Friday, January 14, 2011
The East and West
In the month of Shawwal of the year 633 Hijri, the Shaykh of the Awliya, the sayyid Ahmad al-Badawi, who was in Mecca, had a dream. In that dream, someone said to him three times:
"Rise oh Ahmad and seek the rising-place of the Sun. And when you reach the rising-place of the Sun, then seek the setting-place of the Sun and travel to Tanta, for in it is your residence (muqam / maqam), oh fata (young chivalrous man)."
So he woke up and consulted his family, and travelled to Iraq, where he was received by its great masters, among them Sultan al-Awliya the sayyid Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani and shaykh Ahmad ar-Rifa'i.
It is reported that they said to him: "Oh Ahmad, the keys of Iraq, India, Yemen, the Rum (Lands of the Romans), the East and the West, are in our hands. So choose whichever key you want."
So he said to them: "I do not need your keys, I only take the key (miftah) from the Opener (Fattaah)."
His elder brother Hasan says: "When my brother Ahmad finished visiting the graves of the Awliya of Iraq like shaykh 'Udayy bin Musafir and al-Hallaj and their likes, we set off toward Tanta."
This means that the "rising-place of the Sun" did not necessarily mean the far East, as usually assumed, but was an expression that referred to the land of Iraq.
And the "setting-place of the Sun" did not necessarily mean the very end of the "Maghreb", at Morocco's Atlantic coast, but was an expression that referred to the the western parts of Egypt. We must remember that many ancient Arab historians considered Alexandria to be the beginning of the "Maghreb", the West, and that the Cyrenaica of modern day Libya was in pre-Islamic times part of Egyptian territories.
So it's possible that Alexandria or territories near it were termed the "West" or the "setting-place of the Sun." And so shaykh Ahmad al-Badawi was commanded to go there, and then travel down a short distance to Tanta.
This might shed new light on what is meant by the "setting-place of the Sun" and the "rising-place of the Sun" in Surat al-Kahf in the Qur'an. Because the Sura says that when Dhul-Qarnayn reached the "setting-place of the Sun" he looked at the Sun as it was setting, and it seemed to him, from where he was standing, as if it was setting into a muddy body of water. Had he reached the coast of the Atlantic, the water he was looking at where the Sun set in the Horizon would not have looked muddy.
In explaining this muddy body of water, some scholars said: "Perhaps Dhul-Qarnayn reached a place where a river connects to the sea at the time of a flood, like the Nile for example, for its water will be muddy." Perhaps it wasn't a place like this, but was this very place, in the meeting-place of the Nile and the Sea near Alexandria. Or it could be some kind of oasis in the desert between Egypt and Libya.