When I spent summer 2016 studying in KAUST, I got the chance to visit Mecca several times, el hamdolillah, with the university’s buses. This post is about the things I learned there.
Getting from Masjid el Ihram (tene’em or Aicha mosque) to the Haram and back:
KAUST bus dropped us off at masjib el ihram. During my first umrah I took a taxi with a couple of Kaustian girls. Taxis are abundant, pretty safe and relatively cheap. I remember I paid 5 riyals and we were around 6 people. The drivers are crazy, but they know their streets. They’re friendly; handed us duaa books for free. Here’s a picture of Masjid el Tene’em.
During my other umrahs, I was on my own, so I took one of the public red buses to the haram. They stop in the alley next to Aicha mosque and one leaves every 5 minutes almost. The lines are long and people do not queue. Try to keep your cool and remain patient and understanding. It is heart breaking to see Muslims acting so selfish and impatient, in a place so sacred. Bus costs 2 riyals and drop you off at their stop, a 5 minute walk away from the haram. Where they stop changes depending on whether it’s Ramadan or not. This stop is where you should take the bus back to masjid el ihram.
I have done 6 umrahs in my lifetime, and I’ve never managed to get close or touch the hajar el aswad. Again, it’s sad that Muslims don’t queue, although I’ve heard that the moment you’re face to face with that stone, you won’t be aware of the push-and-pulls you’re receiving. Below is the kind of crowd I’m talking about, when the haram is relatively empty. Kudos to the security workers for remaining patient – or maybe just Saudis being chill on the job as they always are. Joining a tide of Muslims doing tawaf is a bit hectic. I like doing things fast so I’d be the one sweeping through between the people – no pushing though. As you go through you’d hear group prayers, mostly in Arabic, but with different accents – Egyptian, Pakistani, Turkish… Sweaty hairy shoulders bumping into you, every body frowning at the sun’s reflection off the white marble of the haram, an old short woman pushing you to the side. Doesn’t sound so magical, but it is. In those 7 laps around the Kaaba, the centrality of Allah in our lives is affirmed, symbolically.
One of the thoughts that crossed my mind when I was there was the location of the haram. In the middle of the dessert, in a valley between rocky brown mountains, no sane being would be there for a worldly purpose. The location of the haram is helpful in establishing the purpose of the experience: strengthening Allah’s presence in our hearts, routines and lives. Only living necessities were present: zamzam water and a few plants. Unfortunately, people of word and power like money so they decide to build malls and fancy hotels, in a place where people should be living on bare minimum. Anyways, here’s a picture of the Kaaba on a Saturday after Ramadan:
Maghrib athan came out when I was finishing my last few laps in late Ramadan. The vibes were extremely joyful and warm. I was being handed cups of water, juice, dates and dried fruits, from the generous giving of random fellow Muslims. In that was an act of unity, generosity and love.
I recounted the story of Hajar ra. For Allah swt to make us re-act that incident means that there is a very important lesson for us to pick up. So Hajar needed water and saw some signs of water far away. She pursued her needs in hopes of them being fulfilled. She pursued freaking hard, 7 times to be precise, up and down the hills of Mecca. She was pursuing sarab though, illusions. Eventually, from between her baby’s feet, the least expected place to find water, sprung the water. A straight forward depiction of how in life, we pursue certain goals, which is a religious duty upon us, pursuing. However, when these goals are reached, we have to realize this is only by the will, mercy and benevolence of Allah swt. We are helpless being really. The successful causation of our actions is perhaps an illusion, and behind it lies the hand of God working out our lives.
When combining the two main manasik of umrah, you’d have a philosophy of life: life is centered around God, we work and receive Allah’s blessings, all while trying to refrain from what is haraam (~ihram).
I then leave to my straw-berry milkshake, reminded of what my world-view should be, and reminded of the different diseases our ummah suffers from and the small glimpse of hope of patching it back together.