Waiting back at our room, we prepared for sleep and the Fajr that awaited us the following morning. We tried to process what we had seen during our night in front of the green dome of Al-Masjid un-Nabawi.
“That really was something. I’m not going to forget that anytime soon, brother,” Tanweer looked at me and smiled slightly. Brother Matloob looked at me and then added his portion.
“We were shown that tonight for a reason. The reason is the miracles of the prophets, peace be upon him and the wonders of the saints last even after their death. It also establishes that they are alive in their graves.”
I stepped over to his bed and picked up the water container that he had been drinking from and sniffed it. He and Tanweer laughed. “That’s the clearest I’ve heard you speak all night. Just thought you had some assistance.”
“No, Abu Ja`far. I do things like this for shock value. You never know when I am going to go and say something really profound.” I smiled and dived into the middle bed. Al-Hajj `Ismah was on the left of me, resting comfortably, as usual a book on Zuhd and Ihsan cracked open and resting on his chest while he breathed in and out.
His chest going up and down was the sign that he was still on this side of the Barzakh. I just looked and thought about matters. I carefully took the book, put it on his shelf and kissed him on the forehead. He had been through a lot and for the first time since I had seen him seemed to generally be at rest.
Fajr felt like it came the moment I closed my eyes. I was used to the Madinah weather now, fastening a winter izar, combat boots for shoes and a coloured jalabiyyah with black `imamah. We awoke to found that Al-Hajj `Ismah had already gone. He must have woke up, went to the masjid to be next to the Rawdah.
It was so nice how we left as a room and returned as a room. “Not much time left now. We’ll be headed back soon,” Matloob wistfully offered. He looked over and gave me a slight smile.
“And just think, all the women will be all over you again, chasing you for your physique. My advice is when we land at Heathrow, only sign a few autographs.” He laughed at the statement I had made and we grew silent on our journey to Al-Masjid un-Nabawi.
The Adhan in Madinah is so soft and gentle I often did not hear it. This time, arriving before the Adhan I was able to make it. I wondered if Al-Hudhaifi, Al-Qasim or who would be leading the prayer.
We lined up ten rows from the front and entered the prayer after the Iqamah had elapsed. It was Imam al-Hudhaifi reciting. I could tell due to his nasal recitation and the trouble he often had with reciting in between coughs.
Fortunately for him, there were others to help in this chorus of common cold. All other the masjid, I could hear the cadence of coughs from different people that were just as or maybe more under the weather than our prayer leader.
I knew I would not see our “pure” Muslim brothers who refused to pray behind any of the imams in Al-Masjid ul-Haram as they held the same asinine, childish and shameful attitude about the masjid in Madinah.
The prayer finished and after some personal individual supplications we made our walk back to the hotel. The air was cold but fresh and not biting. It was heavier than the English and American air and had no smog that I could make out.
A long time smog sniffer from the West Coast of the United States, I would rate cities by their smog. If they had none, they weren’t real “cities.” “There’s not even any proper pollution! Where’s my acid rain?!” I used to laugh at such statements as I made them.
Madinah, at least in the area that I was in, was relatively clean and I had not seen smog coming in, from aerial photos or from the hotel. No smog was good news. That was atleast my opinion on the matter.
At the hotel Wasal ar-Reem, we quickly found a free elevator. “The door’s closing. Go! Go!” I jumped in the way and blocked the door. This was not one of the ones that had a sensor and would open. Instead, you had to force the door and when the computer sensed resistance it would retract.
I was slightly smooshed but grateful for the opportunity of getting back to the room quickly. As the elevator ascended, I looked out as it stopped at the particular floor and looked out and gave salam to the people coming inside. Then I burst out laughing.
“What? What is it?” Matloob wanted to be part of the fun and was itching to find out the situation.
“Look at the labels for the floors. Count from the first floor and then count up to the next one that we reach.” He shrugged at me request and carried on.
“1st floor, 2nd floor, 3rd floor, 4th floor, 5th floor…” he began.
“6th floor, 7th floor, 8th floor…what?” He stopped and stared and then laughed when the error stared him in the face.
“9st floor?” We both laughed and were pleasantly surprised to greet the doors opening onto the “10st floor.” This carried on until we reached our floor, the 11st. Matloob and Tanweer by this time were both laughing.
“How did this happen? Did they not think before this was done? They’ve now built a whole hotel and look at the state of things.” Tanweer did not know what to think about the building.
“I don’t know…” I laughed again while reading the sign one more time on the walk up the hall. I felt a dull ache in my back tooth and thought that if I slept it would go away and not pose any more trouble to me.
I was sorely mistaken when I woke up in the late morning and the tooth pain was worse. Was it something I ate? Was it something I drank? What is the cause of this tooth pain? Then I remembered. While brushing my teeth in the morning in preparation for the Fajr prayer, the toothbrush had slipped and rammed my tooth. I had thought nothing of it at the time.
Now it was back with a vengeance and swollen as well. This pain is quite severe. Drink warm water with salt and see what happens. What is the situation now? There was supposed to be a trip today to a few historical landmarks but one hour before, it was throbbing.
Matloob looked at the swelling in my mouth and could see that it was quite severe for a little bump. I also had some problem swallowing. “Take this and see what happens. If you’re not in good shape after this, then we might have to consider the doctor.” I did not want that and felt bad about missing the tour of historical Madinah.
“Don’t worry, everything is going to be in Urdu. It will be a waste of your time,” Tanweer warned me in advance.
“Well, atleast you get to listen to it,” I sought to cheer him up.
“No…I don’t speak that stuff. I speak something else at home. I get as much out of hearing it as you do.” Matloob and Tanweer both shrugged and made their way, closing the door behind them and leaving me to recline on the bed after I took the medicine and drank the water. Twenty minutes later I was out of commission.
I woke up to a pounding on the door and the voice of Uwais. “Abu Ja`far, are you in there? If you’re dead, answer,” I heard him slightly laugh at his own joke. Sitting up in bed, I realised that the pain was gone! The swelling was gone!
I walked to the door and swung it open to see him standing, smiling at me in a friendly manner. “I heard you’re sick? Don’t worry about tonight if…”
“No, listen, I’m fine. I’m rarin’ to go! I’m good. Dr. Matloob gave me some snake oil and dragon bones and I’m as good as new!”
“Good, so you’ll be ready for after Maghrib,” he looked relieved and happy at the same time. “That’s right. I’m ready. Insha’allah, I’ll be there. Should I meet you at brother Mumtaz’s room?”
“Yeah, good idea.” And that was it. Uwais had disappeared around the corner and left me standing in the light of the doorway that flooded out into the darkness of the hallway. Now I had to prepare. I combined and shortened and then read the Shama’il and contemplated.
Once Maghrib rolled around I was right back at Mumtaz’s room and the situation regarding bai`ah and shaykhs had not been resolved. Uwais and Mumtaz, although both agreed on tariqah, were not agreed on protocol towards those who either rejected them altogether or did not accept their importance.
“Listen, people come to knowledge at different times. There was a time when I wasn’t ready and didn’t understand. We can’t take one approach because different people have different problems. ”
“But they should know,” Mumtaz insisted, fastening his green imamah and checking in the mirror that his starch white shalwar kameez were well creased and had no marks or stains on it. “This is something that is well known of Islam. There is no excuse for ignorance of it.”
“Help,” Uwais looked at me and smiled, genuinely grieved by the stalemate. “Look at the time, Maghrib right around the corner. Guess we’ll just have to forget about this whole thing and focus on prayer,” I whispered softly as if I was a deranged warden at Attica Prison.
And that was it. After the Maghrib prayer, we took up our places at the dome and began the next portion of the Shama’il. Halfway through, one of the religious police approached.
Allah, save me from the daemons from men and jinn, I quietly prayed while every so often darting my eyes around to see how deep the religious police were as they approached. Atleast we received salam this time.
“What’s going on here?” He fixed his glasses and stared down at us expectantly. Just tell him the truth, I thought.
“I was asked to go through this book and so we have been doing a portion every night. We will be done at…”
“Where are you from?” He looked and raised his eyebrow.
“We came from England and…”
“No, you’re not from England. Where are you really from because you know Arabic.” He wanted an answer and upon the arrival of two military police I wondered if the atmosphere would get worse.
The group around me looked and I know I would have no time to translate to them but I also knew if I was answered a straight question I could not lie. Salafis were renowned for asking closed questions or incisive ones. This made it impossible to waffle in an answer.
“I was born in the US but my family is Egyptian. Aswan. You know Sa`id Masr.” He nodded and continued the conversation.
“Where did you study. You’re wearing this, so where did you study,” he pointed to my `imamah. I mentioned the places and he kept looking.
“What are you reading through?” He looked forward and took the book from my hands and scrutinised every page.
“Where is the stamp, brother?” He again scanned the pages.
“Stamp?” I had no idea.
“From the Ministry of Religion, showing that this book is correct for use. Where is it?”
I could do nothing but tell him I did not know. I really did not know. He asked me where I purchased it from and when I told him Makkah, he wanted to know exactly where but I did not want to get the brother in trouble.
He was the same Pakistani Hanbali brother who went into the attic of his store and brought down unexpunged copies of Imam Ahmad as-Sawi’s Hashiyah on the Jalalayn. I did not want him to get in trouble so I said that it was one of the shops on the way to Al-Masjid ul-Haram.
“I have a CD for you that corrects all the mistakes you might find in this book and helps with Tawhid. I will give it to you when I next see you. I have heard there are Tawhid issues out there.” He smiled reassuringly but I was weary. One of the military police smiled at me and I recognised him from Makkah.
It was Uday. Maliki and a really nice guy, Uday just did his job. He did not necessary agree with everything the religious police said but as a military man he was required to be on standby with them in case of issues of crowd control.
Nonetheless, he was a stately looking man and appeared to be in his forties but was in remarkable shape. He gave me a nod and with his cocked beret was off and away.
“You okay, brother?” Uwais looked at me. I was sweating slightly as I did not know if they would ask me about me theology, what I thought of the monarchy, Salafiyyah or what. I just knew that I had to be prepared and tell them the truth.
The ordeal left me tired and slightly nauseous. It was the same feeling I had felt when I saw some of the religious police roughing up a Ghanain woman in the corridor of Al-Masjid ul-Haram and calling her a sharmutah afriqiyyah, an African bitch and whore.
Let me just finish this text and not have any more problems. Please let me finish it. This was my only du`aa. I hoped that Allah would answer this request. Tomorrow would be a new day and I had another opportunity to see some of historical Madinah.
After praying `Isha’ at the masjid, I apologised to everyone for the ordeal at Al-Masjid un-Nabawi, but particularly brother Uwais’s sister as I felt that she had been the most startled by the turn of events.
Everyone was very gracious and calm but for me it was a reminder that Salafiyyah was indeed still a cult and had to be handled most carefully. Those in the English speaking countries that had never fully seen it in its’ unvarnished form were naïve about the wickedness of the cult.
I took a shower that night to wash off all the sweat I had accumulated during the Inquisition between Maghrib and `Isha and fell into a fitful sleep, awakened only once by brother Matloob who asked me, “Which is the better salad: what we had in Makkah or here?”
I rolled over and murmured, “They’re all delicious,” and passed back into the dead zone, awaiting a new day that would hopefully be without tribulation.