Najaf al Ashraf

That last evening is Najaf is embedded in my memory. I left mum in the hotel room.


She was tired but I was counting the last few times I would be able to go and talk to Ali. Sit so close to him and share my innermost thoughts and wishes. So I rushed out the hotel room and began walking towards the roza whispering Ya Ali Ya Ali under my breath, and saying in my heart Ali I am coming to you.

Light steps.

Walking quickly.

Almost hovering over the tarmac road.

Completely unaware of anyone else on the path.

Gliding through both security checks.

The first at the entrance to the area around the haram and the second when entering the haram itself.

And then I was there.

I had reached.

The quiet solitude and serenity of Ali’s presence.

With the fresh fragrance spraying out of the fans, and settling on me and everyone else.

The aroma which will always hover in my consciousness. Settling gently onto the thick, red carpets on which we stood and sat in collective huddles. Clinging in tiny refreshing droplets to the navy blue, light blue and yellow tiles that patterned all four sides around the haram shareef.

And that ethereal light reflecting off the deep velvety onyx of the sky and back into the shelter of the roza. Bouncing off the golden leafed dome.

One step closer.

The varnish on the centre of the large wooden doors is almost worn out by the millions of hands, fingertips, foreheads and lips that have touched it on their way in and their way out. And the white marble tiles are cold under my stockinged feet as I walk into the haram. Arabic messages are etched on the doors in gold. Wooden balustrades divide the women flowing in from the women sitting and praying.

Tall, black burkha clad women wave their colourful feather dusters at us, ushering us to hurry up, or to move in, or to move aside, or to move out. Just the flick of a hand to convey sentences of meaning to a crowd of women who speak a multitude of languages and can only collectively understand gestures. They perch above use, one arm wrapped around the balustrade, the other waving in meaning.

Their guttural voices speak in Arabic, clear and resonant. Not an irritable word or a single sound is raised in anger.



Arranging the multitudes who come every second, every minute, every hour of each day to hold onto the silver bars of Ali’s mausoleum, to cling with their fingers to the cold metal, press their foreheads against it in abject prayers for blessings and mercy, stare up at the intricate gold silver and ruby writings on the border of the structure, gaze inside through the silver cubes at the green and gold material covering this man who means so much to so many.

I imagine the deer who sits on the white stone of safety to escape the hunter.

I imagine Hazrat Ali’s assassination in the mosque of Kufa.

And finally I remember the tragedy that befell his family and his son Imam Hussein in Kerbala.

Tears stream down my face.

Breath catches in my throat.

The jostling of the women with their feet on mine and their elbows digging into my waist no longer elicits a cry of pain or objection.

My physical presence dissipates in the face of this overpowering emotional experience. Like a memory dredged from inside my  being.

And then it passes.

I feel again the cold marble floor, polished by the caresses of so many feet, against my soles and I take a step back.

And then again one forward.

A good bye.

A final caress of the silver squares.

And then I walk backwards out of the haram. Wanting this last sight to stay engraved in my mind, for my last memory to be of this.

Of him.

With tears blindly pouring out of my eyes, I stumble out.

My head bent.

Overwhelmed with emotion.

I collapse in a soft heap on the carpet outside.

Pulsing with the intensity of the experience.

Kind eyes glance at me as I shudder with feeling.

Silent whispers of solidarity.

I am unable to stand yet or walk out.

And then the delicate fragrance washes over my face again.

It dews on my skin replacing hot tears with cool solace.

Refreshed I stand up and make my way towards the large wooden doors, tracing my fingertips over them, bending my head in prayer and gratitude, and then as I stand at the threshold on the way out, I look up at the golden dome and see one last time the flag fluttering on top.

Ya Ali. Ya Ali.

November 9, 2011


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