Sunday, August 21, 2005
He was and is a scholar of the highest eminence. He was also a commercial fisherman and has a passion for the study of medicine. Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller is one of the most respected writers, translators and sufis in the Muslim world. He has students across the world, and thousands have benefited from his writings and his lectures.
Yet tonight Shaykh Nuh said something that, to this day, causes me to shudder. Yet what he said would appear, on the surface, to be little more than a simple dua (supplication).
“How I wish I was her. I ask Allah to make us all like that woman.”
Her? That woman? Who was she?
The final Messenger of God Muhammad (peace & blessings of God be upon him) spoke of a woman whose single action and intention was enough to earn her salvation. Her name was written on the roll of entrants into paradise.
What did she do that was so special? She was about to drink water from a well. She saw a dog dying of thirst. She saw the poor animal in an emaciated condition, its tongue dry and its body ready to give up. She placed a sandal filled with water before the poor animal and saved its life. Then she drank herself.
Thousands of years later, Shaykh Nuh sits in a mosque praying to God that he and his audience be like her. Yet who was she?
Or more importantly, what was she? How did she earn a living?
Women like her were inspired by the teachings of God’s Messiah (peace be upon him). Christ Jesus is reported in the New Testament to have generated honour and respect from such women. They used to wash and massage his feet out of respect. Two of these women are reported to have visited his grave, only to find the stone removed from the entrance to the cave.
Some two thousand years later, a song was penned to give modern voice to the passion these women had for their Messiah. The song is entitled “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”. It is a veritable hymn for the sex industry.
Yes, readers. I am writing about sex workers. But I am not glorifying the sex industry. Rather, I am paying tribute to the essential goodness which our noble Prophets were able to radiate and change the lives of the socially outcast.
I am writing about the awesome Mercy of God, our Creator. Our Lord’s Mercy is for every person. God sees the hearts of all, whether they be accepted or rejected by the society of men.
When Shaykh Nuh prayed that God make him like a prostitute, he did not beg for God to lead him away from scholarship to an industry that oppresses women. Rather, he begged God to give him the purity of heart that this sex worker displayed.
God has blessed me with the company of a woman whom I subsequently found to be a sex worker. She was instrumental in my recovery from a serious illness. She shared with me the healing and wisdom of a woman who has seen too much of the world for a 28-year old.
I was like a dog, dying of emotional thirst following a bout of thyroid illness resulting in a virtual nervous breakdown. She saw me dying. She offered me emotional water which I drank from, even whilst she was still healing her own wounds.
Today, she is like my sister. She is preparing to leave the profession that has damned her existence and forced her to lead a double-life. Who knows where her life will take her. Who knows where she will be in the hereafter.
None of us knows how we will be on the Day of Judgment. We will not notice each other’s nakedness. We will not even recognise our own mothers. But I earnestly hope that when she is being judged, God will call me to give evidence. I will crawl on all fours like a starving dog. I will testify that she saw me in this state, that she satiated my thirst. And I hope that God forgives her and enters her into paradise.
We are all capable of doing good and evil. We are the followers of a Prophet who told us that the first three persons to be judged on the Last Day would be a scholar, a philanthropist and a martyr. All three will go to hell. Despite the apparent greatness of their deeds, these men (yes, men, not women!) will find their worldly intentions damning them to the Hellfire.
We also are followers of a Prophet who gave nobility to all women. A Prophet who declared that even a woman who sleeps with men for money will go to paradise for a single good deed done with noble intentions.
May God answer Shaykh Nuh’s prayer. May God enable us to reclaim our heritage which extracted and recognised goodness in all human beings.
© Irfan Yusuf 2005