THE HOUSE, MY SANCTUARY

The fingers of grief……….I have always wondered why are they called the fingers of grief? I feel the delving motions of the fingers, how they can touch, feel and finger the heart for hurt, and sometimes pierce, poke and mash on an open wound. Sometimes squeeze a heart that is already full and bursting with grief. They can also twist the major life supply to the heart and block all nutrients whether spiritual or in the physical realm. The Fingers of grief are so strong and yet infinitely sensitive in their fine movements, they can search out the tender spots in the heart, pinpoint them and enter the heart without violating the self erected walls of defense against grief.

The fingers of grief are with me today. They have been capable of entering, feeling, turning over, pinching and squeezing the pain in my heart to a crescendo. They enter boldly without having given permission to do so by the doorkeepers of the heart. They successfully find the multitude of areas that ache and throb and with their swift deftness leave me with longing, regret and downright despondency.

I have been told that if you are unable to be at peace alone with yourself and feelings of despondency and loneliness overwhelm you, then perhaps you have a strong ugly nafs that is stifling the malaika (angelic/spiritual) part of your nafs. It is only in the privacy of being alone without distractions that you come face to face with your nafs. The degree of despondency and “wahshah” you feel when left to yourself is directly proportional to the ugliness of your nafs, showing you who you really are on the inside. In the battle of the nafs, if the nafs is strong, then wahshah is rampant. If the heart is strong and free of the nafs then when you are alone you are not with your nafs, you are with Allah surrounded by his compassion and love. Thus Mujahada is the only recourse, I am told, and yet when you are bleeding from every cell of your heart how do you do mujahada?

Even though the forty days of barakah from the Hajj are over, I have only one recourse; I close one window in my mind and open another from memory:
There is no past, no present and no future, you are on the second floor of the Haram, the gentle breeze, comes through and you know that someone has passed by. Is it an angel or my child who has swished by me and I feel the breeze from his movement…….. or is it the pristine movements of the angels performing Tawaf on the second floor? I look up and the chandelier is gently swaying, I look across the hallways, none of the others are moving.

I have been told that when the cover of the Kaaba flutters it is due to the circambulation of the angels. Today I think the angels have moved to the second floor, perhaps in search of khushu. It is too crowded on the ground floor. Here on the second floor your mind allows you to be alone with Him amongst many. People walking in tawaf alongside you recede into a mist leaving you alone with the house of the Lord, His angels and your prayers.

You want to really look at His house, but it feels like a violation of etiquette while doing tawaf, similar to staring at someone’s beautiful house when you are invited to visit, instead of conversing with them. Does my Lord want me to converse with him and not stare at His house? It is difficult; the House is mesmeric and magnetic and calls you.
I feel I have taken some soporific which instead of putting me to sleep, has created a mist around me, I am with my Lord, I am unable to see him, but I am keenly aware of Him, yet I also see the milling crowd around me. It is surreal, almost like participating in a silent movie.

Nevertheless, back on the musallah on the second floor I am reading “Accepted Whispers” and each word as I repeat it seems to have been written for me. Who wrote or spoke the Munajat e Maqbool, I am ignorant but the words are the poetic version of what I want to say to my Lord. I have an awareness He is listening to every word I say, sort of like your mother listens to your conversation while she is cooking or keeping an eye on your brother, yet you know instinctively that she is hearing every word and intonation of what you are saying as you relate the events of the day. I have His attention, I am reading the duas in Arabic, and they flow from my tongue as if I was a sage in Arabic. Some remote part of my brain registers that with surprise, I read the meaning, it is truly befitting, I am asking for the best for my children and my family, and I am asking for so much beneficence from Him unashamedly, without being conscious of the magnitude of what I am requesting. Yet I feel He is encouraging me with silent approval.

Beside me Shireen sits quietly reading the English Quran with the blue and white calligraphy on it, I look at her, her head is bent, her brow unfurrowed, her face peaceful, her attention engrossed in His words. Victoria plucks at my sleeve and points upwards; our chandelier is moving again, none others are. The angels are hovering around us. Are Imran, Ebad and Tariq with them? I cannot feel their presence, but there is an airiness of love, joy and contentment in my heart.

No physical needs interfere, the passage of the sun is an indication that asar has come and gone and maghrib is approaching, I cannot see the sun set, but I do see the red clouds on top of the hill, Maghrib comes and goes. Prayer is over. There is a sudden urge inside me; I want to see His house undisturbed and by myself. I get up and inch forward, murmuring my excuses to the people on the musallah as I step between them. I cross the stream of people performing tawaf, to get to the balustrade. A Malaysian man give me place besides him, he is crying, I look away… at the Kaaba. I am looking at His house and I have no words. I am staring unashamedly at His house, as it stands regally in all its splendor. Inside me I feel I am being bold, bordering on disrespect, yet I want to continue to stare, at the Kaaba, the House of My Lord!

The people milling around the Kaaba, seem like a symphony, moving to their own music and yet in a manner that seems beautifully choreographed from where I stand. I am satisfied to be at the balcony, no one bothers me, I look at the man who gave me the spot, he has gone, when and where I never registered. Someone else silently takes his place, I stay, there is no one pulling at my sleeve or edging around me to take my vantage point. I tell myself, I am not being selfish, I am just a pilgrim from a faraway land who has never seen the Lord’s house and I am crass enough to stare and don’t seem to get enough of it with my eyes.

I start walking again; will I be able to complete a Tawaf before isha? It really does not matter, everyone is walking with me, I am envious of no one and no one is envious of me. I fit in, blend into this mosaic of the ummah, another color, another form, of humanity. I am unconcerned with them and they with me. No one cares that I am a woman alone performing Tawaf, it is an exhilarating feeling, I am praying to my Lord and I don’t need an intermediary, a mahram, or an interpreter. Words flow out of me, I am choosing a new recipient for my prayers with every circle I complete: my children both dead and alive, My family members both dead and alive, my friends and community members both dead and alive, the prisoners, those in agony and those in waiting, the afflicted and those recovering, and some whose hearts have hardened, our girls, and our boys from our community. As I include Tariq, Imran and Ebad, I pause, why am I praying for them, I feel it to be redundant, they seem to be in the Tawaf, somewhere remote, either having completed their tawaf or almost going to, not with me, somewhere out of my reach, independent and on their own time, smiling, enjoying together, as they always did, having the time of their life in another dimension. I almost feel that when I finish I may hear Tariq turning from Imran and saying “Whatsup Mom”.

I am reaching the Hajr Aswad, as I raise my hand to say my greeting; my neighbor raises both his hands and kisses his fingers after pointing to the Hajr Aswad, should I be doing that too? I do it, it seems like if you cant kiss it physically, surely a flying kiss wont hurt, but mine is an after thought, his had the fervor of devotion, love and passion.

If only time could stand still. If I could be frozen in place sending my flying kiss to the Kaaba, or stand leaning at the rail, staring at the Kaaba, drinking it in with the eyes of my soul, as it stands a silent sentinel, host to the devout and the cynical alike.
I feel the hospitality of His house permeate me layer-by-layer, happiness floods my heart, life is good, I am hungry, and the Isha azaan calls. My visit today has been accepted with all its shortcomings.

I recall the words of a sage about his Hajj:” The first time I only saw the House…
The second time I saw the House and the Lord
The third time I saw the Lord…………..”
This is my first time. Will I get another time?

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