I attended the inaugural session of this wonderful programme today with my wife and children. Whilst no actual lessons took place (apart from a brief one by Shaykh Afifi), it was a chance for the organisers to present the programme to give a better idea of the format and lessons to be taught.
Every Sunday except the last Sunday of every month from 1.30pm until 6.00pm a one hour lesson of Classical Arabic will be taught, followed by a lesson on either Aqida (tenets of faith), Sira (The Prophet Biography) or Tazkiyya (Purification of the Soul), these will alternate every week. The last session will be on Hanafi fiqh taught by Sidi Talal al-Azem with a parallel session on Shafi’i fiqh by Shaykh Afifi. The course will be free to attend but students should purchase the source texts that will be used in the sessions to properly benefit from the lessons.
The highlight of the day was the very short (but by no means undetailed!) dars on the title of Ayuhal Walad of Imam Ghazali by Shaykh Afifi. Ayuhal Walad is usually translated as “Dear Beloved Son” or “O My Son” in a number of translations but in this particular translation by Tobias Mayer (a friend and acquaintance of the Shaykh) that Shaykh Afifi will be using, the title as been rendered as “Letter to a Disciple”. Shaykh Afifi explained that linguistically walad means “son” and in and of itself translating it as such is not incorrect, however, in the context of Imam al-Ghazali this is not correct since Imam al-Ghazali did not have a son (he had two daughters). Why then did Imam Ghazali use the word walad when referring to one of his students? Shaykh Afifi went on to explain the teacher/student relationship and Islam’s recognition of the importance and significance of a teacher as in loco parentis as someone who is the equal (or in place) of one’s parent when it comes to respect and honour. A teacher (specifically a religious one but not exclusively) is as one’s father (or mother) in the akhira just as your biological parents are parents in the temporal world, the respect and etiquette one shows to one’s parents must be shown to one’s teachers.
So this very short dars on the title of the book set the scene very aptly and very succinctly for the course to come and is probably the most appropriate text on Tazkiyya (purification) in the context of a student taking knowledge from a teacher.
With regards to Shaykh Afifi, he never ceases to amaze me, quite a remarkable, brilliant, enthusiastic, humbe and unassuming teacher who, I believe, is under utilised and still relatively “unknown” amongst the broad population of the “traditionalists” and yet he is one of the most eminent scholars that we have in the UK. People should be flocking to him to acquire knowledge which he readily and regularly dispenses. He is amazingly humble and his knowledge humbles you, when someone can talk in detail about a title of the book and the hidden and unclear meanings of the title, you know that you are in the presence of someone special. As a teacher the Shaykh has a commanding presence, you quickly realise in the first few minutes that this is someone who has internalised (not just memorised) what he has learned, he is someone who when he speaks of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), the Sahabah and ulama he does so as though he is in their presence, who speaks with utter clarity and always with a smile on his countenance.
As with all of our Shayukh, our words are never enough and fall short their true worth and I am merely expressing what I feel when I meet the people of Allah and Allah alone knows their true standing. May He increase them, preserve them and allow us to partake of the Prophetic inheritance that they have been entrusted with. Amin!
For more details of this programme see the Oxford Traditional Knowledge Foundation website.
It is worth mentioning the hard work by the organisers in making this programme happen and the Mosque Committee who have graciously hosted this event. May Allah reward them immensely, good work!