The bus was now rumbling along and making great moves. Matloob, Tanweer and I began talking gently as some others slept but every now and then we would look back at Al-Hajj `Ismah to see if he was feeling faint or weak.
He seemed quite serene but was still very adamant on dying in Madinah. Our driver was a noble looking man from Sham.
I watched one man from our group step forward and snake his hand around me with the Urdu nasheeds and ask the driver to insert them. Please, Allah. Not here.
Not this despicable droning, the Satanic rustling of voices that will break our tranquillity. Please, Allah. Not here. The driver looked back at me briefly while at a stop light with the nasheeds just pumping away.
I could feel his relief when they failed and the disk skipped and did not function. The devilment of the filth had stopped.
I went into my bag and presented a recitation of Shaikh Mahmud Khalil al-Husri, may Allah have mercy on him, before another cassette or CD could be mustered. He looked at the tape and then at me. “Al-Qur’an…al-Husri.”
He smiled and slid the tape in straight away. I was so happy I could not contain it and smiled out the window.
The driver gave a murmured masha’allah and continued the drive. We were well into Maghrib and the redness of the shafaq was disappearing.
Once that redness was gone I was going to combine Maghrib and `Isha. The driver, who I suppose I can just call Shukri for the sake of familiarity, wheeled the bus with such ease I was amazed.
The grey goose was huge and reminded me of buses I would see on the West Coast taking people either to the county jail, 48 hours or juvenile hall.
At first we had plenty of space in the road; but as we carried on with our 12 hour journey and came off the freeway onto city streets, it was crowded. The bus stood, engine running, unmoving for some two hours. Shukri turned off the engine to conserve gasoline.
I could still hear Imam al-Husri reciting and the calmness in his voice was soothing. While we had time, I tried to get off the bus to pray my Maghrib and `Isha combined. However I could not. I was merely getting into position next to one of the bus tires when Shukri called out and the engine roared.
I had to wait. Fine. I will get back on. I will do it later. “Sorry, Akhi. The traffic just clears up and then it starts moving again.” I liked Shukri. His manners and behaviour were noble and he had a good character. One older brother next to me asked me to translate to the driver that the air conditioning should be on.
“No, no. Tell him it’s cold.” The whole journey I had dealt with people that had not even tried to use Arabic. It was always the same culprits. I was not going to do it any longer. “What’s going on?” The driver looked back at me.
“You tell them. You need to learn Arabic. I’m not going to carry you any more. You should have learned a long time ago. If you want to have him do something, you tell him.”
I excused myself from Shukri and moved to the back near Matloob and Tanweer so as to be closer than them. Let them flounder around, I thought. They don’t even try to use Arabic. They don’t even make an effort.
I thought back to the terminal in Jeddah when some Muslims, exasperated that English was not the universal language (and perhaps that some people knew it but did not want to speak it in their own country-which actually has its’ own language) said, “English…do you speak English?”
I was tired of this laziness. Rolling my body towards the window I snuggled up and tried to sleep off some of my tiredness. “Brother Abu Ja`far. Wake up.” I looked over bleary eyed at the meaty hands of Matloob gesturing and nudging me. “Are we in Madinah.” I looked out the window and looked for the dome and did not see it.
“No, but we need to have some food and drink. We’ve been travelling for some time. We’ve reached a rest stop. Do you need the toilet?” I shook my head in the negative and made friends with the window again.
I heard Shukri asking me, “Akhi, do you want coffee.” I again shook my head in the negative. “No thank you. It’s makruh.” He laughed. “Tea?” I shook my head again. “No, I am fine. That too is disliked. I’m not thirsty.” “Hanbaliyyan,” he said humorously and disembarked from the bus.
Some Shamis and Egyptians often used the expression to refer to someone that they thought was puritanical or strict. They meant it tongue in cheek so I never took any offence. I drifted off again.
We came to the next rest stop. Now I was thirsty and needed to freshen up. Coming off the bus, I saw a Bedouin encampment not far from the Arab restaurant and then there was a tiny masjid. Yes, I’ll pray here. I prayed Maghrib and `Isha together. It felt so good to discharge my duty with Allah.
I spied brother Uwais coming my way and smiling. We exchanged greetings and then looked around. “This place is amazing isn’t it. Even the freeway has remembrance of Allah.” My eyes felt misty at his mentioning this point.
All along the freeway, every 100-300 feet were signs reading: Subhanallah. Another 300 feet: Al-Hamdu lillah. Another 300 feet: La ilaha illallah. Another 300: Allahu Akbar. And on and on.
There were supplications for ascending and descending. I was exultant. I grew up seeing signs with gang graffiti, bullet holes or blood spatters. What a difference the faith makes.
I wondered about the emigration of my tribe and how I would have grown up if we had just stayed in Central America or Cuba. Would I have grown up the same way and suffered the same horrible trauma I did on the West Coast?
Allah only knows the answer to that question. Uwais treated me to a fruit drink in the restaurant and one of the men approached us. “Yemeni?” He looked at us and pointed at Uwais as well. I grinned.
Uwais gets mistaken for just about everything but his racial origin. I find it humorous. Yemeni is my favourite. His tall languid frame does give the appearance of Yemeni. I told the man that he was not and explained about his origins, which brought a laugh.
Not just content with a drink, Uwais also bought what appeared to be a whole baby chicken. He got out the door with it before a swarm a people from our group clawed and gnawed at the carcass of the beast. One would have thought he was watching an episode of Wild, Wild World of Animals.
“Are your sister and mother fine?” He nodded to me. “I think they just want to get to a room and rest. They must be really tired. You know, with all the bumps and cracks in the road on the journey.”
“Yallah!” Shukri shouted after taking a final sip from his tea and revving the engine of the bus and giving the air shocks a hearty thrust. Uwais and I exchanged greetings and separated into our groups, I made my way to but 45, no 1 and he headed to 45, no 2.
From what our group leader was telling me, our stay in Madinah would be at the Wasal ar-Reem hotel. I had never seen it so I trusted his judgement and prepared for an interesting sleep.
When I heard the driving saying that we were lost in Arabic, I merely thought that he meant the ride was long, but no…we were actually lost. Bus no 1 had pulled ahead in the move on the freeway ahead of us and then disappeared into the distance. We had no way to communicate.
Shukri knew the way but he did not know where in Madinah we were to stay and which quarter. I got our group leader on the phone and handed it to Shukri. The bus revving under his foot on the gas peddle, Shukri nodded, smiled grimaced and upon completion of the call handed the phone back to me.
He now knew but still had to arrive into the city and wait for Muhammad Ishaq. When we heard that brother Muhammad Ishaq would be waiting to guide us, Matloob, Tanweer and I all immediately fell into laughter.
It was the same Muhammad Ishaq who speaking Arabic, Urdu, Bengali or English sounded the exact same. He was such a wonderful brother but he just made us laugh by how quickly he would speak and gesture his hands as if always in a panic.
Muhammad Ishaq knew that we found it funny and would often give a greater performance for our added benefit and alleviation from tiredness or boredom. How we would greet him in Madinah. Meanwhile the Deobandi/Berelwi issues started up in the bus while we were in the back.
I was happy I had never grown up in that situation. “It’s really sad. They have ruined Islam in the subcontinent. This is all they do.” Tanweer looked out the window as the freeway lights shimmered off his face, giving him a wistful expression.
“Which one?” Matloob looked over. “All of them. They make my stomach turn.” Tanweer’s statement made me laugh for some reason. Here was a Muslim brother who was a doctor, Pakistani born in the UK of the Jat caste but sickened by all the other foolishness.
He was part of a growing breed of people who were sickened by the Deobandi/Berelwi groups, both of whom had worked together to single-handedly disgrace the Hanafi madhhab in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan.
This contributed to the ruination of anyone in UK every learning Hanafi fiqh in the UK or other Asian dominated areas as this was always brought up and then people would be shunned.
These throwbacks to British colonialism had done more to undermine Islam and stimulate the growth of Ahmadiyyah, Ahl ul-Hadith and Salafiyyah than Christian missionaries, brother Matloob had told me over dinner one night in Makkah.
The only way I reckoned this thing could be resolved would be through some violent takeover and then have a method of religion forced upon them that would eradicate all other ways and means.
We sat calmly on the bus in silence for hours, shuffling and bumping down a long, straight road to Madinah.
I could tell that the Saudi government (if they had indeed ordered or played a part in the laying of the asphalt on the road) had taken generously from the Americans.
The roads were wide and spacious with the familiar West Coast shaped signs that were just translated into Arabic. Even the freeway signs and the angular shape of the words were taken from the Interstate-5 and other US structures.
The horizon became lighter the closer we came to Madinah. There was a gust of wind and a light rain that pelted the bus on our turn into Madinah’s fair streets. Palm trees abounded and the people walking on the street gave us no more than a second look.
We came to a stop and looked around. The driver called me and said that he needed a call made to our group leader to come get us.
We were indeed lost and were waiting for our other bus to link up with us. It took two hours before Muhammad Ishaq materialised. Brothers began to come off the bus and prepare for Fajr.
The driver came next to me. “Let’s pray, akhi. Don’t worry. I’m Shafi`ii…and Ash`ari.” He had known by reservations and hatred for the one cult whose name I had not spoken as of yet.
We placed a scrape of cardboard on the dusty Madinan streets and prayed with him leading. His tajwid was very well patterned and he prayed with all the manners of the Sunnah. After Fajr we were guided by Muhammad Ishaq to the hotel and told to choose our rooms.
I went out and gathered our things with a haggard looking Matloob and Tanweer. I staggered about for the first five minutes but was no longer dazed as we worked with effort to pull our luggage from the roof and organise it in front of the hotel door.
We moved inside of the hotel and the group leader stood smiling, assigning us our rooms. We made our way to the room, no 220 and opened the door. The air conditioning was already on and the television blazing. Al-Hajj `Ismah had dug his heels into the place.
“Brothers, you know I was waiting for you to come. Shall we get some rest?” We merely nodded and unpacked our things and switched into our sleeping jalabiyyat. Like lightning I was in the bed and after the du`aa for sleep entered the dead zone.