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In the footsteps of Hagar

art and culture Updated: Sep 30, 2008 14:47 IST
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Prophet Mohammed said, “Umra in Ramzan is like accompanying me on Hajj.” Last week, I wore a long coat along with a headscarf, switched off all contact with the world and travelled towards Mecca to fulfil my covenant with Allah.

All their lives, Muslims pray in the direction of the Kaaba, and prostrating just a few yards away from it is a spiritually exhilarating experience. I got a chance to hold the black covering and with moist eyes prayed for my loved ones, for peace in Delhi and the rest of the world.

Circling the Kaaba seven times is one half of the Umra ritual while the other half requires running between the hills of Safa and Marwa that lie in the same compound. While running, I thought of Hagar’s (Hajra) strength and exalted rank, for God ordered the faithful to perform the tradition of this woman. In a test of faith, Abraham went off with his jealous infertile wife Sarah, leaving Hagar and their small infant Ishmael (Ismail) alone in the desert in God’s custody.

Desperately searching for water to quench the infant’s thirst, Hagar ran between these hills pleading for Allah’s mercy. On her seventh round, water sprang from the ground where the baby kicked. Looking at the water, Hagar said “Zam Zam”, meaning ruk ruk (stay).

Thousands of years have gone by and the Zam Zam well has not dried out. Pilgrims carry the holy water home to distribute among family and friends.

During this month, pilgrims to Mecca and Medina exceed a count of forty lakhs, almost the same number as during Hajj. At prayer times, all roads lead to the mosques and people pour out on the streets as the mosque gets packed. As far as the eye can see, men and women are engaged in prayer. There is no pushing, no mobiles ringing, no cameras and more important, women don’t encounter any misbehaviour. There is an incredible atmosphere of sharing during this sacred month. People stop you and hand out dates, food, bread and water.

At iftaar time, food packets are distributed to lakhs of people who sit in neat lines in and outside the mosques. The place is then cleaned with lightning speed and readied for the sunset prayer.

I have major differences with the Saudi version of pristine Wahabi Islam, but full marks to them for organisation and cleanliness. I must confess that in Mecca, I fear God’s wrath and usually spend more time in the Prophet’s city Medina Munawwara, the City of Lights, truly an oasis of peace. My most treasured moments are offering salutations and blessings to the Prophet while looking at the green dome of his sacred chamber. “Ya Nabi salaam Alayka”.

Delhi’s poet Mir Taqi Mir wrote: “Why do you worry, O Mir, at the thought of your black book/ The person of the Seal of Prophets is a surety of your salvation.”