The night was still dark as I stopped and handed over 5 riyals for a wooden cane. The short climb from the bus to the top of the hill, the point where the stairs began that led up, up, up into the starry sky, had been difficult. I figured I wouldn’t make it up those stairs without a cane.
The steps were awkward and misshapen, but solid and wide. I slammed my cane into each one and stepped up again and again. After twenty minutes of climbing I was tired and worried that I might not make it. I slowed down. Cane, foot, cane, foot, cane, foot… and around the middle of the mountain the adhān for fajr called thinly through the air. We stopped at a plateau and prayed fajr, pausing for an earnest duʿāʾ before continuing our climb.
Picking up my cane, I realized that we were making progress. My heart began to beat with anticipation. I was climbing toward the sacred space where angel and human met in the embrace of revelation. I heard the whispers of ṣalawāt from the other climbers and found myself with renewed energy as I drew near.
Finally my walking partner said, “We are almost there.” And sure enough we turned the corner and we had reached the peak of the mountain… but the peak was not the goal. Now I descended down and through rough spaces, where the rocks threatened to keep me out.
Then we were in front of the Cave of Ḥirāʾ. Misnamed as a cave really, for it is nothing more than a sliver of space between the rocks, a space to stand and a smaller space to sit. The far wall has a window in the shape of an abstract crescent – and it was through this sliver of light that the Prophet ﷺ once gazed upon the Kaaba as he spent days and nights in the contemplation, worship and glorification of God.
I am so excited I can barely speak. It is almost my turn, so I throw my prayer carpet – the one I brought especially for this moment – I throw my carpet on the space where I imagine Khadīja (r) once sat. I close my eyes and soak in the spiritual richness.
Then it is my turn to stand and I place my carpet in the place where the Prophet ﷺ once stood in prayer. I stand and pray.
Here it was where Angel Gabriel descended upon Muhammad ﷺ. How many lessons and classes had I given about this place? And now I was here. I did my best to soak up the secrets of Ḥirāʾ, to imagine our beloved Prophet ﷺ here, to imprint upon my heart the intense light that penetrated the late dawn.
And then I left the cave.
But the cave didn’t leave me…