|Obituary: Sheikh Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri: Light Upon Light in Damascus|
Page 1 of 6Sheikh Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri left this world on Tuesday 8 June 2004 in Damascus after a lifetime of serving Islam and Muslims. Thousands came to his funeral on Wednesday at the mosque of Sheikh Muhyiddin Ibn al- Arabi in the Salihiyya quarter. Among the people who prayed over him and buried him were those who knew him as a father, friend, religious scholar, teacher, mystical poet and vocalist, and Sufi sheikh. I knew him as the latter.
Sheikh Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri left this world on Tuesday 8 June 2004 in Damascus after a lifetime of serving Islam and Muslims. Thousands came to his funeral on Wednesday at the mosque of Sheikh Muhyiddin Ibn al- Arabi in the Salihiyya quarter. Among the people who prayed over him and buried him were those who knew him as a father, friend, religious scholar, teacher, mystical poet and vocalist, and Sufi sheikh. I knew him as the latter.
Twenty-two years ago, we had come out of this mosque together after visiting the shrine of Sheikh Muhyiddin, and I watched for a moment as he stopped to buy some apples from a cart in front of the mosque. He took the plastic bag from the seller and filled it with the worst apples he could find nicked, bruised, and worm-holed which he chose as carefully as most people choose good ones, then paid for and with a smile shook hands with the man before we went up the hill to the sheikh s home. Small and lithe, he had a light complexion, penetrating eyes, aquiline features with expressive lips, and a trimmed mustache and full beard. He dressed elegantly, wearing a few turns of white and gold cloth around a red fez on his head, a knee- length suit and vest over a shirt without a tie, and trousers tapering to the ankles. As we climbed higher and higher, I wanted to carry the bag, but he wouldn t let me, saying that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) had said, The one who needs a thing is the one who should carry it. When I reflected on his strange shopping, I realized that it had been to save the apple man from having to throw any out. The incident summed up the sheikh s personality and life, which was based on futuwwa or putting others ahead of oneself.
Many who knew him regarded him as a wali or friend of Allah, and surely his long decades of service to others had much to do with it. His wife bore him five sons and five daughters, and he was preceded to the afterlife by her and a son. Originally a weaver by trade, he had been instrumental in unionizing workers in the present c entury in Damascus, and served on the committee that led the Syrian Textile Workers Union in a successful forty-day strike for workmen s compensation. He had represented Syria in the United Arab Workers Union, and led an active public life. Earlier this year in the month of Rabi I, he had received recognition at the Burda [Prophetic Mantle] annual poetry awards given by the United Arab Emirates for outstanding service to the Umma of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). With the apples and everything else he did, he was always teaching students the inner sunnas of the character and states of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), to whom he referred everything. I am just a parrot, he told us.
I once came to Damascus to complain about one of the brethren in Jordan, and after checking into a hotel, went to the tiny room and bookshop of Sheikh Abd al-Wakil al-Durubi off the courtyard of the Darwishiyya Mosque. Sheikh Abd al-Rahman would drop in after the noon prayer each day to visit with his friends, and I found him there and gave my Salams, but before I could say anything, he said, How is your ego getting along with So-and-so? mentioning the person by name. I was abashed for a moment, then said, Praise be to Allah. The sheikh replied, Praise be to Allah, then talked about the importance of being with true and honest people, and avoiding those who spoke badly of others. Despite such incidents, the sheikh would say, The person of the sheikh is a veil, and never drew attention to himself, but to Allah and to the sunna of His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace). He stressed learning the traditional sciences, and would not permit disciples ignorance of fiqh or aqida. He never went to school, because as an orphan brought from Homs to Damascus by his older brother, he had to earn his keep by running errands, and taught himself how to read and write by looking at the signs above the shops whose owners names he knew. When he later got a job as a weaver, he used to sing his own rustic religious compositions to popular tunes, keeping time to the loom he worked at. A fellow worker heard him, and told him that he should study Classic al Arabic. What is Classical Arabic? he asked, and the man took him to Sheikh Husni al-Baghghal, who educated him in Shafi i fiqh and Arabic grammar. He studied these and other traditional subjects with sheikhs of the time such as Muhammad Barakat, Ali al-Daqar, Isma il al-Tibi, and Lutfi al-Hanafi.
Sheikh Abd al-Rahman told us that when Husni al-Baghghal caught tuberculosis, before the era of antibiotics, he was put in quarantine, which his student defied by visiting him. His teacher told him he was risking his life, and in reply, seeing that the sheikh had a candy in his mouth, Abd al-Rahman asked if he could see it for a moment. The sheikh gave it to him, and the young man popped it into his own mouth, telling him that according to tenets of faith ( ilm al-tawhid), causes do not bring about effects by themselves, but only by Allah s will. The illness proved terminal to the sheikh, but Sheikh Abd al-Rahman survived.
His long association with sheikhs of learning bequeathed him a lifelong respect for Islamic knowledge and a habit of making sure before answering any question about religion. What the Imams have recorded is our religion, he used to say, and when I once asked him what dhikrs one should recite after the prescribed prayer, though he had prayed all his life and was over seventy at the time, instead of answering he reached to his bookshelf, found Imam Nawawi s Kitab al-adhkar, and read several sahih hadiths from it. Throughout the 1980s, whenever I would ask him about a hadith or verse of the Qur an, he would always reach for a reference work and in his patient way open it up and find something about it. Though he knew many of the answers, I had to be taught to use references, so he taught me. This became apparent in later years, when he came to answer me more freely from his own learning.
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