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Life and life’s ironies

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This is part of a series written by Dr Salim Parker. More stories at

Hajj is a wonderful journey. We are all detached from the realities of our lives back home where the drudgery, mundaneness, routines and responsibility of everyday life fast forwards time to the extent where we wake up shocked one day and ask ourselves what happened to all our now long forgotten objectives. No, on Hajj every day seems so purposeful. Long before the actual days of Hajj arrive, the new routine in firstly Madinah and then Makkah fills us with a sense of purpose, a desire to live the rest of our lives there, and a new sense of community. True, those at home in South Africa are missed.

However the desire is for our beloved to join us in the Holy Land, and not for us to catch the first flight back to the country of our birth. Our lives revolve around going to the Haram five times a day for the compulsory prayers and drinking Zam-Zam, and a few additional times with new found friends for Tawaaf. Meal times are again time to cement new relationships. The good in us flourishes. The type of life that we can live forever.

Ahmed* and Ayesha* were a couple that epitomised the goodness Hajj brings out in people. Forever smiling, always courteous and constantly assisting whoever needed help in any way. Their lives in Saudi revolved around deep conversations with fellow pilgrims about everything in life and how the journey was influencing them. They formed firm friendships with a number of people. Ayesha befriended Kulsum*, whose marital status recently reverted to being single. The two became inseperable. Soon Kulsum accompanied the couple when they performed their Tawaafs, they sat together when they had meals, they joked, shopped and explored the surrounding souks together. The bond between the two ladies was growing stronger and stronger. It seemed that Ayesha had her life partner and best friend with her on the most important journey of their lives. When they performed prayers in the Haram, Aslam would be with the males and the two ladies would inevitably be together somewhere in the ladies’ section not far away.

Hajj drew the three of them very close to each other. I recall our Sheigh and myself commenting on the positive effects that Hajj had on people. We recounted the number of people who met on Hajj and have formed close bonds ever since. I myself without fail visit an elderly couple whenever I am in Johannesburg. We met on our first Hajj nearly twenty years ago.

I have attended the Nikahs of couples who met on Hajj, witnessed the name giving of the new lives borne by these unions, and attended funerals of fellow Hujjaaj who Allah had by now recalled. The circle of life sometimes accelerates to completion within a surprisingly short period of time. On Hajj we all want to do things absolutely correctly and within the prescribed parameters of our religion. Though we never asked them, we are sure that they all often went to the Haram during the early hours of the morning, during Tahajud time, to ask their Creator for guidance.

Some in the group speculated about where the friendship was heading. ‘Aslam is going to ask Kulsum to marry him, just wait and see,’ someone told me. It is perfectly permissible for a Muslim man to have more than one wife,’ our Sheigh reminded us when the topic was mentioned in one of the many informal discussions that Hujjaaj often have. Hajj brings out the best in us most of the time. It also brings out the worse in people. Unfortunately there are always a handful who seem oblivious to the positives of the journeys.

They find fault with the colour of the décor of their rooms. They complain that the same twenty desserts are served at their buffet suppers every night, and get upset when it is pointed out to them that they only need to taste one or two every day, and not sample all of them. ‘We paid for it,’ they would grumble. Some would stay in their hotels during the prayer times instead of being part of nearly a million all making Salaah in unison in the Haram who derive the benefit of prayers blessed with more rewards than any other Mosque on this earth.

It was Ayesha who first approached the subject of the marriage between Ahmed and Kulsum. A discussion ensued with the Sheigh. It was the perfect formula. Two ladies who were very good friends. A married lady who had no objection, and who in fact requested her husband to ask for the hand of her best friend in marriage. Ahmed was by the financial means to support two wives and he was by now very close to Kulsum as well. The Sheigh indicated to them that as Ayesha had no objection to the union between Ahmed and Kulsum, and in fact initiated and encouraged it, that it should proceed. I was not privy to the discussions but can well imagine its humble nature. I am sure that the asked Allah to guide and bless them when they stood on the plains of Arafat.

I thought of the contrasting incident we had a few weeks earlier when a wife wanted to jump out of a twelfth story window In Makkah when she learnt that the husband remarried without her knowing. We tried to dissuade her, and indicated that though the husband should have obtained her consent or at least inform her, there was nothing we could do about it. Then she told us that the second wife was also in Makkah for Hajj and this infuriated her even more. ‘And,’ she screamed, ‘she is staying in a far superior hotel than me!’

The Sheigh involved was requested to perform the Nikah upon their return to South Africa. It was in many ways going to be a completely new life. We all have descended from the slopes of Jabal Rahmah, the Mount of Mercy with the sincere hope that Allah has forgiven us all our sins and would bless all our future deeds. The Sheigh ensured that Ayesha was present when the Nikah was present. It was the ideal end to a another Hajj Story. But life and fate does not always follow the romanticised and sanitised script that that we all wish for living happily ever after for.

The relationships changed over the course of time. Ayesha became unhappy for reasons that remained in their private domain and after a while, she was divorced from Aslam, with Kulsum still wedded to him. Ayesha has since remarried and is living her own life. We often reflect on how the perfect world of Hajj we all had and want it to last on and on and that we could ideally live in Saudi forever. But we have to return home, a salary has to be earned and bills need to be paid. The circle of life returns to its predictability and what happens in everyday life resumes with some of its unforeseen conclusions.


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