From the news desk

Waiting for Forgiveness

This forms part of Dr Salim Parker’s hajj stories, which can be found at

The huge bear of a man towered over the nearly anorexic skeleton of his small wife. ‘They’re arguing again,’ someone remarked. We were all assembled in the huge breakfast buffet area of the five star hotel in Makkah about two weeks before Hajj. I was afraid that just by brushing lightly at her with his huge hands whilst she was ferociously shouting and gesticulating at him, he might cause serious bodily harm to her. ‘Or rather, she is giving him hell again,’ the commentator continued. I looked closer.

Things were not what we perceive them to be. We are so used to wives being abused that any scenario involving aggressive spousal interactions is automatically assumed to driven by a male perpetrator. When the scene is filled by the huge frame of a sumo shaped husband, the perception is reinforced. As I walked closer to the couple, it became evident that the wife was indeed the aggressor and he was meekly shielding himself from her blows.

The Imam who was sitting nearby, intervened and, after chatting to them, she cooled down after a while. The husband did not say much, just sat with a surrendering droop of the shoulders. He happened to look up when I walked past their table. Strangely there was no sunset in his eyes. True, there was no spring sparkle or mid-summer conflagration, but definitely no dusking of the dawn.

It seemed that he weathering a storm that would eventually lose its intensity, like, though he was caught in an unpredictable rapid in the river of his life, he would eventually reach calmer waters. His feisty wife was still silently fuming, but at least there was no overt public display of disaffection. In fourteen days’ time we were going all going to don our Ihrams. All were going to be equal before their Creator. Here we had a couple who mostly likely asked to be forgiven by all whom they greeted, but clearly one of them was not forgiving the other. He seemed prepared to wait.

The Imam and I sat down for breakfast and he gave me a brief rundown of their story. Apparently the man transgressed in some way or the other. The Imam did not elaborate as to the nature of this act and I did not pursue it either. This happened years ago. He admitted his guilt and, according to the Imam, repented and tried to compensate in all manners possible. My sense was that he frittered away vast sums of her money but I could be wrong.

She would not let him forget his error. In fact, as the years passed, she made it a point of reminding him about it and this would frequently be the subject of her public screaming outbursts. He was hoping that she would accept his apology, accept his attempts at compensation and move towards some form of reconciliation. He saved especially for this Hajj as a further impetus, but her pathological clinging to what clearly was providing her a moral sword over his head was not helping his desperate desire to resolve the matter. The initial abuser was now being abused. We witnessed a few more such events over the next few days.

About a week before Hajj was due to commence they came to see in my consulting room which was based in the hotel’s basement. There were a number of quite sick people and I have not attended to them by the time that the Athan for the midday Thuhr prayers was commanding us to go to the Haram. By that time there were about five patients that I still had to see to. I indicated to them that I’ll see to them immediately after the prayers and this was accepted as a matter of course. I would then take a lunchbreak after I had assisted them. Most of us by that time knew that we would never make it into the Holy Mosque when the compulsory prayers started.

Makkah was full of prospective pilgrims and the streets leading to the mosque was filled at least thirty minutes before the Athan was sounded. I normally make the prayers in the road just outside the hotel, being a mere speck among the nearly million pilgrims all grateful to be in the vicinity of the Holy Mosque where prayers are considered to receive more reward than anywhere else on this planet.

I had a bathroom attached to my consultation room and all those present used the facility to perform ablution, readying ourselves for prayers. The Imam happened to sit there as well and I rushed to get done. The lady then suddenly asked her husband to fetch her some juice from their hotel room. I politely offered her some from my well stocked fridge but she declined. She wanted him to fetch it immediately whilst she waited. Like right now. The call for prayer could be heard and we had less than a minute to get out of the hotel and join the masses for the collective reward of the prayer. His eyes seemed dim, as if some light was fading. The Imam was about to say something, probably a profound statement about the virtues of congregational prayer but was interrupted by the shrill shouting of the wife.

‘My prayers come first,’ the husband suddenly said. The wife had a shell-shocked appearance and it was evident that this must have been his first act of defiance ever. He joined us as we left the building, leaving his wife in my consulting room. Outside I could not ascertain whether it was the bright sunlight reflecting from his eyes or a warm glow of contentment of someone who was at peace with his inner self. We prayed in the road, behind hundreds of thousands but all part of one large congregation. It was quite hot and we rushed back immediately after prayers to the air conditioned comfort of my rooms. She was not in the waiting area of my rooms but we could hear soft sobbing. We found her in the bathroom with tears rolling down her eyes.

The Imam asked them to join him and they found a secluded area with a couple of sofas whilst I saw to the few patients who still needed to be attended to who by now have also returned from the prayers. After about half an hour I was ready for them but I could see that they were in intimate discussions and waited, snacking on some fruit. It was a while later when they returned, with the Imaam having a satisfied smile. Both had a couple of medical issues and our conversations revolved exclusively around that and Hajj. We did allude to any of their well known emotional issues. The wife seemed at ease, the sun emanating from his eyes gently gazing upon her.

I did not see them again on the trip. There were probably no more public spats as I would surely have heard about it. Deep down I was praying that they resolved their issues and that they would reach Arafat in a spirit of forgiveness. It is on Arafat that our Creator forgives more of His subjects that at any other place or any other time. We should strive to have forgiven all who wronged us before we reach there, and immerse us in the mercies of our Creator.

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