Reflections on the Hajj and the Challenges that Face Chicago
Rami Nashashibi is the Executive Director of Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), a Chicago non-profit. Nashashibi won the 2017 MacArthur Genius Grant. In the announcement for his award, Nashibi is commended for “confronting the challenges of poverty and disinvestment in urban communities through a Muslim-led civic engagement effort that bridges race, class, and religion.” Nashashibi joins us today to discuss his recent pilgrimage to Mecca and how that relates to the work he’s doing here in Chicago.
Nashashibi wrote a poetic reflection on his Hajj experience, which is posted in full below.
"Holy Hands: A Pilgrim’s Poem"
I touched what he touched
I spread myself flat along the dark granite stones of that ancient black cube, and heard the cries of thousands praying his prayers
I touched the stone imprinted by his spiritual ancestor, Abraham, the great Patriarch’s feet folding softly into the rock as he reached to build that structural testimony to Divine Oneness,
And like he taught us, I hurried between the remnants of two protruding mounds of stone that our black African mother, many years before him, frantically traversed, desperately hoping to quench the thirst of her dying son
And as he did, I picked up small circular rocks and cast them at the Demonic forces in my life, over three long tortuously hot days with millions hovering around the pillars where the Rejected One once appeared
I ascended the mountain and perched myself high upon the rocks enclosing that special cave where he meditated and I marveled at the horizon’s expanse that grazed over a barren desert, imagining it engulfed by an angelic being, compressing his chest, ordering our beloved to recite
I stood firmly nestled among millions upon the Mountain of Mercy, on the plains of Arafat, reflecting on his last sermon
I peered over the small hill, where he retreated after his archers abandoned post and where he endured an injury that pierced his precious face. I picked up a rock from the hill, placed it in my pocket and thought to myself, “this archer must never abandon post”
I went to the illuminated city where he is resting and touched the outer casing of his burial site while giving him and his closest companions salutations
I traveled to the distant place, the Holy- Al Quds, the City of Peace Yerushalem, where he magically flew upon his winged steed and prayed underneath the rock that he ascended to the seven heavens from
I climbed the breathtaking Mountain of Olives and touched the stone encasing the burial site of some of his closest companions like Salman the Persian, the one who taught him how to break earth and stone, build a trench and find protection through the very earth that your enemies gather to bury you in
I followed the path of pilgrims pursuing the passion of his Prophetic predecessor, the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah, son of the blessed Virgin- whose life and death remains a mystery
I touched the stations he fell upon and the base stone they say he was crucified on, with the hopes that maybe here I would feel it all come together
I joined the spiritual descendants of Isaac and Jacob and placed my hands on the outer wall of Solomon’s temple
I drank from the gushing well of Zamzam
Crossed the River Jordan,
Stood in the Ghion Spring
I wade in the waters,
Hoping that the weight of those waters,
Would feed, flood, my cavernous soul,
Flow through my impenetrable fortress
Granite, marble, limestone, old shards of broken query stones, small pebbles, large rocks
I touched, grazed, held, threw and collected fragments of all these pieces of earth with the hope that the titanium stone lodged in my heart would shatter,
That a spring of lasting love, devotion and faith would gush forth and I would immediately cease being the brazen impostor, the conniving charlatan, the grand wizard of all hypocrisy-
And even in my last hour in the Holy City, I managed to penetrate the frenetic sacred mosh pit pulsating around the stones of all stones, lodged in the corner of the cube, the Meteor Stone he once helped to carry.
I placed the full expanse of my right hand upon its black surface, polished smooth by the hands and lips of hundreds of millions, waiting for a surge of spiritual energy to penetrate my full being,
Not there or anywhere.
Perhaps a tear here and there, a contrivance of spiritual longing, but in the end, nothing really
Until one moment
Back by the throbbing rhythm of the crowds crushing themselves upon the black cube, in my rush to lunge upon an open space my elbow knocked the chin of an elderly Afghan man.
In my attempt to express my apology and acknowledge his anger, I extended my right hand and brought my thumb, middle and index fingers together over the crisp edges of his beard, a gesture intended to express love and affection.
He violently waved off my hand with his wrist,
“Don’t touch my face again!” he gestured.
We stood looking at each other amid a raging sea of millions in the shadow of that ancient structure
I tried one last time to communicate what I intended.
I moved an inch closer and this time repeated the same gesture over my own chin, bowed my head and placed my right hand over my heart before extending it outwardly to him.
“Forgive me” I try to say.
He stared back intensely, repeated the gesture and suddenly seemed overwhelmed by the realization of what I was trying to do. He hugged me like his son, and kissing my cheek, began weeping uncontrollably, falling upon the cube as if in mourning
I fell alongside him, weeping tears for every broken relationship I have endured or caused over the years, for every failure to communicate, for every miserable ounce of pain I unwittingly caused others and myself. I wept in love and gratitude for the ability to see it come back together-
Like the shattered shards of stones, we too once hailed from a larger composite, a more refined whole
Perhaps we touch what they touched, walked where they walked, sat where they sat
So we too can be prophetic vessels, healing the rupture of the broken human family
Maybe then we will know God
And break, dislodge, once and for all remove
The calcifying boulders, from our decaying chests
Oh Holy Lands,
Oh Hands with holes,
Hold these hands
And take us home.