21. “My center” (The Hajj Journal)

September 17, 2015

I returned to the Haram today, intent on doing tawaf again. I stood outside the whirlpool of people, mentally preparing myself to go in. I was on the ground level. The Ka’ba towered over the crowd before me. I began walking towards the entrance into the centrifuge of people (check analogy), ready to just dive in. I felt the same way one does before diving into water. I paused, listening to the roar of footsteps, sounding like a water fall. A deep breath, and I was in.

I kept my mind focused; I allowed whatever prayer came to my heart; and in the interim between thoughts and prayer, I simply uttered “SubhanAllah, alhumdulilah, la ilahail Allah, Allahu Akbar.” I let myself be swept into the crush of people. And in doing so, I felt like I was doing an act of worship, like a long, walking prayer. People would push, bodies would squeeze, the sweat and heat and breaths of thousands of people hung over us, in the afternoon sun. And I just accepted it. Everything around me felt like I was in a dream. I walked slowly methodically, at the pace of those around me. I didn’t let myself get upset.

Keep your center

A month ago, I started self defence training with Adeel (this tangent is related, I promise). One of the things he taught me was how to stand how to move, and to always keep yourself centered. Always stay centered. And when the crowd would push forward, I would walk forward in the stances he taught me. My center, an inner, peaceful grace at ease with everything around me.

When I was being pushed into someone in need—a lady being pushed in a wheelchair, a mother and her child, or just someone trying to cut their way through the crowd—I would just hunker down and ground myself and resist as much as I could until that someone was safe. In open areas, I weaved and turned my way through the small openings I saw between people, my attention only two steps in front of me. And all the while, I was remembering God. I was no longer afraid of the crush of people.

Patience, pilgrim

I alternated between the inner circle and the outer rings, noting the spots where there was congestion… SubhanAllah (glory to God), I can’t explain it, but through it all, I felt at peace. I felt myself centered. But I knew that I had to try and go all the way: I made it my goal to touch the Yemeni corner, the densest, most packed, most emotional section of the Ka’ba (next to the Black Stone). I prayed to God to open a path for me. And subhanAllah, I was able to walk straight across the Haram, weaving only a few times, about ¾ of the way there I then realized I was at the Black Stone, and so I continued for another round, deep in the crush. When things got tight, I heard someone behind me say, “Sabr, Hajji”—patience, pilgrim. And I began reciting a favourite verse of mine: “Fasbir sabran jammelan”—“So endure ˹through adversity˺ with beautiful patience.” (70:5)

My center

I went around again. The Yemeni Corner came into view… along with the throng of people clustered around it. I closed in. The tide of people threatened to sweep me away. I grounded myself, allowing people to pass around me. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, so I only moved when I could. I could see the smoothed edged of the corner, worn down by centuries of hands touching it. I stretched out my hand. I was so close. Someone was pushing me away. My hand hovered just inches away. I held my breath. I wasn’t scared. I kept my grace. Someone in front of me moved away and I fell forward. My hand landed around the corner of the Ka’ba. It was warm and smooth. I smiled. For a few precious seconds I felt like my hand was stuck to the Ka’ba like a magnet. I remember feeling soft nudges against my body but I didn’t move. I smiled and pulled away. I had touched the House of God.

I completed my last round of Tawaf. And as I neared the end, I felt like God was closer to me than ever before. So I prayed. I prayed. And as I was about to leave the the Tawaf, I said my shahada again.

Ashadu ala illahail Allah,

WaashadhuannaMohammadanrasoolulah.

I bear witness that there is no god but God

And Muhammad is His Messenger.

My center, restored.


 

Commentary

After my initial shock and fear of the crowd surrounding the Ka’ba, I knew that I had to face my fear head on. I knew I had to go right into the thick of it, and right to the place where my crisis surfaced: the Yemeni corner.

I stood just outside the main courtyard of the Haram, watching the river of people flow past me. I readied myself to go in. I just took a deep breath and plunged in. This whole moment is one that I can’t fully explain. As I merged with the flow of people, I felt a calmness descend on me. I was barefoot, and as I was in the crowd I would often be sliding my feet along the ground as I glided between people. It was more of a dance really. I focused only on the next few steps, on what was directly in front of me, and weaved my way through the crowd. The self-defense lessons Adeel taught me really helped, because he taught me how to keep myself centered no matter how many pushes or shoves I get. I was no longer fighting with the crowd, but flowing with it. Because of this, I was able to keep myself balanced and centered, both physically and emotionally.

It was early afternoon and the sun was blazing overhead. The air was thick with sweat and breath, both my own and others. And yet I felt calm as I weaved my way around people. A few times, I would see others trying to move through the crowd, so I would center myself in the stance Adeel taught me, and hold back the pushers to allow them through—whether they were the elderly, women, children or those in wheelchairs. That was one lesson I remember being taught prior to Hajj: be on the lookout for opportunities to help people. Keep yourself grounded, but not selfish.

And if you endure with patience whatever comes your way, you will find your center again.

Prev: “What’s Mecca like?”

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