Habib Umar ibn Hafidh, one of the Hadramaut’s most celebrated spiritual leaders, conducted a successful tour of South Africa recently, lecturing in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.
As a 39th generation descendent of the Prophet Muhammad (s) through the lineage of Sayyidina Hussain (ra), he hails from a family that has been imbued with sacred knowledge for centuries.
As the founding spirit of the Dar ul-Mustafa Institute in the ancient city of Tarim, Habib Umar has worked tirelessly towards re-establishing the Muhammadan (s) middle way in an era marked by extremism and violence. People from all over the world now study at Dar ul-Mustafa.
In South Africa he impressed all with his humility, piety and eloquence – a smile always creasing his radiant face. Working tirelessly from well before dawn until midnight, Habib Umar exemplified all that was Prophetic in conduct.
As a scholar he proved to be beyond measure. One morning in Soweto a local student was reading from Imam al-Ghazali. He was able to correct the student without referring to the text.
Habib Umar gave many memorable talks, but perhaps an address that caught the eye was delivered in Cape Town on the theme, Women in Islam.
Talking at the St Athan’s Road mosque, he said that Allah had created men and women as mutually complimentary beings. Gender relations could not be conducted on the basis of competition.
That was the vital distinction between modern feminism and Islam, he commented. The role of the woman in society could not be based on satisfying whims. If the woman was pious she was the best assistant in the way of Allah, but if she was not, she became a trial to all those around her.
“When Allah established Adam’s (as) viceregency on earth, Adam did not go alone. The establishment of this viceregency of Allah involved two individuals, a man and a woman,” he said.
“These are the beings magnified in the heavens before the Angels; this viceregency is not through military force, but by serving the peaceful way of Allah (through the heart),” he continued.
Hawwa (Eve), the mother of mankind, had twenty pregnancies. All of these resulted in twins except for prophet Shith (Seth) who was born on his own. Therefore, the building block of this world was the family unit, a unit in which the woman was the vital partner.
Allah listened equally to the supplications of both men and women, and they both shared the same fears about the world.
Referring to the Pharaoh of Musa (Moses), he said that the quality of the human soul has always been the same. “All souls are not purified, and there are always ones (with egos) that will try to dominate (like the Pharaoh) and it will always be the case,” he said.
He quoted the example of Asiyah, who as the cruel and evil Pharaoh’s wife became Musa’s foster-mother. He said she exemplified the quality of the mother to deflect harm from her children – whether it was physical harm, or the loss of moral values.
“(In spite of the Pharaoh) Musa (as) rose to become a great prophet,” he added, saying that the woman’s role was greater in shaping the child.
“We must be cautious about what goes on in the home. Marital relationships have to be based on piety. As parents we’re all shepherds. How can a child be a source of joy on the Day of Rising when his heart is full of vile images?”
Habib Umar stressed that the Deen (Islam) followed the path of the intellect, east and west, and that problems of the heart could not be resolved through following the fancies of groups of people.
He went on to speak about Hannah, the wife of ‘Imran, the mother of Maryam (Mary).
“She dedicated her womb to Allah! She offered her unborn child to Allah! She believed it would be a male. But look what happened. She gave birth to Maryam – the mother who would give miraculous birth to Jesus – to the prophet who would predict the arrival of our beloved Messenger and Liege-Lord, Muhammad (s)!”
His allusion to Maryam’s blessed womb, echoed an earlier lecture when he’d posited that if the earth gently encasing the Prophet (s) in his grave was the most sacred spot on earth, what about the sanctity of his mother Aminah’s womb?
Nearing the end of his talk, Habib Umar asked the audience what would be better for them: to follow the example of Asiyah and Maryam, the Prophet’s (s) wife Khadijah and his daughter Fatimah, than to hero worship a film star on Sunset Boulevard.
“Asiyah, Maryam, Khadijah and Fatimah are the women of Paradise. Our women should feel the shadow of Fatimah over them, facing social responsibilities and protecting family and community from the deceptions of human desires,” he said.