Thursday, 12 November 2009

Tribute to Shaykh Zakaria ibn 'Umar Bagharib (q.s.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following write-up is based on the one given to Pustaka National.  The shorter version is found in a tribute book for Shaykh Zakaria ibn ‘Umar Bagharib (q.s.).  In that book is also a list of some of the ud’iyyah that he taught us.

Shaykh Zakaria ibn ‘Umar Bagharib (q.s.) will always have a place in our hearts, especially for many of the converts in Darul Arqam Singapore who had the privilege of learning from him.  I first met him at Darul Arqam whilst I was waiting for my first Beginners’ Course in Islam.  He was teaching the tawhid class in the room opposite.  It is ironic that although I studied much from him, I never studied any of it at Darul Arqam itself.  In any case, he had a different understanding of how tawhid should be taught with the then President of Darul Arqam, Ridzuan Wu.  He was told to leave and the students left with him.  That was in 2001.

In one of the days after the Beginners’ Course in Islam class, I followed one of the converts, Muhammad Asha’ari Parhar, to a house at Lorong Marzuki.  And for that, may Allah (s.w.t.) Bless him.  It was a dzikr session and Shaykh Zakaria (q.s.) was leading it.  For me, it was magical.  When it came to the swuhbah, it felt as if every nugget of wisdom was meant for each and every one of us alone.  That was the effect of his charisma and the barakah of his knowledge.

The very next week, I sought him out just before the next Beginners’ class.  I sat on the chair opposite him in Classroom A.  My chair was pulled so close my knees touched his knees.  My hand was on his lap.  I asked him about shari’ah.  He said it was the foundation of Islam.  I asked him about thariqa’.  He replied that it was inner dimensions of Islam.  I asked about bay’ah.  He said that the first bay’ah is the kalima shahadatain.  Finally, I asked about the Mahdi (a.s.): Is the Mahdi here (a.s.)?  He hesitated.  I asked again.  He quietly said, “Yes.”

“If that is so,” I said, “I want to give the bay’ah.”  I was never so certain.  I had not even converted yet.  I did not know that it is the shaykh that offers and may decline.  Joining a Sufi Order is a commitment beyond lifetimes and is by invitation only.  I was not arrogant.  I was ignorant.  If I wanted Islam, then I wanted the best of it.

He asked, “Now?  Are you sure?”

I said I was.  He asked me to look for a witness.  I said Allah (s.w.t.) and his Prophet (s.a.w.) were Witness.  He smiled and said, “You are not at the maqam to say that.”  He said, "I saw Azeem outside.  Go and call him.”

I went out and found Abdul Azeem, also known as Brett Patterson.  And thus, I joined the Naqshbandi Haqqani Sufi Order before I formally converted to Islam.  I had no idea I was re-enacting something that happened a thousand years and more ago.  I had not learnt the hadits of Jibril (a.s.).  I did not know that I repeated the words of Abu Bakr (r.a.).  I spoke what was there.

Shaykh Zakaria (q.s.) lived down the road from my place and whenever I had need to know something, or felt I was apart from Allah (s.w.t.), I always went down and he always had time for me regardless.  In the darkest times of my life when it seemed my hold on the Diyn al-Haqq was slipping away, he was always there to show me the way back.

There was a time when a man came to join the circle.  He was an American, dressed in shorts and sitting on a chair in the masjid.  He said he was an American “Sufi”.  But he was not a Muslim.  Shaykh Zakaria (q.s.) politely but firmly asked him to leave: “There is no taswawwuf without shari’ah.  There is no ‘Sufi’ without Islam.”

Shaykh Zakaria ibn ‘Umar Bagharib (q.s.) was born on 19th March 1936 to an Arab family of 12 siblings, whose roots were from Tarim, Yemen.  He was the youngest.  His late father, Shaykh ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdullah Bagharib (q.s.), served the community as imam of Khadijah Mosque, then known as “Masjid Bagharib” after the great imam himself.

He had his early secular education in the Geylang, Telok Kurau and Kota Raja Schools in Singapore including 4 years of Islamic Education at the al-Khairiah Islamic School, Madrasah al-Khairiah al-Islamiah, which still exist today.  Later, he undertook 3 years of full-time study at The Sultan Idris Training College (SITC) and thereafter, studied law at the University of Singapore from 1961 to 1965.  In 1966, he was offered a teaching job and served as lecturer at the Teachers’ Training College in Paterson Road.  He furthered his education at The Concordia University in Montreal Canada from 1972 to 1976, where he obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce, majoring in Accountancy and Business Administration.

For nineteen years, Shaykh Zakaria (q.s.) also learnt intensively various Islamic sciences like Arabic language, Arabic grammar, taswawwuf, fiqh, hadits and tafsir under the tutelage of arguably the most eminent of Islamic scholars in Singapore, Shaykh ‘Umar al-Khathib (q.s.).

Shaykh Zakaria (q.s.) taught the Islamic sciences at private centres and the Darul Arqam and was among their most popular teachers and at many masajid.  He was a trained lawyer.  He spoke excellent English, although he seldom showed it, as well as Malay, Arabic and French.  He was once the head of the Malay Teachers’ Union of Singapore.  During the struggle for Singapore’s self-determination, he was branded by the British as an anti-colonialist because he fought for the rights of the Malay teachers including better benefits and higher pay and is still remembered by that generation fondly.  He had a very colourful history before he was an ustadz and a shaykh and he brought that wealth of experience and knowledge with him.  He was also a secret service agent once.

He was more than just a teacher and a mentor.  He embodied the principles of a shaykh.  He led first and foremost by example.  He was strict with the shari’ah yet taught us its application with wisdom.  He never missed his swalah, whether it was fardh or sunnah.  I remember in his last days, during Ramadhan, he led the tarawih and the witr nightly despite the fact that the pain was obvious.  That was the lesson of the importance of swalah.  He emphasised the fact that amongst all the practices of ‘ibadah in Islam, swalah was the only one which Rasulullah (s.a.w.) received during the Mi’raj as Commanded for all the ummah.  Even the last stages of cancer could not keep him away from his duty to his Rabb.

He loved the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and taught us the high station of the Prophet (s.a.w.) as mentioned in the Qur’an and ahadits.  It was a lesson reiterated over and over again in the years I learned from him.  He was a master of tafsir and was generous with his knowledge.

I had a dream once of someone being prepared for burial and I gave my ‘aththar, which was from Makkah, to be put on the body.  There were so many people there that I could not see the body.  It was a sad dream, but strangely happy.  Since whoever it was, was returning home, to a better place.  A place of Closeness.  The Oceans of Mercy.  It was a strange dream since I have never been to Makkah, let alone possess ‘aththar from there.  When I was there at his house, I knew that this was the person I dreamt about.  And this was the janazah.  It was surreal.  I already knew a week before-hand that his time was up.  Ustadz Amin Teo, another of his students, and I visited him as often as possible.  Once, twice a day.  And I did have the ‘aththar.

I had the privilege of being there when they prepared his body for janazah and I carried him to the masjid and to the grave.  There is no doubt in my mind that he followed the path of his esteemed father, Shaykh ‘Umar Bagharib (q.s.) and he passed away as one close to Allah (s.w.t.).  And Allah (s.w.t.) knows best.  Shaykh Zakaria Bagharib (q.s.) returned to Allah Almighty on Friday 25th September 2009 / 6th Shawwal, 1430 AH, at about 1000h.  At least a thousand people prayed at his funeral prayer, conducted at Masjid Sultan.  He was then buried at Singapore’s Muslim cemetery at Jalan Bahar.

Shaykh Zakaria (q.s.) will be deeply missed by hundreds of people, especially the followers and students of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi Order in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and the many converts in Darul Arqam that he taught.  He taught us that Islam is Alive.  And its beauty is only appreciated by Taste.  By the hadits in which Rasulullah (s.a.w.) said that we will be raised with the ones we love, we are comforted.


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