8:20 p.m., Sept. 22. Medina, Saudi Arabia.
Police officers determinedly struggled to organize the unusually busy, disorganized traffic flows, pedestrians hurriedly crossed streets, and horns passionately screamed everywhere.
Like honeybees flooding a hive from all sides, temporarily abandoning all other obligations, a great part of the city’s population flowed toward the same destination.
Then the sound of “Allahu Akbar (God is Most Great),” began to resound in the ears and hearts of the great throng from each of the 10 tall minarets of Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Medina, announcing the arrival of Isha’a, the late evening prayer.
“Let’s take the underground parking,” I suggested, our Yukon inching slowly forward in the jam of traffic.
“We’re in the last 10 days now,” Abdul-Rahman, my younger brother, reminded me, shooting me a you-must-be-crazy look.
“They’re all full. We’re gonna have to park several blocks away and start walking.”
It was the hectic last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month celebration of the Islamic lunar calendar.
This entire month emphasizes self-discipline, devotion to God and empathy for the poor, as adherents abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset each day.
“So be it,” I murmured in approval. We found a parking spot somewhere in the Central Zone and set out walking rapidly, almost jogging.
We arrived — fortunately, before the prayer started —- at one of the brown, gold-plated gates of the massive landmark. Our shoes removed and stowed away, we maneuvered our way through the crowd into the ornate mosque. Our lips moved with the designated prayer of entry to the mosque.
At once, it was as though the pandemonium outside had suddenly decided to vanish prior to handing us over to a contagious, deeply calming atmosphere.
Varied emotions, especially serenity, coursed through our souls as we stepped in.
During Ramadan, so much is at stake. Concerning the sacred month, Prophet Muhammad explained to his followers: “Its beginning is mercy, its middle is forgiveness, and its ending is liberation from the fire of Hell.”
Many worshippers, not knowing whether they would make it to the next Ramadan, were preoccupied in their own little space with a chat with the Lord, begging for forgiveness for any wrongs they might have committed.
But even more poignant was when the prescribed prayer time arrived.
Hundreds of thousands of local and international Muslims, many of whom had gone to great pains to make it from their home countries, arose and stood shoulder to shoulder in straight, orderly rows, all attentively listening to the ravishing voice of the imam (leader of prayer) as he recited verses from the Quran, the holy book of Islam.
After the spiritual rendezvous had finished, the worshippers diverged in different directions.
The hurricane in the streets resumed, only this time, mostly in the vicinity of the shopping malls.
For Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Fast-Breaking, will fall on Oct. 1 this year.
As the blessed month draws to a close, Muslims go out to shop for new clothes and Eid presents.
On the day of Eid, following the conclusion of 30 days of fasting, reinvigorated Muslims dress in their finest clothes and mark the occasion by attending special prayers, giving to the needy and visiting relatives and friends.
Then, following Ramadan and Eid, the customary, every-day routines begin again.
My brother and I will then find no trouble locating a parking spot close to the Prophet’s Mosque.
At the same time, we’ll join the rest of the Muslim world in waiting for another 11 months until the blessed month knocks on our doors again. Its special flavor of sanctity and commitment will be tremendously missed.
Zaki Safar is a CSU alumnus. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.