Thursday, January 8, 2015

Holy Spaces, Prayer Rolls, and Being Remembered in Mecca

As many of you know, I was able to visit my parents in Doha, Qatar over break. It's a country that is largely bereft of grass, has more construction cranes than I could count, and has unrestrained pride in hosting the 2022 World Cup.  Somehow, though, my parents and brothers have learned to call it home, and seeing them so happily situated was one of the best parts about living there.

Upon arrival, my mother was anxious to introduce me to A-Beer, her neighbor next door, and one of my mother's close friends. She is a beautiful young Muslim mother from Jordan who had declined a lucrative engineering career to raise five children. Somehow, however, she had found time to give my mother rides and prepare her to pass Qatar's stringent driving test (no small task). My mother's highly coveted driver's license and acclimation to Qatar can be partly attributed to A-Beer and her kindness.

I finally had a chance to meet A-Beer after she and her family had returned from Mecca. For those who are unaware, a Muslim's trip to Mecca is a powerfully spiritual pilgrimage, as they have the chance to walk and pray around the Ka'aba seven times. The Ka'aba  is Islam's holiest site, as its foundations were built by Abraham and Ishmael. Muslims all over the world turn their bodies towards this site every day of their life, so the experience of seeing the Ka-aba first hand can only be described as a most sacred experience.

Upon our arrival to their house, A-Beer's small children told us about their visit to the Ka'aba and were anxious for us to try the zamzam water. This water is called miraculous, as it is thought to be from the same location where the Hagar quenched her thirst in the wilderness after her expulsion. As this water is highly prized and considered to have special healing properties, I was touched that they would want to share their zamzam water with me.

But the most poignant moment occurred when A-Beer told me that she had prayed for our whole family as she walked around the Ka'aba. She had even prayed for me to get married! I was astonished that she would even bother to to pray for our family, let alone for someone like me whom she had never met, when making the most spiritual trip of her life. But somehow, I had been remembered and prayed for in a part of the world that I have never been, have no connection to, and never will be allowed to enter.

Yet in A-Beer's mind, she probably prayed for me and my family because she knew that as a non-Muslim, I would never be able to enter and pray toward the Ka-aba. So, she had taken upon herself to give a prayer for me in a literal space that I was not allowed to occupy, in hopes that I could receive the same blessing from the Ka'aba that she enjoyed.

After meeting A-Beer, I have not only reflected  on the oft inherent selfishness of my own prayers, but also my gratitude of being a member of the church that is concerned with the same problem that A-Beer recognized in her own religion. I am grateful that when I enter a Mormon temple, I can go to our prayer roll and write down the name of someone who is in need of a blessing. While our temples, like Mecca, also restrict non-believers from entering, no one is excluded from our prayer rolls. Rather, their names are placed on our temple altar, one of our temple's holiest sites, and prayed for in a fervent and heartfelt manner. I have also reflected on my need to be a more active participant in temple work, where I do have the chance to give my deceased ancestors blessings in a space that they cannot physically occupy either.

I am grateful for a religion like Islam, which may restrict its holy city to believers, but will not forbid believers from sharing holy zamzam water and praying for non-Muslims like me. And I am grateful for Mormon temples that may limit its entrants to those who are sufficiently prepared, but where potentially anyone can be a recipient of its blessings.

Photo Credit to Kashif Aziz

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Sarah. As always, you never fail to inspire me,