By Imam Zaid Shakir
I surveyed the Gates of Paradise, and found crowds at all of them; except the Gate of Humility. Hence, I entered through that gate. -Sayyid Ahmad Ar-Rifa’i
Words are difficult to summon upon hearing of the death of our dear, beloved teacher Shaykh Mustafa at-Turkmani, May Allah envelop him in His Mercy.
Our Shaykh possessed a combination of virtues that were difficult to find in contemporary scholars, and with his passing finding anyone who possesses those virtues will be all the more challenging.
He was a jurist of distinction, being one of the most distinguished students of the great Damascene jurist Shaykh Hasan Habannakah; having served for a time on the Legislative Council of the State of Qatar.
He was a memorizer of the Qur’an, being one of the elect students of the great Syrian master of recitation, Shaykh Husein al-Khattab; during his youth being called upon to lead the Tarawih prayers for a group of scholars who would gather during Ramadan in the house of Shaykh Mekki al-Kattani.
He was a real Sufi, being one the honored students of Shaykh Muhammad al-Hashimi, and later the great Rifa’i master, Abdul Hakim Abdul-Basit. He was a master of the Arabic language, and memorized much of the literary and mystical poetry of the Arabs.He was also a da’i, an Islamic worker, who tirelessly served the people of southern Damascus.
He served as a moving sermonizer at Jami’ Rida, in the Zahira Jadida section of the city. Before being slowed by his illness, he moved tirelessly between the mosques and homes of Midan, Zahira Qadima, Zahira Jadida, Mukhayyam Filastine, and Mukhayyam Yarmuk, the latter two areas being large Palestinian refugee camps, delivering classes and inspiring lectures, blessing newborn babies, conducting marriages, and consoling families who had lost loved ones.
He was truly a man of the people.Because the Shaykh was an Islamic worker who was in touch with the common folk, he always advised me to return to America to work for Islam. In this regard, Shaykh Mustafa’s advice ran counter to that given by many of the scholars of Damascus, who would frequently argue for migration from the un-Islamic lands of the West. He would not only advise returning, but he would constantly pray for our success.
The above-mentioned combination of gifts is rare in today’s world, and by possessing them Shaykh Mustafa was in an elect class of scholars. In addition to these qualities, our Shaykh also possessed the very highest standard of Islamic etiquette.
I was blessed to keep the company of the Shaykh for the better part of five years, studying a wide array of classical Islamic texts with him, and trying my best to attend as many of his public lessons, and private gatherings as I could manage.
During that time and in various situations, the Shaykh never once raised his voice. He never spoke ill of anyone. I never saw him argue or dispute with anyone.
When confronted with an opinion on an issue related to the Divine Law that differed from his own, he would merely nod his head to express his disagreement, not seeking to exalt his own opinion.
Having mentioned all of these virtues possessed by Shaykh Mustafa, I can nonetheless confidently say that they were all surpassed by his deep humility. I feel anyone who knew the Shaykh would agree and I will relate some personal experiences I had with the Shaykh to illustrate this point.
Upon our arrival in Damascus, Shaykh Mustafa agreed to teach our group of Western students the very basics of tajwid and jurisprudence. We were all neophytes and he patiently endured our ignorance, our bad manners with him, and the terrible overcooked tea we would offer him.
He would walk to my house after Fajr to deliver these lessons, oftentimes on cold, damp winter mornings, seeking to avoid the suspicion of the secret police.
At the private gatherings he would host at his family’s rural property, situated in the hills outside of Damascus, he would directly participate in preparing the food, serving the guests, and cleaning up both before and afterwards. He would not allow anyone to take the broom from his hands.
Many are the scholars who will reference the Prophet, peace upon him, participating in digging the ditch before the Battle of the Trench. However, few are those who will take the broom, mop, vacuum cleaner, toilet bowl brush, or a shovel and “dig their own ditches.” He was one of those elect few.
During the almost five years of attending the circle of Shaykh Mustafa at Jami’ Ghazwati Badr, next to his house in Zahira Qadima, he would never sit on the raised platform designated for teaching out of respect for the Imam of the Masjid, the noted elderly scholar, Shaykh Muhammad al-Farrah. Even after the passing of the Imam, Shaykh Mustafa refused to sit on the raised platform.
During the illness of Shaykh Abdr-Rahman ash-Shaghouri, May Allah shower his Mercy upon him, Shaykh Mustafa was called upon to assumed the duties that ailing master was no longer capable of performing. However, he refused to do so, as long as Shaykh Abdur-Rahman remained alive, out of his respect for the status of the Shaykh.
Others of lesser station would have rushed to assume the Shaykh’s indispensable, yet weighty duties. However, Shaykh Mustafa was held back by his etiquette with Shaykh Abdur-Rahman, and his fear of Allah.
Shaykh Mustafa’s humility led many people in Damascus to overlook his greatness as a scholar. This is especially true because almost twenty of his most productive years were spent in Qatar.
However, the scholars knew his rank, and the mention of his name would bring praise and adoration from the likes of Dr. Said Ramadan al-Buti, a classmate during their youth at Shaykh Hasan Habannakah’s school, Ma’had at-Tawjih. I have heard one of the learned people of Damascus say, “If you want to see one of the Tabi’een, look at Shaykh Mustafa at-Turkmani.”
In recent times, the skies have shaded few Muslims of the stature of our departed Shaykh. Today, like us, the skies are weeping. However, we must soon dry our eyes and get on with the work Shaykh Mustafa and the other scholars of this Ummah have bequeathed unto us.
To help us in that work, we should seek strength through the following advice I received from Shaykh Mustafa during one of my last visits to Damascus. When I asked him what does he advise to help us get through the challenging and even threatening times facing Muslims in the West, he responded, “Frequent recitation of the Qur’an, and abundant Salawat on the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah upon him.”
May Allah accept Shaykh Mustafa into the ranks of the righteous, and may his life and example be an inspiration for us all.
Your Brother in Islam,
Imam Zaid Shakir