Remaining with the One, one night, one’s life
“Umar, are you sleeping ?” he asked through a whispered murmur.
“No !” I answered.
The day had been long and relentless. It was already so late. I was getting ready to sleep, mindful that the day ahead wouldn’t be any less arduous. Twenty or thirty minutes passed by in silence.
“Umar, are you sleeping ?”
“No !” I answered a second time.
It became quiet once again. I didn’t grasp the urgency in his voice but remained silent anyway. Half an hour passed by again.
“Umar, are you sleeping ?”
This time, I didn’t respond at all. I pretended to sleep so as not to bother him. Waiting for a reply and hearing none, he presumed that I had finally fallen asleep. He arose in the still of the night, without making a sound, alone, beside his companion whom he thought was in a deep slumber, and started to perform the night prayer. For God only, oblivious to my attentive gaze, hidden from anyone’s sight.
It is Ustadh Umar Al-Tilmisani, an old time student and travelling companion of Imam Hasan Al-Banna who provides us with this story. The attitude of his master was enough to move him to tears. It exemplified the personality of Hasan Al-Banna: light-giving faith, a deep spirituality, personal discipline, gentle and soft with his fellow human beings. Umar al-Tilmisani wrote it and said it again and again, as I had heard stories of this kind from my father, Dr. Saïd Ramadan, his son-in-law and my mother, Wafa al-Bannâ, his eldest daughter.
The secret of Hasan Al-Banna was the quality of his faith and the intensity of his relationship with God. Anyone who had ever been in contact with him perceived and experienced this. He lived as had the first Sahaba – following the path of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him).
From the age of twelve, his destiny had been mapped out through the study and dhikr circles of the Husafiya tariqa. There he learnt the importance of being with God, of remembering him with all his heart and soul, permanently. He also learnt the true criteria to success: faith, humility, effort and personal discipline. Within the core of his education, he had a very deep understanding of jihad al-nafs: to exist for God, alongside God, to reform one’s heart, purify one’s intentions, make time for the Most High before wanting to act in His name. The Sufi masters of the Husafiya tariqa were very strict in this regard – they were always concerned to never deviate from the authentic traditions of ahl al-sunna wal-jama’ah and keeping away from heterodoxy. All that really counted for them were the written references of the Qur’an, the Sunnah, the example of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him), and of the devoted companions (may God be pleased with them). Hasan Al-Banna never forgot this teaching and his entire allegiance to the cause was founded on the same fundamental principles: the Qu’ran is our book, the Sunnah our wisdom, and it is only these basic principles which will awaken our conscience, nurture our heart and intensify our dhikr.
Some years later, Hasan Al-Banna would make a meticulous compilation of all the written texts, uniquely taken from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which had a spiritual virtue, particularly when it came to the exercise of purifying the heart, of dhikr and meditation. This compilation, otherwise known as Risalat al-Ma’thurat, was the core of spiritual education for all members of the Muslim Brotherhood. They were asked to read it, memorize it if possible, and recite it with fervour and concentration twice a day, morning and evening. At a very young age, and especially during the years of intense Islamic activity in the social and economic spheres, Hasan Al-Banna had understood that there was no future for Muslims if they did not recapture what was essential to their hearts, their personal striving, their conscience and memory.
The world is a trap and it sometimes happens that temptation can, in subtle ways, assail those who are engaged in Islamic activities such as da’wah, education, solidarity and lectures. Drowning in Islamic commitments, activities and projects, what eventually happens is that they forget what is absolutely essential: to give one’s time to be with God, to get to know Him while being intimately attached to tawhid, to remember him (dhikr), to purify one’s heart (tazkiya al-nafs), to feed the conscience of these works (al-muhasaba), to be attached to the Qur’an, to pray, to fast and to do the invocations. This is necessary every day, and in the night.
Al-Ma’thurat is comprised of texts from the Qur’an and the Sunnah which are essential on many levels. Each one of them is strong and precise, with a spiritual function as were the hadith of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him). Their daily reading guides Muslims and protects them. It involves discipline and fortitude, attention and awakening, faith which illuminates and a conscience which directs everyday practice and action. In this light, Risalat al-Ma’thurat is a teaching, and we understand that Imam Hasan Al-Banna was a mentor (murabbi) who started by fortifying one’s faith and dhikr in order to guide one’s intelligence. This is the spirit of any understanding (al-fahm), which became the first fundamental principle of all of his teachings (al-ta’alim).
Few lines… to give you the possibility to get to know a man, Hasan A-Banna, concerning whom there have been many rumours and lies. He was a man who surrendered and sacrificed his life for God. Those who heard him, changed. Those who accompanied him, loved him. Those who remember him are still moved. Assassinated and taken back by God at the age of forty-two, he left a teaching and a methodology which is simple and luminous: if you want to be loved by God, follow His Prophet (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him), and if God loves you and protects you… then have no fear!
God is with those who persevere and who are patient.