Something happened during our pilgrimage and Umra trip.
Want to sit with me in a time machine? Do you want to go to Makkah and Madina? Join us in 1987 when my husband and I went there from Kuwait by road. Today, I’m feeling very emotional. It is birthday of Muhammad (PBUH) and I’m remembering how much his life has affected mine. I’ve never met him, but the impact has been there. I guess that is why God decided to make him His last representative on earth.
My husband and I were on deputation to Kuwait. He was a Captain in Kuwaiti Air Force.
Adventurous as we were, we decided to go for pilgrimage on our own by road. Usually, people went with friends, for security, as it was a very long journey of thousands of kilometers. My husband and I had already been to Europe with our one-year-old daughter. So we packed our two little girls aged two years and ten-month-old Nataliya and five-month-old Nadiya, in the car and drove off.
Our trip was going well, in spite of some real adventures which are almost inevitable on road trips. I may share some with you later on, but today I’m telling you about this Umra trip, and what happened afterwards. So, we first performed our Umra in Makkah.
Now, a little flash back: Ever since Nadiya was born, I tried to bring down my weight with exercises. I’d do my work-out with Jane Fonda video on our VCR. I don’t know how, but my right knee got badly strained and swollen with it. So, here we were on this long journey for Umra which involves a lot of walking, mostly while carrying the baby – with my bad knee. In spite of the pain, I wan’t going to let a bad knee stop me from this lifetime event!
So, anyhow the Umra went well. Even though at times, I’d forget the prayers I’d wanted to say there, and just pray to God to get me through this phase in the Umra process, specially the ‘saee’ between the two mountains of Safa and Marwa, due to the pain.
Alhamdolillah, we managed to perform three Umras each. My husband did one from himself, then one each from both our father’s sides. I did three too; one from my side, and then one each from both our mothers’ sides. (My mother had not yet converted to Islam and was still a Christian, but I performed it from her side too, stating to God that it was between Him and her – I’m doing my daughterly job.) He knew, I was a good Muslim, (hopefully) only due to her efforts to get me the best molvi sahabs or preachers to teach me during my childhood.
Another important prologue to this story: While in Kuwait, when we told our friends about going for Umra, they warned us that due to the Russian invasion and Afghan war, too many migrant Afghanis were now present in Makkah and Medina. Many of them were carrying the deadly leprosy disease. That was in my mind. So, between the leprosy fear, and the Aids horror prevalent in the world I was ultra careful. The moment we went to a hotel room, I’d first go to the washroom armed with my gloves and antiseptic liquids and wash the whole place. I didn’t want my family to fall ill.
Ok, now back to our trip in Saudi Arabia. We had performed the Umra successfully in Makkah. So, we decided to go to Medina by the old route.
It was a lovely day, and we drove at our own pace, following a police car on the way, my husband was wondering if it would be okay to overtake a police car!
We photographed the camels in the desert, realizing they were rather small compared to the ones in Pakistan.
I guess the deserts there hardly have much grass worth eating! But it was a lovely drive. We also went to Badar where we saw the battlefield where the great battle of Badar was fought.
It was water wells, which were part of the strategy, which was symbolized here too.
By the time we reached Medina, it was Maghrib time.
We hurriedly reached, parked the car next to Masjid-e-Nabwi, my husband went to join the gents’ section which was nearby. I tried to walk over to the ladies’ side with Nataliya walking next to me, while carrying the bag and Nadiya in her carrycot. The ladies’ section was too far from the car park. As I started walking faster, I realized we were surrounded by locusts. I looked up and saw thousands of them flying in circles around us. Each one was about three inches long and at least half-inch thick, its color was blackish. They were frantically flying all around us. Nataliya got terrified, and she clung to me. Now, I had to carry both of them while walking. The main prayers had begun, so I decided to join in.
I saw a beggar lady saying her prayers, to my right, near a wall. She was shrouded in black and praying while sitting. I could make out her dark colored face which looked … yes ugly. Normally, I don’t judge looks, but she was exceptionally plain and thin looking. I couldn’t help but think ‘here is a woman with leprosy!’
I remembered that you can make a ‘jamat’ even with one other person. So, I set my bag and baby’s carry cot next to her on the floor, and joined her in prayer. She became aware of me praying next to her. I had a prayer mat with me, and had quickly spread it and stood to pray. As I prayed, the locusts would keep falling on the prayer area. It was scary. I saw her hand would come to sweep off the locust from in front of me. I was worried about her being infected with leprosy also. When you are a mother, you become more conscious of such things. My children were also crying due to being terrified. When she finished her prayers she tried to console Nataliya, as I continued with my prayers. I was deeply touched by her gesture. I was mortified at the way I had thought of her when I looked at her face. She was the epitome of kindness.
I felt so small and ashamed.
As the praying finished, I thanked the lady. Feeling bad that I had no cash with me, to give her, most of these ladies sit here for alms. I finally picked up my bag, Nataliya, and Nadiya in her carry-cot. Ignoring my painful knee, I started walking through the crowd of men going towards the car park from their prayers. Each one of those passing near me saw my dilemma – a woman limping while carrying two screaming and agitated children. They, too could see the locusts all around us. Not a single one of them, stopped to help me. Tears streamed down my face for the pain of my knee, my situation and the greater pain of men walking by me, not offering to help.
By the time I got to our car, and Najib joined me, I was very upset. We settled the children in. I knew, my husband would definitely have stopped to help a woman in distress. But still I asked him, ‘wouldn’t you have helped?’ Can you imagine? Why didn’t they offer to help me? No one stopped or asked. Someone could have taken a bag or carrycot or …
Here were devout Muslims, all walking by, afraid to help. – just because I’m a woman? Why? I was upset and furious. I said, ‘I do not want to be considered one of them. I want to meet the Imam now,’
‘Aisay hi to nahi hum sari duniya say jootay kha rahay hein!’ (Muslims are’nt getting the battering from the whole world for nothing!) My husband murmured. He too felt upset at my emotional outburst. We turned and saw the Imam and his entourage being taken away in their dashing black cars. We turned, and sat in our car.
With tears streaming down my face, suddenly, I remembered Muhammad (PBUH). I remembered, this man who was peacefully sleeping in his grave near-by. We are the followers of a human being who loved humanity so much. He was the one who had gone to ask about the well-being of a woman, who would daily throw her garbage on his head, as he passed by her house for saying his prayers. One day she didn’t throw the garbage. So he went in to ask if she was all right? Why wasn’t that woman standing on that balcony up there, as she usually did. He was told, she is ill. So, he went to her to ask how she is, if he could do anything for her. She was so overwhelmed by this act of his, that she converted there and then.
The moment these thoughts passed my mind, I became calm. I felt that he is the man who brought Islam to its climax. As the great someone once said, ‘hope you are not confusing Muslims with Islam?’
No. I’m not.
Not anymore. We Muslims have a long way to go, before we can be the followers of such a great human being and prophet.
I’m driving in our Air Force colony in Islamabad, around 2004. I’m driving alone. I see a man walking while carrying a rather grown child – about twelve years old. I stop the car. I offer to give him a lift. As he settles into the back seat, after making his child comfortable, I find out that he brings his child here for treatment and physiotherapy every week from Rawalpindi. – about thirty kilometers away. He has to carry his special child for over a kilometer to the wagon stand.
My daughters, often wonder why I’m extra kind to people on the way, whenever I can help.
It is because of a man named Muhammad (Peace be upon him) lived in this world, and taught us empathy. It is his birthday today, let us all say durood and salaam for him. We are truly blessed. Let us all perform a simple act of kindness today and everyday, just because we say: La Illaha ill Allahu Muhammad ar rasul Allah.
Stay blessed my dear Reader.
Note: All photographs taken by Captain Muhammad Najib Khan.