Faith & the Hill

Ramla Akhter shows us how a little faith takes us a long way.

Excerpt from an e-mail to a dear old (non-Muslim) friend, who has been a great listener of my life’s stories over the years

By the way, there is an athletic ritual called Saee in Umrah (in Masjid-Al-Haraam, Makkah). The meaning of the word Saee in Arabic and Urdu is ‘effort or endeavour’. It’s a 3.15 km run between two hills, now paved with marble. One actually paces up and down an air-conditioned gallery 7 times back and forth between the two hills of Safa and Marwah. It is to commemorate Hajrah’s (as) run between the two hills in search of water and food for Ismail (as).
It’s a tough run after other Umrah rituals. While I was doing it the second time in three days, I gave up after the second round. My right foot is bent inwards due to years of back injury and strain. I almost thought of the wheel chair rides that are available. (The ritual is a must, of course. And one can’t quit in the middle and go home. Fortunately, we can rest as long as we want anywhere on the route and on the two hills.) I sat down at Safa, the first hill, and cried. You can cry without shame in that place. People don’t really notice. And they think you’re crying for the love of Allah (swt). You know, I cried because I felt very disabled. Then I realized that Hajrah (as) didn’t run here in Nike runners, or in an air-conditioned gallery.
That’s when the lesson of that ritual became clear to me: MAKE AN EFFORT. The story goes that Hajrah’s (as) effort was rewarded by the miracle of the issuance of water from between the hills – now known as the Water of Zamzam. So, after a half hour of crying and massaging my feet and back, I got up and walked. Then I remembered something I read in “7 Habits”: just after an athlete has reached the limit of pain, s/he is rewarded with a tremendous release of energy that compensates for that muscle ache. I gave it a try. I limped. It is ugly to have to limp, when you’re so young – and it’s hard, when the pain is just jolt-jolt-jolting through the body. (I guess no one can know a backache and a headache, until they have one.)
Then, I noticed a 70-year-old Pakistani man pushing his wife in a wheel chair. And I visualized these mountains, 1000s of years ago, naked, hot, and scorched. And I imagined I was running between them barefoot, looking for water. I passed up the temptation of the many sprays and coolers of Zamzam that line the corridor.
The effect that this visualization had on me was stunning. Suddenly, my pain was much, much easier. My feet were actually thankful (the entire Umrah is done barefoot.) I also felt that making an effort is something that comes with, well, effort. I realized that I have so many gifts as a person – hardly anything has been an effort for ME – though it might have awed others. It was finally time to test my character.
There are seven rounds to be made between the two hills. I had unbearable pain by the fourth round, to the extent that my mind was blacking out. But I held on to Stephen Covey’s wisdom, and my life’s wisdom, if any, and the visualization of Hajrah (as). Perhaps the blacking out helped, as I imagined a huge rock in the place of the Kabah, and the real scene disappeared. To my memory, it still seems that I ran on bare, sun-hot rocks.
My foot was slightly bent inwards, and whenever I walked fast, there was a feeling of a tight string about to break from my back to my toe. This has prevented me from extensive walking for the past few years. By the fifth round, while I was struggling to straighten my long-bent foot by placing it firmly and evenly on the ground, something happened.
My mind was really blacking out to the extent that I felt I had completely lost it. For a split second the pain was gone. And suddenly there was a click-click sound. Some long-displaced bone just fell in place. My foot was okay.
Do you remember the Forrest Gump’s moment-of-release from his leg braces? It just happened! My foot just fell in place! What I read in “7 Habits” about an actual athletic phenomenon really happened. There was suddenly a tremendous rush of energy, and whatever was blocking energy (blood and oxygen to be exact and more scientific) just let go of its ugly grip.
It was one of the deepest emotional moments of my life. It happened, and I had no one to tell it to. I walked on. Now, whenever I have an “uphill” task ahead of me, I will remember the little lesson of Saee and of having a little but helpful amount of faith.
A little faith in a better tomorrow makes the present a lot easier, for us and for our loved ones.

Masha’Allah – A wonderful experience!