You read about it, attend classes, talk to people who have been there, see it on TV, but nothing, nothing can prepare you for the first encounter with the Kabah.
Arriving at Jeddah airport, you are prepared for waiting at immigration, for the bus to take you to Makkah, for the traffic along the way. No problem. Your heart skips a beat, as you pass the sign on the road reading ‘Muslims only.’ You are now in the vicinity of the Haram. Did I say ‘Alhamdulillah’? I had heard this in Dr. Farhat Hashmi’s cassette and had resolved to say so.
Reciting the Talbiah is an energizer: “Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik, Labbaika La Shareeka Laka Labbaik. Innal Hamda wan Naimata Laka Wal Mulk. La Shareeka Lak.” The men on the bus recite it out loud and you get goose bumps. “Here I am, Allah, here I am.” It gets surreal from here on.
It’s just after Isha. Our group organizer advises us to leave our luggage in the bus and walk to Masjid-e-Haram for Umrah. We get off amidst a multitude of people. Are these all Muslims? Wow! But focus is somewhere else right now. Where’s the Kabah? You waited patiently all this time, but now find yourself struggling with the temptation to push to go ahead quickly. Patience, patience. Pulse rate is rising, you are disoriented and totally overwhelmed by the pulsating crowds and atmosphere.
Reaching the gates of Masjid-e-Haram, you remind yourself not to forget the Dua. Shoes off – “Assalatu wassalamu a’la Rasool Allah, Allahummaftahlee abwaba rahmatik” – you enter and inch your way to the centre. Feet firm on the cold marble floor, but the heart racing ahead. The arches of the mosque restrict the view of the Kabah; you strain your neck in desperation. And then the moment comes – finally, face to face with your Qibla: “Here I am, Allah, here I am.”
There’s something about that simple cube draped in a black cloth that makes the surrounding grand mosque with its towering minarets and the thousands of people in it just melt away. Your ‘I’ stumbles to ground zero in awe, your eyes water with the sheer honor of being there, with fear of blowing what might be your only chance of redemption, with feelings too deep and too personal to describe in mere words or to share with anyone other than The One.
8th of Zil Hajj plunges you head on into Hajj.
You become part of something infinitely bigger than your puny little self. Your heart swells with emotion to see the ‘us’ – Muslims of all colors and races. We may not know each other’s language elsewhere, but walking from Muzdalifah to Mina, everyone understands each other, when saying the Talbiah out loud. When ‘we’ speak the language of our Lord, ‘we’ are no longer ’them.’
Hajj seems a microcosm of life. The challenge is to find your centre and plug it in the source, while fumbling with the logistics of getting from Mina to Arafat, then Muzdalifah and back to Mina and Makkah. The key is to stick to the Sunnah of Ibrahim (as) and Rasoolullah (sa) and not to lose your cool or focus.
In our day to day life, Tauheed and Kufr are so woven together that often our senses get blurred. In the Harmain – Masjid-e-Haraam and Nabwee – because Allah’s (swt) presence is so vivid and tangible, in contrast, the presence of Shaitan is starkly visible. Step out of the mosque in Makkah and a glittering shopping mall is in your face. In Medina, the gold shops don’t shut even at Tahajjud! The devil is at Allah’s (swt) doorsteps. It is a chilling reminder – his promise to Allah (swt) was not in vain. Are we taking heed of the warnings of our Book and the Prophet (sa)?