Almond Milk

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is adapted from Signs on the Horizons by Shaykh Michael Sugich.

“If you did not know anything about him and met him in a dark alley at night, you would probably start shaking with fear, raise your hands, beg for mercy and hand over your wallet.  He was tall, scarred and scary.  I forget his name but remember his hard face.  He was, in fact, the polar opposite of this menacing thuggish figure.  He was a feature of the bazaars and markets of Fes, patrolling the stalls to make sure both traders and customers behaved themselves.  He settled disputes, chased down thieves and pickpockets and generally kept everybody honest.  He was like an ex-officio muhtaswib or swahib as-sawq, which in traditional Muslim society was the keeper of markets and public morality.

He did not get paid for doing this and his role was without any legal basis, but he did not need a license.  His tough, intimidating presence and moral authority were enough.  His real life was away from the bazaars, in circles of remembrance.  Here he blended in with the motley crowd of Sufis and submerged himself in the Names of God.

Whenever we would come to Fes, we would escape from the rigours of the Way to indulge ourselves in almond milk at a little almond milk bar frequented by Fesi students.  The milk bar was on the second level above a bakery just up the cobbled passage from an entrance to the Qarawiyyin Mosque with glass windows that looked out upon the street below.  Students would gather in this brightly lit and garish hangout.  Young Moroccan couples stared dreamily across the tables over sweet almond milk and biscuits.  It was an early breach of the pristine traditional integrity of the ancient city, but for those of us from the West it was an innocent enough diversion and a fleeting relief from the punishing intensity of spiritual discipline, which could be brutally heavy on our over-pampered personalities.

One afternoon, a friend and I were coming away from a gathering of invocation and on the way to another when we decided to take a quick, surreptitious detour to the almond milk bar.  We ascended the spiral staircase to the second floor, sat down at a table beside the glass window and sipped the richly sweet infusion.  We were in high spirits… until we looked down at the street below and saw the tall, scary faqir staring up at us, frowning.  All our levity evaporated when, to our dismay, he charged up the stairs and into the almond milk bar.

‘What are you doing here?’ he snapped, shaking his head.  Suddenly, through this powerful faqir’s eyes, the innocent almond milk bar seemed like an utterly depraved den of iniquity.  He shook his head in disgust.  ‘Come on, get up.  You’re coming with me!’  He dragged us away from our almond milk, down the stairs, into the streets and to our next circle of remembrance.  ‘Don’t let me ever catch you in that place again,’ he scolded.  I never went back there.  God Bless him and have Mercy on him.”

A hadits qudsi States, “The act of worship that is most beloved to Me is giving good counsel.”


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