It was in the Ramadan of 1999, that my post-teen life took an absolute U-turn. What I mean is a total spiritual and mental awakening and discovery of myself and the purpose of my life. I owe unlimited thanks to Allah and also the means by which He granted me this favour: Al-Huda.
IN SEARCH OF LIGHT
Al-Huda means Guidance, and I could not have thought of a more appropriate name for this institution. It has been, and still is, providing that much needed guidance towards Allah's way to many of us who had been too busy to even realize that we needed it. Yes, sometimes when it all proved too much, we felt something amiss in our overcrowded lives and a general absence of inner peace and satisfaction. This emptiness cried out for something more than what this material world had to offer, something from where our roots lay - our beginning and our ultimate end - our Creator! And this missing link we found at Al-Huda. This is why we all immediately clicked into place because our hearts unanimously vouched that this was what we had been searching and secretly praying for.
RAMADAN-THE MONTH OF MIRACLES
Coming back to the U-turn, it took place in a most unlikely place- the pool-side of a 5-star hotel where my mother took me one morning to attend the Daura-e-Quran of one Dr. Farhat Hashmi. I was curious, hungry, tired- not a very viable listener. But very soon the captivating voice of this lady reciting the Quran in a manner I had never heard before brought the whole scene to life. After that, I was caught up in the powerful current of Allah's words and the softly, lovingly uttered interpretation by this lady who radiated energy like the sun. I tried not to miss a day after that. Ramadan gained a new spiritual significance for me. I decided I had to find out more and should complete my B.com later and join the one-year diploma course that was starting for the first time in Karachi.
IS DEEN FOR YOU AND ME? I was a bit skeptical in the beginning but, gradually, I saw the unusual working style of the people in this institution. Until now I had always run away from Deen (and the word Dars) because it has become so over-burdened, polluted and scary over the years. Al-Huda breaks it down to the basics, the direct words of Allah and their practical demonstration by Prophet (SAW). This actual Deen turned out to be easy and lovable and not at all something to run away from. Not one day were we forced to do something (like cover ourselves) but so intensely was the love of Allah and the fear for the Hereafter aroused in our hearts (that strange combination of hope and fear in the Quran), that we ourselves changed slowly. It was a conscious, unhypocritical choice. So it remains constant and satisfying.
The prospectus stated the ideology of the institution: "Why do not a few people from every group of them go forth that they may apply themselves to obtain an understanding of the religion so that they may warn their people when they return to them that they may become conscious". (Surah At-Tauba:122)
I had found my calling!
The prospectus also stated that we would be studying a number of interesting subjects like Tajweed, Tafseer, Hadith, Fiqh, Arabic Grammar, Comparative Religion, and so on. I could not believe that I could be getting all that I desired in one place. The interview was a breeze, not because I claim to be a genius or something but because all they really wanted to see was that glint of interest and motivation to work and you were in. The questionnaire we filled that day was one of its kind asking us extraordinary, intelligent questions that tickled our IQ, something my college education hadn't done for some years now.
THE FIRST STEP
I remember the first day in class, a chilly January morning, when all of us gathered again after 'Eid to begin our journey into the Quran. We were new and jittery, on the
threshold of anunknown world, so on the teacher's initiative all of us (500 or so women) asked Allah for help by offering two Raka` Salah together.
ALLAH'S HELP Then there was no looking back. Completely engrossed in our challenging studies, we jumped hurdles and hopped hotels - going from pool-sides to ballrooms, to parking lots, sitting under trees and tents - finally ending up on the seventh floor of the Metro Shopping Mall. There had been days when we all thought there could be no class today but Allah always helped us out, even on the day we sat on the seventh floor without any walls around us! All along, our teacher's strength of vision and conviction inspired even the weak-hearted amongst us to scramble on. She would sit and teach us even without a fan or air conditioner and made us realize what was really important and how much we could achieve if we only tried. Slowly the class stabilized.
WHERE THE MIRACLE UNFOLDED
Today, I love myclass, the rooms, the people, the atmosphere, the peace like my own home. It is a haven; a 7-storey high sanctuary created in mid-air which I had never imagined could exist in Karachi. You pass through the shops downstairs, step into the lift, reach the 7th floor and step out into a new world. You are greeted by the beautiful voice of the Tajweed teacher reciting the Quran as class begins in the morning. It works like magic, pulling at your heart, bidding your feet to hurry. The huge windows on one wall forming the backdrop of the class overlook the city and, in the morning, present a breathtakingly peaceful sight for nature lovers like me. This also lends the class an unearthly aura and during the whole day, we feel this exceptional closeness with nature and with Allah.
SMALL CANDLES IN THE DARK One of the greatest assets of our class are the staff members who are unlike any teachers I have ever had. Kind, loving and helpful, they are willing to help out with any personal or academic problem we might have. Taking personal interest in every individual, they expect nothing in return but exclusively Allah's pleasure and are a source of great inspiration and character building.These girls have come here for a year to serve Deen and do their work diligently and tirelessly, achieving amazing feats of managing hordes of women, arranging chairs and sound systems, correcting papers and so on. The students donate generously and many are sponsored by other well-to-do students. Some students also reside in a hostel.
LATEST TEACHING METHODS A great addition to our class has been the computer department which prepares and shows presentations on different subjects discussed in the Quran such as the Egyptian Pharaohs, embryology, etc. We often receive excellent scholars and speakers from home and abroad who present lectures on subjects ranging from "Time management" to "Destiny" to "Music".
THE POWER OF THE QURAN
Yet the highlight for all of us remains to be the Quranic Tafseer (explanation) along with the word-to-word translation conducted by Dr.Farhat Hashmi. Some people called this a phase, some infatuation, some a passing trend for the socially bored Begmaats of Karachi. I call it the power of the Quran which continues to draw us all, year after year, out of our beds every single morning, which no trend, nor boredom, nor anything else could have done.
Every day, the teacher takes us on a mind journey into the Quran and to the universe beyond, helping us realize the beautiful compatibility between Allah's Word and His Deed. In both, there are innumerable ayahs (signs) for us to ponder upon. Together we explore the ayahs, dissect each one scientifically and feel them touching the very cores of our hearts and our inner most feelings. The Quran is for us. It talks to each one of us individually. Every day, it gives each one of us a message. So many people like me have related incredulously that they came to class with a certain query or anxiety in their mind and the Quran answered it miraculously the very same day. There are small miracles strengthening our faith daily. Many a times the verses in the Quran coincide with something happening before us at that very moment. The Quran is a miracle in every sense of the word and sitting in that same room it has changed the lives (to different extents) of every person who listens to it. No one has returned completely empty-handed or unmoved. Every heart has gravitated to the Lord's speech, every eye wet from the Qari's heart-rending recitation at the end of class. Every day brings a new excitement for us. What new thing would the Quran tell us today? We feel like it is being revealed to us now.
Then there are the discussions and personal experiences are related that further clarify concepts. Relating the Quran to our daily life has helped us realize its actual worth as a Book of Guidance.
OUR FAMILY IN ISLAM We are like a big family, the old pampering the young like daughters or even grand-daughters, and the young going out of their way to help out the old. It is an ideal setting as the students get to learn from people belonging to all ages and not just their own age group. There are exceptions as in any other place but the good feeling outweighs the bad. In fact, there is so much good feeling and warmth around that we have much to spare for the listeners who come off and on and some quite regularly to lend an ear. The class is open for anyone who wants to listen. There have been new additions too, i.e. babies born during this one year who come to class every day in their carry-cots. It is great to watch mothers juggling their children and trying to tackle a tough test paper at the same time. What brings about all this love in one place is the fact that we are knit in the strong bond of iman with absolutely no discrimination of class, race, sect or any other. The only sect here is Islam-our only identification is of a Muslim. TEACHER EXTRAORDINAIRE!
Our teacher, Dr.Farhat Hashmi, is an extraordinary scholar, teacher and motivator. She encourages us to ponder and form our own opinion rather than imposing her own. She brings every word of the Quran to life and makes us feel as if Allah is speaking to us. The Quran is a speech so it is more effective when heard rather than read and matched with her soft, effective, unconventional manner of teaching, it proves irresistible making us accept even hardcore truths and melting the hearts of the most adamant of people. Her vibrant and expressive style of teaching carries the class on a wave of excitement to gain knowledge. She provides that certain hope, morale and character building for many just by her words and deeds for she does what she preaches and works tirelessly.
She and her husband have done their PHD in Hadith Sciences and their thirst for knowledge has taken them from Cairo to Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. They have since dedicated their lives to spreading the message of the Quran and eradicating ignorance and deprivation from their country. Much welfare work is conducted by them and their love for Allah and energy to do good is contagious.
For a college-going girl like me who was used to having teachers who did not hesitate to humiliate, rowdy classmates, chaotic classes and an education system based on rote-learning and cheating, this kind of atmosphere is breath-taking. I never thought such a system was possible except in wishful discussions over family dinners. But here, words are always outnumbered by actions and that is what sets it apart because practically applying our knowledge is the part that is most stressed upon in class. Efficiency and harnessing modern knowledge and technology to propagate Islam are the rule of the day.
AL-HUDA- NOT JUST AN INSTITUTE BUT A HOUSE OF LOVE & SHARING
My old grandmother was a strict adherent to her own traditional, ritualistic concept of Islam that was based mostly on hearsay and culture as is the usual case with us these days. Taking her along with me to class proved miraculous. Not only did it open her mind to the true essence of Islam that we have long forgotten but she was moved beyond words by the unusually good manners of the students and their kindness. They would force her to sit on their chairs, offer her their food and do what a good Muslim is required to do.
QURAN CHANGES HEARTS
For a girl who has never been regular in anything except irregularity, it is amazing to see how far we have come. Our personal, social, spiritual, and physical aspects of life have improved. Our relations with other people have become more meaningful. The best thing is the change in attitude and the practical application of tolerance, compassion and self control that the Quran teaches.
What the Quran has developed is that change of heart, God-consciousness (or Taqwa) that demands good even in solitude when no human eyes can see us. And there lies the cure of all social evils rampant today. Because without this inner change, all rules, laws, calls for human rights fail to ring true and take effect, and people cheat the moment they are not being watched.
WHO SAYS THE QURAN IS OUTDATED
The Quran is the key to success as has been proven by history, time and time again. Yet we seek to find alternate solutions and wail when misfortune strikes.
Now I dread the day when this class ends. I would love to stay a student here forever. But as we know the Quran never ends but its end is only a new beginning. So I pray that Allah may give everyone a chance to learn the Quran the way we have. After years of not knowing which subjects I wanted to study, I found them all embodied in the Quran- poetry, history, science, ethics, and psychology. Islam lays great importance on quiring worldly education, but some time must also be given to study this special Book that the Creator of the universe sent down for us, this manual to live our lives in a better, more fulfilling manner, the way to find Allah and eternal peace, the Best Book in the world.
Allah Ta'ala asks "And we have indeed made the Quran easy to understand and remember: then is there any that will receive admonition?" (Al Qamar:17)
(It was written during my student days at Al Huda Int'l, Karachi 2000-2001, first published in The Mag and then by Al Huda Publications)