It started out when she smiled at me, so thankfully. It made me feel bad. Why was I so begrudging of this empty spot next to me? Why was I being so greedy with something that didn’t belong to me. Why couldn’t I just smile, graciously, when she asked me if there was any space next to me for her and her friend to pray in. Instead, I shook my head vigorously and mouthed, “No,” and made the sign for ‘one person’ with my hand. Only one of you can come. And that, without a smile.
I was standing in the Haram, in the Holy Mosque, in Makkah. I was there for my first Hajj, and my days were filled with love and worship. And yet, I had learned to fight for my spot when it was time for prayer. And that first day in Makkah, on the third floor, three rows back from the balcony overlooking the Ka’ba and the crowds, I was in bliss. But when I stood up to pray, I could only begrudgingly scoot over and make room for a sister. What scrooges we humans are.
A couple of days later, the crowds had swelled in Makkah, as more and more hujjaj arrived from Madina and from all over the world. I was continually being reminded by my sheikh to be patient, to flow with the crowd, to remember that I would be tested to my breaking point, and yet I must stand patient. And so I learned not to fight the crowds when one million of us were walking in every direction trying to get in for prayer. And I learned to let the crowd move me when prayers were over and we needed to head back to our hotel for sleep or food. And I learned to appreciate that most people around me were moving with the flow; weren’t fighting it.
And then we tried to make it in for Maghrib prayer a couple of nights before Arafat. We were determined that within these 45 minutes, we’d make it in and not be praying outside our hotel lobby or in the streets in front of the Haram. We struggled and walked and slipped through, but the only place that we could make it into was the basement of the Haram.
It was just minutes before Iqama as we looked around for a spot. There were no spots. But if people just moved around a little, scooted their bodies over, I’d definitely make it in. So I headed for a relatively spacious line and asked a few women, in sign language, if I could pray next to them. ‘No,’ they vigorously shook their heads. I signed, ‘Just move over a few inches and I’ll be ok. ‘ Again, ‘No. No room.’
I wasn’t going to fight about it, so again, I started scanning the crowds for another possible line. But right then, a big, matronly woman from Mali, sitting right next to these women who had refused to move over for me, spoke to me. She waved her hands, ‘Come over here, there’s space.’ And she scooted her self over and helped force me into that space. She then took my shoe bag from me and put it in front of her. I was unbelievably grateful to her. I was so thankful. I couldn’t stop smiling. It felt so good to have this stranger save me from my wandering over outstretched legs and crowded spaces. And she had done it so graciously, with a smile, without me even asking her.
May Allah reward her. She made my Hajj. Not because she moved over for me when no one else would, not only because she did it without me asking her, not only because she did it so nicely, but because she taught me a lesson in kindness and generosity. These are the traits that Allah SWT wants us to have when He teaches us His names of Al Mannan and Al Kareem. You do good things. You do them generously, with a smile, with an open heart. You don’t begrudge your daughter your time when she asks you for the umpteenth time to get her more milk. You don’t begrudge your sister when you drive her out of your way because she doesn’t have her car. You don’t hold your friend up for a favor because you baby-sat her daughter. And you don’t think you are generous because you moved over five inches for your sister to stand next to you, shoulder to shoulder, in prayer.
You remember His bounty on you for giving you that space, for giving you the ability to give it. O Allah, You are the Most Generous, the Most Kind. Give her more than I can ever give her and reward her for teaching me to be kind and generous with what I have.
Fatima lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two daughters. She is currently a full-time mother and part-time youth worker with MAS Youth.