Hajj: The Parallel Universe


Flickr: Muhammad Ghouri

Allow me to sweep you toward a parallel universe, one that has been chronicled to change lives, the pilgrimage to the House of God, the Hajj.

Destiny opened the door to me in April 1989, when I made Ummrah, the lesser pilgrimage made in the off-season, with my husband and 11 other members of his family. By that time, we had been married seven years and had tried several interventions to procure a sustainable pregnancy.

It was said that water from the Meccan holy spring of Zamzam could cure. We all prayed, dutifully performed the sacred rites, the same as in Hajj, and I discovered myself expecting what was to be the first of our four offspring by the time we arrived after our Ummrah to Jerusalem. It was an experience that certainly changed my life, and I still recall the unique and other-worldly perceptions from it.

That is why I gladly accepted the offer of Dr. Badar Zaheer to edit and assist with editing and publishing his work, Hajj: Medical and Practical Solutions (ISBN: 978-1-4675-8505-7). At this time, it is in formatting for publication and Dr. Zaheer will be sharing information from it relevant to pilgrims who have medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and some of the general cautions about avoiding dehydration, crowd control, fitness and conditioning before the journey, in-flight exercise, and emergency phone numbers while on Hajj. I will also field questions and inquiries on behalf of ladies who may prefer to talk to another woman about our special issues and medical needs.

The previous blog, “So You Think You Can’t Write” was intended to invite fellow teachers and writers to realize that everyone can document, employ the process of writing, distill through multiple passes of the editing process, and procure something rich. I was not disappointed in the result. There was the prospect that I might teach middle school writing this year, in addition to my other projects, but I was delivered something better suited to my interests with this Hajj project. I believe it will bloom into more editing projects and publishing of my own work and others’.

As preparation for this assignment, my local library presented The Art of Hajj by Venetia Porter (ISBN: 978-1-56656-884-5). It is part of the Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys that I have cited before. The book meshes art, including print, textiles, photography, and various Islamic antiquities, with rich prose, quotations, and translations of script from those artifacts. It is a work of love and beauty, and it took me back…

…to Taif, where the Prophet Mohammad was once stoned and chased out of town by its people. Except that later, they greeted him back warmly when many of its residents accepted Islam. (Read the whole story here http://www.saudilife.net/saudi-arabia/84-personalities/252-taifs-most-epic-story) We’d driven all night through the desert in a GMC with seven children and six adults. I recall that we had to stop a few times for bathroom breaks and to pray at a mosque that was juxtaposed to a gas station. It was morning, and we saw a Saudi Arabia different that I’d seen in pictures. This place was green and mountainous. There was a garden park by a city center with fragrant flower bushes, and we ordered carry-out breakfast consisting of hummus, fava beans with lemon and salt, tea, and flatbread. Our next stop was to be Mecca, and I’d longed to see her. However, to my alarm, when using the restroom, I’d noticed that I’d started to spot blood. This condition did not permit me to pray. Dashed expectations, hiding tears while seeing my own reflection on the GMC’s window; I felt dismally that God did not want me!

We arrived outside the Harem (the Sanctuary) in Mecca, the place where all the Hajj photos show crowds circumambulating around the black cube-shaped building, the Kaba, the place of the first house of worship to God, build by Abraham (Ibrahim) who which monotheism is attributed.

It was necessary before entering the Harem to use the restroom (to find that I was able to pray again), wash and prepare for the rites. Outside the building, it was not clean, not feeling very hospitable, nor comfortable, and I was wearing a black abaya over a long, thin house dress topped off with a wrapped black headscarf.

We entered the immense, monumental building, and suddenly everything within me and around me became perfectly calm. I saw in the inner court the black Kaba in the center of a white, round, marble floor with pilgrims circling it in a consistent and orderly manner. I approached the periphery, my feet on comfortable, red carpeting, into a type of amphitheater surrounding the entire scene and on multiple levels.

My father-in-law, who knew no English, gently took my hand and led me, with an excited look in his eye, and explained many details he thought I should know about it in Arabic. Somehow, I understood everything he said, and he even pointed out to me the Station of Abraham, where a footprint cast in mud is attributed to be his and housed in an ornate case on the clean, cool, white marble floor.

Our niece and my husband’s sister walked the expanse with me all around the amphitheater, and witnessed the men and women circumambulating just below our level but in closer proximity to the Kaba. Then we prayed and sat for I do not know how long. Time stood still; I was content, felt I was home, and did not care to ever leave that place. I was bewildered and in love with the immense feeling of peace, simple, such simple peace.

Eventually, we were summoned to drink Zamzam water from those big thermos containers that football coaches get drenched with after a victory. I was told to drink until I was bloated from it, and then we went to the next rite which was to kind of jog or speedwalk from one end of a long hallway to another. That was formerly the span between two desert mounts, Safa and Marwa. This was where Abraham’s maidservant, Hajar, the mother of Ishmael, who was the brother of Issac, ran in desperation seeking water for herself and her young son. That event is what procured the miracle of God revealing the spring water of Zamzam to her. She was lost in a hopeless place, and God provided relief. The miracle of it parallels our lives and encourages trust in God.

After drinking yet more from Zamzam, we went on to Muzdalifah to gather some pebbles and to Mina where we threw them at the Jamarat pillars, symbolically re-enacting an event whereby Abraham obeyed Angel Gabriel’s order to pelt the Devil in rejection of temptation. Finally, we blazed the desert in the GMC to arrive at Mt. Arafat to conclude our rites and went on to Medina, the friendly city where the Prophet, established a community, received more revelations of Qur’an, and lived 10 years before being able to return to Mecca in a peaceful homecoming and transfer of authority where no one was to be harmed after many years of conflict.

Next, we visited the coastal city of Jeddah, a more liberal, humid, and crowded place where ex-pats work and trade. Completely exhausted, we drove all the way back to Riyadh, and shortly thereafter flew to Amman  eventually traversing to Jerusalem where I learned that Zamzam and prayers really worked! My first child was born that December.

If you are going to Hajj, I do recommend Dr. Zaheer’s book (ISBN: 978-1-4675-8505-7), but we are not certain if it will be quite ready in time for this Hajj. If you are an arm chair traveler, you will be swept as near as possible—without having to pay for plane fare—to that parallel universe experienced by those on Hajj.

They say the Kaba  is the Heart of the Universe, and it may well be because the continuous focus and worship of those toward the Creator is a unique power, a force, a love without limitations through time and space. I still feel it.

The first House (of worship) appointed for men was that at Mecca. Full of blessing and of guidance for all kinds of beings.

In it are signs manifest; the Station of Abraham. Whoever enters it attains security. Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to God. Those who can afford the journey, but if any deny faith, God stands not in need of any of His creatures (3:96-97 Holy Qur’an)

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