This forms part of a series by written by South African hajj doctor, Salim Parker. More articles can be found at www.hajjdoctor.co.za
‘Where is your husband?’ someone asked her. We were all in the restaurant of our hotel in Makkah about two weeks before Hajj was to start. Breakfast was a time shared with new made friends, new formed alliances as well as strengthening existing bonds. The atmosphere is invariably jovial as the Hujjaaj exchange their experiences. Of course the necessities of travel, such as where to get the best quality garments at the best prices or where to exchange money for the best rates has to be discussed. The food served is always a rich topic of discussion.
Inevitably talk graduate to the more pertinent issues. Some talk of an easy way to get into the Haram, others about the best time to make a Tawaaf and when to try to get as close to the Kaba’a as possible. Small groups congregate and plan an additional Umrah whilst others start an initiative to feed of the poor who are evident even in the avalanche of excess.
All of this was happening as she sat alone, waiting for her spouse to make an appearance. It was widely known where he was most likely to be. No, not in the Haram, not sleeping, nor busy with the usual activities that Hajj is known for. ‘He is probably in the room,’ she replied. Their table just had its standard cutlery on it and a glass of zamzam which she was slowly drinking from.
For more than an hour already. She was patiently waiting for him, and was not going to start indulging from the extensive buffet before he made an appearance. ‘Oh, is he still doing some business?’ someone dryly asked. ‘Probably,’ was her hesitant, sad but very predictable reply. ‘Some urgent business matter must have cropped up and it most likely needs his immediate and urgent attention. He should be here soon,’ she added.
We all knew by then that soon could be any time. Her husband was a fabulous person who got along with everyone. A jovial, social and very likable person who engaged with everyone. With everyone when he was around that is. He was constantly on his phone, either instructing business directions to some hapless employee at his office verbally, or maniacally typing or texting messages.
Brokering deals and striking them was in his blood. He was clearly on top of his game, was passionate about his job and seemed to derive enormous satisfaction from it. It was evident that he derived enormous financial benefit from his business dealings and was known to be very wealthy from a young age already. He was known to be generous as well, and many were the beneficiaries of it. That was one part of his being that he did without any fanfare. He was a true believer in giving with the one hand without the other knowing about it.
His good qualities could however not camouflage his absolute obsession with doing business and that he was doing in his room on his laptop as his wife waited for him. Food would have to wait, his spouse would have to wait and everything would have to wait. In fact, when he arrived in Makkah clad in his two piece Ihram, he immediately, after getting to his hotel room, started working on his laptop and delayed his group from performing Umrah as he took a while to join them where they assembled in the foyer at the agreed upon time.
I have often realised that the obsession is not to amass a fortune; it is the adrenaline rush of initiating, brokering and finally concluding a deal that fuels the addiction. He was not addicted to money, he was addicted to making money. A large percentage of this he would spend in the way of charity.
A few days later he and his wife were returning from the Haram to the hotel after the evening prayers when he received the inevitable phone call and somehow wandered off in a random direction, gesticulating feverishly. When he finished his conversation some time later, he realised his wife was not with him and decided to return to the hotel. He returned to the hotel. She was not in the room nor was she anywhere else in the hotel.
He decided to wait for her in the room, whilst busy on his laptop of course. After more than an hour he started to get worried about her whereabouts. She did not take her mobile with her as she believed it to be a distraction and also as they normally meet outside the Haram after prayers at a prearranged place if they get separated. She would often comment of how taking selfies and photos seem to be more important than simply sitting and reciting in the Haram.
Another hour passed and there was still no sign of her. He put away his laptop and decided to go look for her. She would never do anything without informing him so this was worrying to him. He knew her intimately, and went down to the Haram, but soon realised that finding her amongst the thousands in the vast expanses would be near impossible. He stared at the Kaba’a and found himself making duaa for her safety. By now he was starting to panic, and subconsciously, started to walk to the place where they meet if they get separated. She was standing there. He rushed up to her, and burst out crying as he could not contain his emotions. She was completely dumbstruck and could not understand his concerns.
‘But I told you that I was going back to perform a Tawaaf!’ she said. She explained to him that when they left the Haram they were chatting about how relatively empty it was there. People were streaming out and it would have been easier than normal to go back for a Tawaaf. When his mobile rang she realised that he was going to have a long conversation and told him that she would rather perform a Tawaaf than wait for him to finish his conversation. ‘You said it was fine if I do that!’ she reminded him. ‘I must have been distracted and did not hear that,’ he confessed. She was not a lady to spit back retorts and remained silent.
‘I did not realise that I would panic like this when I realised that you were gone,’ he said. ‘I just got back to the hotel now and was told that you went looking for me. I thought you would look at our normal place and that’s why I came here,’ she said.
It seemed that something stirred in him. ‘Will you come with me for a Tawwaf now?’ he asked. ‘Are you not hungry? You did not have supper yet from what I have gathered,’ she responded. ‘Neither did you eat yet,’ he said, fully aware that she always waits for him for any meal. ‘I am hungry but would infinitely prefer to be performing a Tawaaf with you,’ she smiled. He switched off his phone when they entered the Haram, the Kaba’a welcomed them in all its glory. Much, much later, they had supper at one of the small tucked away restaurants as their hotel’s one was closed for hours already. ‘
‘Let’s go back to the Haram,’ he suggested. ‘I want to stay there for Tahajud and then till Fajr.’ His phone was still switched off and there was no mention of his computer. They sat looking at the Kaba’a. For the first time he was aware of the spirituality of all around him. He was not merely partaking in a ritual in order to get done, he was immersed and living his Deen. His digital detoxification has commenced.