In the days of old, belief in that which is unseen or, in the words of Muslim thinker Muhammad Asad, that which is beyond the realm of human perception, seemed to come much more easily. Popular culture and folklore was full of wizards and witches, ghosts and goblins, gods and goddesses. With the Renaissance and the scientific revolution; with the advent of microscopes and telescopes, ultrasounds and x-rays, satellites and spaceships, much of the heretofore "unseen" world has come to be seen, and seen clearly.
Phenomena that were once explained by the actions of gods and goddesses, ghosts and goblins, demons and dragons, now have a precise scientific and mathematical explanation, perfectly perceptible and tangible to the average human being. The logical conclusion to this stage in human development, it would seem, would be an abandonment of the "folklore and legend" of religion for the "precision and certainty" of the scientific method. Amazingly, this has not been the case. Most Westerners still believe in God and identify themselves with a particular religion.
Still, religion in the modern world has had to contend with an almost countless number of competitors, especially for young people. With so many worldly and tangible things available to fulfill their every need and desire, how could religion--with its strict rules and insistence on belief in something unseen and untouchable--even stand a chance? I see this problem to particularly relevant for young Muslims today, especially those raised in the West.
Who is this Allah? Why does He make it so hard for me to survive? Why five times a day? Why do I have to sit and watch everybody else eat lunch? Why can't I ask him or her out to the prom? Who is this man Muhammad ? What does he, living in the 7th Century, have to do with me living here in the 21st Century? These questions are not ones of rebellion, for the most part, but are a reflection of the enormous pressure that is brought to bear on them and their identity.
But, how can we grasp the intangible? How can we take Allah by the hand? How can we walk with the Prophet ? It is a daunting task, but I believe there is a way. I have done it myself, in fact, and it has forever changed me. There is hardly a day that goes by without my remembering how wonderful it was to take Allah by the hand, how ecstatic it was to walk with the Prophet . It was during the Hajj.
I was blessed to perform the Hajj in 2003, and it was the most powerful spiritual experience I have ever had. I had always thought about making Hajj, but every year I would make an excuse and say, "Soon, insha'Allah." Yet, the fall of 2002 was different. From the very moment I made my intention, I had a strong desire to go God's Holy House, and this desire grew stronger by the hour and day. In addition, everything fell into place for me to go: finding a physician to cover me during my absence, normally a grueling experience, was the easiest it has ever been; finding the money I needed to perform the Hajj was even easier; securing a caretaker for my children, easier still. That year, more than any other, God wanted me to come to Him, and so He made everything as smooth as it can be.
As I arrived in Mecca, dressed in the ihram garb, I was immediately cowered by the awesome power of God. His presence was everywhere, and it was--for the first time in my life--touchable, tangible. I felt Him near me and with me everywhere I went. I could not help but be humbled and awed. Yet, our relationship began to change, almost as soon as I hit the Holy Precincts. Allah , rather than remain a Towering Lord, became a Loving Friend. I talked to Him at every chance I could get, and this friendship grew in strength and depth. After immediately cowering from His Awesome Might the moment I entered the Sacred Mosque, He called out to me and extended His Hand.
After getting my fill in Mecca, I traveled to Medina and stayed there for 8 days. It was like the richest, most delicious desert after a most succulent meal. As soon as I got off the plane, I felt the cool, soothing presence of the Prophet all around me. I felt his smiling face, his gentle hand, his soothing touch envelope me. I arrived in the thick of the night, when his Mosque was already closed. I could not wait for the morning to come.
When it did come, I rushed to his Mosque, and it took my breath away. The Mosque's beauty rivals that of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. As I walked through the golden door and enormous, white pillars of the Mosque, I could barely contain my excitement. Yet, I had not time to marvel at the magnificence of the pillars that strolled past me. I had one thing on my mind: to see my beloved and walk with him. It became increasingly crowded as I approached his Rawdah and grave. I quickly prayed two ra'kahs in the Rawdah and dashed to greet my beloved. As I past by his grave, tears streamed down my face as I said, "Peace be upon you, O Messenger of God. Long have I waited to be with you."
The feeling I had was indescribable. I have read his life story more than six times. I have heard lectures about his life numerous times as well. I have read and learned about countless Traditions. To be there, face to face, and talk with my beloved was nothing short of ecstatic. No reunion with a loved one, no matter how long the separation, can even compare with the reunion I had with Prophet Muhammad in his Mosque in Medina. Even after our first meeting, it was so nice to know that my beloved was just around the corner, and I felt him smiling at me. I came back and gave him my greetings several times more, and each time it was wonderful. I will never forget those days for the rest of my life.
After Medina, I went back to Mecca to spend more time with my Friend. The most emotional day by far was the day of Arafah. There I was, as the sun was setting in the sky, in front of my Friend, practically naked, with only my sins. This time, I reached out my hands to Him and begged his pardon and forgiveness. I begged him to accept me into His fold. I begged Him to forgive my past injustices to myself. I begged Him to shower me with His soothing Mercy and Grace. I begged, and begged, and begged, and I did not stop until the sun set. Even though He was my Friend, I felt totally humiliated before Him; I felt totally humbled in His Holy presence. Arafah was not only a purging of my sins, but was also a purging of my soul, and I felt totally cleansed afterwards. It was the most invigorating experience I have ever had.
After Arafat, I slept most uncomfortably in the open air of Muzdalifah and subsequently became ever more grateful to Allah that I have been blessed with a home. Before sleeping, I gathered the stones with which to stone the three pillars that represent Shaytan. After stoning the pillars for the next three days, I made my final tawwaf around the Ka'bah. It was such a sad day. Despite the hardship suffered throughout the rites of the Hajj, to finally leave the Holy Precincts was very depressing. The only bright spot was that my wife and I were going to see our children when we got back.
My heart was deeply scarred after those three weeks in February of 2003. The scar resulted from the vigorous scraping off of the marks of my sins that marred my heart. Yet, this scar is neither a mark of shameful disfigurement nor a reminder of a surgically corrected defect. The scar is a mark of the enormous transformation effected on me by the Hajj. Yes, many of the feelings I had immediately after the Hajj have long departed. Yes, some of the bad habits I thought I left in Mecca have started to slowly creep back. Yes, the hectic rat race of the Lower World has clouded the view of God I had during my Hajj. Nevertheless, Mecca always calls me; Mecca always attracts me back to her. My heart continually yearns to go back one day and once again experience what I experienced before. I pray that day comes soon.
And so, if you are looking for something tangible; if you are looking for a graspable connection with the Divine; if you are looking for your Lord and have not found Him yet, go to Mecca. When you get there, you will find your Loving Friend: smiling and extending His hand to you. What's more, when all is done, you won't leave Him behind. He will come home with you and stay with you the rest of your life. And you will forever be changed for the better.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a physician and writer based in Chicago. His book, "The Beliefnet Guide to Islam," will be published by Doubleday in 2006. He is also Resident Fellow of the International Strategy and Policy Institute, a Chicago-based American Muslim think tank.
im very much pleased for the brother and his wife for their successful Hajj. Truly, it is like no other experience.
However, his words about visiting the grave of the Prophet (PBUH) concerned me. Sending prayers upon the Prophet (PBUH) is one of the noblest and loved actions in the sight of Allah subhanahu wata'alah, but talking and forms of worship at graves is something the Prophet (PBUH) strove to warn against. A lot of people, when celebrating the Prophet's (PBUH) birthday, send prayers but fall into shirk by directly asking the Prophet (PBUH) to ease their ailments, using him as a Jesus (PBUH) figure, an intercessor, something the Prophet (PBUH) warned against.
A grave should be levelled and not in places of worship. Unfortunately many people, when visiting the grave of the Prophet (PBUH) fall into the shirk of the Shi'ites, by asking him to pray for them, as they ask their "Imams". I hope people remember this, inshallah.
I am absolutely delighted that the brother has completed his Hajj, may Allah allow us all the oppurtunity to visit Him and accept our prayers and grant the finest of the Prophets (PBUH) Al-Kawthar that He promised him.
"Do not be access in your praise of me, as the christians are with the son of Mary. Call me the Slave and the Messenger of God" (Bukhari)
Also it seems easier for me, as an English speaking person, to remember al-ghayb as meaning the unseen. I would agree that 'the Unseen' is beyond anyone's perception - unless perhaps disclosed by Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala to such a messenger as with whom Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala is well pleased, as seems to be indicated by Quran 72:26-27. Someone at the As-Sunna Foundation of America seems to have given the matter quite a bit of thought. www.sunnah.org/publication/encyclopedia/html/unseen.htm
"Beyond human perception" - that is such a more accurate definition of 'ghayb'.
By the way. The 'discovery' of dark matter is such a blessing for the Muslim, reinforcement for Islam. It is stuff that is real, that exist, but cannot be detected. Stuff that is beyond human perception, in other words. And there is a lot of dark matter in the universe; actually the majority of stuff in it is dark.... More dark than detectable.