The Blog

Visiting Umm Shajara

Abu Zainab Abd ar-Rashid and his family reside in Eastern Canada, where they are in the process of establishing a small farm on land that has been in his family for generations, growing their own food, raising their own animals, and using traditional, non-oil/gas based methods of agriculture. He and many others in his community are actively engaged in protests against industries engaging in hydraulic fracturing in the region. He’s interested in studying and reflecting on religion, society, culture, nature, and how these aspects of humanity/creation interact with each other and effect who we are.

Recently, I took my 4-year-old daughter with me into the forestland on our property, as it is the time of year we begin to collect and selectively cut the firewood with which we heat our home. This year I started early, as I wanted to cut as much firewood as possible using our axe and bow saw, without resorting to the use of gas powered chainsaws and the like. So with axe and saw in one hand and my daughter’s hand in the other, we set off down the road, turning off into one of the forest paths that had been made long ago by my grandfather, and maintained by my father with great care and attention. With my daughter at my side, I remembered when I was young and came down these same paths with my father and grandfather to do the same work. Many fond memories surfaced in my mind, and I was content in doing my best to pass on what my elders had given to me: a sense of connection to the natural world, a sense that is often tragically lost in our age of mass disconnect.

I had one thing other than collecting firewood on my mind, and that was to introduce my daughter to someone who I had been introduced to when I was young. As we walked through the forest of fir, birch, maple and various other sorts of trees, we came to a small clearing, which was dominated by a single massive tree that no one could have missed.

“That’s a big tree,” my daughter said, casting her gaze farther and farther towards the sky as she followed the giant from the seat of its trunk to its towering branches that reached far above any other trees in the area.

“This is Umm Shajara,” I said, “This is who I wanted you to meet.”

Umm Shajara, or Mother Tree as we say, is an ancient pine tree, gigantic in size, towering far above the other trees in the vicinity. I had known her since I was young, and both my father and grandfather had pointed her out to me. I never remember her being a small tree, she being well over a hundred years of age.

“Umm Shajara is very old Zainab,” I said to my daughter as she still looked at the tree in awe. “She has seen a lot, she has a lot of wisdom. Sometimes when you come back here with me, I want you to go and give her salaam [greeting of peace], and talk to her. She is the only pine tree here, and I imagine she could be lonely. We should try to talk to her when we can.”

My daughter looked at me and asked, “Was she with the Prophet?”

I wondered myself at how old the mighty pine was, but being conservative in my estimation, I replied, “I don’t know, but I know one thing; she knows the Prophet, and she remembers him. And she is always remembering Allah.”

I laid my tools aside and sat down in the grass with my daughter to talk to her, “There is a tradition that says that when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was in Madina, he used to give his sermons while leaning against a tree. One day, his companions arranged for a pulpit to be made for him. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) came to give his sermon and stood on the pulpit, there was an awful sound of sadness. This sound startled those present and they found that it was the tree that was crying! The same tree that the Prophet (peace be upon him) leaned on when he spoke; it was crying like a human being. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) heard this, he left the pulpit and went towards the tree and touched it. He comforted the tree until it slowly stopped crying. Do you know why the tree cried?”

“Why?” my daughter asked.

“The tree cried because it felt far away from the Prophet. Do you know why it stopped crying?”

“Why?”

“The tree stopped crying because the Prophet came and told it that everything was all right, he hadn’t forgotten the tree, and he was not far from it. That made the tree stop crying.”

Telling that miraculous event to my daughter while in the presence of such an ancient being made many thoughts come to my mind. Truly, our Prophet (peace be upon him) is the mercy to all that exists, the comforter, not just to Muslims, not just to humans, but also to all that exists. And we as his followers have been shown his example; we have been shown how to manifest mercy and grace in the world. What a beautiful man he is, our Prophet, who stopped his sermon to console a tree that loved him in the manner of a human being, and who longed for his presence, his touch, as we should long for him. Indeed, there is much wisdom in the tree, and this is the beauty of creation; it all points to the beauty and majesty of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and he only points to the Supreme Beauty and Majesty that is Allah.

“Papa, are we going to cut her down?” my daughter asked, looking from me to the pine and back to me again.

“No no, we aren’t cutting Umm Shajara down, we are only taking what we need from the birch and the maple. I want Umm Shajara to be around so you can bring your kids to see her, insha’Allah. She has a lot to teach us, if we think about it.”

“Yeah,” my daughter said.

So I set to work collecting firewood, some that was dead and had fallen because of storms, and some fresh trees that over crowded certain areas. As I worked I noticed my daughter had gone over and sat beside the massive trunk of the pine, touching it’s side and talking to it. I could not make out everything that she was saying, but I did hear her say, “We are not cutting you down, we have to learn from you. You don’t need to be sad.”

I smiled at this as I continued to work. The practice of his sunnah is far deeper than we often realize.