We are all familiar with the famous Prophetic saying <em>Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave</em>. Few people implemented this hadith into their everyday lives with as much dedication, ardour and passion as the late Shaykh Professor Hafiz Fateh Muhammad (may Allah have mercy on his soul and grant him the highest ranks of paradise).
I was fortunate enough to have known Hafiz Sahib (as he was fondly known by his students and congregation) practically my whole life. I was even more fortunate to have been taught to read and memorise surahs from the Holy Quran by him. Seldom did I enter Madina Masjid, where he was based before the construction of Makkah Masjid, to find him doing anything other than seeking knowledge, either reading a book on Islam or reading the book he loved above all other books, the Holy Quran.
When Hafiz Sahib read from the Holy Quran his love for the book that is the fountain of all wisdom and knowledge was apparent to all fortunate enough to witness him. The love emanated from his face, which glowed when he recited the words of God. The love resonated in his voice, which frequently trembled with emotion as he was reciting. It poured out of him and into the hearts of the listeners. Who could fail to be moved by the sight of this great man reciting Surah Ar-Rahman with tears streaming down his face as he read the verse: <em>Then which of the blessings of your Lord will you deny</em>Because you knew that Hafiz Sahib thanked his Lord for all the blessings he had been bestowed with every second of every day, and you knew that he himself was a blessing sent by Allah Almighty for the benefit and betterment of the community of Leeds.
Hafiz Sahib held education and knowledge in the highest esteem. Not only his own education and knowledge but also that of the community he served. That is why he held daily tafseer classes after prayers. Most importantly, Hafiz Sahib understood the importance of educating the Muslim youth long before his contemporaries had grasped the idea. As far back as the mid-eighties, when many of the first generation of Muslims who had migrated to this country from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India were still dreaming about returning to their home lands with their families after a few years of working in England, Hafiz Sahib was delivering his Friday sermons in a combination of his native language Urdu and the native language of the youngsters in his congregation, English. He understood that unless Islam was accessible to the youth in their mother tongue, it would become an alien concept to them that would ultimately get lost in translation.
Hafiz Sahib was acutely aware that in order to counterbalance the attractions and distractions modern day Britain posed for Muslim youngsters growing up in the country, the Muslim youth needed to be spoken to in their own language and at a level that was accessible to them. His door was always open to youngsters, and one of his most memorable characteristics was that youngsters flocked to him for advice and solace. He was a sympathetic ear and a source of practical guidance â€“ he was a mix between a loving parent, a concerned uncle, an understanding teacher and inspiration to everyone. He was seen as so much more than simply the Imam.
Hafiz Sahib used every opportunity to stress to the youth that it was incumbent upon them to make the most of the advantages of the British education system so that they could grow up to be professionals and Muslims could be represented in all walks and at all levels of British life. Unlike his contemporaries who did little other than stress the importance of seeking Islamic knowledge, he placed almost as much importance on secular knowledge as knowledge of the Sharia. He was himself a unique blend of a Professor of English and a Qurâ€™an Hafiz. He saw no reason why the two cold not go hand in hand, and he was keen to stress this to the youngsters in his congregation. His message was simple; lslam does not preclude its followers from seeking success in this life as well as in the life after death. While we must not ever take our eyes off the ultimate goal â€“ seeking Allahâ€™s pleasure and attaining paradise â€“ it is perfectly permissible to seek the fine things in this life also. And in order to attain these fine things, education is the key.
Hafiz Sahib was truly a man who led by example. He led a simple life that seamlessly blended excellence in the religious and secular fields. He demonstrated to the youth that it was possible to strive for success in worldly affairs, and he was therefore seen as an accessible figurehead who many leaned on for support. His presence is to this day sincerely missed in the community of Leeds.
<em>Reflections of a female Student</em>