HORNS, PUTTS and raucous PEEPS! Although disturbing, these sounds are quite characteristic of regular Meccan Main Street, especially in the bustling Zil-Hajj – season. Utilizing my entire reminiscing power, I can recall that we were seeing the seventh dawn of the last lunar month. The background buzz constantly tickled my ears, as our cavalcade dawdled towards its destination, impelling me to remain thrown aback in a lethargic, insomniac condition. How better could it have been, sitting in the same crooked posture, in the same congested place, over a period of six tiring hours? Alas, our journey came to a halt in front of an innocuous, white building – the hotel – which was typical renovated of a 40’s Meccan house. What followed was a brief stagger to my room, a mug of cold milk, a good night sleep and sweet dreams.
After a seven-hour long nap, I felt a familiar pat on the head and heard an endearing whisper from mum, informing me that it was time to wake up. The next half an hour was spent in freshening up, trimming my nails and having a short meal, after which I mentally prepared myself to adopt a frugal lifestyle that nifty, temperamental and modernistic individual is oblivious of. Therefore, I spotted a quiet corner and mused on a perpetual internal debate that whether I could even survive without my life’s essentials: my laptop, IPod and Starbucks. It was only when I heard the Fajr Azan that I realized I had been racking my brain for the past three hours! Not long afterwards, a steamy shower, a pack of biscuits which mom always carries with her, a dozen glasses of water and I was all set for the course. But wait! Another wild thought: “I’ve lived in skinny jeans and t-shirts throughout my life. How in the world am I gonna eat, sleep and go around in an unsewn, two-piece clothing for the next four days?” Anyways, I stepped down, onto the sidewalks and grabbed a good cup of coffee from the Boofia around the corner. The sunshine seeping over the ever-awake city, the sound and smell of 5 am grilling, a hint of drizzle and regular sips of coffee – I fell in love with the place, but there was much more to come.
“Labaik, Allahumma Labaik.” I could hear these words in murmurs and in resonant proclamations as I, accompanied by my family, walked to the Grand Mosque. As we made our way into the vast courtyard of Haram, before us was a sight unparalleled to any other my eyes had ever glimpsed – a cosmic scene, with a sea of humanity swirling around a towering cubicle, the epicenter of the Muslim world. Indeed, if one hankers to see the marvelous hold faith in God has on Believers and their eagerness to fulfill His commands in the face of all odds, one should come to the Ka’aba and watch the crowd perform the taw’waf. The cool dawn air was filled with the fragrant and hypnotic chant in praise of the Lord by the milling crowd of pilgrims en masse performing in a physically active meditation. Old Pakistani men, Indonesian toddlers, young American women, Syrian newlyweds, Sudanese mothers, Bosnian fathers, British nobles, Turkish shahs and Kenyan peasants; all of them were present in the mass, albeit neither were we aware nor concerned who stood beside us. After circumambulating the Ka’aba seven times, we performed the Sai’i: a re-enactment of the Hajra’s desperate run for water.
Our next spot: the valley of Mina, four kilometers away from Mecca. Amidst traffic jams, exhaust gases and a few frivolous clamors, we shuffled to Mina. Credits to the caffeine jolt that kept me going. Upon reaching, we performed the noon and afternoon prayers and occupied a place in one of the thousands of emblematic Mina tents. Within the tents, the utmost form of humanity and hospitality was being practiced – people eating from the same plate, drinking from the same glass, sleeping on the same rugs and exchanging kind words with people whose identity they did not know. For a minute, I just sat back to think about the starkly different circumstances that exist in the world. One day, I see brutality and selective opposition on my TV set and, in skepticism of the concept that sects can peacefully coexist, remark, “The world and peace. Oh, that irony!” And now I see white, black and colored hands going down onto the same dish. Surprisingly, there was not much gossiping, even on the women’s side, which allowed me to lie down for a nice nap. Prayers, beseeching, supplications and short naps continued until sunrise, when pilgrims began to flock out of Mina and head for Arafah. Buses were packed, so were trains and walking 14 kilometers in the Arabia heat was seemingly impossible, although some had the courage to do so. Once again, I had to bear the pique noises inside the tunnels and on the streets, as our taxi was forced to move along the jammed streets in sluggish fashion.
By noon, the last of Hujjaj joined the mob and an enlightening address from the Grand Mufti, in which he urged the gathering to avoid divisions, chaos and sectarianism. Later on, shedding further lights onto his words, I said to myself, “At a time where many Americans only get glimpses of vocal Muslim protests against some idiotic anti-Islam video on YouTube (which prompted the ridiculous ‘Muslim Rage’ cover for Newsweek magazine which was mocked everywhere) within our Western media, it is also important for Americans to understand that millions of Muslims are also trying to better their communities by holding prayer vigils for a brave young schoolgirl from Pakistan or mobilizing to end the carnage of a Syrian dictator slaughtering his own people.”
I, like many others, climbed up the mountain. With brief sidelong glances I saw tears, hands raised in supplications and men crying out loud. The spiritual fervor that oozed out of this mammoth-size gathering aroused tremendous emotion, inciting a spontaneous flashback of the purposeless life I had been living and realization of the fact that there is much more to spiritual success than praying and fasting. A horripilation of dread tingled down my spine as I – a self-proclaimed God-fearing Muslim – remained awe-struck. It’s certain, that in some point in life, you realize that something’s missing. As the sun grew redder, I realized it was time to go. So, after a four hour long beseeching, I descended the mountain with swollen eyes but a much more content heart. Next, we reached Muzdalifah where we picked up solid pebbles for stoning of Satan. Sunset, sunrise and we were back again at Mina to stone the Satan, slaughter an animal, shave our heads and celebrate Eid ul Adha with the million Muslims. After having finished with these rituals, we headed for the Grand Mosque to perform the Tawaf-al-Ifadah. Exhausted, we waited for the next day which marked the climax of Hajj. Stoning the three steles, a last glimpse of the Ka’aba and we were done with our duty. Alas, a thanksgiving prayer, a short meal at Al Baik and we were heading home. But it wasn’t the same nomophobic chap going back. I was now a much more optimistically transformed person with different, more sensible priorities.