Remember that game you used to play, at parties and over nights with friends? I don’t know why it came to mind this morning at prayer, but I was recitingsurat-al-‘Asr, which says,
By the token of time
Verily humankind is at a loss
Except for those who believe
Who do righteous deeds (and)
Encourage one another to the Truth
And encourage one another to patience.
As I recited it, I thought: if I had to choose between the two, I’d choose truth, because, well truthfully, I am not very patient. That’s how I feel on this two-week marker before my departure for the hajj. I feel impatient. I can’t wait for the confirmation from the Saudi embassy in the form of a visa. That is the last hurdle, the technical stumbling block that keeps me from jumping headlong out of the plane of expectation and adventure.
I haven’t felt this much impatience and uncertainty since the last few days before delivery of my children. I never wanted to know the sex beforehand, and for the most part managed to avoid ultrasounds even for medical reasons until the fifth child at the ripe old age of 37. Having miscarried a child just before that pregnancy and being that age, I was considered an at-risk pregnancy. So they wanted to check on the baby. We insisted we did not want to know what the sex was. So they put that reader where the head was then jumped across the little body in my belly all the way to the knees. No accidental sighting there either.
Today, I would tell perspective parents who have no medical reasons to avoid the ultrasound to go ahead and get the information. I mean, there will still be a surprise when you learn the first time, even if the baby is not yet born. But the anxiety of not knowing until the delivery no longer seems necessary or noble to me. There will be enough things to worry about. Like college tuition!
Anyway, I say all this to say that I am not patient, and this morning all I could do was imagine some kind of ultrasound-like formula to give me the news: how will it be, how will I manage, what will happen at this or that point in the rituals? Yesterday, I talked with a friend about her hajj. I was supposed to have some concrete questions, but actually found myself trying to preempt the experience. As if any two persons will experience it the same.
I settled instead for her advice regarding shoes. Zappo sandals with Velcro openings allow for easy on and easy off, making ablutions at water stops along the way. Still they have good support for walking—between rituals and instead of waiting hours for the buses stuck in gridlock traffic, as she recommended. But because they are sandals, they will be cool. They’re waterproof and will dry quickly with wet feet after those ablutions. I ordered a pair that has a kind of toe. I’ve heard weird stories about shoes and hajj. One of my friends had open-toed flip-flop type shoes on, and when she lost one she reached down to retrieve it and the crowds closed over her. Her aunt had to push them apart to give her space to come back to fully standing. I already confessed that I hate crowds, right?
So there you have it, I am an impatient person who hates crowds, planning to attend the most populace public ritual ever performed, annually, at Makkah. So, if I had my choice between truth or dare, as a teenager, I always took truth. I mean, with skydiving and iFly, clearly I’m not afraid of a dare, but it’s a personality thing. I hold truth and honor above all other virtues.
It’s a good thing too. In Islam, the word kaafu—that many Muslims translate as “disbeliever”—is better translated as “one who covers the Truth.” I mean, disbelief is not whether you believe as I believe, but whether you know the Truth, then refuse to respond to it appropriately. I know Muslims who use the word kufaar as if it means all who are NOT Muslim. That’s wrong. It might suit the intolerance that one believer tends to exhibit toward one who believes something else, or has no belief at all. But in the Qur’an, it matters if one knows the true nature of things, but acts as though he or she does not. Different perceptions of what is sacred and holy, no notion of the sacred at all, or even doubt and fear—all of that is not disbelief, strictly speaking.
One has to know the truth of one God, but then refuse to live in compliance with the truth to really be considered a kaafur, or disbeliever, despite popular usage. I think this is a bit like “reverts” saying ‘everyone was born Muslim’ and meaning something anthropological. This is just another version of the old “my religion is better than your religion.”
Truth is a tall order. Good thing I’m the ‘truth’ out of the truth and dare question. Here’s the thing: I read the Qur’an to command honesty and integrity in all of your affairs. So, it is not whether we agree, but whether I follow through with what I say I am all about. It’s also about consistency between the inner and the outer.
In doing gender work, this applies to the relationship between the public and the private. I am appalled at how many violent, misogynist men think it’s okay to get away with abuse, disloyalty, infidelity, or threats to their wives at home, then go in the public space and pretend to be all virtuous and pious. I think to myself, piety begins at home. I look at how people treat each other in their homes, not on how they try to impress the general public.
The other day I left the mosque after Friday prayer, rather in a hurry with my grandson in his stroller because I was late to pick up his mom, my daughter. A very well-known imam had been attending my favorite mosque for this particular Friday prayer, and he too must have been in a hurry because he was out the door just before my grandson and me.
The exit from the mosque is now five stair steps from the street level, and when I went out the door, stroller-first, the only things between my grandson’s stroller and the imam, were those five stairs. But he never reached. He never looked up. Maybe that was piety, but as I walked around to the front of the stroller and lifted it and my grandson down the five stairs, I thought, well if your Islam does not teach you to assist an old woman and baby, then what is it for?
Truth be told, and I mean I am rambling on here about truth after all, I would much rather have a person with no fixed notion about God or the sacred, and yet still consider the moral duty of service to others and to the creation. I’d prefer that person over one who has high-falootin’ ideas about God and is a total jerk, or asshole. Well, I’m on the truth claims, so might as well call a spade a spade. But this is not my reason for dwelling on this today after fajr prayer. Actually it is that I need to be able to say the truth about blogging while I am in this state of heightened impatience. I don’t want anybody to know the truth about my state. I only want to say the good things, the things that are interesting or the things that make a difference; when truthfully speaking, all I can say right now is that I am impatient to get the last bit of news and to pack for the journey of a lifetime.
Instead I blog.
Oh, by the way, with regard to those shoes I just ordered, to keep me busy, the walking I have to do at hajj: circumambulation around the Kaa’bah and the sa’iy, seven times between Safa and Marwa, guess what? No shoes allowed. Yep, it’s sacred territory. And as God told Moses on Mt. Sinai, “This is sacred ground, remove your shoes…” So all that practice I consider myself doing in the park each day, with my great walking sneakers, to tell the truth, I should be doing it barefoot if I really want to prepare.
That brings me to that surah again, truth is not my challenge, but I need to work on the patience part. This waiting is getting to me.