“Al-Am doe lil-la.”
Slower this time. “Al…Am…doe…lil…la.”
“Al-Am doe lil-la.”
“Yes,” the man says, “it means: ‘all good things from God.'”
I like that, only for ‘God’ I substitute ‘Life’. It is Thursday and I am up in the North East doing my Halal Islamic meat stops. Ever since the man and his wife returned from their Haj last year, the once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca culminating in a turn around the Kaaba, he has sported a lush, clerical looking beard. “Wow,” I said upon his return, “that’s quite the beard you’ve got going. What, they don’t have barbers in Mecca?”
Three blocks away I further hone my cultural ambassadorial skills. Once a week Uncle rolls the two or three tubs of meat out to me. His name is unpronounceable—to me at any rate—and ‘Uncle’ serves as a token of respect. It so happened the first time he hugged me I was training a younger co-worker. “You work hard and give people the kind of service they’ve come to expect from me and maybe one day you’ll earn one of those too,” I coached. That first time I was as surprised as he.
Most visits nowadays Uncle clasps me close to his bosom. “Jeef! Jeef!” he exults, struggling with limited words to express all that he sees and feels. Outside, if the sun is shining, he’ll stare up into it ecstatically and draw in a deep lungful of air. We talk as best we can about God’s wonder and suffusing glory, gesturing towards the sun, opening our arms out to include everything and every one, take in great gulps of breath.
He is a small man in his late sixties, retired from a Pakistani steel company. Now, having followed his children to Canada, he works ten hours a day, six to seven days a week in a Halal meat shop. Often I see him going about his tasks silently mouthing his prayers. “He is a simple man,” the shop owner explains, “his heart is filled with love of God. If he takes a liking to you he will give you anything.” “Jeef,” he asked me several weeks ago, “you like vodka?”
But I’m thinking again of my bearded friend and the millions of others who make the pilgrimage to Mecca each year. What it must be like to be part of that sea of white robed humanity making their ceremonial circumnavigation of the ancient Kaaba stone!
Wild associations. The Kaaba as spiritual hub for the world’s Muslims, vaguely associated with Black Elk’s Sacred Teepee at the living center of his Oglala Sioux nation—before the circle was broken and the tree withered that is—even Dr. Seuss’s Whoes of Whoville holding hands around a huge celebratory Christmas tree! All hubs at the heart of circles.
Where are our hubs? Where are the centers around which our hearts and minds and souls revolve? Do we even have any?
“How did it feel,” I asked the man, “to join with all those others walking around the Kaaba?”
His eyes grew wide and a broad smile spread across his face. “Ooh!” He said, looking off somewhere in the distance and shaking his head in awe and wonder.