The millions are just tiny specks of people trying to get closer to the Ka’aba. PHOTO: REUTERS
Sitting in a lounge for the privileged, waiting to board a flight to Dubai and then another from there to Jeddah, I find myself texting away. I have a million things on my mind. I have a life.
Four hours later…
I’m at the Dubai airport, about to board a flight to Jeddah; the only words on my lips are:
Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik
(I am here, my Allah (SWT). I am present.)
Prior to my flight, concerned friends had been warning me about a viral infection that is widespread in Makkah, and the unbelievable rush in Ramazan especially due to the underway expansion of the Masjid-ul-Haram.
“You should not have gone in Ramazan.”
I am going anyway. It is my ‘calling’. I have been called, right? He who has called me will manage.
A seven-day detox:
Paradigm shift within hours, change of heart within minutes, priorities falling into place within seconds – this is precisely what a visit to Makkah and Madina does to you.
Here I am, one amongst millions. It’s suddenly clear. I may be important in my comfort zone but here, I am just one of them. And the millions, from a bird’s eye view, are just tiny specks of black and white, men in white and women mostly in black, all scurrying to get closer to the Ka’aba.
When the props fall off and masks wear off, I have nothing to hide behind. I am as real as it gets. In hordes of people and thousands of heads, I am only searching for my family. Perspective becomes clearer.
I go around in a pair of chappals (slippers) that I wouldn’t even dare to wear at a grocery market in Karachi. I have no access to the internet, which means I have no way of succumbing to moments of vain indulgences where I tweet about my achievements. Most of my suitcase remains packed as is. I learn to survive on basics.
My DSLR camera rests in the hotel room. I’m lapping up images through the lens of my eyes and heart. And these images are not Photoshopped, nor Lighthoused. This is hardcore spirituality – a reconnection of souls with their Creator.
Each step of this ‘ritual’ as we like to call it has been carefully designed to help us grow and cleanse to the fullest.
Yet, they say ‘I believe in spiritual but not rituals’? Nothing makes the spirit evolve and soar like these rituals. They were designed by the One who created the souls, right?
I can feel my system being flushed out of anger, resentment, pride and negativity, if any. I am also not taking as many medicines as I usually do, apart from the occasional Panadol. Food is simpler. Walks are more. Squatting in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque with my family and extended family, life is beautiful – simpler. I am happy.
The funeral prayer:
A unique act of worship that women don’t get the opportunity to do usually is praying the namaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer). In Makkah and Madina, after each namaz, it would be called out:
“As-salaat ‘ala al-amwaat-i yarhamukumAllah”
(Prayer for that the dead [so that] Allah’s (SWT) mercy be upon you).
I selfishly join in. When my time comes, I want that many prayers for me.
Makkah the powerful; Medinah the soothing:
Makkah is intense, and comes on strong. Its landscape is dry; its people are strong and goodhearted but tough. How did my beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) manage to plant faith and compassion in the hearts of Makkah’s people? I wonder. But it was this very toughness that enabled the people of Makkah to give the sacrifices they did and endure oppression and migration.
Medinah will always have oasis in sight. Promising date palms give away the hospitality of the people of this city from a distance. The land of the Ansaar (the helpers). Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) chose to be here till his last day.
En route to Madina, the farms and farms of camels are a lovely sight – camels of all colours – fawn, brown, dark brown, white. Much like the diversity of people we meet in Makkah and Madina, they are all different, yet the same.
The clock tower makes me sad:
I am here after eight years. Taken aback by the sight of the humongous high rise structure in front of the first gate to the Ka’aba, this is my first meeting with the Makkah clock tower and the adjoining towering hotels. It looms higher than any of the minarets of the Haram. With millions of pilgrims visiting all year round, it is understandable that Makkah will need high-rise hotels. But so high and jarringly juxtaposed opposite the Haram? I cringe inside.
Without judging those who can afford and stay in these elite hotels just next to the Haram, the “towers” make me sad on another level too. Now, only the rich can afford to live right next to Haram. The poorer you are the farther you stay, the tougher it is for you to commute to the Masjid.
I prefer the earlier more eclectic mix of hotels all around the mosque, allowing both rich and poor to live close to it for the days they are there.
Makkah’s relentless summer heat is at its peak in the afternoon. If you’re fasting, the body’s reservoir of energy that we get from food is depleting, and a sluggish wave of drowsiness engulfs you. You lie down on the carpets or on the marble floor of the Haram, depending on where you get place, and doze off with your eyes fixed on the Ka’aba. Bliss!
The world’s best “all-you-can-eat”:
Iftar in both the holy mosques of Makkah and Madina is a unique and beautiful experience. I am at the receiving end of charity. It is something I will probably never get to experience in my homeland. Around Asar namaz, one sees people competing with each other and talking to the organisers to allow them to distribute Iftar in a certain part of the mosque.
At Maghrib time beautiful children appear from nowhere, distributing a variety of dates, laban (butter milk), zamzam water, and traditional Arabic kahwa, delicately scented and instantly refreshing.
Boxes of traditional Arabic saffron-treated rice and roasted whole chicken, with dates and small packs of juice are the popular menu in Masjid-e-Nabawi. The hospitality of the people of Medinah is not overrated. No one goes hungry.
We all have our special moments. This time, I had my moment at Masjid-e-Nabawi on our last evening in Medinah. I had gone to pray at the Riazul Jannah (the place the Prophet (pbuh) called one of the gardens of paradise) and to offer Salam to my beloved Prophet (pbuh). It hit me where I was in that moment…and that I was going back home soon.
But there is so much I am taking back with me. When life pulls me down, I know now, more than ever, Who is there by my side, watching out for me – none other than my Allah, my Creator.