Language, and the Holy City

He was so fascinated at how people reacted when he spoke to them in his own mother tongue
Language, and the Holy City
File Photo of Grand Mosque in Makkah. [Twitter/ @HaramainInfo]

It was year 2019, Ahmed received a call from his brother asking him to return home in a week, informing him that they were going to the holy cities of Makkah and Madina to perform Umrah.

The news was as shocking as it was amazing for Ahmed who, for a year now had been a very practicing Muslim. He didn't expect this huge blessing in such a short period. However, time came and Ahmed along with his mother and elder brother left for the holy pilgrimage. It was the month of Ramadan which elevated the blessing.

They left from Srinagar for Delhi from where they would take their flight to the city of Makkah. At Delhi Airport pilgrims changed clothes and wore their Ahraam clothing (two pieces of white garments, pilgrims wear during the hajj/Umrah period) and as the flight to Makkah was late in the evening, the time of breaking the fast came when they were still at the Delhi Airport.

People, all of them in white Ahraam were sitting in groups, breaking their fast. Some spoke Telugu, some Hindi, some Marathi, some Urdu; you could tell by their language from which part of the country they belonged. Except the people from Kashmir, they spoke very little Kashmiri even when conversing with fellow Kashmiri. I don't know, maybe they consider it a sign of modernity or they just don't want to be recognized as Kashmiri anymore.

The vibes of pilgrimage had started to throng them even as an atmosphere of peace, happiness and spirituality prevailed.

Ahraam was worn, fast was broken, Ahmad with Malcom X's biography and a copy of Quran took his seat in the plane to Arabian peninsula. He kept reading Malcom X till the time of suhoor (Dawn Meals), wondering at the transformation of Malcolm X to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabaaz, he dreamt of freeing his community from the prison of mind the same way Malcolm did.

It was time for suhoor and the air hostess in full elegant clothing with their heads covered came and provided meals for the passengers.

The pilgrims landed in Makkah an hour or so before the Fajar prayers and were lined up with each group led by a guide.

They offered the Fajr prayers at the Makkah Airport from where they were taken to their respective hotels, all in the vicinity of the Grand Mosque. The guide suggested they take rest till noon and visit the Grand Mosque after they have freshen up.

The noon time came, Ahmed and his family got ready to set their glances at the holiest site for Muslims in the world. The grand mosque was a ten minute journey from the hotel they were staying in and as they entered the mosque itself, Ahmed while looking at Ka'ba felt as if everything was happening in slow motion.

His eyes frozen on the holy Ka'ba, Ahmed felt he was standing alone there, although there were millions of people present there. No language in the world could describe what Ahmed felt that time.

He felt his soul, eyes, mind and body were refreshed and realized that nothing of it is a dream. Ahmed started to move around, with tears flowing from his eyes, his tongue declaring his service to his lord, his hands cupped in prayers, his feet reluctant to be fully placed on the land, for he thought how could his feet be on the soil where the best of creation had once walked.

Ahmed, surrounded by black, white, pink, brown, red, grey, short, tall – men and women, from different countries, speaking different languages, wearing the same white Ahraam and reciting one same slogan (Talbiyya). "Labaik Allah Huma Labaik, Labaik La Shareeka Laka Labaik, Innal Hammuda Wan Nimate, Lakawal mulk, Laa Shareeka Lak", [Here I am [at your service] O God, here I am. Here I am [at your service]. You have no partners (other gods). To You alone is all praise and all excellence, and to You is all sovereignty. There is no partner to You"] He thought how back in his homeland, people would not deem everyone equal. Why? Weren't they in service of one God or were they in service of something else, something perishable?

Nothing separated the men and women, everyone was equal. Equal in every aspect, none could brag about the threads they wore, the skin they had, the money they inherited, the lineage they had, the language they spoke. Language, what separates humans, brought the people in that land closer. Most of the people there didn't know other people's languages and majority of them didn't know English (which was totally okay and was not considered to be a sign of inferiority).

Ahmad first tried addressing some white guys in English but they turned out to be Russians. Hah! There was no fun in continuing because Russians are developed people and have pride in speaking their own language. Maybe that's why they are so disciplined and maybe that's why Russians keep the West on the bay.

Anyway, Ahmad then realized that if he needs to talk to somebody, he needs to do it in his own language, the language he inherited from his mother and she inherited from her mother, and she inherited from her mother and so on—- The language that gave Ahmed and the people of his nation their identity, it was the Kashmiri language.

He was so fascinated at how people reacted when he spoke to them in his own mother tongue, the Russian or people from the Middle East didn't even know a bit of Kashmiri language but they enjoyed listening to it and to his amusement, understood and interpreted what he tried to convey.

Because that is the beauty of language, people think they choose it but it's the language that chooses people and it's the language that abandons the people, because the people abandoned by language didn't understand the language at first hence being unable to comprehend its importance.

It was hot during the daytime, so people would mostly roam the market in the evening and because it was the month of Ramadan, the markets would open all night and shut in the morning.

Ahmed who admired and loved the middle eastern markets would roam around and do some shopping, because it is believed that pilgrims who visit the holy cities of Makkah and Madina must do a little shopping, for it is said to be blessed.

But the shopkeepers and salesmen were from different language speaking communities, while most of the Middle Eastern countries speak Arabic, some of them speak Persian, some Turkish and some Kurdish. Ahmed who knew nothing more than 'Maa Ismuka' (Arabic for What's your name) spoke to salesmen with full confidence, in Kashmiri and the salesmen to his surprise gave him all their ears.

During his shopping his elder brother would take him along and ask him to bargain with the shopkeepers, for he knew Ahmed was not afraid to speak in Kashmiri to the non-Kashmiri speaking people and that he would with full confidence ask them 'Maa Ismuka ya habibi, sehat-e-badan cha theek' bringing down an item's price immediately.

Ahmad realized that the real essence of people was in their language, that the identity of a nation and its people is not in the food they eat or the house they live in but it solely depends on the language they speak. Because homes could be reduced to rubble, famine can vanish the food, poverty can rip-off the clothes but language? Nothing can happen to language, it cannot be destroyed in collateral damage, it cannot be strangulated under economic pressures and it cannot be confined by a strict lockdown.

While walking the streets of Makkah and hearing people speaking different languages and everyone proud of his/her mother tongue, Ahmed wondered why back home his people preferred to speak in languages other than their own.

Maybe his people were unaware of how the British during Pax-Britannica ruled through language and how Malcolm-X memorized whole dictionary in a period of just four years inside the prison and before standing up against the white supremacist, he made himself able to defeat them in their own language. Was Malcolm successful? Well, there is history to answer this question.

Ahmed thought to himself, what about the people who don't know their own language, whom can they defeat or in what language would they speak of their miseries or in a gathering of millions like Hajj, how will these kind people be identified?

While leaving the streets of Makkah for the blessed streets of Madina, Ahmed asked himself, the question which was once asked by a Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda and was again asked by Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy in her book titled 'Azaadi', "In what language does rain fall over tormented cities?"

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