By Abu Sofian Eunos
In this world, there will be some people who affect you with their insightful writings. You might have never met them but through their literary works, you are left with newfound knowledge. Then there are those people who will affect you through their words. These people have a kind of speech that settle in your heart. Their advice and sharing stills your heart. Shaykh Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes has a profound impact on everyone that lies beyond his speech and writings; he moves us with his very presence and character.
We, the volunteers at Sout Ilaahi are phenomenally blessed to be with Shaykh Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes (Shaykh Mendes) and the many other scholars who come to visit Singapore. Shaykh Mendes was in Singapore over the 1st and 2nd April weekend to speak about Prophetic Parenting, Spiritual Awakenings and the Way of Love through Marriage.
It’s never the words alone that move me about a person. It has always been the very essence of the person behind the words. It has been said that mere knowledge in books can only bring one so far. What brings depth to one’s knowledge is to sit at the feet of teachers, and in this case, a deeply spiritual scholar too. The volunteers got a sense of how it was like to be with Shaykh Mendes during our volunteer lunch. That’s when we get the opportunity to sit with him and simply be in his company. A book is limited in its ability to teach you but the presence of a teacher, that itself can bring to light many benefits.
One of the benefits of being in the presence of Shaykh Mendes is that we get to learn how to become an active listener. Shaykh Mendes spoke about cultivating and rekindling the light of active listening in relationships. He mentioned to us the many kinds of passive and deficient ways of listening there were. Some people listen only to say what they want to say but disregard what’s being mentioned by the other person. Others listen to only parts of the speech that they found interesting. A few listen to others while rehearsing what they really want to say. But Shaykh Mendes mentioned that the truly active listener takes what’s being said in whole, without interrupting the person and they get a sense of the meanings and underlying emotions of the speaker. This proved to be such a ground-breaking yet simple piece of wisdom that left many of the participants in tears.
Shaykh Mendes got the participants to sit with their respective husbands and wives. He then told them to engage in Sacred Listening, or active listening to the significant other. The couples spoke to each other with the fullness of their attention and told each other how they felt about each other and what the relationship means to them. I saw for my very eyes how the act of active listening can move one to tears. It seems that now, more than ever, we need to be listening to the emotions, worries and concerns of our partners. Perhaps we are getting very distracted by social media and technology that we forgot what it was like to speak to another human being.
What’s amazing is that Shaykh Mendes lives what he preaches. Whenever a person would come to him with a problem, you can see just how conscious, engaged and in-tune he was with that person. He has this uncanny ability to embrace the person’s individuality and be able to connect with anyone. Shaykh Mendes would give counsel to single-mothers looking for advice, youths eager in zeal and even the volunteers who need guidance on the path of service. He would never turn his face away from you so long as you were not done speaking, he would never say ‘no’ to a request and he was smiling even when I would do something that might be upsetting to others. This was a life lesson on becoming mindful human beings.
There was once when were in Arab Street, I asked Shaykh Mendes what the secret to being mindful was. He replied, “Be still and focus on one thing at any one time” with a smile. Mindfulness is another virtue that I was starting to learn from Shaykh Mendes. He was never in a rush to get anything done. It has been said that haste is the work of the devil. Even when there was lack of time, Shaykh Mendes would not rush over a conversation with a person. He would give everyone their due time until they were done. This was so new to me as I was always rushing things and especially my conversations with people.
Shaykh Mendes recommended many books for us to read-up on, “What I wish I knew before I got married” and “Know Yourself” were some of the titles. He shared about parenting advice during our session in Mydin Mosque that I would probably never forget. He got us to break into groups and then asked us to do the inner work of finding out how we felt as a child growing up, who the people we loved were, what the things we enjoyed were and what brought us bitter memories. It was shocking that in our small circles, we realized through our reflection that there was much unresolved issues we had to deal with since we were children. Some of us had animosity with our parents, some of us were worried that we would raise our children the same way our parents raised us while others mentioned their fondest memories growing up. This session was simple yet eye-opening for many of us.
Ultimately, one of the most memorable sessions with Shaykh Mendes was the one held at Masjid Darussalam with the youths aged 15 to 35. This session was about finding your unique identity and using your gifts from God to serve others. Shaykh Mendes got us to break into groups and gave each of us a name of the Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet sallAllahu alayhi wasalam). We were then told to find out more about these companions and to find out how they served the religion with their gifts. I realized then that every single sahabah had at least one contribution that came from their God-given talents. This meant that all of us have something unique that can be used to serve others, we just need to do the inner work and find out.
Shaykh Mendes is a remarkably profound Islamic scholar whose presence is like the gentle waves on the shore. He is always with a smile and his love for knowledge and books was evident when a brother passed him a book translation of the work of Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. He would engage in recitation of Quran, invocation of God, supplication to God and contemplation of God. It was as if he brought a garden of tranquillity with him wherever he went. I remember last year when he was in Singapore I asked him, “How do you remain to peaceful? I work in the Botanic Gardens but I still haven’t found that peace”. To this, Shaykh Mendes replied, “everywhere you go, bring the Garden within with you”. I could only smile at his beautiful piece of wisdom. We hope to continue the good-work in Sout Ilaahi as volunteers and hope many more like-minded and dedicated youths will come forward to volunteer with us. May God bless this work and bless our scholars. Amin.