Sunday, September 06, 2009

Reminiscence of the Holy Land

Since it's Ramadhan, I think I'll write about my umrah experience (it was a few months ago)

Not wanting to sound preachy, I'll relate my observations based on the book I'm reading - The Hadj, An American's Pilgrimage to Mecca, by Michael Wolfe (1993)

Excerpts from the book are in Bold Italic.

The first thing I discovered about Mecca was that I'd been spelling the name wrong. No one here said MEH-ka. They said ma-KAH. "Do you spell Manhattan men-HET-en?" one of the English-speaking Makkans asked me.
-Yes, the English word Mecca is a corruption of the name Makkah. Same like mosque, it is a French corruption of the word "masjid"

It (Makkah) was also strictly off-limits to non-believers. Another sign, at a freeway exit, read :
Some Westerners think of Makkah as forbidden to foreigners. In fact, it exists to receive them and is largely composed of them.
-True. Most of the people there are foreigners. You can find blonde,blue eyed jamaah with curly, dark skinned or yellow skinned (or whatever coloured) people all congregating in the same house (Masjidil Haram), no difference in rank or class to separate them.

-The author also excerpted Malcom X's hadj experience:
During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug)- while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blonde, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the "white" Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.

At any other mosque on earth people prepared for this moment (prayer) by forming straight lines and facing Makkah. At Makkah the prayer is circular. Any way you face, you face the shrine (kaabah)
-I find this very amusing. At any spot in Masjidil Haram, you wouldn't need to wonder where is the direction of the kiblah. And while praying, just look up ahead at the kaabah (instead of focusing your eyes on the sajadah)

I scanned the crowds to locate the imam. He stood near the Ka'ba door.
-The whole time I was there, I failed to locate the imam. Better luck next time Insyaallah ;-)

After the last salaam, we came to our feet. This time the imam faced the shrouded bodies (janazah) on the biers.
-In Makkah & Madinah, all the 5 daily prayers are followed immediately by Solat Janazah, no du'a recital after prayers.

Today, the well (Zamzam) has been relocated to a wedge-shaped ampitheater underground. Hadjis not content merely to drink dumped buckets of the liquid on their bodies, and strangers towelled off each other's back. It was like a friendly bath house.
-The Zamzam underground ampitheater was closed during my visit. Zamzam water was placed in water dispensers all over the masjid instead (was also the case in Masjid Nabawi in Madinah)

I gave the boy riyals (the author wanted to buy robes). He passed the bills to the blind man (the seller), who put them into a box and handed back a small packet of Kleenex. "He owes you a half riyal" the boy explained. "But we don't use coins here. Coins make noise in the mosque. And the ihram towels don't have pockets. It's a nuisance"
-This is still true (the author went there in 1991 or 1992). I got chewing gums for change at a supermarket in Makkah. I'm not sure whether it's only in Makkah or the whole of Saudi Arabia do not use coins. I did not have small change that needed to be in coins in Madinah, they were all in riyal notes.

-However, on the "no pockets" note, people have become creative and invented ihram belts with a zipped compartment where you can keep some money / small pair of scissors in it. Why do you need scissors? Read on :-)

From what I could see, big cars were in demand here. During the last few years cheaper Japanese compacts had nosed them out of the US markets, but guzzlers were still favoured in the Gulf. Their weight and huge engines supplied the traction drivers needed in the desert and their egregious fuel consumption bothered no one.
-Very true! After all, Saudis drive on the left hand side. And they are big producers of oil. Petrol here costs 24 cent/litre (it is also really cheap in Iran - see my earlier post )

Alarm clocks were superflous in Makkah. The five calls to prayer were piped through speakers all over the city. I read until midnight,slept a few hours and woke to the adhan about 3.30am
-The Adhan in Makkah & Madinah are called twice, the first one about 30 minutes prior to the actual call to prayer, for preparation.

The night before I had washed a few thobes (robes) and hung them to dry on the balcony. The gowns weren't wet long. The desert air had done its work in minutes.
-The air there (same for Iran - true to Middle East countries I believe) is very dry. We needed lip balms as our lips have already cracked.

Profability flowed in both directions. Hadjis poorer and far richer than myself defrayed the cost of their pilgrimage by trading. Bukharans sold fine carpets on the sidewalks. Nigerians hawked kola nuts and beads.
- I loved the sight of different people from various nations trading. They just spread out their items on a piece of cloth on the road and the trade begins. People bargained in different languages. I heard shouts of murah! murah! Very enterprising indeed.

The author chances upon a shop that had a signage read:
Experimental Establishment
For pilgrims from Non-Muslim countries
Sacrificial coupons hear (sp.)

It was a gift shop. The government-coupon dispenser sold pilgrims sacrificial sheep.
-Although I went during the non-Haj season, I did see some similar signages.

I was browsing here (at the gift shop) one morning when a dozen Tadjik pilgrims came into the store. These men were among the first post-Soviet hadjis in 70 years (remember, it was the early 90s then).
The Qur'an had been forbidden by the Soviets so long that a copy in Tashkent currently (at that time) cost a hundred dollars. Here they cost five. The Tadjiks left the shop with a dozen copies.
-This intrigued me as there are/were people from other parts of the world who are/were inaccesible to the Qur'an due to government rulings.
Btw, you can buy the Qur'ans here and donate (wakaf) them to the Masjid.

In order to put aside the ihram clothes, a pilgrim who plans to return to them for the hadj is supposed to have a desacralizing haircut. Generally, this means a token snip of 3 or 4 haircuts.
-That's the use of the scissors :-) Or you could borrow from other pilgrims. Unfortunately, a member of our group accepted the scissors offer from "someone who was waiting there, conveniently having a pair of scissors in hand", later to be charged a sum of money for the scissors. So better to bring your own.

Wow it's quite a bit of text-only post already, eyes are straining, and I haven't finished reading the book. So another post then, if more reminiscents came out from the later chapters ;-)



Blogger zhu m said...

i saw the book on you desk and i thought, darn i gotta read that too :)

12:22 AM  

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