From Madinah, we travelled between 5-6 hours through the desert before we reached Makkah. Throughout the bus journey that I was awake, I thought about how arduous the journey must have been for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the small group of Muslims who had to leave their home, properties and for some, family members to make the migration through the desert where the days could be extremely hot and the nights, extremely cold either on foot or/and on camels.
As we approached to enter the city of Makkah, I was reminded of how excited I was to see buildings after a long drive from Los Angeles through the desert to Las Vegas. What an irony indeed, from Sin City in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2013 to the Holy City of Makkah, Saudi Arabia in 2015. Both located in the desert with contrasting differences.
Throughout the entire journey, we were all in ihraam and within the hour of our arrival in Makkah, we performed our first umrah close to 0100hrs, setting us up for a meeting with the Kaabah. This would be my first meeting with the Kaabah, also known as Baitullah or God’s house.
Walking towards the Kaabah, I had many things running through my mind – what might happen to me being one of the biggest question.
And then there it was, the Kaabah. Nothing happened. I didn’t get emotional as how I’ve heard others tell me before. I felt weird. And soon, I was circumambulating the Kaabah. This is WHEN IT HAPPENED.
Pilgrims circumambulate the Kaabah
I didn’t cry but I was told that the devil will whisper in your ears to distract you and it truly did. I swear that I have never been more distracted in my mind and heart at the same time about my faith. I was close enough to just stop circumambulating and leave by the second round because of thoughts that out of nowhere, entered my mind but I somehow managed to find myself back through continuous recitations of ‘Astaghfirullah’ which means I seek forgiveness from Allah and complete all 7 rounds.
This was then followed by the Sa’i or running/walking/jogging between two hills, Safa and Marwa, 7 times. This process of Sa’i was a different challenge from the circumambulation. This time, I found myself questioning about my abilities as a person because as history has it, pilgrims perform the Sa’i to remember and reflect on Hajar (Hagar), Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) wife, who was left near the Kaabah with young Prophet Ismail (Isaac) with one bag of water left by Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) as commanded by God.
Hajar then ran between the two hills 7 seven times in search of assistance before God sent down an angel to dig out ‘Zam Zam’ water from underground to provide sustenance for Hajar and Prophet Ismail (PBUH). Once this was done, cutting of at least 3 strands of hair is required before one has completed the umrah.
The whole entire process takes between 2-3 hours.
This is where I finally understood why plenty of adults have told me that it is better to perform one’s umrah or haj when younger. Why? Because you need to be physically and mentally healthy and strong.
Each time we need to perform our umrah, we need to leave Makkah to enter an area where the meeqat is located for us to make our intention. This area is also referred to as ‘Halal land’ whereas Makkah and Madinah is considered ‘Haram land’. In this particular trip, I performed a total of 4 umrah, the first and compulsory umrah is the arrival or welcome umrah. Subsequently, it was umrah Jiranah, umrah Tanaheim and finally, umrah Hudaibiya.
On our way for our final umrah when the bus broke down
Besides performing umrahs, we were also brought sightseeing or in this case, visiting of historical places that have been mentioned in the Quran. Visiting places of importance to understand where the Prophets before us have been.
These places include:
– Location where Prophet Adam and Hawa (Eve) had met or were reunited on earth
– Location where Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) had gone to sacrifice his son, Prophet Ismail (Isaac)
– Location where Prophet Muhammad had hid at when he was escaping from his Quraysh tribe
– Location where Prophet Muhammad had received his first revelation as God’s Messenger
Jabal Rahmah in Arafah
These visits gave a lot of context and insight into how life was like, especially how the Prophets had climbed mountains in the middle of night, in complete darkness to seek solace or fulfill God’s requests. With a better understanding, then there is more appreciation for the sacrifices and challenges they made.
Being in Makkah though, is a totally different lifestyle from Madinah. I can’t speak for everyone but I found myself sleeping between 3-5 hours per night and really walking a lot more than I was in Madinah. Schedule seemed to be a bit more tight as well as between each call for prayer to the next with the exception of Subuh, is only about 1-2 hours each time.
But I suppose, it is okay to have a lack of sleep when you’re in Makkah because you never know when you’ll be ‘invited’ by God again and you want to maximise your time in prayer or in trying to gather as many good deeds as possible.
There is a believe that one prayer in Makkah is 100,000 times better than one prayer in any other mosque in the world. This benefit also applies to circumambulating the Kaabah, performing the umrah and even, just looking at the Kaabah. With such a carrot being dangled at you, why won’t anyone want to maximise that opportunity.
But that’s not all, there are special areas within Makkah and Kaabah itself that God has given his guarantee to fulfill anyone’s prayers. Those areas, like Raudah in Madinah, has people hustling over it day and night.
However, the most important benefit of Makkah is perhaps God’s word that when anti-Christ or Dajjal comes to earth, it will not be able to enter Makkah and Madinah. Therefore, all who remain within these two cities will be protected and safeguarded by an army of angels.