“Whittni”, she said. A voice was coming from within my room, but everyone was asleep. It’s Thursday morning in the wee hours of fajr. My body ceased. I felt squeezed. I didn’t know what to do. I just looked. Hesitated. Waited. Didn’t move. Just looked in the direction of the sound. There was no one physically there. No one I could see anyway.
The voice came again.
“Whittni.” Stronger, urging, commanding.
I wanted to say it was Anse Tamara calling me from the room next door–the walls were very thin, and she was the next cabin over. Sometimes I could hear her speak in her room. But this voice was too deep…too saturated…and it was coming from over my four-year-old daughter’s head, Noora. It was too…present. I surmised it was an encounter of the fourth dimensional kind. The kind Anse Tamara spoke about in her class yesterday with teens. It kind of freaked me out though I already knew what would be said. There was either an angel or jinn in the room that I could hear, though I could not see it. I felt it was an angel since I didn’t feel bad about the voice, just shocked. I surrendered. I left the room and knocked on Anse Tamara’s door. I didn’t know what else to do at the crack of dawn, hearing an unfamiliar voice in the room.
She answered, “Yes.” I figured she knew it was me, but I greeted her with salaams and said, “It’s Whittni.” It’s the sunnah is to announce yourself by name.
“Come on in!” She invited me inside her cabin.
“Did you call me?”, I asked.
She responded in the negative as she continued to make dhikr with her prayer beads.
I told her what just happened. That I heard a voice…a feminine low voice in my room calling me seemingly from her room but within my room. She smiled and cocked her head to the side, and invited me further inside her cabin, jokingly calling it an office. She motioned for me to sit on her bed. It was her last day to teach at the retreat. And I had questions. I think the voice was telling me, “now or never, dear”. I took it as a sign from above. I wanted to talk to Anse Tamara so badly, but was nervous. Sure, she seemed approachable, but she was always surrounded by people. One of my original tasks in this retreat was securing female scholars, and she was one of my first picks, and the only one that was available during the retreat’s time. But I always had to go through people. Some would call them coordinators or personal secretaries or advisers. Some would call them bodyguards. Maybe they are just close, concerned friends. I’d like to call them “custodians of time and privacy” who protected her…protected her health and made sure that she didn’t overtax herself with a schedule that was too full. She was never without them. I understood their caution and the importance of their function as scholars are so giving of their time, often to their own detriment physically. But I secretly wished and hoped that I could just be let into her inner circle just once and be able to speak to Anse…Anse to Whittni, and Whittni to Anse without any middle women.
I guess now was the time. You see, I had asked Anse to take me on as a student a while back. And was awaiting an answer. I asked. She answered. In the affirmative. And told me which classes to pursue in the Ribaat program to help me make certain dreams of mine come true. She also told me to take care of myself, that she could see that I worked hard, but seemed to eat little. I told her that I eat a ton…but not when I’m working at such an arduous task as this retreat. She gave me a granola bar and waited for me to eat it. I couldn’t…I wouldn’t dare tell her that I hate granola bars. So I ate it. And it was the best granola bar I ever had.
She also told me that because today was her last day, she decided to give more of herself to the retreat’s attendees to maximize the time she had there. It was the answer to my prayers. When I set up the schedules for the retreat, I wanted all of the attendees of the retreat to have a “taste” of Anse Tamara, children and adults alike. But there was a conflict there. I was never able to set up Anse’s schedule with her directly before the retreat. I always had to go through someone…actually several someones who guarded her time, and didn’t deviate from the original plans in the least. This made things difficult as I always had to wait to hear back from them about what Anse replied…and if they didn’t hear back, then the answer was always a “no” to whatever proposition I made.
But Anse changed all of that during that moment inside of her “office”. Anse Tamara decided to change the schedule and to use all of her breaks
to teach that day. She completely devoted herself to the attendees. And virtually every change she made was something that I originally asked to be put in her schedule but was knocked off by her custodians out of caution. But Anse took my ideas to a whole ‘nother level that I didn’t even think she would consider. That I didn’t even consider. She did what I asked for originally, plus some. And I was to take the microphone and announce the changes right before they happened and to keep most of them secret before they happened. And this is especially important: I was given specific orders to not share her changes with her regular custodians of time…who, without saying, we both knew would probably veto our revolutionary plan! I did as I was told. And a smile spread across my face. I took on my revitalized role as a custodian of Anse’s time for today seriously. And was happy to be part of the inner sisterhood that I felt her regular custodians had. I was offered her tablet to take notes on all the changes to the schedule…and by the way, Anse, I still have your tablet…and 1 year old Safiyya has been taking notes in it…
It was time for the sisters that kept us all in line to meet her. They knocked and entered…as they did every morning around the same time (I told you the walls were pretty thin). But Anse kept her focus on me. She told her company to add me to certain whatsapp groups to be able to contact her and other like-minded sisters in her Rabata network. I told them all that I felt like I was a part of the cool crowd now. We joked, and laughed, and Anse answered many a question before even asked. And Anse’s final instructions were for me to not belittle the tahirah of the Shafii’s, and work hard to be an angel magnet…and not tell her company about her new schedule. That they could find out when everyone else did :). Her team of strong womenfolk that surrounded her just smiled–the ice had been broken, and some guards could be let down.
She also told me that I should take a break, let other people babysit, and just follow her around today and come to her classes. She added that in future retreat, we should just hire babysitters. That I was needed elsewhere. Not in babysitting. Then, she put icing on the cake. Anse Tamara told me she that came to this retreat for me. Because I asked her to. Because of the dreams and goals that I told her I had long before this meeting ever took place, in the words written in my emails. That truly made me feel special, and of course, tears streamed down my face in that “office”.
So I did exactly as Anse Tamara said. I literally got dressed (I was in my pajamas with an abaya on top since it was so early) and ate breakfast with her at her table. I never did that before. I was too shy. I also went to all of her classes. And that day, she finished every class that she started but didn’t have enough time to properly finish on other days of the retreat. She made sure she taught every class I originally requested to be put on her schedule…even starting and finishing one that day that seemingly had no time to be taught except through the use of her break. In addition to speaking to the women and teens, as she was scheduled to do everyday, Anse also went to the 6-12 year old children to tell them stories. She then surprised everyone by opening up her time for a short Q&A with the brothers, who so desperately wanted to ask her advice. She did this in the method of Lady A’isha (ra)–from behind a screen…the women’s section. We were all gathered around her, as she took the microphone, answering questions from men who couldn’t see her, and whom she couldn’t see…but were yearning to get a female scholar’s perspective to their questions and reap some of the knowledge that the womenfolk of their families were constantly being treated to. There was an elegance to it all…I’ve never seen a female scholar teach like that. They are usually either completely in the open on the stage with the men, or completely out of the spotlight, hidden away. Anse was neither nor, either or…she was Anse, giving some of that khidma that has been so thematic to this retreat…in the best of ways, to the entire population of the retreat. And this special Q&A with the men was not originally what I had requested of her on her schedule.
In the women’s only classes, Anse Tamara told us womenfolk some secrets of marriage and relationships with Allah and people. She called it like she saw it and was real. She was truly a Godsend, mashAllah, and I believe that every attendee who encountered her heard what they needed to hear. She told all the women at the retreat that getting close to Allah should be our main focus, and everything else will fall in place, no matter what we were dealing with in life. The path we want is that of the awliya. And the only thing that the awliya focus on is Allah and His Pleasure. And in her class on the tajweed and spiritual tafsir of Surah Fatihah, she said something I will never forget as long as Al Alim wills: that the madd in dhaaaalin in Surat Al Fatiha is reflective of how lost and distant we are when we are not on the path of Allah…and how hard it is to return to a path we once walked but have since left. SubhanAllah! That pierced my heart–Ah! The agony of making amends with Allah and with people and retracing footsteps that have since been stained with sin! You can never ignore the stain and it halts you…until you truly repent and decide to tie up your shoelaces and continue walking!
Anse Tamara quoted a line in one of my favorite movies, We Bought a Zoo (2011) and said all it takes is 20 seconds of courage to change your life around–to do something seemingly hard to do. Knocking on her door was my 20 seconds of courage today. And in return, the attendees received more of Anse Tamara, as did I. I was officially accepted as her student, and attendees were the recipients of 4 bonus sessions with her.
Today, as I later found out, would be the bulk of classes I was able to attend during one day during the entire retreat. And I learned so much. What I learned yesterday in the “The Fourth Dimension” class with Anse Tamara came from a very moving group-based Islamic and spiritual analysis of a movie, entitled Flatland: The Movie (2007), guided by Anse Tamara. I highly recommend this movie to everyone–it’s a family-friendly math-based story featuring points, lines, 2-d, and 3-d shapes that illustrates the limitations of our grasp and ideas about reality based on our status as either a 1, 2, or 3 dimensional object in a much larger world. Didn’t get that math jargon? The premise is that there is always something greater out there…and on that same note, Anse Tamara instructed us to work hard to be angel magnets–and that a person can’t be depressed when surrounded by angels, but we are depressed when surrounded by jinn. And there’s no void in the fourth dimension–you’re either surrounded by a majority of angels or a majority of jinn. So there was definitely someone there other than the members of my nuclear family this Thursday morning. I had a visitor from Spaceland (as the inhabitants of Flatland would say), of the fourth dimensional kind, to help me see and change my reality. And it benefited more realities than I would have ever guessed :).
She woke up early the next morning, disappearing into the night as quickly as she arrived in the night when mostly everyone at the retreat was asleep…except for me, Umm Fatima (Shaykh Yahya Rhodus’ wife) and Umm Ruqayyah (Shaykh Jihad Brown’s wife) who all went to greet her at the gates. I didn’t get to say goodbye to her face to face. But now we’ve officially met and she’s officially become my teacher, and I have her contact info. I guess that’s why I had an encounter of the fourth dimensional kind. Now or never, Whit, now or never–20 seconds of courage to answer the call. And we’ve been whatsapping since.