Friday, January 12, 2007

On Spiritual Mentors, and Other Musings

Recently, I've begun thinking about spiritual mentors... actually, I stared thinking about it during the summer, when I was feeling dreadfully homesick and in desperate need of comfort (which I didn't get, unfortunately). It was when I felt that my Imaan was suffering that I felt especially in need of a spiritual mentor to whom I could turn to, on whose shoulder I could lean on and hear comforting words of wisdom from.

This feeling was compounded when, surfing the 'Net, I came across something about Sufis and their shaykhs. I'm not Sufi, of course, but something about it caught my attention. Reading the biography of Imam Sufyaan ibn 'Uyaynah (a great muhaddith of his time), I came across something similar, describing the need for a student of knowledge to have a good teacher.

Now, I am one of those who desires to become a student of knowledge, a Shaykha, bi ithnillaah. I try to learn whatever little I can about Islam, but simply reading books and listening to halaqas don't seem to really be enough for me. What I want, what I feel I need, is a spiritual mentor.

I've never really had a spiritual mentor, or a real religious teacher... I used to wish to be my father's student - it would've been perfect: he, the sheikh, and I, his devoted daughter and student... we could have been a great father-daughter team! - but Allah willed it otherwise, and it's never come to be... nor does it seem that it well ever be a reality. Ah, well...

The closest I've had to spiritual mentors are two women from my old Islamic centre, whom I've known for years - since I was about 9 or 10 years old. Technically, they're my mom's friends, but we all love each other dearly, so it's all good... :)

Anyway, these two women - may Allah reward them and grant them the best of this world and the Hereafter - are amazing! Both of them are converts - one of them, H., converted when she was 16, and is now studying Islam through an Islamic university by correspondence; and the other, A., converted a few years ago and has been with 'us' (our Islamic centre) ever since.
A. is by far one of my favouritest people EVER! She has a wonderful sense of humour - she can make anything and everything seem funny - and she tries to learn whatever she can about Islam while supporting her two kids (she's a single mom).
Both of them have always had the time to sit with me, talk to me, listen to me... we can talk about everything on the face of the earth, although we usually just talk about Islam and politics (my favourite subjects! Yay!). They have helped me SO much, especially with my personal struggle with identity and my goals in life.

In this new city of mine, I am utterly bereft of anyone who could possibly act as a mentor. Which totally sucks, because I really do need one. Right now, I'm trying to blunder through my life as best I can, pathetically trying to muster enough energy and motivation to finish my homework and do my chores. Spiritually, I feel very weak - may Allah forgive me and grant me strength! Reading books on Islam isn't enough... I feel that I need someone to really be there for me, to support me and help give me an Imaan boost when I need it...
Mind you, this blog and having you guys comment does help... but it's not the same, y'know?

Having a spiritual mentor is really important, I think - an older person whom you can look up to and learn from, as well as occasionally just hang out and have fun with. Someone other than a parent, because it can be easier to accept advice and criticism from friends than family.

The people of the past, the Sahaaba and the Taabi'een and others, they recognized the importance of having spiritual mentors and teachers. As youth, they sought out the people of knowledge and spent time in their company, learning all sorts of things from them, absorbing their wisdom... thus was the inheritance of the Prophets (peace be upon them all) passed down from one generation to the next!

There are many times that I wish that I could live 'back in the day' - the days of the Prophet (SAW), of the Sahaabah, the Taabi'een, and the Atba' at-Taabi'een - for various reasons. Some are obvious - those were the days when knowledge abounded, when the true scholars of Islam were at their peak, when the people weren't as lost as we are today.

One of the reasons that I wish I lived back then is that it would've been so much easier for me to dedicate my life to Islam, starting from a young age. I wouldn't have had to bother about things like high school, and my role as a young woman would have been much more clearly defined than it is right now. I would have the opportunity to attach myself to a shaykh or a shaykha, sitting at their feet, attending to them and learning from them... and I wouldn't have been distracted by such petty things as TV or the Internet and stuff.

In the Hadith that discusses the seven types of people who will recieve shade on the Day of Judgement, when there is no shade except that which Allah will grant to certain people, one of those mentioned is the youth who has dedicated him/herself to Allah since their childhood. I would dearly love to be one of these youth - but I wonder if I qualify!

Subhan'Allah, in today's world we are so easily distracted from the really important things, the things that will determine our fate in the Hereafter. We're so caught up with stuff like school, work, achieving material success... it consumes our lives, at the expense of our spiritual well-being!
Even me, just a teenager in high school... I often find it difficult to concentrate on the simple yet most important things, like salaah. I'm busy wondering and worrying about other things - did I finish my Math assignment? Did I begin researching a topic for one of my subjects? Did I clean the bathroom? Am I almost finished my library book? What's my brother doing in my room?

So much emphasis is placed on working hard to achieve material gains that we forget about just taking a break from it all and simply devoting ourselves to Allah and His Commands. It's so scary! Sometimes I wish that I could just run away and live in a small village out in the middle of nowhere, without TV or the Internet or other bothersome technologies. I'd like to live the simple life, not depending too much on material things, with more mental space to think about the important stuff, and more time to actually *do* the important stuff.


Yikes, I just realized how long this is! Sorry for rambling on like that... but it's something that's been buzzing around in my head for a while now, so I wanted to share it with you and see what you all have to say.

Your little sister in Islam,


Anonymous said...


Mashallah, great entry.

I think we fall into the trap of thinking that because some things were better in the olden days of Islam, e.g., abundance of knowledge, levels of practice, role models, etc, we think everything has to be like the olden days. Why should a dishwasher or a computer diminish our imaan?

Technology is a gift from Allah, not a burden, but as with all blessings, it can be used for good or evil. This is where we go astray.

I read an EXCELLENT article on this same point yesterday, i'll have to find it for you. It is about a group of engineers, scientists and other brainy folk who used their specialist know-how to regenerate a barren piece of land. They now live on that land, and sustain themselves through a combination of nature and technology. Their practices are not only environmentally friendly, but actually encourage the growth of the local flora and fauna.

I was so impressed, i didn't think it was possible! Oh, btw, these guys were NON-MUSLIM, yet they understood that the power of technology can be used in harmony with nature, and not as a tool for destruction, pollution and oppression of the environment and other human beings.

So, yes, let's get with the Imaan already - but do i really have to throw away my iPod*?


* i use it to listen to talks, not music - don't judge meeee!

Anonymous said...

P.S., I just pasted the article on my blog.

P.P.S., sorry if my comment was a bit off topic. I have a short memory and i was reacting to your penultimate paragraph! Wrt the main gist of your entry, i think a mentor is an invaluable method for gaining not only knowledge, but true understanding of Islam, which i certainly lack!


Anonymous said...

Wa alaikum as salaam wa rahmatullaahi wa barakatuh

SubhanAllah sister...subhanAllah... I think we really are twins separated at birth.

I agree completely with the need of all young'ins to have an adult they can trust, get advice from, be treated like a mature individual from, etc.

I also agree that petty things like high school and superficialities of our time are distracting us from learning about the true beauty of Islam.

The essence and core of our deen cannot be learned if a bunch of people treat going to an Islamic lecture as a 'social' gathering and use it as a time to hook up and meet friends! and when they leave, hijabs are off, etc... (sorry, I'm going on a tangent but you get the picture I think)

I also wish I could live in a small cottage in the middle of a forest. All I would have is my books and 5 miles away would live a Sheikha under whom I could study! Sounds like a dream when compared to piles of homework.

may Allah help us all, guide us all, make it easy for us all and raise our status in Jannah, ameen.

take care sis and stay strong :)

Anonymous said...

mashallah, u have a nice blog... i think we probably have to carry each other's blog links in our blog rolls-- even for the sake of the name's closeness!

For the teacher... it seems u have a clear mind, don't get entrapped by the tareeqah-nonsense. There is enough spirituality in the Sunnah... we just have to tap it.

muslimah said...

asalamu aliakum

I think that it's very important to have people in our lives that we look up to and that help motivate us. It can also be a diverse group of people.

my friends and I currently helping to establish a program that helps support muslim youth and partner them with mentors within the community. There is definately a need for this out there.

bibliophile said...

Assalaamu aleikum Mouse
I am quite a bit older than you and I feel the same way, I wish I had a mentor too!
We really do need people who can "inspire" and encourage us. I'm not Sufi either but sometimes I "envy" (not quite the right word, I know) them when they speak of their teachers and shaykhs.
We had some good shaykhs here but they all left!
Muslim community, such as it is, to be a huge social scene here right now. The occasional party is all fine and dandy, but we need to get serious...
I love the idea of living in the middle of nowhere too, but I would need internet access!

UmmBadier said...

Asalamu Walaikum Lil Uhkti,
I read your earring dilema comment over at nisaa and I wanted to tell you that....long can get un-pierced earring back-thingies at bead stores. Go to a hipper store (not Micheals!) and they SHOULD be kind enough to show you how to do it. Very easy.
Don't give up on your pops...have you told him that you need his help? Have you asked your mom to interveen? Could you ask him for like 45mins a week of undivided attention?

DA said...

I agree finding a mentor is important. The hard part I think, though, is seperating the wheat from the chaff. As a sufi (that is, practitioner of tassawuf), I'm very leery of most American Sufi teachers and in fact have seen first hand the problems resulting from unquestionable following this or any earthly authority. Yeah, go to the people of remeberance for knowledge but always remember you owe obediance only to allah and his messenger.

Anonymous said...

I agree that having a mentor is really important. When I was living mainly in Eastern Canada, I had a couple of people I used to take advice from on a regular basis. They would advise me on all sorts of things, and I felt much better in the decisions I made back then. Ironically, I find myself isolated in the very place that you left, where you had your community and advisors.

Istikharah is good for making a lot of personal decisions, but Allah ordered the Prophet to seek counsel from his companions. I used to rely more on the counsel of my teachers and elders in the community than on istikharah, but I've been quite disconnected from them for a while unfortunately. This whole West Coast experiment has been quite a challenge for me personally, mainly because I have no one to look up to here!

AnonyMouse said...

Wa ‘alaikumus-salaam wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatu,

It’s not so much that I find technology a burden, exactly – it’s more like, today life is so *busy*, so hectic, we’re so surrounded by new inventions that does all sorts of things for us, that we get totally caught up in it and distracted by it.
Things like dishwashers aside, I personally find that it just makes it harder to 'escape' from the world and concentrate solely on learning and living the Deen... on second thought, I guess it's just a lot of wishful thinking. Reality is reality, and it's our test from Allah...

Haha, you're definitely going onto my blogroll! :P
Re:teacher/spiritual mentor - it's not so much the tareeqah stuff that I'm intrigued by; it's the type of bond that the people of the past had with each other. For example, the relationship between the Prophet (SAW) and his Companions; between the Companions and the Taabi'een; between the Taabi'een and the Atba' at-Taabi'een, etc.

That type of program is EXACTLY the thing I've had in mind for a while now! At my old Islamic centre, before my family moved, we were trying to set up something like that, but nothing really materialized due to a lack of resources and volunteers.

"We had some good shaykhs here but they all left!"
That seems to be the biggest problem, doesn't it? Subhan'Allah, all the great teachers seem to be passing away or just going somewhere else very quickly... which reminds me of something scary: isn't that one of the signs of the end times? That the learned people, the true people of knowledge, will slowly vanish?

Jazaakillaahi khairan for the tip! I hadn't thought of that before! :)
Re:my dad... yeah, I've tried talking to him before... first my mom tried, then I did myself, but nothing came of it. He says he's too busy, that I should be concentrating more on schoolwork, that the Madrasah I attend (which I actually volunteer at, 'cuz I teach the little kids Qur'an reading) should be enough for me, that he also has my three little brothers to deal with, etc.
Oh well... insha'Allah things will get better in the future - if not with him, I may yet find a good teacher in someone else.

"Yeah, go to the people of remeberance for knowledge but always remember you owe obediance only to allah and his messenger."
Excellent advice, masha'Allah! JazakAllahu khairan! :)

Sumera said...

A spiritual mentor would be wonderful. Although you could undergo independent study through books, halaqa's, lectures - theres nothing quite like having a teacher who you can turn to for advice and whenever you need something explained.

In this current day and age we want to be the best at everything. We want to excel in deen, at school, in our careers...that instead of excelling in any one field - we burn out and fall short of expertise in nothing.

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