Mesmerizing Description of Hajj by a Jewish Convert to Islam

Muhammad Asad (1900-1992), born into an Austrian Jewish family as Leopold Weiss, embraced Islam in 1926 after living and working in the Middle East for several years as a journalist.

Known as “Europe’s gift to Islam”, Asad built up a long list of achievements for himself, including a very popular translation of the Qur’ān into the English language.

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Asad was a gifted writer, and in his book The Road to Mecca (1952), he left vivid and moving descriptions of Hajj. The following mesmerizing paragraphs represent an excerpt from this book.

Please note that very slight edits have been made for clarity.

The Ka’bah

This… was the Ka’bah, the goal of longing for so many millions of people for so many centuries. 

To reach this goal, countless pilgrims had made heavy sacrifices throughout the ages; many had died on the way; many had reached it only after great privations; and to all of them this small, square building was the apex of their desires, and to reach it meant fulfillment.

There it stood, almost a perfect cube (as its Arabic name connotes) entirely covered with black brocade, a quiet island in the middle of the vast quadrangle of the mosque: much quieter than any other work of architecture anywhere in the world.

 It would almost appear that he who first built the Ka’bah—for since the time of Abraham the original structure has been rebuilt several times in the same shape—wanted to create a parable of man’s humility before God. 

The builder knew that no beauty of architectural rhythm and no perfection of line, however great, could ever do justice to the idea of God: and so he confined himself to the simplest three-dimensional form imaginable—a cube of stone. […]

All these [architectural wonders] I had seen—but never had I felt so strongly as now, before the Ka’bah, that the hand of the builder had come so close to his religious conception.

In the utter simplicity of a cube, in the complete renunciation of all beauty of line and form, spoke this thought: ‘Whatever beauty man may be able to create with his hands, it will be only conceit to deem it worthy of God; therefore, the simplest that man can conceive is the greatest that he can do to express the glory of God’.

A similar feeling may have been responsible for the mathematical simplicity of the Egyptian pyramids—although there man’s conceit had at least found a vent in the tremendous dimensions he gave to his buildings. But here, in the Ka’bah, even the size spoke of human renunciation and self-surrender; and the proud modesty of this little structure had no compare on Earth.

There is only one entrance into the Ka’bah—a silver-sheathed door on the northeast side, about seven feet above ground level, so that it can only be reached by means of a movable staircase which is placed before the door on a few days of the year.

The interior, usually closed (I saw it only on later occasions), is very simple: a marble floor with a few carpets and lamps of bronze and silver hanging from a roof that is supported by heavy wooden beams.

Actually, this interior has no special significance of its own, for the sanctity of the Ka’bah applies to the whole building, which is the qiblah—that is, the direction of prayer—for the entire Islamic world.

It is toward this symbol of God’s Oneness that hundreds of millions of Muslims the world over turn their faces in prayer five times a day.

The Black Stone

Embedded in the eastern corner of the building and left uncovered is a dark-coloured stone surrounded by a broad silver frame.

This Black Stone, which has been kissed hollow by many generations of pilgrims, has been the cause of much misunderstanding among non-Muslims, who believe it to be a fetish taken over by Muhammad (s) as a concession to the pagan Makkans.

Nothing could be farther from truth. Just as the Ka’bah is an object of reverence but not of worship, so too is the Black Stone. It is revered as the only remnant of Abraham’s original building; and because the lips of Muhammad (s) touched it on his Farewell Pilgrimage, all pilgrims have done the same ever since.

The Prophet was well aware that all the later generations of the faithful would always follow his example: and when he kissed the stone he knew that on it the lips of future pilgrims would forever meet the memory of his lips in the symbolic embrace he thus offered, beyond time and beyond death, to his entire community. 

And the pilgrims, when they kiss the Black Stone, feel that they are embracing the Prophet and all the other Muslims who have been here before them and those who will come after them.

Mesmerizing Description of Hajj by a Jewish Convert to Islam - About Islam
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About Hassam Munir
Hassam Munir is a student and independent researcher of Islamic history based in Toronto, Canada. He enjoys looking into the past from fresh and diverse perspectives. He is the founder of the iHistory project, where he blogs regularly. To read more of Hassam's work on Islamic history, visit www.ihistory.co.