Mecca - The Citadel of Faith

  • Faheem Jeelani
  • Publish Date: May 6 2019 4:01AM
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  • Updated Date: May 6 2019 4:02AM
Mecca - The Citadel of FaithFile Photo

Pilgrims en route Mecca would attend smaller fairs and festivals before arriving at the Sanctuary for the main ceremony. A poetry competition would be held in nearby oasis town of Taif, where poets across Hejaz and other parts of Arabia would assemble and demonstrate their oratory skills. Desert fables, homages to Gods and odes to mistresses were narrated in huge gatherings. The best poem would be mounted on the Kaaba. After the contest the poets would join other pilgrims— a swarm of shaman dancers dancing in trance, some sorcerers juggling their skills, enchanters rolling their bodies along the dusty paths leading to Kaaba; the festive liturgy running till late in the night —the fire lighting up the horizons of Mecca and its surroundings. The markets would be buzz with Arabian dyes, perfumes and rugs from far off Nabatean lands. Musicians with their tambourines loose hair flying in wreath would fill the tiny alleys of Mecca. Heretics perched on nooks and corners of Meccan markets mumbling within. The city abuzz with life and trade.

Mecca has a long history. Gibbon in his seminal work ‘Decline and Fall of Roman Empire’ mentions how Greeks knew about Kaaba. Greek historians have claimed to write about a temple in Arabia which is sacred to Aribis- the desert dwellers- a name Greeks gave to the people of Arabia.

Mecca had had numerous names. The earliest known name is the biblical ‘Baca’.Baca in Arabic transforms to ‘lack of stream’. Indeed Mecca has always been a dry place.

Jurham was a tribe into whom Prophet Abraham’s son Ishmael had married into. Over the years after prophet Ishmael, Jurhams controlled Mecca and the sanctuary. This had continued for few centuries, before Khuza another tribe took over Kaaba. It is in the reign of Khuza, Amr of Luhayy that paganism began in Kaaba. It began when Amr received a deity of Hubal as a gift. He ordered to place the deity in the Kaaba. Other families also proceeded to place their idols in the Kaaba including the Arab pantheon and three daughters of God: al Lat, Manat and al-Uzzat. This was around at the beginning of Christian era.

Consequently after next 400-500 years, in 5th century AD, Quraysh — a tribe of Ishmael’s descendants come into the picture. Zayd bin Kilab who was fondly called as Qusayy ‘the little stranger’ married into an elite Khoza family in Mecca and took over its reins. He was very intelligent and entire Mecca had grown fond of him. Qusayy regarded himself as the direct descendent of Ishmael and as such someone who was born to look after Kaaba. Qusayy is also regarded to have re-discovered the Zam Zam well, after being in oblivion for centuries. Qusayy was the direct forefather of a man who in another hundred years was to change the destiny of Meccans and entire Hejaz.

The journey to Mecca and Haj is compulsory to all Muslims. Religious obligation aside, one can find a numerous reasoning logic for such an arduous pillar of faith. For how I see it, the main pilgrimage Haj or the lesser pilgrimage Umrah, is meant to instil travel bug in Muslims. To travel across thousands of kilometres and experience the diversity of God’s creation in His own house. Mecca is probably the first city every Muslim hears of. Right from our childhood it is one city and place that finds a way into our consciousness. The sight of cuboid swathed in a black cloth is imprinted in our minds. What it exactly meant was not known to me.

Over the years I’ve carried my battles with faith and questions that surround me. I’m by no means someone very religious. The inner strife has always followed me in matters of faith and belief. Amongst this was the narrative I had somehow convinced myself of. The ostentatiousness craze led by Saudi government had defiled the value of Kaaba. I believed the spiritual sacredness no longer exists in Mecca. I couldn’t understand. Early this month when I visited Mecca on account of Umrah, I carried these premonitions and biases with me. I performed my first Umrah late into the night when we first reached Mecca.

I was largely unfazed, still grappling with scepticism. What brings a sea of men and women to this landscape, which is not only harsh but unwelcoming too? The Hejaz mountains which surround Kaaba have the harshest terrain; sharp knife edged rocky surface. In course of my time at Mecca I realized, Kaaba gives you what you bring to it. My subsequent trips to Kaaba and Haram over the next few days did something to me. What exactly, I’m not sure. Perhaps, it is those in explainable feelings that have no physical reality to it. Standing tall one afternoon, under bright mid Arabian sun, in front of this cuboid, which has been there at that place since thousands of years, the sweat and belief of Prophets mixed in its foundation, the stillness of hot smudgy air around it broken by a pigeon flight, the circumambulating devotees chanting holy verses, in those tiny fleeting seconds Kaaba revealed itself to me. The magic under its sanctuary was well and truly over me. The noor of omnipresent God. He lights it up in the heart of his devotee, and what is unseen is disclosed. The nothingness of God’s radiance and the soul of a pilgrim are alight. He and you become One.