He appeared to be quite a young man, maybe late 20s at most. His hair was healthily dark even if his thin body would have been more seemly on a man of advanced years. The whiteness of his kurta izaar had gone; now bearing the dust and grime of a day or two in Mumbai’s congested, polluted streets.
For a while, as the kharaas and mithaas gave way to the main course I had said nothing to him even though I was sat right next him. His appearance of slight impoverishment was nagging at me however, if ever there was a time I should be asking after the welfare of my fellow Mumin, surely it was now.
And so I began with the obvious by inquiring what it was that he did for a living. He told me he sold perfume door to door. Noble as his endeavour was it was clear that it was far from a lucrative livelihood. As my queries continued a picture emerged of a man far from home, living in a small dwelling shared with others like him working in order to provide for himself and his family back in his gaam.
When asked whether his efforts were sufficient to do so his first answer was, “Khuda no shukr che,” spoken without any trace of cliche. Gradually it came to light that the hundred rupees or so that he needed each day to cover his basic cost of living were not so easy to come by. It would make anyone glance uneasily at the smartphones spun idly in their hands; the cost alone of which would cover a year’s expenses for this bhai sitting besides me.
I asked him where he ate everyday. Just now, during Sherullah, niyaaz was open to all but what of the rest of the year? He told me he went to the local hotels (restaurants) and bought whatever he could afford that day.
It was at this point that I began to consider the somewhat taken for granted bounty we enjoy that is salawaat niyaaz. Where else would people of varied backgrounds, educational and economic well-being come together to eat a shared meal, devoid of artificial boundaries? Here we were sat like family, the common bond was one shared in the love of our Dai and a common faith. The food that was being served may be regular fare for the more fortunate of us but for some it was an uncommon luxury. Here on the niyaaz thaal, with the servings in Mola’s (tus) name, everyone of every background could eat with the same dignity. No-one need feel any more favoured than anyone else since we were all equally blessed with this magnificent n’emat from Mola’s maa’idat.
This thought then led me to ponder on Faizul Mawaaid al-Burhaniyah. Perhaps, amongst its myriad and sometimes not fully understood designs lay this concept; that of all Mumineen dining at a shared thaal regardless of the separation of our individual homes and backgrounds. Here again was the opportunity – every day – to avail of the blessings found in Rasulallah’s (sa) hadith, “Kathratul aydiy barakah,” many hands is barakat.
Here was the chance, overlooked but much needed, for the better off to deconstruct the walls and fences that wealth inevitably brings along to cage them in and shut them off from the wider world. Faiz thaali was not about providing food to the needy, it was about providing dignity, the dignity that comes from sharing in a meal as opposed to being handed one. After all, here, at the feet of Mola (tus) who is to know who is the truly needy one?
Many, many moons ago, in the dusty reaches of Kufa a needy man was directed to the house of Imam Hasan and Husain (as) to share in a meal provided to all the citizens of the city. He sat, not eating but weeping for the ‘dervish’ whom he had met eating morsels of an unpalatable dough in the Kufa masjid sahn. His tears fell thinking that that man was even more needful than he himself until he was told that the nourishing meal he was about to eat was actually being provided to all by that self-same dervish.
Today we have been invited to share in that same meal, from that same divine household. None of us knows who is the more needy. All of us need to participate in the equality, dignity and humility it gives us. Let us pray that none of us ever imagines he or she has less need than the next one to partake of the barakaat of this Faiz. And let us all participate in this endeavour that is intended to fulfil this very basic need that all of us have.
May Allah t’aala give our Mola (tus) long and healthy life until qiyamat and Aali Qadr Mola (tus) everlasting health in his zill e zaleel.