Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On the first day

When I arrived again in Mecca the Blessed, I could not help but pick up the speed of my stride to the Grand Mosque. My heart started to beat faster as I walked down the corridor of tall ornate pillars as I tried to peek through the heads and backs in front of me wearing caps and clothes of all sorts from all over the world. It seemed to take so long - and then I saw glimpse of a corner, a wall, and then I saw it - the Ka'abah, and I felt an unexplainable reaction in me. It was a wave of relief and reunion, my eyes were moist and my voice was breaking as I explained to my little son what to say when he sees the Ka'abah - Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, wa lillahil hamd - God is great, God is great, God is great, and for God is all Praise.

There was the Ka'abah- a large cube the size of a house, but dwarfed by the massiveness of the square of the giant Grand Mosque. It was attractively still and silent, surrounded by a humongous hustle and bustle of the million of so pilgrims, of which a few hundred were, like me, recent arrivals every few minutes, adding to the anonymous sea of souls. It was the object decreed to be the point towards which all Muslims all over the world must face 5 times a day for prayer. Now here I am before it. It is not God, but the focal point of all our prayers. When I die, my body will be laid in my grave to face it, according to the Muslim burial laws.

I was in the holy of holies of Islam. It was decreed that no non-believer is allowed to set foot in the Holy Land of Mecca, from miles out from this place. In this Holy Land it is forbidden for any animal or plant to be killed, and for no person to sin against another nor think of bad thoughts towards one another - retribution is swift and divinely enforced.

Internet access is deliberately not provided in Mecca. This cuts the pilgrim off from the outside world - any former pilgrim will tell you that in the month he/she was on the hajj, there was no news from the outside world. One is excised, forcibly, from one's usual world. All the daily trappings of life - newspapers, television, even being around people speaking our language - are ripped away. There is nothing to do, but worship and contemplate. It takes at least half an hour to get to a seat in the mosque, and half an hour to get out. You go back and have your meal, and soon it is time to get ready to go back to the mosque again. Very soon, your whole day revolves around prayers at the mosque.

Overheard - "We must constantly pursue the afterlife, because we are constantly being pursued by the world. If we hesitate, we will be devoured by the world and forget the afterlife."


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