The following tribute was given by Shaykh Ebrahim Schuitema at the zawia on the 9th of February, 2019. The audio is available at the bottom of the post.
Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
The obviously appropriate thing to talk about this evening is Shaykha Shahbano’s passing. For all of us in our extended circle and beyond, this is a tragic affair, it’s a very sad affair. Judging from the outpouring of grief, it’s a matter that’s affected many, many people.
Shaykha Shahbano’s life had touched so many people, particularly in the last five years of her life, she’d had an immense influence and impact. It is almost as if the more homebound she became (the more ill she became), the further the extent of her outreach happened in the world. She had people who were following her poetry, people who were following her discourses and her opinions right around the world. And she did that confined to her home in Karachi.
If there’s anybody in our extended circle who demonstrates, or who demonstrated, that this path of our is efficacious, that this path of ours works, then that is Shaykha Shahbano. If there’s anybody whose life attests to the fact that this path transforms, then it is Shaykh Shahbano. From when she first received her idhn (permission), she examined what she had to say, and how she articulated her insights – there was a growing brilliance and a growing clarity. It is truly inawing. It is truly overwhelming.
What also became apparent as she matured in her role as a teacher, for all of us, was her growing honesty and her growing forthrightness. It became apparent that she could not tolerate people’s duplicity at all, because she had become such a highly polished diamond, such finely honed blade.
There were quite a few of us, who experienced Shaykha Shahbano’s medicine. All of us who had that experience can only attest to the fact that the medicine was given from a deeply benign and deeply compassionate place.
From every point of view, what her life demonstrated was this incredible sense of authenticity, of being appropriate to her own sense of fitrah (natural state) in this time and in this age. Nobody who reads her poetry can mistake the obvious spiritual brilliance that sat behind it. I’ve personally gone on record as saying that I believe that Shaykha Shahbano was the Rumi of the 21st century in English. I’ve yet to find anybody to have written with this clarity, the clarity that she had, about matters of deep inner consequence. But her clarity was obviously not just in her poetry, her clarity was in her prose. And in much of her prose you see an absolutely fearless capacity to articulate the truth as she saw it, without being rude and without being derogatory. She did not mince her words, she said things exactly as she saw them. As a result she became, in a sense, considered by some to be quite politically incorrect.
If there’s a life that one can emulate, which is a submitted life, in this age, then it is her life. What’s very important about Shaykha Shahbano is that what she had to offer wasn’t just in the text or the content of what she produced, but it is her example. In the first instance, her absolute fearlessness and courage. In the face of the most awful physical ailment, a really debilitating illness, she consistently worked on having a good opinion – having a good opinion of Allah. Even the times when I’ve interacted with her at her points of deepest physical anguish, there was always “alhamdulillah” that came from her.
This fortitude really demonstrated, for me, a living example of the view that says the measure of a man is not his success, it is what he does when absolute catastrophe is a foregone conclusion. Shaykha Shahbano lived in the face of absolute catastrophe for the last four or five years of her life and she remained having a good opinion of her Rabb. She remained acting consistently with regard to her insight in terms of what her Rabb wanted of her and she didn’t waiver. So despite the fact that for much of the time she was in immense pain and she was bedridden, she was consistently dealing with murids, she was consistently giving people advice.
She had been a mentor to people literally all over the globe. If you examine the comments on Facebook you see they’re from people all over the world and many of the comments are “I just messaged her last week, she said she wasn’t feeling very well”. So she had been interacting with us literally right up to the end.
The final thing I’d like to say about this extraordinary person is that there are very few people in my life that have so deeply impressed me with this insight that things are not as they seem. That the world that Allah has given us – this theatre that He’s given us – is infinitely more magical and infinitely more complex than our little, reductive descriptions of it turn it into.
These journeys that she would go into when she went deeply into the anguish of her ailment, these visionary journeys she went into, introduced me to this idea that we are absolutely multi-layered beings – we are far more than what we realise, that we carry within us the stories of our ancestors and we carry in us the unresolved stories of our ancestors. And part of the suffering in this world is the resolution not only of our own lives, but of bigger stories, epochal stories.
I’m deeply saddened by the loss of Shaykha Shahbano, I’m deeply affected by this. I feel I’ve missed a key ally in this world. She’d been a comrade, a companion, a colleague, a sister, a confidante, a friend, and not just to me but to many, many people. So our grief is appropriate and heartfelt. We can only imagine the sense of loss for her family. We pray for solace for her family, particularly for her daughter Oma and we pray that Allah grants her husband Usman sahib ease and solace and consolation – consolation from the fact that he’d been the protector of such an extraordinary jewel that had meant to much to so many of us.
May Allah grant all of us the patience to learn from her life and to learn from her spirit of good cheer and of gratitude in the face of unspeakable suffering. May He keep us on that road of gratitude and that road of awe. Ameen.