It was a difficult time in my life, things were clearly not going my way. My brother advised me to take some time to myself and go visit Mecca and Madina. Great Idea, I thought. I jumped online and found an incredible fare via Egypt Air. If I was going through Egypt how could I pass up the chance of seeing Cairo? Two weeks later I found myself in the mother of all cities. My head was spinning as I tried to take in all that was happening around me. I'm in Cairo.
A friend advised me to stay as close as possible to the Masjid of Sayiddina Husain so off I went. He also suggested that I stay in a very nondescript hotel around the corner that would cost me fifteen dollars a night. I checked in, and to my surprise I was the only guest they had. The owner quickly gave me the nickname of "Al-Amreeki" (The American) and it stuck to me like glue. The hotel was a bit creepy, but come on, fifteen bucks!
I got a full night's sleep and the next day I was ready to see the city. Everyone told me the first thing I had to do was make my way out to the pyramids, the landmark of Cairo. Did I listen to them? No. I looked around at every cab that whizzed by me until I flagged one down. He rolled down his window and from the looks of him I thought he was going to be a nice guy (and he was). I negotiated a day-long rate with him and off we went. Where were we going, I had no clue, but I did tell him to take me to all the resting places of the great Islamic saints and scholars that are buried in Cairo. We drove through a very poor district and pulled up to a mosque.
"In there is the resting place of Imam Shafi", he said.
"What? The Imam Shafi?", I asked.
"Yes", he replied. I was floored; the great Islamic saintly scholar Imam Shafi was buried here. Wow. I mustered up all the internal spiritual strength I could and started to make my way to him to pay my respect.
Not long after, there I was standing in front of his resting place with my head bowed low, supplicating to God on his behalf and through his behalf. As I was doing so I started to hear a group of men beautifully chanting words in Arabic. All I could recall was how often the name of our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was being mentioned in their litany.
I went and sat besides them and for the next 45 minutes I was in an ocean of prayers upon the Prophet ﷺ. This is so beautiful, I remember thinking to myself. When they finished I introduced myself and quickly asked them what they were reading.
"Dalail al-Khayrat", they replied.
"What's a Dalail al-Khayrat?", I so ignorantly asked.
They told me it was a book written by a great spiritual saint named Imam Jazuli that is a compilation of prayers upon the Messenger Muhammad ﷺ. Life after that day was never the same again.
Imam Jazuli, author of the Dalail al-Khayrat, was a great scholar of the Maliki Madhab from Morocco. He was a man of piercing intellect and nobility. After having mastered matters of Islamic scholarship he found a deep call within his soul to busy himself with the remembrance of God, in particular through prayers upon the Messenger Muhammad ﷺ. He went through the difficult, yet immensely needed, practice of secluding himself from people and engrossed himself with salawat, and eventually returned having authored what would become the most widely read book of prayers upon the Messenger Muhammad — peace be upon him — the Dalail al-Khayrat.
The Dalail al-Khayrat would soon spread from the east to the west, with the formation of regular circles of its recital. The text was so popular that alongside the Qur'an, mosques would stock shelves with it. The regular recital of the text helps the heart cultivate a deep rooted love to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. As time passed, saintly scholar after saintly scholar would testify to the text's greatness and its spiritual impact on the heart, urging the regular reading of it.
Imam Jazuli structured the text into eight chapters, with one chapter to be read daily (the 7th and 8th chapters are read on same day), allowing the seeker to finish the text each week. Direct students of Imam Jazuli took on a heftier recital and would finish the text twice daily.
I'll always be indebted to Imam Shafi — may God sanctify his soul — as the visit to him opened my heart to the Dalail. I have no doubt that it was Imam Shafi and Imam Jazuli's mutual deep love and veneration of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ that caused a spiritual resonance of sorts between them on that day. I just happened to have been blessed to witness it.
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