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Ka'bah: A Living Miracle

We have just returned form an extended visit to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, one a "frontline obedient soldier" in Bush's battle against terrorism in Afghanistan and the other not so willing a soldier to oust Saddam Hussain from power in Iraq. Before we departed the U.S., there was hardly anyone, both Muslims and non-Muslims who did not advise us to stay away from this "most troubled spot on earth right now." With active hostilities along the Afghanistan border and a million or more troops facing each other on the Indian border, any sane person can see that the prudent thing to do is to stay away and not invite unnecessary trouble by going there. Even some of the family members had reservations. After all, in spite of the hijab and caps and kufies and "Isl‚mic dress" it is impossible to disguise our identity totally. Any Pakistani shopkeeper can "smell" a Pakistani who is returning after an appreciable stay in the U.S., let alone an American-born and raised, no matter how well they are trying to dress and act like a Muslim. The presence becomes even more conspicuous because of the almost total absence of foreigners in public places due to continuous calls from the Bush and European regimes to leave Pakistan. The pull of the family and the desire to see things as they really are won and we went.

Analysis of the impressions of our stay in Pakistan requires a longer gestation period. Insha All‚h we shall address that subject in future.

The stay in Makkah and Madina-tun-Nabi, was very short. People who have visited there often and for far longer periods say that no matter how long your stay, it is still not long enough. We believe them.

We reached Jeddah at night. By the time we cleared immigration and customs formalities and took a van to Makkah it was past midnight. We were advised by our guide at Jeddah to go to our residence in Makkah and as soon as we checked in to proceed to the Haram (sacred sanctuary) and perform ' (lesser pilgrimage) right away. This after all was the sole purpose of our journey, but also because at that time of night there are fewer people around the Ka'bah and thus it is much easier to perform various rites. We did as we were advised.

Enroute to Makkah we recited all the necessary supplications and tried to be awake. The dark night could not hide the barrenness of the terrain. The affluent Saudi Government and populace is trying very hard to modernize the landscape. Their success is limited to around the cities. The vaste empty and desolate terrain is still a window to the past history of the area. This feeling of inhospitality becomes even more acute when traveling during daytime between Makkah and Madina or Jeddah. One is reminded of the supplication of Ibrahim while he was leaving his wife Hajirah and the young son, Isma'il behind as ordered by All‚h.

"O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation by thy Sacred House; in order, O our Lord that they may establish regular prayer: so fill the hearts of some among men with love towards them and feed them with fruits: so that they may give thanks." [14:37]

When one reaches Makkah, Ka'bah is not the first sight. Seeing all the tall modern constructions instead of the House of All‚h is not what a pilgrim expects. There is some disappointment. However, after checking in, when one reaches the Haram, the Ka'bah, a seemingly small cube of a structure, overwhelms all the modern buildings. The majestic gates, the tall minarets, the huge palaces and multistory hotel blocks are all dwarfed by the simple cube. That cube is the center, the focus and the life of this land. Without it there was nothing. Without it there would be nothing. The huge oil wealth would be powerless to provide any reason for significance for the mountain-encircled piece of desolate and inhospitable land. Yet before there was any oil money this place was celebrated. Today the oil money adds or detracts nothing from the intensity of this celebration.

There were only a few hundred circumambulators at that time of the night. Yet the awe and the inspiration generated is indescribable. In their ihram (two pieces of unsewn cloth) they marched around it for no reason at all except that All‚h has ordered it. There were men, women and children marching. There were black, white, yellow and brown marching. There were shia and sunni Muslims marching. There were Africans, Europeans and Asians marching. There were illiterates and the educated marching. There were rich and the poor marching. They were marching side by side apparently quite oblivious and unconcerned of their difference. There was no malice or rancor. There was no segregation or discrimination. There were no feelings of any distinction. We were among them marching. It is mind boggling to think that this has been going on for the last four thousand years, since Ibrahim was ordered to give the cry in the wilderness.

And (remember) when We prepared for Abraham the place of the (holy) House, saying: "Ascribe thou no thing as partner unto Me, and purify My House for those who make the Tawaf [circumambulation] (thereof) and those who stand and those who bow and make prostration. And proclaim the Pilgrimage among men: they will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways." [22:26-27]

In spite of the fewer number of circumambulators, we were unable to get near the Hajr-e-Aswad (the Black Stone). In our innocence we thought we would be able to do that during the daytime. A big surprise awaited us. As soon as the call was given for tahujjud salaat, ten times more men and women poured into the mutaf (area around the Ka'bah for circumambulating). Getting closer even to the Ka'bah, a feat accomplished without much effort earlier, was almost impossible. They were all marching and we were among them. During the four days of our stay, the number of people marching fluctuated, but except for the brief period when the five salaats were being offered, the marching went on non-stop, twenty-four hours of the day seven days a week, twelve months of the year. Is this a sign manifest or what?

The first House (of worship) appointed for men was that at Bakka full of blessing and a guidance to the peoples: In it are signs manifest; (for example) the Station of Ibrahim; whoever enters it attains security; pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Allah those who can afford the journey; but if any deny faith, Allah stands not in need of any of his creatures. [3:96-97]

We had almost given up hope to get close enough to the Hajr-e-Aswad, when before the Zuhr prayer we noticed the security guards enforcing a single file queue to the Hajr-e-Aswad. We joined it but by the time we were half way the prayer started. Next day we joined the queue as soon as possible and lo and behold we reached the Hajr-e-Aswad. We fulfilled the tradition of the prophet to kiss it, Alhumdulillah. We also repeated the words that Umar had said while kissing it, "I know you are just a stone, had not the Prophet kissed you, I would also not kiss you". This is the meaning of All‚h's command.

He who follows the Apostle obeys Allah: but if any turn away We have not sent thee to watch over their (evil deeds). [4:80]

We were able to repeat this blessing once again the next day.

After tawaf (seven times circumambulating the Ka'bah) we also performed the other rites; prayers and visitation to the Hateem, Maqam-e-Ibrahim , well of Zam Zam and the Sa'i (walking and running between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times). When we finished the first day it was already time for the salatut-tahajjud. Had we done all this activity at home, we would be dead tired, yet we felt rejuvenated and ready to repeat the entire rites again. How true were those people who told us of their desire to keep repeating the rites over and over again.

One can repeat the tawaf as often as one wishes, but to repeat the 'Umrah one must go out to the nearest miqat and put on the ihram and do the intention again. The nearest miqat is in Tanim. So we went to Masjid A'ishah in Tanim and performed the 'Umrah again.

In between times we visited all the places of significance. Places like the location of the birth of Rasulull‚h , the grave of his first wife, Khadijah , caves of Hira and Thawr and the plains of Arafat, Mina, Muzdalifah and Jabal-e-Rahmat and site of the destruction of Abraha's army and countless other signs and locations that history has recorded significance for. The simplicity, ruggedness and non tourist atmosphere is unbelievable. One can stand at these sites and almost go back thousands of years and visualize the strenuous efforts required to simply exist in this waterless, uncultivable, inhospitable land. Yet for the last four thousand years All‚h has made this possible, and today more than ever before no bounty is missing in this otherwise unproductive land. All‚h chose it and He alone granted the supplications of Ibrahim .

And when Ibrahim prayed: "My Lord! Make this a region of security and bestow upon its people fruits, such of them as believe in Allah and the Last Day," He answered: "As for him who disbelieveth, I shall leave him in contentment for a while, then I shall compel him to the doom of fire a hapless journey's end!" And when Ibrahim and Isma'il were raising the foundations of the House, (Ibrahim prayed): "Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Nearer, the Knower. Our Lord! And make us submissive unto Thee and of our seed a nation submissive unto Thee, and show us our ways of worship, and relent toward us. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Relenting, the Merciful." [Qur'an 2:126-128]

We left Makkah longing to return and yet contented to have witnessed with our very own eyes the granting of all the prayers of Ibrahim by All‚h, undeniably also the prayer for raising the last prophet.

Our Lord! And raise up in their midst a messenger from among them who shall recite unto them Thy revelations, and shall instruct them in the Scripture and in wisdom and shall make them grow. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Mighty, Wise. [Qur'an 2:129]


Published: August 2002


Last modified 08/12/05 09:25 AM - Iqra - ISSN #1062-2756