A Bonfire Experience
This is a narrative, and as such it is unadulterated from the experiences of others. Alhamdulillah, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to attend many MYNA camps over the past five years. No two are like. No two campfires are alike, but they are individually legendary. If I could pinpoint the one reason I come to camp year in and year out, it’s for the campfire. I always come away a changed person. This is my account of campfire.
As we settle down on frost covered logs, the smoke builds like a wall being mortared right before us. We may pull aside to cough, but we suppress it because we cannot–we will not–miss a single word uttered. This duaa–this duaa in its entirety is the reason that we came to camp. From the abyss of unambiguous bodies someone murmurs a nasheed and it builds like the fire beneath us until the sound crescendos with every voice a thunderous crackle.
Weak and tenacious, deep and clumsily we sing in unison. It’s not for the harmony. It’s not for the tune.
It’s for the community. It’s for our ummah.
We envelop ourselves in blankets, bringing our scarves across our faces in a niqab. Our eyes sting and tear up, half from the frosty air, half from our cultivation of kinship. Arms are thrown around each other not exactly for warmth, but for the hope that, if we stay together, our imaan cannot falter. Strength in numbers we mumble. We will come home a changed person forever we vow to ourselves. We hold onto each other like this campfire is the last that we will be able to look into. The last reflection of our faults. It commands us to quiet ourselves and ponder–deep azure near the center, spreading out into crimson and tangerine at the tips–to watch as the flames dance before us, crackling and shimmering like a mirage.
Dunya. This is our mirage. It is dazzling from far off–glistening, sparkling water deep enough to immerse yourself in with no encumbrance to come out and take a chilling breath. Too close though, and the mirage is lackluster and matte, sucking your life into a whirlpool that may transpire into a typhoon, only to devastate those around it. This mirage is the fire before us warming our fronts, while our backs turn away from the raw, snowy void of wintry trees.
This is when the duaa starts. Everybody hunkers down, pulling their arms in in supplication. This dua is for you, for me. It is individualized; a singular conversation between you and the Creator Himself. It is incomparable to any duaa that you have ever made. As soon as they start sending blessings on the Prophet, peace be upon him always, I know.
I know that the angels are shielding me. Wing over wing I feel them shutting out the frigid air that hurts me to breathe, the muffled cry of the young boy across the way, and those around me who are white noise as I plead to the One. This act is individual, solitary and singular. The speaker is simply a mouthpiece to verbalize all of my hidden aspirations bounding across my dreams and all of my hidden sins that I replay over and over without guilt. It is as if the stars have parted and every level of Heaven has opened as a direct path to the Most Merciful. My direct path. I allow my heart to soar as I ask for my greatest wish–to witness my parents in Jannat Al Firdous. They have done so much for me. Please, Please Oh God allow me this. Please. This is when the speaker begins to sob and I call out in my mind to please, please grant me this one dua.
This frosty air and never ending frozen landscape are a reminder to me of the awe-inspiring power of the All Knowing. I unconsciously lean closer, closer yet to the trembling fire in an attempt to keep myself conscious.
This is when the word Jahanam is uttered, and the comfort that the flame provided starts to become distressing.
As the speaker goes on about the tortures of Hell, all I want, is to do as much as I can to never come near this pernicious place. The fire becomes increasingly hotter on my face, somehow coming closer to me with more intensity. The niqab that I wrapped around my face earlier serves only to hinder my breathing as I gasp for air. I whimper as I feel Hell licking at my toes. I pull my feet in, as if that will save me and I rock slightly to strengthen that direct path to the Most Compassionate. At this point I don’t hear anybody else but I know that we are all crying and pleading with the All Hearing to just save us–save us from Jahannam. A chill runs down my back as my salty tears mix with the smoky fire before me. All my senses heighten as I’m perfectly in tune with myself, without distraction. I’m faintly aware of the nothingness around me, of the stars shimmering above me and the voice weakly pushing on. His voice is hoarse but he asks for more, more. Just as I do, as everybody does, as we all do together.
Smoke as thick as buildings, frozen pinky toes, and running noses are forgotten. Somewhere along this time the voice stops, but my begging as a servant to My Lord does not. I don’t just want safety from Jahannam, or the gardens of Jannah.
I want more.
I want the love of the Most Magnificent instilled and ingrained into my heart. I want to do good and be detached from this mirage of a world. I want to look forward to death whenever it may come.
We weep and sob and bawl. We want it so badly that our hearts hurt. We pause. We begin to come back to this world. We each close off our duas with supplication on our Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and sit silently; reflecting on the tears drying on our faces, the warmth in front and chill from the back. We feel drained, exhausted, and excited for how this dua has changed our lives. We cannot, we will not go back to the person who sat down at this campfire looking for comfort and warmth against the unknown. We will be people who love Our Lord independent of how uncomfortable we may be or how many obstacles befall us.
As we get up, our individual direct paths straight to Jannah are broken, but now we know that we can call upon them anytime and allow the depths of our hearts to be heard. We get up and head to our cabins from a clearing in the abyss. We walk on in groups of two or three to alleviate the toll that this campfire has taken on us.
“How was the campfire?” is asked by those who did not come. But, it’s hard to explain. It’s hard to grasp that today, today I made a connection with the All Powerful.
Today angels shielded me from the cold. Today I felt Jahannam flickering at my toes. Today, my whole world changed.
Today? Today I met my Lord.
This is my opinion from my first MYNA camp from when I was 11 years old and thought I knew all that there was to know about Islam, simply because I was blessed to be born Muslim.
I’ve come so far since then, Alhamdulillah