I first met Imam Professor Hafiz Fateh Muhammad sahib some 15 years ago. My first session with him completely changed my life! I was going through some difficult times in my life. Things were not "working out" at home. I had a very "good" job with a reasonably "good" salary but there was still some void in my life. I felt something was missing from my life. I had recently moved to Leeds for my job and did not know many people. I could easily make friends in the lifestyle that I was used to but I wanted to move away from that life-style.
Being born a Muslim, the obvious thing was to turn to Islam but I did not know much about Islam. I was afraid to learn about Islam because I felt that learning more about it would make me realise my own shortcomings and weaknesses. I did not want to feel more depressed. I wanted to meet someone who could unlock my mind and spirit, who could direct me to my Lord, who could hold my hand as I treaded on the path of Islam and got myself back on track. The experience that I have had of mosques did not fill me with confidence that I would find someone like that in a mosque. My first thought was that if I went to a mosque, I would be frowned upon, I would be told off, there would be no one to understand my condition, there would be a language barrier etc.
Then one of my clients told me of an Imam in a mosque nearby in Hyde Park and everything he told me about him was a great shock to me.
My client said that the Imam spoke English and had a lot of young people coming to his mosque. I found it surprising that he was an English Professor and an Imam at the same time. I could understand someone being a Professor of Arabic or Islamic Studies and an Imam but not an English Professor and an Imam.
My client told me that he was a humble man but dignified in his humility and that he always made time for common people and he cared about people – religious or irreligious. I could only remember people inside the mosque who assumed that they were better than others because they came to the mosque to pray.
My client also said that that Imam always has a huge welcoming smile on his shining face. Again, it was hard for me to imagine an Imam with a beautiful smile on his face. I could only remember these guardians of mosques being stern faced, feeling tense and angry with everything.
My client carried on telling me about the knowledge that this Imam possessed and other characteristics that he had had but my mind was wondering off, trying to imagine the Imam in mind and burning with the desire to meet him.
After a few days, I pulled myself together to meet this great personality, with a mixed feeling of awe and yearning. As I approached his room inside the mosque, he was sat on the floor studying a book. As soon as he saw me, he welcomed me with a smile and started chatting to me, listening to me attentively. He was not only hearing me, he was also waiting for his turn to speak. Although it was the first time I had met him, I felt that I had always known him.
As I sat listening to the Imam discussing the intricacies of the Glorious Qur'an with references to modern intellectualism, my eyes grew wider and I distinctly remember thinking 'so that's what it means!'
I left that brief meeting with a very light heart, feeling good inside. I had a strange feeling inside me; I felt that I had done a good deed just meeting him and listening to his melodious voice. I still cannot describe that feeling.
From that day onward, whenever I got the chance to come and sit with him, I would do so. I would go to meet him during lunch time and he in his kindness would welcome me each time I went to meet him. I would always leave him with a heavy heart, wishing I could have extra time to stay with him. In his gatherings, he used to feel spiritually immersed in the light of the Qur'an.Â He was a walking encyclopedia/dictionary of the Glorious Qur'an.
I am sure that anyone who had the privilege of visiting the Imam and spending time with him felt uplifted and enriched by his humanity, his wisdom and his spirituality. He was positive and motivational. He always showed you the bright side of any situation that you were in. He used to make things perfectly clear by using simple language and examples. He would come down to peoplesâ€™ level, despite himself being an ocean of knowledge. For him lecturing or writing was not about scholastic manipulation of intellectual constructs but rather a means to connect people to Allah and the spiritual reality.Â He would de-mystify things so that people could understand the Word of God and the sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). He always reminded his students to use simple language with people in accordance with the prophetic saying: "Speak to people at their level". But at the same time his colourful talks were full of gushing flow, treasure of vocabulary and tremendous appealing.
I love him dearly because, through him I came closer to My Lord and gained an understanding of what a logical and balanced the religion of Islam is. It is through him that I have been able to tell people around me something about my faith. It is because of him that I am proud to call myself a Muslim. He wanted young British Muslims to be good and great. Work hard to unlock our potentials with the key of the Qur'an and Sunnah.
Unfortunately, after a few months of coming to stay in Leeds, I got transferred to another city and our enlightening and refreshing meetings came to end. At first I did continue to phone him and seek his advice on important matters in my life. Then with the passage of time, I got busy and the contact became less and less.
The memories that I have shall remain ingrained on my mind forever. He is always in my prayers. My Allah grant me his company under the banner of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).