Makkah is a very old city settled in the barren desert of Arabia a few miles from the Red Sea. It is not a place one would choose to build a city or imagine that any city built there would ever flourish. Yet it has black gold under it and it is visited for its spiritual and holy symbols mentioned in the Quran by millions of Muslims from all over the world. Some come to fulfill the fifth pillar of Islam: the Hajj and some come for Ummrah (the minor pilgrimage) to cry, weep and beg at the door of the House of Allah to feel the imprint of the earth under their feet that was once trodden upon by Prophets like Ibrahim AS and Muhammad ibn Abdullah pbuh.

Yet it was the command of Allah to Ibrahim AS, to build it. He was told “call and they will come” and he bowed his head in abject humility and obedience and thus has been given the title given to no other: Khalil Allah (friend of Allah). However many tests had to come to wrench his heart, his love and his attachments to family before he could be hailed as Khalil Allah. He sailed through each of them with the ease of one who has only one focus and that is on His Lords obedience.

In the heart of the city is a centerpiece that is a magnet of attraction for all those who believe in One God and submit to him in complete humility.

The Kaaba is that place of attraction for not only the Muslims but also all people in the world, who wonder at the pull of the Kaaba for the hearts of the pure and in grief.

The Kaaba a building of large stones in the shape of a cube, covered by a black cover sits central within the hills of Makkah. Two such hills are Safa and Marwah. These hills have been mentioned in the Quran as signs of Allah. These hills bear witness to the signal event in history where the mother of all Muslims and wife of Ibrahim AS: Hajara (Hagar) struggled to find sustenance, help and protection for her infant son Ismail.

As a tribute to womanhood, motherhood and the beginning of the lineage of the Muslims in Arabia, every year many times millions of people walk up and down those “hills” emulating her struggle for her son.

Thus honoring the deep and inviolable instinct of a mother striving to save her son from almost certain death. Protecting him from the 120 plus degree Fahrenheit temperatures of the unshaded Arabian sun and the plunging 30 degree Fahrenheit temperatures of the night in the raw desert.

Though the hills of Safa and Marwah have been flattened and paved with marble tiles, the striving of the struggle of Saee for anyone who has done it remains a struggle. Thus it has been for me on each of the Pilgrimages that I have attempted.

Every time I think of my dead son and wonder at the courage of the woman whose steps I am walking in and find myself wanting in the department of absolute faith.

Though the hills of Makkah are dubbed “hills” perhaps due to their low elevation. The rugged nature of the rock is slippery and unforgiving in climbing it (having done so once before the rocks of Safa were enclosed for visual purposes only).

Adam (AS) built the first Kaaba forty years before the Masjed Al Aqsa in Jerusalem on Allah’s command; it crumbled with time and then it was rebuilt by Ibrahim AS with his son Ismail AS who is the forefather of the Muslims.

After it was built, Allah commanded Ibrahim AS to call people to prayer. Obedient but perplexed he looked at the vast desert surrounding it and saw nothing and no human being as far as the eye could see. He wondered who would come and yet Allah commanded him to “CALL!” and thus he did in complete unquestioning obedience to his Lord.

It is in response to his call that many millions and I go to Makkah. I went for what is considered a minor pilgrimage called Ummrah. In the Ummrah I respond to Ibrahim AS call with “Labayk Allah humma labayk………….”

When I enter Makkah I walk in the path of Prophet Muhammad pbuh in tawaf (circumambulation of the Kaaba) and stand to pray at the station of Ibrahim AS where he and his son Ismail stood to raise the bricks in the wall of the Kaaba.  His footprint has been preserved under a golden-latticed dome.

Here on the completing of my tawaf, I also drink Zam Zam the amazing pure water that sprang from the feet of baby Ismail as he dug his heels into the sand crying. While his mother had climbed one of the two hills of Safa and Marwah for the seventh time, Angel Gabriel stood at the feet of baby Ismail and dug his wing in the hot sand and from the earth beneath the toes of the baby Ismail erupted the sweetest and purest water of the world called Zam Zam. It has since then provided the whole world that comes to Makkah a refreshing drink after and before the rituals of the pilgrimage.

I have been trying to go for Ummrah for seven months but I think it was not whole hearted. I am approaching a new year, which holds many personal dilemmas for me and there is nowhere where I want to be more than standing at the Kaaba when the new year as I know it opens its curtain on the western world. Allah fulfills my ardent wish with a swish of a wand and I am on my way to Ummrah…….

I arrive at Jeddah and an efficient car service drives me to Makkah. The car enters a maze of tunnels. It finally stops and I am told that I am at my hotel. I step out into the tunnel, and enter the door of the hotel, leaving my luggage with the concierge I ascend to the lobby in two stages. The elevator doors open and I have dejavu; I could be in any lobby of a posh Las Vegas hotel minus the movie star icons.

It is 3 .30 pm in the evening. I am tired but elated. I am going to do Ummrah right now, Inshallah I will check into my room, shower eat something to give me some energy and head for the Kaaba.

The hands of the clock move and the room I am told will not be ready till 5 pm, and Maghreb Salah begins at 5. I see myself deprived I am in Makkah in a hotel which is less that 500 ft. from the Kaaba and I am going to miss my Salah in the Kaaba.

I make an executive decision, I make a back pack with urgent and important items, and check out my handbag to the concierge and head for the ladies restroom to do wudu.

In the posh five star hotel in Makkah a stones throw from the Kaaba, I had expected to find a restroom catered for wudu, a place to sit down and wash my feet, hooks to hang my hijab and abaya which I wanted to divest myself of to make a proper wudu. The European designer of the hotel probably a non-Muslim had left me no choices; I was in Las Vegas with no such Muslim accouterments to facilitate wudu.

After making wudu, I walked out and entered the mosque of the Kaaba also called The Haram. The first change I noticed were in the workers, they were still skinny as they had been in the last few years of my visits but each of them had a potbelly or more apropos a “wheat belly” more on that subject in another post.

Following sadaqaat I arrive at the steps that lead me into the large opening around the Kaaba where I am to begin the first part of my Ummrah ritual, which is the Tawaf. (Circumambulation of the Kaaba)

I stand dumbfounded…………..the Kaaba can only be seen in bits and pieces as if a part of a giant puzzle.  A large circular ring has been placed around it so that people could walk their tawaf at a higher elevation. Numerous scaffoldings crisscross my vision of the Kaaba, I want to pray but all I feel is the strangle hold on the Kaaba, the inability to breathe, and the constrainment (Qabad).  All these bindings, the ring, the scaffoldings and the visually broken up Kaaba are like a piece of cloth to gag the mouth of spirituality.

I am shaken out of my stupor. I am deeply grateful to be here no matter what the circumstances and what the custodians of Kaaba are doing with it. It is still The House of Allah and it stands majestic welcoming me, beckoning me closer……

I make dua ………

Soon I fall into the stream of people circumambulating the Kaaba, they seem unaware of the scaffoldings, or the circular lasso around the Kaaba, focused on their prayers. Men in white ihram, women in white from Iran and Egypt, women in black from the Arabian outskirts, women in white with hand covers from Indonesia and Malaysia. Graceful old Pakistani village women with bright dupattas as if glued to their heads, erect in posture and determined to be close to the Kaaba.  Then there is surprise: a small contingent of Burmese Rohingas pass me by, who have come to lay their grief of being tortured and their families being massacred by the followers of Buddha.

Soon I forget the visual divisioning of the Kaaba and I am with my Lord. Hundreds of people walk with me in sync, moving forward like a symphony and yet alone. We alone know what our hearts yearn for and what we have brought to lay at His door.

What questions we have within us, what we want from him are a closed secret between Him and us. Tears flow unabated unnoticed, privately amongst hundreds.

Most of all each of us long for His proximity more than anything else ………..

For some it translates into being closer to the walls of His house, kissing the cover, moving their hands across it in abject destitution, asking, begging……..

His house now stands in a stranglehold of modern construction imagery designed by architects who most likely have never performed Ummrah or Hajj and probably have no idea what is important and what was not in the spiritual journey for an individual who undertakes the Journey of Pilgrimage.

The tawaf ends with the call of Maghreb prayer, and in seconds all the men and women fall in line for prayer. After prayer tawaf continues, after the seventh round two-rakah prayer has to be performed behind the station of Ibrahim, followed by drinking Zam Zam to refresh the body and soul and then on to Saee at Safa and Marwah.

These hills have been designated as signs from Allah of our faith. I am not sure what flattening them and saving a few stones from Safa as a demonstration mean?

Saee is always a personal challenge for me, I see and feel the strength of our mother Hajara (Hagar) and yet I do not seem to be able to embue it in me, I think of her many sacrifices for the sake of Allah and her absolute faith that He is her protector and sustainer energizes me.

As I start at Safa I realize that in my rush to go to the Haram to start my Ummrah I have forgotten my duas to read at each hill of Safa and Marwah. I walk on and find a couple that seem South African or Indian and ask them if they would share the dua. The woman pulls out a duplicate copy and gives it to me.

The distance of the valley between the hills of Safa and Marwah at first glance does not seem to be long………..and yet for a mother seeking help, it must be long, for a mother exhausted with the heat and running out rations it must be long, for a mother who has left her baby son under the shade of a rock it must be long…………. For a mother who worries about her baby dying of dehydration it must be long….

The green fluorescent lights indicate where our mother Hajara ran towards her son, was he crying or had he stopped crying, did her worry for him made her run in part of valley, once she was comforted that he was still alive she would then climb Safa again and call out “ is anyone there? Help! is anyone there?” and then come down and run to him again to check on him and feed him the last bits of her rapidly diminishing rations.

I walk the Saee, and it requires the extra push around the third and fourth round of the seven and then it eases………

In the Haram all external life stands still, all worries of the world recede, the only worry that remains is what will happen to me when I die and am transported into the next eternal world, will it be a place of peace “As salaam” or torment of Naar (Fire). We all pray for the former and seek refuge from the later at the end of every circambulation with the dua “rabana atayna fid dunya……………..”

Today and every day that I stayed in Makkah and performed Tawaf, the giant orange cranes stand like spectres ready to dive down and become vultures,

Around the Kaaba, the earth gouged by these machines, lies violated like a raw wound. The broken parts of the remote buildings of old Makkah in the hills, some of them centuries old spew out dust and memories…………….and perhaps screaming for moderation from unscrupulous and unleashed modernity.

Every pilgrim with the implacable feeling in his or her heart that this may be the last time he or she may be able to make it here walks and stands in oblivion of all else around her.

As old Makkah crumbles into pieces of dust each iota carrying a piece of the 1400 year old Muslim history within it now shredded and spread over the land like the ashes of a beloved on his or her land. The fine specks of the dust of old Makkah cling to the kiswa of the Kaaba in their last embrace…………….

But old Makkah fights back! (To be continued)




  2. Pingback: UMMRAH: HOW OLD MAKKAH FIGHTS BACK…………. PART FOUR | Siraat-e-Mustaqeem

  3. Pingback: UMMRAH: OLD MAKKAH FIGHTS BACK……..PART THREE | Siraat-e-Mustaqeem

  4. Pingback: UMMRAH: HOW OLD MAKKAH FIGHTS BACK……PART TWO | Siraat-e-Mustaqeem

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