The Story of Umm 'Iyadh (q.s.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is taken from “The Story of Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.)” from 20th September, 2012.

“The neighbourhood was different back in those days.  There was no zawiyah, and I lived on the ground floor of a three story apartment block nestled between our guest-house and the land that would eventually give birth to the zawiyah.  As I turned right from the black-and-white outer door of my home that faced the street, it was only a few short steps up the hill until the guest-house was reached.  It was entered through a courtyard, the edges of which were being slowly colonised by young vines, with fruit still too young and bitter to draw benefit from. Inside the guest-house was where the brothers slept and lived when visiting from overseas.  Little teaching took place there though sometimes we would recite Hizb al-Bahr and Hizb an-Naswr after the mid-afternoon prayer.  It was only later that the guest-house would become a place of teaching and dzikr before being drawn back to its former service as a rest-stop for the traveller after the new zawiyah was built.  The hadhra was held four times a week — twice in Amman, once in Sarih, and once in Irbid after the Friday prayer.  An old bus would swing onto the hill and we would board with whosoever was staying nearby, to be taken to wherever the hadhra was.  That was in the evening.  In the morning, we silently recited a portion of our daily litanies outdoors.  After the morning prayer a few of us, some- times numbering only one or two, would walk up to the top of the hill on the edge of Kharebsheh that overlooked the uninhabited barren valley below.  There, as sunrise approached, we would sit silently and recite our own personal litanies.  After 45 minutes or so, the sun would rise over us and we would leave.  This was all in 1996 and 1997.

At around the same time a young Arab of Palestinian descent became my student.  His name was Sidi ‘Iyadh.  He helped with procuring often rare manuscripts and books, for this was his speciality, but he also had some training in calligraphy.  This was useful as a new awrad book was in preparation.  The awrad book was to contain four litanies authored by Imam Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadzili (q.s.), and others penned by such masters as Imam Abu al-‘Abbas al-Mursi (q.s.) and Imam Abu al-Muwahib ash-Shadzili at-Tunisi (q.s.).  We had selected only the most rigorously authentic litanies, which were then to be compiled into a small book of awrad, written by one of the leading calligraphers in the world.  The calligrapher was world-class: he had won the world championship for the naskh script at an international competition in Istanbul.  Now he was living temporarily in the neighbourhood, writing out the litanies of the Shadzili thariqa’.  I put Sidi ‘Iyadh’s knowledge to good use.  Behind the scenes, he would advise me, pointing out any imperfections in the penmanship; and I would go to the calligrapher and say, “This could be better,” or ‘That could be better.”  After a time, the calligrapher realised who was advising me, and Sidi ‘Iyadh became the enemy.  His help was in- valuable.

The book of awrad was now finished and I learnt from Sidi ‘Iyadh that his mother had decided she would read Hizb al-Kabir, and she continued in its recitation until the early part of 2004.  I was somewhat surprised at this.  Hizb al-Kabir is quite long and many people of the thariqa’ do not have the strength, or find it difficult, to recite day-on-day, and Sidi ‘Iyadh’s mother was not in the thariq.  She was just an ordinary Arab woman, though she had sacrificed and worked hard for her children.  Sidi ‘Iyadh’s father was absent so Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) had raised her children alone.  By day teaching at school; by night sewing piece-work, all to make ends meet.  She was always working, working, working.  And she did so to give her children an education, and sent them on to university.  Umm ‘Iyad (q.s.) sacrificed a great deal for her children.

In the first part of 2004, Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) had trouble with gall-stones.  A hospital admission followed, where she had an operation to remove them.  It so turned out that the gall-stones were accompanied by advanced liver cancer.  This was unexpected and came as a shock.  Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) was given just four months to remain in this world.  The cancer was too advanced to treat.  Sidi ‘Iyadh came to me to break the news, and we talked, ‘Iyadh and I.

‘It’s better not to tell her,’ he said.

To which I replied, ‘In my opinion I would like to be told about something like this so I could make ready, prepare.’

‘No, it would wreck the family and everyone would start acting unusual and break her heart.’

Finally, I listened to his reasoning, ‘Okay, you call the shots, you know the family better than I do.’

They did not tell her.  Not about the liver cancer, nor about her shortened life.  Even as Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) grew weaker, which she surely did, she did not show any outward suspicion of the seriousness of her illness.  She only said over-and-over, ‘When I get better I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that.’

Sidi ‘Iyadh’s mother now took the thariq from me and continued on with her daily reading of Hizb al-Kabir.  In spite of her illness, her failing strength, and straightened circumstance, Allah (s.w.t.) made it possible for Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) to go to the hajj.  This, she did even though less than the age that the Jordanian government issues hajj permits for.  The numbers have to be restricted to prevent overcrowding and crushing; it is not easy for Muslims from the East to go on hajj.  And so Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) went with her son and daughter-in-law to attend to her.  The hajj was completed and Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) returned, by now she was very tired, very weak.

Upon his return, Sidi ‘Iyadh paid me a visit bringing with him some unexpected news.  His mother had requested that she be entered into the khalwah.

I said to him, ‘How can someone go in the khalwah when they don’t know anything about mudzakarah, they haven’t heard anything, they haven’t prepared?’

Sidi ‘Iyadh insisted that his mother’s mind was set, she wanted the khalwah, and Sidi ‘Iyadh persisted in his asking on her behalf.  Finally, I decided to pray an istikharah about the matter.  Over the years, I have seen many elderly mothers do extremely well in the solitary dzikr of the khalwah.  Such women have spent of themselves, often over decades, serving their children and husbands behind closed doors, with no public thanks or applause.  This is a very high level of ikhlasw.  Such unsung, low-profile service is always a recipe for sincerity.  So I prayed an istikharah about whether or not to enter Umm ‘Iyadh istikharah into the khalwah and to my utter surprise it was positive.  She has been in the thariqa’ for four weeks and she is going into the khalwah.

Because of her weakness caused by her illness, Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) was put into the khalwah at Sidi ‘Iyadh’s house.  When we arrived, Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) was sitting on the bed saying, ‘When I get well, I’ll be up and about.’  Still no-one had told her she was passing out of this world.  It was there she made dzikr for three days and reached what many people of the thariqa’ are unable to reach after forty years.  Allah (s.w.t.) Illuminated her with a complete fath, a complete ma’rifah.  Afterwards she said, ‘Where on earth was I, where on earth am I now?’  She was just shocked at what Allah (s.w.t.) had Opened up to her.  I was pretty surprised myself.  After that, she found it very difficult to listen to the relatives when they visited and spoke of the usual things relatives across the world talk about.  She could not listen to any of them for more than fifteen minutes.  She could not stand it.  And she made dzikr all the time: ‘Allah, Allah, Allah.’  Umm Sahl would visit and read aloud the letters of Mawlay al-‘Arabi ad-Darqawi (q.s.), and this soon became Umm ‘Iyadh’s (q.s.) whole joy, to hear the words of Mawlay al-‘Arabi (q.s.).  She only wanted to hear of Allah (s.w.t.) and the next life.  This world no longer held her interest and she could not bear to hear of it.  Now, her whole happiness was Allah (s.w.t.), her dzikr, and Umm Sahl reading during those visits.

And still Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) said, ‘When I get well I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that.’  But she did not get better; instead, things became very tough for her.  She was unable to move around the house; she could not get out of bed without help.

The King Hussein Cancer Center in Amman is one of the best hospitals in the Middle East.  It is also the most expensive.  It is the pinnacle of the Jordanian government’s desire to make the country a centre of excellence for medical treatment in the Middle East.  Wealthy Arabs from across the region visit for treatment.  Sidi ‘Iyadh went there and talked to the head administrator who told him, ‘That’s alright, we can admit your mother for nothing.’  Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) was admitted free of charge.  Doubtless she saw where she was being taken as the large sign outside the hospital is pretty plain, yet she pretended not to know for her children’s sake.  It is likely she knew all along, only feigning ignorance to make her children happy.  She was there for about ten days, then Thursday night came.

The hadhrah and the lesson had finished, people were dispersing, preparing to return home.  Sidi ‘Iyadh sought me out.  He knelt down in front of me and told me his mother had taken a turn for the worse.  I summoned Umm Sahl and with Sidi ‘Iyadh, we hurried to the hospital directly.  Shortly after our arriving at the ward, Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) closed her eyes and Umm Sahl and I had the same sort of vision at the same time.  We could see Umm Iyad’s ruh straining to leave her body to reach its heavenly station.  We stayed a while, read al-Fatihah, then returned home.  It was only later that we would learn that just before dawn Umm ‘Iyadh would wake up out of oblivion, as she was comatose when we left her, completely out of it, her body distended, and she would cry out at the top of her voice, ‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,’ then she laughed uproariously.

The nurses hurried to her, demanding, ‘Who’s laughing on the cancer ward.’

A few more hours passed by and Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) passed away.  She passed from this world laughing, saying, ‘Allahu Akbar.’  Umm Sahl and Umm al-Khayr washed her body.  No trace of her illness remained upon her.  She was no longer swollen.  She looked very wonderful, very beautiful.  She looked completely overjoyed, with an expression of sheer happiness on her face.  It was now Friday morning and around 3,000 people came to the masjid for her funeral.  Thousands came, and I do not know why all of those people prayed for her, or where they came from.  Then we took her to the graveyard and prayed some more.

When Umm Sahl used to visit Umm ‘Iyadh to read the Darqawi letters, Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) confided in her, ‘You know, I’ve had a good life but two things I’ve been unsatisfied with.  One is that not all my children are praying.  I’ve tried to raise them the best I could, but not all of them are praying.  The second is that I don’t feel my nafs is like I wanted it to be.’

After she came out of the khalwah, all her children were praying, and they are still praying; and her soul was illuminated.

She said, ‘Now I feel both of these have been Taken Care of by Allah.’

I considered all of these things that had happened to Umm ‘Iyadh (q.s.) over such a brief passage of time: her reciting the Hizb al-Kabir, taking the thariq, going on hajj, entering the khalwah, ma’rifah before she died.  So many miracles and Blessings: ‘Whosoever goes on hajj is Forgiven his sins.  He is as the day his mother gave birth to him.’  Her wilaya’ — she died as an ‘Arif billah and I have no doubt that she is one of the awliya’.  So after they buried her and turned the last piece of dirt over on her, I turned away from her grave, and finally I understood: Imam Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadzili (q.s.) said, ‘Whosoever reads our ahzab shall have what we have.’  And this is one of the things I saw from Hizb al-Kabir.”


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