The Little Prince by Antoine de-Saint Exupery
“A lonely pilot who, while stranded in the desert, befriends a little prince. They spend eight days together in the desert before the little prince returns to his home planet. Although he is discouraged from drawing early in his life because adults cannot understand his drawings, the narrator illustrates his own story and makes several drawings for the little prince. The narrator is a grown-up, but his view of the world is more like a child’s than an adult’s. After the little prince departs, the narrator feels both refreshed and saddened.”
-Synopsis from http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/littleprince/characters.html
If the Umrah were a brush, I would be a blank canvas. The knowledge I had prior to my visit to the holy land was minimal and more often based on the stories of the people who had gone before, which seems strange now, looking back – as I could have easily found out how everything would be like by simply searching for them on Youtube or Google.
But there was a silver lining to my bare state of mind. When I arrived, everything felt new and strange to me, as everything was unanticipated.
My mind was like that of a child’s.
And that was why of all things, I remembered a book that I had not read in years: The Little Prince, by Antoine de-Saint Exupery.
Throughout the trip, this was how I viewed my experience – by vague recollections of the quotes I’d read in my once-favorite book.
“What a queer planet!” he thought. “It is altogether dry, and altogether pointed, and altogether harsh and forbidding…” – The Little Prince, Antoine de-Saint Exupery
The Little Prince, upon landing on Earth, had gotten the luck of finding himself in the Sahara desert.
Just like him, I too had landed in the desert – the Saudi Arabian desert. I did not see much as I landed at Jeddah Airport at night, but what struck me first was space. There was so much of it, and for miles. There was hardly a building and there were not many lights.
And the air was dry. I’d brought a tube of lipbalm that I use sparingly back at home, but found myself hastily reapplying every two hours there.
“The air is driest around June 18, at which the relative humidity drops below 22% (dry) three days out of four.”
In comparison to Singapore:
“The relative humidity typically ranges from 61% (mildly humid) to 95% (very humid) over the course of the year, rarely dropping below 51% (mildly humid) and reaching as high as 100% (very humid).”
A difference of at least 40% in humidity! That is a lot. The weather was challenging, throughout the time that I was there. June is one of the hottest and driest months of the year in Makkah, and I reacted especially badly to the climate. I had never experienced a nosebleed in my life, yet not a day went by without seeing/smelling/tasting a trickle of blood while in Saudi.
Now this places a lot of things to perspective. How is it that the holiest place on Earth had one of the most unforgiving weather conditions? But I had the air-con, shelter, a comfy bed in a 5-star hotel – accommodations in such stark contrast to the state of the weather and the land outside. I could not imagine the strength and perseverance the Prophet s.a.w and his followers during that era had, to be able to fight for Islam and their faith in an environment that did not make it easy for them one bit.
As the night crept closer to day, and the sunlight peeked out over the mountains of rocks, I began to see the desert.
“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…”
Scenery & Jabal-Nur
Some of the most terrible things on Earth are also the most beautiful. Volcanoes, ice fields, the deep sea, and the desert.
There is not much to be said about the harsh beauty of the desert. Its’ timelessness makes one feel that nothing has changed since thousands of years before.
When I ascended the infamous mountain Jabal Nur, I had no idea how tall it was. I began the climb at 2:25 in the morning, which was a huge blessing in disguise, as I could not see how much farther we had to go, and did not have to battle intense heat. I watched the magnificent sunrise atop the mountain, and witnessed the city of Makkah waking up.
All the while I was fully aware that I was standing at the place where the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w had received the first revelation from the Angel Gabriel, and it seemed too much to take.
“Muhammad would seclude himself in the cave of Mount Hira and worship three days and nights. He would, whenever he wished, return to his family at Mecca and then go back again, taking with him the necessities of life. Thus he continued to return to Khadijah from time to time until one day the revelation came down to him and the Angel Gabriel (Jibreel) appeared to him and said: “Read!” But as Muhammad was illiterate, having never received any instruction in reading or writing, he said to the angel: “I am not a reader.” The angel took hold of him and squeezed him as much as he could bear, and then said again: “Read!” The Prophet said: “I am not a reader.” The Angel again seized the Prophet and squeezed him and said: “Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists), has created man from something that clings. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, Who has taught (the writing) by the pen, has taught man that which he knew not.” Surah 96: 1-5
– Taken from http://www.alim.org/library/biography/stories/content/SOP/5/30/Muhammad%20(Muhammad)/Muhammad%2526
Making my way into Gua Hira was an exhilarating experience. I was there for perhaps a whole 5 seconds due to the amount of people wanting to get in as well, but it was enough. It felt like I was at the place where it all began, and here I was, thousands of years later, living proof of the faith of Islam.
We did not want to leave. I was so trigger happy, even till I’d reached the base of the mountain. In the light, I could appreciate the distance that I’d walked – it never seemed to end. My legs were shaking with every step I took but it was all worth it. It was definitely a one-of-a-kind spiritual experience that cannot be emulated elsewhere.
It had been a breathtaking (literally) experience but I had had the convenience of climbing up stairs and did not have to pave my way through roughly strewn rocks, which was how the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w would have done back in the day. I was filled with even more awe and admiration.
With such a clear bird’s eye view of Makkah, I thought I understood why this was the Prophet’s (s.a.w) chosen place to retire in solitude and worship. It was so peaceful and just being in that place without even understanding its’ significance was enough to make one feel small and humbled.
“By the age of 40 he the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.) was still living among an extremely backward people who were devoid of any traces of civilization and humanity. These hard conditions severely tormented his pure soul. He observed nothing in that society but the darkness of ignorance. He would go to the Ka’aba, but instead of witnessing the worship of God, he witnessed. Idolatry. He would then leave the Ka’aba and go among the people. But there, too, he was troubled by what he saw. He was pained by the ugly customs and false thoughts of his people. The pitiable condition of the poor and the destitute caused him great anguish. The deplorable situation of women, who were treated worse than animals, as well as the prevalence of gambling, wine drinking and murder tortured his blessed heart.
When he dealt with people as a merchant, their immoral behavior gave so severe an emotional shock to him that he had to go to a lonely place where he would not be tormented by people’s inhuman behavior. For these reasons and to find peace of mind, he would go to Mount Hira and there think deeply about the amazing phenomena of nature and the vestiges of God’s All-Embracing Compassion.”
– Taken from: http://www.ezsoftech.com/islamic/hira.asp
In our fast, upbeat modern world, where 10 seconds is too long a wait for a page to load and half-dressed women and men are glorified in 5-metre tall posters, what do we do, as a Muslim, to ‘detox’ ourselves spiritually? This was a question I found myself asking, especially with the month of Ramadhan coming up.
Sometimes, all we need to do is take a step back and have a break to from the constant noise of distractions, just like the Prophet s.a.w did. We may not have mountains in Singapore, but we can easily find a similar escape, to reflect, at the beach or in a good book.
“Where are the people?” resumed the little prince at last. “It’s a little lonely in the desert…”
“It is lonely when you’re among people, too,” said the snake.”
– The Little Prince, Antoine de-Saint Exupery
To be continued…..