AlMaghrib spoils us by having the instructors travel to us, in order to teach us so that we may benefit when rather it should us students traveling to them. In sha Allah, one day we will have an Islamic university here in North America, where we can travel and reside for a number of years and learn and benefit from our instructors. Bayyinah Institute is working an Arabic immersion dream, Al Huda Institute is focused on Quran, Zaytuna has a dream like the one AlMaghrib has to teach a university-level curriculum leading to a degree in a single location.
Those of us who were fortunate to attend Ilm Summit, enjoyed four-star accommodation, three well-planned and solid meals with plenty of drinks, healthy snacks, and desserts each day, our classroom was within our hotel, and our schedule began with early morning fajr salaah and continued until 10-10:30 for isha and for many of us well into the night so that we could review and study the material.
During the last week, it was rare for me to sleep before 3am and of course I was back up by 5:30-6am to start the day. Alhamdulillah, our lunch breaks were from 1pm-3:30pm so I could catch a few zzzs to feel refreshed for the rest of the day. But the schedule was too intense for some of our companions and some skipped the 6am after-fajr tajweed class and other classes and breakfast in order to sleep.
Many of us who were awake, ate our breakfast quickly so that we could stake out and reserve our seats in the front rows closest to the instructor for the day. I was almost always in the front row, I like to be close to the instructor, to learn from his manners and to focus by minimizing distractions from the people behind me. Shaykh Yaser Birjas (hafidhullah) told us that when he was a student in Madinah, he and other students would gather in the Masjid an Nabawee with all of their books and papers from Asr time until after the taraweeh just so they could be close to Ibn Uthaymeen (rahimullah) for his post-taraweeh talks and question and answer session, which makes our gathering 45 minutes to an hour before the start of the morning session look meager.
Shaykh Yaser Birjas (hafidhullah) reflected upon his summers spent in Unayzah with Ibn Uthaymeen (rahimullah). He said, in his first year in Madinah, he asked some of the older students if he should accompany Ibn Uthaymeen to his summer retreat in Unayzah and they dissuaded him and until today, more than 15 years later, he still regrets heeding their advice. He made sure to go his second year and every year after that until he graduated from Madinah university.
The first year, Shaykh Yaser traveled light and went with a group believing that they would be well-cared for within the dormitory that housed other students but when they arrived the shaykh in charge told them that they would have to sleep in the masjid although they would be allowed to eat and shower in the dormitory. The students were not prepared for that reality nor the extreme heat of the summer nor the numerous bugs that feasted on their flesh while they slept in the masjid.
This seems to have been a natural weeding out and selection process, students that were not focused and determined would have given up at this first major hurdle. Shaykh Yaser and his companions perservered, always occupied the first rows for the salaah, and raced to attend each session with Ibn Uthaymeen. Their persistence did not go unnoticed and after a few weeks, the shaykh in charge of the dormitory, gave the nine students that had been sleeping in the masjid, a single room in the dormitory to share. They were packed in there like sardines and had to sleep on mats on the floor but compared to sleeping in the masjid, this was a considerable upgrade. Shaykh Yaser jokes that when someone wanted to turn over in the night, he would have to call out to the other students to also turn over so that they wouldn’t wake up with the scary sight of their brother’s face in the morning. And after some more time elapsed and they continued to demonstrate their persistence and seriousness as students, they were split into two rooms with only 4-5 per room, which considering their previous circumstances was the height of luxury.
Contrast that to us at Ilm Summit, where we were from the beginning, paired 2 to a hotel room. Each room had two comfortable double beds with 7 pillows each (we were drowning in the pillows), a chair to lounge or recline in, a desk, our own bathroom, a dresser and closet with iron and ironing board. Two telephones and wifi access, a coffee maker, and a plethora of lighting options. Is it any wonder that some of our companions were unable to wake up for fajr and preferred the company of their bed to the company of the students learning the Quran or eating breaksfast or other morning sessions of ilm?
We could detect from some of the students a sense of entitlement, perhaps at having spent some money to travel to and attend Ilm Summit rather than an aura of humbleness at having been chosen to attend such a select and unique event, where we learned a depth and breadth of knowledge hard to acquire in the English language. We were given unparalleled access to the instructors, both brothers and sisters, which is rare in our communities particularly for sisters. Every effort was made to include the sisters and to set aside exclusive time for our questions and answers. Every night for dinner, one of the instructors would join the sisters for dinner so that we could ask any questions we desired about the course material or otherwise.
I benefitted immensely from interacting with the instrcutors and learning from their akhlaaq (manners). Shaykh Yaser Birjas was a fatherly figure to us, always saying salaam, advising us gently, concerned for us and looking out for our needs. Shaykh Yasir Qadhi was like an elder brother, very familiar with the culture here in North America, sharing with us his vision for our North American/western Muslim community, encouraging the sisters to not be shy, to ask questions, to participate fully, always concerned that we were able to grasp and understand the material and that the schedule was not too intense for us.
Shaykh Waleed Basyouni inspired all of us with his dedication to persevere in teaching us despite spending most nights in the hospital sleeping alongside his young son diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment. He would often come directly from the hospital to teach us and was always apologizing that he was not able to spend more time with us. Sometimes, he brought his other son to the class, pushing the stroller and taking care of him, picking up his toys, and gently hushing him so that he would not disturb our class while his dad was busy teaching us. It was a fantastic sight to see Shaykh Yasir and Shaykh Waleed with their families and to see the concern and gentleness of Shaykh Yaser, to see them as ordinary human beings that go to extraordianry lengths to share this knowledge with us.
Of course, we are spoiled.