This photograph was taken on October 13, 2001, two days and one month after the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Between those two dates I was very confused and frightened as how to conduct my life as a Muslim living here in America. Many scholars that were trustworthy sources of guidance and inspiration suddenly were either saying things incongruent with what they said in the past, or accusations were being made about them that brought much doubt to my heart. October 13, 2001 was the first time that I had a chance to go out and seriously photograph Allah’s creation since September 11. Actually I needed to escape from all the madness that surrounded the events of September 11.
I traveled about 70 miles from home following the California coast along highway 1 to the Big Sur coastline. I arrived to the location in the mid afternoon. I spent the afternoon photographing this area along the coast waiting for sunset. I was hoping to photograph a very brilliant sunset that never occurred. Near the end of the day, after praying Maghrib on the cliffs above this location, I set up waiting for the sky to turn orange and red with this sea stack in the composition. The red and orange never came, but a very soft pink sky appeared. The photograph was actually made about one half hour after the sun had set and a beautiful glow on one side of the sea stack appeared. As the light slowly faded away, with a very clear sky above me, I decided to stay there on those cliffs and photograph the stars and the Milky Way.
As it darkened, high tide started to come in. Normally the waves simply crash into the rocks below the cliffs, but now as each wave came in higher and higher, they began to crash into the cliffs themselves and with the crack of each wave sounding like thunder, the ground I was standing on would shake and shudder. As it got darker, I soon noticed that I could not see my own hands in front of my face, it was very dark. It was then that I heard an animal barking in the distance. At this point I became frightened that I might either fall off the cliffs or be hurt by this unknown animal. After a few minutes I convinced myself that the animal was a seal out in the ocean, and calmed myself by doing Dhikr of Allah. It was then that I realized that this seal out there in the darkness, the ocean, the waves smashing into the cliffs with the sound of thunder, and the stars adorning the sky were also in a continuous state of Dhikr, glorifying Allah at all times. A calm entered my heart and I felt at peace with the world. It was then that I also came to the realization that this sea stack, the seal, the ocean with its unceasing waves, and the stars knew nothing of September 11, or if they did know of it, they did not care and continued to do what they were created for.
After about an hour and a half, I finished up photographing and returned to my car. I loaded my equipment in to the trunk of my car and tired to start my car, but found that the car would not start! I tried several times and looked at all the controls and dash board to determine why it would not start. I then realized that I had left my headlights on and the battery had died. Earlier in day as I drove on Highway 1, there was a section of the highway where headlights needed to be turned on. When I arrived at this location I forgot to turn off the lights as I rushed to get to the beach before I lost the light. It was a Saturday night out in the middle of nowhere around 9pm. I tried to call roadside help on the cell phone to find that I was completely out of any service signal for the phone. There were no highway call boxes either. My wife who was at home was in her last month of pregnancy with our third child and was due to give birth at any time.
I stopped and considered my options. Three options occurred to me at that time. My first option was to start hiking back along highway 1 in the dark to Carmel which was probably 10 miles or more to the north. This was probably not a good idea since I could not see well enough nor could anyone else see me, not to mention that it would take me several hours just to get to civilization. The second option was to climb into the backseat of my car, lock the doors and sleep there until the morning and then walk back or flag down a car to help me. That was probably not a good idea as my wife would start worrying and that could send her into labor, not wise either. Then I saw a car pass by and my third option, which I chose to do, was to flag a car down now in the dark.
For the next hour I tried to flag down a car with my small flashlight. No one would stop, and if they did, they would not wait long enough for me to approach the car and tell them what my trouble is. I started to call on Allah to help me, because I had no other source of help. Finally a small pickup stopped and a voice from the cab rang out saying “what’s wrong?” I approached the truck and told him my car’s battery was dead and I needed either a jump start or a ride back to Carmel to get a tow truck. As I approached the truck the cab light came on and the man inside had the most grotesque face I had ever seen. A thin bony face with a long scraggly beard and dark deep set eyes stared back at me. I was taken aback at first but then asked if he could help me. He said he could give me a ride back to Carmel, but that was it. I told him to wait a minute as I retrieved my camera equipment and my tripod from the car. As I returned he told me to put my things in the back of the truck. I told him I would carry them with me. In truth, I wanted my six pound tripod with me incase I needed to defend myself.
As we drove back to Carmel, he asked me what I was doing out there. I told him I was a nature photographer and I was photographing the coastline and then later the stars and that I had left the lights of my car on and my battery died. I also asked him, what has happened to everyone, that I have been trying to get some one to stop for the last hour. He turned to me and said; “well you know in today’s world you can’t trust anyone anymore”.
You can’t trust anyone anymore… how sad indeed that we live in world like that. I finally did get a tow truck to come out, around 10:30 pm, and start my car. I arrived home safely Al Hamdu Lillah, around midnight. As I laid myself to sleep my wife woke up and asked what took me so long. I told her I was photographing the stars, and it got late. As we laid there, I told my wife “I made a new friend tonight”. She asked who that was, and I replied “Garrapata Beach”, the strip of coastline where I had been. A few days later when I picked my developed slide film I came across the photograph that is now on this year’s calendar. I was beyond words, and Subhan Allah was all I could say.
As I looked at that slide, it came to me, the realization of what that night meant and all the events that took place. First, here was this sea stack, standing firm against a continuous onslaught of waves, day in and day out. Slightly cocked back, as if it was just waiting for the next wave to come, it was glowing in contentment and in glorification of Allah. Patient in the portion that Allah has given it, it endured. I was once told by a friend whose sheikh back in Syria once taught him that tribulations in life come like waves in the ocean. And with each hardship there followed a longer period of time that was filled with ease, just like the waves in the sea. And the only way to get through the tribulation is to know that it will soon pass. And with its passing to look ahead and get ready for the next hardship, because if we rest to much then the next hardship will send us reeling even harder. We need to take the periods of ease to regain our strength and get ready for the next difficulty which undoubtedly will come.
And through all of this, that sea stack was constant in doing what it was created to do. This is when I realized that I needed to stop listening to the CNN, ABC, Fox News, CBS…,reports of September 11 and get back to business of doing what it is that we Muslims are supposed to be doing, worshipping Allah, spreading the Message of Islam, and helping those who are in need. And then I realized that we are truly living in dark times, and we as Muslims don’t have any help despite our efforts to secure help, we can only turn to Allah. By turning to Allah sincerely, Allah will always send us the help we need, sometimes in the most un-expected of ways. Even if it might seem like what has come to us is very bad, it will be in fact the best thing for us.
I learned many lessons that night out there alone on the coast. I have gone back to Garrapata Beach many times since that day, always greeting that Sea Stack with Salam, and reminding myself of the great lessons that I learned from that silent sea stack as it patiently endures and glorifies Allah. I hope my experience will help you as well. May Allah bestow upon us all the patience to endure all the hardships that come our way and make us constant in glorification and in praise of Him at all times. Amin