Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl
If envy is a sin then I am the incurable sinner for I envy every eye that ever caught a glimpse of you. I envy the waves that carried your voice, and the air that touched your cheeks. I envy even the ground that once served you, and I confess to you that despite my indulgent sins, my shameful whimsies and ugly flimsies, I confess to you, "I love you."
My confessions are as silly as my muted words. You have been loved by so many more substantial than I, and what good does my silence or confession possibly do?
So many moments have I sat sheltered by the night in the midst of these books, my mind fulfilled but my heart calling for you. Only my shame restrains my words from filling pages of books and from whimpering into the night, "I long for you."
This Conference of the Books, in countless days and nights, ignited by your memory, calls upon the world to ponder your legacy. Despite the citations, the arguments, and refutations, nothing equals a blissful moment spent engulfed in your adoration. For all the enlightenment of books, the brilliance of beauty, and the purification of light coalesced in the moments of time that hosted your life - Muhammad, Ahmad, Abu al-Qasim, al-nabi al-'amin, the messenger of God.
Permit me my Prophet, my own beloved Prophet, to tell you that I do not know you from the majestic debates of this Conference, I do not know you from the learned lectures of teachers, or from some infatuated delusional dream. No, I do not know you from the books full of sayings you reportedly said, and I even do not know you from all the reports about your life and about your likes and dislikes. I know you from a moment in time in which I fell in love with you.
I know you because God taught you, praised you, and honored you. I know you because God comforted you, consoled you, and empowered you. I know you because God loved you.
My Prophet, I know you through a heart that loves. I know you through every moment of compassion I extended to another. I know you through every moment of pain I felt for the agony of others. I know you through every moment of dignity and honor. I know you through that day my brother and I walked two miles in the desert heat to bring a dying cat water. Or, the day we intervened to stop a man from beating his wife only to have her blood mingle with ours. Or, in those days in which we were never cool, current, fashionable or popular because those values never existed in a household raised in your love. But I also know you through every moment of shame I felt for my weakness, arrogance, anger and profanity.
I think of you, an orphaned child, with wide pure eyes rejoicing at life. I see you in your youth, quiet and bashful, in your solitude feeling the longing for God. I feel your tranquility in the arms of your wife, and your trembling body with the advent of truth. I see you sitting bewildered and sad in Ta'if persevering through the trials of life. I think of you comforting your companion in the Cave of Hira' with your trust in God. I think of you instructing your soldiers away from the ants' nest, and mending the broken wing of the injured bird. I feel your beautiful smile tenderizing my world, and hear your laughter in the midst of children. I watch you mending your cloth, and then playfully racing your wife. I ponder your poverty, and the agony of your grief over your dying children. I think of your kindness and forgiveness with every hypocrite and fool, and of the way you honored and dignified your followers. I think of the hypocrite Abd Allah bin Salul yelling at you, "You and your donkey stink," and you refusing to hate, punish or take vengeance. I think of all of this, and I feel you in my heart and I believe I know you.
And yet, my Prophet, there are those who see your Sunna only as an endless array of legalistic and pedantic reprimands. They know you only through transmissions and reports, and see you only through the filter of commands. There are those who understand the Sunna as mindless imitation and soulless regurgitation.
But for me, and may God forgive me, your Sunna is a moment of unadulterated beauty spent in your love. Your Sunna is your beauty, and beauty cannot be mimicked, but must be felt and loved. All the descriptive manuals of the world cannot teach an ugly heart about beauty. And, all the reports and transmissions of the world cannot teach the obstinate heart the Sunna of the beloved.
August 16, 1999