SHAYKH ‛ALĪ TANTĀWĪ rahimahullāh
To my brother, al-Ustādh Abul Hasan:
The masses here in Syria have a saying: “The written word is recognized by its title”. The title of your book – at-Tarīq ilal Madīnah (The Road to Madīnah) – shook me before I could even open it.
I felt it moving me thirty three stations back in the journey of my life. It took me back a full one third of a century. I saw myself in the desert – the desert of the Hijāz – where my companions and I spent fifty days with the sun blazing down on us and the sand burning beneath us. A hill would elevate us, only to be seized by the next valley. Thirst was burning us while we were terrified by the fear of getting lost. All our hopes and wishes were confined to just one hope and just one wish; and that is to see Madīnah.
My brother, we were wandering in the deserts on “The Road to Madīnah”. We tasted the fire of hunger and the burning of thirst. We looked at death in the face and we swallowed the bitter gulps of fatigue and fear. An entire day passed like this. We had a Bedouin guide who was always silent – his tongue was locked and he had a permanent gloomy face. Suddenly his face began to beam and his tongue began to move. He said just one sentence. I would not have liked a thousand gold coins more than that one sentence. It was a statement which changed our fear to security, our hunger and thirst to fulfilment and satiation, and our fatigue to comfort and relief. His statement was magic – that is if words could have magic in them. He said: “Here is Uhud.”
“Uhud” – just imagine a desert-dwelling lover who passed a long period of time separated from his beloved. His yearning has tormented him and suddenly he is informed: “Here is the house of the beloved.”
Bear in mind that that is physical love, and here we are talking about love of the soul. That is earthly desire which disappears, and this is heavenly love which will never end.
After more than thirty three years, I still remember how this statement instilled strength to our nerves. We immediately began hastening our vehicles and instructed our drivers to drive faster. We were in motor vehicles – the first to cross the desert between Syria and the Hijāz; and it was the first time this desert experienced this new mode of transport. The drivers became energetic. In fact, we felt as if the shiver of joy and intoxication of reaching [the beloved] which we experienced was being experienced by these cars as well, and they too got more power, moved faster and surged ahead.
When we drove around Mt. Uhud and the green dome appeared before us, our tongues were unable to express the emotions which our hearts were feeling – just as my pen is unable to express those emotions today.
We spoke with the tongue of lovers: with fluttering hearts and a rain of tears. Why should our hearts not flutter and our tears not rain down!? After all we had reached the abode of the beloved sallallāhu ‛alayhi wa sallam. It is that abode in whose imagination we used to live and whose remembrance
was our food. When we read the sīrah1 and mention is made of these places, we feel as though they are the abodes of our souls and the resting places of our hearts. The lands in which we were born were mere homes for our bodies. When did the home of the body ever be more beloved to a person than the home of the heart!?
Is there any Muslim on earth who will not sacrifice his homeland for the sake of the city of Rasūlullāh sallallāhu ‛alayhi wa sallam if [Allāh ta‛ālā forbid] it ever experiences any calamity? Will he not sell his house and the house of his family members for the sake of the House of Allāh if it is ever threatened with any mishap?
A person [who has an interest in literature] would love to visit the place where a certain litterateur was born and where he lived. He would love to see the place where a certain poet lived. He will travel to that place and spend a lot of money to reach there. In the course of his journey, he will savour the bitterness of fatigue and bear all the hardships of travel.
How, then, can the heart of a Muslim not melt out of yearning for the city on whose ground the greatest beloved [sallallāhu ‛alayhi wa sallam] of every Muslim walked, whose air he breathed and whose water he drank?! This lover walks on the same paths on which the beloved walked. He performs salāh where he performed. He enters [the city of Madīnah] from the road which the beloved entered on the day when he emigrated from Makkah. He leaves from the road which the beloved left on the day when he went to Uhud. He
1 The life and biography of Rasūlullāh sallallāhu ‛alayhi wa sallam.
goes and observes the place where the battle took place, and stands over the graves of the martyrs.
He then returns to the Raudah1 which is a piece of Paradise on earth. He stands before the room which embraced his body when he was alive, and has now been locked with him while he is deceased. This room will never be opened until the day of Resurrection. He says:
اَلسَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكَ يَا سَيِِّدِيْ، يَا رَسُوْلَ اللِ
Peace be to you, O my master. O Rasūlullāh!
I will never forget what I felt the first time I stood there.
What has happened to me now? How is it that I do not have the same yearning and do not experience the same joy?!
How is it that I read these impassioned poems written by the Arab poets which used to shake my heart violently as a farmer violently shakes a fruit-laden tree? Emotions and elevated thoughts would fall in my heart like fully ripened fruit fall from a tree which is shaken.
How is it that I read those poems today but nothing shakes from my heart except a few branches which the winter of my life has stripped of all leaves, and which have been reduced to firewood?!
Is it because of the passage of such a long time? Is it because my heart has become heedless? Is it because time has corrupted me? Is it because
1 The blessed grave of Rasūlullāh sallallāhu ‛alayhi wa sallam.
previously we used to travel on land, spending many long weeks on the road to Madīnah, spurred on by yearning, and drawn by longing. Thousands of thoughts would come like waves in our hearts. Now we are able to go to Madīnah within two to three hours. We climb the steps of an aeroplane in Syria or Egypt, we have our meal, have a short nap; and suddenly we are getting down the steps of the aeroplane in Jeddah.
We may have gained time, but we have lost our emotions and feelings…
I had almost lost confidence in my own self. But when I read your book, The Road to Madīnah, O my brother, Abul Hasan! I could feel the yearning coming back and wrestling with my self. I realized that my heart was not completely empty of the essence of love. Rather, concerns of time and life, and a lengthy affinity had covered its essence with dust. So your book removed the dust from its essence.
I had almost lost confidence in literature when I no longer found the heavenly melodies which used to be sung from the time of ash-Sharīf ar-Radī1 to al-Bar‛ī2. But when I read your book, I found those lost melodies. I found them in your prose which is really poetry, but without the scales and rhymes of poetry.
1 A well-known Hāshimī poet of the ‛Abbāsī era. Some scholars consider him to be from among the greatest Arab poets. His poetry is compiled in a collection known as al-Hijāziyyāt.
2 He is Sayyidī ‛Abd ar-Rahīm al-Bar‛ī. A famous poet whose dīwān (collection) of na‛t (poetry in praise of Rasūlullāh sallallāhu ‛alayhi wa sallam) is well-known, and popular among the masses and scholars.
O Abul Hasan! I thank you for returning to me my confidence in my self, and my confidence in the literature of my language.
As for the introduction which you requested me to write, please excuse me from fulfilling such a request because you neither need it, nor does this book need it.
Introductions to books are like agents in the commercial world. A new trader needs an agent to market a new unknown product. What can an agent do if the customers know the trader better than the agent himself? What can an agent do if the customers are more enthusiastic about purchasing a product than the trader is in selling it?
Was salāmu ‛alayka wa rahmatullāh