BEIRUT, November 25, 2015 – En route to Najaf, Iraq, we stopped in Beirut for one night. Although, we had only 16 hours in Lebanon’s capital, I wanted to make the most of it.
I come from Dearborn, Michigan, which has a huge concentration of Lebanese-Americans. Many of my friends and neighbors are of Lebanese descent.
In fact, one of my best friends and someone I consider a true brother, Jalal Moughania, is Lebanese.
I met Jalal on the first day in sixth grade at Woodworth Middle School.
For the last 13 years, we played basketball, went to the same high school, graduated from law school, and are now colleagues in the same firm in Washington, D.C. During the summer, we were both in Iraq and I took him around. I had 10 days. Now, it was his turn to show me the “Paris of the Middle East” but he had a little more than 10 hours.
It wasn’t fair – I know – but it is what it is.
Jalal took us around the busy and vibrant streets of Beirut. We went to a nice restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean sea and enjoyed the delicious Lebanese cuisine.
We spent hours discussing and reviewing our plans for the “Walk With Me” project. The objectives, schedule, logistics, and most importantly some of the impediments we anticipate.
Our biggest challenge will be getting around with our heavy equipment in congested roads. But we are determined to make it happen. After a long night, we had a couple of hours to get some sleep before getting on the plane to Najaf, Iraq.
We finally arrived in Najaf, also known as the Valley of Peace. Najaf is one of the 18 provinces in Iraq. Home to more then 500,000 residents, Najaf is renowned as one of the most sacred cities for Muslims, particularly the Shia.
It is home to the burial site and shrine of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, considered by the Shia as the first divinely appointed successor to Prophet Muhammad and by the Sunnis as the fourth Rightly Guided Caliph.
Today, Najaf is one of the major centers of learning and spiritual guidance for Shia Muslims worldwide. It is home to one of the oldest Muslim seminaries, currently led by the Grand Ayotallah Sayyid Ali Sistani. Najaf welcomes millions of visitors year-round that flock to the shrine of Imam Ali.
On our way from the airport to the hotel, we saw scores of people walking along the roads. The taxi driver turned to us and said, “These are the visitors of Hussain. They come from everywhere and their numbers are only increasing every year.”
Many of the roads were closed due to traffic so the driver had to make a couple of detours before we finally arrived to the hotel. Just outside the hotel there were tents set up, known as mawakib, where people were serving food, water, and tea to the visitors.
I looked to Jalal and another colleague and said, “Let’s take our bags inside and come down for a cup of Iraqi tea.”