Shaykh Salih was still a new student in the Azhar. Though he was only around twenty years old, he already had a wife and two children that he had to leave back home in Sudan for the sake of acquiring sacred knowledge. The great cosmopolitan city of Cairo was very different in the 1930’s than his conservative home town of Dongola, a city in the north of Sudan whose inhabitants were particularly known for the way they were brought up to love the Messenger of Allah (may Allah exalt him and send him greetings of peace). The young student of knowledge was worried that he will be corrupted in Cairo by all that he saw around him. People were not dressed modestly as they did back home, luxury and wealth was all around, and there were many more worldly distractions there than back home where he spent all his time in the old mosque of Dongola, learning the Qur’an and benefitting from the company of the righteous. Shaykh Salih made up his mind that he was going to return to Sudan, and went to his teacher at the Azhar, the Mauritanian hadith master Muhammad ibn Habibullah al-Shinqiti to inform him of his decision. This teacher was one of the greatest scholars of hadith in his age, and had been a Mufti and teacher in Mecca for a long time before coming to Cairo, but he was more than that. Shaykh Salih had seen in him signs of nearness to Allah (most great), and had experienced first-hand many instances of the shaykh’s sharp spiritual insight.
Shaykh al-Shinqiti said, “O Salih, are you not hungry?”
He said, “Yes, my master.”
“Go and find us some type of meat for us to eat.”
“At your service, master.”
The young Shaykh Salih went to the market to search for food, and the only cooked food that he found ready was duck, so he bought a nice fat duck and took it back to the shaykh. However, when he saw his teacher, he saw that he had already eaten food that he had with him. He felt sad and thought to himself, “Maybe the shaykh will not eat with me!”
The shaykh said, “Sit and eat, Salih.” Shaykh Salih sat and asked his teacher to join him, but he refused and insisted that the young student eat on his own. Meanwhile he kept looking at his student and encouraging him, with “bismillah’s” to eat more and more.” It was a large duck and after eating half of it, Shaykh Salih was completely full. He wanted to get up but the shaykh would not allow it, and said to him, “Have some more.”
“But I truly can’t, my master, khalas, I’m full!”
He said, “No! Have more, you’re not full yet.”
“My master, there is absolutely no space for more at all.”
The shaykh said: “Salih, if I were to tell you to go buy some sweets now to eat, would you find any space for them in your stomach after all that you have eaten?”
At this point, the young student felt a great sense of awe from his venerable teacher’s question, realizing that all of this was done for a reason.
“No, master, I would not be able to, because my stomach is absolutely full.”
Shaykh Salih then described his teacher speaking to him in a state of immense majesty, as if to split his chest open and plant this wisdom inside it:
“Such is the heart of the believer, Salih. If it is filled with faith, nothing (unwanted) could enter it. Fill your heart with faith, and then have no fear for it from anything.”
Years later, as Shaykh Salih recounted this story to his own students, he reflected back on his teacher’s words and action, and said,
“He truly washed away all the confusion from my heart and illuminated my inner being. I began to gulp down the light of faith and knowledge of Allah, until I had no care or worry for what they call the fitna of women, of money, or of children. There was nothing left in my heart except the love of the Living One who does not die, glorifying His praise, and He made it easy for my heart to be filled with the love of His Chosen Beloved and Select Prophet, and the love of the members of the Prophet’s Household, and the love of sacred knowledge and teaching it.”
This story captures well the message and essence of the teachings for which Shaykh Salih dedicated his life as one of the most celebrated scholars, teachers and imams of the noble Azhar Mosque, the intellectual heart of Sunni Islam for almost 900 years.
The Life and Teachings of Shaykh Salih al-Ja‘fari (1910-1979)
[The above was an introduction to an article about the life and teachings of Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari may Allah be pleased with him and please him. For the rest of the article, click on the link below: