on 8th raat (of zilhaj), we took ehram. went to kaba, did our tawaf, and afterwards alifiyah and i rode up the escalator to the very top to baitullah. looked down upon kaba and were mesmorized by the view. being in the crowd doing tawaf, i had wanted space from the thousands of people pressed up against me. but here, up above it all, i suddenly felt proud to be part of the dense mass of people moving in a slow circle around kaba. it is a miraculous testament to faith, this sea of people moving endlessly in reverent circles.
the next morning we left for mina; we were part of a mass migration, millions of people riding buses, luggage racks, luxury cars. all headed in the same direction: mina, the tent city. to say that there are white tents as far as the eye can see is a major understatement. it is breathtaking, the tents stretching out in front of you in every direction.
we were settled into our tent and told to rest; the next day, arafa nu din, would be one of the most important of our lives.
arafa nu din was on a friday this year, marking this hajj as "akbari", or great. this was a day of crowds and sunlight and dust and heat; of people closing in around me as i trekked forward to arafa. on the way i coughed incessantly, i sliced my finger open, i limped. i listened to people's complaints mingling with their duas. on the road to arafa, i was firmly rooted to earth. i had to get somewhere and i was doing my best to get there. yet standing at arafa, hearing aqa moula's relay telling me that apnoo hajj kabul chay, was momentous for me. it lifted me out of the day's discomfort. i felt those moments at arafa penetrate deeply. i stood facing the setting sun, doing my dua, and i felt like i was being heard. and when i left arafa and headed towards muzdalifa, i emerged absolved, fresh and firmly resolved to hang on to this feeling for as long as possible. it was a rebirth in every sense.
spending the night at muzdalifa under the stars sounded poetic when we first learned of it. in reality, though, it was very cold and very wild. we shivered on thin blankets, felt rocks jutting into our sides and found our toes and fingers growing numb. winter nights in saudi can get quite cold, i found. waking up the next morning, our task was to find 70 jumraa stones on the side of the mountain. as i scoured the ground for these, i felt weak in body but strong in niyat. strong in mind. and that was what mattered; our bodies were not what this was about. my ankle was not what this was about.
the strength i felt surging through me was in direct conflict to my weakened body, and yet this conflict made perfect sense. i was able to feel sick and elated at the same time.
the next three days we spent shivering through a few hours of sleep in mina, walking until we found a ride to mecca, performing our zabiya or tawaf, walking behind buses, breathing in exhaust fumes just to reach the jumraa, throwing our stones and stumbling back to our tents, half asleep. repeating the same schedule for another day, and another. those days became a haze to me; the only thing that was clear was that i must keep going forward.
when our hajj was finally over, we returned to mecca and slept for two days. two days of catching up on sleep and allowing our exhaustion to finally take over; it was a luxury. i stayed off my ankle and i slept off the last few days, and emerged refreshed and ready to take advantage of my last few days in mecca.
for me, the highlight of these last few days was chumming hajar-al-aswad twice. this is quite a feat, in that the crowd around hajar-al-aswad is wild and chaotic and violent, and people will stop at nothing to get a chance to do it. the fact that i did it twice is unreal; without taher pushing me into the crowd and helping me burrow in there, there is no way i would have had the power to keep from being lifted above the crowd and spit out behind it. alhmadolillah, i had my chance.
one day, while we were doing tawaf, it began to rain. rain in this part of the world isn't exactly a common occurence, and on this evening, as it poured down upon us, we lifted our faces to it and just took in the beauty of it all.
we got raza to perform a second omra before we left for chicago, and on this day we went to gadir-e-khum and stood on the little hill upon which rasullilah stood. it was a moment of significance and i felt lucky to have seen this place with my own eyes. i will never again hear the story of gadir-e-khum without visualizing myself there. which, i suppose, can be said of so many of the significant places we visited in medina and mecca. history coming alive.