At my local mosque, the “Hajj Package” posters have just come down and pilgrims will soon be returning. This got me thinking about this year’s cohort which had headed to the Holy Land, and as I scuttled into the mosque I wondered how many prayers were to be answered on those journeys. This lead me to memories of how my own prayers had been answered before and during my Hajj – things I regarded at levels of the mighty, middling and minor.
Of course, there are so many moments of Hajj to remember: inspiring knowledge that Prophets and their wives once walked and outlined the paths you follow, that you are within the proximity of the righteous at their graves, and of course, the astronomical reward on offer – even for just staring at God’s house. But it is the memory and nature of answered duaas (supplication prayers) that jumps out at me over and over again.
Of the mighty ones that stand out, I remember back in 2006 craving to join the Hajj so badly for nearly a year but having no finances to take me – having only my prayers. And God in His mercy answered them, as I got an unexpected call one day from a family member saying that someone was sending me on the pilgrimage. It was the first time I felt like I’d ‘won something’ and I couldn’t have hoped for a better prize.
The true weight of the words shook me and I checked again to make sure that the caller was being serious. I then hung up and called again to make sure it wasn’t a dream and, within two months, I was heading to visit the Prophet (pbuh*) thinking, as the Quran outlines: “God provides from an unexpected source”.
Later, to the middling, in Mecca, sitting about 30 meters from the Kaa’ba, my zikr (meditation on the attributes of The Divine) was plagued by thoughts I’d heard from others earlier about the rights and wrongs of the Hajj rituals, which sounded like deleted scenes from The Wire: ‘Nah man…check it, I heard…’ and ‘Bro, you gotta listen and learrrrn yeah… I’m telling you for real…’. And while I’d read numerous books before coming out, I wished I had a guide to ease my heart through what I was doing, if nothing more.
Again the idea of duaa popped up, so I cupped my hands and prayed, “Lord, show me how to do things in the right way.” Simple enough. I turned to my left to read the Quran of the guy next to me and as I settled into the first few lines I was tapped on my shoulder. A handsome old man with the finest of beards asked “Arabic?”, and since I was drawn to his beard I thought it was an odd question, until I realised he was handing me an Arabic Quran. I answered in the affirmative and took it. He asked me where I was from and I replied “London”; he was from Egypt. He also asked for my profession and I said teacher, to which he replied that he was a teacher too. I added that I teach English and asked as to his specialty. “Religion” was the answer – I nodded and led the conversation on to its natural next step: “So where do you teach?” hoping he would mention one of the five Egyptian cities I actually know. To my surprise, and in response to my duaa, he answered “Al-Azhar”. I nodded, admittedly a little in awe, as I had not expected him to name one of the world’s most respected Islamic universities. God had given me my guide and over the next few days I was by his side, learning and listening, but somehow still surprised that I was asking and receiving, even though I knew well that “God answers prayers.”
Back to the minor, and on the walk to the stoning of the symbolic Devil (part of the Hajj where Muslims act out Abraham’s stoning of Satan who is represented by three pillars), in the midst of hundreds of thousands of people, I found myself parched beyond belief. I looked around and knew I would cause major disruption if I tried to sideline out of the horde of people to find some water, so I resolved to go thirsty until I made another duaa. “God, please give me water to drink” and I walked on, hoping someone would maybe sip from their water and then offer me some. But God had other plans.
After a few more steps a bottle of water rolled from between people and hit my foot. I bent to pick it up – again amazed – but closer inspection revealed the bottle was only three quarters full and had been opened. Obviously I’m not a water snob, but with the ease of spread of disease in the area (and if you’ve been you’ll know what I mean) I figured it best not to drink from such a container. I put it down and let it roll on. A moment later, with a little guilt an element of slight expectation, a slightly more precise duaa request came to mind ‘God. Please give me an unopened bottle of water, to drink,’ and I walked with my eyes rooted to the small space of ground in front of me and, sure enough, within two minutes a full unopened bottle rolled my way.
At Arafat, when the vigil is held on the mountain of Arafat, the climax of the hajj, I had endless prayers spewing from my mouth and stressed one worldly thing in particular: to keep me constantly asking. It’s not just the ten sacred days or the month or Ramadan where the requests are answered; indeed, we have that opportunity every day.
To search through narrations of the Prophet (pbuh) you will find many instances of times and days in which duaas are more beneficial, but in that, we sometimes blind ourselves to the fact that this is a constant stream open to us and we ask from an ever Merciful, Ever-lasting source.
That source is always there and always there for us: “I am as My servants think of Me”.
So when is the best time to make duaa? All the time.
* Muslims repeat the phrase “peace be upon him” after mentioning the Prophet Muhammad’s name. It is abbreviated to (pbuh) elsewhere in the text.
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