A Mother’s Letter To Her Son On Hajj
By Sabeeha Rehman
Today you begin the first day of Hajj. You are amongst three million pilgrims in Mecca, in the largest congregation on earth, performing your once in a lifetime obligation as a Muslim. I can picture you, draped in two pieces of unstitched white sheets, humble in the sight of God. I wish I were with you.
Tell me, what was it like yesterday when you first laid eyes on the Kaaba—the house that Abraham built, the direction we face in prayer five times a day? Did it move you to tears? As you circumambulated the Kaaba seven times, walking in the footsteps of Prophet Abraham amongst hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, seeing people crying, overcome with emotion, some kissing the black cloth draping the Kaaba, imploring God for forgiveness, the infirm on palanquins and wheelchairs, did you feel the presence of God?
When you were a child, I remember telling you the story of Hagar. She had been left alone in the desert with baby Ishmael. When the baby started crying of thirst, she went looking for water, running between the hills, back and forth seven times, and then, a spring of water gushed. You would have walked over to the two small hills and honored Hagar by walking in her footsteps. Think of it, millions of people honoring a woman, year after year, century after century. I wondered if I ever had a Hagar moment in my mothering. The sleepless nights, perhaps.
In the plain of Arafat today, as you await the call to the noon Dhuhr prayer under the blistering sun, I sense your awe as you witness the personification of the glory of Islam. People of all nations, color, race, coming together in service of the one God. Old men, hobbling on their sticks trying to make their way; hunched-back little old ladies looking for a place to sit, young men carrying toddlers on their shoulders, mothers nursing their babies, the blind, the lame, the infirm, the young, all congregating to glorify God. The Imam’s voice rings out and a quiet descends on the congregation as he begins his sermon. If you glance beyond the minarets, you will see thousands of pilgrims on Mount Arafat, clinging to the mountain, hoping to absorb the positive energy, for this is where Prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon, when he said ‘…all men are born equal…no white man has superiority over a black man, no Arab has superiority over a non-Arab, no man has superiority over a woman…except in piety….” Son, in this moment, as you stand for the Dhuhr prayer—the moment of Hajj—pray that we Muslims pay heed to the Prophet’s message, and practice what he preached.
On this day of atonement, you will stand in the plain of Arafat with three million pilgrims and raise your hands in supplication. Remember us in your prayers, and remember the victims of 9/11. Pray for their families; pray that our communities are healed and we come together as one nation under God. As you extend your arms to Almighty God, you will experience one of the most sublime moments of your life. This connection with God, on this day, is the essence of Hajj.
And then God will put you to the test. Returning from Arafat, you will camp under the stars in Muzdalifa where you will endure crowds, noise, the cold of the desert night, and very long lines at the facilities. Your patience and endurance will be tested. Only hours earlier, you took an oath to be a better human being—more giving, more tolerant, more compassionate—and now you will experience how easily you risk breaking that promise. Hold tight, son.
You will return to Mina tomorrow to observe Eid ul Adha. You will honor Prophet Abraham by sacrificing the lamb. Your symbolic sacrifice is testimony of your pledge to put what God wants from you, above what you want for yourself. Remember the sacrifice of those who perished on this day, September 11, 15 years ago. And on this day, Muslims all over the world will join you in the spirit of sacrifice, and commit ourselves to build bridges and heal our nation.
God be with you.
Sabeeha Rehman is the author of the memoir Threading My Prayer Rug. One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim.