Posted on: 16 Aug 2011
I asked her the way to the green dome. I had just arrived and wasn’t sure which way to walk around the mosque- I had walked a little to the left and the right and wasn’t sure of my orientation in relation to it. “I’ll take you if you want,” she said. I asked if she was sure. “Of course, but what will you do there?” she asked with a curious smile. “I just want to see it!” She nodded with understanding and said, “Let’s go!” I watched as she slipped on her black gloves, and covered her face leaving only her eyes revealed. As we stepped outside, she pulled the cover over her eyes too. She moved slowly and elegantly as I walked next to her. The late afternoon sun had warmed the marble floor, and the beautiful umbrellas had spread their wings to shade the mulling visitors. People were sat in groups, some with prayer beads slipping through their fingers, and others slowly sipping tea as they waited for the sunset prayer.
We walked around the mosque; I expected to see the magnificent dome at every turn. Not yet. As we turned out the final corner the familiarity of the place soon dawned. It was like having stepped into a beautiful picture, but with the umbrellas spread out my view of the green dome was obstructed. I walked on to the further side, and there I could see it. The dome which was the ultimate symbol of love and peace, the dome that shaded the greatest creation of God, and which was spread over the most precious piece of land in the entire universe.
As one stands there, one cannot help but feel an immense sense of pain. One thinks of all the souls and hearts that yearn to be in that place, that cry into the depths of the night to be called to the beautiful cities. Ya Allah do not deprive them, and grant every yearning believer the opportunity to be there. I felt so small, as though I really did not deserve to stand there and simply felt a great sense of thankfulness.
I looked at the figure next to me, “What is your name I asked?” “Habiba” she said. She was originally Sudanese, born in alMadina. Her mother had moved there with her husband after she had married. So beautiful. She came to the haram everyday, sometimes sitting from the midday prayer until late after isha. She habitually sat on a blue prayer mat, in the far left corner of the mosque as you walk in through the gate 25 entrance. Her large dark eyes often scanned the pilgrims around her, many spoke to her, and she had many admirers and friends.
A few days later as I sat next to Habiba between the sunset and night prayer, a woman on my right quietly said salaam to me. I smiled at her, and responded. She asked me, “How and when can we enter the rawdah?” She was referring to the set periods where women were allowed to enter an allocated area of riyad el janna (the place between the Prophet’s burial place and his pulpit). I told her the next time it opened would be after the night prayer, around 10pm, when they would open the doors for the ladies. She introduced herself. Sarah her name was, and she was Algerian. I introduced her to Habiba, and when I mentioned that the latter was from alMadina, Sarah’s eyes widened and a glistening look came over them. “Ma sha Allah”, she whispered, “there is nothing I want more”. It was difficult for me to understand Sarah’s accent in Arabic, and she habitually inserted words in French, which all sounded very elegant but I didn’t really understand. We mainly conversed in the standard Arabic, but I often lapsed into the Shaami dialect which Habiba found quite funny and she would end up in giggles. Put up with it or you’ll get Egyptian! I used to threaten. It made her laugh even more.
It was at those moments as I sat between my Algerian and Madani-Sudanese sisters, that I felt an overwhelming sense of ummah, sisterhood and belonging. Something that I not felt for a long time since my days in Dar al Zahra. It was moments when Habiba would describe how she lived only 15 minutes from the haram and came every day, and Sarah’s eyes face would look wistfully at her, and moments where Sarah would launch into passionate Frenchified-Arabic to try and convince Habiba that “Of course you must have children, you should never say you don’t want children!” and “My husband is my heart and my son is my liver!!” (something only an Arab could say!) that I would sit back and look at them both and think, Subhan Allah. How people are brought together, and how hearts come together in the strangest and yet the most perfect circumstances.
I felt an immense amount of respect for Habiba, but there was something about Sarah which really touched me. And as I parted from her on my final day after fajr, I looked in my handbag for anything to give her. I simply found a keyring I had picked up in Jerusalem, which said “AlQuds is Ours” in Arabic, and slipped it in her hand. I told her, it’s just a small token to remind you. Without hesitation Sarah pulled off one of two bangles on her arm. I was horrified, they were gold and there was no way I was going to accept! “No no you must take it, my husband got them for me, I will tell him that my sister is wearing one” – All the more reason not to take it! I refused and put it back and she grabbed my hand. I told her it wouldn’t fit, but it did! And since I didn’t want to offend, there it stayed. And with that, I parted from my two sisters knowing that one would always wait for me in alMadina, and from the other with a bond that transcended languages and place. Perhaps we will meet in the Prophet’s mosque once again.