Saturday, January 15, 2005

'A meeting with the remarkable Tim Winter otherwise known Sh Abdal Hakim Murad'

Salams To All!

mmm raining carts & dogs would you believe, with oodles of fog in Saudi Arabia!

can't make to Yemen as hoped for Eid-Al Adha, due to the destiny of the Beloved, I was unable to get the required paperwork to organize an exit-visa, in any case 6 days for Yemen is not doing it justice. She awaits another time. Godwilling!

So off to Yami(tribe) territory ie Najran I go, rock art a plenty there, a world heritage site I believe, then on to strange & isolated places in my car I hope, perhaps Sulilail to try & meet some Rasheed qabilah (tribe) ( the famous tribe who knew the sands of the Rub AlKhayliyat like no other people in Arabia)

Anyway here it is, as promised, forgive the seperate links as for some reason I've lost the ability to hyperlink words from within blogger (& helas! the formatting has been also lost!)

A meeting with the remarkable Tim Winter otherwise known as

************** Sh Abdal-Hakim Murad******************

It was the 2nd time now, by the Grace of God, I’d been granted some precious time with this most erudite of English Brothers and I use a big B for a reason, last minute too, for there are few to have the ear of this secular Island nation via the BBC and as a Anglo Muslim (the other no doubt being the redoubtable Sh Hamza Yusuf ).

I’d been in Cambridge just a few days earlier visiting the happy house of my gifted friend Dr Matthew Cooper and family & had shot off an email to the esteemed Sheikh while there, to see if he had time:

Date: Sat, 20 Nov 2004 22:42:48 +0000
Subject: Fwd: cascading monisms

Dear Sheikh Tim,

May The Peace, Grace & Blessings of God Be Upon Thee!

this is Mahdi(Matthew), the Australian brother who came to see you last year....

Hope you're healthy & fighting fit………..back from Saudi for my holiday, again I'm heading to Cambridge to seefriends and would be delighted if I could invite you for a coffee orlunch while I'm there ( fadl fadl! did say keep in touch!) as I'd also like to discuss the possibility of arranging a visit for you, to
Australia sometime, to inspire & inform the far flung brothers & sisters (and non Muslims!) over there...inshallah....

I was surprised to see that you were interviewed
on ABC Radio, earlier in the year, there is a journalist interested in
Islam for Radio National, he obviously knows of you

It would be great to crack that open a little more

I'm leaving for NYork then on to Aus on Wednesday, hope to
catch you before then Godwilling
Big Salams


Although it was the weekend, I trusted in God (Exalted Be He!) and while I’d heard nothing, the next day after my return to London, I received a prompt reply the Monday morning he’d arrived to his office:

Date: Mon, 22 Nov 2004 09:07:39 +0000

Dear Mahdi.

And upon you too. I'm sorry to have missed you on Saturday. I try to fast
from emails over the weekend. But perhaps you could come by en route to
Australia? What a gift it is to be young.

With salams and best wishes,

Abdal Hakim

Although I was to catch a flight to New York the next day, it was my last chance. I quickly mailed back, we agreed a time and I jumped a slow train running and breathless, from KingsX’s platform 11, to that most ancient English institution of combined, unfathomable lore, Cambridge University.

The air was crisp, breath clouds trailing all those walking under the open the grey skies & over an hour later, I arrived early to the new, elegant building housing the faculty of Divinity, where a soft natural light flows throughout, and it was right.

I did my best to hide my nervousness for one never wants to appear a fool before such an intimidating intellect, calming myself, I worked my way to his humble office. On his wooded door, a little sign if I remember rightly reads “T.Winter”, no doctor prefix, a curious exception from all the other heavily lettered names on the preceding signs on the portals to the various esteemed divine scholars, lining the corridor.

I remember asking him on my previous visit how many languages he spoke, he was very humble & almost embarrassed in response but I believe it’s Arabic, Persian, Turkish, French, Spanish & Portuguese and of course his very own inimitable, hyper-articulate Queen’s English.

I heard a soft murmuring within, and I knocked, a voice burbled yes? I opened it & there he was, looking grave, and thin, blue eyes blazing. I offered my salams, he salaamed me in turn & indeed he was busy with a student and asked me to give him a couple of minutes, I mumbled something in agreement and closed the door. There’s a little chair outside his office and I know Sh Naeem Abdul Wali, (Gary Edwards) uses it & I know loves anecdotes about meetings with Sh Abdal Hakim but it was past time for Asr, the chair could wait for some other lucky soul. So downstairs, in one of the raw conference rooms, I performed my sacred duty with thanks for this opportunity and returned.

He welcomed me this time, alone, and patiently, sat me down, I fumbled to open my back pack but managed to pull out a gift, I’d brought from Bedu Land, a wizra or sarong-like kilt the Qhatani tribes wear here, on the hilly Tihama of the lower Asir,(in the back of the picture above) it was accepted gravely and I was struck at his absorption in immediate thought, whatever his mind was processing I was thankful for whatever attention he was using of it.

He was graciously restrained and awaiting my questions, for this is indeed, a traditional and sacred duty for all the Ulu’ama, to receive he or she who is seeking knowledge of the All Transcendent One(Exalted Be He!), to whom, they themselves have devoted their lives, in the study of.

[The following is an earnest attempt to capture that meeting & share with those who may benefit so please forgive disjointed passages as I am working from bad notes. I was forgetful enough not to realize the importance of bringing a recording device!]

So we began with me asking him about the lack of the Dr prefix and if he had actually finished his PhD?

The Sheikh said, surprisingly, that it was not a requirement at Cambridge for teaching staff to have doctorates! (and) he would be attempting to finish it late January…remnants from an ancient past when such titles & pieces of paper didn’t mean much if the academic community knew you knew. It made sense.

I then asked about his Memorization of the Holy Qur’an, he said he’s memorized only a couple of Juz (2/30ths) and that he makes it a priority to try & learn a new Surah every time he visits a new Mosque, an excellent discipline & something I decided I would also try to implement.

To my inquiry about his own ingestion of Arabic & whether he needed still to translate back to English, to get to the heart of the meaning....he said, & quite frankly, no, he dreams in Arabic!

How I've a long road to tread in this regard! Happily, it's a blessed one. Indeed, in climbing or cycling the tall mountain, how sweet it is when you get to the top!

Surah 90, Al Balad

11. Fala iqtahama alAAaqabata

YUSUFALI: But he hath made no haste on the path that is steep.

12. Wama adraka ma alAAaqabatu?

YUSUFALI: And what will explain to thee the path that is steep?-


I had been amazed, in his work, about the great density of his annotative notes in his articles, for example “The Four Madhabs” {an astonishing read!}

& I asked, how he does it?

He was characteristically humble and mentioned he simply uses reference cards and notes as he goes along, & he finds that often, these notes develop into future articles or projects....

...and many they are (for a selection of his more accessible articles, essays & reflections)

On my previous visit I’d thanked him for writing it (ie “The Four Madhabs“) mentioning that I’d learned more about them in an hour or two of reading this short tour de force than I had in my previous couple of years being a Muslim! He’d replied with a brush of his hand that everything within it was freely available & published elsewhere, and as I’ve begun to notice, dismissive of his own efforts.

Being a (previously) frustrated filmmaker, I was eager to learn of the status of the dramatized documentary about Imam Ghazali’s life (Al Ghazali - the Alchemist of Happiness Great Britain, 78’, by Ovidio Salazar. Documentary, in English.) that he had been working on a year ago with the afore mentioned director he said, it was finished and was screening currently!

I talked a little further of my situation in Saudi being in the Asir & the backward mentality of the people, since it’s on record that he’d spent 3 years in Jeddah running a translating house. He listened to what I had to say & commented that it seems very barren and strongly advised me to leave straight away! (advice that I 'll be able to afford to consider in 3 months from now!)

I then, asked if he made many friends while he was in the KSA & he remarked with a smile that Saudis generally don’t really have friends, it’s their extended family whom they see most often, I erupted in laughter in recognition of this fact. Although true, there are, of course, exceptions abounding in this, richer than first glance, multi-tiered Kingdom.

He suggested why didn’t I study at the ANU or The Zaytuna Institute, Syria or I even think in Cordoba?

Excellent options but of course I’ve my long and sometimes frustrating goal of shooting “The 64 Squares” that I have been trying to make for many years and must accomplish for me to move on to such intensive study, as much as I would love to.

We moved on-to the utter confusion of our times, and he told me not to worry, I’m not alone in being confused & that the Prophet (SAW) had said, during the coming times of fitna to ’break your sword & cut your bowstring’ , ie ‘do nothing’, is entirely Halal!

It suprised me, I've not heard this advice from any scholar, not that I can understand much arabic in full blown linguistic streams yet.

Although remember coming across this somewhere and it does clear a certain anguish in the heart, in particular the kind that oozes form these dark days when so called, self-styled ‘mujahideen’ Islamic radicals, kidnap Europeans & Americans, threaten and then actually slowly hack their heads off with large knives and post it on the Internet for all to see. May God (All Exalted) Have Mercy upon their souls.


Now one of my intentions in seeing him was to try & arrange a speaking tour of Australia but when I mentioned this, he told me he had just been! Darn!

He had taken part in a multi-faith dialogue in Sydney & Melbourne but hadn’t visited Adelaide but when I mentioned it as the home of the oldest brick Mosque in Australia, he paused for a moment & his hands flew in the air & he was up & behind me in a snap and precisely retrieved a book amidst the thousands lining his small office, entitled 'The Muslims in Australia: A Brief History’ by Bilal Clelland (see on the right column, 3rd down) with the dear old mosque, on the cover staring back at me!

He’s done this few times before I’ve noticed, when he’s not absolutely sure he’ll pull the exact reference out of mass of books in a matter of seconds and present it to you, it’s humbling.

As he did for my query about a study done about more Muslims attending mosques today in Britain than Anglicans attending church(!) Even though he’s alluded to this fact in his “British Muslim Identity” (not yet on the web), he expressed some uncertainty on the exact figures & almost leapt out of his chair over my head & pulled out the exact newspaper clipping where this was mentioned and just sat back & stared at me, still, almost as if you could have found it yourself only if you'd been focussed enough......

Mmm, what else: oh yes I remember re-expressing my frustration with the Arabic language and subsequent difficulty memorizing & reciting the Qur’an like a parrot (ie not understanding it) and the consequent wandering of my concentration in prayer. He somewhat, forcefully interjected and assured me, with a deep conviction, that the inability to understand what is recited absolutely does not preclude the means of blessings, benefit and approaching nearer to God, thereby!

I knew this but nevertheless this reminder helped dispel some of my dismay about this issue when re-iterated by him, particularly when he quoted: (I know not who from)

the bride is veiled and love which is impatient, does not get to see her charms...”

" .....The Qur’an,......." he said, using a Christian metaphor,

” is like the Eucharist, it is taken into the body. The Divine word is great and heavy. It is effective as a sign of salvation, merely, to learn it!

Indeed, the physiological metaphor of digestion, is beautiful and as I had not pondered this before, it stuck deep & engendered silence, (& let the digestion be accomplished!)

I talked to him, then of my frustration among my non-Muslim friends when we ventured to matters of religion and the utter uselessness of arguing and of attack that I find myself under, often all of a sudden, as I had found a few days earlier while invited to lunch by my Italian hostess and then was surreptitiously accused through her comment, at the table, as to how could women be treated so disgustingly badly in Muslim countries? With that tsking & tilt of the head....I know it well

Many western Muslim converts who keep up relations with their non-Muslims friends would be no doubt be very familiar with this line of contention.

With my own prior predilection for arguing he (amongst those who know me, I used to disguise it under the rubric of a ‘ greek dialectic’), told me, it's best simply to remove yourself for such people! ha

Like the wise chinese sage & his followers when confronted by an overturned cart & horse in a lane way, asked him, "master what shall we do?"

he said, " take the other way"

it stares at you in the face, wisdom & indeed it's hard to recognize in times of stress

Upon reflection, it is easier said than done when you are brought & trapped with a friend’s transport & would make a scene by leaving so abruptly without them, it would be perceived as a sign of immaturity. A wise reminder in a wider context, nonetheless.

However, I asked him how he coped with the inevitable disputes that would no doubt easily arise in his faculty amongst so many of the extremely learned...?

Actually, he said, he cultivates, somewhat, the air of the detached Cambridge don and doesn’t get into such disputes.

There was a light, (dare I say, wry?) smile, accompanying, as I remember.

Things get a little hazy here but I have a comment I noted, where he mentioned “Arabs are not the chosen people” and it was in relation to a observation he had made that ‘Arabs’ are not mentioned once in the Qur’an!

I was uncertain about this but he was re-iterating the universality of the message of God to me and I felt, personally, perhaps commenting on the unconscious superiority complexes that many Arabs have about their Islam not only in the west but also in their respective countries. Certainly I have met them, a plenty, as a new Muslim, spending time in the mosques of Adelaide and abroad.

I mentioned my travel itinerary and he quite helpfully offered me some contacts in Australia, including the Turkish Sheikh & Nashqbandi, Sh Asad Goshad, who I learned, on arrival in Melbourne, had tragically passed away in car accident in Queensland several years earlier.(May God Almighty Forgive him & Grant him Jennah firdous)

I also asked him about some Shuyukh (Sheikhs) whose judgements took into account living in a western societies and whom he thought were worth listening to, for someone like me, and he mentioned: (in no order except as mentioned)

-Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah (Mauratania)

-Dr Umar Abdullah (at the Chicago, Nawawi Foundation)

-Sh Zaid Shakir

-Sh Nu Ha Mim Keller (Jordan)


-Sh Abu Bahr(?) Besha'ib (London) (still no link to be found 2007)

& gave me his phone number!

After this he reached forth to a bookshelf and extracted some booklets for me, “Islam & The Race Question” by Paul Hardy PhD, “The Concept of Bid`a in the Islamic Shari`a” by Nuh Ha Mim Keller

and his own “British Muslim Identity” published by the Muslim Academic Trust, to which the Sheikh is secretary of, in Cambridge.

He also offered me Imam Abdallah Ibn Alawi Al-Haddad’s “Gifts for the Seeker” which I had already ordered (!) on the Internet but not yet received. (along with the $150 CD of E.W. Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon)

(warning! (3 years to replace for lost packages is unacceptable!!*(seeking legal avenues to recuperate the money spent as of May, 2007)

I was touched by his generosity, as I had been last time, when he gave me his bright red bound, beautiful translation of Imam Ghazali’s “On Disciplining the Soul & Breaking The Two Desires” books XXII & XXIII of the Revival of The Religious Sciences” (Ilha `ulum al-din)

We finished with the Sheikh affirming the importance of zikr (in particular La Ilaha Illa Lah) against khawatir (whisperings) a particular issue for me, and the significance of salams upon the Prophet and plentiful Istighfars, as a daily habit. Good simple advice that just had extra import when coming from him.

His sincerity in wanting to help in anyway he could was obvious, direct & unaffected and alas, it was time for me to go.

Thank God (the Supreme!) most of my nervousness had passed, and the sun had set, so we prayed Maghrib together in his tiny office, short suras, an extra blessing for me & I took a final photo which you can see here.

He walked me out of the building with a smile, and I mentioned it must feel somewhat satisfying to be working & teaching in this place and you know what? I remember him laughing but I can’t for the life of me, remember his response! Guess, I was kept from any flash of ego from the man.

..with final wishes of salam he was gone

About 5 minutes later, after walking back through King’s College, I curiously & severely sprained my ankle, which has taken until now to heal, since I’ve been pounding the streets in several continents…I wish I knew the reason….had I trespassed? I know not but nonetheless, I felt subjectively at least, blessed to have had this great opportunity.

It was a rush back to London & 2 hours later I hobbled to Shakespeare's Globe to hear the inimitable Sh Hamza, speaking about the sonnets... Islam in Britain! wow! by God it was great to be alive………

& Praise Be To He who Maketh It So!

fi hifz Allah!

wa salams....

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