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Martin Lings Recalling His Pilgrimage to Makkah

Part 2: The Hajj

In Part 1, Martin Lings described his journey from Suez to Jeddah then to Makkah, where he and his wife performed Umrah. In this second part of a summary of his essay “Pilgrimage to Mecca” he recounts the rituals of Hajj they performed in 1948, followed by their visit to Madinah.


On the morning of the fifth day after our arrival, two days before the Feast, those of us who had made the Visit went into ihram again, this time for the Pilgrimage.

The first rite to be done, the tawaf al-qudum (the circumambulation of arrival) is like the opening of the Visit, that is, seven circuits round the Ka’bah.

This is followed by seven courses between Safa and Marwah.

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The Mosque was already much less crowded as many of the pilgrims had already left Makkah, and more were leaving every hour.

The new Kiswah was spread out on the ground, waiting to replace the old one.

We waited all day for the cars to come and take us to Mina where we were to spend the night.

After sunset one car came and took as many as it would hold.

I decided to wait till it came again and I went with one of our companions to pray the night prayer in the Mosque.

For the first time I was able to pray in the front, so that my head almost touched the Kaaba at each prostration. I was a little to the left of the Black Stone.

But later that night, while we were sitting in our lodging still in wait for the car, we heard that the Mosque was practically empty, so we went, I and one or two others, and greeted it once more, and this time at each of the seven circuits, without any difficulty, I was able to kiss the Black Stone three times.

Mina and Arafat

At last the car came and took us to Mina, a small barren valley mostly surrounded by rocky hills.

It is within the Sacred Precinct, about six miles to the East of Makkah, I think, between it and Mount Arafat which is outside the Precinct.

The whole valley was full of tents; we had six pitched close together in a little encampment, but there was no need of a tent except as shelter from the sun, and that night I lay out in the open.

The air of the wilderness was wonderfully refreshing after the heat of Makkah (though, as we discovered later, Mina was much the hotter of the two by day).

I woke up the next morning to see a beautiful yellow light breaking over the eastern hills; the camels were already setting off for Arafat and they passed quite close to where I lay in a seemingly endless chain.

I would gladly have given up my place in the car for a seat on one of them.

We spent that day in a large tent on Arafat; in the late afternoon when the great heat had cooled a little, we walked to one of the higher parts of the Mount, which is called Jabal ar-Rahmah, the Mount of Mercy.

This is the zenith of the Pilgrimage, for if Makkah is the City of Abraham, Arafat is sacred to Adam, and the pilgrims go to the Mount of Mercy to be alone with God and to renew, each one for himself, the forgiveness and mercy which God gave to Adam after the Fall.

To Muzdalifah

The pilgrims wait on the Mount for about twenty minutes after sunset but they do not pray the sunset prayer until they reach a place called Muzdalifah which is just within the Sacred Precinct, between Arafat and Mina, on the lower slopes of the hill called al-Mash’ar al-Haram, (“The Holy Monument”).

Here they pray the sunset and night prayers together, and then each one must gather forty-nine small pebbles with which to stone Satan at Mina on the three following days.

At Muzdalifah there is a mosque with a large open courtyard, marking the place where the Prophet used to spend the night.

No tents are pitched; the first-comers from Arafat fill the mosque; the others (ourselves amongst them) simply settle down for the night in the open as near to the mosque as they can.

It was strangely moving to look about and see on all sides, by the light of the moon and one or two lamps here and there, thousands of white-robed figures, some praying, others sitting motionless on the ground, and others searching wearily in the sand for their pebbles.

Next to us were a group of Sufis from Morocco; they were singing softly, in two voices, a most beautiful hymn to the Glory of God and their song seemed to express the union of that holy time with that holy place.

Back to Mina

After the dawn prayer we set off for our tents at Mina.

There are three rocks in the valley which represent Satan.

On the first day of the Feast, before noon, everyone has to throw seven pebbles at a certain one of them, and on the second and third days, between noon and sunset, seven pebbles at each of them.

The increasing difficulty and hardship of performing this rite (the rocks are small and the pilgrims this year were about 700,000 in number) is no doubt in proportion to the increasing power of Satan over mankind.

I confess that at one moment I almost turned back in despair.

After throwing our pebbles on the first day we had rams sacrificed and had some hairs cut from our heads as after the Sacred Visit; then we were free to change our clothes, cover our heads, and go to the Ka’bah, as is ordained in the Quran.

Some of the pilgrims did so, coming back again to Mina the same night; but most of us did not leave Mina until we had thrown the last of our pebbles, that is, until the afternoon of the third day, and then we moved our quarters back to Makkah and brought our Pilgrimage to an end with the seven final circuits.

The new Kiswah in all its splendor was now hanging on the Ka’bah

The City of the Prophet

I will not describe our two-day journey by car to Medina. It was inevitably treated as something to be got through as quickly as possible

I had wept several times during the Pilgrimage, and I wept once again when, going over the top of a rise in the land, we suddenly saw, lying in front of us, the City of Muhammad, a little city of palms and domes, amongst which all eyes came to rest on the green dome of the Mosque of the Prophet.

It was Friday morning; we went straight to our lodging, made ready for the prayer, and then went to the Mosque. But I did not have much joy of this visit as I was in some pain with a poisoned foot which had gradually got worse on the journey.

After the prayer I went back to our room and lay there for the next three days—almost the whole of our stay in Medina, as we left the following Tuesday.

On the night before we left, my foot was a little better and I went down to the Mosque, about three hours after the night prayer, when most of the Pilgrims had retired.

Before leaving the Mosque I went back to the South door of the Sanctuary.

I invoked Blessings and Peace upon him and prayed for many things that are near to our hearts, as I had done at the Kaaba and at the Station of Abraham and at the foot of the Mount of Mercy.

So overcome was I at being in his presence that I forgot to greet my great namesake and the great ‘Umar who lie beside him; but I greeted them both the next day, when I went to bid farewell just before we left for Jeddah.

Martin Lings’ 1948 Hajj – A Journey Full of Surprises

About Martin Lings
Martin Lings (24 January 1909 – 12 May 2005), also known as Abu Bakr Siraj ad-Din, was an English Muslim writer, scholar and philosopher. A student of the Swiss metaphysician Frithjof Schuon and an authority on the work of William Shakespeare, he is best known as the author of Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, first published in 1983 and still in print.