This past Ramadan, by the grace of Allah, I had the amazing opportunity to spend the last ten nights of the month in Madinah and Makkah as well as perform Umrah. This, being my first time in the holy land, is an experience that will remain etched in my heart and memory forever. The following piece is the first of a three-part series of short reflections.
In a culture that is so immersed in the idea of individualism and rights, a society that is so obsessed with the dogma of “me”, it is often easy to forget that there is a world out there that is bigger than ourselves. As a fairly average American Muslim, I did not really know what my expectations were for my Umrah trip. I looked at pictures, I listened to the recollections of others’, searched YouTube videos of the Ka’bah. However, having never actually being there before, I really had no idea what awaited me. People have been asking me ever since I got back how I felt when I first saw the Ka’bah. Without trying to be irreverant, I often have to honestly answer, that I did not have much of a reaction. And it had nothing to do with the Ka’bah. It was just that, for the first time in my life, I witnessed what it means to be in the midst of, quite literally, a sea of poeple. The first time I entered Masjid Al-Haram, I was clinging on to my friend and praying that I don’t get pushed or shoved, and lose her. (Of course, when I finally did get across this sea and found myself a spot to pray, I was in complete and total awe of the Ka’bah and all my surroundings, but that is a whole other post on it’s own!). You see, during Ramadan, which is the most blessed month of the year, many people like to spend such a barakah-filled time in Makkah, the most blessed place in the world- so much so, that this year, Makkah was more crowded during Ramadan than it has been during Hajj the past couple of years.
What do I mean when I say, it was crowded? I mean, imagine the most crowded Eid prayer you have ever been to and then multiply that number by a few thousand! During Taraweeh or Qiyam during those nights, I think I made sujood on people’s backs, feet, on water, in spaces where one can hardly even sit down. And it was overwhelming. The first two days were completely overwhelming, and I thought to myself- I don’t know if I can do this for the next eight or nine days. Finally, during Qiyam al-Layl (nightly prayers) on my second night there, during which I had the extraordinary opportunity to pray in full view of the Ka’bah (I could not help but look straight at the Ka’bah and the people surrounding it during my prayer), I came to a simple yet, profound realization. There were so many of us there. Literally, everywhere I looked, there were people. All I could see besides the Ka’bah were people- walking, praying, running, sitting, sleeping, crying, smiling. And no one cared how rich you were, how poor you were, where you came from, or how many degrees you have. Millions and millions of people had traveled all the way to this holy place to redeem themselves, and while I do not know what their normal lives are like, all I knew that night in Makkah was that I was- I am- so small and so insignificant in the midst of this ocean of Muslims. In Knoxville, TN, I might walk around, knowing that I am loved and respected, but here in Makkah, I am just a tiny dot.
This realization was so huge for me that I kept reflecting on it each time I prayed in the Haram. I began noticing little things. A well-educated, rich professional could try to get to the best prayer spot, but if he came ten minutes too late, then a poor, homeless person could be the one who would be standing in a spot people would do anything for. You might be wearing the nicest clothes and the nicest sandals, but if you lost your sandals, you would have to walk barefoot like some of the Bedouin women, and there was no way for you to complain.
Often, in the humdrum of life, we lose focus on what is beyond us, as individuals. We think that our problems are so big, that our schedules are so busy, and our problems are so stressful. We panic that while we are satisfied, we may not be blissfully happy in a certain career, marriage, etc. We get angry- angry at the world, angry at God, angry at our families, angry at ourselves. And while doing so, we place ourselves in the center of the universe, albeit unknowingly. Pop culture and media do not necessarily help, either. However, sometimes, God, in His Mercy, sends us a reminder in moments such as the one I experienced during my nights in Makkah- that we are so small compared to the Universe. So small, that I could literally be completely lost in the myriad of people just in Makkah, and He is so great. He created everything, including you and me, and while we are enjoying our lives right now, our blessings could be taken away from us without us having any control. Such realizations remind us that our job is to be humble, because very frankly, it does not even make any sense for us to be arrogant.
“Indeed, they who have believed and done righteous deeds and humbled themselves to their Lord – those are the companions of Paradise; they will abide eternally therein.” (Surah Hud: 23)
Mehreen Khan’s hometown is in Memphis, Tennessee. She frequently works with the Muslim youth and volunteers for several Islamic organizations. She also teaches various Islamic Studies topics to the women and youth in her local community. She will be graduating this year with a BS in Elementary Education.
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