I was blog-bouncing, like you do at 1.40am when you’re meant to be sleeping. And I came across this lovely idea of giving out little packets of sweets ( it’s not ‘candy’, I’m British) to share the love on Eid. And I remembered that girl in the Haram in Makkah. Let me tell you about the girl.
It was a few days after Hajj, and Makkah was filled with pilgrims from every corner of the world, just like every year. Only this year was different – because I
was there, amongst the other 3 million or so. Finally, really there. But that’s another story – back to the girl. After Dhuhr prayers the mosque would empty out as much as it ever did during Hajj. Today I thought I’d sit and gaze at the Kaabah awhile, so I found a spot with a clear view to watch the circling pilgrims doing tawaf beneath the burning midday sun. And that’s when I saw her, draped all in black. I guessed she might be Iranian, she wore that kind of head-to-floor robe. She was young, in her teens or early 20s perhaps, with a sweet, solemn face. But that’s not what caught my eye.
She stood at the edge of the circling pilgrims, carefully watching and would suddenly dart into the crowd, thrust something at a child and return to the edge to do it all over again. What was she doing? She held a bag which she dipped in to, and I realised it was full of sweets. She’d scan the pilgrims for children, then would pursue her moving target – often travelling a good way around the Kaaba herself, eyes fixed upon the child until she’d delivered her gift. All this was performed with a quiet determined air that made me wonder why she’d chosen this act. Was it in gratitude for a gift she had received? Fulfilment of a vow? Sadaqah in remembrance of a beloved brother or sister? Had she carried the sweets all the way from Iran?
Suddenly she was distracted from her mission. A tall, thin, bearded man with an Afghan-style turban and waistcoat had noticed her charity and had come to claim his share. She gave him a few sweets, but unsatisfied he sought more. She frowned and shook her head, pointing at the children for whom they were intended. ‘Though she tried to lose him in the crowds, he persisted and followed with open coaxing hands. She gave him another generous handful, he filled his pockets, and asked for yet more. I was irritated by his seeming greed, before remembering to offer him a few of the 70 excuses he was due – perhaps he had a dozen poor children who’d be delighted when Baba brought them sweets today. Perhaps he had an old coughing mother or he was diabetic and in urgent need of sugar! Despite her attempts at stern refusal the girl had a soft heart and he knew it. After another reproachful handful was given, he was finally content and left with fat pockets and a happy smile.
The girl returned to her task, and I scanned the crowds with her , spotting children I hadn’t noticed before, perched safely on their father’s shoulders high above the crowds. Spectating from the sidelines, I silently cheered when she reached her target, and sighed when the crowds got in her way. But after a while, glancing at my own empty hands, I felt a touch of shame. Thoughtfully, she had brought gifts for little pilgrims, something that hadn’t occurred to me during my selfish preparations for Hajj. I was like that Afghani man, who had come to God’s house to receive, not to give. I sat here with open begging palms, while she had busied herself serving the guests of Allah, spreading sweetness and light in His House. And isn’t that the basis for every life’s work after all?
“Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.” (Quran 4:36)
“ Say: “Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Lord of the Worlds,” (Qur’an 6:162)