YOU MAY CONSIDER READING THE PRECEDING PART I, II AND III OF THIS BLOG SERIES.
There is no place on Earth as cherished, as holy, to as many people as the Kaaba, home of God, located in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca. During Hajj, the Mecca’s population almost doubles to 6 million.
I arrived in Mecca four days ago to perform Umrah. While preparing for my pilgrimage I did not have a specific spiritual agenda or expectation, but I was excited about seeing the Kaaba. I grew up seeing pictures of this holy site on peoples’ walls, coffee tables and even computer screens. I always wondered how it would feel to stand in front of it, touch it and circle it like millions of Muslims do every year.
After arriving in Mecca and checking into our hotel we wasted no time to make our way to Kaaba, which is located directly across from our hotel. I was advised to close my eyes and I was led by experienced pilgrims through the hallways of Masjid Al Haram, the mosque surrounding Kaaba. My heart beat fast and my legs grew weak from excitement. Tradition says one’s first sight of Kaaba is the most potent time for getting wishes fulfilled. I wracked my brain thinking of my worthiest wish as the Kaaba grew closer and the pressure mounted for when I could open my eyes and see the holy Kaaba for the first time.
Photo taken right after the first sighting of the Kaaba
After many twists, turns and stumbles along the rough walkway we stopped and I finally got to open my eyes. There was the Kaaba of my dreams, right in front of me, but much smaller than I had imagined. A wave of disappointment shook me as I stared, feeling no spiritual connection nor any stirring of happiness in my heart. The other women in my group were hugging and wailing— I stood alone, feeling like an underwhelmed child on Christmas day.
I questioned my faith, my spirituality and my capacity to wonder. After reflecting, I blamed my lack of connection to the crowds, to seven hours of travel to Mecca and perhaps … to my own unwarranted expectations.
The next day I decided to go back, by myself to avoid the pressure of others’ hopes for me and to experience the Kaaba my own way—in silence. After pushing through the crowds and losing my way, I accidently ended up on the uppermost platform overlooking the Kaaba. I looked down at the thousands of people circling the Kaaba in a chaotically hypnotic rhythm. I stood there quietly—not reading the Quran as suggested, nor praying for riches or eternal good health—instead my mind emptied of all thought and tears streamed down my cheeks. Just like that, I felt an overwhelming energy rising from below—as thousands of hopeful pilgrims prayed, chanted and circled the Kaaba. My unstoppable tears flowed. A lovely young lady standing next to me saved my dress sleeve and handed me sheet after sheet of tissues to dry my tears.
I haven’t felt the same connection again, but I’ve grown to appreciate why the Kaaba is the most well known spiritual destination in the history of mankind.
The Kaaba pre-dates Islam—at one point it held 360 idols, allegedly representing the days of the year. Muslims believe there are two Kaabas—one on earth and the other directly above it in heaven. No matter where they are around the world, Muslims turn to face Kaaba five times a day for prayer.
Much to my surprise, I learned the black cover that shrouds the Kaaba is a thick silk fabric called kiswa—I always thought the cover was velvet. One thousand four hundred and seventy seven pounds of silk is processed to to strengthen it for the wear and tear it faces when pilgrims touch, rub and even drape themselves against the Kaaba. Thirty three pounds of gold thread are used by master craftsmen to stitch Suras of the Quran into the kiswa. The cover of the Kaaba is changed once a year on the 10th day of Hajj. The color of kiswa changed over the years, but since 1207 black has been permanently adopted.
Currently the mosque Masjid Al Haram, surrounding the Kaaba, is undergoing a multi-billion dollar expansion, which will allow over two million pilgrims to visit the Kaaba during Hajj. Until then, pilgrims fight through a maze of construction to reach the Kaaba.
In my next post I’ll write about the Umrah rituals I performed to make my pilgrimage official.