In Transit

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is adapted from Signs on the Horizons by Shaykh Michael Sugich.

“In 1976, I was on my way to Cairo from London.  I was to change planes in Damascus for the connection to Cairo. When we landed at dawn, I grabbed my bag and went to the transit desk.  The Syrian Air ground staffer looked at my ticket and told me that I had no reservation for the flight to Cairo and that the flight was full.  I told him I had to get on the flight.  He said it was impossible.  I asked when the next flight would be.  He told me it was in five days. Five days!  ‘I can’t wait here for five days!  I have to get on the flight tonight.  Who can I talk to?’  He told me I would have to go to the ticket office in Damascus.

I caught a taxi into town with a Jordanian girl who had been studying abroad and who was on her way to Amman for the holidays.  There had been another upheaval in the Arab-Israeli conflict and the city was filled with Palestinian refugees.  Hotels were full.  With the help of my taxi-mate, I managed to find a cheap hotel in town where I left my bags and set off to find the Syrian Air office.  It was early morning and it was Ramadhan.  The streets were empty except for a few soldiers and students who all seemed to be in military uniform.

When I arrived at the Syrian Air office, it was still closed but a long line was already forming.  I took my place in the queue. When the doors opened I went to a desk manned by an expressionless young woman.  I explained that I had a ticket with a reservation to Cairo that had not been confirmed and that I had to get the connecting flight this evening.  She looked at me impassively and pointed across the room to another desk.  I walked over and repeated my story.  He listened and directed me across the room to another desk.  I walked over, waited in line and then repeated my story. I was directed to another desk.  And so it went until I had been sent full circle back to the expressionless young woman.  I said, ‘Excuse me but where can I find the manager?’  Silently, she pointed to a desk at the corner of the room surrounded by people yelling at a harried mustachioed fellow who was engaged in an intense discussion with one of several agitated customers.

I waited at the back of the circle and while this animated interchange was going on, I tapped the man in front of me on the shoulder.  He looked around.  I said quietly, ‘Excuse me, do you speak English?’  He said he did, so I asked him if he could do me a favour and explain my predicament, which I retold for about the tenth time.  He was very polite and when there was a momentary lull in the heated exchange, he caught the attention of the manager who looked around exasperated, saying, ‘Hah?’ [Translation: ‘What do you want?’].  My interlocutor quickly explained my situation to the manager who listened intently.  He then barked out a brief response and returned to the defense of his realm against a phalanx of frustrated customers.  I eagerly asked my kind representative what he had said.  He turned to me ruefully.  ‘He said… he doesn’t want to know.’

I left the Syrian Air office with the grim prospect of staying in a fleabag hotel in a conflict zone for five long days in Ramadhan without knowing a soul.  I had days to kill so I decided to visit the tomb of Shaykh al-Akbar, Muhyi ad-Din ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.), the Seal of the Saints.  His tomb was on a hill above the city.  I walked up the hill until I found the mosque.  After making two cycles of prayer greeting the mosque and reading from the Qur’an, I repaired to the tomb of Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.), which had not yet been encased in glass.  I recited Surah Ikhlasw, prayed for the shaykh and asked God to Help me on my way.  I was fasting and exhausted from a long journey.  I reclined by the tomb and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.  When I woke up I knew with a sense of calm certainty that I had to return to the airport.  I prayed for Shaykh al-Akbar (q.s.) and asked Forgiveness for my wrong actions.  I returned to the fleabag hotel, retrieved my suitcase and caught a taxi back to Damascus Airport.  I went to the check-in desk with my unconfirmed ticket, was checked in without question and made the flight to Cairo.  Perhaps it would have happened anyway, but at the very least the serenity of the tomb of the Seal of the Saints gave me the clarity I needed to stay on course.”

Shaykh ibn ‘Atha’illah as-Sakandari (q.s.) said, “Travel not from creature to creature, otherwise you will be like a donkey at the mill: Roundabout he turns, his goal the same as his departure.  Rather, go from creatures to the Creator.”


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