The Moths Circling the Candle Flame of The Kaaba: Hajj 67 By Daoud A. Haroon. (unedited)
It was not until my spot-on publisher to be reminded me that although I had posted a half dozen photos of Hajj 67 on my website I had never written any descriptions of the Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina did I begin to recount that visit almost a half century ago and ask myself the reasons why.
For almost fifty years I was never predisposed to talk about hajj to my closest friends. As far as I was concerned I had never really performed Hajj. I had convinced myself that my prayers and my sacrifices had not been accepted because I had consistently lost my temper. I was consistently brought into some type of encounter with people that invalidated my original intention (niyyat). I had read Malcom X’s account of hajj and related strongly when I was there to the many obstacles that he encountered, particularly with the formal and informal interrogations that happen regularly, at least they did during the time I traveled to Saudi Arabia in 1967. For me it was a done deal…no hajj for me and no use of the title Hajji.
It was after thinking these things through that I finally realized that just as no two people experience anything the same way – so why should I expect my travels to be like anyone else’s or to expect that my experiences and observation would even follow suit to any book I had read on the subject. Most certainly God must have intended everything that happened to me to happen. And it is from these truly remarkable memories and insights that I have decided to share with you. Indeed one never knows what God has in store for you.
As I look at the group photo taken at JFK on the day we all left for Arabia I cant help but remember that for the most part of my great adventure I spent more time with just five of faces shown. Wallace, Ghandistani, Abdullah Vehbi Ismail and The Emir al Hajj Muhammad Bin Yusef. The other brothers were cordial and friendly and as I remember solicitous as befits the role of the Pilgim to Mecca. Most were University Students registered in schools throughout the continental United States a few many have come in from Canada.
Arabs of one sort or another from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria. And the others from Pakistan and India and I recognize one brother from Multan a city in Northern India who used to die his hair and his beard black . Toward his right wearing a light colored fur Jinnah cap was a Dr. Jamal who later sent me a set of Qurans from Pakistan , one small pocket sized which I have either given away or lost and the other medium sized (8×10) written in Arabic, which I still have in my collection.
Ahmadi the Indonesian brother who visited me at my loft in Chinatown New York with Abdellah Ahmad whom I have written about in earlier accounts is missing from the photo.
Let me see: 6 Arabs, 9 Indo-Pak, 1 Albanian, 4 Afro-Americans, I awoke in the middle of the night and rose up from my sleeping bag on the floor to the sound of my two sleeping companions; Wallace D. Mohammad & Imam Vehbi Ismail.
Their breathing was deep and I could hear their sinking deeper and deeper in to greater relaxation…their bodies tired and weary after travelling half way around the world. And a strange thought occurred; that we had travelled half way around the world to find ourselves laying on the floor in this dark room at the center of the world.
If you had asked me the name and the address of this small alleyway in Mecca I could not tell you…all that I could tell you was that we were here in Mecca in a dark room.
My attention was drawn to the thudding sound of feet .all moving in the same direction.. out of the window and to the left in the direction of the Kaaba, from which direction we three, in the company of Thirty other odd travelers had completed our Ummrah and our first Tawaaf around the Kaaba…the undeniable Sanctum Sanctorum for an estimated 2.08 billion Muslims in the world.
I envisioned this Kaaba (X) point in space and time as the very center of the world and all the streets in Mecca pointing their way to the Kaaaba…I allowed my imagination to drift closer to the ceiling and then to the roof and then further into space …each time envisioning the streets and then the roads of Arabia and outward until I could envision all the roads of all the countries of the world pointing in this direction..I then began to envision all of these 2.08 billion Muslims around the world facing the same direction adjusting their compasses and aligning themselves in accordance to the Qibla or Mihrab (prayer Niche) on the wall of their homes that indicate the proper direction and in their mosques – with this ever increasing overview I began to envision this scene as a gigantic cosmic sized asterix. And in an unexpected instance I saw the center as a giant candle flame and all the lines leading to it filled with moths and butterflies all dressed in their white Ihram moving toward the flame to be consumed in absolute brilliance.
While in the holy city each time I visited the Kaaba I had this thought. Since then no matter where I am on the planet earth (and I have been blessed to have travelled to many countries) and each time I stand for prayer I am blessed with this vision. It may occur at any time and at any place.
The First Miracle I witnessed during Hajj
I had been told years earlier by my teacher and namesake Sheikh Daoud that when I arrived in Mecca I would in all likelihood would experience many strange and mysterious things. I am certain that he had no intention of trying to scare me, and I remember his telling me of some of the strange things he had seen and experienced during his several visits to the Holy cities of Mecca Mukarama and Medina Munawara.
His first meeting with a Saint (Wali) his observing The Cow Woman, – his reviving an African Diplomat at Muna who had been overcome by a beam of sunlight that had leaked through the top of the tent. His re-occuring dream of Ghalib Mohammads wife Afifah reminding him to pray for her at the Ritual of the Holding, etc. his receiving a solid gold Rollex from King Abdullah, King Faisals older brother, etc.
Nothing can prepare you for a miracle, they come as naturally as rain that falls from the sky and yes many men consider that act within itself a miracle particularly when it rains in the desert, and it does but very rarely.
Image if you will thousands of people encircling the Kaaba, perhaps even more people than you could ever count spreading out from the center of the courtyard in concentric circles that grew larger and larger as they expanded outward until this very large courtyard was filled with endless circles of (prayer beads) people hand in hand like a endless strands of prayer beads or a spiral of Chain each person a link all moving counter clockwise around the Kaaba.
What are the chances of a break occurring in this mammoth fine lined bulls eye at any point in the circle which would allow for a straight unimpeded roadway to appear that ran from the Black Stone at the center to the outermost ring of the circle of spiritual revelers?
I ask you again gentle reader, just what are the odds?
Well to my utter amazement my group of thirty plus had just entered the courtyard and had taken our places side by side and hand in hand to join what appeared to be the very last line to fit onto into) the courtyard/ if you looked toward the center you could see the brick masonry of the Kaaba and from about midway to the summit it was was covered with a gold embroidered black cloth (Kiswah) which at this time was drawn up half way to keep the ecstatic revelers from tearing it to pieces. The golden embroidery of the verses of the Quran that circled the Kaaba also caught the light of the sun and thoughts of the news streaming around the periphery of Times Square came to mind in a momentary flash.
Brother Abdallah from Detroit was holding my left hand I think that Dr. Muhammad Ghandistani from Philly may have been holding my right hand. We had been drilled since we arrived and cautioned not to break the chain, and by all means never let your partners hands go… We had name tags pinned to our shirts that also had our address in Mecca just in case anything unexpected took place.
No sooner than we had begun to move to right in unison with the words of Tawaaf [La Baik! La Baik!/Here we are! ] on our lips a strange silence descended and my eyes were drawn from the right to left and lo and behold I could not believe my eyes. A straight Lane opened up…and at the very center of the I could see the silver cover that hangs over the Black Stone…I couldn’t believe my eyes but it was real, very real.
I felt Abdallah’s hand tighten and his grip gradually loosened and I sensed he was going to bolt , and bolt he did, he pulled away from both the men whose hands he was holding and ran straight down the lane that had opened before our eyes. I watched him for a few seconds and then the gap closed around him and he was gone, disappeared, swallowed up in a swirling sea of white, not to be seen again for several days. Yes he had taken the dive and was submerged in the ocean of the Kaaba for three days before we found him.
He later confirmed that when the lane opened up mysteriously before him he heard a voice that called him and left us to answer that call. He also confirmed that no person blocked the way as he approached his destination – the Black Stone…a clear clean unimpeded WAY.
The story of what happened after his miraculous Tawaaf is just as miraculous. According to him after he had kissed the black stone and swirled around the inner edges of the Kaaba for a few more turns he later found himself wandering around the courtyard lost. He began a confused search for us but due to both fatigue and hunger Abdullah had to get off his feet and found a cool shady spot within the cloistered inner walls that also offered a spacious view of the courtyard.
He waited, and waited, and waited. He said that every now and then someone would offer him water, particularly from among the many “Zem-Zemi’s” that are employed to continuously circle around inside the complex labyrinth to offer the pilgims cups of water.
From time to time he heard an English speaking voice and emplored those people to help him. Unfortunately he had lost his ID tag with his address and the exact location of our rented apartment. A few times people actually took him outside into the streets of Mecca and they walked the streets looking for a familiar place, but to no avail.
When nighttime arrived he prayed his sunset and late night prayers at the Kaaba and found a quiet spot within the cloisters to lay down and sleep. A few of the patrol guards were aware of his dilemma and brought him food. But lost he was for the next three days.
The third morning when our group was performing another round around the sacred site we heard a voice call out from the cloisters , it was our long lost brother returning to us from his long ordeal –he had a beaming smile on his face and a look that exclaimed that he had just returned from the trip of a lifetime.
Jebel Nur: The Mountain of Light
Actually as the photographs that I took while on top of Jebel Nur will attest to the sensation that while there you feel as if you are on top on the world looking down at the creation. Each direction you turn there is an endless panorama of undulating desert scenes and the rising and falling of small mountains and sprawling amoeba shaped valleys.
Coming down was much easier than going up –however on the way up I saw a great many things that surprised me. One of them was that at every turn in the numerous trails of the ascent there were little black people actually the smallest people I have ever seen outside of the pygmies – they were huddled together in small groups squatting in whatever shade they could find, all with hands outstretched crying and whining in childlike voices: “Barak-Allah Hajji…Baraka-Allah”… [Something (alms) For the Sake of God ,ie; May God reward you for your generosity) Oh! Pilgim.
Many people have reported seeing monkeys here at Jebel Nur monkeys that were somewhat annoying or troublesome, and I have often wondered if what they saw here at Jebel Nur were these very small people.
During and after the Hajj I inquired about these strange people and I received any different and sometimes amusing answers.. some folks suggested that they were monkeys dressed up like people and others that they were indeed related to the pygmies of Central Africa and yet a few others offered that they were related to the Nubian woman Halima who had served as the Wet Nurse for the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Who they really are (were) I may never know…one of the any mysteries one encounters during the Hajj.
Speaking of miracles there are a few things that I have experienced that I would classify as miracles and several of them occurred during this pilgrimage and one in particular would occur years later in 1989/80 in Iran when I had the pleasure to have met The Ayatollah Marashi Najfi [peace be with him] a man so old and frail the day I met him at his home that he could barely summon the strength to pray while seated on his bedroom/study floor and then later that night I was brought to the Shrine of Hazratah Masumeh by Sheikh Zaki to witness what Zaki describes as one of the Miracles of Qum –to my amazement at the time of the calling of the Maghrib Adan I saw The Aged Ayatollah enter through the gates of the shine standing very tall and erect walking at a brisk pace into the spacious courtyard which by the way contained thousands of eager pilgims, all there to witness the great miracle that was to occur before their eyes… The old man untied his turban and draped the trailing end over his left shoulder and led the faithful congregation through the sunset prayer in a swift and precise manner which I have yet to experience again. He performed each stage of the prayer with exacting precision and his rising and falling were impeccable, his voice clearly audible above the sound of the evenings rustling breeze and the sounds of flocks of wailing pigeons that circled overhead all during this miraculous prayer.
As soon as the prayer was over he raised his hands and recited a very brief duah , rose and could be seen making his way out of the shrine through the gates that he had entered and into a waiting taxi cab that was as ancient as he… and off he went into the night.
However back to Jebel Nur. As I was making my way down the mountain following a narrow well trodden path I noticed a woman standing a few feet away standing as if in silent meditation with her hands folded under her protruding stomach looking far off into the distance…she was dressed in white and was obviously in the last stages of pregnancy, as I approached she turned my way and smiled , when she noticed the camera hanging around my neck she raised her hand and beckoned / gestured to me to take her picture . I approached the lady and gave her Salaams , she returned my salaams and gestured again assuming a very girlishly stance I took several photos of her and began to make my way down the mountain.
Once I arrived at the bottom there were droves of people standing around stretching and reorganizing themselves and I saw the lady standing with a small group of people who by all appearance were from Central or West Africa. I approached the group to ask the lady for her address so I could send her a copy of the photo and
one of her companions spoke for her and informed me that she had not asked to have her photo taken to recieve a copy, she had never had her portrait taken before with such an expensive looking camera and was honored to pose for me. The second amazing thing I was about to learn was that this group of people had set out for Hajj three years earlier walked from West Africa to Arabia on foot. They were preparing themselves for the long trip back from whence they came, and asked for my prayers and duah that they make it back home safely.
Oh! About the address…they had abandoned their home in the village and by the time they got back , if they do get back the village may have moved to another location. To quote Fats Waller once again: “One Never Knows Do On
The Woman In The Desert (At Badr)
Travelling north to visit the grave of The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the city of Medina we stopped at a place near Badr, the site of a historic battle that took place during the early days of The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
It was a very small place that looked more like a tent than a building with a few typical raised wicker benches to rest on. There was a large grilled open fire pit that was covered with pungent smelling fish roasting over small piles of smoldering charcoal .
We had arrived in a small yellow school bus and we pulled into the space alongside the building with the front of the bus facing into the vast panorama of the desert. I was the last one off the bus and I stood there stretching my body and looking far out into the desert where you could see the faint outline of mountains on the horizon, someone in the bus said they were called the ‘mountains of the moon’ and from my perspective they did have a rather lunarscape look to them. It was quiet out there, very quiet and from time to time you could see tiny wisps of sand and dust forming into dust devils that barely rose above the surface of the desert floor and disembodied themselves into small mounds that further disembodied themselves into tiny scattered puffs of sand hanging on the hot dry desert air.
The smell of roasting fish was in the air as well as the smell of tobacco, several of the bus drivers and cabbies were huddled around
a portable TV puffing away on water pipes and cigarettes cheering Mohammad Ali on to yet another of his recorded triumphs…everywhere we travelled the people were gathered to watch the great champion demolish his foes in the ring and the sound of his name rang out throughout the Middle east and the Third World, loud and clear. I will write more about Mohammad Ali later – perhaps in another segment…however I would like to remind the reader that Ali had intended to have travelled on this initial MSA sponsored Hajj – and much to the dismay of King Feisal and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia just before we were scheduled to leave the U.S. Government had taken away his passport and put him in jail on draft evasion. But that is another story for another time.
Every now an then my comrades would call out to me to come and join the festivities, they couldn’t see me because I was on the other side of the bus. Several times I started to make my way to the inviting smell of fish and freshly cooked bread, but something kept me standing there as if in expectation of something or someone that was to soon appear.
As I was scanning the horizon I did a double take on something in the distance that appeared to be moving in my direction, it was there and in an instant it was gone almost like looking at a surf boarder who disappears momentarily when the next high wave takes to the fore and the surfer recedes as if drifting backwards into the trough between the waves. Each time I looked out in that direction the wavering apparition became a little larger… the thought entered my mind for a few seconds that perhaps it might be the intense heat of the desert creating an mirage or an illusion…
Eventually after a few minutes of steady looking and clearing my eyes with the backs of my hands I could clearly see that it was a person walking with a steady and determined gait …that amorphous person was soon identified as a woman wearing a long dress and hanging headscarf trailing behind her swift stride, and the she stopped momentarily as if taking a long look at me from afar, I could not make out her face but I knew instinctively that she was looking right at me and in her own way she was ‘sizing me up.’ Hmmm…What’s this all about?
It was as if we had embarked on a game of looking and not looking at each other…I would look down for a few moments and when I looked up she had moved even closer and stop – this went on until she was about 35 or 40 feet away, and I could see her face and her eyes that now seemed to burn into my eyes and my head. She paused and raised her arms and her open hands in a gesture that both demanding and asking politely to give her ‘something”. I dropped my eyes again and she was now close enough for me to see the tattoos on her face and on her hands. Her face was blank and expressionless but her eyes were challenging me and I had no clue what she wanted.
I can honestly say that for a few fleeting moments I became a bit terrified of this woman who has floated into my life from the depths of the desert and now standing in front of me defiantly demanding something from me that I had no idea what it could be.
The fact that no one in our group could see what was going on from the other side of the bus added to my feeling of isolation and the thought: “Was this really happening?” sped through the synaptic matrix of my mind in split second flashes that defied the speed of sound.
She had now come close enough to me that I could smell the fragrance of her clothes that closely reminded me of the smell of an oriental carpet shop in an old bazaar. Her eyes were ever more intense and something deep inside of me told me to withdraw, and I abruptly turned around and began to walk alongside the bus whose yellow paint had taken on an equally intense glow. As I reached the back of the bus I saw the small clay house to my right, I saw my companions sitting around the open fire and my nose began to fill with the scent of roasted fish and the air bound commingling of other scents that drew me ever nearer to the fete. Stranger even was the fact that everyone including our host was momentarily frozen in time and space midstride whatever action they were performing.
They greeted me and one brother remarked that I must have drunk en quite a bit of water to have stood there for so long. I smiled at his insinuation as fleeting thoughts of the lady sped through my mind. The meal was more than adequate and the outside of the fish was charred and flavorful as was the bottom of the rice in the pot… We sat and rested for a long while – sipped hot cardamom /mint flavored tea and resumed our excited conversation about how long it would take us to reach Medina…all thoughts of the lady had disappeared just as she had disappeared.
As we made our way to the bus to board I glanced down to see the footprints in the sand where two people had been facing each other and the long trails leading to the spot and away from the spot from which they came. As we drove away I scanned the stretch of desert as far as I could see but there was no sign of her to be seen anywhere.
Several weeks later after I returned to NYC I began to wake up during the middle of the night and surprisingly she would be standing next to my bed with her eyes fixed on me with her arms outstretched. This went on for a week or so until at dinner one night with Sheikh Daoud and Mother Khadija at the Mosque I broached the subject after the meal and both Mother and Baba Sheikh thought long and hard before Mother asked if I had greeted the lady and greeted her with the traditional Muslim welcoming greeting of: Sallaam Aleikum (peace be unto you). This thought had never occurred to me…even in the desert I had failed to give this woman the simplest and most basic respect. Mother then suggested that the next time she appears to Great her properly and ask her if she would like to sit down and have a glass of water.
That night after I had been brought to shame by my own confession of a lack of Adab (manners/etiquette) I went home eager to make amends, hoping when I arose in the middle of the night she would appear and I could give her my salaams, offer her water and ask her forgiveness …unfortunately she never returned.
That was over fifty years ago and although I still harbor a strong desire to see her again standing in the near darkness of my room I have a strange feeling that I have had glimpses of this woman in the many unknown and un-named faces of thousands of women I have seen throughout the world since then.
You never know when you are being tested, and then I am reminded that with each step along the way there will be a test.
As I have written earlier I met brother Warith D. Muhammad for the very first time at JFK Airport in April of 1967 when the MSA group eventually found each other and gathered together to embark on this historic trip to Arabia. An enthusiastic group of individuals, to say the very least.
Brother Wallace as I was introduced to him at the time was by far the most reserved but openly friendly in the group with the noticeable exception of our; Emir al-Hajj, Bin Yusef, an Algerian Graduate student at UC Berkeley. Although there are only twenty people portrayed in the formal group photo taken at the airport before we departed there were a couple of woman in our group who were not photographed and several other members that we did meet until we arrived in Beirut and then a few more in Arabia…notably among them was an older African American man by the name of Abu Nouri who had left alone from Boston. Abu Nouri was a very quiet person who said very little –he had informed me that he lived in the same neighborhood that I had grown up in earlier in Roxbury I had never lain eyes on him before. It was if he appeared from out of nowhere and later disappeared back into that quizzical anonymity that so many characters in our life emerge from and then pass as ships in the night.
Warith and I sat beside each other on the plane and began to share the details of our lives; he the son of The great Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad (RA) and the Director of the Shabazz Enterprises and I an aspiring Jazz Trombonist and erstwhile jack of all trades, but most importantly for both of us was our mutual interest in the Music of Charlie Parker.
We hummed and sang the melodies of many of the Parker compositions and surprisingly he had memorized a few snatches of Charlie Parker solos. Those excursions into the world of Be-Bop made the long trip very bearable for the both of us.
Later…from time to time during our travels he would take me aside by the arm and whisper in my ear : Hey Brother do you remember this? And he would hum a few notes of a Jazz tune …in a good-natured attempt to establish a challenge of sorts of who remembered who and what in the Jazz world.
As I look back and remember he was very serious, a man who was aware of his future role in life and the great burden of responsibility of that reality – direct and humble blessed with great sense of humor. I was often stunned and impressed by his knowledge of so many different things… the feelings were mutual and we often relied on each others take on things as clarification of: “Hey Brother: Did You See what I just saw?” or “Did you hear that?” Two brothers walking side by side and often hand in hand trying to maneuver our way through what was often a mine field of confusion and controversy.
We were often billeted with