Our plan was to drive to Taif, and continue towards the Al-Wahba crater further east. On our way, we find ourselves driving through Mecca, the holy city for muslims. I am surprised, never imagined it would even be possible to do so. Then, my travel companion asks me if we are really not even using this unique opportunity, and stop in the city. By now, we are in the modern and unattractive suburbs of the city, and I decide to turn around and head back to the city centre. On the signs, we see the black cube, or Kaaba, and are even more surprised when we end up right at the entrance of the Great Mosque. We drive back, and find a place to park in a side alley. On our way to the mosque, I buy a taqiyah, the typical muslim cap. Afternoon prayer is underway, and when it is over, we find ourselves walking against a stream of hundreds of muslims, mostly dressed in white.
Arrived at the big square in front of the Great Mosque of Mecca, we are surprised to find a string of posh hotels, shops, fast-food restaurants, even including some well-known US based ones. We walk to the entrance, a little hesitant, and my companion disappears inside. There are three guys at the entrance who stop me. After I drop my bag with DSLR in a locker, they let us in, and we walk the enormous building, straight to the large courtyard. And there, high above the crowd, we see the Kaaba, the granite structure that is considered the Bayt Allah, or the House of God by muslims. Once a holy site for Bedouins in the pre-Islam period, it now has become one of the best known religious symbols of the planet. Before we know it, we join the crowd of pilgrims in their tawaf, the anti-clockwise circumambulation of this focal point of Islam. Pilgrims are supposed to walk three times at the outside, slowly, and then move closer for four more turns around the cubicle to end up right next to it. I think of all the muslim friends I made over the years, and how they were determined to get here. Of all the thousands and millions who, over the centuries, have endured hardship, long, arduous journeys through deserts and wild oceans to just come here and to the tawaf.
During our walk, it quickly becomes clear that we are part of a multinational crowd. We see people from the Far East, from Central Asia, from the Indian subcontinent, but also many from various parts of Africa. At times, it feels almost joyful: people taking selfies, being happy they have made it to this holy place, chatting to each other. Then, solemn, when people stop to pray, when we see people sitting on a simple stool to study the koran. But also aggressive, when we get closer to the Kaaba, and people are pushing and pulling to get closer. At one point, I hear a woman scream, try to dash away through the crowd, with her husband trying to calm her. I now have a clear image of those times when people here get trampled. The closer we get, the more excited we are, and the more awe we feel that we are privileged enough to live these moments. High above us, on the black cloth covering the cubic structure, we see the gold embroidery with quranic verses. We end up touching the Kaaba, together with the crowd around us. Around the corner, we find ourselves close to the Bab al Tawah, the golden doors of the holy structure. People here are desperately trying to get close, to touch the Al Multazam, the space between the Black Stone and the golden doors which is considered pious by muslims. We stand here for a while to observe the pilgrims around us. With some effort, we manage to get out of the crowd, and stand on one of the galleries to watch the crowd do their tawaf. When we finally walk away, we have a serene, special feeling in our souls. It is hard to imagine that just a few days later, the site will be closed following the worldwide outbreak of Covid-19.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Kaaba (Saudi Arabia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Kaaba. Read more about this site.