by Sunya Asgher
Spiritual journey is a term often used for a voyage one embarks upon for religious reasons. As for my personal perception both these terms, spiritual and journey do not have any context with their literal meanings. Journey is the ability to be easily transferable to a place unimaginable. It is that inconceivable condition of being at two places at the same time.
Spiritual, then, to me is something very close to one’s heart. To me it is that unreachable depth of the heart that is really your soul. Something you carry around unburdened. It possesses us rather than us possessing it. The spirit has a way of its own and does more for us than our identity. It is much unique and significant than our whole being as it can not be assessed. Which is why spiritual is a feeling of having the power to let go and become weightless in mind and being.
Spiritual journey is, I believe, a state; a transformation from human to supernatural; an emotion. It does not confirm to any rules or abide by some worldly laws. It is a setting free of thoughts. It is an insight into ones self. All it requires is sensitivity and reflection. All it brings is happiness and comfort. My experience on one such journey was almost unreal. Something I still feel nobody could relate to. This feeling does not make me an extraordinary human being. Neither do I imply that I have achieved something that is not humanly possible. It is just another aspect of my feelings for my dear husband, because these spiritual journeys of ours have always kept us together, even when Nadeem went for hajj.
Nadeem left for his great pilgrimage to the holy Kaaba in the year 2005. And I went with him. I was on a spiritual journey.
The year 2004 had started off very successful and beautiful. We had our first child, our son in April. My husband became import manager from being import officer. I became a graduate. And then Nadeem planned to apply for hajj. That day I felt the heavens glow a wonderful golden as compared to the cool blue I usually imagine it to be. I felt desert winds. I felt the hot sun beating on my back as I trekked the sandy earth. I began keeping my eyes closed for long periods. Nadeem had given me an aura of peace by his decision. The year went by with Nadeem taking the different steps required for the pilgrimage to be made. I was with him on every step. He was living my dream. I was proud to be the partner of a hajji in the making. I wanted to see through his eyes at this point. I wanted to beat inside his chest and run through his veins. I wanted to be his soul and be that voice that was going to rise in Mecca………. “Labbaik”. The strange bit is I was all of that.
The day that Nadeem was to leave for hajj was a very big day for me in terms of the grandeur of the trip and the essence it held. We visited his elder ailing brother in the hospital. He held Nadeem’s hand firmly in his white shapely hands and would not let go. I wept. His white beard formed a halo around his white face. He had not performed his hajj, yet seemed a hajji. I thought of all those who had left the world. I thought of mom. I knew she would be there like how she had been there twice before in her lifetime… this time she would be among the angels. Would she be an angel herself? Perhaps Nadeem’s guardian angel….
Nadeem looked like he had never before in his ihram. For me it was like falling in love all over again. Only that it was with someone else this time. There was a certain untouchable quality, a sanctified blessed look and an angelic radiance that surrounded him. I saw him off at the airport. Saw him merge into the crowd where all were equals in emotion, in appearance, in stature and in god’s eyes! I literally felt my being, my Self tear apart. I saw myself off at the airport too.
I don’t recall crying at any instance while Nadeem was away…. Because I was with him. Eerie as it might sound, I lived every moment with him. I witnessed my beloved husband performing every ritual conscientiously and felt his adrenaline flow at the first sights of the blessed streets and minarets. He was in my mind’s eye like he would have been in front of my eyes. With each passing moment and each accomplished ritual, I felt my fondness and respect growing for him and felt his heart ache in growing religious anguish. He was to me a messiah--- a long-awaited savior and above all a “muallim”, a guide, a teacher, a mentor.
We spoke to ach other often on the phone. The first time he called me was after he had performed his first umra. He asked me to stay quiet while he spoke--- while he gave color to my images with his words. He was excited, elated, and emotional. Maybe the three necessary “e’s” of hajj. I felt the mayhem of Mecca in his voice, the festivity of city- life, the glow of a holy land, the fervor of achievement, the presence of god.
For the first time in my eventful life, I was thanking god earnestly and sincerely; each drop of my blood gushed and created torrents of heartfelt appreciation and wonder. I felt love and lived love. I was praying I would die in love, too. The emotion took a different meaning altogether. It was sacred. It was personal. It was much more than what the word suggested. In fact, it had no proper term. It could be felt and imparted. But could not be said or expressed. It could not be weighed or measured. It had substance but could not be more or less. It was as natural to me as breathing. It gave me hope. And I just knew that I was in love.
In spite of all the modern architecture that surrounded the holy mosque in Mecca and the variety of food chains scattered about the city, I knew the holy air and the spirit of the holy kaaba, the invisible presence of angels and the holy words being uttered at all times by each individual, made it un like any other place in the world. The thought of Nadeem being around a nation, a people who were descendants of god’s most beloved ones was extraordinary. I prayed for god to include my dear hajji among his favored ones. I heard the language we considered holy, being spoken casually. It was general conversation. The world felt it contained dangerous ideas and concealed devastating plans. For us it could only be divine. It soothed me to think of Nadeem living in a world that existed as desert, sand and mountain but was in reality a part of heaven.
I feared the chilly desert nights for him and the hard floor beds in mina and muzdalfah, wanting to send him some of my strength and warmth. I fretted over the stuffy bus rides and the crucial ritual of stoning the devil, hoping to relax his aching muscles and easing him through the crowds during rami. Then I treasured the little hardships and obstacles he countered, for I knew how special that made him for god. On his last day in mina, which made it the last day for rami, it rained. Nadeem was in a downpour in the holy land. He walked and bathed in the heavenly shower. God cleansed him till a pure, cherub emerged. He soaked in the rain and walked barefoot in the squishy land. Nothing could dirty him….
Sometimes I would pray to god that Nadeem would be my guide and help me seek my way to the gates of heaven. I would pray for our unison in heaven. For me to be his hoor just as I was here. I did not really count days to his return, rather I prayed for each of his days to be more fulfilling. For him to earn some extra time under the sun that shone over the holy city, to feel the winds that blew caressing the holy house, to walk the land where 124,000 of those had walked who were the most privileged and blessed ones.
Nadeem once called me when it was time for Maghrib prayer in the harem. He wanted me to listen to the azan live. Live not only in the sense of hearing it while it happened--- rather, live in the sense of he and I hearing it together while miles of sea and desert lay between us.
The last eight days of Nadeem’s 22 day trip were to be spent in medina. With head shaved and beard taking a grizzly, unruly form around his face, he headed for the land of the holy prophet (s). I felt like singing and dancing in happiness like the little girls of medina who had greeted the last prophet(s) on his arrival in medina at the time of his migration 1400 years back. My soul was joyous and my heart beat a little faster than usual. The beautifully decorated city of medina took Nadeem in its embrace and gave him what nobody could--- fulfilled dreams. He was taken by the peace and the festivity of the city. More than anything he wanted to visit the prophet’s last resting place, and he did. As did I. Tears of joy stung my eyes and my senses felt benumbed by the ephemeral moment I spiritually spent at the shrine.
Nadeem called again that night. His voice heavy with emotion and his joy reaching unlimited heights. I was once again silent as he gave me his account of the holy mosque in medina in his quiet voice. His hushed words echoed over the phone and I trembled to hear Nadeem speak a language even he was not familiar with. He told me the inside premises of the mosque were decorated like a “beautiful bride, Sunya.” It was exquisitely beautiful and left one holding his breath in awe. It was gold and silver and shimmered and glowed. It was a jewel in itself and could not possibly be polished any further. I wished I was his hands that touched the holy shrine, I wished I was his feet that walked the harem but above all I wished I was those words that he uttered that very moment. Most of all I prayed I could be that beautiful bride he described when we would be together again in heaven.