Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Sufis and Airplanes

Traveling with Shaykh Taner pretty much guarantees that you will have the worst seats on the plane. I have been flying with him for several years and this seems consistently true. If there is a mother with a crying baby (or better yet twins) or a 300 pound guy with a bladder problem you know that they will be sitting next to you.

I did not understand why this was until a couple of years ago, flying back from Boston where Shaykh had been lecturing at a conference being held at Harvard.

We had boarded the plane and it was only two thirds full. The middle seat in each row was empty!!! I was looking forward to several hours of being able to spread out and be a little more comfortable than usual.

Just before the plane was to take off, one last passenger got on. The woman headed right to where we were sitting. Sure enough, she had the seat between us.

She was looking very embarrassed, I think she knew just how valuable an open middle seat is on a long flight. But Shaykh Taner welcomed her with a smile and a few kind words. When she has sat, he introduced us, asked after her, and generally made her feel comfortable.

An hour or so into the flight, the woman got up to use the rest room, Shaykh leaned over and said "Do you know why Allah put that woman in this seat?" "No Shaykh I do not" I replied.

I expected Shaykh Taner to tell me that she was in some sort of need, perhaps ill, and she had been put there so that he could help her. That has happened often enough.

But Shaykh said, "Allah put her between us because of all the people on the plane, we are the two who will welcome her rather than resenting her. If she had sat elsewhere she might have had to suffer through several hours of anger and resentment from someone's nafs. But it is a Sufi's job to welcome, so Allah put her here.

So the woman arrived at her destination feeling perhaps a little better than she would have otherwise, and no one had to spend a whole flight in a state of anger and resentment.

It occurred to me how powerful this one little action on Shaykh's part was.

Shaytan would have so loved to see all that anger, resentment and hurt being created over someone taking an empty seat, but because Shaykh Taner did not let his "I" think it was so important that it "deserved" more room, all that potential negativity never happened.

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