SHAFAQNA – He was there when I left to work in the morning. He was sitting next to my doorway dressed in army fatigues surrounded by US army duffel bags. He was also there when I returned late in the evening. He was a soldier, an American soldier.
As much as I respected soldiers for their discipline, obedience, skills, and courage, this man, in my mind, was a servant and slave of the American Empire. The mere sight of his uniform invoked the atrocities and mass murder committed across the globe in places such as Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Although every man is a book, I judged him by his cover as opposed to his content.
Although I never looked at him directly when I set off to teach at an institution of higher learning earlier in the day, merely catching a glance of him thanks to my peripheral vision, I looked at him directly upon my return, ignored him, entered my apartment, and was anguished by guilt.
“He’s been there all day,” said my wife. “Do you have any idea how hot it is?” “Offer him something to drink,” she suggested. I struggled, in my heart and mind, between my commitment to revolutionary convictions and my commitment to humanity and hospitality. That day, my wrath gave way to my mercy.
“You must be tired, thirsty, and hungry,” I stated, looking at him directly in the eyes as I stepped outside of my cool and cozy apartment. “Please join my wife and I for dinner,” I said, inviting a complete and total stranger into the privacy of our domestic domain: “We would be honored to host you.”
“God bless you,” he said, as he rose. The physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual barriers that divided us had now disappeared. I had decided to judge not lest I be judged. I had emptied my heart of prejudice and hate. I grounded myself in my humanity and gave my guest a blank slate. We were no longer strangers. We were acquaintances. I had cast off layers of darkness.
Famished and parched after spending more than twelve hours in the un-air-conditioned hallway of an apartment complex, the man that I was hosting eagerly consumed the water and food that my wife had lovingly prepared. When I first glimpsed at him earlier that day, I had assumed that he was uncouth, low-of-class, and devoid of respect for women. As he interacted with my wife and I at the dinner table of our humble home, the young man was polite, calm, and courteous.
Details of his early life were sketchy. He mentioned that his father had died when he was in his early teens, that his mother had left him to fend for himself, and that she had passed away a few years later. As the issue was painful, he did not wish to elaborate, nor did I press him for more information. It was clear that he had lived a very difficult life leaving him with little more than the military in way of opportunity.
“What do you do in the armed forces?” I asked inquisitively. “I joined the infantry,” he responded.” “Good God,” I responded, “that is the most dangerous of all ranks.” “My duty is to serve where and how I am needed,” he explained. “There is no greater honor than to die for God and country.”
As we conversed on that calm night, I was intimately aware of the dual nature of his discourse. To one unversed, the words of the soldier were simple and straightforward. To one versed, they took on entirely new shades of meaning. I became increasingly engrossed and utterly attentive to his every word. He was very much a teacher teaching a teacher the teachings of the tariqah or path.
“Take me to my brother,” he asked, “for I am headed to the Sahel in North Africa.” I knew then that the lesson was over. He bid my wife goodbye with words of gratitude. I helped him gather his belongings and loaded them into my vehicle. I drove him down the road where his brother was said to live. The man in question refused to come down to greet him or help him with his belongings. The people from the apartment were vile and devoid of hospitality.
“They don’t deserve him,” I thought, sinning once again. Who was I, I scolded myself, to question his mission? After all, had I not abandoned him at my doorstep myself? And now, shortly after, my heart was aching that he was leaving. How I wanted him to stay! “Who are you?” I asked as he prepared to leave my vehicle. “They call me George,” he said with a smile. We looked at each other as friends. That day, he killed the dragon that was devouring my heart.
“Do you know who that was?” I asked my wife: “He was St. George or al-Khidr. He was a servant from among our servants (18:65). “Whether or not he was al-Khidr,” answered my wife wisely, “he was a man sent by God to teach you a lesson.”
Dr. John Andrew Morrow (Imam Ilyas Islam) is a proud member of the Métis Nation, one of the three aboriginal peoples recognized by the Canadian government. He embraced Islam at the age of 16 after several years of serious study. He has been a student of the Islamic Sciences for over thirty years and has acquired knowledge around the world. His teachers have included traditional scholars of Islam from various schools of jurisprudence and spiritual paths as well as Western academics. He received his PhD from the University of Toronto at the age of 29 and reached the rank of Full Professor by the age of 43. He retired from academia in 2016 to devote his time entirely to research, scholarship, and service. Dr. Morrow has authored hundreds of academic articles and over thirty scholarly books, the most influential of which is The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World (2013). He is also the Editor-in-Chief of Islam and the People of the Book, a three-volume encyclopedia on the Muhammadan Covenants which features critical studies by over twenty leading Muslim scholars along with translations of the treaties of the Prophet in over a dozen languages. Dr. Morrow received an interfaith leadership award from the Islamic Society of North America in 2016 and a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from the US House of Representatives in 2017. An award winning academic, author, and activist, he lectures around the world and acts as an advisor to world leaders.
By Dr. John Andrew Morrow (Ilyas ‘Abd al-‘Alim Islam)