Divine decree

There are no coincidences. The One is firmly in charge. In 2007, we made the intention to do the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. Only, we didn’t set off at our scheduled departure time, because we discovered that we had been hoodwinked by a fraudster who had run off with our passports and all of our money. It turned out that we had no visas, no flights and no accommodation.

But when something is meant to be, it’s meant to be. At short notice, just when we had given up all hope of going, visas and a specially chartered flight materialised. In fact, we finally set off late on Christmas Eve, after Stansted airport had mostly shutdown. Amusingly, we had in our group a couple called Mr & Mrs Christmas, which cheered us up as we came in to land at Medina on Christmas morning.

By then, we were running rather late. Most of the 2.5 million pilgrims taking part in the Hajj that year were already in Mecca. We were supposed to have travelled ten days earlier. Our onward journey to Mecca was by bus. On our arrival there, we still had nowhere to stay. All the hotels and inns were full — another nativity reference right there — and we ended up sleeping on the floor of a private apartment, not yet finished. On the positive side, it was a ten minute walk from the Kaaba.

So to what you would call amazing coincidences, but we would call divine decree. That would be our late arrival to the tented city of Mina, which we had reached on foot. Mina: a temporary city comprising 100,000 tents. Naturally, it would take us time to find the location of the tents for Britain’s twenty-five thousand pilgrims, so of course we were late once more. And yet…

And yet, who would I bump into no sooner had we arrived, finding a place of rest on the ground? Only one of my closest friends from university! “Salams Tim,” he said, smiling, causing me to jump out of my skin. His wife had already bumped into mine in the ladies’ tent next door. As for Mrs Christmas: she was at the entrance looking for her husband. Thus did a booming voice ring out, “Is there a Brother Christmas in here?” Oh the belly laughs!

But more was to come. In the tent, I had found a place to stretch out beside two friendly gentlemen of Sudanese origin. They were older than me and were intent on making me comfortable. That’s how we got talking. That’s how I learnt that they were both doctors working at Hull Royal Infirmary. That’s how I learned that one of them lived on Elveley Drive in West Ella, which I knew intimately from my youth. We lived on the corner. It turned out we had nearly been neighbours a decade earlier.

And the other chap? He lived in Swanland, not far from the childhood home I had occupied until the age of seven. Oh, and he knew my mother from her days working at the hospital as chaplain. Yes, for he would visit the chapel daily to perform his salah prayers. Which rang a bell. Because in the early 1990s my mother had spoken of a lovely Muslim doctor whom she would encounter every day.

Strange happenstance, you say. Certainly. Strange happenstance that amidst 2.5 million pilgrims, I should settle down in a tent beside a brother who had lived around the corner from me and another who knew my mother. Strange happenstance that amongst twenty-five thousand pilgrims from Britain, I should bump into a brother whose father always insisted on fattening me up, feeding me extra portions whenever I visited him, sending me home with the last of the pudding.

No, there are no coincidences. The One is firmly in charge. I have witnessed this throughout my life, over and over, for years on end. This is all divine decree. Signs on the horizons and within yourselves.

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