Jamea Remembers

Written by: Sh Adnan Abidali

The views expressed herein are those of the author.

Radiant Axis

As I sit perched on the wooden benches that punctuate the vine-covered steps that lie on the far western periphery of Aljamea’s campus, I cannot help but notice the solitary Nandi Flame Tree that sits like a fiery sentinel at the lower end. Between the sun-kissed clouds that are turning crimson in the west and the long golden rays of light that reflect the polished surface of the Radiant Axis, the Nandi Flame Tree and its vivid orange bloom seem to be bathing in the evening glow of the setting sun.

I take a moment to take in this striking image of fire and light. Every surface along the vertical and horizontal parallels of the Radiant Axis, comes alive with the beams of light that are being reflected, as if infused with an energy from beyond the horizon. Here I was, a humble talib-e-ilm (student) of Jamea, feeling the warm glow of the sun from one end, and reflecting on the reflections of light that were being cast.

What was I doing here? What was I part of? What was this ‘Jamea’ where I found myself? What history was being made here?

As I took it all in, I was reminded of the much loved anthem that our rector, Amirul Jamea al-Muqaddas, Syedi Yusuf bs Najmuddin QR penned many decades ago… ‘Jamea ne Yaad Che.’ The opening line reads:

‘Saif e deen, Burhan e deen ni dhawfishaani ni dhiya

Dhiya means ‘rays of light’. The scene before me could not be more metaphorically apt in bringing to light what he meant. Just as the sun set on the Radiant Axis, I sought to remember who it was that had set foot within the hallowed walls of this age old institute. The ‘sun’ of the past duat RA had come to light every student’s and every mumin’s humble soul with the eternal light that was and is the zikr of Imam Husain AS. Just as the aptly named Nandi Flame Tree, our Maula TUS was preparing to set ablaze the hearts of mumineen with the burning grief of Imam Husain AS, as they, just like the crimson-hued blooms of the Nandi Flame Tree, would shed blood-tears as the days of Ashara Mubaraka draw closer and closer.

The Radiant Axis of the Jamea campus connects the east and west by following the diurnal path of the sun as it rises and sets across the horizon. Those photons of light that were bouncing off the shiny finish of the Radiant Axis, had travelled millions of miles from the sun before they had got to where they were. Ashara Mubaraka in Jamea is nothing but a culmination of centuries of endeavour by every dai RA and it is now, through their successor, Syedna Aali Qadr Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS, that their light is reaching out from east to west – both in Jamea and from Jamea – to every mumin’s soul.

Jamea remembers and it will never forget.

Sahat

He cuts a lone figure in the vast central courtyard of Jamea known as the sahat (central courtyard). Lone yes, but far from alone; within him lies a vastness mirrored in the expansive sahat where he now stands. Quiet and pensive, one wonders what must be crossing his mind. In a few days, in this space that is surrounded by arches and arcades that hark back to the glory of the Fatimid era, his flock will gather in earnest anticipation. The sahat is centred within the campus, effectively representing the heart of Jamea. Every building connects to it, much like the other organs surrounding the heart.

Through him, the zikr of Imam Husain AS beats with an energetic fervour that circulates among those that are connected to him.

Feeling the ground beneath, he walks, taking his time with each step. Looking at him, one senses how vast his love is. Within him lies the hopes of hundreds of thousands and like the Date Trees that bear fruit within the sahat, those hopes and dreams come to fruition through him.

As he steadily moves forward, making his way across the expanse of the sahat, the vastness of his purpose can be seen in the burden that his shoulders carry; but only they are broad enough to assume that weighty load.

The sahat of Jamea remembers and senses the tread of the one that graces it, calling out, beseeching him to bless it in preparation for what follows, just as he gathers within him their hearts.

Jamea remembers and it will never forget.

Bʾir

As I stood at the furthest point possible, I saw him moving further towards the direction of the qibla, edging towards the gleaming white elevation of Masjid al-Zahra. On his left, there stood in rust-coloured granite, a well that is the replica of the well in al-Jamiʿ al-Anwar in Cairo, Egypt. That wellspring flows with waters from the river on whose banks the empires of Egypt were built; the Nile. There is a legend that the one who drinks from the water of the Nile will always return to Egypt.

Trying to hone my focus in between the arches and date trees, I saw him pause for a moment. I asked myself, what memories from a time gone by, must the sight of that wellspring be conjuring up? From my limited perspective, memories of the ‘return’ of al-Anwar to its former glory; the discovery of water only a few feet underneath the sahn; the many times he had filled a crystal glass with that water and offered it to his father; the ten thousand strong gathering at the turn of the 15th century and how, like the wellspring in al-Anwar, the barakat of al-Anwar and the signalling of the ‘return’ continuously cascades into the collective consciousness of the faithful – were all things that came flooding to the fore as I saw him near that fountain.

All those memories, and with them the emotions that were attached, come like a torrent of water, ‘returning’ me, a humble observer from a distance, to a past which is being relived in the present. All at once, the past, present and the future of what Jamea is destined to become, came together in a moment. Here, now, reminiscent of that historic year of 1401 H, his flock gather again. In two days’ time, Jamea and the person in which it is embodied, would quench them with the tale of Imam Husain’s AS thirst and that of his kin. They would be returned to their past, to a point where Karbala would come alive in the present.

And that is how Jamea remembers…

Mahad al-Zahra

Secluded, yet accessible; opaque, yet transparent; intricate, yet spacious, the Mahad al-Zahra stands like a shining jewel encased and protected behind a glass facade.

From the diminutive viewpoint of a humble student, I look above. I cannot help but reflect on the name ‘Mahad al-Zahra.’ ‘Zahra’ reminds one of the maternal affections of Maulatena Fatema al-Zahra AS and the word ‘Mahad’, other than meaning institute, refers to a place that is familiar, comforting and a place that one returns to after a long spell of separation.

From the outside, two wings flank the Mahad on either side, like extended arms that welcome and embrace anyone who enters. Looking at him walking into the Mahad with his flock in his wake, I can only think of a Fatimi love enveloping them in its embrace. For a few moments, he is visible but then disappears. But like the Mahad, he internalises the external and rather than leave them behind, his maternal instinct is to embrace each and every one of them and take them with him. Out of sight, his love radiates through each as they recall the comfort and familiarity of a maternal caress. The tenderness of a mother’s protective embrace erases the painful memory of days, weeks and months of separation.

They’re home. We’re home.

And that is how Jamea remembers.