Makkah, Saudi Arabia: Lessons from the History of Spirituality

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makkah

Makkah, Saudi Arabia: Lessons from the History of Spirituality

The giant GMC car was moving through the desert towards Makkah at a speed of 160 km/hour. Usually Arab drivers cover their car’s license plate with masking tape so cameras cannot identify the vehicle. That’s genius, isn’t it? My family was sleeping in the back seat due to the fatigue of travel, and I was staring at the driver’s carefree driving style. He had taken off his shoes and sat cross-legged on the driver’s seat as if he was sitting on his bedroom couch. Also, he was steering with a single hand while using a smartphone with the other. He really deserved an international driver’s license!

I took my mobile out of my pocket and started filming a video of the speedometer. Perhaps the driver was trying to impress me, for the moment he realized I was recording him, he quickly stepped on the accelerator and touched 220 km/hr! And the best part? When the car could not go any faster, he looked at me and conveyed the same in his broken English. I could not decide at that moment whether I should laugh at this stunt or scream out of fear. It’s really amazing how we humans can communicate with gestures and expressions even without knowing each other’s language.

Nevertheless, he slowed down a bit and we tried to engage in conversation. I knew just a few words of Arabic and with our broken sentences and gestures, it seemed we were playing our own personalized version of charades. Suddenly, he received a call on his mobile, and I got a chance to peek out of the window and enjoy the barren landscape.

On the burning sand of these deserts, someone traveled by camel with his companions 1400 years ago. That man had no son to carry his legacy, nor was there any tool to echo his message and teachings around the globe. However, he has billions of followers today, and this number is still increasing. Such was the miraculous power of his loyal students and companions, who passed every detail of his existence on to the next generation; and today we have the religion called Islam, with its literature that links directly back to the Prophet Muhammad. Every word he spoke is revealed in the holy book, Quran, or Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad other than the Quran), which are with us today as they were fourteen centuries ago. Thanks to this man, we abandoned some of our cruelest and most inhumane traditions. Whether it was the act of burying alive infant daughters or exploiting women and men mercilessly, his teachings truly transformed old Arabia and changed the course of human history. Because of him, a land that was once completely cut-off is now the destination of millions (if not billions) of people around the world. And on that day, I was one of those travelers who visit Makkah.

Makkah

Makkah – The Pilgrim’s Journey

Lost in these thoughts, I did not even realize that we had reached the outskirts of Makkah, and that the sun was about to set. One of the most amazing rituals of this land is that all of the natives welcome travelers with greetings of peace, a genuine smile and fresh food, of which you can take as much as you want! Especially during Ramadan, the month in which we fast and strive to perform good deeds, even those who barely survive on the lowest of earnings get to fill their stomachs with the most lavish and delicious meals. Once I had some leftovers, and I went outside my hotel to see whether anyone would like to have them. I literally spent about an hour offering that food to people around me and guess what? Everyone I met smiled at me and placed a hand on their stomach to tell me that they were full! It was indeed a pleasant spiritual experience to witness how easy it is to address hunger and poverty if we all become a bit more generous.

The underlying history behind every landmark and monument in this city teaches us the basic principles of sincerity, humbleness, peace and patience.

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Although the whole city is a sacred place, it is the sanctuary – the Great Mosque of Makkah – that we came to visit. It was not the first time I traveled here, but still my mind was reeling when I stepped inside. With my eyes looking down out of fear and humbleness, I crossed the long crowded corridor. The moment I stepped down the stairs leading to the courtyard of the Holy Kaaba, something unusual happened. It seemed as if all the voices became silent and I was completely blank – devoid of all thoughts and emotions. For a moment, I forgot everything about my journey and the people who accompanied me here. All I could feel was an intense light that I had never experienced before. I lifted my sight gradually with my hands up to invoke my Lord, and that first sight of Kaaba was something too divine and spiritual for an average person like me to handle. It seemed as if gravity pulled my whole existence downwards and I could not help but fall in prostration.

Yes, this is the Holy Kaaba, which traces back to the origins of my religion. This structure was built by Prophet Abraham with his son, Prophet Ismaeel, as a place of worship for the followers of his religion. This is the same structure that the polytheists in Arab society later filled with idols and used for personal and worldly gains by manipulating people on the name of religion. And this is the same structure in which Prophet Muhammad entered and broke all the idols with his staff on the historical occasion of the Triumph of Makkah – the only event in history during which land was taken without shedding a single drop of blood! And today, millions of Muslims at a time circle this Kaaba out of devotion and humbleness towards their Lord.

That was the moment I regained a sense of my life’s purpose. Everything seemed to be in its perfect place as eternal contentment and peace touched my heart. I had memorized thousands of wishes and prayers for this moment, yet I forgot every single word. Those silent prayers and tears gave me invaluable insight into the most maligned belief system.

Makkah

Makkah – Holy Kaaba

The underlying history behind every landmark and monument in this city teaches us the basic principles of sincerity, humbleness, peace and patience. I am not writing this to interfere with anyone’s religious beliefs or concepts of divinity and spirituality. My purpose is simple – to show you how far apart oppressive rules and terrifying rituals are from this religion that calls for peace, unity and submission to one God. If not for religious purposes, study the history of the Arabian Peninsula for the sake of knowledge. I am hopeful that you will reach the same conclusion: an inhumane terrorist can’t be a follower of the gentlest man who has ever walked on this Earth.

I believe that every religion in this world has people who are far removed from the worst stereotypes associated with it. There are “moderates” everywhere who live close to the universal values that every belief system teaches. If I could summarize my traveling experience in a few words, I would say, “Let’s not impose our ideas on others and initiate wars to measure our righteousness. Let’s find common ground so that we may give a peaceful world to the next generation. If you really wish to show the world how perfect your role models and beliefs are, do so by perfecting your actions and not your arguments. Peace.”

Also check out Growing Up In Islamabad.

Talha Naveed

Talha Naveed

An aspiring chemical engineer who loves to read Urdu literature and write about things that really matter.

1 Comment

  • Ameer Hamza

    Very nice write-up! Thumbs up!

    September 12, 2017 at 12:53 pm
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