Monday, November 21, 2011

Lingering Hellos and Long Good-byes

I had to eat my words after assuring my daughters I would pray for everything on the wish lists they were drawing up for our hajj pilgrimage.

"How do you spell 'sister'?" came the voice of my six-year-old, who was crouched over the kitchen table with a pen and paper.

"What?!" I exclaimed. "You already have two sisters! What do you want a another one for?"

The next time I handled those lists I was sitting cross-legged in the courtyard of Medina's Masjid Nabawi (mosque and burial place of Prophet Muhammad (S)). It was here, in full view of the parrot green dome of the original mosque, that I found the most serene, calming and reverent of spaces.

This corridor seemed to attract the most passionate visitors of the Prophet (S), those who had waited a long time, came from afar and were determined to stay awhile, though the mosque's religious police insisted on shooing people away, expecting them to drop off their salaams to the Prophet (S) with the haste and indifference of a mail carrier.

Behind me, a large group of Turks sat in a circle and chanted a chorus of melodious praises of the Prophet (S).  Nearby, an Indo-Pak man stood barefoot, head bowed while facing the mosque, tears streaming down his black beard. Another whispered: "Ya Nabi, Salaam Alaika...."

"God and His angels send blessings on the Prophet: O ye who believe! Send ye blessings on him and salute him with all respect." (Quran 33: 56)

Indeed, the Prophet (S) promises to personally hear those "who invoke blessings upon me by my grave," and also encouraged us to be generous and expansive with our words.

Don't utter "batar salawat," (curtailed invocations) he warned. "Say: 'O Allah, send blessings on Muhammad and the family of Muhammad."

The Prophet's (S) own daughter Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times) used to visit her father's grave frequently and is recorded to have said: "We have missed you the way parched land misses the rainfall!"

As the crowd burgeoned, the religious police appeared, calling "Namaz! Namaz!" and ushering us to the prayer areas though congregational prayer time was still aways off.

One reached for my book of supplications. "No!" I chided, tucking it back into my travel pouch. Few people moved.

Then came the uniformed security officials afoot. It was only after they started driving their SUVs into the crowds that people began dispersing.

To avoid a possible "bloody confrontation" one day, scholar Muhammad al-Asi proposes "a body of credible Islamic scholars be assigned the responsibility of regulating the Islamic activities pertinent to Mecca and Medina." That's "provided that they are not employed by any government, they are not getting orders from any authorities and they try their best to administer these areas in fulfillment of the Quran and the Sunnah."

One soft-spoken hajji from Uzbekistan, not more than 20 years of age, wearing a green vest and cap and flanked by his group's elderly women, calmly protested to the police. After failing to negotiate more time, he took the women aside, debriefed them and gently led them to nearby Janat ul-Baqi, where many of the Prophet's (S) loved ones are buried.

As I gathered my belongings, I couldn't help but utter a heartfelt supplication to God to bless us all with children--whether boys or girls--who grow up to have the courage, passion and good manners of that Uzbeki lover of RasulAllah (S).

Saying farewell is tough--I do exclaim!
Farewell to the Prophet, the friend of the Lord!
Farewell to the four graves abandoned behind bars!
Farewell to you, O Land all Divine! 
(Translated excerpt of the Farsi Farewell Medina)

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