Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hajj Vignettes #1

I wondered several times during Hajj if I would ever write about my feelings and experience. Maybe I would write poems. Poetry would provide just enough elusiveness that a reader would realize there was so much beyond what was written. Writing about hajj fills me with sorrow and longing—sorrow that the intensity of those days has faded, and longing to be one of those people who still have a visit with Allah (swt) waiting sometime ahead in their lives.

It never crossed my mind to bring a camera to Hajj, but everyone was snapping photos right and left. We stood at the top of the jamarat before Maghrib, watching the millions of people flocking from every corner of Mina to throw stones. I wish I had a picture to show my kids and friends what a magnificent sight that was.

This hajj was the first occasion in three years that I was completely kid-free. While my mind often drifted to my children, wondering if they were safe and how they were feeling, the peace and freedom of responsibility allowed me to withdraw completely into myself. No matter what the surroundings were—the crowds, the hot tents, the rattling, steamy buses—I could be quiet, look ahead, my body relaxed, my mind and heart somewhere else. Unlike many people around me, I tried not to worry about where we were going, when we would get there, whether my bags were lost, how clean the bathrooms were, or how many people I’d be rooming with. I did worry a little about the little person inside me—I was six months pregnant and my second priority, after fulfilling the rituals of Hajj, was taking care of myself.

Here is my hajj experience in short, descriptive paragraphs now and then, whenever I am feeling reflective or want to record a memory.

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A useful piece of advice someone gave my husband was: stay away from people who complain. Many times, I felt like I walked into a “Who is more miserable?” game show. Go for Hajj prepared for the worst. Then, when you meet it, smile and remember that it is part of the package whether you paid $4,000 or $9,000.

You will have endless cause to complain. You will wait at least eight hours in the airport for nothing in particular, you will have to go through senseless bureaucracy everywhere you go, you will be often haggard, lost, and confused and no one will tell you what’s going on or why you are in one bus and your husband was assigned to another, your group leader will stay in a hotel room while you and twelve other people share a bathroom in a stuffy two-room apartment, you will be counted and stamped and ordered around, it will be hot, you will sweat, your bus will break down a few miles from the hotel after a 20-hour bus ride, your bags will be misplaced and maybe your passport will be lost. Your group will turn off the AC and keep the windows shut, so you will sleep on the floor in the hallway. Plus, you might be pregnant with swollen feet.

Close your eyes, breathe, relax. Refuse to let anything bother you. Be like water, praising Allah, flowing peacefully through whatever gulley or jagged rock stands in your way. Smile, say “Alhamdulillah,” make dhikr, and when the complaining around you doesn’t stop, find the first polite excuse to walk away.

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Tawaf--rhythmic, blissful worship. Circling the kabah, peacefully, whispering remembrance, in a sea of people moving like waves. Smells like musk, black sky, white clothes, fresh breeze cooling our sweat, doves circling overhead. Ears filled with voices of praise, prayers, and pleas. The words drift from every direction, “O Allah, accept …. All praise…. wronged myself … Lord of the worlds… Merciful … I’ve come to You… Creator … Only you.” Glancing to kabah on the left, tears in the eyes, heart is full, mind drifts to the sky, up, up, above our heads, where angels are glorifying in parallel, circling the kabah of the heavens.

I am here, Allah, I am here.

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