By Aishah Schwartz
Originally published January 9, 2006
It's hard to believe this time last year (2005) I was at Arafat making Hajj. Al-hamdulillah!
What a difference there is between how I felt during that time and how I feel today.
While it is true that I have surrounded myself with reminders of being in the first 10 days of Dhul-Hijjah through prior blog posts and communication with friends via email, and tried to do a good deed here and there, the truth is there hasn't been much in my environment lending itself to the suggestion that Eid ul-Adha is supposed to be a time of festivity.
After rising from a short nap this afternoon I prayed Asr and dressed to go outside for a walk. Al-hamdulillah the weather is still quite pleasant here in Alexandria, although the skies were somewhat overcast, indicative of my non-festive mood.
On reaching the end of the street adjacent to the apartment building where I live, deciding to turn left, I immediately ran into an impromptu barnyard; a first sign of the upcoming Eid holiday. Subhan'Allah.
I started to walk right past the goat curled up on the sidewalk against the wall in front of a parked car, the cow tethered next to it, and the lamb watching me from across the street (pictured above), when I came to an abrupt stop to turn around, realizing I was leaving behind a perfect photo opportunity, which in turn, provided the inspiration for this story.
My mind is flooded, much like our campground was the day after we returned from Arafat to Mina during last year's Hajj. I remember thinking how symbolic it was that Mecca was hit with a rare, thunderous rainstorm that drenched the entire area, including our Mina campground, the day after Eid as many pilgrims began to depart for Masjid al Haram to make their final tawaf, marking the end of Hajj.
Pilgrim Mohamed Jamal Khan, from the Pakistani city of Peshawar summarized my thoughts most succinctly: "Rain is always a blessing and for it to fall so hard at the end of our hajj rituals means our sins are washed away and God has accepted our prayers."
Despite the subsequent flood that threatened to dampen the spirits of the record 2.56 million pilgrims, if a poll had been taken of the sisters in the camp at Mina that had been my home-away-from-home for the most amazing five days of my life, you would have been hard-pressed to find a single one anxious for the week to end.
On the contrary, we were most reluctant to leave behind the new friendships we had forged with one another, bonds made with sisters who had come from near and far. We had grown into this huge, somehow instantly and forever connected, happy family.
Returning from making the third and final jamarat the day after the flood, I knew the time had come to prepare for departure. However, I failed to realize on agreeing to be ready for boarding the bus back to Taif within five minutes, how impossible it would be to say goodbye in such a short period of time.
I solemnly walked down the indoor-outdoor green carpet path to the entrance of my tent, and stepping inside went straight to where my packed belongings were waiting for me.
As I reached to pick up my tote bag and turned around to face the tent's entrance again, there stood the group of sweet young sisters who had been my closest bunkmates. Tears immediately welled in my eyes as one by one they stepped forward to hug me. I somehow knew the next five minutes of my life would seem like an eternity as the farewells commenced.
Stepping outside the folds of the tent's opening, the biggest surprise of all was right before my eyes. Perched neatly in a row along the top of a short block wall sat each one of the nine servant girls who had adopted me (and I them), waiting for me to come out so they could say goodbye.
Passing by each one, feeling their arms embrace me, and meeting their tearful faces eye-to-eye, it felt as though my heart was being ripped right out of my chest.
The tiniest one, a young girl from Mecca, reminded me that she would gladly squeeze herself into my suit case and go home with me in order to continue her ritual of combing out my freshly shampooed hair; a memory that makes me smile every time I picture her innocent face.
But coming to the end of the line was the hardest thing ever, as there sat 'little u nour'. (That is how she always signs her text messages.) Nour (and her mother, Umm Mustafa) had become the most dear to me of everyone I had met that week. As her tear-filled eyes met mine, it felt as though I couldn't bear to say good-bye to her, and prying myself from her arms was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.
As our bus began the winding, slow journey out of Mina I pulled a niqab from my handbag and fastened it behind my head, grateful for the comfort it provided in covering the tears that continued to stream uncontrollably down my cheeks.
I sat reflectively and recalled my first Ramadan and the iftars shared with sisters who had gathered at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. One evening after breaking our fasts, praying Maghrib, and eating our mini-feast, we sat visiting, enjoying sweets and hot tea. After a short time our conversation ventured into the topic of Hajj. A few of the sisters had already made hajj and began to share their experiences. I remember, being that I was still pretty new to Islam, listening with the utmost attention, drinking in every word.
In that evening's conversation I heard the bad and the good, the harsh realities, the blessings and joys. I remember being so grateful for the opportunity to hear their stories. But what I remembered the most from that conversation as we drove out of Mina, having just completed my own hajj, was the unanimously spoken sentiment, "When it's time to leave, you won't want to go."
Watching Mina's seemingly endless sea of white tent domes pass from view, I realized no truer words had ever been spoken.
I found something recently in randomly reading through other blogs, that seemed so profound that I saved it, and tonight I think it pretty well wraps up my thoughts this Eid ul-Adha eve:
"Truly in the heart there is a void that cannot be removed except with the company of Allah. And in it there is a sadness that cannot be removed except with the happiness of knowing Allah. And in it there is an emptiness that cannot be filled except with love for Allah and by turning to and always remembering Him. And if a person were given all of the world and what is in it, it would not fill this emptiness." (Ibn al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyya)
Copyright © 2006 Aishah Schwartz
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