The First 24 Hours: Leaving the Tazkiyah Retreat

Editor's Note: The author wishes to remain anonymous.

The following was written less than 24 hours after leaving the Tazkiyah Retreat held annually in upstate New York under the guidance of Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui.

I left home at an early age. I remember the others kids around me; they cried the first night. I didn’t. Though calm on the outside, I felt a gaping hole inside me that eventually went away as I adjusted to my new reality. Nearly 30 years later, I felt that way again for the just the second time.

The time had come to leave home again. So much solace, comfort, peace, and cover here in the mountains under His watchful eye. But go I must. The retreat had come to a close. All things, all lives must end, I reminded myself. Only al-Baqi remains. “Allah bring me back,” I whispered out over the lake. Is this what the one feels who begs for a return to the dunya only to worship Him? But I was leaving from a glimpse of paradise in this life, conscious of the Divine into distance and estrangement I feared.

I was afforded a gentle exit: The train hugged the river, traveling south. I pondered the Creator, sitting in awe of his creative beauty. I stole to the bathroom for a good cry, feeling this immense need to be covered. Shortly after the time for salat al-asr came in, I performed my wird. A brother texted me, and then another. I pulled my hood over my head. It seemed no one had wanted to leave. This despite having families in waiting. I smiled, for how hard and how long had it taken upon arrival to disengage and detach.

And now, well now I don’t want to reattach. My heart had so softened that I felt exposed, delicate, even tender, and a vulnerability that comes from strength and purpose, not fear or weakness. The NYC subway is a grimy place physically, but riding it after the Retreat I sensed something incredibly disturbing and violent. There were simply so many sights and sounds. Person after person entered and exited, as the doors opened and closed. I shut my eyes; I tried staring at the wall. I wanted to engage in dhikr and block out the assault. Perhaps my heart knew where I was. Nevertheless, I continued in imperfect dhikr. I could feel the entry and exit of each nafs – greed, immodesty, arrogance, despair, indifference, anger, pride. Or was that my heart feeling my own many sinful states? I am really not sure. I know just how sensitive and how alive I felt amidst so much death. I had become a stranger.

The ride was finally over. I turned the corner, still a block away, and saw his familiar hazel eyes. “Baba! Baba!” My little son screamed, “I planted flowers!” His skinny little legs were filled with mosquito bites, and he was smiling. “Welcome home,” everyone cheerfully said. Yet they didn’t know that I had just left it. They asked me to lead salat, and despite that being the usual, I have never been quite comfortable in the role. All these leaders and leadership symposia. Who will follow, I wondered, if we all led? At the retreat, things were in their proper place: An unknown follower and the least among purer hearts and nobler characters, grateful for his presence to be tolerated. I trembled for only the second time in my life at the first verse of Surah al-Fatihah and cried my way through the Surah while trying to recite aloud.

Fajr came, and in this tiny house I was unsure where I could turn the light on to read Qur’an. So, I switched the order of the wird – beads first, booklet of remembrances and prayers next, and intended the Qur’an reading last. But my father awoke and turned on his reading lamp. Saved. Trains roared by. Trucks grinded down the street. A concrete jungle indeed. I focused hard. Where was that lake? Could I find it in my heart? Or would He place it there for me, please? Would that there would come a breeze as there did so often through the lodge. I filtered through the various sounds, convincing myself each train wheel, every car tire, and their respective screeches were also in dhikr. They too were creation after all. Finally, my ear fell upon the sound of birds chirping. Allah is wherever you may turn, even here where concrete and glass dominate the sensory environment. It would be harder work here. But so be it. I had left home a long time ago. I would adjust again, begging Allah this time for ability and consistency, and to grant me an ability to focus on Him solely amidst so much distraction little of which comes from natural beauty. It wouldn’t be much longer before I would return.

Read the follow-up reflection by the author: "Position and Placement: The First 24 Hours, Again"


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