I don’t know why but I suddenly miss my birthplace so much. I was blessed by Allah(swt) with having been born in Saudi Arabia and growing up there. Now, almost four years since I left that country with an “exit only” (no re-entry) stamp on my passport, I feel the pangs of separation more than ever. Sure, I don’t have a resident permit, just a birth certificate to show I was born there… but does that mean I will forget my roots? I don’t think it’s that easy. If it were, I wouldn’t be sitting here four years later, still wishing to go back, even if once.
Just what is it that I love about Saudi Arabia and, by extension, the Middle East? How can I begin to tell you? Can I describe to you, with justice, how it feels to be surrounded by sand and dunes? Take a deep breathe and let the pure desert air flow into you as the soft beams of the late afternoon sun warm you up from within. Open your eyes and look upon the landscape, now dotted with mosques, where the Prophet(pbuh) once walked with his companions. Go forward to tread on the very hill which he climbed upon to call his people to the worship of One God!
Something I miss dearly, even though I wasn’t very practicing at that time, was lying in bed at 2am on Ramadan nights, listening to the sound of Qayam-ul-layl recitation from the neighborhood masajid. Even in regular days, the adhan would be called from so many masajid within a span of 5 min that no one could possibly have an excuse for not knowing Salah timings!
Eid there, during my childhood, was a joy in itself. We’d eagerly turn on the TV to await the sighting of the moon. I didn’t understand Arabic but yeah, anyone could tell the Eid crescent had been sighted when they gave the announcement! Then, out came the henna and we’d watch as Amma applied it on our hands by means of a toothpick. Later at night, she’d prepare some snacks and sweets for the guests who’d visit on Eid. The next day, Abba would go for Eid prayer and return with gifts for us – always a charm! Our Syrian neighbors would send us freshly baked homemade biscuits or we’d get chocolates from the Saudi neighbors.
I miss the food there too. Forget the processed food for now, the pure Khubz, humus, olive oil and cheese were just awesome! And Laban – a drink made from yoghurt! Or even the bread we got from the bakery. It was all so simple, yet so tasty. Eating out at different corner-shops was an adventure as you’d never know what new flavors you would get to enjoy. Once, on the highway between Madinah and Jeddah, we stopped at a place where we ordered rice and chicken for dinner. It turned out it was the local variety of rice – red and plump grains – and it was so delicious! The best part… we had it outside, on a mat spread on the dusty concrete floor, with the dark desert all around – can you imagine that? Awesome, it was!
Being able to pray in a masjid was another joy altogether. It’s very common for women to be able to pray in masjid there so even if we were out and it was time for Maghrib, no worries – just stop at one of the large mosques and pray in comfort, Alhamdolillah. Although we’ve got the chance to pray in masajid with plush carpets and airconditioning, what I remember really well is the time I prayed in simple masajid. One such time was in Kyber, when we had set out for Hajj. The masjid we stopped near was so small that the ladies section was just the size of a car porch, with barely anything to cover the dusty floor. Again, it took me off to a different era altogether – there was definitely something very intense there.
There’s so much more, I could go on and on. I’ve just scratched the surface of my memory trunk and the real stuff is all inside. I just wish I might be able to go back there, once at least, to see those places again before Allah(swt) wraps up this universe for good. This world is temporary, that’s true, but whatever good we do here is carried on to the next. My roots in Saudi Arabia continue to inspire me whenever I feel down and depressed, or in limbo. Returning to the root, the source of it all… the place where it all started… there is no better vantage point, for me, at least!