We often say that some people come into our lives. In many cases as quickly as they come, they go. We might even forget the mundane encounters with many of them, which, if we strain to search the deepest recesses of our memories, we might say we have known them. Others are sent into our lives and leave an indelible imprint upon us. Their memory requires no recalling, because having met them we realize that they have been sent to us; sent by a power greater than ourselves, greater than the world, greater than creation. They have been sent to us to remind us of the beauty of the Divine and the beauty of His Noble Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah upon him). Mouaz Al-Nass was such a reminder. That reminder was not solely through his words, although his gentle voice enchanted almost all those blessed to hear it; it was mainly through the light emanating from the depth of his heart. That light escorted the words from his mouth out into the world. This relationship has been captured by a verse attributed to al-Akhtal:
“Verily, speech resides in the heart, and the tongue is merely an indicator of what dwells therein.”
Mouaz was a blessed heir as well as a sterling representative of a tradition. That tradition is a rich Islamic heritage that combines the very best of Muslim culture and scholarship to produce lovers of the Divine and lovers of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah upon him). That love finds one of its most inspiring manifestations in song. Mouaz, like his father, Shaykh Samer Al-Nass, was a singing scholar and he helped to fill the hearts of so many folks, young and old, but particularly the young, with song. Those songs varied from the ancient standard, Tala’al Badru ‘Alayna; to the haunting serenity of ash-Shushtari’s qasidahs; to the sweet melodies of al-Busairi’s, Burda; to the mystic odes of Abdul Ghani an-Nabulsi; to the soul liberating lines of Shaykh Ahmad al-‘Alawi; to the spirit-stirring Nashids of Shaykh Abdur-Rahman Ash-Shaghuri, to the Mawlid of Habib Umar, and so much more. Mouaz’s soothing tenor would only enhance the inherent beauty of any song he sang. That beauty nestled into the hearts of countless souls and helped to fill this land with a sweet fragrance that will linger long after his passing from the world.
Some critics might say that Mouaz was part of a “Mawlid culture” that distracts the Muslims away from a deep engagement with knowledge. Having lived in Damascus, a land with a rich tradition of Inshad, or spiritual singing, I can testify that Inshad and knowledge are not two mutually exclusive elements. Our teachers emphasized to us that Inshad is a form of dhikr, Remembrance of the Divine, and as such, it conditions the heart to be more receptive to knowledge. Hence, it is no coincident that most of the leading scholars in Damascus were also munshids or spiritual singers. My primary teacher, Shaykh Mustafa al-Turkmani, was a Shafi’i jurist, a Qur’an reciter, a linguist, and a scholar of Qur’anic exegesis. He was also one of the leading munshids of Shaykh Muhammad al-Hashimi. Shaykh Abdur-Rahman Ash-Shaghuri, who I was blessed to benefit from before his illness, was recognized as one of the greatest theologians and linguists of his era, as well as an erudite student of Islamic philosophy. He was also a master munshid. In fact, we need look no farther than Mouaz’s father, Shaykh Samer, to see song flourishing alongside scholarship. Shaykh Samer’s spirited sometimes hours-long “mawlids” by night, do not negate the fact that by day he is a Hafidh of the ten canonical readings of the Qur’an, a noted Hanafi jurist, a linguist, as well as a reputable physician.
Mouaz was heir to that beautiful cross-pollinating tradition and helped to introduce a lot of beauty into a sometimes very ugly world. As Muslims, we know ugliness well. During this past Ramadan, we witnessed a lot of it from without, such as the Israeli discretion of Masjid al-Aqsa, as well as from within, such as the beginning of the megalomania-inspired conflict that threatens to unravel Sudan. During times such as these we need all the beauty we can get. We need Mouaz. So, we say to you, O gentle soul! As you rest in your grave, which we pray has been transformed into a Garden of the Gardens of Paradise, keep singing, keep beating your drum, keep singing. Your beautiful voice no longer reaches our ears, but it will always find its way into our hearts.
Our condolences to Shaykh Samer, his family and all of those who knew and loved Mouaz.
7 Shawwal 1444