Outfit Of The Day
Top – Ethnic kurta from Khaadi, Malaysia
Black leggings – Pantaloons, India
Chappals – Street bazaar, India
Necklace – Dressup
Scarf – Makkah, Saudi Arabia
For a Muslim, the Kaa’ba and the Haram area are one of the most sacred sites in the Islamic world. Why, you may ask? What is so significant about this black cube-like structure and why do millions from around the world throng to the city of Makkah each year to perform Umrah and Hajj?
It is a pillar of Islam to perform Hajj at least once in a person’s lifetime. Umrah is optional. To perform these pilgrimages, one must travel to the city of Makkah and perform a series of rituals in the Haram. The Haram literally translates to ‘holy site’ or ‘sanctuary’ in Arabic. This is the site on which the Kaa’ba has been built and the surrounding area of the holy mosque.
As described in my previous article on my personal Hajj experience, the Kaa’ba is a cube-like building covered in a black cloth (Kiswah). This cloth is adorned with Arabic calligraphy and a new one is thrown over during the period of Ramadan. The Kaa’ba is known as the House of Allah, and is located within the Masjid Al-Haram. Know that this is the most sacred of all Islamic sites because all prayers conducted by Muslims around the world are directed in the path of the Kaa’ba. No, this isn’t idol worshipping – the Kaa’ba is only a representative of the House of Allah which is in the above heavens. The direction of which all Muslims pray towards is what is most significant and important in this act.
Building the Kaa’ba
The Kaa’ba was originally built using granite quarried from the nearby hills. Note that it stands on a marble base and is approximately 40-42 feet in height. The interior of the Kaa’ba is made of marble and limestone. It has one entrance, which is often partially covered by cloth-like tablets with Arabic inscriptions and golden Qur’anic verses. It is opened twice a year for a ceremony known as the cleaning of the Kaa’ba. This is done with simple brooms with the use of holy Zam-Zam water and rose water.
Each corner of the Kaa’ba has different indications – the northern corner is called Ruknu l-Iraqi (the Iraqi corner), the western corner is called Ruknu sh-Shami (the Levantine corner), the southern corner is called Ruknu l-Yemeni (the Yemeni corner) and the eastern corner is called Al-Hajaru Al-Aswad because this is the corner of which the Black Stone has been placed. The story behind the Black Stone goes as follows; it was sent in fragments during the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Representing objects that were sent from the heavens, these were initially white in colour and placed on one corner of the Kaa’ba and protected by a silver oval shaped object. Muslims touch and kiss this stone and so they say that their sins are therefore washed off. It is their sins that have turned the colour of the fragments black over the years.
A semi-circular wall is seen on the side of the Kaa’ba. They say that this used to be a part of the Kaa’ba, for the holy structure was rebuilt many times over the past centuries. It is closed off during prayer time.
The Holy Qur’an states that the construction of the Kaa’ba was anointed to the Prophet Ibrahim. It further states that Almighty himself showed Prophet Ibrahim as to where to lay the foundation stone and begin construction – around 2130 BC. Years later, during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the people living in Makkah were idol worshippers. They placed idols on the inside of the Kaa’ba and prayed to them. When Islam was finally received by the people of Makkah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) entered the Kaa’ba and destroyed each and every one of the idols. During his lifetime, and in the years to come, the Kaa’ba has been repaired and reconstructed many times.
The Masjid Al-Haram is the surrounding area around the Kaa’ba. Including indoor and outdoor space that can accommodate over two million worshippers, it has undergone many repairs and constructions as well over the years.
Unlike in mosques around the world, segregation here (they say) is not necessary. Women and men are allowed to pray together but Saudi officials and guards in the Haram close off sections and segregate prayer areas for women and men. I would however like to stress on the fact that this is not necessary.
The first major expansion of the Haram under the Saudi royals was done between the years 1955 and 1973. Four more minarets were added, the ceiling was refurbished and the floor was replaced with artificial stone and marble. The Sa’i area, where the short run between Al-Safa and Al-Marwah is performed, was enclosed via roofing. Later on, a new wing and outdoor prayer area was added. The new wing for prayers can be accessed even today through the King Fahd Gate. This extension lasted six years and was completed in the year 1988.
During the third extension, more minarets, more gates, three domes and other modern developments such as air conditioning, escalators and a drainage system were added. This took place between the years 1988 and 2005. If you happen to travel to Makkah even today, the fourth extension is currently under way. This began in the year 2005. Saudi officials say it will be completed only in the year 2020. The Haram area is to be expanded to increase the capacity of pilgrims to over two million on the inside. The northern expansion of the mosque will take a year and a half to complete. A new gate after the King Abdullah will be added along with two new minarets. All closed areas will be air conditioned after the expansion.
There are many controversies regarding the expansion projects. One is that many Islamic heritage sites have been destroyed in order to give way for the expansion, this includes the house where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born (which has been rebuilt as a library), the first Islamic school where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught which was also flattened and so on. The expansion also does not allow every pilgrim and every Muslim a clear view of the Holy Kaa’ba. The further the expansion, the further and lesser the view. Currently, from personal experience, only from the very near areas can the Kaa’ba be sighted. This was rather disappointing for me, because one enters the Haram in the hopes to pray looking at the Kaa’ba but what is the point of it when you cannot see it?
**As published in the Ceylon Today newspapers**
As the fifth pillar of Islam, Hajj is a religious duty of each Muslim around the world. It is said in the Holy Qur’an that a Muslim must partake in Hajj at least once in a lifetime, unless unable to do so due to financial and other personal reasons.
To me, it was a scary thought. Hajj isn’t easy they say, Hajj tests you in all ways they say, Hajj is a sacrifice they say, Hajj is a blessing they say. I’d heard too many stories, possibly not much. Whatever I’d heard, I’d seen on the television and tried to imagine through photographs couldn’t do justice to the experience itself however.
I was scared, I was nervous and I was also just as excited.
Saudi Arabia is not as daunting as many would say it is. Yes, life becomes a little monotonous there but it is the spirit of Islamic brotherhood, the inner faith and undying love for religion that keep the people going and their lives moving ahead each day. For there is nothing else to offer in the city of Makkah except prayer, supplication and faith.
We reached there on a Monday. Ten kilometres away from Makkah (on flight) pilgrims are asked to enter a state of holiness (known as Ihram). Men’s outfits consist of two seamless clothes and for the women ordinary maxi-like dresses (often in white or a pale colour). In heart and mind, the intention to perform the pilgrimage is declared. The ideology behind entering into Ihram is to show equality amongst all pilgrims; there is no difference between one another.
Tawaf and Sa’ay
Upon entering Makkah (after waiting in the airport and struggling with personal luggage, travelling a couple of miles to get to the hotel, taking a small nap and once again getting ready to leave – still in the state of Ihram) pilgrims perform a welcoming Tawaf. Tawaf means walking seven times counter clockwise around the Kaa’ba. To those who don’t know what the Kaa’ba is, it is a cube-like building covered in a black cloth. Known as the House of Allah, it is located within the Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah and is the most sacred location in Islam as during all prayers conducted around the world, Muslims face the Kaa’ba direction. I should add that this is not to be associated with idol worship for the Kaa’ba is representative of the House of Allah in the heavens. The direction of which all Muslims pray towards is what is most significant in this act.
Our Tawaf was conducted in the heat of the afternoon. This was a test of strength and faith. One can do this at one’s own pace but as Hajj is most often conducted in groups, it is best to stick with the group and perform each ritual together. Once Tawaf is completed, pilgrims are asked to conduct two rakaat prayers by Makam Ibrahim. This is another important site within the Masjid Al-Haram. Prayers are followed by drinking holy water known as Zam-Zam. The original well was located in close proximity to the Kaa’ba but today the well is closed up and the water is available in multiple locations around the entire Haram.
The next step is known as Sa’ay. This is the act of running or walking between the two hills, Safa and Marwah seven times. Before the expansion of the Haram, this was conducted in open air and on bare ground. Today Sa’ay can be performed inside the Haram, in a cool air-conditioned space and on three separate levels. On either side of this pathway are remains of the two hills. After Sa’ay the men shave their heads and the women clip a portion of their hair. Once this is complete, the state of Ihram can be removed.
We were given a day’s rest before we moved to Mina.
Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah
Mina is where Hajj begins. Mina would be our home for the next three to five days. We had to pack light and also ensure the bags were small for we would also be travelling to Arafat for a day and Muzdalifah for a night.
Before heading to Mina, we had to once again enter into a state of Ihram. This must be kept until we returned to Mina, which used to be bare land. Those who partook in the pilgrimage decades ago would tell you they had to sleep under the starry skies on the bare ground. Today, it is filled with thousands of tents and cushioned sofa beds for added comfort. The Hajj pilgrim in today’s world does not truly in that sense experience Mina. We spent a single day there and then headed to Arafat on Thursday night.
Arafat is quite similar to Mina but there are no comforts in terms of cushioned sofas here. Pilgrims often come prepared with floor mats and bedding instead. The group scholar delivers a sermon firstly. The significance of doing this is because Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) delivered his last sermon on this very ground. It is here, that pilgrims then offer supplication, repent and atone for their sins and seek forgiveness. One can do so from noon onwards and this is known as ‘standing before God’ (Wukuf). Hajj is incomplete if this is not performed.
By evening, pilgrims leave for Muzdalifah. Here, there are no tents. We slept under the starry skies after gathering small pebbles for the next part of Hajj. On Saturday morning we returned to Mina. This was the day of Eid ul-Adha, Hajj festival. It is also the first of three days where pilgrims walk to Jamaraat and demonstrate the stoning of the devil. Three large stone pillars exist in Jamaraat. These pillars signify the devil. Each pillar can be stoned on each of the three days.
Once this is complete, a few more rituals such as an animal sacrifice and trimming of the hair follow. On the same or following day (Monday) we returned to Makkah and performed a final Tawaf in completing Hajj around the Kaa’ba on Tuesday.
On a personal note, there are no true ‘difficulties’ during Hajj except for having to deal with large crowds of people, the blazing heat of the desert land and perhaps having to use a common washroom at all times. Even though the crowd can get overwhelming, even though the heat can dehydrate you (it did!) and even though the washrooms are not all that clean at all times, you somehow pull through it all. That I find is the most amazing thing about going through this enlightening experience. On a normal occasion, I would never have survived and made a huge fuss about everything but over there, on holy ground, it’s different. You are different. You find that you are stronger, patient and more determined than you think. Strong enough to walk miles from place to place, deal with the heat, be patient enough to face trying ordeals and determined enough to finish what you came to do.
People are right when they say that Hajj changes you. Maybe not drastically but in some ways at least. There’s an inner part of you that is completely satisfied, a part of you that is amazed, a part of you that is also a little sad that it’s all over, and a part of you that longs to go back once more.
**As published in the Ceylon Today newspapers**
My first weekly snap after coming back from Saudi Arabia is this picture I took when in Medina. This city is known to be the second most holiest city in Islam after Makkah. Devout Muslims around the world would be able to easily identify the mosque I have captured in this picture. It is Masjid Al Nawabi (the Mosque of Prophet Muhammad PBUH – Peace Be Upon Him) in Medina. I will go into detail about this mosque and the city when I post about my stay there. This picture shows a side view of one minaret of the mosque and also a partial view of the beautiful umbrellas on the outside.
Here are a couple of images I managed to click during my two weeks in Makkah. I can guess that many of you are really confused about some of the names and words and places I’ve mentioned but not to fear, I’m working on a separate blog post and will give a detailed description of everything with more information as well.
Hope you all like these! Xoxo
While I was away I packed my Comfort Pain Reliever Balm by Spa Ceylon Ayurveda with me. I didn’t think I’d use it all that very much but carried it in my little pouch of medicines just in case.
It definitely came in handy when I had sneezing fits in the wee hours of the morning and aching feet after long hours of walking in the haram. Inclusive of spices such as cinnamon, peppermint, black pepper, lemongrass and cloves what it claims to do is provide fast action and comforting relief from muscular body pain, joint aches and sprains, soothes sores and muscle strain while it also soothes and comforts the senses.
I’d have to say that it does the trick in soothing and comforting the senses as well as provide relief for muscular aches. As for sprains it doesn’t quite work for me. I had a terrible foot sprain one time and even I generously applied it and massaged well and proper, I didn’t have the relief and comfort I was needing. However I must add that inhaling the spicy fragrance cures a mild headache and blocked nose.
Overall I’d give it a thumbs up! Xoxo