This is a reflection from exactly one year ago...
Last weekend my husband and I took an almost 1000 km road trip by bus to Makkah. We were travelling with the intention of performing the Umrah, a non-obligaotry pilgrimage that Muslims are recommended to undertake if they are physically and financially able to do so.
I've performed Umrah multiple times and each time it feels like my soul has emerged, refreshed, from the purest of springs. Being in Makkah, specifically in the Masjid Haram is a humbling experience. It is a microcosm of our world. Here you see people of different nationalities, ethnicities, tongues all worshipping together, calling out to one God.
This time, as there wasn't much rush, we got to touch the Kaaba for a few minutes and make some prayers. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Beside me an old Pakistani lady clung to the black cloth on the Kaaba and wept, begging God to forgive her and make life easy for her children. On my left was a Malaysian lady and her husband, both in tears and silently mouthing prayers. Another Pakistan man was on his knees and praying desperately. Almost every prayer that my ear could understand was one for their children. Every tongue there whispered the problems weighing them down. Every eye shed at least one tear- a repentant one, a hopeful one, a happy one.
As we resumed our stride, circumambulating the Kaaba, my eye caught a tall man walking with a Harry Potter backpack slung on his shoulder. I smiled as I realised 'the boy who lived' just performed Umrah too. Why not? The rich and the poor, the unhappy and the content, the brave and the fearful, the young and the aged, the healthy and the disabled, men and woman, black and white-- all were here under the shade of one sky, for one purpose alone- worship.
Once the 'Tawaf' around the Kaaba was completed, we moved to do the 'Saee' across Safa and Marwa. This is an essential pillar of the pilgrimage, just to commemorate the sacrifice one woman made thousands of years ago. Our mother Hajar, the wife of Abraham, was stranded alone in the desert with her infant son. She ran across the peaks of two hills seeking water for him till God provided them water and sustenance. Today billions of people have walked across the valley remembering and saluting this mother's incredible sacrifice. And billions of male pilgrims have run and continue to run part way to immortalize one single woman's resilience.
Once the Umrah was done our feet were sore, the leg muscles contracted rapidly- shocked by the sudden vigorous exercise. My back was killing me but my heart was full and my mind was at peace. The call to the prayer reverberated across the huge mosque and the seated pilgrims- the guests of God- immediately sprang up and assembled in rows curving around the Kaaba, eager to worship, unable to withhold any more pain, seeking reassurance and respite. For some time the only sound that was heard was the melodious recitation of the Qur'an and the sniffles of those moved by it. Somewhere a bird chirped and a welcome breeze occasionally caressed our faces.
Outside the masjid was another world altogether. Under the dark night sky stands the looming clock tower and swanky five star hotels that privileges some with nearer access to the mosque just by virtue of wealth. In front of these buildings reaching out to the sky, an old man sat on the cool white marble floor, his legs stretched out. He broke his bread in half and handed it to his wife. Both of them ate in silence and sipped their tea from little plastic cups as they gazed at the mosque. Around them the world swirled on, fast and relentless. They sat silently, peace etched on their faces.
(picture courtesy- Native Pakistan)
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