I stumbled upon the Naqshbandi tariqah, a spiritual path of Islam which is among the distinguished Sufi orders in the world, upon introduction by a close friend of mine, whom then I had a strong attraction with. He was a Moslem convert, who had gone through tremendous ordeals against his family’s wishes simply by declaring his change of belief. My admiration and fondness of him encouraged me to try going for the weekly gathering of remembrance (dzikir) he recommended, at one of the local mosques.
On a fine Thursday evening, after work, I made my way to the designated mosque. Stopping over for my maghrib (dusk prayer) at another mosque located by an exotic river, I felt in peace with my journey despite not knowing what to expect. Then I continued my train ride, followed by a bus ride, before dropping off at a stop nearest to the mosque.
Entering the mosque’s gates, I observed the architecture in which the mosque was built and decorated. The mosque didn’t look grandeur at all. In fact, it didn’t look like a mosque, except for the moon and star pole sticking out of its apex and the tall minaret next to the main structure. It seemed more like a huge, traditional Javanese or Malay house. Made of wood, it didn’t showcase much decoration but emanate olden-day atmosphere to its surrounding.
Being new to the surrounding, I figured my way around the compounds – the women’s ablution and prayer areas. I then joined the congregational isha’ prayer (evening prayer); after which, I sat on a corner convenient enough to observe all the ladies in the prayer hall. I needed to approach a lady who might have been there for the dzikir later. Since the dzikir was not started till 9.30 pm, I waited quite a while, until there was no one at all in the ladies’ prayer hall. After some quiet time in the mosque, there were noises of men gathering downstairs, at the men’s hall. I took a quick peek from the second storey and noticed they sat in circle. Subsequently, I decided to just proceed downstairs and figured out my way once I was there.
Fortunately, as I entered the main prayer hall, where the men gathered in circle, I saw a small group of women sitting in a smaller circle about 4 metres from the big circle. Finally, I found where I was supposed to head. So, I joined the circle, sitting next to a familiar face I knew from one of my religious classes. Nadiya – the lady I happened to know – had actually been coming for the dzikir for a few weeks after being informed by the same guy who had advised me similarly. I wasn’t a complete outsider after all.
Getting comfortable in a cross-legged sitting position, I enjoyed the dimmed lighting in the room. Such atmosphere would definitely help promote concentration during the whole event. Suddenly, all of the men stood up and approached an elderly man who just arrived to the occasion. They took turn kissing his hand and returned to their original spots. “He must be the leader!” I thought. Sitting right next to me, Nadiya whispered telling me that the elderly man who had just arrived was Shaykh Zakariya Bagharib, a representative of the Naqshbandi tariqah for the region. “And that is his wife. We call her “Ummi” she referred to a woman in her 60s who just joined our circle.
The event started when the Shaykh recited an intention (niyyah) in Arabic language and led the proclamation of shahadah (testimony of the Oneness of God and that Prophet Muhammad is a messenger of God), followed by the whole congregation. In beautiful, rhythmical tones, the communal gathering began to recite the Exalted Names of Allah, praises of God, and salutation to the Prophet (peace be upon him). I joined the recitation awkwardly at the beginning, not knowing what to read next and wondering what others were doing so that I could adjust my conduct as well. “Should I open my eyes? Should I move my body? I feel like moving my body; can I do that? Would anyone be bothered by my movement?”
After a while, as I got in tune with the recitation and atmosphere, I decided to just close my eyes and let my body flows along with the beautiful melody. Occasionally I felt as if my spirit was about to be lifted out and my body was about to float in the air. Throughout the ensemble, I was overcome with extreme joy and complete peace I had never experienced before. From then on, I made up my mind to join this heavenly congregation every week and gain more benefits from it. “It is paradise on Earth!”
To me, it was heaven, even until today, after more than 10 years in the tariqah. I have discovered complete happiness in the circle of remembrance and found constant reliance in spiritual connection with the masters of the path. Seeing life encounters as part of the spiritual training, I’ve matured in many ways and observed immense wisdom emanating from my speech and conduct whenever connection with my masters is established, knowingly and unknowingly. I’ve learned more about my selfish ego, the untamed horse that is so full of potential to be great but is hampered by its own pride and stubbornness. More importantly, I’ve gained deeper awareness of God, His Attributes, Conducts and Actions through His creations, especially through my own self, whenever the vessel of the self is emptied.
Insya Allah, God-willing, the journey shall continue. More roses will be unfolded and many more exciting and spiritually-enriching encounters are to come.