Uhud, 3


A path of flattened gravel loops along Ainain’s side. The pebbles sigh and grind beneath my sandal’s tread; the sound reminds me of coral, of obsidian, of something vomited onto land from the belly of the earth. Their groans are their athkar, I tell myself, their remembrance of divinity. You could do well to follow their example. Subhan Allah, my heart repeats. Subhan Allah Ta’ala. Pilgrims in groups of two or three start up the path behind me.

A crowd of Saudi teenage boys forms on top of the mountain. They stand silhouetted against the sky, talking and laughing, with a casualness I find bittersweet. Do you know, dear brothers, I want to ask, the scope of your blessings? Are you so accustomed to our history that you can stand here, looking over Madinah, and no longer feel afraid?

I find a place at the Ainain’s furthest edge, and gaze out over the graves. Perhaps, whispers part of me, the lessons of the battle are not as dark as you think. Perhaps the boys are right to be happy, to enjoy one another’s company. Nothing happens without the permission of Allah; under no circumstances could the martyrs have lived another day.

The peaks of Mount Uhud are haphazardly cut, like paper torn by a baby. My eyes can distinguish the boundary between stone and sky, but nothing else. Someplace between the graves and the sky, the Prophet fled into a cave. Someplace the remnants of the army hid, hugging the rocks for safety.

The air up here is free of flies, even given our proximity to the graveyard’s market stalls. I stir pebbles with my sandal’s toe, and listen to fragments of Arabic carried along by the breeze. Arrows, Muslims, Mushrikeen; in clusters the pilgrims stand with their guides, pointing sadly, explaining. There is a stillness to Uhud’s lonely plain which not even the laughter of teens can break. Hamza’s stone is fading, as shadow becomes indistinguishable from night. I can no longer determine the boundaries of the martyrs’ graves.

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