Many of the women waiting in line with Natalie* held young children. As they approached the entrance to the holy cave, they removed their shoes and ensured their heads were covered before entering. 

The line moved slowly past some relics. Dampness and the smell of body odor filled the air. With palms raised, many stopped to pray for Allah’s blessing. After praying, they wiped their hands over their faces and those of their small children so they too could share the blessing. Though several signs cautioned against praying due to COVID, many still unfurled their prayer mats and bowed toward Mecca.

Once outside again, Natalie talked with two women who visit every year. She was surprised to learn that they even read the Qur’an in their own language — a rarity, as value is believed to come from reading the original Arabic, even if one doesn’t comprehend it. “Still, it seemed that they were spiritually deaf,” Natalie noted. “One even told me, ‘Perhaps how you follow God is more blessed and holy, yet this is our fate.’”

Though Natalie visited to learn about the culture and history of the people she works among, the earnest pilgrims came seeking God’s help. The experience reminded Natalie of when Jesus was moved by the crowds who were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) As Jesus commanded His followers two verses later, let’s Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (v.38)