بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
The home is where the heart is. So you miss home. And you might feel very homesick when you are away from home.
What is it that makes a house a “home” for a person?
The aura in it? The people? The number, personalities, habits, faith, natures and lifestyle of it’s occupants? The activities that are carried out in it?
Or, how they feel when they are there?
I think the last one clinches it.
The House of Allah – My Second Home
I find it very endearing that Allah refers to Masjid Al Haram as “His house” in the Qur’an – “baitullah“:
وَإِذْ جَعَلْنَا الْبَيْتَ مَثَابَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَأَمْناً وَاتَّخِذُواْ مِن مَّقَامِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ مُصَلًّى وَعَهِدْنَا إِلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ أَن طَهِّرَا بَيْتِيَ لِلطَّائِفِينَ وَالْعَاكِفِينَ وَالرُّكَّعِ السُّجُودِ
“Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety; and take you the station of Abraham as a place of prayer; and We covenanted with Abraham and Isma’il, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer).” [2:125]
The holy sanctuary of Masjid Al Haram in Makkah, Arabia is peppered with beautiful remnants of the inspiring historic events related to Divinely-revealed monotheism (belief in one god) that have happened there over time. Such as the three jamraat, the hateem, the well of Zamzam, and the majestic structure of the Ka’bah itself.
Incidentally, the Arabic language uses same word to denote both a ‘house’ and a ‘home’ – bait, which is obvious from the above verse of the Qur’an, in which Allah mentions the word bait both with and without the prefix ال (al-).
In and around Makkah, there are historic places and structures that date back to the first Divinely revealed (Abrahamic) religion; that are related to events that took place thousands of years ago when Allah’s Prophets Ibrahim and Isma’il (عليهما السلام) and their close family members made tremendous sacrifices to uphold and establish tauheed (oneness of Allah).
In fact, Makkah didn’t even exist as a thriving city full of people, until Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام left his wife and infant son there, in the middle of nowhere. Read the full story here.
Allah has scattered throughout His house, and around it, the historic reminders of the efforts made by His close friend, Prophet Ibrahim, and his family: such as the house of Allah (Ka’bah) itself, which was built brick-by-brick by him and his son Isma’il.
Prophet Ibrahim’s footprints engraved in stone and metal near the ka’bah, which serve as the mark for a place of prayer (Maqam Ibrahim).
The hills of Safaa and Marwah between which his wife Hajrah ran 7 times in search of a source of water for her infant son Isma’il, when she was left alone with him in the barren desert at the command of Allah, and he started crying with thirst.
The inexhaustible Zamzam water-well that has been feeding millions of Muslims since thousands of years, which Allah sprouted miraculously from the ground for Isma’il and his mother.
And who can forget the special stone that descended from Jannah, Hajr Aswad (the “Black Stone”) that is nestled in one of the corners of Allah’s house?
Miracles happen in the house of Allah. Ask anyone who has been there and they’ll probably agree, especially if they practice Islam at superlative level.
Hearts, once there, are turned forever. Lives undergo radical change. Souls chained by devils for years are released from hell within moments.
Right there, nestled in the arid, barren hills of Hijaaz under the unrelenting heat of the tropical sun, is located the one and only special place on earth that Allah chose thousands of years ago to become the place for “His House”, and ordered his friend Ibrahim to build the house with his son.
Where the best man who ever walked the earth was eventually born and raised.
Where the symbols of tauheed have been standing firm since his demise.
And guess what? Going to Allah’s house is so easy. All you need is some money to buy a ticket, book an accommodation (an amount that can be saved easily over the course of a few years), then acquire a visa, and get a vaccination. That’s it.
So what are you waiting for? If you are an adult, independent Muslim who is reasonably well off and able-bodied, and especially if you customarily travel abroad once or twice a year (for either business or leisure), how come “going home to Allah” has not once come up in your travel plans, thus far in your life?
What’s stopping you?
Going Back Home
Time seemed to stand still when I visited ‘home’ earlier this month, this being my third visit to Allah’s house during my life (alhamdulillah).
And yet, the 9 long years that had elapsed since my last visit made my heart ache and my eyes flow with gushing tears as soon as I landed in Madinah, and at the moment I set my eyes for the first time (after such a long interlude) on the twin holy sanctuaries that Allah and His messenger ﷺ have each called their home, respectively.
I cannot express adequately in words what one feels when one is there. The unity in diversity of the Muslim ummah for one. So many ethnic colors, languages, cuisines, and cultures all converging in one place for the sake of one God, upholding and performing the prescribed rituals of worship of their shared, one religion.
You feel at home. You never feel like an outsider there, or even a guest (even though you are a guest of Allah). In Allah’s house, you feel perfectly ‘at home’, at ease, at peace.
No one treats you like an alien or an outsider because of the way you dress, speak, look, act, or because of the country of your origin/birth.
You are one with everyone else, and the single uniting factor that joins every pilgrim who visits Makkah and Madinah, transcending their diversity and mutual differences of race and culture, is their belief in Allah, His Messenger, and in Islam.
During every salah that you pray there, you stand next to a different person. Sometimes it is an Egyptian, sometimes a Malaysian, sometimes a Turk. Indians, Bengalis and Pakistanis can’t help but smile when they pass by someone else in the streets or public areas and hear them speaking their language.
Is it possible to be home away from home? Truly.
Because this time, after I returned, I sobbed and cried. I didn’t feel at home in Karachi at all for a day or two, which is very, very strange for me, as I am a born native of this city.It was as if my body was back here, but my heart and soul were left behind in Makkah and Madinah.
The echos of the call to prayer of the haramain reverberated in my mind for days after my return. I would close my eyes and imagine the black, awe-striking structure of the Ka’bah looming up in front of me, as it did when I would be performing tawaaf around it.
The Arabic that I had heard people speaking throughout my stay there, kept floating into my ears. Even the memories of the fresh pancakes and labneh (strained yogurt) that I would have for breakfast wouldn’t leave me alone! :)
My soul refused to let go of ‘home’ this time. And I realized that this time, my trip for umrah was different than my last two, and not just because all my three children were with me. It was mainly because I had changed significantly, spiritually, in the interlude.
Not only had I crossed the age of 33 (which I believe is the ripe age of maturity at which a young adult says goodbye to the naivete of youth forever), but I had also endured hardships in the years between: hardships that had taught me invaluable lessons that no book, course, or institution could ever impart.
I felt as if, when I went for my first umrah during Ramadan in December 2002, and then for hajj in January 2006, I went the way a moderately thirsty person walks over to a water fountain to get a drink of water. But this time, as I left for umrah, I felt as if I was running towards Allah the way a person who is at the brink of death due to thirst runs towards a source of water in a desert.
Yes, I was that desperate to seek Him!
Which is what brings me to my key point:
What you will bring back with you from your trip to perform umrah or hajj, will largely depend upon you: what your intentions were before embarking upon it, and how sincere your desire was to seek Allah’s forgiveness for all your sins, and to ask Him for the guidance to tread steadfastly upon the straight path of His Deen for life, after returning from your journey.
Many Muslims who go for haj and umrah come back spiritually unchanged, untouched, un-revitalized. Upon their return (which they really look forward to), they recall and list to others only the physical adversities of their travels and the hardships they faced whilst performing the rituals of umrah and hajj, instead of mentioning the beautiful spiritual and emotional experiences that their soul went through while embroiled in worship there.
Many mention the problems they faced due to the immense crowding and the illnesses/ailments/fatigue that they came back with. The journey is little more than a physical tryst for them, instead of a spiritual/emotional one that moves, humbles and changes the heart. And the reason for that is their intentions before going.
Since I hail from the region, I know that many Pakistanis perform umrah just to ask for a specific worldly gain, mostly related to health, marriage, wealth/career, or children.
So be it, there is nothing wrong with asking Allah for His bounties, is there? Perhaps Allah withholds some worldly blessings from people in order to make them visit His house, because He knows that they wouldn’t perform umrah or hajj if He gave those blessings to them without their asking. :) Such is His mercy and wisdom.
Nevertheless, we all should also perform umrah to seek forgiveness for all our past sins, and to ask for the steadfast guidance to act upon Islam for the remaining part of our existence/life. This is actually more important than asking for worldly blessings, though the latter count too.
Reflections on the Trip
There was selfies galore throughout both haramain, much to my surprise. Hailing from a city where cell phone theft is as rampant as the power breakdowns, where we avoid using smartphones in public, I was refreshingly surprised to see that most pilgrims had their own gadgets/devices that they actively used to take photos and videos in/of the haram, and that nobody in Arabia is generally interested in stealing another’s phone or tablet.
I had always intended/wanted that whenever my children step out of Pakistan for the first time, it should be to visit Allah’s house, and I am ever so grateful to Allah that He made performing umrah with three children under the age of 10 so much easier than my expectations.
It was our (my) best “vacation” yet! :)
Alhamdulillah, I had asked Allah for special ease and comfort before embarking on this journey, and Allah answered my dua’s to the extent that I would often say to my husband, “Umm, is it me, or was our umrah and travel on this trip much easier than we expected?”
Luxury and ease for pilgrims have made their way into the twin holy lands. Traveling to the haramain, staying at luxurious hotels, shopping for our needs, and eating scrumptious varieties of healthy, fresh foods every day, couldn’t be any easier for a pilgrim than it is today.
I seriously do wonder just how much more harshly us Muslims of this particular era, who were born within the last 100 years (i.e. after the industrial/internet/technological revolutions), will be questioned by Allah about performing hajj and umrah, than the Muslims who lived during the 1300 or so years before us,– simply because we have been blessed with so much more ease of traveling to Allah’s House than they?
We Muslims today can easily book and pay for airline flights/tickets, visas, and hotel accommodations online, even months in advance. We embark on humungous, air-conditioned Boeing airplanes, from and to air-conditioned airports, being served food by others during our flights, and are able to easily reach Makkah or Madinah in less than a day.
Sure beats riding a camel or a horse in the heat of the day, and setting up camp at night, for months on end, in order to perform one hajj or umrah,– doesn’t it?
We stay at carpeted, luxurious accommodations within half a mile of the twin holy sanctuaries, with cool marble tiling and thick carpets under our feet, and shade-giving, cool-air spewing, beautifully embellished roofs over our heads, as we pray/sit/recite Qur’an inside either Masjid al Haram or Masjid Nabawi.
Our taxi-cars, GMC’s and buses whiz us off at high speeds across smooth highways and wide roads, with (once again) carpeted and air-conditioned interiors that help us doze off comfortably during our journeys.
As soon as we come out from either of the two holy masjid’s, we can step into luxurious malls and restaurants that serves us a variety of cheap food in, once again, a cool and air-conditioned environment that dries up whatever perspiration came over our bodies in our short, 100 meter walk from the doors of the haram to the mall entrance.
Allah really did answer our father Prophet Ibrahim’s dua for us (below), that he made thousands of years ago in the barren desert, didn’t He?
رَبِّ اجْعَلْ هَـَذَا بَلَدًا آمِنًا وَارْزُقْ أَهْلَهُ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ مَنْ آمَنَ مِنْهُم بِاللّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ
“My Lord, make this a secure city and feed its people with fruits, such of them as believe in Allah and the Last Day.” [2:126]
Of course, pilgrims don’t always eat at restaurants. That’s when the sprawling Bin Dawood conveniently steps in!
Pun not intended. Because Bin Dawood is literally steps away from the entrances of both the haramain. :)
Ah! Don’t get me started on just how awesome Bin Dawood supermarket is! :) And Kingdom Dates too….and the variety of chocolates that have made their way into the holy twin cities, including as the delectable, gooey insides of traditional ma’amouls and other date confectioneries.
A chocolate and date-lover’s paradise, indeed! :)
Pilgrims emerge from their hotels after devouring lavish early-morning breakfast buffets, into fragrant, oud-infused outdoor souks (markets) that are constantly in a cool shade thanks to the many tall hotel buildings and malls around both the haramain, where everything the guests of Allah could possibly need and want during their travels is sold on the streets at dirt-cheap prices, by vendors who are eager to bring down their prices even more for the sake of meeting their demands.
So what are you waiting for?
If you are a Muslim who hasn’t yet gone for umrah or hajj, you really don’t know what you’re missing!