It is the 25th of Ramadan, 2007 and I am lost! Lost in the Haram? The very thought is comic, how can one be lost in the House of Allah, the reference point is always there, large as life. And with this thought the first layer of dunya peeled off of me.
I was in the Haram and I could not be lost, I could always look at the Kaaba and orient my self. On the wings of insecurity comes the thought “But what about my things”? I recall Haifa saying, “You may come back to your musallah of Itikaaf and you may or may not find your “things” but they are not lost, just moved to someplace else, by someone”. But nevertheless despite all the platitudes, I am feeling lost, displaced, and disoriented. After spending five days in one spot, only leaving for absolute needs, suddenly I am displaced not only from my “place” in the Haram, but also from my companions.
I have to accept it and move on, and I feel another layer of my dependence on dunya peel off. I feel my journey now is on my own with Allah as my guide, unfeterred by worldly needs and dependencies. As I go from row to row from my Itikaaf spot forward, I ask several people if I could pray next to them, but they shrug the classic Arab shrug which means “I am not saying no, but look around you, do you see any place to squeeze a sajdah” I walk on and now I am almost to the front exit of the women’s area. I have now come to accept that I will have to pray Asar somewhere else in the Haram.
As I approach the front section, I see a gold plush prayer rug laid out in waiting for a hitherto absent worshipper, calling me. On the top center is a small emblem of the House of Saud, (which I only recognize much later). There is a young woman sitting on the right of the prayer rug. I speak to her in the universal language of the Haram, i.e. I speak a combination of urdu and English with Arabic words like “salli” thrown in while pointing to the rug. She looks at me appraisingly and to my surprise says in clear English that I can pray Asar on her prayer rug, but after that I would have to leave, since she is expecting the rest of her family to join her and the others who are already here. She waves her hand around at the two rows of women of all ages. They are all in her family.
Thankfully I approach the inviting prayer rug and start my Tahiyyat –e Masjed. As I pray I feel increasing warmth in her hospitality, it is a feeling without any concrete action. She does not disturb me. Only when I take a break that we make conversation and I learn more about her, and her family. On the night of 24 Ramadan she and her extended family pack up and come from all corners of Arabia. They meet in Mecca where they have some rooms, where they shower, dress and prepare to spend the next five days and Eid in the Haram. They have done this every Ramadan for many generations. . What a beautiful tradition!
The soulful voice of the Muezzin echoes in the halls of the Haram, and almost like genetically coded behavior, I rise along with the other hundreds of women in this enclosure, and pray sunnah. Each one of us dialing in to our Creator. Unmindful of any other distractions. Clearing out the static, and submerging the acts of daily living in anticipation of connecting with our Creator. As if on a timer as the Sunnah finishes the Iqamah is called. Between the Iqamah and the first takbeer is that moment when Allah SWT does not deny any prayer of His abd.
Each of us knows this moment and we try to efficiently prioritize what we need fulfilled urgently, and then flow into the Asar prayer, behind the Imam.
My one prayer equals 10, 000 done at home I think happily and then Shireen’s smiling face comes to me with her comment “Mom who’s counting?”
I regretfully shorten my post Asar Dhikr, as I do not want to take undue advantage of the generosity offered to me by this Arabian lady. I rise and pick up my shoulder pack. It feels light. I have forgotten to bring my bottle for Zam Zam and I have neglected to buy anything for the opening of the fast. Confident of the hospitality of my neighbors, this does not worry me. Thus my slippers in my shoulder pack I descend to the courtyard of the Kaaba and silently merge into the tawaf crowd.
Today I have no agenda, no plans, or schedules to get back to the second floor. I am no longer in control of my time and my direction, I have no other plans except to do tawaf and pray maghrib and then perhaps get back to the musallah for Itikaaf and pray Taraweh with my companions. Maybe by then the crowd may have thinned and I may be able to find my spot and my companions.
One of the many pleasant anticipation of Itikaaf is the pleasure of being able to performTawaf at anytime, and for as long as one can.
I wait the evening with anticipation. With Maghrib begins the 25th of Ramadan. As I walk in Tawaf I wonder if this is THE NIGHT! How will I know? I feel that my heart will know, I pray that my heart will know. I look around me the evening shadows are lengthening and the lovely lamps around the Hateem have been lit. My fellow worshippers and I are fatigued, sweating from the heat and thirst of a hot fast. However there is a sense of determination as each of us works towards our destination.
I am slow today, I have not slept more than four hours in twenty-four for several days, and it is slowly telling on me. I will do one tawaf and go back to the masjed; I think to myself. Little do I know what lies in store for me?
Tonight I am gradually giving up control, like a child gives up to the elder knowing with full confidence that he or she will be well taken care of. I am in the hands of Allah and He is personally going to determine and guide what I do and when I do it. It is a beautifully freeing feeling; I feel I am light as air.
On completing the tawaf I realize that it has taken me a long time, Perhaps because I am at the outer edges of the circle, which seems to be swelling by the minute. Yet each one of us has our place on the blessed floor of the Haram, where our feet touch the hallowed grounds, and each one of us has a place in front of us where our hands are extended in dua, and each one of us has a sliver of space behind us. Only occasionally a woman puts a hand on my shoulder, urging me on.
It is very different from Hajj, where there is a time constraint. Today it seems the pilgrims have unlimited time and unlimited lamentations and supplications that they have to complete in this tawaf before Maghrib.
I walk to the Zam Zam coolers; they are being brought in, for the opening of the fast. I pause and regretfully note that there is no Zam Zam in them right now, not even to put a few drops on my head and face to cool me. I move on my eyes scanning the area around the Muqaam e- Ibrahim that Allah SWT has designated as the selected area for prayer (musallah) after the Tawaf. I have to find some women, as I now know that I should not pray in front of men by choice.
I see a group of women and I join them and start my two nafil. I am amazed how wonderfully peacefully I pray the two nafil, no disturbance; no one passes in front of me. There are more women praying in front, the Muttawatta is three rows away, his hands are full with other things.
I complete my two rakat and my supplications in peace and turn towards the Masjid to ascend the steps. To my surprise the map has changed, the steps are teeming with people getting ready to pray maghrib, which triggers a slight sense of alarm within me, it is getting late and I must get back and find a place to pray maghrib!
I thread my way up the stairs, but I am blocked by women sitting together packed like sardines blocking my passage both ways, I change my mind and decide to go back to the courtyard and work my way behind the men’s section to the next entrance into the Haram. I do so with great difficulty and thanks to the reluctant chivalry of the men seated on their prayer rugs in dhikr awaiting maghrib, I manage to reach the next entrance to the Haram.
To my dismay and rising consternation, it is completely blocked with people, as I try to make my way in, I am literally blocked by the women, their faces set, silently telling me there is no place for me to go in.
I am now getting desperate, I turn to look at the Kaaba, and the sky is now pink though the sun has not yet completely set.
I am now quite sure that I cannot reach the second floor in time for Maghrib and I will have to find a place to pray here in the courtyard. Along with that thought I scan the courtyard for a spot. I laugh to myself at the absurdity of the thought. There is no place left to pray in the courtyard, everyone has taken a place in readiness for the Maghrib prayer. The tawaf is continuing, the only place open is the place where I am standing which is the entrance into the courtyard for Tawaf from the Masjid el Haraam, it is a path lined with muttawattas actively dissuading people from sitting down for prayer in the path.
I am at a loss, I look around and see two slim women in shalwar kameez, hurrying to join the Tawaf, I look up, the sky is now truly pink, thus it means that the azaan for Maghrib is not too far. I have never done tawaf into the maghrib prayer.
I, on the spur of the moment tap the younger one on the shoulder, she turns. She is a beautiful Pakistani woman with doe like eyes that are distant in expression and her lips are in supplication. I say “excuse me are you going into tawaf?” She says “yes”, I ask, “May I join you?” She says, “of course, just follow us”. Relief pours over me; I seemed to have found two guardian angels in this teeming humanity. As she and her aunt (I find that our later) reach the spot where one melds with the tawaf crowd, I note with dismay that we are being approached by a determined Muttawatta whom I have observed has been stopping people from joining tawaf since it is to late to begin a new tawaf and the time for prayer is approaching.
A strange thing then happens. As they reach the edge of the tawaf crowd ahead of me, I see the muttawattaa purposefully honing on them. I am sure he is going to stop them from entering the tawaf. Suddenly another policeman appears and puts a hand on his shoulder and asks him a question and they both turn away.
The three of us, the two pearls from Pakistan and I melt into the Tawaf. I try to keep up with them, occasionally losing them. The doe eyed niece looks back with a silent message of comfort to tell me that they are looking out for me.
We have completed four circles and suddenly I notice men in sparkling white long clothes with the crisp red and white or just white Arabian headdress appearing out of no where, sprinkling into the pilgrims in tawaf. They are offering dates and Kleenex. The first few offerings I bypass still naively thinking that I will be opening my fast somewhere else, till I realize that Maghrib is upon us. Someone extends a plate of juicy Medinah dates and I take two, because that is the unspoken custom, and then someone else puts in my extended praying hand two date candy ball, which were the most delicious dessert I have eaten.
I hurry towards my companions and ask them, “what about prayer?” In the unspoken language of my homeland, they understood exactly what I was asking. They replied, “We will be praying here”. “Here as in tawaf in front of the Kaaba?” I asked aghast? “Yes” she said, “just stay with us”. They had a method, they had done this before, their graceful steps, measured for the marathon we were in, our destination clear, our determination unstoppable, we were going to pray in front of the Kaaba in grace!
My right hand was sticky with the dates and the date candy balls, I declined more of the date packages offered but accepted a tissue from a young person giving them out. Soon glasses of Zam Zam were being handed out and I took one and gave the others to my companions. They were oblivious to the needs for Iftar, they were on a mission, a personal mission, both the beautiful niece and her aunt dressed in white the pearls at the Kaaba were making our tawaf welcoming the 25th of Ramadan, perhaps THE NIGHT OF LAILATULQADR! Their hearts and mine resounding with the message in the words of a very old man with a stick who was walking in tawaf saying: “ Dunya ke jhutlaye huway, teray pass ayay hain” again and again……….on every circle we would catch part of his lamentation.
As maghrib was approaching we were all supplicating. The gentle niece and her aunt, tears in their eyes, there own personal grief only visible in their demeanor and in the desperation of their walk and in the concentration of their supplications.
The azaan came and the pilgrims popped the dates into their mouths, drank the Zam Zam and lined up facing the Kaaba. I could not believe it! I, humble me, a nobody, was here behind the men, three rows from the Kaaba, looking at it, in all its splendor as the sky turned to red and the Azaan resounded in and around me and the Kaaba.
It was a tight squeeze, but I am deeply thankful for the privilege of praying in front of the Kaaba! That elusive House of my Lord which so far I have had to imagine in front of me, while praying. Silence fell and into it came the beautiful innocent voice of Sheikh Jouhani, reciting the Quran, bringing the words of Allah Subhanawataa’la to His visitors like a gift and bringing His warnings right next to His promises.
In the pin drop silence in this congregation of 4 million people in the Haram, I felt the words of Allah Subhanawataa’la enter my heart.
I looked up at the Kaaba, and I felt that this was His house in this world but He had the lordship of many worlds. I felt His immense unmeasurable presence and His promise that He was not only here but also everywhere. I had to look for His signs to find Him. He encompassed everything and that he was looking upon us as a giant looks down upon an anthill, but with affection, care, indulgence and protection…….. And there delivering his message through the Quran was the young voice of Jouhani, entering into the deepest recesses of my heart, I wanted to stand there forever and for the prayer never to finish, and yet it did.
I had prayed so hard and long asking Allah Subhanawataa’la to not let me fall asleep on the night of Lailatul Qadr. I had envisioned it as a peaceful, serene night, which might lull me into sleep. Here it was! THIS NIGHT starting with all the power and majesty of Allah Subhanawataa’la’s presence, With His message resounding around His house and His ebad standing in respect and awe and me with them in deep gratitude. Happiness and light making my heart soar.