We are setting off for Arafat soon, and are readying ourselves for the central sequence of the Hajj. The mood is one of nervous yet excited anticipation as we deal with the practicalities of packing. My roommate, Raihan, has just shown me a neat way of tying the sleeping bag to my rucksack which is going to be super-helpful as we walk. This is wonderfully typical of the helpfulness and grace of everyone around.
One small example of such grace will remain in my mind for ever. Yesterday, as were emerging from a crowded mosque after Friday Prayers, I looked back to see one of our companions, Ali, waiting with infinite patience to put on his shoes, behind an old man who was struggling with his own. He waited and waited and waited behind as the old man - a local, who might have been any age between eighty and a hundred and fifty - gradually managed to get his slippers on. As the old man raised himself he became aware of the fact that Ali had been standing protectively behind him and gestured slightly in apology. Ali, who was a good two feet taller than the elder, put his arm around his shoulders to embrace him. Then, with great gentleness, he lowered his head to kiss the old man's forehead.
On a hot, dusty crowded street in Mekkah I caught a glimpse of what heaven might be like.