As I was stepping down the wide steps leading to the center of the courtyard where the Kabah is located, I could only see ceilings and lots of people but suddenly… I froze.
My heart dropped when I saw the magnificent Ka’bah with the black cloth cover and shimmering gold Quranic verses surrounding it.
I could not move. In a moment’s time, 4000 years of history passed through my mind.
I imagined the day Prophet Abraham and his son, Prophet Ismail, (peace be upon them) put the first bricks or stones on top of one another to build this house. What was in their mind? I know a prophet does as he is commanded to do by his Lord and that was exactly the case with Prophet Abraham, as he was building the house of worship and a place for pilgrimage for the believers of the One God.
Yet, I could not help but wonder what was going through their minds. Could they ever imagine that a few thousand years later, millions would come from all over the world to this holy site to pay respect to the command of God and to make their pilgrimage?
I envisaged the centuries that went by and how this great house got ruined and was rebuilt various times. How it finally was turned into a house of idols instead of a house of God, as the pagan Arabs forgot the original purpose of this home and turned it into the most detestable site by bringing their commodities of idols to this holy site — bought, sold, and worshipped them.
The movie continued passing through my mind as I was wondering what it was like when Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) finally returned to Makkah after years of persecution, and at his first stop, he entered this holy site and destroyed all the idols at once and declared to all that, “There is no god but the One God.”
I pictured again, what went on in the minds of those who had just embraced Islam upon Prophet Muhammad’s arrival. Were they confused, happy, or just waiting to see what was next?
With this victory, and over time, Islam spread all over the world to include nearly one fourth of the earth population.
Suddenly, I came to myself, realizing that I was standing in the same place I don’t know for how long. I stepped down and cautiously joined the crowd as they were circumambulating the Ka’bah. The site of this magnificent building was just too awesome and grabbed me like a magnet.
Everyone was walking, totally absorbed by the spiritual magnificence of this ritual, and busy in supplication. I also wanted to supplicate. I had a booklet telling me what to supplicate and where to do it, but I could not take my eyes off the Ka’bah to look at the book.
Finally, I just started supplicating from my heart and not reading from the book. I don’t even remember what I was saying then. All I know is that I was so connected with my Creator without even uttering any words.
It was as if my mind was supplicating, but my tongue was unable to find the right words. I was supposed to circumambulate seven times, but I was so absorbed by the Ka’bah next to me, I couldn’t remember how many times I did. Just to make sure, I did a few extra rounds.
As I was looking at the House of God, I remembered my home in northern California, surrounded by beautiful mountains, lakes, rivers, and green scenery. I always thought I was living in paradise on earth until I saw the Ka’bah.
No scene on earth could match this — no matter how awesome it is. What was happening with me? Most of my life, I preferred seclusion and spent much time in the mountains contemplating. But now among thousands around me shoulder to shoulder, breath to breath, even stepping on one another, I found such a deep peace I never had before.
Perhaps, it had something to do with feeling the presence of God in a more literal way than what I was feeling in the mountains. Also, realizing two of the greatest prophets who built and rebuilt this House were present at this site, enjoining on people pilgrimage, calling the worship of one God, gave me more sense of reality of time and space.
It took me some time to come to myself and feel what was going on around me till the second astonishment hit.
It came over the next few days… I had never seen so many people of various colors, languages, and backgrounds. It didn’t really matter to them who is from where? They were all united like one body and doing the same rituals.
Sometimes I would see an old man or a woman looking up with their hands stretched in supplication, tears running down their faces, and caring for nothing except connecting with their Creator. Yet, people were extra courteous with each other in case of any needs.
Again, this reminded me of a different version of unity I experienced in the US. For years I attended a spiritual gathering with people of different backgrounds. Our motto was, “Unity in Diversity”. We tried to love and help one another and be a brother, sister, mother, or father to one another. It felt good and was as if we had a unique community of our own.
But, now, I am one of nearly three million pilgrims. What about that? I asked myself, how the feeling differed. They were both spiritual and heartwarming; and this gave me a sense of belonging — but with one difference. The first one was cultivating human love toward other humans, and God was not among our concerns. But the second one was all about cultivating human love towards our Creator and as a result, love was cultivated among the adherents.
It was here that I truly felt the unity in diversity in its broadest sense. Had I not experienced this feeling, I may have still hung on to some of my good old memories of my spiritual group in the mountains, thinking that was the only time I felt unified with other humans. But on this pilgrimage, I had both: the Creator, and his creation, all finding their rightful place in my expanded heart.