Originally published in the March 2014 issue of the Islamic Society of Kingston’s newsletter, The Bond.
March 14, 2014 – Al-Masjid al-Haram, Makkah: There was once a time when there was nothing here – no clock tower, no hotels, no cool marble I’m sitting on, no people and not even the Ka’bah, fitted with a beautiful black gold-embroidered cloth, that stands in front of me now.
Then known as the valley of Bakkah, it was an empty, desolate land where the most sacred spot on earth was marked with a stick in the ground or a small mound of dirt.
Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Indeed, the first House [of worship] established for mankind was that at Bakkah – blessed and a guidance for the worlds.” (Qur’an 3:96)
The spot where the Ka’bah stands today was designated as a sanctified spot since the time of Prophet Adam (peace be upon him). Centuries later, Allah commanded Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) to leave his wife and infant son here all alone, which he did.
His wife, Hajarah, scrambled to find water as little baby Isma’il cried after their few provisions ran out and her breasts ran dry. She went from the hilltop of Safa to the hilltop of Marwa looking for water or any help. After seven trips, she noticed water by her baby. She wanted to protect the water from flowing away, so she asked it to stop (“zam, zam!”).
Water brought birds to the area. A caravan passing behind the mountains saw birds flying above. The presence of birds indicated the presence of people, which meant there would be water, or at the very least, it meant there was water even if there were no people. People eventually began settling in the area and the village of Makkah was born.
Birds fly above the Ka’bah today, as they did soon after Zam Zam water sprung from the ground at the time of Hajarah and Isma’il (peace be upon them). Today, they also fly over and around the many construction cranes working on a massive expansion project.
Prophets Ibrahim and Isma’il (peace be upon them) rebuilt the Ka’bah as the primary structure built for the worship of Allah. For some time, it fell prey to idol-worship with 360 idols present inside. During the conquest of Makkah, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) purified it and re-established the oneness of Allah at the sacred site.
This is a place of immense divine mercy and blessings. One obligatory prayer offered here carries the reward of 100,000 prayers. Similarly, sins committed here also carry a heavier burden.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of worshipers circumambulate the Ka’bah in sets of seven rounds around the rectangular brick structure 24 hours a day. People supplicate, cry, remember Allah and unleash their emotions as they pray to Him.
As the athan (call to prayer) is called, the words proclaiming the greatness and oneness of Allah can be heard far and wide with a beautiful echo coming off the mountains a few seconds later. During congregational prayers, there is complete silence, apart from the occasional cough, even with millions of worshippers.
The vast diversity found here reminds us about the universality of Islam. Our faith is about submitting to Allah and literally everyone is welcome to join and excel in building their relationship with Allah.
In front of me right now, thousands of people are passing by – men, women and children – from all over the world. There is neither any hierarchy nor any divisions. Anyone – regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or social status – can get close to the Ka’bah, touch it and pray in front of it. Allah is for everyone and we are all Allah’s. It is a real demonstration of the equality of human beings in front of Allah.
One growing distraction here is the prevalence of electronic devices. Numerous people can be seen taking selfies and posing for photos, making videos and chatting on cell phones. Cell phones can be heard going off with wacky ringtones. This disrupts the spirituality and peace of the location and serves as a distraction. Instead of focusing on Allah and linking with Him, one often thinks of the best spots to take pictures and the best shot that’ll get the most likes and retweets on social media. This seemed like an insignificant matter to me at first but it’s only when I tried resisting the urge to take pictures myself when I realized the negative effect it was having on my focus and spirituality.
Signs outside al-Masjid al-Haram in Makkah prohibit cameras among other things, but the prohibition on photography is seldom enforced, if ever.
Saudi Arabia is often criticized for many things, perhaps legitimately, but one must admit that their effort in managing both holy sites in their country and the millions of pilgrims that they draw – equivalent to holding multiple Super Bowls five times a day – is nothing but commendable. Allah has blessed them with wealth and they have been very generous to the holy sites and to the guests of Allah. May Allah reward them for their good and guide them to correct any mistakes they have made or are making now.
This time, I have three take-home messages from my visit:
1) Being a true Muslim (one who submits to Allah) requires sacrifice, as illustrated by Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him), who was given the title of “Friend of Allah.” Becoming closer to Allah requires even more sacrifice. Let’s reflect on the things and habits we love and enjoy most. Which ones should we sacrifice for Allah so that we can attain His pleasure?
2) We must strive to cast our prejudices and biases aside and be fair with everyone. Allah is fair and just, and we too desire fairness from Him and everyone else. Let’s try to treat all people with honour and respect, regardless of their race, skin colour or language.
3) The building towards which we have been commanded to pray from anywhere in the world, the Ka’bah, is very simple. The requirements for salah (prayer) are also very minimal and it can be offered anywhere on earth. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had a choice to live a life of wealth and luxury, but instead he chose simplicity. This indicates to us that Allah likes simplicity and thus we should also strive to adopt a simple lifestyle. Doing so will automatically keep us away from many of the things that can cause heedlessness and have a negative effect on our connection with Allah.
May Allah enable all of us to visit this sacred land again and again. May He accept the deeds and prayers of all those who are here. Ameen.