Today is the day of Hajj. I can picture you waking up for Fajr prayer just before dawn. Was it 4:50 a.m.? I checked the prayer time online. Did you say your prayers in the tent? Probably. What did you have for breakfast? And as soon as you finished, your group leader must have ushered you all to the waiting bus, bound for Arafat, east of Mecca. Today, on this day of atonement, your mommy and Dad and millions of Muslims are fasting from daybreak to sundown.
I recall this day so well when years ago, Dad and I had performed the Hajj. We sat in the plaza outside the mosque in Arafat, under the blistering sun, finding relief in the spray of misters, (did you keep your umbrella?) and watched the personification of the glory of Islam. Old men, hobbling on their sticks, finding their way; hunched-back little old ladies, looking around for a place to sit, young men carrying toddlers on their shoulders, mothers nursing their babies, the blind, the lame, the infirm, the young, everyone congregating to glorify God. People of all nations, color, race, standing together in service of the one God. And then the Imam’s voice rang over the loud speaker and a quiet descended on the congregation as he began his sermon. This is where Prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon, when he said ‘…all men are born equal…no white man has superiority over a black man, no Arab has superiority over a non-Arab, no man has superiority over a woman…except in piety….” The Prophet was urging mankind to strive towards goodness, compassion, God consciousness, and service to humanity; and stressing that it is goodness that distinguishes you in the eyes of God, not your color, national origin, or gender. I always felt that this was the essence of the Prophet’s message: if you want to excel, compete in being good to your fellow human beings. And of course, don’t I love the woman piece. This has been my mantra each time I had pushed for the rights of women. I prayed that Muslims pay heed to the Prophet’s message, and practice what he preached.
Prayer over, we filed out with the million others, chanting Labaek. It was a slow walk, an orderly walk, and despite the intense heat, no one felt hurried. Two million people chanting Labaek. I sensed that here, in this spot, the world is at peace. Such is the power of communion with God.
Standing at Mount Arafat in prayer before sunset, I pulled out my prayer list, and prayed for my loved ones, our nation, for Muslims, for humankind. As I stood among millions, extending my arms to the Almighty God, I experienced the one of the most sublime moments of my life. This connection with God, on this day, in the plain of Arafat, is the essence of Hajj.
As you raise your hands in supplication, pray that Allah guide you on the right path, pray for the health and well being of you, your dear wife and your little girl;
Pray for us all (you have my prayer list, right?)
Pray for your family, friends, colleagues and all those who asked you to keep them in your prayers;
Remember that today marks the 15th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11. Pray for those who perished, pray for their families, and pray that our wounds are healed and our communities come together.
Pray for peace and harmony in our homes, in our neighborhoods, our communities, our nation, and beyond our shores.
Pray, and He will hear you. Ameen.
Under the Stars
You will be leaving Arafat before sundown. I remember how crowded it got as millions headed out for Muzdalifa, where pilgrims spend the cool night in the open, in communion with God. Riding in the comfort of an air conditioned bus, dinner from our boxed dinners, I looked out the window at the sight of pilgrims walking to Muzdalifa. Many who could not afford the bus ride, just walked. Traffic was so slow that many pedestrians got there before we did. Now they have a rail connection. How did you make out? Sitting under the stars on a rug spread on the ground studded with pebbles, I studied the Quran in the light of a battery-operated magnifying glass. In the quiet of the night, pilgrims collected 49 pebbles each, to take back to Mina to stone the pillars signifying the devil. As two million people went about quietly collecting pebbles, stooping over the ground, the only sound I heard in the night, was the clicking of pebbles, ‘tick tick tick tick’. The desert night gets quite cold. I hope you have a blanket with you. But it is also a beautiful night. I sat under the stars and watched the night turn into day, as I recited the names of Allah on my prayer beads. Take it all in, son. You will remember this night and tell this story when you tuck in your little girl for the night.
Have a safe ride back to Mina.
All my love,
Audio book available, narrated by author