- Africa, Niger
A few months back, I was out in the bush climbing a mountain south of our village with my friend Nuhu. We were taking cuttings of a dashi tree. The dashi tree, when cut and planted in the ground, will generate a completely new tree. For this reason, dashi trees are great for creating live fencing, something I was in search of to keep animals out of my field.
Up on the mountain, Nuhu crossed over the ridge and called for me to follow him. I went along and asked where we were going, but all he would say was that it was a surprise. We crossed over the mountain and descended into the next valley. There in that valley, between the mountain we had been climbing and the mountain to the south, was a small knoll. It rose out of the ground oddly, as if it shouldn't have been there, geologically. It looked more like a monument that had been raised to memorialize a battle, and that was where Nuhu was headed.
I finally caught up with him, out of breath, at the top of a little rocky knoll. I asked him once more what we were doing. He told me that the little hill upon which we were standing was Mohammed's Mountain. At first, I was surprised, even though Niger is a Muslim country. I didn't understand how such a little hill so far from Saudi Arabia could have been the home of the great prophet who brought the Muslim religion to the world
Then, Nuhu continued. Before Mohammed was called to speak for Allah in Saudi Arabia, he dwelt here on this hill. Mohammed knew Allah and worshiped him. Nuhu led me to a pair of rocks. One was small, like a footstool, and the other was larger and sat before the small one. Nuhu sat on the small rock and pointed to the one before him. In it were three smooth hollows, the central one larger than the other two. It was the place, Nuhu told me, where Mohammed washed for prayer.
In Islam, practicing Muslims pray five times a day. Before praying, they are required to wash their hands, feet, head, and mouth in preparation for speaking with Allah. The rock, Nuhu said, was where Mohammed sat and washed for prayer, and the hollows were where he rested his heels, one at a time, during washing. In the center hollow, he placed the gourd that held the water for washing. These hollows were obviously carved out from much use over a very long period of time.
Then, Nuhu got up and led me over to a small depression on the east side of the hilltop where Mohammed was said to pray. (It is customary for Muslims to face Mecca when they pray, which is generally to the east in Niger). After that he led me to another large rock on the top of the hill and pulled out his knife. He laid the knife in a flattened depression on the corner of the stone and rubbed it back and forth, saying this was where Mohammed would sharpen his sword every day. The depression, like the washing rock, was worn deep from many blades being drawn across it and dwarfed Nuhu's little knife. Nuhu got up to search for a final rock, Mohammed's bed, but could not find it. He thought perhaps it was in the rubble of a rockslide on the south side, because when he was a kid that was where it had been.
I asked him if Mohammed ever came back. He replied, "No, he hasn't been back in over a thousand years. Allah called him to Mecca to help him bring forth Islam into the world. Now, this is just a holy site," and the only people who come to Mohammed's Mountain are kids herding animals and a few passersby gathering things in the bush, as we were doing.