A street in Cairo, photographed by Dick Doughty. Courtesy Saudi Aramco World image archive.
My dearest M,
There’s the Hadith that says, “Anyone who sees me in a dream, it is as if he has truly seen me, for Satan cannot take my form.” Still, I want to ask you about a particular dream I had – whether it was really you in it.
I am in a Middle Eastern or Asian city, which is apparent from the fact that it is hot, packed with people and the buildings are both faded from the sun as well as mildewed from the humidity. It is the middle of the day, and I am outside, trying to cross the street. But due to the density of the traffic and perhaps my lack of familiarity with the place, I’m not able to.
I hover at the edge of the road for a while, too daunted to move, until something makes me turn around. And then I see a kebab vendor, whose name I “know” somehow is Mustafa. He is smiling. It’s not just a regular smile, though – it’s more like a bubbling over, a smile that could turn into laughter at any moment. He holds out a morsel to me, a tiny shawarma. All of the elements of a sandwich are there, albeit in miniature – a bit of salad, and a bit of meat and sauce, perfectly contained in a corner of pita. And though I am a vegetarian in waking life, I take the morsel, understanding somehow that eating it is what will allow me to get across the street. And when I do this it seems to make Mustafa happier still. His smile shines even brighter, like a lamp being turned up high.
Just now as I typed those words, a moth flew out of nowhere and hit my computer screen. Which seems doubly odd since it’s the middle of the day, so my screen is not glowing visibly. But maybe at some level that moth could sense your light, the Nur Muhammidiya, even in the description of the dream. And maybe that was your way of answering my question in this moment. (Thank you, my dear!)
At the time that I had the dream, I asked Dede about it, because in our tradition you’re often called Muhammad Mustafa, the chosen one. The dream was so vivid – especially in the quality of that smile! – that I wanted his opinion about what it meant. Dede always chooses his words carefully when I bring up any of the “special effects” of spirituality (dreams, visions, seemingly inexplicable happenings). He considered for a moment and then said, “Well, it seems like a good sign.”
He then mentioned another Hadith in which you said that the things of this world are like a preview or “taster” of the next, so the miniature sandwich could be seen as a promise of the satisfaction or nourishment to come.
As for crossing the street, I suppose it’s symbolic most broadly of making my way through the trials of the world. What’s on “the other side” of that road? From the vantage point of where I am now, I can’t see it, but I still know I need to get there. I do think it must have been you who appeared at the critical moment, just when I doubted whether I would be able to move forward into the chaos, the next series of tests.
Extending a little taste of paradise to encourage me seems so typical of your generosity – not to mention sharing your radiant smile. That in itself seemed like a preview of a gift you couldn’t wait to give.
About a year and a half after this dream, I had one that felt like Part II.
This time it is Dede himself guiding me through the traffic of an unfamiliar city. But it’s not in the Middle East –instead it’s somewhere northern, like Canada or Europe, with grey stone buildings and everything stark and clean. I think it’s a place I’ve dreamed of before, which has a cathedral in it. In this scenario, we are outside on a busy road, with traffic coming in all directions. And it’s not just a matter of crossing the street in the usual way by navigating around the cars, but also a sense that we have to move through other levels at the same time, under the road and even somehow through it. But with Dede by my side I feel I am being guided to safety.
I have been a seeker for so long that sometimes I have to remind myself the spiritual journey does have a destination: a return to our Source. What does the path there look like? In my mind I used to picture it as a solitary trail winding through the woods, or sometimes as a narrow track cut into the slope of a mountain. But what these dreams seem to be showing me is that the Path can also be a thoroughfare in the middle of a city. In other words: not somewhere off away from daily life, but in the very thick of it.
It’s interesting to me too that in the first dream, Islam was still situated amidst all of my erstwhile associations with the Middle East: decaying infrastructure, chaos and pollution, but also warm-hearted and hospitable people. Now, Islam is no longer quite so foreign. It’s moved closer to places I’ve lived in and know personally. The setting of the second dream reminds of a city like Montreal that combines elements of Europe and America, with cobblestone streets and its own Notre Dame.
But even as the territory has become familiar, the obstacles and dangers have become more subtle. I need a guide who doesn’t just provide directions, but who also comes along with me.
Waking up from the second dream, I felt a new inner resonance with the Divine Name al Wali. More than a friend, I understood al Wali to be a protector and a kind of mentor. Someone who is always thinking about me, concerned for my welfare and helping me in ways I might never know about or even be able to comprehend.
That is Dede, of course, and I felt washed by a wave of gratitude and humility in the realization of just how much he does for me, and for every other soul he has pledged to look after. But that Wali is also you, my love.
You are the intimate friend I have always wanted. You understand where I am coming from and where it is I need to go as well. What I feel still more grateful for, and continually amazed at as a gift, is that you were the one who opened the way for all of us. However I may conceive of the Path at different times, whether as a big-city boulevard or a track through the wilderness, you were the trailblazer. You know the route and the territory. If the Quran is the map, you are the guide, and the best companion I could wish for to share the journey.
Setting out to meet you now, my heart leaping,
Read Love Letters to Muhammad (1 of 11)
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