(A version of this article was published by the Huffington Post)
Often when I get overwhelmed by circumstances in my life I imagine circling around the Kaaba, the cube-shaped emblem of Islam that stands in the centre court of the Great Mosque, Masjid Al Haram, in Mecca. Performing the short pilgrimage, known as umrah, involves as a first step walking seven times around the Kaaba, literally meaning “cube” to describe the approximate shape of the structure whose corners are positioned toward the four points of a compass.
I first visited the Kaaba during Ramadan three years ago. For my entire life, the stone edifice draped in an elaborate black-silk- and gold-embroidered cloth, or Kiswah, had seemed accessible only through images in books or the woven depictions of it on velvet prayer rugs. Muslims pray in the direction of the Kaaba regardless of where they are in the world. Always conscious of its importance, I couldn’t envisage seeing it before me and praying at its side.
|The Kaaba during my first visit to Mecca in 2008|
Standing in the hall of the Great Mosque, the Kaaba in immediate view for the first time, moved me to tears instantly. I arrived just after sunrise with my cousin and her son in earnest hopes we could get near enough to the Kaaba for me to lay my hands on this sanctuary that God had first instructed Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael, peace and blessings upon them, to erect in His honour. Muslims are drawn by the millions to Mecca in Ramadan to perform umrah, which carries the same excellence as the hajj pilgrammage if performed in the course of the month of fasting, according to Prophetic teachings.