It has taken me several months to process a deeply moving moment that I experienced this past summer. Finding the right way to articulate and capture that which transcends worldly description has left me at a loss for words. On a warm summer day in Istanbul, my family and I joined the Suhba fellows and Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui in the courtyard of an old masjid to celebrate the beauty of the Burdah through recitation and thikr.
My heart had longed to join those who were blessed to take on this spiritual journey of moving to Istanbul to envelope themselves in the remembrance of Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala. This was a community that had come together for the sake of the Creator to experience Tazkiyyat An-Nafs (purification of the self), far from the distraction of the duniyah. Fully immersed in an Islamically rich environment, removed from the normalcy that can often morph into monotonous routine, the Suhba Fellowship seemed to me the perfect womb to nurture the hearts and souls of seekers' intent on fulfilling a higher purpose.
Although it was not written for my family and I to join the Suhba for the year-long program, we were blessed to spend a few brief days in their company. It was on that particular summer day celebrating the Burdah and our beloved Prophet ﷺ for whom it was written, that I came to understand the difference between the discontented nafs (inner self) seeking to run from the duniyah and the contented nafs that seeks to run towards the Creator regardless of where it may reside.
That afternoon, we sat under the shade of the low-hanging fig trees ensconced in the warm embrace of remembrance that reverberated on the tongues and in the hearts of the seekers. The rustling of the breeze evoked within me a longing to shed the shackles of the duniyah in pursuit of that which provides a greater purification of the nafs. As the mureeds recited the stanzas recalling the metaphoric pull of the nafs like a wayward horse or like the infant that must be weaned from its mother, I felt the tears freely flow. For it was in that moment that I realized it was a call to feed my own nafs by running away from the reality written for me that pulled me towards a vision of escape through the Suhba program.
In our assumption of a greener grass far from standard norms, we often believe that the nafs al-mutmainah (the contented self) resides outside our homes, our families, our work, or our communities. However, true contentment with the hikmah of Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala lies within us and our actions. While we may long for an opportunity to purify the soul through a removal of the self from its current existence, in reality we are given the opportunity for purification of the heart over and over again in our daily prayers, in our moments of charity, in our acts of service, in the tarbiyah (upbringing) of our children, in our interactions with our spouse and our parents, in the kind words shared with others, and in our constant connection to our Creator and His Beloved Messenger through every-day lives that exist far away from any fig trees.
Much like the body that seeks transformation by going to the gym, the glimpses of transcendence that we are gifted may happen in an old courtyard in Istanbul or in our own homes, but they are often not the permanent fixtures that move our souls towards complete change. The power to transform the body exists outside the hour at the gym and more in the consciousness that is awakened in the 23 other hours of the day in which the body is being cared for. As much as I longed to immerse myself in a community through which I desperately sought a transcendence of the self, it was in my realization that I am exactly where I am meant to be in which contentment was found. In the fleeting moments of striving to turn the ordinary mundane of our lives into an act of ibadah (worship), transcendence is realized whether in the shade of fig trees or in the shade of the Qur'an. It took a trip to Istanbul and a blessed gathering of remembrance to remind me that each of us strives to fulfil our higher purpose of worshipping the Creator in the way perfectly prescribed for us. Whether living abroad or living at home, starving the nafs through a denial of desires and a greater love of Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala and His Messenger ﷺ is the path towards a purification that leads towards the truest contentment.