The definition of love is different depending on who you ask. For Ruso, love was love of God. God was his anchor, his fortress against the storm and his light in the darkness of material life. Ruso cared little for monetary ambitions and he lived a quite life with his family in the sleepy suburbs of Glasgow. He had not been born into the love of God. Rather, he had found it, taking to Islam only a few years ago. Since then, priorities have changed. He was an energetic businessman and made a comfortable living, but now, things were different. He read and spent time with his family a little more than usual and even his neighbors took note of his transformation.
The Mosque was a tiring thirty minute drive to a modest establishment at Carluke but Ruso still went, even more so this month as it was Ramadan. But tonight was especially tiring as traffic was heinous on the A725 and he had missed the communal prayer. Alya was furious and Tammy had stopped talking in the car, deterred by her mother’s fury.
“That’s why you leave an hour early! Unbelievable.” she kept on repeating. Ruso sighed, entered the Mosque, and made up his missed prayers, finally to take a seat among the host of conversations, tea and people. Suddenly the the conversations died down and all turned their bodies forward. A young man – the Imam of the Mosque – took the pulpit for a short sermon. Ruso despaired when he realized he had missed half of the Ramadan special night prayer in addition to the communal one. Nothing could be done so he listened in.
The Imam spoke of love and particularly love for Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. This was quite interesting and Ruso thought deeply about what had been said. Love for a man that he had never met? Ruso had feelings of endearment for Islam’s prophet no doubt, but he did not love him with the same zeal the Imam was portraying.
That night, Ruso slept uncomfortably thinking about the verse the Imam had recited in his talk “The Prophet is preferable to the believers even to their own selves…”. Why? Why would it be that he should love a man who lived in the past more than his family? Ruso did not even know much about him.
Ruso finally slept, satisfied by promising himself that he will find a biography of this man, and then he will love him.
Over the next few months, Ruso’s life went through dramatic changes. He cried profusely and often in the dark of night and he had a feeling of depravity in his heart.
“Well this is new.” Alya remarked when she found him once reading with wet eyes.
“What could possibly make you cry?”
“The Prophet’s life.” he replied. Ruso read the biography ten times in the span of two months. The Imam’s words finally made sense and even though Ramadan was well gone, a spiritual presence seemed to always claw at his heart. His wife felt it too as she had been reading along with him.
It was then that a new obsession completely devoured Ruso. He wanted to see the Prophet’s face. He prayed long nights and entire days to have a dream but after weeks of such vigil, his prayers went unanswered. But the love burned fiercely and would not abate.
“Let’s go to Medina.” he suddenly said to Alya one night as they silently ate dinner. Tammy slung her head to her side, trying to understand what her father meant.
Alya responded almost instantly, as if she spoke with Ruso’s own conviction.
“Lets.” she said, giving him a longing look. “I want to visit the Prophet’s city.”
Ruso had never been one to make rash decision and he considered his sudden vacation to Medina rash. But he followed through. In less than a week, he was on the place towards the city of Mecca and on his journey to retrace the footsteps of his beloved. They were to make for Medina in a week but he and Alya stayed much longer than intended in Mecca. Ruso would take great pleasure in wandering the markets and hearing the Arabic of the shoppers while Alya rejoiced in visiting the great mosque more times than one.
A few days in, Ruso decided that he will take a solitary journey towards Medina so as to retrace his beloved’s pilgrimage. It would be fairly simple and Medina was only a few hours away. Ruso did not even think of going on foot. He was unused to the Arab climate and in a sense, hated it. But miraculously, he would not sweat profusely when he walked about Mecca. Circumstances played to Ruso’s favor as Alya heard that a family friend was also visiting Mecca and she asked to travel with them for a day. Ruso would be left alone and in perfect condition for his journey to Medina.
Tomorrow would be the day he would see the city of his beloved and walk the very roads which his noble feet had touched. Ruso was giddy with excitement as he fell into a deep and satisfying sleep.
The car’s air conditioning really wasn’t doing the job and Ruso felt the heat suffocating him during his drive. He wished to be immersed in cold water and thought fondly of his pool back in Glasgow. But there the weather was always atrocious; a sunny day was a blessing. Here it seemed to be a replica of Hell.
The road to Medina was empty, almost ghastly and the heat dulled Ruso’s senses. He was blinked several times and fought to stay awake. Eventually, the city was in sight and Ruso could make out a host of small settlements in the distance. Settlements? Where was the green dome of the prophet’s mosque?
Ruso wasn’t paying attention and suddenly his car veered off the side of the rode. The contact with the dry desert sand sent his car spinning into circles until it flipped onto it’s side.
“Damns. Thank God it’s not my car.” He thought. But he would still have to explain to the car rental people how he had committed such an obvious blunder. Ruso sat sideways, almost upside-down, uncomfortably and fought to get the door opened. The seat belt had saved him from any serious injuries but the trial was not over.
As soon as he stepped onto the desert sand he realized his air condition was perfectly fine. It was just that the heat was stronger. Waves of heat buffeted him into near submission and every breath he knew felt like ingesting hot, thick, tasteless soup. He could have phoned the police for help but he was already on the outskirts of the city and a sudden aura pulled him in.
He started walking – his feet soon drenched in the hot sand. The heat was ferocious, unbearable, lunatic but the aura of the prophet’s city was greater. Ruso’s recounted the story of the Prophet’s journey. This heat is unbearable for him. Was it not so for the Prophet and his companions who fled here? Was it not equally difficult to have walked for 11 days across this monstrous desert?
When Ruso arrived, he was troubled to find the city decorated with clay brick houses and other pitiful establishments. He did not see roads nor fountains nor mosques. Palm trees grew here and there and men with bare backs tilled the land.
What was going on? Was this really the prophet’s city or some forgotten village? Had the GPS done him in? He walked in further and further and he was suddenly aware of his renewal of energy. The signs of travelling seemed to fall away from him. His sweat seemed to evaporate and the dust seemed to leap away from him as he walked in deeper. He saw merchants selling their wares in a makeshift market, he saw women bartering with men. He saw men mixing mud to slap onto their clay houses, he saw children running and playing while all this happened.
Ruso felt light in the head, almost ecstatic and as he entered a small building erected with clay bricks, he knew exactly where he was. A gathering of people were seated inside and they seemed to shift their bodies towards one particular person, even though he wasn’t in the middle.
He instantly knew who he was from his brilliant flowing hair and his wide, luminous eyes and his clear forehead and round face and the light that emanated from it. Ruso stood transfixed by his beauty, the culmination of his desires and prayers. This was undoubtedly Muhammad that sat with his companions and suddenly, Ruso knew the role he played. He looked at himself. A pristine white thobe, his own skin brilliantly white. His shoes which had been dirty with sand few minutes ago now sparkled in the sun and he smelled like he had just gotten out of the shower.
He had read a tradition of the Prophet in which a man came to him to ask about the religion and its tenants. It seemed now that Ruso had been thrust into this story. The how and why escaped him, but the series of events would inevitably end with a personal interaction with his beloved. He was momentarily discouraged and a great fear took hold of his heart, but then the love consumed the fear until nothing was left but love, and Ruso charged forward towards the gathering of his beloved.
He walked passed a man and headed straight for the Prophet. Whispers erupted among the gathering and he felt glares piercing his neck, but Ruso kept his face straight, serene, in a drunken state of love. He kneeled before his beloved and placed his hands on his thighs. The Prophet seemed astonished at first but then he smiled and with it, Ruso forgot all his worries and and fears escape. The smile was like a dart into his heart and tears would have streamed down his cheeks and he would have flung himself into an embrace if he had not controlled himself.
“O Muhammad!” He said. “Tell me about Islam!”. He acted the part and waited for the answer. The Prophet smiled again. The whispers died down and all were silent. And then his noble voice embraced the air as he said,
“Islam is that you should testify that there is no deity except Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger – “
It was too much for Ruso. Too much. The voice of his beloved pierced his heart like a cannon and tears streamed profusely from his face.
“I do!” He shouted suddenly like a mad man. “I do!”. He took the Prophet’s noble hands and kissed them repeatedly and looked up into his face.
But he was gone. Everything around him suddenly started to vanish into blackness as he looked in despair and suddenly, he felt cold, fresh air when he inhaled. The blackness consumed him.
He jolted up and looked around. 3:00 am read the clock. He was in bed and frantically searched for his phone. It was still the same night and all of it had been a dream.
For the rest of the night, he wailed in anguish and shed bitter tears for having his dream cut short – undoubtedly because he had not acted out his role – and also because he could not recall the light that he saw on his beloved’s face.