as salaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah,
Here’s something I wrote last winter about the scarcity of rain in Damascus… unfortunately, the same thing is happening this year… may Allah shower beneficial rain upon Shaam this year, ameen.
In Damascus last year, winter approached us in disguise.
We were told, before we made our journey here, that winters in Syria were surprisingly cold: chilly, with lots of rain, and on occasion in the foregoing years the streets of Damascus and its surrounding area were actually covered with snow. So as the last months of the year approached, we began to brace ourselves to endure a cold and bitter season. However, as October slipped into November, the rain, snow, and unpleasant weather did not make an appearance. The days were uncommonly warm, some days even hot, and walks to school or the souq or various places in our neighborhood were pleasant, the sun shining overhead and the breeze mild. Our laundry continued to hang on the corded lines outside our balcony to be dried by the sun, and all the other balconies were ornamented in much the same way well into the winter months.
Somehow, November quickly turned into December, and instead of enjoying the uncommonly pleasant weather, the people of Damascus began to worry. Rain was a much needed resource for the country’s agriculture and for the well being of the crops, the animals, and the people alike. Eyes scanned the sky each day for signs of rain, but the sun continued to shine and embrace everyone with its September-like warmth. People began to wonder: Where is the rain?
Never before had I thought so much about this often overlooked blessing from Allah: rain from the heavens. How much we depend on Allah even for the simplest things, and how helpless we are without His generosity to us.
Instead of brushing off this change in weather as a mere result of atmosphere and temperature changes, the people of Syria had a shared sensitivity about these matters, and about their connection to Allah’s mercy and His displeasure. The khutbahs and lessons at the masjid and schools began to center around this topic: Why are we being deprived of rain? Allah doesn’t deprive a people without reason; we need to seek His forgiveness. We know from the traditions of Rasulullah, salAllahu alayhi wasalam, that a people are not deprived of rain unless they withhold zakah, or they have fallen into many sins. We need to make amends so that we are worthy of this blessing from Allah the Most High.
Once or twice, dark clouds wrote a promise of rain above Damascus; but nothing fell from the sky.
Finally, it was decided to perform Salatul Istisqaa – the prayer for rain (literally, ‘the prayer for seeking the quenching of thirst’) that was performed by the Prophet, salAllahu alayhi wa salam, on the occasion of drought, and that should be performed by any people who encounter the same. This prayer must be done by all the people of an area at one time, and in one place. Everyone should come in their work clothes, simple and unrefined, to show a sense of humbleness. It is from the sunnah that half way through his khutbah, the khatib actually takes off his outer garment (worn over the thaub) and turns it inside out and wears it that way… I’m assuming to show humility and a sense of urgency in the request. The date was set for Friday the 16th of November, a little after the middle of winter had passed, with no rain having yet fallen. It was planned to take place at Masjid al-Umawiyy, that ancient site in which so many righteous people prayed, and sought knowledge, and found closeness to Allah.
As we waited for a taxi that morning, I looked upwards and saw the sky completely gray, as if promising rain, just as it looked the entire day before. Yet the sky did not shed a single tear as we made our way to Masjid al-Umawiyy.
That morning, the masjid, the largest I’ve ever seen, hugely expansive with room for thousands, began to fill slowly, and was, in less than an hour, filled to its entire capacity. The salah was performed, the khutbah said, and finally the duaa… Thousands of hands turned towards the heavens, asking Allah to bless us with His generosity…
O Allah, bless us with rain, the beneficial of it and not the harmful of it; bless us with it now, and not later.
O Allah, You have promised us that if we call upon You, You will answer us. Here we are before You, so O Allah, fulfill Your promise to us.
O Allah, we seek Your forgiveness and Your mercy; do not abandon us in our time of need.
O Allah, You are the Rich, and we are poor, and we have no one to turn to except You.
O Allah, we have gathered here in Your house, as Your guests, so do not turn us away without responding to our request.
O Allah, bless us with rain from the heavens.
After the duaas were made, I left the masjid and entered the courtyard, thinking that the salah was over. From the courtyard, underneath what used to be the Bayt al-Maal, I watched as the gray sky released its first drops of water. Those who did not fit inside the masjid for the salah were sitting on carpets and mats in the courtyard, and they turned their gazes heavenwards as rain drizzled down softly.
The prayer was not over as I had assumed, and a different shaykh came to the forefront and began making more duaa, and all of us in the courtyard began to pray with him. I swear, that as soon as the shaykh finished the last word of his duaa, rain began to fall from the sky. It was amazing. Raindrops cascaded down the external walls of the masjid, and pooled on the marble floor of the courtyard.
As people left the masjid, the look of wonder and awe on people’s faces was overwhelming. People stretched forth their hands, touching the rain with their fingertips, turning their faces to the sky to feel raindrops on their cheeks, as if to confirm that it was true. Children played in the courtyard, having fun sliding along it’s now slippery wet floor, and others took out umbrellas or covered their heads with scarves or shawls as they exited the masjid, or watched the rain from under the shade of the masjid’s outer vestibules.
Subhan’Allah… as I watched this beautiful scene, I was thinking: we are so much like Damascus. We are these walking deserts, so many of us with hearts that are dying of thirst, barren and dry, bereft of the sweet nourishment of being close to Allah. But how easy is it for us to ask Allah to quench this thirst of ours?
Perhaps if we just raise our hands and ask Him, His mercy will pour down on us just like it did in Damascus that day.