Photo: Worshippers hurry to the Prophet's (saw) mosque for Maghrib prayer. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.
I realize that it has been months since we returned from our stirring journey through the two holy cities, but I sit here knowing that I am still writing this too soon. I had no idea that we had started a blog until I returned to America and began sifting through the plethora of emails I had received in the time I was gone. I sit assured that no time will ever come when I will feel like I am ready to talk about the tumultuous journey my heart followed during our Rihla.
We were one of the last groups there. The arrival was sudden and overwhelming. I had not left the states since I was three, and, specifically, I had imagined for so long what it would be like to visit the blessed city of my Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم). Sure, I had so often shuffled through the poetry so that I could let my mind wander to what the streets the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) walked down, and what the trees he (صلي الله عليه و سلم) sat under. Nothing in the world could prepare me for what I was about to get into, which is something I realized much later. When we arrived there, it was straight to a cab, and on the cab ride to the hotel – I saw the minarets in the distance. SubhanAllah. I was left speechless, breathless, and filled with awe. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t smile; I was completely outside of myself. For some reason, my brain could not comprehend where I was. I kept telling myself – this is what you came here for, to see the beautiful vision of the light that comes from the Prophet’s صلي الله عليه و سلم masjid.
There I was and it was different. To be honest with you, I couldn’t explain it then, and I really can’t even do it now. As we started taking the field trips, it became impossible for me to deal with everything. It was immensely intense to imagine that these roads that I dare put my unworthy shoes on, or that my unworthy forehead prostrate on were the same roads that the blessed foot of the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) tread in his daily life. Suddenly, all those stories I had collected during my childhood, and my teenage years, and even in college were coming to life. I have been blessed to be able to attend the Seerah classes of Dr. Sherman Jackson at the ALIM program, and while Dr. Jackson did an amazing job of humanizing the seerah in the classroom, I relived the entire class, and Dr. Jackson came with me everywhere. His booming voice resounding in my head as I walked through the tranquil city.
Each day I would come home at night to our hotel room, having no idea how to handle this. I have had my share of tests in my life, and I have been through emotional situations, but nothing of this caliber. I slowly let the intensity build up, and as the intensity increased my capability to handle myself was diminishing. Finally, at the end of the first week, I couldn’t take it anymore. Suddenly, the city had turned into an enormous microscope that allowed me to look at myself. My insides hung all over the town, and suddenly it seemed all my weaknesses had been revealed to me. That Friday, I broke down, and I was scared out of my mind. I had never felt so alone and so scared. I knew that I had been taken apart, I was unwoven, and I knew that all I had left to do was put myself back together.
The day I broke down was the first time I went to the Rawda and subhanAllah, because I could not bring myself to feel okay within the beautiful garden of the Rawdah. There were so many things that just made me realize that I was not worthy of this, and that there were so many people in the world that were more deserving of such a visit. I could not imagine bringing my face in front of the grave of my beloved Rasul (صلي الله عليه و سلم), but I had to. The man led us through the du’a to read in front of the grave, and after a list of salawat and salaams, he ordered us to say the most important thing I have ever said. There I was, standing in the middle of the city of the Prophet Muhammad (صلي الله عليه و سلم), son of Abdullah, and it was over 1425 years ago that someone was here, saying it for the first time. My lips barely spilled the words: Ashhadu an La ilaha illa Allah wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasul Allah
. That was it.
It didn’t matter how many times in my life that I had said those words, but I just bore witness at the grave of the man who brought me the message that guided my life, the message that meant more to me than anything else which the Lord of the worlds created. Every other time I said it would be so secondary to the idea of bearing witness before the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم), because I knew then, that I could never betray those words. When I say betray, I don’t mean by worshipping a Lord besides Allah, or that the love I have for the Rasul (صلي الله عليه و سلم) will diminish, because those things are in the hands of Allah, and I pray they are never taken away from me. My fear, which makes me tremble with every fiber in my being, is that I betray this with action. I fear I will not be actively preserving the message that our Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) sent. I fear that I will betray the message the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) sent forth, and that I will not be the person I should be or that I can be. That one action of mine will be in contradiction to the declaration I made that day, and then I will be counted as someone who lied to the Prophet of Allah (صلي الله عليه و سلم).
I could spend a lifetime telling you about the beauty of the city of Medina, and the marvelous person the Prophet of Allah صلي الله عليه و سلم was, but you have so many sources for that, all of which can relate to you these things in a much more articulate and beautiful manner. Instead, I can tell you what happened to me when I tried to wrap my head around these sources, because something inside me tells me that I was never alone in my desperation. That the troubles I have are troubles of the heart, and that someone somewhere battles the same troubles. And the thought of the words I write reassuring someone somewhere that indeed, these problems are a test for many, is my principle motivation.
The image of everything that occurred in those twenty-one days is emblazoned in my mind. There is a light that forever shines within, which reminds me of the warm glow of the Prophet’s صلي الله عليه و سلم mosque. There is a shade of gray that reminds me of the cosmic building the Sacred Mosque is. There is a smell, which I never hope to get rid of, that reminds me of the greatest human to have walked this earth. Each time I see a black sheet, I immediately remember the feel of the House of our Lord. When I see a crowd, I can’t help but be reminded of the rush on Fridays at the Prophet’s mosque صلي الله عليه و سلم, or the constant crowd surrounding the Ka’ba. Most of all though, each time I look in a mirror, I know that I am nothing but a small being, who once stood before the greatest man ever created (صلي الله عليه و سلم), and repented for all that I have done, and all that I will do. I am a small being, capable of enormous misdeeds. I am a small being, created by a Lord no one will ever comprehend. I am a small being, who has been given the greatest gift a human can receive. For that, this small being, wishes she could show enough gratitude, but I know in my heart of hearts, that it is a blessing I will never be fully grateful for. And for that, I repent again.