When the thousand nights occur
MECCA, Saudi Arabia — I have lost count of the number of times I performed the haj and umrah (the former is obligatory, the latter discretionary). If making these pilgrimages is a test of a Muslim’s religiosity and a passport to jannah or paradise, I can fairly claim to have passed the test.
This was why when the missus suggested that we join the umrah (a pilgrimage not in the Koran-mandated season) in the few remaining days of Ramadan, I expressed reluctance even if it is during these days when the blessed Laillahtul Kadir (thousand nights) occur and prayers are generally granted. I had a number of reasons: First, the fight over Marawi is still touch and go; second, death was hovering over a cancer-stricken member of our family; and third, it’s the fasting month of Ramadan and the rituals that pilgrims must perform are physically taxing to a septuagenarian.
The unspoken reason playing on my subconscious mind was fear that in the interregnum I might lose the golf swing I had recently honed and, as a result, be ribbed about it by my condescending golf mates. But the madam, again showing defiance to male dominance in a Muslim family, had the last say. No alpha male in this family. So off we went, my mind divided among renewal of faith in Islam, the thought that Marawi is still burning, the possibility that a family member might pass on anytime, and golf.
The Saudi King as the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” is doing a yeoman’s job conserving the holy shrines—Haram, the holiest among the Three Mosques, followed by Nabawi of Muhammad (PBUH), and Afsa in Jerusalem, defiantly standing as a fly in the ointment in the Jewish landscape.
So much has changed since 2005 when I last visited the kingdom as a pilgrim-grantee under the program “Guests of the King.” The monarchy has done so much in terms of improving the infra and other structures that provide relief and safety to pilgrims performing back-breaking rituals.
You can almost feel the dilemma of the Saudi royals in their delicate task of preserving the religious relics without desecrating the original form circa the Prophet’s zeitgeist. They proved equal to the job of applying advanced science and technology to primitive rites. I could hardly recognize the Prophet’s Mosque at Madinnah, our first stop. It is now a mammoth architectural icon featuring a mechanically operated umbrella that unfolds to shade pilgrims from the scorching desert sun, with protruding tubes spouting drops of cold water to temper the humidity.
After a 4-night sojourn of prayers and reflections in Madinnah we motored to Mecca, the center of Islam, traveling 400 kilometers on a well-cemented 6-lane highway.
Approaching Mecca, we could not help but be awed by the huge and imposing Watch Tower reminding devotees of the clockwork times of prayers. We donned our habiliment, a 2-piece white cloth called ikhram, and started the tawaf in which we circled Haram seven times, competing against one another to touch or kiss the Aswad or Black Stone, much like the sea of jostling devotees during the yearly feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo.
Following that rite was the 7-time sa’e or walk-run from one hill to another, reenacting what Hajar, the mother of the Prophet Ismail, did in looking for water for her infant. In iconic Haram we said our prayers standing, bending, kneeling and prostrating ourselves five times a day apart from the special 4-hour taraweh and tahajud prayers at night.
Culinary imperialists have invaded and commercialized the pious ambience of the complex, with fast-food giants McDonalds, KFC, etc. dotting the terrain. And cell phones corrupted the devotees, who were seen texting more than stroking prayer beads.
I wrote this on the seventh day of our pilgrimage. We hope to observe Eid el Adha on June 26, a Philippine national holiday marking the end of Ramadan, in Haram.
We prayed for the ravage of Marawi to end soonest and for jannah for our son-in law, Regional Prosecutor Jaime Umpa, who finally succumbed to the Big C. I am not sure about again being able to tame my errant golf swing.
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Macabangkit B. Lanto ([email protected]), UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright Fellow to New York University for postgraduate studies. He has served the government in various capacities.