New Islamic Directions

By Imam Zaid Shakir

Journey to Timbuktu   Part One

Posted in articles by Imam Zaid Shakir on 2009-03-08

For the last several years I have had the great honor and pleasure of assisting Islamic Relief on a variety of fundraising projects. Those efforts assisted Muslims challenged by various disasters and calamities in places ranging from Darfur to Muzzafabad, Pakistan, to Gaza. For the past two years, I had been discussing a trip with Islamic Relief to Africa with Naeem Muhammad, one of Islamic Relief’s key operatives in the United States, but probably more famously known as a member of the Muslim musical group, Native Deen. That was after I had learned of the work Islamic Relief was doing in that vast continent. What had impressed me most about that work was its proactive nature. As opposed to responding to a crisis, Islamic Relief was working to help people develop the infrastructure to help themselves. This involved digging wells for clean drinking water, irrigation and sanitation, building schools, clinics and other vitally needed services.

A little over a month ago, that trip began to turn into a reality. Naeem called and informed me that the trip had been approved and we would be setting off for a journey that would culminate in visit to the historical city of Timbuktu. In the meantime, I had other obligations, the fulfillment of which would make a trip overseas very challenging. It would also mean that I would miss a dear friend’s wedding. However, before me was the opportunity of a lifetime. So I would have to strain myself to make sure the trip went forward.

As the day of departure, March 1, 2009, approached, I had many pressing matters to take care of. The most demanding and difficult was a ten day trip to Canada that would include a couple of back-to-back two-day seminars in Toronto, followed by a week venturing to London, Ontario, Ottawa, Montreal, and then back to Toronto, for an appreciation dinner for the volunteers and supporters of the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Conference (RIS), the annual winter gathering in Toronto, Canada that is setting the standard for Muslim conferences in North America (in my estimation). That trip went off fine. I was able to fulfill all of my obligations, even though the first four days involved me having to work through a severe stomach virus that resulted in an equally severe bout with diarrhea that left me dangerously dehydrated. After four days of steadily deteriorating health, I was seen by a doctor, one of the Muslim brothers who was gracious enough to come to my hotel room and prescribe a regime of medicines and electrolyte solutions to rehydrate my pruning body.

Unfortunately, I did not return to the States until less than a week from the date of departure for Africa. There was still a lot to do to get ready, including a trip to a chiropractor to adjust my aching lower back, which I injured rotating all four of my car tires manually, to prepare for a snowstorm I believed I would have to drive through my way from California to New Mexico, where I would be spending the first couple months of my year-long Sabbatical. The bending and twisting to remove and then replace four tires, with a short lug wrench helped to prove to me once and for all that I am no longer twenty years old.  Still I probably could have survived if the strain on the back was not further aggravated by sitting in the car for almost twenty hours.

Having accomplished the visit to the chiropractor, my first in over two years —riding my bike and walking around the streets of Oakland and Berkeley, California, had drastically reduced the time I was spending sitting in a car and the result was that the back problems that initially led me to seek out a chiropractor had totally disappeared. On Saturday afternoon, February 27, 2009, after a day of leisurely packing and spending a few mellow moments chatting with my most generous hosts in New Mexico, I departed from Taos to the International airport, the Sunport, of Albuquerque, New Mexico

Saturday night we spend in the house of a family friend from Abiqui, New Mexico. They had recent ly purchased a house in Albuquerque that was being used by their son during his tenure as an undergraduate student at the University of New Mexico. We had not seen him for few years and he had matured nicely. He received us in grand fashion and cooked us a wonderful meal consisting of a wonderful homemade vegetable soup and hummous.  After several hours of solid sleep, and the morning (Fajr) prayer he drove us to the “Sunport” for our 7:10 departure.


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