Al Masjid Al Haram, Makkah, May 2015
To life’s unanticipated adventure, where treasures abound.
I was standing on the marbled ground outside the mosque, hotels rising on my right. A clock tower, green lit against the dark clear sky, ticked its way to midnight. Warm wind swirled around. A man’s voice reciting Quran played in the background.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” my friend Danah asked, examining my face.
I nodded, speechless at its castle-like entrance: two gray and white towers highlighted by white and green lights, three high archways making way for three humungous doors, thick gray marble walls striped horizontally in the middle with Islamic art of green and gold.
Al Masjid Al Haram. I grinned as I remembered the Arabic signpost on our way here.
After one hour drive from Jeddah, I have finally touched this ground.
Ever since I have reverted to Islam and after almost 2 years of my expat life in Jeddah, I have longed to visit this place. I wanted to personally see the monumental Ka’bah, the direction I face in my Salah; that every Muslim faces during Salah.
However, traveling alone in Middle East wasn’t recommended. Fortunately my friend Danah, a fellow Filipina and her Egyptian husband Dr. Ayman volunteered to accompany me. And with their suggestion, I added Umrah to my agenda.
I was glad I did. I had dug deep and beyond the grandiose architecture of the Al Masjid Al Haram. And most importantly, I had solved what my journey in the past four years has been all about.
I was greeted by chaos from the hundreds, probably thousands, of Muslims outside the mosque heading into different directions.
I didn’t mind about it. I was rather happy to join the pack. It was like arriving at the assembly area of a 10km fun run. But in the pilgrimage here, there’s no definite start and end time. It’s a multiplayer activity without time limits; all Muslims can walk or sprint to the finish line at their convenient time all throughout the year.
As required of us, they wore the same clothes as we do. Men, like Dr. Ayman, wore plain white robes, wrapped on their torsos and lower limbs. Women, like me and Danah, wore our loose black abayas and hijab, though some wore white, showing only our faces, hands and feet. No accessories or make-up allowed. This identical attire made us stick close together so we would not lose each other.
Barefooted under the slightly chilled floor, we pushed our way in through the giant doors, shoulders to shoulders with the Muslims getting in and out of the mosque. Through the thick ornamented pillars and under the alluring golden chandeliers ahead, I caught an unusual setup for a place of worship.
The walkway, separating male and female sections, was lined with jugs serving Zamzam water. Carpets were laid all over the area where Muslims hang around. Some plopped down quietly, reading Quran. Some stretched supine, snoozing. The rest sat or prostrated, praying. Children near their mothers drew my attention, playing, eating or crying.
Bookshelves! I exclaimed in my head; my pupils dilated as they spotted it everywhere. It contains Mushafs, copies of Quran in pure Arabic.
What a relaxing environment, I thought. No furniture, picture frames, statues, or sculptures. Just plain and artsy, and elegant Islamic architecture.
We headed to the center where the roof is the cloudless sky; where the Ka’bah sits from Abraham’s time. Just as what I have seen on Google Images, there it was. A huge rectangular house with a golden double door and a black cloth cover that has a horizontal stripe of golden patterns on each of its faces, stood out in the middle surrounded by pilgrims.
At its facade was the Station of Abraham, where Abraham’s footprint was enshrined in an old-style looking gas lamp. To its left was the Hatim, fence-like marbles curved into a crescent.
Encircling it were two round pathways attached to the second and third floor of the main structure. It gave way for more space for Tawaf, the first part of the Umrah, where Muslims circle the Ka’bah seven times, counterclockwise.
Seeing that there’s barely a space for the three of us on the ground, we climbed up to the more spacious third and began our pilgrimage.
The cold flooring was comfortable to walk on. The wall fans blowing mists soothed us from the stagnant heat and traces of drying sweat lingering in the air. The longer I stayed in the circuit, the more familiar I become with the various accents and assorted scents.
But what stood out the most, apart from the Quran recitation coming out of the speakers, were the voices praising Allah in chorus from the groups of pilgrims wearing neon green ID laces who were marching in clusters.
Allahu Akbar. Allah is the Greatest.
Subhanallah. Glory is to Allah.
Alhamdulillah. All the praise is due to Allah.
La ilaha illa Allah. There’s no God but Allah.
Astaghfirullah. I seek forgiveness from Allah.
These words, together with my gratitude, apologies and pleas, saturated the atmosphere and filled my ears for hours. All these sounds didn’t bother me at all. I was buried in my thoughts and worship.
A few circuits later, my right turns started to imitate the hands of the clock, flashing my life backwards: the present, the discovery of Islam, the arrival in Jeddah, the days of impatience, the nights of desperation, the calls to the ‘Creator of Heaven and Earth, the closed doors in the Philippines.
All of those events didn’t make sense when I connected them in its sequence before. Forward analysis always left me lost in the unknown and uncertain future.
The counterclockwise motion, on the other hand, surprisingly worked. It answered my stale question, “Why Jeddah?”
Jeddah, I realized, was just a long layover to Makkah, my destination. The day all the opportunities averted me was the beginning of my journey in my search for God.
What for me was a plain job abroad to fulfill my self-appointed obligations was also the travel and adventure I’ve been asking from God. How dumb and blind was I?
My heart, brimming with joy of these realizations, thumped harder and faster.
I inhaled deep and sighed, “Welcome home.”
Enlightened and softened by the favors of Allah, I gazed at the pilgrims doing Tawaf alongside me.
The elders who seemed to be in their 80s, skin sagged, ambled with canes on one hand with the other arm hooked to their son’s arms. Some disabled get pushed via a wheelchair.
The married couples with their children were like strolling in a park: men hugged their infants in front of them, or slung them thru a carrier, while the women carried a body bag containing milk bottles, diaper and extra baby clothes.
Young adults, pausing and posing at some posts, taking selfies and group photos with the Ka’bah.
What were their lives like? Did it flash to them as well as they round the Ka’bah? How did Allah invite them here?
I took one last glance at the Ka’bah as we close the last circuit of Tawaf. Then we headed for Sai.
Sai, the second half of the ritual, is another seven laps walking back and forth between Mt. Safa and Mt. Marwa. We paced ourselves in an enclosed high-ceiling hall, divided into two routes that stretches between the shortest distance of the two hills.
Ditto atmosphere and people. After completing Umrah, the reality has finally sinked in. I was truly at Al Masjid Al Haram.
“Are you happy?” Dr. Ayman asked while Danah giggle on his side.
“Yes,” I beamed, my eyes glowing with all of the thoughts I’ve gleaned in my brief immersion.
That I love that we’re free, children and adults, to sleep, rest and eat, play and cry inside here. Beyond a place of worship, it was a refuge.
That the uniformity of clothings stripped us off of the unessential materials in the world. Beyond simplicity, it eliminated the sense of the social ranks. Beyond modesty, it shifted beautification of our appearance to our character.
That the nurse in me reminded me of how I swaddle the babies and shroud the dead. No matter what we adorn our bodies with or how we embellish our outer world, throughout our life span, we began and will end covered in the same plain cloth.
That in this home I have proved that what strongly binds us is our values. It is not how much we know of each other or the length of time we’ve spent together. These individuals from different race didn’t feel strangers at all. Here, we’re brothers and sisters. We can harmoniously exist.
I wished I could have translated all those thoughts into words at that moment. But I was overwhelmed, overjoyed, speechless.
Exhausted, we decided to rest and leave after Fajr Salah.
When Adhan, the call for prayer, filled the mosque, everyone performing Umrah automatically paused it and arranged themselves in a line facing towards the Ka’bah. We followed suit. I pictured everyone outside stopped as well. I imagined the rings formed by the Muslims close to and around the Ka’bah.
Silence enveloped the place and the dawn prayer commenced. I realized in my prostration how fortunate I was at that moment.
To be there in my youth and to be taught in His house, of the timeless values, hidden underneath the practices, that no modernization can ever overcome.