Habib Ali al-Jifri talks about the necessity of focusing on our mission. He cites examples from the sacrifice and steadfastness of Habib Muhammad bin Salim bin Hafiz and his two sons, Habib Mashhur and Habib Umar. Extracts from a speech delivered in Dar al-Mustafa, 1st Muharram 1435/ 3rd November 2013
On a day like today, 29th Dhu’l-Hijjah, Sayyidi Habib Muhammad bin Salim bin Hafiz (may Allah have mercy upon him), the Shaykh of our shaykhs, was abducted. The Valley of Hadramawt at the time was in turmoil. The Communists who were in power were proponents of open disbelief. They were prepared to kill and abduct people and take their property in order to remain in power. The scholars of this city confronted them by calling people to Allah with wisdom and good admonition. They had no desire for any worldly gain or status. Habib Muhammad paid no attention to the threats that he received and he generously sacrificed his life for this cause without any hesitation. One of the final gatherings in which he spoke was the gathering held on the Day of Arafah at Khaylah in Tarim in which people seek Allah’s gifts on that blessed day. Communist militiamen were present with their weapons attempting to scare the scholars and stop them from speaking. Knowing that Habib Muhammad bin Salim’s life was in danger, Habib Muhammad bin Alawi bin Shihab advised him not to provoke any controversy. Habib Muhammad bin Salim, however, was unable to restrain himself. He stood and defended the true beliefs of Islam and clarified the falsehood of un-Islamic ideologies and the wrongs that were being committed. Allah then willed that he be abducted.
Following the abduction, people were too scared to even greet the sons of Habib Muhammad in public. At the time, our shaykh, Habib Mashhur, the current Mufti of Tarim, was in the Dawan Valley several hours from Tarim. His father had given him the responsibility of supervising several schools in the area. His younger brothers, Salim and Abdullah, came to him bearing the news of what had happened. What was Habib Mashhur’s reaction? Before he did anything else, he made sure the affairs of the schools were in order. He could have been excused for neglecting the schools – his father had been abducted and it was not known if he had been killed – but no, his heart was focused on the responsibility that his father had given him. Having checked up on the schools, Habib Mashhur returned to Tarim. People say today: “You people carry on talking about the same things while deliberately ignoring the fire that is burning in the street.” We say: “No, these gatherings were established to extinguish that fire because it will only be extinguished with light and with people whose hearts realise that they have a task to complete. This task cannot be neglected however bad the situation is.”
Sayyidi Habib Umar was around nine years old at the time. He witnessed his father place his shawl in the mosque before the Friday prayer. He gave him the keys to the house which was not something he normally did. He glanced at his son. Today we continue to reap the fruits of that glance. He then went to register with the security forces (as he was obliged to do so that they could check on his whereabouts). And that was their final meeting in the physical realm.
Think about what state the children (most of whom were still young) were in when Habib Mashhur returned to the house: their father had disappeared and their mother had gone to perform hajj and people were too scared to help them. Someone might ask: how could this family ever have a role in serving Islam? But their hearts and minds were focused on their mission. What had been placed in their hearts was so strong that they were able to change their situation. Change can only be brought about by people with this inner strength. Not physical strength or financial muscle. Not political organisation or strategy. Yes, we take the means and we do not negate them, but what we are talking about is hearts completely focused on their mission.
Habib Mashhur carried on teaching at a time in which someone carrying a book containing Islamic knowledge could be beaten or imprisoned. Some of the scholars and callers to Allah present today – the likes of Habib Kazim al-Saqqaf, Shaykh Umar bin Husayn al-Khatib, Habib Ali bin Abu Bakr and Sayyid Abu Bakr Balfaqih – used to go out before dawn with their books hidden in their clothing or in baskets used for carrying vegetables from the market place. They would go secretly to Habib Mashhur’s house to study the Sacred Law. Why did Habib Mashhur continue to place himself in danger when things were still in turmoil and no-one knew where his father was? He could easily have said: “My father is the priority at the moment.” This was enough of an excuse in front of Allah, let alone in front of people, but no, he continued to teach.
At the same time, he went from prison to prison, from place to place, searching for his father. He went as far as the Island of Socotra because he heard that his father may have been taken there. This was his father’s right. But none of this prevented him from focusing on the greater mission for which Habib Muhammad had given his life.
It is a blessing that no one can say for certain where Habib Muhammad was buried. It is as if Allah is saying to us: the question is not where and when he was buried. The question is what cause was he struggling for (that was the reason for his abduction) and when will we struggle for the same cause? Habib Mashhur realised this and we are now benefiting from his steadfastness. I am not here to list the merits of my teachers although they are worthy of having their merits listed. I am talking about understanding the current state of affairs, something everyone is talking about today. The sons of Habib Muhammad understood what their priorities were. They saw that their father had made sacrifices and they too decided to make sacrifices. Unlike most of us, they did not allow events to get the better of them but instead they got the better of those events.
Habib Umar began to give public reminders at the age of fifteen or sixteen in places like Masjid al-Nur. The authorities realised that he was a potential threat so they tried to clamp down on him and draft him into the army. After the death of his shaykh, Habib Muhammad bin Alawi bin Shihab, he made istikharah and then left Hadramawt. He went first to Aden, hoping to get to the Hijaz where he could seek knowledge and earn a living so that he would not be dependent on anyone. He left Tarim with the paltry sum of three hundred shillings. He had no financial support from anyone – no sponsor, no endowment – and he did not ask anyone for money. He decided to go to al-Bayda on his way to the Hijaz to visit the knower of Allah, Habib Muhammad al-Haddar (may Allah have mercy upon him). Habib Muhammad al-Haddar was a close friend of his father and they had studied together and worked together in the service of the religion. Habib Muhammad told him to stay in al-Bayda to study and teach and he did so. What was he concerned with? The same mission that his father was concerned with: seeking and conveying knowledge, travelling the spiritual path and calling to Allah.
Think about the years that passed in which he was unable to travel to Tarim where his older brother and his mother were. Some of his other brothers were in the Hijaz and he was in al-Bayda. And worse than that – the whereabouts of his father were still unknown. But all of this did not stop him from sitting and teaching his students: “There are six integrals of wudu.. four things invalidate one’s wudu..” We hear people today saying mockingly: “The Ummah is in a state of crisis and you are sitting talking about the rulings of wudu and menstruation!” Yes, we are talking about those things because this is the legacy of our Prophet ﷺ . We study these things, we strive to purify our hearts and we sacrifice whatever we can – even if it is our souls – to teach people and call them to Allah. At the same time we stop ourselves from competing with people over worldly things – this is our methodology.
You can all see the fruits of these sacrifices clearly in front of you and what is to come is even greater with Allah’s permission. This is because Allah has decreed that if someone focuses their heart on their mission they will accomplish that mission. It is now down to us to focus our hearts on Allah and on that same mission.