He was a man already in his nineties when I first met him, too old to walk very much unaccompanied. Whenever we were granted audience with him he’d be sat almost motionless atop a heavily padded sofa. Flawlessly smooth skin, piercingly sharp eyes, and lips pursed intentfully. My master was iridescent.
I’d heard as an adolescent of how the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, would sit so motionless before him that a bird could have landed upon their shoulders and not been disturbed. If I’m perfectly honest, the way I related to this and other depictions of the time of the Prophet wasn’t entirely unlike the way I related to folk tales: a time where men and women of valour and chivalry vehemently fought injustice, striving always to do the right thing and where even the laws of nature conspired towards their aid.
Being part of that audience however, I now understand what that scene over 1,400 years ago could have felt like. We too, this disparate band of seekers from around the world who had collected in a Moroccan outback to sit before a man we’d each taken as our spiritual master, were, just as that scene would have been, sat as statues before him, transfixed and filled with awe. Our master hardly spoke and when he did it was through hushed, croaky Moroccan Arabic, the meaning of which reached us via echoed translation. It wasn’t that we’d come to see our master do anything in particular. He just sat there.