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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.

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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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Hasib Noor is an instructor and researcher that specializes in History, Islamic Heritage & Law, alongside other Islamic disciplines. Founder of Prophetic Legacy & Foundation dedicated to researching and teaching Islamic history, heritage, and archaeological sites. He resides in Madinah.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Umm Zachary

    September 6, 2019 at 6:45 PM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu
    Jaazak Allahu Khayron brother hearing pasing of Sheikh Umer in your post made me cry; he witnessed my shahadah, he understandingly help to me to receive Aid, patiently guided me and answered so many questions I was always showing up at the Masjid, even when I was overseas you would answer my questions in a text message, and with rathma understood reality on the ground for us Muslims and the United States young old revert whichever country. I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t come across your post.

  2. Avatar

    Ahmed

    September 15, 2019 at 10:38 AM

    May Allah have mercy upon him and forgive him and give him the highest levels of jannah.

    I just want to point out something regarding what you said in the article:

    “There is no doubt that Sh Umer Esmail was one of those faithful servants of God”

    Read this hadith:

    Narrated Um Al-Ala:

    That when the Ansar drew lots as to which of the emigrants should dwell with which of the Ansar, the name of `Uthman bin Mazun came out (to be in their lot). Um Al-Ala further said, “Uthman stayed with us, and we nursed him when he got sick, but he died. We shrouded him in his clothes, and Allah’s Apostle came to our house and I said, (addressing the dead `Uthman), ‘O Abu As-Sa’ib! May Allah be merciful to you. I testify that Allah has blessed you.’ The Prophet (ﷺ) said to me, “How do you know that Allah has blessed him?” I replied, ‘I do not know O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! May my parents be sacrificed for you.’ Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, ‘As regards `Uthman, by Allah he has died and I really wish him every good, yet, by Allah, although I am Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ), I do not know what will be done to him.’ Um Al- Ala added, ‘By Allah I shall never attest the piety of anybody after him. And what Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)s said made me sad.” Um Al-Ala further said, “Once I slept and saw in a dream, a flowing stream for `Uthman. So I went to Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) and told him about it, he said, ‘That is (the symbol of) his deeds.” (Sahih bukhari 2687)

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#Current Affairs

This Eid And Beyond Boycott Goods Made With Enslaved Labor Of Uyghurs Even If It Is Your Favorite Brand

Bidding farewell to Ramadan, celebrating Eid?

Well, the Muslims of East Turkestan under Chinese occupation had neither Ramadan nor will they have Eid…

Not only that, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) run government has transferred Uyghurs and other ethnic minority citizens from East Turkestan to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Nike, Gap, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Carters and others. Read Uyghurs for Sale for more information

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CCP is also pressuring governments across the world to extradite Uyghurs back to occupied East Turkestan.

Here is what you can do to help them:

Action Items

  1. Keep making dua for the oppressed of East Turkistan and the world.
  2. Boycott Chinese products! Do not be complicit in slave labour. Start with focusing on the companies in the graphic. Share it with #SewnWithtTears, #StopChina, #BoycottChina. Write to them and demand that they do better.
  3. Raise awareness on the plight of Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause. Learn more at SaveUighur.org
  4. Work towards reducing your country’s economic dependence on China.
  5. Build alliances with all people of conscience to demand a cessation of China’s oppression of all faith groups, be it Muslim Uyghur, Hui; Chinese Christian; or Tibetan Buddhist.
  6. Encourage and promote fairer trade and commerce with Muslims and others rather than China.
  7. Inquire about Uyghur diaspora members in your area. Organize to help out orphans, widows, and students.
  8. Pressure governments to provide legal protection to Uyghur refugees-exiles by granting either citizenship or refugee/asylee status. Stop the “extradition/repatriation” of Uyghurs to China!
  9. Get your universities/endowments to divest from China. Raise awareness about Chinese espionage and hired guns in academia. Demand academic and financial support for Uyghur scholars and students. Request more academic attention and funds for Central Asian, Uyghur, Turkistani studies. 

Read a greater discussion of action items in A Response to Habib Ali Al-Jifri’s Comments on the Uyghurs, which also contains a greater discussion on East Turkistan’s history and its current situation. A condensed Arabic version of the article can be found here

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 9: A Good Word

Now that we have learnt about the life of this world, let’s talk about a good word.

I want you all to close your eyes and think of a beautiful tree. 

Question: Who can tell me what their tree looks like? Is the tree big and strong? Does it have lots of branches and leaves? Does it have fruit?

Now, I want you to think of a time when someone said something really nice to you.

Question:  What are some of the nice statements you remember people telling you?

Question: How did those statements make you feel?

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Yes, they fill us up with a warm feeling. We may have felt proud of ourselves and we may have felt loved. Do you know that Allah [wt] describes a good word to a good tree? 

In Surah Ibrahim, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says:

أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ ضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا كَلِمَةً طَيِّبَةً كَشَجَرَةٍ طَيِّبَةٍ أَصْلُهَا ثَابِتٌ وَفَرْعُهَا فِي السَّمَاءِ 

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تُؤْتِي أُكُلَهَا كُلَّ حِينٍ بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهَا ۗ وَيَضْرِبُ اللَّهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ 

Have you not considered how Allah presents an example, [making] a good word like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches [high] in the sky? [Surah Ibrahim; 24]

It produces its fruit all the time, by permission of its Lord. And Allah presents examples for the people that perhaps they will be reminded. [Surah Ibrahim; 25]

Question: Now, I want you to think of a time when someone said something mean to you. How did that make you feel?

It’s not fun to remember the mean stuff right? Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) continues in Surah Ibrahim and says:

وَمَثَلُ كَلِمَةٍ خَبِيثَةٍ كَشَجَرَةٍ خَبِيثَةٍ اجْتُثَّتْ مِن فَوْقِ الْأَرْضِ مَا لَهَا مِن قَرَارٍ

And the example of a bad word is like a bad tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, not having any stability. [Surah Ibrahim; 26] 

Question: What do you think are good words we can use to build strong, firmly rooted trees?

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 8: The Life of This World

Now that we have learnt about qalbun saleem, let’s talk about the life of this world.

Question: Do you know that there is an ayah in the Qur’an that takes us through all the stages of life and tells us what we find to be the most important aspect based on our age?

This ayah is found in the chapter named Al-Hadeed. 

Question: Does anyone know what Hadeed means? 

Yes! It means iron! The verse in Surah al-Hadeed starts by saying:

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اعْلَمُوا أَنَّمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ 

“Know that the life of this world is play and amusement.”

Question: When you were really, really young, what was something that was important to you?

Yes, playing! You would use your imagination, play with your toys, and build legos. That is what  لَعِبٌ la’bun means. Then you got a bit older and you wanted to hear stories and be entertained. 

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Question: Can you tell me in what other ways you’re entertained? (Examples can include watching TV, reading books, etc)

Yes! This is what is meant by  لَهْوٌ l(ahwun). Then we get a bit older and our goals change. The ayah continues by saying, وَزِينَةٌ وَتَفَاخُرٌ بَيْنَكُمْ (wa zeenatun wa tafakhirun baynakum). All of a sudden, you become a tween and a teenager, and you really care about your looks. You want to dress in the nicest clothing and look beautiful. This is zeena

Then you get even older and you enter college. You compete with your classmates and show off your knowledge and skills to impress future employees. This is tafaakhirun baynakum , i.e. boasting with one another. 

Then what usually happens after college? Work, marriage, and children! The ayah continues by saying, وَتَكَاثُرٌ فِي الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَوْلَادِ (wa takathur fil amwaali wal-awlaad), i.e. and competition in increasing wealth and children.

As parents, we try to give you the best life and education, and we work hard to provide for you. But, we always have to remember that it won’t be permanent, right? 

Question: We will be so happy, like farmers watching our seeds grow into beautiful plants, but what happens in the fall when it’s no longer sunny and becomes windy and cold? 

Yes, the plants turn yellow. Remember that toy you used to love playing with as a really little kid? Is it as interesting to you anymore? Remember that TV show you could not stop watching? You even memorized all the lines in it. Do you remember the title? Are you interested in something else now?

This is the example of our whole life. Once we get something we once were so excited to have, we realize that after some time has passed, that it has “turned yellow” to us. 

Question: What do you think that means?

Yes! It’s not as interesting as it once was. So knowing that this is going to happen, how can we make sure to not get distracted by the bright and shiny and stay focused on Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)?

We’re in luck, because Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gives us the answer! Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says:

 “سَابِقُوا إِلَىٰ مَغْفِرَةٍ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَجَنَّةٍ 

Race toward forgiveness from your Lord and Jannah! 

Question: How do you think we can race towards Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)?

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