Last month, February 2013, I was given the great privilege to visit Mecca for Umrah (lesser pilgrimage). The following video (below) highlights the photos, videos, and audio recordings I was able to capture during my visit to the holy city and Al Masjid, Al Haraam (The Holy Mosque).
After arriving late Wednesday evening, we set our alarms for 3:00am. When entering the Holy Mosque for the first time, two dear friends of mine were on each side of me. We walked inside hand in hand while the suspense of seeing the Ka’aba was building. It was beautiful; enormous but not intimidating, majestic yet strangely familiar. By 4:00am we were in front of the Ka'aba in Masjid Al Haraam (the Sacred Mosque) beginning Tawaf (circumambulation of the Ka'aba 7 times). At approximately 5:30am, we were praying Fajr (dawn) prayer in a congregation of millions. [The place was bursting at the seams- First, the King had welcomed all Muslims to perform Umrah - during the next 6 months, pilgrims will not be required to acquire a visa in order to enter the country for Umrah. Second, this is the weekend of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and some Muslims (incorrectly) consider it a more auspicious time to visit Mecca.]
Next, we began Sa'i, which involves walking back and forth between two mountains: As-Safa and Al-Marwah 7 times. All pilgrims performing Hajj and Umrah must perform this ritual, reenacting the example of the wife of the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) Hagar, who walked hastily back and forth between the two mountains 7 times when she was searching desperately for food and water for her infant son Ismael. The opening of the well of ZamZam was the answer to her prayers - water sprung forth for her, and in Masjid Al-Haram millions drink from the same well everyday. It's the cleanest, smoothest water I've ever tasted. Finally, once we completed Sa'i, we sat down on the floor that was covered with short pieces of hair, like a barber shop or salon that needs sweeping. The last ritual of Umrah is to cut a finger-tip length of hair (for women) or shave the head (for men - some men also just cut their hair enough so that it is noticeable). What I've experienced this month is what millions around the world could only dream of.
On Friday before congregational prayer, it took an hour just to exit the mosque. Everywhere we turned there were masses of people – pilgrims even laid prayer rugs in the stairwells, as the entire place was absolutely overflowing with people. We had to hold each others hands to not lose each other. Everyday we saw groups of men carrying the caskets of men, women, and children from cities near and far all the way to the Ka’aba.
I was overwhelmed seeing how earnestly millions upon millions of pilgrims are circumambulate the Ka’aba in worship and in prayer night and day. I had never before witnessed a monument that unifies nearly 1.5 billion people across numerous languages, cultures, ethnicities, ages, and economic classes. The prayer area was diverse, resonating with the beauty of worshippers of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Everywhere I turned, going upstairs, downstairs, around, forwards, backwards, and even exiting the mosque, there were more and more people.
There was no entertainment - no concert, no amusement park, no performer. The Holy Mosque is simply crowded by worshippers, the elderly, adults, youth, and children alike, eager to pray and ask Allah for forgiveness.