We're over a third of the way through our annual visit, past the initial adjustments to the newness, now on to something close to habitual familiarity. It's proximal only, this familiarity, as little things happen throughout the day to remind that Ramadan is our guest. We feel the pangs of hunger. Our mouths feel dry. There's also that bit of tiredness that comes with being a good host for the temporary, albeit extended, visit. It's a different way of experiencing the earth's pull and a different pace of expending energy.
Last night there came a dream about a sheikh who has been integral to my faith development. It's not the first time to have dreamed about him. It's the third. He lives thousands of miles away, and we've never met. In fact, there's little chance he could know there's this guy in Kentucky who occasionally dreams of him. He is someone who has spent decades proving himself, giving of himself, helping scores of people find their way. He has sacrificed a lot, and by the grace of God, some of his books and some of his lectures have made their way into these hands.
In some circles, though, there are murmurings about him. Some people have said he's making all the wrong decisions nowadays, and he can't be trusted anymore. They're saying he's destroying his own legacy. He has forfeited his standing. They've moved on.
This harshness is painful to hear.
Admittedly, the sheikh has said and done some things in recent years that, well...that aren't necessarily easy to understand. But to question his heart seems more than uncharitable. Sometimes God asks hard things of people who are wiser and more experienced--things that are puzzling, things for which God doesn't permit explanation. Like the intimate conversations between a husband and wife, they are not to be talked about.
There once was a wealthy man who was considered something of a saint. He was sincerely devout and devoutly sincere. He dressed, ate, and lived modestly so that he could give charity--lots of it. He founded orphanages, built schools, fed the hungry, and made sure the widows in his town had livable incomes. When it came time to make repairs to the old masjid--which it often did--he was the one always asked for money. Not once would he say no. The man also prayed and fasted--a lot. He was in the masjid for all the obligatory prayers and for all the optional ones, too. He was usually the first to arrive and the last to leave and was often found cleaning the ablution rooms in between. Some say he fasted between 10 and 15 times a month outside of Ramadan. During Ramadan, he only drank water and ate dates.
One day, a great, traveling sheikh and some of his students arrived in town. After a while, the charitable man said, "Oh Sheikh, please accept this unworthy student. Just tell me what to do. I'll do anything you say." The traveling sheikh cautioned that the charitable man didn't know what he was asking. But that didn't end it. "Anything, Sheikh. Anything. Name it." The traveling sheikh warned him off again, but the man insisted for a third time, "Anything."
The traveling sheikh nodded and said, "Buy the most expensive property on the way into town and build a palace." The would-be student was stunned, but the sheikh continued. "Eat your dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town, and sit at the table in the window, so that everyone walking down the street can see you amidst the finery." The man started to weep. The sheikh issued one more set of orders, and they were the hardest of all. Pointing at the masjid, he said, "Do not go inside the masjid anymore. Pray instead outside the walls. If someone asks why you refuse to enter, say a man of dignity wouldn't enter that hovel." No longer able to stand it, the man cried out, "Oh Sheikh! Why would you ask something so horrible of me? I can't. I just can't do that! Why would you ask this of me?"
The traveling sheikh looked sadly at the weeping man, embraced him, and whispered, "Oh dear one. When loving God becomes more important to you than loving your reputation, come back to me. We will start down this path anew."
What the traveling sheikh knew--but neither the charitable man nor the townspeople could have--was that the sultan had planned a new dam upriver. And had the man listened to the traveling sheikh, the strange orders would have saved the town. But as it ended up, the whole valley was underwater two years later.
Sometimes we can't know the hard roads God has asked others to travel. Chances are good we'll never get the why. One's road may include health problems. Another's road may include money troubles. Another's might include familial strife. But what if...What if for someone wise and of good standing, the only road home is to give up his/her reputation? Just so God can station him/her at the right place, at the right time, to say that one right word, to the right person to save a valley? Allahu a'lam.
May I seek God's protection against sitting in the seat of judgment--especially over those who have proven themselves over and over and over...for decades. But if God requires it, may I approach the endeavor reluctantly, quietly, and charitably. And may God illumine truth as truth and falsehood as falsehood. In the meantime, may I occupy myself with only those things that truly concern me. Amen.