I knew how it would be, so I didn’t expect the place to feel orderly or holy. I wasn’t looking or waiting for warm smiles from the guards. I was only thinking of you.
They gathered the women in one area of the outer precinct and sorted us in groups according to language and nationality. We sat waiting for at least two hours. Suddenly we heard the loud crack of two huge doors opening as the guards belted out our cue: “That way!” The doors were located about a hundred yards to the left of where everyone was sitting.
We all took off.
It was a race to get to you. We ran through the doors, prayer books and tasbīhs (rosaries) in hand, fumbling through the pages against time, to get to the salutation in time,
to get to the part where we address you properly,
even though our hearts are racing,
and all we want to say is,
“I love you.
We just want to be with you,
we just want you here with us,
we just miss you,
we miss you,
we miss you,
we just have this one moment with you…”
I can remember the stillness. At the end of the maze we came to a wall. Someone said your ḍarīh (a tomb or grave, often surrounded by a steel grate) was on the other side. After I prayed my rakaʿāt (units of prayer), sound dropped away and through the corner of my eyes the flowing fabric swirled together like one big marble painting. Time and space ceased to exist. The only thing speaking was my heart, and I knew that you were listening. As I whispered greetings to you, I now sensed Sayyidah Fāṭimah az-Zahrāʾ (ʿa) standing next to you. It could have been five minutes or it could have been five days.
At some point, time snapped back and I was once again in the crowd and commotion, gathering up my belongings, making space for the next group of supplicants. We left the masjid, and though I was sure that I had been standing in the presence of you (ṣ) and the Woman of the Worlds, Sayyidah Fāṭimah az-Zahrāʾ (ʿa), my roommates told me that her burial site is unknown. Later that night, I nestled into the comfort of that moment in your presence as I drifted off to sleep.
I dreamt that we were dressed in white walking through your masjid. This time, the energy of guards and visitors was calm. There was a green glow inside, and lush plants filled the inner chambers, content and vibrant under a gentle rainfall.
Since then, I have visited the resting places of many of your children: Imām ʿAlī (ʿa), Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa), Imām Mūsā al-Kāẓim (ʿa), Imām ʿAlī al-Hādī (ʿa), Imām ʿAlī ar-Riḍā (ʿa). Each place emotes a different feeling and recalls different moments and memories. The relationships are all unique, and each personality distinct. But the thread of your nūr (light) is woven through all of them and the light of guidance that we seek from each of them – though different by the circumstances of their lives – is the same; while the Imāms are different, they are one. Your message is one.
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “I wish I could meet my brothers.” The Prophet’s (ṣ) companions said, “Are we not your brothers?” The Prophet (ṣ) said, “You are my companions, but my brothers are those who have faith in me although they never saw me.”
Someone once told me that the urge to visit one of the holy personalities does not originate in the visitor, but in the visitee; that we are invited, and our desire to visit is due to that invitation.
Last year, on the birthday of Imām al-Mahdī (ʿaj), I attended a program at a masjid in Dallas.
The shaykh shared a story:
There was a man who wanted to see Imām al-Mahdī (ʿaj) and was always trying to figure out where he was. Someone informed him that he should go and sit with this particular watch seller in town to see what goes on in his shop. When the man arrived, an old lady in need of cash came in with a watch to sell. She’d gone to different places trying to get $8 for her watch, but others would only offer $5. After walking into this particular watch seller’s shop, the merchant said, “Listen. Your watch is worth $7. I’m going to buy it for $7 so that you get your watch’s worth and at the same time I have to make a halal profit as well. If I buy it from you for $7, I can sell it for $10.” So he went for the $3 profit while others were trying to maximize with a $5 profit. He kept it in the middle, with a reasonable profit. Just being a normal human being with good ethics was enough for the Imām (ʿaj) to look at the watch seller in a specific, special way. So the Imām tells this guy who’s been trying to catch a glimpse of him, “Look you don’t have to run after us, we’ll come to you if you behave with justice and the true moral and ethical traits of a human being like this person.”
Two Ramaḍāns ago I was walking up a hill in my neighborhood, reflecting on personal trials and the state of the world and feeling weak and overwhelmed. So many years of striving and failing, feeling like my life was just a series of taking one step forward and two steps back. A vision of Medina and the coolness of your masjid at sunset suddenly entered my mind, bringing me back to that last visitation. Tears filled my eyes as I continued uphill. Suddenly, it felt as if you were walking beside me. Maybe it was my imagination. But suddenly I was at ease.
This past year I have been filled with the urge to visit you again. I don’t know when that will be, but I take heart in the possibility that you want to see me just as much as I want to see you. I want to do my part to keep that invitation alive.