My mother had planned to perform Umrah. We were so sure, her cancer in remission, that already one of her sisters had promised to buy her an abaya & that all of us would take the trip together.
She’d even joked that each sister should stay in a separate room so the blessings gained not be ruined.
But instead, two months later, my father and I promised her grave that we’d make Umrah in her stead.
I won’t deny that my body thrums at the prospect of visiting Mecca. Fear laced with elation and dread digs at my chest.
The fear of not feeling the ethereal glow of a believer returning to the home of her Beloved or as the ‘Step by Step Umrah’ guide proclaims; ‘with tears in your eyes’ & ‘while trembling and crying with devotion’ & the pressure of feeling a very specific way and the assurance that I’ll gain some sort of peace. What if I feel none of those things? What if I am not moved with any emotion?
Does that make me heartless?
A second-rate Muslim?
And the more important question… who the hell am I?
Who am I to stand before the Ka’bah, when before it stood the Prophet and his Companions, and countless greats? Who am I to demand or ask of anything?
I am no one.
I will not fool myself into believing that by performing Umrah, all the wrongs in & outside of me will be instantly fixed, because if that were the case then this Ummah would be perfect. But how I want, but don’t want to break down then and there and just let all this turmoil & utter bewilderment at the state of things out.
Lord, accept me, let me be worthy to stand before your house & seek… gain anything.
We are a few minutes from entering the courtyard of Masjid al Haram. As we take the first steps its like entering a different dimension. A cool balm washes over me entirely but in no way slows down the sudden spike to my heart rate.
I am sweating from my hands and feet, like I am about to see a familiar face that I haven’t seen in ages.
At the first sight of the Ka’bah, my breath hitches at my throat & such a heavy weight attaches itself to my eyelashes that I can barely lift them, so bashful, unable to look straight ahead, that I have to hold on to my chest & just breath.
What can I say to You?
Here I am… Lord, Here I am
لَبَّيْكَ اللَّهُمَّ لَبَّيْكَ
As we enter the throng of bodies, slowly moving counterclockwise, surrounded by a multitude of languages murmuring in prayer, colorful Indonesian posses, booklets of prayers pressed to lips, hands lifted in unison, the countless unnamed cleaners picking up after pilgrims, the discoloration of the bottom of the Ka’bah from the thousands of imprints of fingers & kisses & foreheads, but the moment of awe and appraisal does not last long. My temper may get the best of me. I cannot focus or even appreciate my surroundings because of all the pushing, the claustrophobic closeness of sweaty limbs & torsos, being elbowed to the side as if it were a race, the pressure so intense on all sides that our ribcages are squeezed and we are literally lifted off of our feet, left at the mercy of this sea of the faithful. All are seeking blindly for blessings with complete disregard for courtesy and thats when I realize the naivety of thinking that at least in this holy place we’d shed our abysmal traits. I can only be alert & just fearful for that skinny figure before me… should he fall, should he faint, should he just… stop.
But my father pushes on, intent on fulfilling my mothers wishes. We get so close to the Ka’bah that I am able to touch it, rest my forehead to it. A woman next to me has her entire body pressed against the Ka’bah, her face hidden by the kiswah, sobbing uncontrollably that I almost pity her. But all I can think is…
She has my mother’s hands.
What I would give to hold onto it, kiss her palm and let it rest against my cheek just one last time.
But I didn’t cry then.
In fact I didn’t cry during those times that you’re ‘supposed’ to cry. It was in the calmest part of the Masjid, the basement. Cool and nearly empty I sat at the women’s section, waiting for salaat al asr. I watch a mother and her young daughter, she trying to coax her to eat something, while the little girl disgruntled to be stuck in such a quiet place, her arms crossed and leaning as far away from her mother. The azaan begins, women move up to fill up the lines, and I instinctively keep my right side empty… thats when it hit me.
You were supposed to be here.
I was supposed to take care of you this time.
And the pang of losing you just echoed & kept on echoing as we bent and kneeled, tears ebbing, then falling, wondering if this pain will ever subside. Because this facade is tiring. Each smile wearing this mask thin. So I place my face into my cupped hands, and without the eyes of baba, my sister, brothers, aunties, cousins, friends & enemies I wept & wallowed in my selfishness. I wept freely with no shame under the gaze of strangers.
It wasn’t till salaat al maghrib that I had an actual glimpse of this inner peace they speak of. We were between the Safaa & Marwaa, my father looking tired & each step heightening my unease in if he could finish this. Before our last lap, the azaan for salaat al maghrib is made, forcing us to stop. As we stand in line readying ourselves, a group moves among the crowd heading toward the Ka’bah, holding high above them a body, wrapped in kafan. This is the first body I’ve seen since mama’s. I get a flashback of my brothers carrying her above their heads down the flight of stairs of our house, my hands clenched into fists & freezing, as they are now. We begin to pray & when the first surah is recited, I look up, startled into a smile & I knew, all of this, it was for you and that at this precise moment you were in peace. Your favorite Sheikh, Abdul Ruhman Al-Sudais, would lead us in prayer, and with what Surah? Al-Alaq.
اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُ
الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ
عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ
“Read (Proclaim), and your Lord is the Most Generous,”
“Who taught by the Pen,”
“Taught man that which he knew not.”
After we finished our prayer, then went on to officially complete the Umrah, I finally kneel so I can begin my duaa’s for myself and others (I actually carried a notebook with a list, my memory is crap) But before I begin, I think to myself, this is an opportune moment to speak to You before I ask for others, if You could please pass on a message to Umi;
I sit behind baba often, covertly watching his silhouette. It’s changed umi. His posture was straighter with you. I realize it’s age, or maybe it’s the first time I can admit it to myself. I never knew just how hard headed he can be, unmovable on the smallest things, yet asks my advice on almost everything.
He tells me stories I’ve never heard before.
He says “these are for you to remember… to better you.”
He keeps asking when I plan to marry.
He prefers to take his walks alone.
I’ve yet to see him cry.
Baba’s brother said to me at your funeral, “Your mother was the tree that provided shade & unwavering support to your father for over fifty years… and now she’s gone”. I am trying to be that support Umi. Through all the frustrations, arguments & moments of weakness where I just want to abandon all responsibility because of my inadequacy… I remember you.
I miss you so much
Although I know our time on this earth must come to an end, take away the fear of the inevitability of another parents death, ease my thoughts & quiet these anxieties that I will not survive such a blow.
Do not break my back.
I am weak, flawed, exhausted, unsure and lost. Though you do not charge a soul with more than it can bear, remind me.
Lord extract this rage from my heart.
Give me the courage to be kind, to be patient and to be forgiving. Give me the courage to be vulnerable to those who deserve it, guard my heart from the impostors, and those who wish to harm and take advantage.
Let me not forget the beauty in mankind.
Never let me dull with hopelessness or apathy.
If a path is twisted, straighten it. If there is pain, relieve it. If there is doubt, illuminate it.
Whatever steps, whatever direction, I follow You. And I will question, and I will falter & at times halt, but I know You will forgive, for You do nothing without reason.
Here I am… Lord, Here I am
لَبَّيْكَ اللَّهُمَّ لَبَّيْكَ