Five months ago I was at hajj. Five months ago, the Syrian revolution was 9 months old. That’s how long it takes a baby to fully develop in utero. Hajj was amazing, perspective altering, mind blowing and patience building. But this is not going to be about hajj. This is about patience. This is about the Prophetic statement: Patience is practicing patience.
I remember the day clearly. It was our first day in the tents at Mina and it was sweltering hot. A “Don’t sit that close to me! Your body heat is making it hotter!” kind of hot. It was brutal in that tent. Our AC was broken and the repair man was nowhere to be found. We laid on our cots, incapable of doing anything more strenuous. All I could think was “Dear God, protect us from hellfire. And protect the Syrians fighting for their freedom, without electricity or running water. At least we have cold water to drink and pour over our heads here. Thank you, God. Thank you.” Silent prayers like these kept my mind preoccupied all my days there. I was wrapped up in my own world. It was jolting when suddenly my sister nudged me.
“Mona, did you hear what she just said?”
“What? Who?” I asked.
She just looked across the tent.
I tuned in to the sounds around me, following her eyesight to an elderly woman woman in her late 70′s. She had pale wrinkled skin. At rest, her face was stuck in a perpetual frown. I heard her speak more loudly than anyone should in such a small tent full of so many resting women. She looked around the tent and called out in a very distinctly Syrian dialect of Arabic,
“Who here is an Assad loyal?”
Then she said it again. Three times total she asked. I looked away. I didn’t want to lock eyes with her. She had love in her voice when she said the word Assad. She almost sang it. I got the worst kind of chill down my spine. In that heavy uncomfortable heat, one might think a chill would be welcome. It was not. I was repulsed.
Prayer beads in hand, I closed my eyes and tried to transition back into my happy place, where it was silent and there was no repulsion to be felt. She kept talking and I couldn’t tune her out. She started to say things about the martyrs.
“How dare they call these people martyrs. They’re hooligans. Americans, Israelis- sent into Syria to destroy it. It’s all the west’s doing. These sick twisted people thinking they will ever have better than Assad. These vile traitors to all things Muslim, Arab and Syrian. Have the no loyalty? Have they no pride? They aren’t martyrs. They’re dogs. They’re destroying Syria. Saying they want peace and freedom, what a bunch of lies. They’re just getting paid by Israel. Let them all die. They’re not martyrs.”
I was boiling on the inside, ready to explode. I felt like a pressure cooker. My whistle was howling and the fire under me was still blazing. She kept talking and I started shaking.
This continued on for the entire duration of our stay at Mina, four grueling days. I fantasized about strangling her at one point and I am not a violent person by nature. I had to force myself to avoid her. When she was in the tent, I was outside. When she was awake, I tried to sleep. When I was forced to be in her company and the vile things she said about the revolution got to be too much for me, I poured out all my frustration into prayer for the oppressed and the courageous in Syria. I gave every ounce of passion and sincerity I had to praying for the martyrs and their families. I prayed for my uncles, aunts, and cousins. I prayed for their patience and courage. I prayed for my own patience and courage. I prayed that God expand my chest and untie the knot in my tongue, so that I could speak kindly to this woman who so offended me, if that would please God. I prayed to have compassion for her and that my outpouring of love and goodwill might make her see the truth of the oppression of the Assad regime. I knew the statistics, which have increased dramatically since. In some estimates, over 11,000 people have been murdered by Assad’s brutes. The only bodies they are counting are the ones they have legal ID for. A body with no ID is not added to the toll.
My cousin, Mahdi Aburshayd is one of these martyrs. He was 39. He had a daughter and two sons. His wife is pregnant. The child will never know its father. He was shot in the head.
She told a story about her son at a cactus fruit seller, common street food in Syria. He was buying his fruit and up walks none other than Bashar himself. (It loathes me to even write his name.) The owner of the stand of course recognized the President and said the fruit was on the house.
“Now would you believe it, Bashar refused and paid the man! He even gave him a really generous tip! What a guy! And they say all these terrible things about him. Would a man who tips so well be the kind of monster they’d have us believe?!”
She talked about Israeli conspiracy against Assad and how the entire revolution was a rouse of the Americans. She was a parrot of Al Dunya TV broadcasts which spouted such ludicrous assertions. She talked and talked. She talked even when no one was seemingly listening. When she wasn’t talking about Syria, she was trying to give Islamic lectures. She recited verses incorrectly.
“O people!” she said.
“We have created you males and females so that you get to know one another.”
She sang old Arabic songs and talked about how people always told her she had a voice like Fayrouz.
I bit my tongue. I quieted my thoughts. Every time she opened her mouth, I prayed. I dedicated myself to prayers upon the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be prayers and peace. I praised Allah in his most beautiful of names. She talked. I prayed that God give me the wisdom to be silent. I prayed that God always put me on the side of Truth. I prayed He always make Truth clear to me and keep me steadfast upon it.
I prayed and she talked.
On the day of ‘Arafa, our imam made du’aa after ‘asr prayer. This prayer was unlike any I had ever experienced before. It shook the Earth. The plains of ‘Arafa rejoiced at receiving our tears. He prayed for the oppressed in Palestine. He prayed for the hungry in Somalia. He prayed for our brothers and sisters in Sudan. He prayed for Syria. He prayed for the martyrs. He prayed for their families. He prayed for the freedom fighters and protestors. He prayed that God handle Bashar Al-Assad – that God would do with him greater than what He did with Pharaoh. He prayed that the Assad loyalists saw the light. He prayed for love and compassion. He prayed for freedom and courage. He prayed for our souls and he prayed until my heart was content. We raised our cradled hands to the sky and wept. We had found some gap in the time space continuum becuase when we looked up, it was time for maghrib. This was the most altering night of my life. I found meaning and certain knowing in ‘Arafa. I found what cannot be expressed through language there. I found a peace beyond words.
As we were preparing to leave ‘Arafa, something was different. There was no talking, no singing, no smack talking martyrs, and no lecture giving. A wave of peace and reflection had washed over everyone. We were all a little quieter, stepped a bit more softly, found more excuses for one another, loved bigger, and had greater mercy in dealing with one another. I didn’t see her at all in Muzdalifa and when we returned to Mina, everyone started to catch the flu.
The next time I saw her, she was complaining about the prayer at ‘Arafa and about everyone getting sick, but she had lost her steam. With no audience and no energy, she gave up on her public displays of Assad loyalty.
I learned so much from her. I learned the wisdom of Jesus first hand. Often, we recognize malcontent, displeasure, impatience and other ugly qualities in people. This recognition must inspire us to find that darkness within us, and turn it into light. She was my great test during Hajj. I can say that with certainty. I pray that my response was pleasing to God and that I passed this test. I could have been kinder and much more patient. There is always room for growth. I will continue to challenge myself to foster greater patience with every and anything. I am like a baby, learning things and growing each day. I pray to always grow towards Light and Love.
It takes nine months for a baby to develop in utero. When we got back home from hajj, things in Syria really started to heat up. Assad forces started bombing Homs mercilessly. Rape has become a typical weapon used against little boys and girls, against men and women. This baby that is the Syrian Revolution, is now 4 months old. It is gaining in strength, learning from its mistakes and growing wiser.
My duty to Syria is prayer, advocacy and activism.
My duty to God is to be patient through all of the hurt and heart ache.
Patience is a sign of contentment with God. He is in control, even through all of this.
“I am one person and my prayers can change the world. Remember God often, Mona.”
These are things I must always remind myself of. Patience is salvation.
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