Book Review: The Difficult Journey by Ahmad Thomson

I want to share my thoughts on this book because out of all the books I have read, it is the only one thus far that has reached out to me, and I could relate with this book on so many levels.

The author has quoted a lot from the Qur’an and from Shaykh Abdal-Qadir al-Murabit, which not only beautifies his words, but also forms the perfect coup de grace!

Allah’s generosity and mercy are highlighted tremendously in this book, where many sticky situations arose. “The Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said that ‘if you really trusted in Allah, then you would be like the birds who go out in the morning with nothing and who return home to roost with nothing and who have been fed during the day’. He also said that ‘whoever does the five obligatory prayers each day will be clothed and fed and sheltered by Allah.’ “How true they have proven to be. “ Surely Allah does not cease to provide for you from where you do not expect.” One can however, only taste the sweetness of this once one has completely submitted oneself to Allah. He is truly the Best of Providers.

Travelling has always been a strong passion of mine and I have a strong desire to travel much more in the future, Insha’Allah. Reading about the different places, which were visited, I felt like a kid in a candy store- brimming over the top with excitement. Hajj Ahmad’s vivid descriptions and detailed account of this journey, which he undertook with two companions, are so beautifully written! I was gripped from the beginning to the end.

Throughout the book, I felt as though I was right beside him, experiencing “the wide expanse of the sunny Mediterranean opening itself up to us”, “our faces sunburnt and weatherbeaten” and best of all, being at the top of the Daribe –an extinct volcano- having “the Jebel Murra- Mountains of time (this is known as the jewel of Sudan)- stretching out around us in every direction under a clear blue sky.” I’d love to have someone ask me the age-old question of ‘why did you climb the mountain?’ To which I would shout out, ‘Because I wanted to see the view!’ Their travelling was so spontaneous, which made it so much more exciting. “…Nothing was planned and anything could happen …there was simply none of the illusion of security that advance booking and travel insurance and credit cards and travellers cheques sometimes provide.” Now that is freedom!

Another extraordinary aspect that stood out was during their travels, the only goal they seemed to have in sight, was to visit many of the Shuyukh as the possibly could. It was not always easy, but with such a great intention in their hearts, Allah made it possible! They visited many tombs as well as the exalted teachers and while being in their presence, did a lot of dhikr and sang many qasidas from the Diwan of Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib. How intoxicating to have their hearts filled up with so much dhikr! “The adab of visiting the awliya is very fine, whether they are alive or in their graves, for although they are distinctively filled to overflowing with divine light, they can never be worshiped, and duas cannot be directed to them…The advantage in visiting them when they are still in their bodies is clear, they can teach you and guide you on the path that leads to gnosis of Allah, provided of course that they have the Idhn, that is permission, to do so.”

Memories of my trip to Meknes, in which I stayed at the zawiya of Shaykh Muhammad Ibn al-Habib came flooding back. Although I had not visited his tomb, I could relate to some of things, which the author described during his travels, such as: the overwhelming generosity of the fuqara, being drunk by the dhikr and feeling so radiant with light.

The Difficult Journey is very enlightening and one learns a lot about, not only Islam- which we never stop learning about- but also, about the various types of people and our ever-changing surroundings.

The process of Hajj is described in very fine detail and one could possibly use The Difficult Journey as a handbook! The author made me feel as though I was wearing the Ihram and reciting the Talbiya.

Hajj Ahmad took me with him to the entrance of the Haram, known as Al-Bab As-Salaam, which means ‘gate of peace’. I made tawaf around the Ka’aba seven times, which he described as being a “beautiful, majestic sight to behold”. My thirst was quenched with the “lovely pure cool tangy water of Zamzam”. Cooly, I’ve walked back and forth between the two hills of Safa and Marwa. I made du’a on the Jebel Ar-Rahman- mount of mercy-, a small hill on the plain of Arafah. This the beauty of the author’s writing. He does not just tell the reader about the things that he is doing, but rather he has mastered the art of making the reader feel as though they too are experiencing what he is experiencing and feeling what he is feeling, to the point where you feel as though you are the main character! Never before has my urge to go on Hajj been so strong or so sure.

I could relate completely to the author when he said, “ it was not a lonely feeling that I felt, but rather the realisation that I was alone. There is only Allah.” Living with nine girls in the Madrassa, I found this to be so true. I’ve realised that once we accept the fact that we are alone and that we only have Allah everything becomes much easier. It is as though a huge boulder have been lifted off your shoulders and you feel as though you can take on the world and handle anything life throws at you, simply because you have no attachments to this world.

Personally, I’ve realised that when we make an intention to do something, once it’s set in motion, time passes by far too quickly and we find ourselves wanting to go back in time and enjoy each moment to the fullest instead of wishing the time away. In The Difficult Journey however, each moment is reflected upon and the author goes into great detail explaining and taking one through each situation, where I’ve found that after reading the book not a single moment had been wasted or idled away.

Shaykh Abdalqadir al-Murabit once said: The destination is just an excuse. What matters is the journey itself.

Shaykh Muhiyyi’din ibn Arabi once wrote: Whoever engages in travel will arrive!

I felt that while the Hajj (destination) played a great, but small part in the book, the journey, which led them there, was certainly the climax to The Difficult Journey. And what a journey it was!

Inspired by Hajj Ahmad, I’d like to conclude with surah Al- Inshirah (The Expanding):

Have we not expanded your breast for you,

And eased you of the burden

Which weighed down on your back,

And exalted your fame!

So surely with hardship comes ease,

Surely with hardship comes ease.

So when you are finished, still try,

And direct your love to your Lord.

(Quran: 94. 1-8)

Written by Fadia Kruger

2 comments

  1. I, too read the book and found it so inspiring and so very touching. Your review has now prompted me to read it again. Beautifully summarised.

  2. read the book a few years back but still can feel the touch of it. wish to meet the writer one day. Insya Allah.
    is there any other related books like this?

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