This is the story of Shaykh Abdallah Abdo (d. 2014) and how he came to attend the lessons of Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari (d. 1979), may Allah the Most-Merciful shower their graves with light and blessings, and rewared them eternally.
Shaykh Abdallah was born in Egypt to a family of Prophetic lineage. When his mother carried him, she saw in her dream that the great Shaykh Ali al-Bayyumi (d. 1769), founder of the Bayyumi Tariqa, came to her house with a great camel. What she did not know at the time was that a camel in a dream most often signifies a great wali of Allah. That wali would be her son, Abdallah. Shaykh Abdallah was influenced by his very pious and blessed grandfather, who was a member of the the Shari’ah Association (al-Jam’iyya al-Shar’iyya), an organisation founded by Shaykh Mahmud Khattab al-Subki to bring people back to the Qur’an and Sunna, and to fight many wrong superstitions and harmful religious innovations and practices that were rampant in society at the time. At a young age he would volunteer to clean the floor of a local small corner masjid, and would spend his free time reading the Qur’an, studying Islamic legal rulings, or engaged in the remembrance of Allah.
The Start of a New Life
One day two of his friends came to him and said, “Why don’t you come join us for our weekly gathering of dhikr (Remembrance).” He said, “You know my opinion about these gatherings. I am happy to use my tasbih and do dhikr on my own, but I believe formalised congregational dhikr to be an innovation in the religion.” The followers of the Shari’ah Association disapproved of the dhikr gatherings of the Sufis, but they did not dispprove of the tasbih. They said to him, “Well why don’t you come with us and observe our gathering. You are very learned in the religion. If you see us do anything wrong, you can correct us.” So the young Shaykh Abdallah went with them to the gathering. The congregation began to repeat the Tahlil (“La ilaha illa Allah”) and the shaykh started saying it with them. After only the eleventh repetition, the shaykh experienced an amazing vision that changed his life for ever. He would no longer have reservations about the Sufis- he would become one. He joined his friends in taking the path of Shaykh Ali al-Bayyumi. Now the shaykh wanted to learn more about the path of Tasawwuf, and people said to him: go to the Friday Lessons of Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari (may Allah be pleased with him). That is the best place to learn.
The Lessons of Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari
Shaykh Abdallah went and attended the weekly lessons after the Friday Khutbah, given in the courtyard of the noble al-Azhar Mosque, by the Imam of the Mosque itself, the renowned spiritual master and guide, the knower of Allah, Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari (d. 1979).
However, he saw something in these lessons that he had never seen before. Sometimes, in the middle of the lesson, Shaykh Salih would suddenly stop talking. At that point, a large group of attendees – and the lesson of the shaykh attracted hundrends and hundreds of scholars, Sufi shaykhs, and laymen – would suddenly stand up and invoke the blessings of Allah upon the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and exalt him and send him peace), or they would send the salams addressing the Prophet. In some lessons, when such incidents happened, Shaykh Salih would say, “Those of you with pure hearts will be able to see the Messenger of Allah here in the lesson with us.” Shaykh Abdallah was amazed at this, but even Shaykh Mahmud Khattab al-Subki of the Shari’ah Association, who was very critical of many Sufi practices, had written in his poetry about his experiences of seeing the spirit of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and exalt him) in the waking state.
Shaykh Abdallah inquired about this statement of Shaykh Salih and was told that there was a story behind it…
The Story Behind the Friday Lessons
Shaykh Abdallah was told that Shaykh Salih used to spend his Fridays, after the Jummah Prayer, at the Mosque of Imam al-Husayn, across from the Azhar Mosque. In it was buried the great Imam al-Husayn, grandson of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and his family and send them greetings of peace). Shaykh Salih would sometimes be overcome by sleep while sitting there, and would see the Messenger of Allah in his dream there. Sometimes, he even caught a glimpse of the Messenger of Allah there while awake, visiting his grandson’s resting place. He wrote in his famous poem Rawdat al-Qulub wal-Arwah (aka Radeena Ya Bani al-Zahra):
رأيت المصطفى كالبـدر يــأتى *** يزور حسينه حيناً فحينــــــا
فزوروا مثله سبطاً سميــــــــاً *** وكونوا مثل خير المرسلينـــا
I have seen the Chosen One as luminous as the full moon
coming to visit his Husayn every now and then
So visit like him this noble chief
do as the Best of the Messengers does himself
One day Shaykh Salih saw the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and his family) commanding him to teach a lesson every Friday at the Azhar Mosque, after the Friday Prayers. The Shaykh replied that he came every Friday at that time to Imam Husayn’s hoping to catch a glimpse of the Messenger of Allah himself, and could not bear being deprived of that blessing. The Messenger of Allah made a promise to him: Shaykh Salih should go give his lesson in the Azhar, and he, the Messenger of Allah, will be present in the lesson.
Shaykh Abdallah Abdo found this story hard to believe. “People must go to Rasul Allah. Rasul Allah would not go to be in the presence of another man.” However, he decided to keep an open mind, and he prayed a prayer of two rak’ah at night, imploring Allah for guidance on whether or not this could be real.
The Shaykh had a dream. He saw the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and exalt him and send him peace) with Abu Bakr and Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both). They were standing in the area outside the Mosque of Sayyida Zaynab, where the sister of Imam Husayn was buried. The Messenger turned to Abu Bakr and Umar and said to them: “Every Friday we go to the Lesson of Shaykh Salih, and after that we go to the Mosque of Imam Husayn. Then later in the day we go to the Mosque of Sayyida Zaynab.”
This dream confirmed what he had heard. The Shaykh knew of the authentic hadith of the Prophet: “Whoever has seen me in a dream has truly seen me,” and “Whoever has seen me in a dream has seen the truth.” Shaykh Abdallah began to attend the lessons of Shaykh Salih every week. He considered it a weekly spiritual nourishment or practice (wird) that he would never miss. In one of those lessons, Shaykh Salih went quiet again during the lesson, and some people again stood up to send peace and blessings upon the Messenger of Allah. Shaykh Abdallah made sure to take note of who they were. When the lesson ended, he followed some of these men with his sight and noticed that they were headed across the street to the Mosque of Imam Husayn, so he went there behind them. They stayed there for a while, and then they moved, and he walked behind them until they arrived at the Mosque of Sayyida Zaynab. He was amazed. What he saw in his dream, they were aware of. They were those people of pure hearts who could sense or see the presence of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and exalt him).
Shaykh Abdallah Abdo became a great wali of Allah, and developed a close spiritual connection with Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari, of which he recounted many stories and dreams. He moved to London where he worked tirelessly to serve the Muslim community, and thousands of people became Muslim at his hands. However, he did not wish for people to know of his spiritual status. Only those close to him knew, and the other shaykhs and awliya, many of whom themselves came to him for guidance, instructions, and du’a. Others simply knew him in one of the many roles he played in the Muslim community, such as co-owner of one of the earliest Islamic bookshops in London, a teacher and caller to Allah, and the librarian of London Central Mosque.
After the shaykh’s passing, this author asked two other people who were close to the Shaykh to recount this story as they remembered it, the story Shaykh Abdallah told them of how he came to the path of Tasawwuf. He wanted to confirm what he had in his memory, and to add more details told to the others. May Allah ta’ala be pleased with Shaykh Salih and Shaykh Abdallah, and allow us to benefit from loving them and from following their guidance and teachings. Ameen.