Category: Damascene Breeze
4 Pages from Salihiyyah – Damascus, July 2005
and know that grace selects the one who is present”
Qasida by Abu Madyan
At the foot of the Qasiun mountain, north of the ancient nucleus of Damascus, lies the green dome covering the grave of Muhyi al-Din ibn al `Arabi. Next to it is a mosque, surrounded by pulsating market streets. To the East is the historical Hanabila-mosque, built by those who were driven from al-Quds by the crusaders. Great mawlids where held there in the past, and many female hadith narrators sat to teach in it. Further down lies the modern Shari’a institute of Abu Nur. From there the Suzuki cabs climb up the mountain above Rukn al-Din, where Turks sought and found an environment more supportive of the Deen than Atatürk’s. Going westwards, one gets to the al-`Afif – the old quarters of “the virtuous.” On the hill sides above it is the region of “the immigrants” – al-Muhajirin. The name refers to Russians and Kurds who settled in Damascus at the time of the Salah al-Din (himself a kurd), around the time of the last crusade. At that time the entire region at the foot of the Qasioun mountain was called al-Salihiyyah – “abode of the rightous”.
Muhiy al-Din ibn al-`Arabi lived before all that. It is said that his teacher and master once sent him to fill a water jar to its brim and then carry it throught the crowded market, taking care not to spill a single drop. On his return, the he asked him: What did you see in the market? And he answered: My master, I was unable to notice anything in the market, because my mind was absorbed in the effort not to spill any water.
The story came to my mind while walking these market streets for the first time some four years ago, and I made it my intention not to look right nor left, just follow the straight path ahead.
That was not diffciult at that time, since I didn’t know my way around. There were not so many choices to be made, and hence not many things that could destract me.
Now everything is different. I move freely all over Sham, winding my way though the narrow streets of the old city or roaming the suburbs that emerge at an explosive rate south of the Damascus, frequenting the the new-rich people of Abu Rumanah and Maliki or poorer people of upper Muhajirin, young identity-seeking modern intellectuals or the dispossessed nobility of traditional scholarship. Everywhere and nowhere is my place. And at every moment I have to remind myself that my time here is limited, that I need to focus on what is essential, and not allow myself to be distracted, else I will return with a half-full or empty water jar.
Between the resting place of Muhiy al-Din ibn al-`Arabi and al-`Afif is the house of the Syrian dentist Dr Ahmad and his lovely wife Liliana, who set out to try their luck in Europe. In the mean time they are rentiing their home to three foreign students, one of which is me. I am sitting in the balcony upstaris, where we have our rooms for study and rest. By my side are the flower pots where lady Liliana has written instructions for watering, and in front of me is a pomegranate tree tree overshadowing the the enclsosed courtyard. The lush greenery against the bright white walls under the light blue sky unfold a remarkable serenity, so unexpected that it appears almost unreal, when entering the door from the business and noise of the market. Stepping into the quiet courtyard, all of a sudden one finds oneself as if in a different world. Out there one needs fix the eye firmly on the stone pavement, otherwise one’s intentions will dissolve and dissipate in all directions – here inside thoughts tend to automatically focus around an invisible pole rising from the centre of the yard to the summit of the sky.
What I have gained over the past years is not mere increase in knowledge or fluency in language – it is the ability to grasp concepts, build arguments and assimilate thinking structures. Sciences are built upon logic – definiton – theorem – proof. Terms are defined, statements made and proofs presented. However, before all that there has to be an understanding of underlying concepts, else we don’t know what we are talking about – this is called tasawwur – conceptualization. It appears that my feet have touched that ground on which to stand. Or in other words: I am now ready to begin my studies.
Early morning hours over a cup of coffey – that is the best time, and the most pleasant place to be is up here on the balcony. At noontime one seeks refuge from the sun in the livning room downstairs, until the late afternoon throws its shadows over the courtyard and a soft evening breeze invites to return to the balcony. The wind always rises at the time of sunset, and leaves behind a thin layer of sand, as if it wanted to remind us that we are infact the middle of the desert.
If it takes four years to begin, how long will it take to complete? I don’t know, and it may be meaningless to ask. The courtyard and the tree, the white walls and the daily routines – all that gives an illusion of settledness, whereas the truth is that the lush freshness of this oasis is more of a temporary halt. I never know in advance where and when I will find it, nor how long I can sit and drink from its water – I just live these moments as they are given, grasping the day, as advised in a famous poem of one of the teachers of Muhyi al-Din ibn al-`Arabi:
– and know that grace selects the one who is there”
Praise be to the One who guides us to His Way, and salutations on His Messenger, the Noble Family and Tribe, and those who follow their paths.
Thanks to whom thanks are due first and foremost, our host, the erudite scholar and exemplary guide, the lighthouse of Damascus and the whole world, our revered teacher and beloved sheikh al-Sayyid Muhammad Abul Huda Al-Yaqoubi and his family. May Allah Most High protect them, as they opened for us the doors of their home during the blessed month in which Allah opens the doors of Paradise. Those of us who had the privilege of spending this valuable time in the folds of their care had nothing to miss. Every need – physical or spiritual, intellectual or emotional – was catered for in the most generous, courteous and delicate manner. (more…)
Info on Islamic Centers in Syria
by Abu Yahya
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Meciful
All praises be to Allah, Lord of Creation, and peace and blessings be upon our liegelord Muhammad, his companions and folk, one and all.
As-Salaamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah
You asked about the different universities, colleges, and institutions in Damascus for learning Arabic and Islam. As for Arabic, the three most common places would be the Universtiy of Damascus which has a center for teaching Arabic to foreigners, the Mezzeh Institute, and Abu Noor College. The first two cost roughly $120 per term, and are secular in nature. The third is free and is an Islamic institution, but one can only register at the beginning of the year. With regards to learning Islam, the sharia, and all the other Islamic sciences, there are many institutes in Damascus that offer programs in these fields. Theres the Universtiy of Damascus Faculty of Sharia, theres the al-Fath al-Islamy which has both a sharia highschool \ college, and a university that is a branch of the University of Azhar in Cairo Egypt. There is also the Furqan College, the Ameeniyah College, the Tahtheeb College, and the Abu Noor College.
– type of institute
Broadly speaking, there two types of institutes in Damascus concerning Islam and Arabic, secular and religious. The University of Damascus, Mezzeh Institute, are secular institutes, whereas all the other schools I mentioned are religous. From another standpoint, all institutes in Damascus can also be divided into two other types, either a high school \ college, or a university. Only the evening program at Al-Fath and the Faculty of Sharia at the University of Damascus, aswell as some of the programs at Abu Noor, are considered university level. All other programs are considered high school., like the Tahtheeb, Amaneeyah, Al-Fath morning program, Furqan, and some of the Abu Noor programs, or college like the Arabic program for foreigners at the University of Damascus.
– what kind of subjects / programs are taught?
At the Al-Fath evening program, which is a branch of Al-Azhar in Cairo, there are three faculties, Sharia, Usool ad-Deen, and Arabic. The first, Sharia, concentrates on fiqh, usool al-fiqh, comparitve fiqh, etc. The second, Usool ad-Deen, is broader and concentrates on a much wider ranger of subjects like Tafseer, Aqeedah, hadith, aswell as fiqh, etc. The Faculty of Arabic concentrates on Arabic grammar, literature, poetry, etc. All the programs are four year long, three years in Damascus, and the final year in Azhar at Cairo. The morning program is six years long and is equivalent to a high school. Many subjects are taught like fiqh, tafseer, seera, Islamic history, hadeeth, Aqeedah, usool, arabic grammar, etc. If one has time and patience, this program is very beneficial. The Tahtheeb, Ameeneyah, and Furqan are the same, six years long and quite beneficial. They are all quite similar in their curriculums as well.
– required language skills?
To attend any of these programs of the Islamic sciences, a strong basis in Arabic is a definite pre-requisite. Therefore, one should spend a solid two years in Damascus learning the Arabic language, before registering at any of the above-mentioned institutes. In this manner, maximum benefit is ensured. However, to begin learning Arabic at the Arabic Center at the University of Damascus, or the Mezzeh Institute, no prior knowledge of Arabic is required technically speaking. But from personal experience, I would recommend that even then, one should have some background before coming since Ive noticed that those with absolutely no background have great difficulty learning at the Arabic Center. In my opinion, one should read at least one book of Arabic Grammar before coming. I highly recommend the textbook Ã Modern Standard Arabic Ã by Peter Aboud, which I found of inestimable value during my beginning months in Syria.
– can women attend?
At the University of Damasus Arabic Center, at the Faculty of Sharia aswell, and at the Al-Fath evening program (Azhar), and at Furqan, aswell as at Abu Noor, there are programs for women too, which are identical to the male programs. Some of the smaller colleges like the Tahtheeb, or Amaneeyah, do not provide services for women unfortunately.
– if so, how is there security provided for?
There are no special security measures taken for the female sections of these schools, since Damascus is commonly acknowledged by the local and foreign inhabitants as a very safe place to live. Crime is minimal, and rarely exceeds petty theft. Rape, murder, grand theft, are all virtually unheard of. It might be difficult to believe, and it was for me too when I first arrived, but after nearly five years of living there, I have to admit that Damascus is one of the safest places Ive even been to.
– is there any age limit?
The only age limits are if one is too young. Each institute has its own age limit which I cant recall at the moment. As for older people, there is no age limit. One is never too old to learn.
The University of Damascus Arabic Center aswell as the Mezzeh Institute charge about $120 US for each term (there are five terms a year). The Al-Fath evening program charges about $120 US for the first year, and then about $70 for each subsequent year. All other prgrams dont charge anything to my knowledge, however, Abu Noor does require a $200 deposit at the beginning of the year which the student gets back after successfully completing his studies. Aside from tuitions, there are other fees though. If studying at the University of Damascus, one is required to get a letter from onee embassy which can cost from between $10 to $80 depending on the embassy.
– how and when can one register?
At the Arabic Center (University of Damascus) one can regeister every term, however Im not sure about the Mezzeh institute. At all other institutes, one must register well before the beginning of the academic year. This is done most easily by going to Syria a month early ( in August instance) and going to the institute and applying directly. All other methods, like applying from Sweden through mail or e-mail, are much more time consuming and difficult.
– how can one get more information?
The best way is to contact people who have studied there, or who are currently studying there. The persons who I mentioned in the previous e-mail are all very helpful and wouldnt mind answering questions from interested brothers and sisters. Similaryly, I myself am always willing to help new students in this regarad aswell.
I pray that Allah continues to guide us to Him, Ameen.