The Halqas And A Whirling Dervish
Al hamdu (Praise to You)
and Allah whispers who do you praise?
and Allah whispers who am I?
Ar-Rahman ar-Raheem (the compassionate, the merciful)
Those were the words of Hafiz Sulejman Bugari who was the guest at last night’s zikir. I’d give you the rest but I can’t quite remember how the rest went, not word for word, anyway. I was even prepared with a video camera but apparently 3 out of 4 battery lines means 2 minutes of video which I used up when I turned the camera on inside of my purse to record the beautiful Allah …… Allah …… Allah …… Allah … Allah … Allah … Allah .. Allah .. Allah . Allah . Allah . AllahAllahAllahAllahAllah during zikir.
This was my first time attending the weekly Thursday zikir so I had decided to sit quiet and observe as I had no idea how this was supposed to go. We sat under the giant, sparcely calligraphied dome, the women lined up along the back wall and the men in halqa (circle) close to the mimber (pulpit) and centered with the mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca). On occasion, the chants echoing off the red brick walls would draw a lone whirling dervish to his playful dance within the expanse that existed between the men and the women. His white squarish kufi (cap) slipping over to one side had no affect on his magical whirling and for a moment I thought that nothing would stop him until his pacifier nearly slipped out of his mouth and he stopped abruptly to secure it. With a giggle, he ran off to his mother.
The zikir itself proved to be soothing. Even during what seemed to be a totally rocking session of rythmic chanting of bodies and heads swaying to the beat, there was this eerie sense of serenity. And yet, it had the power of pulling this observer out of thought and in silent repetition. It’s end was unwelcome even though I looked forward to the discussion halqa that was to follow.
The men were eager to begin the discussion halqa with their guest Hafiz Sulejman Bugari and they quickly managed to gather the women to explain to us (as there seemed that I wasn’t the only freshman here) that the men will sit on this half of the circle and the women will sit on this half. Unlike zikir, the discussion halqa was for all of us. I asked if I could video tape and was granted permission but saddly – yeah the battery failed me. Next, our Imam added that tonight would be different; as has been customary in the past, the men have dominated the discussion with their own question so tonight the Imam requested that the women ask their questions first.
The discussion halqa centered around gender issues from segregation to proper hijab to women visiting graves but also did manage to get into basic taqwa and prayer. A soft spoken Hafiz Sulejman Bugari addressed each question with simple answers all the while maintaining a theme of women in Islam. Each of our questions were anwered not just through a direct answer but continued to be answered throughout; each question tied to the other. Each question had it’s own story, it’s own example. We spent the evening with him laughing, some even crying but we all listened eagerly to his words.
While I had enjoyed myself last night, I had found my initial reaction to be that it was all a bit too simple. However, I would find myself driving home with my mind racing as I recalled the different things that were discussed analyzing the different subtleties and nuances of his spoken words .. as if I was picking up a good book to read again .. noticing things that I hadn’t noticed before. This morning I found my mind racing into the inevitable rise of Muslim feminism and the consequences of such. The discussion may have physically ended at 11pm but the thoughts it has inspired are still here.
On prayer and segregation:
Hafiz Sulejman Bugari proceeded by giving us a little background as to issues with the growth of the jemat and eventually putting a fence up for the women as a sign of respect so that they had their rightful place in the mosque during the crowded moments. He went on to say that we didn’t even have to stay within that designated area if the mosque was not crowded. When it was pursued a little further in regards to certain communities not allowing women in the same prayer hall as men he responded that we should respect other cultures.
I had a follow up question in regards to this issue:
“How do we respect other cultures without allowing those cultures to infringe upon our own? Wouldn’t it be better to address these issues and discuss what is culture and what is religion?”
Do (good), action and Allah will see and the ummah will see. Don’t try to prove it, instead show through your own (good) actions, set an example.
On proper hijab (question posted by a husband on behalf of his absent wife)
Suleyman Bugari would make an excellent politician as he liked answering our questions with questions. “How many people do you know that hang a tespih in their car but never use one?” We all smiled and nodded.
“Never talk to a woman about covering herself. Talk to her about the pillars of faith. Let her find it for herself. Let her do it because it came to her on its own.”
He went on to tell us about a sixth grader in Bosnia whose parents made her cover. When asked why she covered by classmates that had been ridiculing her she replied “because my father makes me”. It became a fiasco. The story was all over the media and debates had ensued.
“It’s really not pretty when a woman can not explain why she covers her hair. How do you feel when we see a woman who doesn’t know or unconvincingly says “it’s my identity” as opposed to a woman who with all of her heart knows and radiates her reasons through the words that flow from her heart?
On gender relations in general:
Hafiz Bugari gave us a little story about a woman in niqab that had approached him one day and asked him: “What gaze is spoken of when we are told to lower our gaze?” Our hafiz told us that up until this point it had never occured to him that there was more than one gaze and a humble “subhanala” followed this comment. It took this woman’s question for him to realize that there was the physical gaze from the eyes and then there was the inner gaze that existed from the mind/heart. “We have to look at each other as brothers and sisters.” According to the hafiz it is possible for a man to look into a woman’s eyes on a completely plutonic basis that stems from a deep respect for her and vice versa. If we can not look at each others eyes in this manner then there exists a sexual tension and we need physically lower our eyes.
Interestingly enough the woman has now uncovered her face, as have a few other women, which created a bit of chaos within their homes the hafiz told us. I’m not quite sure that it was because of what the hafiz told her .. I got the feeling that this part was more an emphasis on the power of woman.
On a side note – niqab amongst Bosnian women is very very rare. Hijab in the terms of covering one’s hair is not very frequent amongst us either.
On taqwa and prayer:
It was asked by one of the women how to be focused within our prayers and that she finds it often to be the case where she is feeling as though she has not been fullfilling her prayers spiritually.
Hafiz Bugari told her it is her intention that will define her spirituallity to which she replied “My intention is there but I find that I can’t”. Almost like a gym coach he proceeded to lecture of their is no “I can’t .. It’s impossible .. It’s just not working” intention can only be had with statements of I can, I will, It’s possible.
He told us of his own struggle: Everytime my car breaks down, I think of Suad, my car mechanic, first, but all I want to do is think of Allah first and if Allah sends me to Suad after that I’m fine with that. “There is still that intention there though”. Then he went on to tell us to imagine: Al hamdu .. and so I’ve come full circle.
There was quite a bit that I left out but it’s a bit difficult to jot down 2 + hours of discussion. Hopefully I’ll be able to attend another event as I have thought of few questions that I’d like to ask given the opportunity again.