The story of Shaikh Abdullah Mu’nim, the Egyptian ‘alim

The year was 1975, and it was the days after the major ijtema at Tongi, near Dhaka, in Bangladesh.  Thousands of Arab muballegeen were billeted in the living quarters at the Kakrail mosque, waiting for the next way-stations in their journeys in the path of Allah.  The sight of an Arab with imposing facial features, of about fifty years, caught my eyes.  A tall, turbaned, man with a transparent personal charm, I found him standing near the room of Haji Abdul Muquit Sahab, the civil-engineering icon of Tabligh who drove much of the then world of Tabligh in Bangladesh.  I struck up a conversation with this Arab shaikh who, for good measure, spoke passable English too.  My first major question was: “How did you find this effort of Tabligh?”  At this, Abdullah Mu’nim told me the true story of how he found the effort of Tabligh.  Now listen to his story in his own words: “After graduating from religious school, I joined Egypt’s Department of the Awqaaf.  I had a way with words: so I was often interviewed live on official radio channel, speaking on a variety of topics of current interest and relevance. Ever so gingerly, I begun to feel a lump of self-importance—as a man with can-do on the air-waves— grow inside me.  Then, for whatever reasons, Allah Ta’ala decided to deflate my bubble of self-importance (kibr) in short order.  A close friend of mine who had been into this model of Islamic striving introduced in Egypt largely by jama’ats from Raiwind, in Pakistan, accosted me saying that an ijtema (concourse) was going to be held in Amman, Jordan, asking me whether I could join him for this event.  This was in 1977.  Having agreed, I travelled with my friend and some other Egyptians to this event.  En route, I became privy to a few orientation talks delivered appealingly by one or two fellow travellers. For whatever reasons, I began tuning into the sequence of such orientation talks. 

At the ijtema itself, the marquee discourse after the salat of Maghrib was delivered by an Indian preacher.  My friend told me offhandedly that this was Shaikh Muhammad Umar Palanpuri Hindi.  This Indian man spoke in classical Arabic, and his voice had the timbre evocative of the type ‘tenor’ which was surprisingly sweet and soothing.  His mastery of Arabic grammar seemed iron-clad.  And the conscious ratchrting-up of his logical thrusts to a deliberate high-water mark while bringing a particularly important rhetorical component of his delivery to an elegant close was proof of an exceptionally intelligent mind behind it.  Through it all, this preacher seemed also to be pleading poignantly before all his listeners, as if he had been begging everyone else to join in a most sacred mission for the ages.  Then, at a critical juncture, Muhammad Umar Hindi launched into a soulful foray about the pain and angst that the Companions of the Holy Prophet went through, striving indefatigably in the name of bringing Islam to the door of victory.  He relentlessly built up a mental picture of increasingly morbid and mordant personal sacrifices including the embracing of martyrdom by many sahaba in the early days of savage sacrificing for Islam, ensuring that he took his listeners along for this wrenching, tearful, ride.  After having reached a crescendo of empathetic impact, he pivoted by expanding about the eternal payoff from all that pain and perseverance.  That is when he begun to quote, copiously but mellifluously, from the Qu’ran about the Jannat and what it will offer in perpetuity to those who suffer for the sake of Allah. This was a master-class of oratorical acuity, humanized to great effects by Muhammad Umar’s singular self-nullification (fanaaiyyat) and sincerity (ikhlas).  Listening to him, I was enraptured by the sheer brilliance and empathy running through his delivery.  Suddenly, there was a divine intervention, and I went into a trance, losing consciousness.  I lost touch with my surroundings. I can’t explain how it happened: it must have been a divine intervention by Allah Ta’ala, who wanted there to be a course correction in my life, alhamdulillah.  Muhammad Umar went to speaking for a lot longer, but I remained in that state of trance, remaining for all purposes uncommunicative.  When I regained my consciousness, his speech was over.  My first question to my friend was this: ‘where is that speaker, who I must meet, and now’.  I was eventually led up to him.  He gave me generously from his time and personal focus (tawajjuh).  There was an irrepressible groundswell of an emotion inside me that I had at last found my calling in life, and it was only by following this man to where he would lead me that I would redeem that calling.  So I asked him point-blank: ‘Shaikh Umar, what should I do now?’  His reflexive response was that I should come to Pakistan/India to learn more about how this effort of tabligh is actually done.  Like a man possessed by a force larger than myself, I followed Muhammad Umar to Basti Hadrat Nizamuddin, near Delhi, India, to spend my first four months in khuruj. Once there, I was really befriended by Shaikh Umar Palanpuri whose signature disquisition (bayan) from the main pulpit in the Banglawali Masjid after Fajr salat was translated, live, from Urdu to Arabic to the arab-halaqa of guests at the markaz Nizamuddin.  Thereby, I drank daily at the deep trough of spiritualism that was Muhammad Umar Palanpuri.  Immediately thereafter, Umar Sahab came to our Arab halaqa to go together with us all over what he had just spoken from the main pulpit, trying to gauge whether his convictions and values had been right on target, speaking in the process to us Arabs if he was in town, on one-on-one basis.  To us Arab, Shaikh Umar Palanpuri Hindi was the public face of the effort of Dawaat and Tabligh.  I also got to know Shaikh Inam ul Hasan reasonably well.

As a part of the spiritual practicum of tabligh, I also went to Raiwind for a period, where I had the opportunity of breaking bread with, and bring in the company of, the likes of Shaikh Jamshed and Shaikh Ehsanul Haque, two of the most eminent successors of Shaikh al-Hadith Maulana Muhammad Zakariah Kandhlawi. I also got to know Haji Abdul Wahab Sahab well.  Haji Sahab was the throbbing heart of the spiritual powerhouse that the mazkaz at Raiwind was.  I made the most of this tour of duty.  I now try to spend four months every year in tablighi khuruj.  And my entire immediate family, including my sons-in-law and sons, is fully invested in the demands and taqaza of the effort of Tabligh.”

Shaikh Abdullah Mu’nim had been a member of the shura of Egypt.[1]

[1] The following resource narrates how Shaikh Ibrahim al-Izzat initiated Tabligh’s roll-out in Egypt:

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