Photo by Fadi El Binni via Al Jazeera English Creative Commons

I have answered the call of our father Ibrahim to walk in his footsteps and to follow the much revered and cherished path of our mother Haggar, up and down the mountains of Safa and Marwah struggling strenuously for her son’s wellbeing with full trust in Allah. I am here to feel the gentleness of our Prophet Muhammad pbuh as I look at the Kaaba and see in my minds eye his (pbuh) eyes filled with love as he drinks the blessed Zam Zam facing it.

Early in the morning I am on the bus to cover what I discover is just 5 miles in distance. It is the longest five miles, in time, in shedding a skin, in being bathed and scrubbed with the loofah of istighfaar, and coming out with the bright and glowing skin of an innocent newborn babe inside out.

I see a sea of people walking to Arafah. The men in their white two piece ihram and the women behind them heavily veiled against prying eyes sometimes pushing a stroller with a toddler sometimes just walking behind her man.

I have mixed feelings when I see them walking to Arafat because I want to feel the steps towards the destination yet the desire to get there quickly is so impelling that anything that will speed me up is more desirable.  This is Ammi’s (my mothers) hajj e badal and has been very easy and filled with blessings.

The bus ambles on and passes trucks vans and cars filled with white clad men. Some trucks have men loaded on top of it, voluntarily packed like sardines. We are all set for a destination much desired……… a destination where you shed your past and embrace a clean and pure future.

Getting to the plains of Arafah is an anticlimax. What do you do? I have already decided that I am not climbing the mountain. I can see it riddled with white specks right upto the top. I am wide-awake and focused on cleansing my inner self. There are few distractions: A large platter of food arrives it is a rice pilaf with huge pieces of succulent lamb scattered all over it. Some of the women complain that they are tired of eating Arabic food and perhaps their leader should have thought of organizing more spicy food. I look at the platter and wonder how much more decadent could we get. Habit dies hard and we eat. Women spread out their mats, some for siesta some for Salah. Habits are hard to break. They are me and I am them. I have been told that all I see in Mina and Arafat is a reflection of something inside me and it is time to remove what is undesirable and the best place and time to do it is at Arafat.

I leave the tent and am bent on going for a walk to see others. yet the fear of getting lost in the maze of tents is like a leash that does not allow me to wander too far. Keeping some markers in view I head towards the mountain but half way there I am arrested by a sight I cannot forget: a group of men in white are standing under the sky and pleading………. pleading with Allah for his mercy, for his forgiveness and for a lot more.  The tone is so intense that I wonder how can Allah refuse? I pray with them standing to the side feeling totally out of place and yet feeling totally in sync.

 My feeling of being lost is back and I look for the markers to get back to my tent. I don’t want them to leave without me. I find a nook and stand holding on to the rope of the tent and I pray for I don’t know how long. ………Suddenly I hear a sound someone is calling us to the bus, I turn and find the women are rushing to get on the bus. I join them and as the bus moves the sun begins its downward descent. A new day will begin with Maghrib.

Today was Arafah…………. Both the day and the place where I left my pain and my sins behind, and filling my abaya and my veil with the blessings of Allah, I board the bus to Muzdalifa.


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