THESE are difficult years, each day bringing tales of anguish and pain, within and outside the countries we live in. It was with a weary soul that I went for umrah, seeking solace, if not answers. I did find it, once in the form of inspiration and once in the form of distress.
During one of my tawafs, as I glanced to my side, I saw a man hobbling along on one of his feet. His legs were very small and one foot was completely deformed. He moved only by putting pressure on the other foot and one hand, while clutching a tasbeeh with the other. I saw him again twice two days later, performing the tawaf with the rest of us, who were mostly able-bodied, walking along with fast strides, while many were pushed along in wheelchairs.
Some people pointed to him, others patted his head, but he strode on, oblivious of his surroundings and pitying eyes, focused on his tawaf and looking from time to time at the Ka’aba to his left. It was as if he was in communion with his inner self, and with his Creator.
I realised instantly that he was not an object of pity. Instead, he was a source of inspiration, above all of us in dignity and self-respect.
Why do the rich and greedy remain untouched by justice?
It was useless speculating how he had come up there (the second floor of the muta’af), why he had not used a wheelchair when so many were using them or whether there was any helper who had stayed behind.
These thoughts did not occur to me then. It was enough to observe the total devotion, the commitment and feel the submission to God that was epitomised by the tawaf in the person of this human being.
We were the ones who needed to emulate him; we were the ones who had been affected by the disabilities of our self-absorption, our whims and desires for this world.
My prayers then and whenever I remember in future would be for God to give all of us a portion of his love for Him. I remembered the story of Hazrat Ayub, who had remained grateful to God during the most severe tribulations. This gentleman surely was following in this great prophet’s footsteps.
Walking along the side streets, on my way to the Ka’aba for evening prayers, was a most distressing sight: three young women, dressed in the black, traditional Saudi abaya, with their arms stretched out, cut up to the elbows. They were clearly from a very poor class and were begging on the street.
A similar sight met my eyes in Madina, this time it was a boy in his teens, begging with his amputated arm hanging out of his sleeves.
What was the nature of thefts these poor people had committed, that they were awarded the most severe punishment and then left to beg on the streets? If this was for the public to learn a lesson and refrain from a similar crime, why was it that only the poor committed it and were caught and punished?
We know that theft, in its various forms is committed often by those who are rich and greedy. What happens to them? Do they continue to remain untouched by the arms of justice and retribution in this world?
During Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) time, it is known that the Jewish scholars would apply the punishments laid out in the Torah selectively, capturing the poor and needy and letting the rich and powerful off unscathed.
We also know from the Quran and hadith that many instructions are to be applied according to context and principles of justice and reasoning, leaning towards forgiveness and mercy rather than relentless punishment. Islam recognises changes in society, and while scholars may differ on the scope of application, the concept of maslaha or public interest can be invoked to prohibit or require a change according to circumstances.
This concept, unfortunately, despite many examples of usage throughout earlier centuries, is still to be discussed and practised in some of the countries claiming to apply Sharia laws. I pitied these poor people, and prayed for God’s mercy towards them.
Solace could be found then in belief in an ultimate justice in the court of God. As humans suffer at the hands of other humans, God still requires us to remain steadfast, stray not from the path He has defined for us and try to stand up to the challenges, whether physical, emotional or spiritual.
We will waver at times, but as long as our doubts are short-lived and we return to Him for mercy and blessings, we will surely gain peace in our souls.
The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2018