By Nadia Cassim
I was only twelve years old when I visited the Holy city of Mecca for the first time. Being that young, and naïve, I barely understood the significance of the journey I was about to embark on. It was just one of those family voyages that I happened to be a part of. I recall the wave of heat that passed over me when we stepped out of the air-conditioned taxi onto the sidewalk next to the old Khaugeer Hotel- a well-known hotel, the first of its kind, which in the subsequent years was demolished to make way for the more elaborate Zam Zam Towers. The white marble floors leading to the King Fahd gate gleamed brightly in the sunlight, almost blinding my passage to the large doors.
Seeing the Ka’bah for the first time as a child made me recall memories of all that I learnt about the History of Islam as a child. Unfortunately, its significance was lost in a mind still too young to understand the sheer enormity of being in the presence of the Almighty. What I did take back from my first visit to Mecca however- which was in Ramadan- was the importance of Islam as a religion to my existence, the significance of prayer and fasting as well as the nagging feeling- call it intuition- that I would see this beautiful place again.
I was nineteen years old and a first-year university student at Wits when I was invited to perform the sacred journey called Hajj. In all honesty, I was barely prepared and somewhat reluctant to perform such an auspicious act with a mind that was not yet convinced that this was the right time in my life to embark on such a journey. I took my chances and I have never regretted it since. Hajj was not just a spiritual journey, but a mental and physical one too. I spent the days leading up to the five days of Hajj in constant prayer, psyching myself up for the journey ahead. The Holy Mosque (Masjid-ul-Haram) and the Prophet’s Mosque (Masjid-un-Nabawi) had barely changed since my last visit.
Gazing upon the Ka’bah for the second time in my life felt as if my world had stood still. I made my most sincere dua’s gazing upon its glory. When my brother led me through the crowd to one of its walls, I felt the surge of power and magnetism envelope me and I broke down- there and then leaning against the wall- seeking God’s forgiveness for all my sins. He was there, looking down at me, telling me silently to acknowledge His might and glory.
“Yes, Almighty”, I wept “I know you are with me now and every day from hereon. You have always been with me…”
Medina was, in contrast to the hustle and bustle of Mecca, a peaceful and calm city. The Prophet’s Mosque was a sort of refuge from the busyness of life, the ups and downs of the tortured soul in desperate need of silence. I tried reading on the Riadhul Jannah- I was fortunate to have read on it on my first visit to the Rawda Mubarak (the burial site of the Prophet Muhammed and two of his close companions)- but was ushered away by the enormous crowd. Nevertheless, greeting the Prophet is always a humbling experience.
It was last year, whilst reminiscing about my Hajj experience, that my heart did a summersault and thudded like a wild animal beating against the trunk of a tree. I knew then and there that the Almighty was calling me back to His holy land. Somehow, I just knew it. There are many unexplainable things in this world, and this is one of them. Allah was talking to me. It is like Rumi once said, “there’s a voice that doesn’t use words- Listen”.
How would I get to the Holy land though? I was divorced and therefore had no Mehram. My brother had a family now that he needed to look after and my mother was recently remarried. By the grace of Allah, my stepfather announced that we would be journeying to Mecca for Umrah in May of this year. In the beginning of June 2014, my mother, stepfather, baby daughter and I travelled to the holy lands.
This time around though, my experience was significantly different. Not only had my life experiences matured my perspective on faith, but I was seeking the wisdom, grace and blessings of the Almighty for myself and my children. Gazing upon the Ka’bah for the third time was nothing short of miraculous! I was within the noor (light) of Allah, embraced by His mercy, a small and insignificant slave in the presence of its master. In short, I was at His command. I was nothing without Him. I am nothing without Him. I live and breathe for Him, because of Him.
The Ka’bah- a majestic cube in the eyes of a believer- represented hope and forgiveness for me.
“Here I am my Lord, here I am!” I proclaimed in my heart “Here I am answering your call!” The tears flowed down my face as I felt these words etched into my soul, digging deeper into my core as I walked around the Sacred House praising Him.
I spent my days in Mecca staring at the Haram from the Hotel room at night and walking, praying and contemplating within its walls during the day. I found solace and a deeper connection to my Creator when making Tawaaf and asking for His mercy and forgiveness. Would the Almighty ask me to His holy land again, I pondered. I hope that He does. Medina was just as beautiful and I spent the last few days in deep thought and reflection in the most peaceful city in the world. All in all, gazing upon the Ka’bah, no matter how many times is always a spiritually uplifting and awe striking experience.