. It was now my turn to go secretly research about Islam so that I had a better way to debate with them. I finally opened up a little to my dad so I would call him and ask him some questions. The one question I called and asked him that totally turned me off to Christianity and on to Islam was had the bible been changed? He said yes, of course. But the Qur’an had not.

I still did not convert yet, despite the fact that I could not find a single thing wrong with Islam and seemed to believe in everything I had learned about it. It was still difficult to take the religion seriously as the people who were talking to me did not practice what they preached. They were good hearted Muslims, who had struggles like anyone; but they still not wear hijab or refrain from mixing with the opposite gender.

It was finally when I met a Muslim woman who, masha’Allah, was very religious in her actions, dress and manners. It was her spirituality and emphasis on the love and mercy of Allah that finally brought me to the final decision. After asking her if I would be able to start over again pure with a clean slate and she said yes, I declared my shahadah silently to myself (as I had already memorized it knowing that’s what I wanted). A few weeks later I did it publicly.

What advice do you have for other Muslims in America in taking advantage of our rights as Americans and taking on the “system” as you sort of did with Dr. Seuss?

To definitely TAKE advantage of them! But for everyone’s advantage and not just our own and do so in a positive manner using the example of the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam.

What do you love most about living as a Muslim in the States?

Alhamdulilah, I’m just happy to be able to live as Muslim anywhere. I have only lived in the U.S. and cannot compare it to anywhere else. However, I do feel happy that my home country is one that I can practice my religion freely and connect with other Muslims, not only from here but from everywhere.

How can Muslims be a positive voice in States?

Be a good role model and follow the example of our beloved prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam  in manners and behavior. The more we learn about him sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam and the history of his time the better we can know how to do that.

The more active we are in the community at large and are able to leave our “signature” behind the more doors will open, in positive ways, to interact with our neighbors in this country therefore creating better opportunities to make dawah. Muslims shouldn’t stick within our close network of people by belief but spread out and start focusing on the weaknesses of the community and aiding in making it better for everyone. Giving a good example IS dawah. Volunteering in shelters, nursery homes, hospitals, or even animal rescue services, all do the work of good deeds, setting a good example and establishing positive relationships with all our neighbors, Muslim or non-Muslim. I feel many people would understand or admit the logic behind Islam when they see and feel the spiritual side of the religion and Muslims.

Request for Help & Nominations for Future Awards

As mentioned in the post, Umm Yousuf is working on some children books. She is looking for some help with illustrations for the books. Please email us if you have the talent and can participate.

If you would like to nominate a positive Muslim in the West, please email: info@muslimmatters.org. The main premise for the award is to recognize Muslims living as positive, contributing and integrated minorities.

May Allah reward Umm Yousuf, grant her child recovery and bless her and her family. Ameen.


Past Muslim Positives:

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31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mercy

    December 28, 2009 at 7:28 AM

    Assalama ‘Alaykum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu,

    Masha’Allah, I am forever reminded of the in surah baqarah where Allah speaks about testing individuals in so many ways and reminding the individual to endure with patience. May Allah azza wa jala bestow his mercy upon you and your family, and may this be only a means to draw closer to Him, the most high. JaazaakAllah khayr for this interview and the wonderful reminders placed therin.

    Wassalama ‘Alaykum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu

  2. Avatar

    Waleed Basyouni

    December 28, 2009 at 10:38 AM

    Jazaki Allah Khaira Um Yousuf

    • Amad

      Amad

      December 28, 2009 at 1:52 PM

      Good to see your comment Shaykh. May Allah reward you for your patience and support… from everything I hear, you are a role model in how to deal with such a fitnah…

      May Allah bless both of you and give shifa’ to Yousuf, and may he grow up to read and comment on this post decades from now :)

      • Avatar

        Tanveer

        January 4, 2010 at 10:26 AM

        InshaAllah

  3. Avatar

    Ameera

    December 28, 2009 at 11:51 AM

    When I started reading this, I couldn’t stop… Jazakillahi khayran for sharing a little part of your life with us and teaching us what Sabr really means. May Allah(swt) bestow His Shifaa on your son! Truly, Allah(swt) is with those who’re patient with His Qadr!

  4. Avatar

    Yus from the Nati

    December 28, 2009 at 12:22 PM

    Jazakillahukhair.

    This is a beautiful post. I enjoyed it. May Allah make it easy for all of you.

  5. Avatar

    Amatullah

    December 28, 2009 at 1:55 PM

    Baarak Allahu feeki Umm Yousuf, may Allah ta’ala shower His Rahmah on you and your family.

  6. Avatar

    AllahCreatedMe

    December 28, 2009 at 2:11 PM

    You are my role model, masha’allah! I hope that one day, I can walk into the public library and pick up a fiction Muslim book for teenagers and walk out feeling proud that my people are making a difference here and not just in Makkah or something. We need books that we can benefit from and accept, and believe me, Dr. Suess-style books are a great step. Allahumma ishfy mardana wa marda al-muslimeen! Ameen!

    • Avatar

      Ameera

      December 28, 2009 at 6:57 PM

      :)

      Great, I want to write fiction books for teenagers too, based on Islamic content, presented in a way they can actually relate to and accept… Insha’Allah. There’s a BIG vacuum there!

      • Avatar

        UmA

        December 28, 2009 at 10:32 PM

        HIstorical fiction for teens, please!

        • Avatar

          Ameera

          December 29, 2009 at 9:47 AM

          Historical fiction? I don’t get that. Could you elaborate, please?

        • Avatar

          Um Danyaal

          December 29, 2009 at 6:05 PM

          Assalamu alaikum,

          May I recommend this:

          http://www.muslimwriterspublishing.com/sophiasjournal.html

          and there are many other titles you might be interested in at the same website.

          • Avatar

            Ameera

            December 30, 2009 at 9:47 AM

            *wide eyes* Wow! Didn’t know (Muslim) people were getting as creative as that! :)

  7. Avatar

    Dunia's Stranger

    December 28, 2009 at 3:49 PM

    This is inspirational.

    And I thought I was going through difficult times.

    I need to say ‘Alhumdulliah’ more after reading this piece.

  8. Avatar

    Umm Salma

    December 29, 2009 at 12:43 AM

    May Allah reward you and your family for your patience. You are truly an inspiration to all mothers, and stories like this remind me to always be thankful and patient for all the good that I have in my life. InshaAllah I can’t wait to be able to read one of your books to my children. :)

    “…But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.” [Al-Quran Al-Kareem: Surah Al-Baqarah Ayat 216]

  9. Avatar

    Muhammad

    December 29, 2009 at 3:15 AM

    I am sure it will come as a surprise to Ali al-Timimi, Ismail Royer, Rafil Dhafir, and the other Muslims being held on trumped up charges in America’s dungeons to know that it is the only country on earth where Muslims can practice their religion.

    • Avatar

      angry guy

      December 30, 2009 at 10:38 AM

      Salam

      Reading thru Umm Yusuf’s story, I wonder if she would have have taken shahadah if she had come across an article like this before reverting and seen a comment like this? We are talking about an article written by a sister dealing with a sick child, which by itself makes comments like these out of order. Secondly, the sister is NOT saying that America is the ONLY country on earth where Muslims can practice. PLEASE READ WHAT SHE SAID MORE CAREFULLY. Thirdly, the sister is talking about what muslims can do POSITIVELY here in the USA. What do you think American muslims should do, just sit back and complain and do nothing else? There’s a lot of bad things happening against good muslims all over the world, not just in America. And if you can be bothered to read the rest of this site, you will see the huge support being shown to Sister Aafia Siddiqui.

      • Avatar

        amad

        December 30, 2009 at 11:40 AM

        I agree… such comments are in very bad taste and reflects an obsession with negativity and pessimism that is not befitting the Muslim character as exemplified in the optimistic and merciful example of our Prophet, sallallah alehi wasalam.

      • Avatar

        amad

        December 30, 2009 at 11:41 AM

        I agree… such comments are in very bad taste and reflect an obsession with negativity, soo ad-dhan, and pessimism that is not befitting the Muslim character as exemplified in the optimistic and merciful example of our Prophet, sallallah alehi wasalam.

  10. Avatar

    Kashif

    December 29, 2009 at 4:25 AM

    Well said!

  11. Avatar

    ummmaryam

    December 29, 2009 at 4:53 AM

    Jazakumallahu khairaa umm Yousuf..May Allahtaala grant shifa and accept all your duas quickly.Looking forward to read your books..

  12. Amad

    Amad

    December 29, 2009 at 6:22 AM

    Just a reminder from the post:

    As mentioned in the post, Umm Yousuf is working on some children books. She is looking for some help with illustrations for the books. Please email us if you have the talent and can participate.

    If you would like to nominate a positive Muslim in the West, please email: info@muslimmatters.org. The main premise for the award is to recognize Muslims living as positive, contributing and integrated minorities.

    • Avatar

      Ameera

      December 29, 2009 at 9:53 AM

      I can direct you to someone who lives in Pakistan and works on illustrations keeping the Islamic aspects in mind. He was featured in the latest issue of Hiba Magazine, an Islamic family magazine circulated in Pakistan, Dubai, etc. Maybe Umm Yousuf could work with him long distance?

      Absar Kazmi: email ID… absar.kazmi@gmail.com

  13. Avatar

    Hamza21

    December 29, 2009 at 6:20 PM

    And who can compare with the life and work Khadijah Rivera? It’s so pitiful on a muslim site her death isn’t even mentioned. Shame on you MM.

    Umm Yousuf’s “positivity” doesn’t even come close To Khadijah Rivera positivity.

    • Avatar

      Qas

      December 29, 2009 at 7:14 PM

      Then, why don’t you write something about her and submit it instead of playing the mine is bigger than yours game.

    • Amad

      Amad

      December 30, 2009 at 12:06 AM

      Strange comment Hamza. Just because you recognize someone doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t better or doesn’t deserve it more.

      Sr. Khadijah, may Allah grant her paradise, has passed away and this series relies on interviews, which of course isn’t possible.

      However, we can always highlight what her achievements for those of us, including me, who don’t know much about her. If you would like to submit something, as Qas poignantly :) pointed out, please email it to us.

  14. Avatar

    angry guy

    December 30, 2009 at 10:21 AM

    Salam

    Why the negativity????? Have some respect.

    • Avatar

      amad

      December 30, 2009 at 11:43 AM

      ^agree

      Bro, it seems to be becoming tough to even highlight Muslim POSITIVES! So, any more negative comments on a positive post, and they’ll be simply removed.

      If you have nothing good to say, just make dua’ for the sister and her child.

      • Avatar

        Ameera

        December 31, 2009 at 4:58 AM

        I second that!

  15. Avatar

    Bintwadee3

    December 31, 2009 at 1:18 PM

    Jazaakillaahu Khaira Umm Yousuf :].
    I really love your optimism. It seems to be a dwindling commodity these days.
    May Allaah azza wa Jal grant you and your entire family Sabr during these times.
    And may you be a SHINING example and a beacon of hope for everyone around you.
    Aameen :D
    When Allaah gives you pumpkins, make pumkin pie. Aw kamaa yaquloon =P

    Hoping to see you at A Heart Serene this February :]
    (Smashing good class, I say. This will be the second time I take it, bi idhnillaah)

    Wassalaamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullaahi wa Barakaatuh

    -Maymuna

  16. Avatar

    Muslima02

    December 31, 2009 at 2:27 PM

    As’salaam Aleykum,

    Wow! What happen to either speaking good or remaining silent. I love UmmYousuf and May Allah reward her efforts and that of her families. And all parents, siblings, extended relatives going thru any hardship. It is indeed hard and stressful and to keep a positive attitude and genuine smile is definitely a nimah from Allah azza wajal.

    :) Lighten up Muslims and smile more.

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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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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.

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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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.)

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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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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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