The Brick Wall
Exhilaration. The thrill of the chase. That’s what he lived for, right? The fleeting mien of his gusto struck him quite often, shaking him till all he could do was stare at the sands surrounding him as he struggled with his own conscience. Many days he questioned his own principles, whether it really was what we wanted in life. Today was one of those days.
Fudayl felt the rough-hewn brick wall under his palms, each gravelly ridge indenting his skin with miniscule rock grains. The structure was solid and unmoving; the shadow of a fortress. So unlike his own foundations – which flowed free like water – aimless. It was this very vagabond inside him that urged Fudayl, yet again, to scale the wall he’d come to know so well.
Behind the wall was grace. Beauty like never before. She was not a prized diamond nor an esteemed artefact. No, those came by easily when you were as successful as Fudayl was at what he did. She was the moon; unattainable and forever beyond reach.
On particularly unpleasant days, when his thoughts were too overbearing for company, he’d perch on the shadowed corner of his favourite brick wall and listen to the moon, watch her as she went about kneading bread or laughing with her dainty hand covering her mouth.
He felt many things watching her. Mostly he felt ashamed. How could he, a dishonest, ragged man ever measure up to be respected by her? He felt like a creep; he was a creep. He wanted to be knowledgeable and respected, to teach and be taught. Not this: a dirty stray, leaving miscellaneous trinkets near the house of a woman who didn’t even know he existed.
Tonight, there was another voice that floated out through the verandah. Fudayl squinted at the windows to make out who was there, but only the melody of a peculiar song met him. Song? No, it wasn’t that. He’d heard this tune before, it was a passage of the Quran. The recitation was rhythmic and sweet, and some of the turmoil inside of him felt at ease. He closed his eyes and settled himself against one of the trees that backed the house and soothed into a peaceful calm. Might as well wait till she showed up.
He could make out a lot of the words that were being read, mentions of hypocrites and false desires and eternal punishments. It all sounded very mystical and haunting, in a way that only religious scriptures could be.
He was religious in a way that was more habitual than devout, unaffected by the threats that were being recited, and yet he couldn’t shake off the feeling that he was being watched, as though being scrutinised under the gaze of a teacher. “You could do so much better, Fudayl,” the teacher was saying. But there was no teacher in sight. Only him and his wall under the empty blue sky. Not so empty now, what with the air that rang through his ears.
What had started as an empty soothing tune became words that settled as another itch inside his brain, this one bigger and heavier than his usual inconsequential ramblings. Frustration coursed through him: frustration at his ruined night, frustration at this non existent teacher, but most of all, frustration at himself.
Fudayl sat up straight from his cozy spot, eyeing a ledge of brick that would support him on his jump down. He’d had enough of these constant crises maddening his mental state, and he knew the one place he’d lose himself enough to forget about his headaches. His throne in the desert.
As Fudayl made the short trek down the wall, the last of the lyrical verses echoed from the trees around him.
۞ أَلَمۡ یَأۡنِ لِلَّذِینَ ءَامَنُوۤا۟ أَن تَخۡشَعَ قُلُوبُهُمۡ لِذِكۡرِ ٱللَّهِ وَمَا نَزَلَ مِنَ ٱلۡحَقِّ
Has the time not come for those who have believed that their hearts should become humbly submissive at the remembrance of Allah and what has come down of the truth?
Fudayl landed with a loud thud, so unlike his practiced, stealthy manoeuvres. The verse resonated inside of his head even as he whipped his head up to check if anyone saw him. It rang through him as he slipped away from the wall, and it crept into the crevices of his brain as he ambled along the shrubby desert.
“Has the time not come, oh Fudayl?” the teacher chided. The urgency of the words struck him, and he found himself stopping to gulp in mouthfuls of air.
He was sick of it. He was sick of this life he led, where the whole world was in his hands, yet he belonged nowhere, with no one. This wasn’t who he was. He was a man who wanted purpose, who needed purpose. Thrill was hardly purposeful. He wanted to be like the brick wall, unyielding and vigorous.Perhaps even trustworthy.
بلى يا رب، قد آن
“Indeed, my Lord, the time has come,” Fudayl whispered to seemingly no one, maybe the sky. Yet when the wind blew his way and whistled with the sands, he could have sworn his Lord had heard.
Fudayl roamed the whole desert that night, the golden desert he knew so well. It seemed to shine even in the dark, reflecting the milky twinkle of the moon. He deliberated over a thousand and one things, from what he’d do going forward to how the sun did not actually disappear at night. It just hid under the sands.
Somewhere amid his unobstructed inner tangents – now marked by a clearer resolve – Fudayl registered a motley group of travelers clustered near a small fire. He heard them before he saw them; they talked in rushed whispers and were arguing amongst themselves. They seemed to not have noticed him, partly due to Fudayl’s own foxy pace, but mainly because they were too invested in their debate to pick up on his shadow.
He crouched a safe distance near the huddle and dropped his head low, enough that he could hear them over the wind.
“We’ll die of the heat, I tell you! There’s still a good deal of walking to be done before we get anywhere near Kufa, and I’ll be damned if we faint like women because of some measly decision you make,” an angry voice thundered.
“The camels are tired, Effendi,” a calmer voice interrupted, attempting to moderate the tensions that bubbled.
They argued over whether to set camp and rest, or keep moving while the night was cool and the temperatures favored their journey. Fudayl thought it would be sensible to keep moving onward, after all, this was Khorasan. They really did have a good deal to trek before they crossed the border. Why delay it?
The dispute went on like that, until an older voice boomed, with a finality that none of the other people possessed, “That is enough.”
All of the men hushed at the tone, like a welded sword doused into water.
“Have you not heard of Ibn Iyaad? The deserts of Khorasan are his hunting grounds at night. If you fear for your wealth, then put up your tents and let the matter rest.”
“They call him ‘The Highway Robber’,” the calmer voice spoke again, his tone dropping to an eerily theatrical whisper. The crowd stilled with a fear that was not pretended.
The Highway Robber? This was the first Fudayl had heard the name. It occurred to him that being so detached from society, it was no wonder that he didn’t know the reaches of banditry.
He looked up at the sky one last time and repeated, “The time has come, my Lord.”
Fudayl stepped out from the shadows and made his presence known to the travelers.
“My name is Fudayl ibn Iyaad, and I have come back to my Lord’s path.”
If you’ve ever read The Alchemist, you’ll know how it emphasises the importance of omens and following the signs you see. They’re usually physical signs that encourage you to choose one of two paths you are conflicted over, and it consolidates a gut feeling. Of course, in Islam we do not believe in good or bad omens, believing in them is shirk, but we have our own guidance to spur us on. Divine guidance.
It’s not like in the movies, a blinding light that leaves you in epiphany, the last piece to a puzzle. It’s a resolve from within; a push in the right direction. The gut feeling we have inside is what we call the Fitrah. It’s an intrinsic good in every human, male or female, Muslim or non-Muslim, which leaves us in knots over the evils that we commit. But that’s all it is, a buffer. Initiative from oneself is truly what leads to change. To act upon what your Fitrah tells you to do and not to do and reflect over yourself every now and then. Don’t wait for a magical change of heart, by then it’ll be too late.