Fiji Time: 6:24 AM on Tuesday 28 March

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Ratib, the test of Muslims faith

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, May 06, 2014

THE hype builds as people start gathering at a shed in a densely populated area outside the city.

It is one of those nights that people look forward to, more so when great scholars from overseas will oversee the performance of the Islamic ritual.

Apart from those who believe in Islam, people of other faiths also show interest in the annual Muslim ceremony of Shaikh Rifai Ratib.

To get to know more about the ritual, this newspaper caught up with Shaykh Muhammad Noor Ul Hassan Al Hijazi in Lautoka last Friday.

Based at Al-Mustapha Institute of Brisbane, Mr Hassan came to participate in a ratib at Saweni in Lautoka on Saturday night.

With him were two Islamic scholars from India.

Mr Hassan says Rifai is a name which originates from Shaikh Ahmed ar-Rifai who was born in the Wasit region in Baghdad, Iraq in 1118.

"He was from the family of Prophet Muhammad and throughout his life he was a very pious and humble servant of God," he said.

"Being a scholar of theology and many different things that he was well-versed with, he was a spiritual master or a holy man.

"Shaikh Rifai committed himself to memorise the Holy Koran at the age of seven years and he is the founder of the Rifai Sufi Order."

Mr Hassan said being a descendant of Prophet Muhammad, Shaikh Rifai went to visit the prophet's tomb in Medina, Saudi Arabia one day.

He said Shaikh Rifai went to the site dressed as a foreigner and was stopped by some people from entering but he managed to find his way to the tomb.

"At the tomb, he said to the prophet, 'up to now Ahmed Rifai used to send my souls to say salaam (hello) to you but today oh my grandfather, I did not send my soul but came physically myself, therefore my humble request is I would like my hand to say salaam to you'.

"Many people have narrated that the blessed hand of Prophet Muhammad emerged from the grave and Shaikh Rifai shook the blessed hand and kissed it.

"People surrounded him and went into a trance. They didn't know what was going on and they wounded themselves.

"Shaikh Rifai moved his hands on all those wounded and they all were healed by the blessings of Allah and the blessed hand of Prophet Muhammad.

"This was a miracle that was bestowed on Shaikh Rifai and ratib means to do something in order as a form of respect."

Mr Hassan said ratib itself was a remembrance of Allah as per the Holy Koran.

He said Shaikh Rifai died in 1182 but the ritual continued down the generations.

The 36-year-old Lautoka-born Islamic scholar graduated from the United Kingdom with a Bachelors in Islamic Theology and then went to Syria.

In Syria, where the gathering of the Rifai Sufi Order is practised, he studied under many different teachers and spiritual teachers.

He has been to Sri Lanka, Kerala in South India, Malaysia, Canada and New Zealand, where the Rifai Sufi Order is practised.

Mr Hassan said there were variations on how the ratib is read and practised in the countries he has been to but generally, they all point in one direction.

"A person who takes part in the Rifai Sufi Order has to follow the Islamic Sharia and be a practising Muslim.

"In the days leading to the ratib, one has to be clean, piety and God fearing. These things have to be in the person continuously.

"It's purification of soul, nothing else. If your soul is already clean and pure, then you are in constant remembrance of Allah, not only on that particular day but every day.

"We should not take things the way we want to take it but we should take it as it is.

"Not everyone can do the ratib. God has blessed people with different qualities. God has blessed many people in different ways.

"Jesus was blessed, Moses was blessed and Abraham was blessed. They were all prophets."

Mr Hassan said the ratib was based on the remembrance of Allah and not on the remembrance of any human being. He said the name of the Creator is invoked during the ritual.

"It's done to show the miracle of the saints, that they were blessed."

He also said that only men participated in the ritual and there was no age barrier, saying that any man who is spiritually clean can participate.

"Ladies don't take part in it because they are private. They are not a commercial commodity to showcase them in public."

Mr Hassan said ratib was introduced in Fiji during the indenture system in the early 1900s.

Within the past two months, the ratib has been performed at various places in Lautoka, starting at about 9pm on a Saturday and ending in the early hours of Sunday.

The ritual is performed in such a way that people who go to the venues to witness it are glued to their seats until the end.

It was a similar story in Saweni last weekend, where people left the venue only when the ritual ended at about 4am on Sunday.

NEXT WEEK: A devotee's personal experience of the ratib.

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