Remembering the Nation Builder, Shaykh Muhammad Alshareef

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I won’t pretend to be capable of writing a fitting tribute to the nation builder, Shaykh Muhammad Alshareef. There are plenty of people who worked closely with him who made their statements remembering him after his death in 2022, shining light on what a remarkable person he was. I am just another Visionaire student who never met him in person. Yet, through his Visionaire program, he touched my life and those of countless others so profoundly that the Visionaire community misses him in an entirely different way.

He may have been your teacher, your relative, or your friend. He may have been your coach, your advisor, or your leader.

But to us, he was the person who gave us the not-so-secret ingredient to unlocking life’s full potential: he taught us how to live by dua.

That was what made all the life-changing difference.

I remember the first time I heard about Visionaire. I subscribed to Amirah Mauthoor’s mailing list, and every year around the same time she would bring up this dua course she was taking, encouraging us all to take it. She explained how transformational and essential it was. For years and years, I didn’t click on the link.

When I finally did, I don’t remember whether it was from her email or from an external source, but I was happy to end up where I did.

The head of this ship was Shaykh Muhammad Alshareef. He seemed very approachable, friendly and energetic as a speaker. Listening to his Visionaire sessions, I found myself getting drawn in to his excitement regarding what he was talking about. When he would walk us through visualization exercises, I found it simultaneously exciting and astonishing that we were doing this in a religious context.

After telling us to dream of anything we wanted, Shaykh would say, “Now double it.” The first time he said this, I thought he was asking the impossible. When he followed this with another, “Now double it again” I realized what kind of journey he was taking us on. We were not going to raise our hands and chant. We were going to go deep diving into our hearts and come out with the pearls of duas that would unlock the endless possibilities of our lives.

He called them “dream duas.”This was also a new concept to me. I thought a dua was just a dua. You raised your hands, recited, and then forgot about it. Sort of like taking vitamins. You don’t know if they’re making a difference, but they’re supposed to be good for you so you take them anyway. Shaykh Muhammad taught me better than to view dua as routine vitamins. He taught us that dream duas were potent visualizations of what we wanted from life, very deliberately crafted, and certainly not made up in ten seconds.

I had never before in my life spent more than ten seconds on one dua. Dedicating time and effort to know what I wanted, daring to keep doubling it until it scared me, and then daring to ask for it was an eye-opening experience. I had never before known that wanting things from Allah on this scale was possible. By the time I was done with Visionaire, I started viewing my dream duas differently. They weren’t vitamins. They were the elixir of life; the process of coming up with these duas, planning how to make these duas and then following through and consistently making these duas was going to confer the secret of life into my being and change me forever.

I still feel that I have failed to capture the sheer giddiness of doing Visionaire with Shaykh Muhammad. You just had to be there. You had to be going live on Facebook with all the others, you had to be commenting on everyone else’s posts, you had to be caught up in Shaykh’s lives and audio rooms, you had to be, you had to be. I also think I have insufficiently captured the brilliance of Shaykh Muhammad himself. Those who knew him do not need me to remind them, and those who never knew him cannot know who they missed.

Why then did I endeavor to capture it? It is just my desire as a Visionaire alumnus to commemorate the lighthouse Shaykh Muhammad erected in my life. He is gone, but what he taught us will carry us until we join him in the afterlife. For that, I am eternally grateful.

The community came together to grieve after his death. We all poured our shock and feelings of loss into the Facebook groups where we used to come together to learn from him. Many people started Facebook posts where we all joined in commenting how much we missed him. The important part was how we kept checking in with each other every few weeks. About a month or so after his death, someone posted how they still couldn’t bring themselves to watch his videos. Someone else replied that they couldn’t bring themselves to watch his videos yet, either. Some of us had started watching them to comfort ourselves. The rest came together under that post to share that they still needed more time before they could watch him again.

We remembered him through the lessons he taught us throughout his sessions, some of which I remembered when reading through the comments on the Facebook groups commemorating him and reminiscing on his animation during his interactive Visionaire sessions:

In a loud, enthusiastic voice, “Are you ready?!”. He would say if we didn’t say this loud enough for it to be awkward, we weren’t doing it properly.

“You need to build a boat.”

“Is your dua concrete or gas?”

“Write your destiny with the pen of dua.”

“One moment please.”

When teaching us to make dua for something positive without fearing something negative will happen, he would say, “Do you think you will ask for cake and Allah will give you a snake?”

About our excuses, “Nobody cares!”

“We’re going to need a bigger boat!”

“When I say to jump, you ask ‘how high’?”

“So what’s your question?” He would say this until the person asking the question would arrive at what they actually wanted to ask.

“What you want is only a crayon for Allah.” He gave us the analogy of a child crying for a particular crayon in his big box of crayons, and how simple it would be for the child’s caretaker to give him what he was looking for. Reminding us that it was simple for Allah to give us what we wanted, he would tell us, “What you want is only a crayon for Allah.”

“Why are you lying?” He’d ask us what we really wanted in our lives, and we’d spill out our desires into the chat. He’d hit us back with “Is this what you really want?”

And always, he signed his newsletters with the same sign-off, “With best wishes to see you succeed at the highest level.”

It’s fair to say that one of the most popular visualizations he walked us through was VIKEA—Visionaire IKEA. He said that it was the Visionaire version of IKEA, with each showroom as big as a stadium. He led us to each showroom for different categories of dua: health, wealth, family, fun, and religion. At the end, we went into a projection room to visualize our dream duas. Eventually, he led us to a mirror, with the realization that the dream dua was reality and we were living that reality. That moment gives me chills every time.

He wasn’t just saying things. He lived them. While teaching Visionaire, he would mention the timeline for dream duas to usually be answered. One or two within six months, some within a few years, and some may not be answered in the way we asked for. To say this with so much confidence was a testament to his experience of living Visionaire himself and having taught it for so many years. This system for designing life through dua was tried and tested by people, many of whom returned year after year to repeat the Visionaire experience with Shaykh and with the community.

He didn’t teach things as if he was walking us through an educational course. It was more like being invited to live the experience with him. To walk away having known something greater than before, and to keep it with you long after the last Zoom meeting. His brilliance lay not just in living an exemplary life himself but in leading us all to live ours equally extraordinarily. The way he answered our questions, no doubt was too small, and no challenge was insurmountable. He would tell us about his own experiences of answered duas, he would give us examples of people’s answered duas, he would lay out the blueprint of a dua, all to make us believe that the process and its results were real.

Apart from Visionaire, I also liked doing his other DiscoverU courses, especially the Book Hero book club. Shaykh Muhammad would put a book up every two weeks for us to read using his book reading formula of listening to an audiobook while playing a game on your phone at the same time, to make it easier to pay attention to the audiobook. As a gamer, I would just power up an action game and slash away while listening to my Book Hero books.

I had some opinions about the sort of books he put up for us to read. I told him once that I didn’t like that the book and audiobook narrator were so aggressive and masculine. He listened. After a while, the next book was by a woman author, though as I pointed out to him again, she also had an aggressive style.

He was very active in the book club Facebook group. He would tag me when a new book would go up, as I’d often be the first to show up to the new Facebook post having read the book. He would go through our comments about the book and respond to them. It ended up being a very wholesome experience talking about books with him in his book club. The fiction books he often recommended were clean murder mysteries or thrillers. Every time I would comment that those books were too scary for me, didn’t he have a recommendation for a fiction book that wasn’t scary? Finally, he did recommend something different, and I enjoyed reading it.

As a book lover, getting attention from Shaykh Muhammad in his book club made me feel important. If Shaykh Muhammad could talk about us regarding books we read, maybe what we had to say meant something after all. Though, I must say, he made us all feel important. It was just the kind of person he was.

Shaykh used to speak to us in audio rooms on Facebook, where people could hang out in the room to take turns to speak to him in a live call. The last time I “saw” Shaykh was in one of these audio rooms. I used to take this time to ask him questions, like the time I asked him if it was allowed to specify a city where I’d like to live after marriage. He told me I was allowed to ask for anything I wanted, and couldn’t someone else move to the city I wanted to live from somewhere else? I found asking him about this and getting his answer very reassuring. After all, he was the Shaykh of duas! He knew this stuff. Another time, I saw a recommendation from him to use the app to focus during work. I used the app for a while, until one day I mentioned it to him again and he said he’d stopped using it and just looked up focus audio on YouTube instead. I stopped using the app. It may seem like a very simple thing to do, Shaykh says and I do, but when you hold someone in such high regard, you appreciate their guidance even in the mundane things. You get so many recommendations from non-Muslims and benefit. Why not benefit from a leading Muslim figure in little things? I even got blue light blocking glasses for better sleep after he recommended them to us. I even bothered, averse as I am to breathing techniques, to try deep breathing in a 4-4-6-1 (in-hold-out-hold) second pattern after he told us that breathing techniques were what really helped him with his insomnia. Did I trust him in everything he said? Yes, but I think that was the case for most of us.

That time when I saw him in the audio room and was too tired to stay and listen, I thought to myself, “I’ll just listen to him next time” and exited the audio room. Little did I know that was the last time I would see him online in his lifetime.

Shaykh Muhammad told us about the incident of the death of the ruler of Abyssinia, and when the news reached the Prophet S.A.W he said, “A righteous man has died.” Shaykh Muhammad said he took the identity of a righteous man “Rajlun Saleh” from this story. When we got the news of Shaykh Muhammad’s death, it was the identity we remembered him by. A righteous man has died, and we miss him terribly.

I had a white board up in my room with all of my dream dua plans written up on it. After Shaykh’s death, I was reluctant to erase it and update it once the time came again to write new dream duas. The time came. I got the chance to meet Razia Hamidi, who used to work with Shaykh Muhammad to facilitate the sessions for us. While it was nice to finally meet her face to face after watching her online for years, Visionaire after Visionaire, there was a tinge of sadness that I would never get to meet Shaykh Muhammad this way. Razia brought journals for all of us who came to meet her. I remember sitting with that journal afterwards and thinking it over. I had needed a push to write new dream duas. The new journal would be the place where I would workshop my new dream duas. I would erase and rewrite the white board. I’d write new duas without Shaykh Muhammad, but it was because of him that I even did it at all. I’d write new duas without his presence but with his guidance that he left for all of us.

In grieving together as a community, people wrote different tributes to the nation builder. One such tribute, written by Saleh Mugannahi, I would like to share:

I haven’t watched Shaykh Muhammad videos in about 5 months. I always skipped the videos on social media too, because I always choked up. Alhamdulilah. I totally continued practicing what I learned from his courses but still couldn’t move on emotionally and I didn’t really know why. Two critical events made me reflect on this deeper:

1- I joined a Stanford study in December that blessed me with a chance to attend Tony Robbins Date with Destiny (dream dua before I knew what a dream dua is).Here’s what that event made me realize. The reason I have not watched the Shaykh’s videos was because I was subconsciously living an illusion. Yes, I miss the Shaykh dearly and the illusion was, if I delay watching his videos, he will magically return or show up or something. I guess that was the denial stage of grief. After that event, I surrendered to Allah’s plan and slowly stopped skipping his videos on social media. Alhamdulilah. Next year I’m committing to rewatching the programs I joined.

2- I attended my first ever MAS-ICNA convention this week and got a chance to meet Ammar Alshukry. It was such a pleasure. I spoke to him a little about the Shaykh and he said, “With every tear, make a dua,” a metaphor for always remembering the Shaykh in my dua whenever he comes to mind. He even playfully said, “I would recite a poem I wrote for him but I won’t because you can’t even watch his videos yet.” This convention made me realize why I was suffering the Shaykh’s loss big time. I never had a Muslim community/mentor before the pandemic and I was so thirsty for one. I was already in the self-development space and loved Tony Robbins and attended his events. I always still felt a void and even made a casual dua one day saying, “Ya Allah, I wish there’s a community that had both self- development and Islam.” Of course, the “yeah, right!” voice came right after that Dua. Allah had a greater plan though. Alhamdulilah.

When I finally found the Shaykh, he filled that void big time. I even stopped watching Tony Robbins not because I didn’t like him anymore but because I was fully committed to Shaykh Muhammad. I even said, “This is him. He’s going to be my Shaykh and mentor forever! And I’m going to meet him one day!” Visionaire – Jannah Edition Inshallah.

He didn’t mind my goofiness. He cheered me on. He even allowed us to message him. And he even responded to our messages! How could I not love this guy. May Allah grant him Jannah!

The lesson is, when something meets a lot of our needs, we don’t respond well when a part of it is lost. Alhamdulillah. This convention though opened my eyes to stay open for others to inspire me, to believe in Allah’s plan always because He knows best, and to continue growing and loving people. Although I’m going to always miss my Shaykh, I am so grateful for the beautiful community he gave us (they are gold!) and all the good he left behind to impact the world for generations through us. Alhamdulillah.

– Saleh Mugannahi

The heart grieves and the eyes weep but we do not say that except which is pleasing to Allah.

Iqra Khan is a dentist by profession and a writer by passion. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Oral Biology at Texas A&M College of Dentistry while she works on her second young adult novel. Her first young adult novel, Hackschool Project, a tribute to the adventures and challenges of student life, was published in March 2021 with Daastan. Based out of Dallas, Texas, she spends her creative time writing about her experiences for MYM, blogging as an author, writing serialized teen fiction for magazines and working on writing Muslim speculative fiction. She enjoys drawing, painting, reading and playing videogames in her spare time.

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