Friday, 10 June 2016

Mecca | Asif Khan | Roads & Kingdoms

Photo © Asif Khan- Courtesy Roads And Kingdoms
With the advent of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, I thought it timely to feature an interesting essay published by the eclectic journals Roads And Kingdoms as Mecca's Other Pilgrimage.

The rather tongue-in-cheek, but not irreverent, writing is by Asif Khan, a documentary photographer who is based in India. His description of the Umrah, the lesser version of the Hajj or pilgrimage that is demanded from every able Muslim will enlighten those who are unfamiliar (or even those who are familiar) with the Muslim rituals.

It reminded me of my own experience visiting Mecca many years ago when I was visiting the nearby Jeddah on a business trip. I worked for Citibank at the time, and it was suggested I spend a few days in that port city to explore whether a job there was for me. While the job dimensions were great, the social restrictions in Saudi Arabia on my family were difficult to accept, so I turned it down. 

Whilst in Jeddah's Citibank offices, I was approached by Said Hafez, a colleague from Egypt, who convinced me to visit Mecca before I flew home to New York.  The distance of 40 miles or so was covered very quickly and that evening, I found myself along with my companion in the very heart of Islam. It was before all the new glass-concrete monstrosities were built,  and the Haram Al Sharif was superb.

Not being up-to-date with the rituals of ablutions and prayer, I faithfully copied the actions of my devout companion who knew exactly what to do and when.  I mumbled the only verse of the Qur'an I knew, over and over like a mantra....hoping no one would ask me anything that could prove my religious inadequacy (at least in their eyes).

The Kaaba itself was not as large as I had thought it to be, and at this time of the evening few people were about. Consequently, I had ample opportunity to touch the black meteorite known as Al Hagar Al Aswad which surface was made concave by the millions who had touched it before me during past millennia. 

The whole area was calm, quiet and serene and I easily imagined how the atmosphere brought the devout to their knees, and tears of devotion streaming down the faces of the supplicants. But for fresher and more descriptive account of Mecca and the Haram, read Asif Khan essay.

Roads & Kingdoms is an independent journal of food, politics, travel and culture. In its second year of existence, it was voted the Gold Winner for Best Travel Journalism Site by the Society of American Travel Writers. “Roads & Kingdoms” is borrowed from The Book of Roads & Kingdoms, an early travelogue written in the 11th century by Abu Abdullah al-Bakri in Córdoba.