Mukto-mona Rationalists' Corner
A rebuttal to “With a guide to Hajj” Part 1
By A Rational Human Being
Dr. Sabrina Q. Rashid’s (SQR) wrote an evocative piece in NFB (October 29, 2002) as a feature article. I am doing paragraph-by-paragraph rebuttal. My reply (A Rational View) follows SQR’s comment.
SQR: AN UNFORGETABLE VIEW
One eve after finishing our ‘Maghrib’ prayers on the shiny white marble courtyard around the ‘Harem Sharif’, we went by escalator up, on to the roof, of the three-storied mosque that surrounds the ‘Kabah’. To our surprise, here too it was full of devotees.
A Rational View: I sincerely hope that my Arabic has not become rusty; the word Maghrib possibly means west. Why do the Arabs call the prayer after sunset the Maghrib prayer? The Bengalis correctly calls it "Maghreb-er Namaz." The piety of the writer can be seen from the very beginning to the end of her article. Is it a travelogue or something else? Her piety is understandable. However, what is not understandable is - why the author calls “Masjid al-Haram “as” Harem Sharif. The word Harem is not the same as "Haram." It has different connotation. During the season of Hajj, what was the expectation of the author? Why was she so surprised to see devotees near the Ka’aba? Also, why do our people add the word "Sharif" after everything that is present in Mecca and Medina? Can anyone please explain? The Christians hardly calls the Vatican as "Vatican Sharif" or an equivalent Latin word. Isn’t that a bit too much of piety?
SQR: A pleasant breeze blew, the sky was dark and star studded. The city of Makkah with its hills and hillocks all glittering in lights, lay around us. The tall ‘minars’ aglow with lights from both inside and outside looked like beautiful pillars of light. We looked around for a place nearest to the railing surrounding the ‘Haram’, but found none, to our disappointment. So laid down our ‘jai namaz’ or prayer mats further away.
A rationalist view: The author here was drawing a very poetic image about the surroundings of Ka’aba and Masjid al-Haram. I still do not understand the reason behind naming this Mosque complex as "Forbidden Mosque." Is it for the reason that non-Muslims are barred from entering this religious complex? The author would have done a great service to humanity if she had explained the reason for such nomenclature. Also, the Persian word for prayer rug is "jai namaz." I thought we are not supposed to utter Persian words such as "Khuda," "Namaz," and instead use more religiously correct word such as "Allah", "Salat", etc. I don't think the Arabs would call their prayer rugs a "jai namaz."
SQR: My husband proved to be more adventurous! He implored me to accompany him. Treading carefully through the praying devotees and their ‘jai namaz’ we reached the railing. It was all thronged by hundreds of devotees. All staring down at the ‘Haram’ as if in a daze – none wanted to move away. Just sitting and gazing down at it or deep in their prayers and meditation.
More people were coming and everybody wanted to have a glimpse of the Kabah but once they had it, nobody wanted to move away! So was the magic and magnetism of the place. Slowly we also moved forwards and finally had a glimpse but then the spell bond us also and we just stood there glued to the spot and understood why the others too did the same. Though courtesy urged us to go away and give others a chance, but we just could not! It was not even selfishness, it was just like a spell, you just could not move away!
A Rational View: People are known to be hypnotized when they visit a place they longed to see. This is quite normal. If someone wants to see the mountain peak such as Kanchanjanga, or Dhulagiri in Nepal on a clear day, they may also become mesmerized. That hardly would make the place a place of Bhagwan. Similarly, when people go to visit Niagara Falls or Eiffel Tower or even Taj Mahal, those places become awesome in their eyes and they are awestruck when they see those places for the very first time. SQR should have asked a Meccan what they see in those structures near Ka’aba. The novelty of a place would wear down fast in just few days. It is a human nature.
SQR: Gradually, we somehow squeezed in to sit by the railing, looking down at the enchanting sight, below us- the elegant ‘Haram sharif’ draped in black and gold, with thousands of devotees moving round and round it, like a stream of little white pebbles!
I do not have the right word for something so extraordinary, so unusual and yet so disciplined. So peaceful, so beautiful that you just could not take your eyes off the scene. Now that we had a good view of it we were held so spell bound that shamelessly we started to make place to say our next ‘salat’ or prayers there! Squeezed as we were! We were not the only ones though; who did the same thing!
A Rational View: This time the author had correctly spelled the word 'Haram". The description of this place as given by the devotee tells me that she was in an altered state. Yes, we all do become overwhelmed by visiting a place, which we think constantly about. A human being may become psyched up when he or she thinks constantly about a place because of piety or whatever reasons. A Hindu women visiting Gaya or Kashi (Benares) may also feel the same way as our good author Dr. SQR had felt by being in Masjid Al-Haram. The evocative language she used throughout her article tells me that she went into an altered state when she visited the place. Also, when she was writing her experiences she must have felt that way one more time. This is quite understandable because she went to Mecca on a religious ground. It is a subjective experience and I don't quite understand for the life of me why she is being so effusive. As I have mentioned earlier, a pious Shaivite or Vishnuvite may also experience the same feeling going to a Tirtha. One has to be crazy to write down their emotion while they are on a altered state.
SQR: An old Turkish (I guessed) gentleman was just behind us. He probably had said his earlier prayer there. When he guessed our intention he kindly folded his ‘jai namaz’ to make space for us! We were overwhelmed by his kind gesture. Though we did not know each other and came from far off distant and different lands his kindness and greetings, that he gave us, touched me so much that I probably will always remember him.
I thanked him and gratefully accepted his offer. Saying ‘Isha’ prayers there, in that squeezed up rather uncomfortable position, was one of the best experiences of my life. For, as I looked down from the roof of the three-storied mosque that surrounds the ‘Harem’, it was a sight where words completely failed you. The circles of human beings around the ‘Kabah’ were made flawlessly perfect. As the Imam started, with the "Allahu Akbar" (God is great), all in thousands and thousands bowed down at a time and then again with the next "Allahu Akbar" straightened up, all together.
A Rational View: The author again calls the Masjid al Haram as "Harem." She has a great deal of difficulty in keeping her nomenclature straight. Is she mentally balanced when she writes about her piety? I would like to know one thing from her, which is the following: when a devotee hears a prayer call in an obscure part of Bangladesh, should not it bring enormous joy into his or her heart? What makes the same sound so different in the Masjid Al-Haram complex? Unless some one is already psyched up, as is the case with Dr. SQR, he or she won't feel the difference between a prayer call in Timbuktu or in Mecca. It sure looks as if the author was already in an altered state. Many people experience many things when they are psyched up. Go ask this question to a psychiatrist who is worth his salt. It is all in the mental state of a person. Human experiences are very subjective. People are known to be delusional when they are in an altered state.
SQR: Then with another ‘Takbir’ all went down together on to their knees in front of their Creator and Sustainer. So it went on and on, not only around the ‘Harem Sharif’ but also in the ground floor, first floor, second floor, roof top, as well as in the basement, which was out of our sight. Thousands and thousands of devotees from different cast, creed, culture and country bowing down together with unsurpassed discipline all together in front of the one and only Creator- the Almighty Allah. The scene was so incredible, so enchanting, so captivating and so touching that no where in the world there is one even close to it.
A Rational View: Yes, yes, you've made your point many a time. The place is holy; therefore, you experienced an unworldly event. With all due respect, you were in an altered state of mind. Therefore, what you’ve experienced near Ka’aba may not have anything to do with objective reality. The frame of mind is very different for devotees who were there. A simple salat takes a whole different meaning. People who are bowing down their head all at the same time take an entirely whole different meaning. A rational person simply has to ask - why is it so? When Muslims offer their ordinary Jumma prayer in Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, a city ridden with all kinds of corruption, may also see such panoply of piety, such as thousands of devotee bowing down at the same time. Therefore, Dr. SQR, please tell us what is the difference between the people who were offering their salat in Munshiganj or in Mecca on that day. It is all in your head; how do you visualize and internalize your experiences is your matter. But to come out in a public forum to tell your mental experience is another matter. An opium addict can also relate to us his or her languorous state of mind under the influence of opium. If that person is proficient in writing, then, he or she could write in an evocative language about the trip that has nothing to do with the objective reality. Will you read that piece written by a junkie?
SQR: While the devotees were engrossed deep in their prayers the air above was alive with scores and scores of birds (pigeons and ‘ababeel’) flying high, diving down, and encircling the ‘Kabah’ but none, none at all making this scared place dirty.
For there was no dropping from the birds anywhere in or around this place, not even in the courtyards and the adjacent roads where the devotees overflowed during the peak time of Hajj, to pray in utter submission to their Lord, the most Beneficent and Merciful.
Over these few days I was in fact on the lookout, day and night, to detect any dropping of even a single bird, but not even one! What a miracle! You rarely see miracles like this in today's modern world. But the birds do eat, and a lot of it too! As the pilgrims are continuously offering them fistfuls of grains.
The one and only dropping that I saw during my two weeks stay there, was on the glass pane of the restaurant window that too outside the premises of ‘Kabah Sharif ’- not a likely place for prayers!
Whereas in tourist spots where pigeons are kept the whole place is littered by their droppings- as we had witnessed in Europe and America. ( To be Continued )
By Dr.Sabrina Q. Rashid writes from Dhaka , Her E mail : email@example.com
A Rational View: So you are confounded by the fact that birds near Ka’aba do not desecrate the place by their droppings. What a profound observation! Some Hajjis told me that the Masjid complex is constantly being cleaned. Think about this from a rationalistic viewpoint: there are an estimated 2 million devotees in such a compact place who are moving constantly (as you have put it so eloquently). Do you really think that you are going to find bird dropping amongst the sea of humanity? This is your absurd observation, Dr. SQR. The birds just follow the laws of nature as you and I follow them. The birds are not going to take order from a higher authority that is sitting in the Seventh Heaven. Your description of the place in respect to pigeon behavior defies all the laws of biology. When the bird will excrete their excreta, rain or shine, it will happen. The place has no relevance when it comes to ornithological behavior. These birds have no developed brains whatsoever like us. Unless you have no feelings for Charles Darwin's observation, you may call the pigeons of Mecca a God-sent birds simply because like you, the birds also understand the piety of the place.
By the way, pigeons are pigeons no doubt, but where did you see the 'Tairan Ababil.' Do these mythical birds still fly in the world? Am I missing anything? Please describe to your readers what exactly is Abbabil bird. According to our Holy Scripture, these birds are capable of carrying big stones with the help of their beak. Any sighting of such mythical birds in this world will make it a news worthy item in the CNN, ABC, BBC, CBS, NBC, Star TV, Z-TV, etc., etc.
If my memory is still in tact, Dr. SQR, didn’t you write an article in Dhaka's DS and in NFB mentioning that Bangladesh's air pollution is linked to acid rain. A knowledgeable chemical ecologist had to correct you by saying that the air pollution in Dhaka is due to emission by two-stroke engines, and the cars, buses, trucks that do not have any catalytic converter. At another time, you (Dr. SQR) lectured our women to wear hijab. With your smattering of everything from chemical ecology and anthropology, it makes a perfect sense when you described to us about Mecca's pigeon being pious enough not to let their droppings fall on the devotees while they perform religiously their chores in the confine of Masjid-al Haram. I am hoping that many rationalists were laughing their hearts out reading your superfluous description. NFB is hardly the place for devotees. But it was a good try.
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