Muslims feel peacefulness and serenity around the Kabah like nowhere else in the world.

In a far away land, I walked. Tired, weary, exhausted, and sleepy, I kept walking. The sun was burning into my eyes and the heat was hurting my aching head. I was drained out, thirsty, and physically fatigued. I looked deep inside me and thought: “Was that burly woman really me? I never knew her to be that sturdy!”

Yet, somehow, she didn’t feel any of this. She just kept going. I saw her pouring bottles and bottles of icy water over her covered head, to keep her going. “Nothing would stop me now,” she thought to herself. I didn’t feel I was there anymore. I felt I left “me” somewhere, with all the troubles and pains of the world, back there, in my hometown. Then, just headed towards my real home, embedded within my inner soul!

I don’t know where I got this inner joy and calm self. This woman didn’t really notice any of the surrounding crowd, noise, trash, and thousands of pilgrims walking beside me. Usually, noise distorts my fragile head, and I never take crowds or trash. But, we were all walking towards the same destination, each one of the thousands, walking shoulder to shoulder with some other pilgrim, concerned with only one thing: “I’m finally going to stone him out of my life!”

This was partly what occupied my thoughts during my three-to-four hour walk, from and back of my Mina camp, to the stoning-of-the devil place. “I hardly ever walk more than 15 minutes… And… in the sun!” I laughed to myself and continued.

I stood there, silently in peaceful tears, throwing the small pebbles. Oh yes! It is over. “Am never gonna be weak again.” “Am never gonna feel bad again.” “I will never be angry at myself again.” “I will never be disappointed in people again.” “I’ll never feel sad again.” “I will never ache deeply, when it doesn’t work, again.” “I will always regain my happy self and won’t ever give up again.”

Oh! I know Satan is not really standing in front of me waiting for my pebbles! But, the weak, wicked self that’s hiding within me, and within each one of us, is simply being stoned right now. Yes, I am throwing these little pebbles into my inner bad one. She is finally out of my life. I’ll never be unhappy again! Alhamdulillah.

Just a couple of hours ago, I stood on Mount Arafah, asking for forgiveness. I mean, I should have asked for forgiveness. And, yes, I did. This is why we are there. But, what took my heart more was the asking for closeness. I never felt that close. Again, despite the crowd, despite the thousands and thousands of pilgrim-white brothers and sisters, I felt so close. Oh! I hate crowds. I mean, I used to hate crowds, and still do, actually.

But that moment, I couldn’t afford to hate anything. I just loved everything. I loved the place, I loved the people, I loved the smiles on all faces, and I loved the tears shed from each eye I looked at. I loved the sobbing murmur that prevailed over the mountain. I really didn’t want to come back.

Somehow, I felt God is there on the mountain. Of course, not physically there, for Allah is the One Who created physics and places, and He is beyond being encompassed within His own creation. But, standing on Mount Arafah gets you terribly close. You feel you really made it. You feel He is answering to you, word by word, murmur by murmur, and sob by sob!

For long years I prayed and asked Allah to take me there. I repetitively asked Allah in my sujud (prostration), humbly touching the floor with my aching head: “Oh, Allah, take me to hajj.

Practically, there was no hope, for I had no means for hajj. But, in five years of repeating the humble prayer, somehow, I found myself prostrating on Mount Arafah, and pleading: “Get me closer.”

It was painfully hard to leave this beauty behind, and go back to the tough days and nights of our world. But, I had to. Hajj was over and I had to go back. It was weird how I ached for the departing with my fellow pilgrims, those whom I hardly knew before, yet I shared with them the happiest moments of my life. How come my heart is craving for them, this very moment, writing these words?

It was nearly four years ago, when I had to perform my farewell circumambulation of the Kabah. The terrible crowd squeezed me between the men. Oh! I didn’t like that! I silently searched for any group of women to squeeze myself in between. Here comes the most beautiful scene I ever saw in my life.

Two lovely African pilgrim sisters who were not dressed in the popular pilgrim white, walked unhurriedly in front of me. They strongly kept their physical attachment, like a small train, to avoid losing one another. But, they definitely wouldn’t have ever lost one another, for they were dressed in their country map-designed dress. That was creative, I thought. We Muslims make our own world!

I ignored my nagging smile at the thought and pushed my body towards their small train. I caught the back of the sister and hung on. In a glimpse of panic, she looked back to check who is hanging to her back. When she saw me, I gave her some signs to explain that I want to join in. She tenderly patted my shoulder with a smile and we moved on. A minute later, in my glimpse of panic, I looked back to check who was that hanging to my back. Here came an Indian sister who gave me some signs explaining that she wants to join in. I welcomed her with a smile and the sisterly train moved on.

The small train became bigger and bigger. Sisters from different countries, continents, and ethnicities joined in. Silently we communicated with a smile and a gesture. None of us knew the language of the other. Africans, Indians, Arabs, Americans, and Asians we were, and we knew nothing about each other, except what our hearts carried of love to the One and Only, and the pain of departure. We had to circumambulate the Kabah seven times. In the terrible crowd, it took us more than an hour. Silently, for a whole hour, we hugged each other’s backs and moved peacefully.

When I finished my seven rounds, I had to go. I offered my peaceful salams to the dear sisters and they sadly let me go. We exchanged sisterly hugs and tender smiles, embedded in loving tears. We hardly exchanged a word. But, we exchanged the love of the whole world. I do not know their names or even recall their faces. Yet, I will never forget my sisterly train companions, and till today, whenever I recall these moments, I feel their tender hug.

In a couple of days, Makkah gained more beauty. The crowd was substituted by peaceful silence and hushing murmurs of worshippers who stayed behind. The rest departed to Madinah, the City of Light, or went back to their homes. I was happy to stay behind for a couple of days.

I stood there, under the dark sky shining with stars and sobbed. I was nearly all alone in front of the Kabah, waiting for dawn to show up. The night was dark, but full of light. It was time to enjoy the feeling; the courtyard of the mosque was nearly mine. This good one inside me was happy. She didn’t want to leave.

For the first time in my life, I sincerely and peacefully wished “something close to death”. Hey, Reader, don’t get me wrong. It is just that she felt happiness and inner piece that I never thought existed. She kept nagging me with the idea: “You’ll never find that when you go back. Back to life is full of hardships, pains, dissatisfactions, and disappointing people.”

I wasn’t sure then, which one of them was nagging me! Was it the good one, or the bad one? But, honestly I didn’t care. We were all happy.

Dawn was approaching, and I was leaving after sunset. I had to confirm my wishful list. I stood there in my tears asking Allah for more and more. I carried my pilgrimage list of requests in my heart, and I repeated in a humble request: “Oh, Allah, I know that many of my list-prayers might seem to be miraculous and wishful thinking, but You are Capable.”

Today, after four years, I look back at my list and find that miraculously I was able to cross out most of my points. Oh! He did respond. I was sure He would. Why did people keep telling me: “You are only dreaming?” Well, Allah heard me that night. He gave me the message of acceptance again and again throughout my last four years. Who else would respond to such wild and passionate hopes and dreams? Who else would understand my needs?

Today, I am peacefully waiting for the rest of my list to be fulfilled. Allah has promised acceptance of prayers in general, what about the prayers of a pilgrim. Someday, I am sure the rest of my long list will walk down my path with a smile. I have nothing more to ask, except more closeness and nearness, and that’s why I still want to go. It should be once in a lifetime. But, once is not enough for me. Again and again, I would want to go.

By Dalia Salaheldin