“Labbayka Allaahumma labbayk! Labbayka laa shareeka laka labbayk!” (“Here I am, O Allah, here I am. Here I am, You have no partner, here I am.”)
The mass of voices in the airplane rang out with these beautiful words as we descended into Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The entire plane was filled with people of all ages and colors, coming from different backgrounds and social classes, many wearing nothing more than two large white cloths. These simple clothes are called the ‘ihram’ which pilgrams wear to humble ourselves as we present ourselves to our Lord.
I look out the window, eagerly waiting for the plane to touch down so I can continue my journey to one of the holiest places in the world, Mecca.
As my family and I were driven from Jeddah to Mecca, we engaged ourselves in various forms of worship, including reading the Quran and praising God under our breath. As we entered Mecca, I looked around in excitement to see if I could spot the blessed mosque.
I had yearned to see it for as long as I could remember.
We arrived at our hotel, quickly placed our bags in our room, and we began walking towards the religious symbol that Muslims all over the world know as the Kaaba. As we entered the mosque that surrounds the Kaaba, my family and I lowered our eyes and pushed through the crowds, as close to the Kaaba as possible.
And then all together, we lifted our eyes. We saw a box-shaped structure, shrouded by a sleek black robe with intricate gold patterns. The Kaaba itself is not what melts the hearts of the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world. It is what the Kaaba represents. It is a symbol of God’s pact with Prophet Abraham, his son Ishmael, and devout Muslims.
As I watched the tens of thousands of Muslims circling the structure, I stood in awe, realizing that I was at the center of Islamic history. The Kaaba was built by Prophet Ibraheem (Abraham), as the first structure built on earth for the worship of the one God, and a symbol Muslims use to connect with their Creator.
I began the ritual of walking around the Kaaba seven times, glorifying God. As I got closer to the Kaaba, I lost myself amongst the swarms of people. At first I watched the people walking by me, all so different yet all there for the same reason, reconnecting with God and asking for His mercy. There was not a single dry eye in the sacred place. Then I turned my attention to the Kaaba. This was the direction in which all the Muslims of the world turn their faces towards countless times a day during our prayers, symbolically showing that they worship the God of Abraham.
After circumambulating the Kaaba we then proceeded to the next part of our journey, fulfilling the ritual of Sai’. Sai’ is the commemoration of the quickened walk Hajar (Hagar) did from Mount Safa to Mount Marwah in a frantic search of water for her young child, Ishmael. After running from Safa and Marwah seven times, God blessed the desert land with a gushing spring called Zamzam, a holy water that has blessed the land and has miraculously kept flowing even now.
I watched as my 75 year old grandma trekked the long distances from mount to mount, without a single complaint. This tradition shows us how valuable the love of a mother is. And considering Hagar was an African woman from a beautiful continent, it is amazing to know that God chose her as the role model for the more than 10 million Muslim men and women of all races and colors that each year follow in her footsteps.
The next day, we visited Mina, a city which holds a sea of tents in a massive field where two million pilgrims camp during Hajj, the pilgrimage that occurs during the last month of the Islamic calendar. Since it was not the pilgrimage season, the thousands of permanent tents stood empty.
We then visited Jabal Al Noor, Mountain of Light. It is upon this mountain that lies Cave Hira, where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad would come often to meditate, and it is in this same cave that it is believed that the first verses of the Quran were revealed. Scores of Muslims could be seen scattered across the mountain, many trying to make the climb.
As I was watching the people climb the mountain, a man caught my eye. He had a beautiful turban with a circular pattern, a thick mustache, and kind dark eyes. His wrinkles displayed his wisdom and I knew I had to talk to him. I approached him and began a conversation.
I learned that he had lived in the small city below this blessed mountain his entire life. As I took a photo of him, he asked me to wait for a minute. He walked inside a home, brought out a man with a bright white beard, furrowed eyebrows, and once again, kind eyes. Just like the first man, his face was illuminated with wisdom. The first man told me that he was his best friend and they had been friends their whole life. I watched them tease each other as I took photos, and I could only imagine the lifetime of experiences they have had together and the tens of thousands of people they had watched climb the mountain.
As I walked away, I smiled realizing that I had discovered a hidden gem so far away from home, and so far away from the main city.
The next day we began our journey to another beautiful gem, known as the Enlightened City: Medina. The drive was about five hours long but we made a stop along the way at Quba Mosque, most well known for being the first Mosque ever built during the Prophet Muhammad’s time. Beautiful tarps were drawn across the top of the mosque in place of a roof, blocking the pounding heat of the sun and leaving beautiful patterns down below over the worshippers. We prayed our mid-day prayer and continued on our way to our final destination, the Prophet’s mosque in Medina.
Ever since I was young, I was told stories of the serenity that surrounded the city of Medina. When I arrived, I realized that the stories did no justice to what my eyes beheld. There was an unspoken and invisible feeling that shrouded all of Medina. A calm, hushing sensation that flowed through every person’s heart.
This was the city with generous and kind people that welcomed the Prophet and his followers when his own city of Mecca made them refugees. The city and the people were beloved to the Prophet and Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him), but it also is the city that contains his grave and the graves of his two closest companions. Everything about the Prophet’s Mosque was beautiful, from the elegant gates, the countless minarets, to the stunning umbrellas shading the sun. As I walked into the Prophet’s Mosque for the first time, I felt a wave of emotions come over me.
Muslims are taught from a young age that the Prophet had the utmost modesty, the greatest character, and the kindest personality. He was the prime example, the epitome of role models. I very well could have been standing where his feet once touched the ground. As I passed by his grave, I thought of all the lessons he had taught me through his sayings and actions, and I asked God to send peace and blessings upon him.
Finally, the trip had come to an end. I felt heartsick leaving the Enlightened City, but I realized that the lessons, conversations, and experiences I had gained would hopefully light the way for the rest of my life. One thing I prayed for was to be able to come to these blessed places again.