The Merchant

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

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

“One evening, I walked into our zawiyah in London and found my companions gathered around two elderly Sufis from Hadhramawt who lived in Saudi Arabia.  One was stout and one was thin.  They sang qaswa’id from great awliya’ of Hadhramawt.  Their voices were rough and unmusical but they sang with great passion and intensity and they transfigured the room.

I had just been married.  My wife was from Makkah and we planned to live there.  When I was introduced to these men and they were told that I was planning to resettle in Makkah, the stout one told me I could find them on Fridays in the Holy Mosque near Bab ar-Rahmah.

When I finally arrived in Makkah, I did try to find them near Bab ar-Rahmah but in the vastness of the Holy Mosque I never did and eventually gave up looking.  Their names slipped my mind and I forgot their faces.

A year or two after I arrived in Saudi Arabia, I was with my shaykh, Sayyid ‘Umar ‘Abdullah (q.s.) in Jeddah.  One day, he insisted that we visit a great Sufi, a wealthy trader, at his home in the Kandara District of Jeddah.  He had been invited to lunch and he dragged me along.  Being dragged along by Sayyid ‘Umar (q.s.) was one of my favorite pastimes.

We parked outside a plain, large, undistinguished old stucco house, walked up the stairs to an apartment and came upon the trader, Shaykh Muhammad BaShaykh (q.s.), reclining on a couch in the sitting room.  As was his custom, he had returned from his office in the old souk, prayed the noon prayer and was resting until lunch was served.  Every day, guests would arrive – friends, family and visitors – and would have lunch with Shaykh BaShaykh (q.s.).

That first day, over the afternoon meal, Sayyid ‘Umar (q.s.) introduced me.  Shaykh BaShaykh (q.s.) said casually, “I know Harun.  I met him in London.”  He had been the stout one.  The thin man, I came to learn, was Shibli, who lived nearby.  This was to be the first of many days I would sit at this great man’s table.

Sayyid ‘Umar (q.s.) had known Shaykh BaShaykh (q.s.) for decades.  They were old friends and companions on the Way.  Sayyid ‘Umar (q.s.) had enormous respect for him.  Indeed, although not the richest, he was one of the most respected merchants in Jeddah.  Sayyid ‘Umar (q.s.) told me how he attained his wealth.

When he was a young man, like so many young men from Hadhramawt, Shaykh BaShaykh (q.s.) left his home to see the world and seek his fortune.  He travelled to Mombasa and then to the island of Lamu, off the Swahili coast in Kenya.  He was very poor and was sitting in the Riyadha Mosque, which had been built by the Hadhrami wali’ullah, Habib Swalih (q.s.), the patron saint of Lamu.

As Shaykh BaShaykh (q.s.) was leaving the mosque, a man suddenly approached him and told him he must go to Jeddah where he would find his fortune.  Shaykh BaShaykh (q.s.) was headed elsewhere but when he arrived at the airstrip to leave the country he found that the flight he planned to take was cancelled and that, instead, there was a cargo plane on the tarmac ready to take off for Jeddah and was offered free passage to the Red Sea port.  He climbed into the small aircraft and from that point the way became easy for him.

He made his fortune importing livestock from Sudan to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrims.  He was very wealthy but he lived a life of simplicity and austerity.  His greatest extravagance that I could see was the daily gathering he would hold in a large assembly room, majlis, he had built on the ground floor of his house.  Every evening dozens of Sufis would gather, remember God, and be fed.

Otherwise, he seemed utterly indifferent to his wealth.  He carried out his business in a small, pokey office in the old souk in Jeddah and he slept on a cheap steel folding bed.  I got the feeling that his sons chafed under their father’s asceticism.  He simply did not care for anything the world had to offer.  His knowledge was encyclopedic.  His presence was medicinal.

The last time I saw Shaykh BaShaykh (q.s.), was at the funeral of our shaykh, Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad (q.s.).  We greeted one another.  The encounter was deeply poignant.  Both my teachers had passed.  Shaykh BaShaykh (q.s.) was like a magnificent boulder on the shore soon to be covered by the inevitable rising tide.”

Shaykh Abu Sa’id ibn Abi al-Khayr (q.s.) said, “The true saint goes in and out amongst the people and eats and sleeps with them and buys and sells in the market and marries and takes part in social intercourse, but never forgets God for a single moment.”


Popular posts from this blog

In Saudi Arabia, Mawlid is Bid'ah, the King's Birthday is Fine

Singapore Bans Ismail Menk from Entry

Some Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) in Art