Sûrah XXII
THE PILGRIMAGE
"Lo! man is verily an ingrate."

22
PILGRIM'S PROGRESS

Completing her devotions to the East, Z's path turns West, her steps drawn seaward, once more lured as to the brink where land ends, freed, and yet recaptured by a spell that supersedes the rote of worship, lends the park an otherworldly hush, enchantingly serene, as moonlight filters through a canopy of silvered, airborne dew, transmuting night into shades of dusk that obfuscate distinctions.

1. It is true; there comes a moment when the pulse of one resounds within another, when the heartbeats of the many match the heartbeats of a few, whose rhythm merges in a rush of fellow-feeling.

2. I have known this once with Homa, once with passengers on a plane, and once with Father when he taught me how to sow then how to reap that I might understand how meaningful are the seasons.

3. Spring's renewal, the Summer's growth, the Autumn's harvest, Winter's slumber "grant us lessons we must heed," my Father counseled; "cycles teach."

4. "Beware of hubris," he continued, "which is Mankind's gravest fault."

5. We have created you from dust, then from a drop of seed, then from a clot, then from a little lump of flesh shapely and shapeless... humility, hence, is warranted.

6. "We are of this world," quoth Father... as our hands displaced the soil, arranging furrows into patterns, his more uniform than were mine because a child is less symmetrical. Still, he did not try to reconstruct his daughter's crooked rows; when we were done my squiggly tangents somehow merged.

7. What joy, to feel his fingers plying pressure onto mine, to plant each seedling in our private plot, our site of future blooms! He tendered patience with instruction. He was tolerant. He was kind.

8. Thus undeserving of an offshoot so intractable... such as I.

Confused, Z falters in her staunch descent, her tilt toward the unseen ocean; she can hear its heavy breathing, albeit muffled by the fog, whose thick encroachment on the landscape lifts, of a sudden. Moon, stars visible, a span of sky reveals itself like a diamond-studded void, at once illumined and eclipsed by altitude unending.

9. Have I erred? Was it a sin to stay the Sword of Allah, spare the evil infidel? Or would sacrificing innocents have incurred a penance worse?

10. I fear the latter is an argument I advance to cloak my cowardice. I miscarried less from qualm than from unease about my end. Had I believed without a doubt we are redeemed by selfless actions that deliver us to Gardens underneath which rivers flow, would I have foundered, shirked my duty, failed my comrades, and gainsaid God?

11. Do those who perish for a sacred cause not come to Judgment sooner? My comeuppance will be harsh for causing this delay.

12. Lo! Allah loveth not each treacherous ingrate.

Z, remorseful, cannot reconcile beliefs once held with those on her horizon. Sans Mohammed's recitation of the Word, how steer one's course? Is not Man rudderless when reduced to using Reason as his sextant? How plot course in a world of vagary, relativity, vested interest? How contend with inconsistency, constant change, divergent choice? Does not a map, devoid of reference to the Firmament, misdirect by dint of disregarding routes to the Great Hereafter, Home to Him? For surely Allah is Man's ultimate destination.

13. There it is!

14. The word "pacific," meaning "calm," does not describe this mighty ocean. Like a lioness, it roars. And, with its claws, it rakes the beach.

15. I sense its power, behold its beauty, smell its seaweed-laden mane, perceive the ripple of its muscles under waves that swell, advance, approach my feet as if to snare them and conduct them out to sea where all find unity in a quintessential tide.

16. Is too poetical?

17. Even more so would it seem were I to phrase my praise in Arabic. California, at its edge, is like a panoramic shelf beyond which Life and all aquatic forms abound.

18. Is cause for wonder. Were the seasons Allah's signatures of Time, the sea His gene pool, stars and planets shedding light by which He fashioned birds and beasts, and we, His chosen, spared mortality by resisting Satan's apple, simply birthed to live and breed upon this awe-inspiring orb, would there be peace? Would there be love? If we equated Earth with Allah, would we sabotage Creation or preserve it?

19. Who can tell, except to recognize that His, with ours, is One.

The breakers beckon. Z, perched gull-like at the shoreline, dark hair windblown, loose clothes flapping, arms outspread as if to fly above the foam-frothed sand and surf, recalls Sharia, Muslim Law, its sacred rules, unbending tenets, and prays that she be granted dispensation.