"It looks like a giant altar," I said.
Hadi looked up at the mountain of stone. He added, in a whisper, "It is an altar, don't you think?"
"Yes," I whispered back, "I do."
We were walking just ahead of our tour group in the darkness just before dawn. The traditional Mount Sinai of Old Testament lore loomed vast and solid above us. Its ragged profile was visible against a concourse of stars in the moonless sky.
In the previous day's discussions, the group had anticipated this moment. Now, among other solemn and sweet impressions, Moses was on our minds.
Or, "Musa," as Hadi would call him.
Our ever-gracious bus driver was a Muslim man. He had asked to join us for this part of the tour, so we arranged for another man to watch over the bus during our long day on the mountain.
For a time, the only sound attending our thoughts was the rhythmic rustling of a hundred or so shoes upon the ancient path of gravel and sand.
"Tell me, Hadi," I asked at last, "why you wanted to come with us today."
"It is for … a holy reason," came his reply.
I asked if he might tell our group a little about these feelings, during a meeting we would have later on the mountaintop. The invitation took him by surprise, but he consented.
As the sun rose, the east side of the mountain glowed pink, then orange and red. The air warmed and then grew hot as midmorning, and then noon, came on. Soft shadows and pastel colors hardened to barren and stark rusty-browns. All this, combined with the ragged stony shapes and the seemingly endless winding path upward, return to mind when thinking of the historic visits Moses made here while Israel was camped on the desert floor below.
And Hadi's words to us on the summit will not soon fade from memory.
"A few years ago," he said, "my 11-year old daughter was playing with our little boy on the balcony of our sixth-floor apartment in Cairo. Somehow, the railing gave way. She fell to the street.
"As soon as I knew what happened, I ran down the stairs to the place where she landed. People came around, but to me it was just the two of us there. I picked her up in my arms. I begged her to speak, to be alive."
Hadi was in tears now. It was obvious that, to his wife and himself, this was their little princess.
"She said in a tiny voice that she must die. She said, 'Baba, you must not forget me. You must keep our family together. Allah wants you to do this.' These were her last words to me."
The tragedy was followed by many months of mourning. The Muslim man had yearned to the only God he knew, Allah, "Can my family be together forever?"Comment on this story
Then came a visit to Mount Sinai. While praying there, an answer came in the form of joy and peace. "I learned — and I tell you with all my heart," he declared, "that if I will be good, my family will be together in heaven. I do not know how, but it will be."
Our tears joined his, as did our certainty. And we even knew something of the "how" which will someday put his family back together for eternity.
A Muslim man, on that altar-like mountain, had reminded us of the gathering mission assigned to Moses. And of other keys that will bless, restore and perfect every faithful family, in all the nations of the earth.