time I had visited the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah was more than 10 years
ago. But it seems like yesterday, with the memories of my young children
circumambulating the Kaaba and earnestly praying still fresh in mind. My son
looked cute in his ihram (the two-piece unstitched cloth that pilgrims wear
during Haj and Umrah rites). It’s a shame I couldn’t capture those memories of
a lifetime on camera. In the past few years, I have twice booked my tickets but
couldn’t go for some reason or the other. But, as they say in "unless He
summons you, you can’t make it on your own. That’s why I had been breathlessly
excited when the plane landed at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport.
seemed like an endless wait on the tarmac in the airport shuttle, we were
finally taken to the dedicated Haj Terminal where serpentine queues of pilgrims
waited for their turn at the immigration counters.
those manning the immigration counters were young Saudi men in khaki. ‘Our’ guy
appeared to be particularly jovial with perfect bedside manners of a good
official at the next counter would excitedly come out of his cubicle to greet
each pilgrim with a welcome grin and point to his wrist watch saying his shift
was about to end and that they’d better hurry. The groups of pilgrims who were
probably Palestinians or Syrians pleaded with him to let them in before
leaving. He obliged by quickly photographing and fingerprinting them before
excusing himself with a generous smile to a waiting family of Emirati pilgrims.
The next batch of officials soon took over and elaborately went through the
whole process of photographing and fingerprinting the new arrivals.
throngs of pilgrims everywhere, men in stunning white ihram and women in
traditional attire. Large queues of buses and vans were waiting to take the
faithful to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.
eager-looking, talkative Saudi came on to me as if he had been waiting for me
for some time. He insisted on escorting me to his waiting cab. It took a while
persuading him that my brother was waiting for me out there. Which he
mercifully was, waiting patiently with his young children in his car. The next
day we all left for Makkah early in the morning hoping to catch the Friday
prayers. The first glimpse of the Kaaba, the first house of worship built by
Abraham — his progeny propounded the three great monotheistic faiths, Judaism,
Christianity and Islam — and his son Ismail (Ishmael), is special, the moment
when prayers are answered.
I was too
awed by the breathtaking sight of the magnificent, black cubic structure to
remember any prayers. The awareness that this is where the noblest of prophets,
from Abraham to Ismail and the last link of the chain, Prophet Muhammad, peace
be upon them, worshipped bears down heavy on you. This is where Islam and its
greats were born, faced existential struggles and eventually prevailed.
where Abraham left his wife Hajrah (Hager) and baby Ismail after being ordained
by Allah when there was nothing here--literally.
no shade and no vegetation in sight and not a drop to drink. Ismail’s anguished
cries and hitting on the ground of his tiny heels brought forth Zam-Zam, the
little stream that has flowed for thousands of years and continues to quench
the thirst of millions of pilgrims each year and is one of Allah’s living
where Ismail offered himself in sacrifice when Abraham was ordained to do so.
The pilgrims and believers around the world celebrate the epic sacrifice of the
patriarch and his son during Haj every year. This is where the Prophet, peace
be upon him, after being hounded and persecuted for 10 long years, returned
following the conquest of Makkah with a humility that remains unparalleled.
our Umrah soon after Friday prayers. The sight of thousands of pilgrims in
white endlessly circling and surging around Kaaba perpetually chanting Labbaik
Allah humma... is strangely moving. Men, women and children, black, brown and
white and Arabs and Ajamis bound together in an invisible bond of faith and
humanity. There are no distinctions whatsoever of colour, birth or status.
It is the
same at the Masjid Nabawi in Madinah which became the centre of the new faith
after the Prophet migrated to Makkah. Within 13 years, Islam conquered the
whole of Arabia and beyond, humbling powerful empires like Persia and Rome.
This is the mosque from where the Prophet’s successors, the caliphs, ruled the
world in utter simplicity.
too the sea of humanity never seems to ebb. There is a distinct difference
between Makkah and Madinah though. At the Grand Mosque, you are overwhelmed by
the all-conquering majesty of God. On the other hand, Medina is the city of
love and light, as the Arabic word Al Munawwarah defines it.
that the Last Messenger lies resting here makes Masjid Nabawi truly special. No
wonder the faithful get incredibly emotional, especially those from the
subcontinent. The Saudi Police have a hard time controlling the surging crowds
of Indians and Pakistanis.
knowledge that you are praying where the Prophet led prayers for years and who
now lies buried only meters from where you are makes the whole experience
surreal. A strange sense of peace and serenity descends on you.
a state of mind. Few remain in control of their emotions or tears after
entering the Prophet’s city that welcomed him when his own people had rejected
him. It still welcomes everyone with open arms. The past few days spent here
among the believers have been some of the best in a long, long time. The open,
balmy nights spent in the endless courtyard of the Prophet’s Mosque and at the
Grand Mosque watching the faithful at their pious best have been divine.
This is a
world far removed from the maddening crowd of Daesh, Boko Haram and other
abominations that claim to be the defenders of the faith although they are as
different as chalk and cheese.
it take for the world to discover the true, liberating message of the faith?
Islam remains the fastest growing religion on earth and is set to overtake
Christianity with the largest number of followers. Yet it is perhaps the least
understood of all, largely thanks to its own so-called followers.
has emerged as the greatest existential challenge to Muslim societies
everywhere and a blemish on a faith that came as a blessing to all mankind and
claims to have answers to all its problems. Those who came to serve and save
humanity can never be the cause of its misery.