12: MISSION POSSIBLE
After our ‘sight seeing’ of Arafat we made our way back towards our tents. The air had cooled quite a bit by the time we got there. Our companions were already waiting at the tents, some still absorbed in worship and prayer. Everyone was eager to travel onto Muzdalifah where we would pray our sunset and night prayer together (Maghrib and Isha) and spend the night under the stars.
On our arrival, our Amir announced that it was time to make preparation and start the journey. The last few moments of the day was ebbing away as the glorious sun began to set. The moment of barakah was leaving us and a great silence had enveloped our group. We had to rush to get to Muzdalifah.
I had some nagging questions plaguing my mind: Did I do things properly? Did I use my time wisely? This precious day of Arafat I had anticipated for so long was now departing, depriving us of its blessings and opportunities. In the past, it had been a goal that seemed so unachievable and distant. Finally, traveling to Makkah and performing the Hajj I had experienced such emotion and spiritual renewal on this day. I had poured my heart out and asked from the deepest recesses of my heart. Parts of my soul were exposed, I had been set free and I had met the real me.
This day of Arafat had been so cherished but the day had passed quickly through my fingers like grains of sand. Well, probably not grains of sands but more like grains of priceless jewels, which I felt I might have squandered. Maybe Allah will give me another opportunity in my later years to repeat this dream.
With a sad and weary heart, I made preparations and headed towards the long lines of buses, which hummed their own song as they waited patiently for their impatient passengers. For a moment, I stepped out of my spiritual world and joined the unforgiving, unrelenting rat race of Dunya. As the final rays of light left the darkening sky, the seal to this extra-ordinary day was also set - closing an important chapter in my life. It had changed me and put me in touch with an inner reality, which had awakened me from a decadent slumber.
I sat on the bus on the stop-start journey to Muzdalifah. I was absorbed in deep thought as I reflected on the day's events. It was only then that I realized all the many things I had forgotten to ask for. It's like when you have made a long phone call to say Turkey. Its only when you finish the call you remember all the important things you forgot to say.
As we approached our place in Muzdalifah, in every direction there were only multitudes of souls that decorated the whole landscape. They were all Hajjis and we had reached Muzdalifah. It was like a huge camping site without any tents with only the clear starry sky above us. Bodies were littered everywhere just as you would see in Glasgow green on a hot summers day. You can imagine everyone competing for a place in Glasgow so that they enjoy the sun.
This was exactly the same but there was no grass below our feet and no sunshine above our heads. Our mission was not to get a tan but to collect forty-nine small stones to be used later in the Hajj. These stones would be used to pelt the stone pillars that represent the Shaytan. I had the desire to collect 70 stoned so I could give the Shaytan a proper doing and maybe keep a few spares in case I lost some. After seeing so many people there, this desire was quickly replaced by a fear that I might not find any pebbles!
The bus finally ground to a halt and the Amir indicated for us to get off. I was ready with my bag over my shoulder. Like a leopard I pounced off the bus landing on the balls of my feet, ready to pounce on the first stone I lay sight on. My ice-cold gaze scrutinized the sand at our feet for my first victim. I knew, with lighting reflexes, the stone would be safely in my bag before anyone else had even blinked! But first we had to find a spot to camp and settle down so I switched off 'Commando Hammy' until the hunt for stones started!
After arriving at our camping site, I felt utterly exhausted, not from the walking or the chocking pollution from the buses but from mental tiredness. Muzdalifah is an open sandy plain where the Hajjis camp for the night and perform their prayers. They also collect small stones, which will be used over the next few days.
I too spread out a cloth on the sand and laid down to rest under the stars. Just as I took the load off my feet, it was time for us to pray our Maghrib and Isha Salah. Both these prayers are performed together in Muzdalifah. We all assembled and stood shoulder to shoulder. We prayed in the cool desert air and for a moment we were at peace. The hum of people performing their prayers was constantly in the air like a soothing melody being played in the background. It was such a relaxed atmosphere with barakah (blessing) descending on this wonderful place.
Straight after Salah, I got on the case of finding the missing stones. At the start I was a bit worried but before I knew it I was counting one, two, three .. and I was well on my way to meet my target. All my earlier fears of not finding enough stones had disappeared as I took my time finding small stones. I would occasionally look up at some of the brothers in action. It was an almost a comical scene with some people laughing and joking as they searched whilst others had worried looks on their faces as they frantically searched the desert sand.
One concern I had was that the stones I was finding were a bit tiny but when I shared by worries with brother Abdul Raqeeb, he just said, “They are bricks Hammy compared to what we need, don’t worry.” I chucked a lot of the bigger stones away (which were only the size of marbles) and continued to find the pea-sized ones. I found a total of seventy stones even though I needed forty-nine before I went back to our camping area.
I was exhausted after the whole days events. I lay under the star-studded winter night thinking about the day’s event, the journey so far and about the days ahead. My mind wandered back to my family and I recalled all the great moments I shared with my loved ones. Sometimes we forget how important and precious these times are. Its only when we are away from them that we realize how much we love and need them.
I thought about the tears and joys, the roller coaster journey called life. I remember the birth of my daughter – this precious gift from Allah. I was almost re-living the joy. I could feel my stomach clenching and tears in my eyes. You might think I’m a ‘sado’ but I was chocked with emotion. I was missing home so much and longed to be surrounded by my loved ones. I knew I would rejoin them soon but for now I had more pressing matters to deal with and this journey was still far from completion.
I hadn’t eaten for hours and this coupled with exhaustion, I felt weak. A few of the brothers were sitting so I joined them and we ate together. We shared the dates, bread, cheese, olives and biscuits. It was just a small amount of food, more of a snack than a meal and it was barely enough to satisfy our hunger.
I had my stones in a pouch, which I guarded as if they were a stash of diamonds. I would need these over the next few days and I knew I had a few extras in case some of the group lost theirs or if I dropped some. Armed and ready, I hit the sack knowing that tomorrow would be a tough day. It would be tough in the sense that many people die during the next stage because of the sheer numbers. People get crushed and injured as millions of Hajjis congregate to the stone pillars. I, on the other hand, was mentally prepared and knew that where life took me I was ready.
It would soon be time for Fajr Salah and I didn’t expect to sleep but I soon sank into a deep peaceful sleep.