Friday, May 22, 2009

Last Thoughts on Umrah, Makkah, and Madinah...

I wrote part of this post while I was in Makkah, and part now.

Today after praying Fajr I did 4 rounds around the Kaabah. I know that during this you’re not supposed to get angry or annoyed or mad but seriously, that’s almost impossible. People are so rude! Most of the people here just push, shove, yell, and walk without looking where they’re going. Especially when going around the Kaabah, people just seem to think that it doesn’t matter if they push and interrupt other people’s prayers. I found it really hard to concentrate and say my prayers while constantly being shoved and elbowed. I can’t imagine what Hajj is like.

I feel like Muslims worry way too much about appearance. We always hear about what a Muslim should dress and look like: veil, no veil? Niqab, no niqab? What part of the body should men cover? And yet we never hear about how Muslims should act more considerately. We should cover that first, before focusing on dress. We should talk about how you shouldn’t talk on the phone while doing tawaf or sa’i; how you shouldn’t gossip while waiting for prayer to begin; how you shouldn’t sit right in front of the Kaabah while people are doing tawaf; how you should maybe look in front of you while walking to make it easier for everyone else; and about how you shouldn’t push people in front of you and be patient. When thousands of people are doing Umrah everyday, these things would definitely help.

I’m not saying that my experience was negative. On the whole it was amazing, but these things are starting to get to me now. When 10 people have pushed me and almost made me fall over, I can’t help but get angry at the 11th. Inshallah people will start being more considerate.
I was in the mosque today and one of the men that works there handed me a flyer and began saying I should cover my face, i.e. wear niqab. Of course, he couldn’t look at me while he was talking, he just kept saying how it was important. I look down at the flyer, and see that it is about ethics for women.

What annoyed me is not that he was telling me to wear the niqab. What annoyed me is that I didn’t see him telling anyone else to stop yelling, or pushing, or running around the mosque. Islamic authorities today seem to be solely focused on appearance, especially that of women. What, are we going to trick God by dressing a certain way? Is God not going to see the way we act, behave, think, and treat others?

I’m back in cairo and I miss Makkah terribly. There were so many things that I loved about being there. The fact that everyone calls you Hajji; the call to prayer coming directly into my hotel room and waking me up for fajr; the Kaabah being a 3 minute walk away; seeing Muslims from all over the world; and having my day revolve around prayer. If only life could be like this: fitting everything between prayer instead of prayer between everything. Inshallah I need to start working on this now that I am back home.

Another thing I really miss are the amazing voices of the imams and muezzins. They were absolutely amazing, and I really miss hearing them.

I really miss praying in a mosque. There aren’t any good ones near my house, unfortunately, otherwise I would at least start going to Friday prayers. I think if I had the chance to live in Makkah or Madinah for the rest of my life I’d be the happiest girl on earth.


Nancy said...

I think that you make an excellent point about dressing in a certain way. When you put on a veil, it might show other people that you are " a good muslim" but in the end God see's how you behave and whether you live your life according to good morals. You can't trick God with clothes. Inshallah you will be able to go to Makkah again soon, with me maybe? :)

Candice said...

That's a good point. I've seen that around me too. People don't focus on the right things sometimes... And sometimes it's all about how religious you can seem to others instead of how religious you are in reality. I try to make an effort to not care what others might think and focus on me.

Sarah the Seeker said...

I wonder if you'd be able to say what made being in these holy places such an emotional experience? Is it the thought of all the prophets and pilgrims that have worshiped there over the centuries? Or is it that you believe God is closer when you are there?

I was raised in protestant Christianity in which there is no such thing as a pilgrimage. I guess the idea was that God is everywhere all at once... and yet I've also heard Christians saying that buildings have a spiritual "character" or atmosphere that reflects their historical usage (good or bad). I'm not sure what I think about this now.

Another thing I wonder is, if I prayed towards the Kaaba would I accidentally worship the Kaaba instead of God? Hope you understand what I mean!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Nancy: that's definitely true. I think we should focus on what's inside more than what's outside. In the end, God sees everything.

Candice: I agree, today many Muslims like to focus on showing others how religious they are, while at home by themselves they don't pray or fast or anything.

Sarah: the main thing that made it emotional was knowing that the Prophet and his companions had been there, and that this is where Islam started. There is a strong tradition in Islam of focusing on the Prophet and on Islamic history, and Makkah and Madinah are iconic and special places in this history, so to actually be there feels amazing. Also, to go on a pilgrimage means you are doing something solely for God, and so all your thoughts, energies are focused on God and religion, and this is what made it very emotional too: the idea that the whole week was dedicated to God, in a way that you can't really do in day-to-day life.

About worshiping the Kaabah, this is unlikely unless you consciously make the decision to worship it. That's why it annoys me when people don't keep statues in their homes because they might "accidentally" worship them. I don't see how that's possible. When I pray, I know I am praying to God, and God knows this too, so it shouldn't matter what you're facing.

A final note about why it was so emotional is that you are surrounded by thousands of people also worshiping God, which makes it a very spiritual atmosphere.

Thanks for the post and questions! Feel free to ask anything else :)

Mrs. S said...

In all of the focus on outward appearance we forget faith is a personal journey and everyone goes about it at their own pace. It doesn’t really matter what things we do on the outside if they are not done for the sake of Allah rather than the sake of other human beings.

I can’t believe that that man had the audacity to come up to you. When did Muslims get so obsessed with “proper” appearance that it has taken precedence over our actions?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Mrs S: I know, I was pretty surprised that he thought it was okay for him to do that. If I wasn't veiled, fine, since we were in Makkah and in a mosque, but to tell me to cover my whole face too was annoying. In the end it's a personal decision, not up to him. I don't know where this sudden obsession with outward appearance has come from. What was annoying too was that he wouldn't even look at me while speaking, like it was haram. He gave me a brochure about "correct ethics/behaviour for women" which I will translate soon, I'm interested in seeing what it says.
Thanks for your comment!

Sarah the Seeker said...

Thanks for your answers, and for being so open to questions :)

I can completely understand what you've said about the history of these places, taking time out to dedicate yourself to God, and being in congregation with thousands. I can relate to at least some of that.

I guess if you say it shouldn't matter what you're facing when you pray, then my remaining question would be, what do you think is the reason for praying towards the Kaaba? Or what does it mean to you?

I could also ask why some Christians pray with their hands up in the air, and they'd probably say it's not because God is "up there" in the sky, but that it is symbolic and gives them a practical focus or expression for their worship. Maybe this is what the Kaaba is to Muslims?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

That's a good question, I had to think about the answer since it's something I kind of just accepted.

I think the main reason we pray towards the Kaabah is to unite all Muslims. Imagine that when a Muslim prays he/she knows that all other Muslims in the world are praying to the same one point. It's very symbolic.

The Kaabah also has a lot of history behind it. It was supposedly built by Abraham, and had been used by the people of Makkah to house statues of their gods and goddesses pre-Islam. At the beginning of Islam, Muslims used to pray in another direction (facing Jerusalem I think), and then it later changed to the Kaabah. A mosque I visited in Madinah called Masjid al-Qiblatain (Mosque with 2 minarets) has two minarets facing two directions: one towards the Kaabah, and one towards the old direction Muslims used to pray to.

Hope this answers your question! Thanks for asking questions, they make me think! Some things I think we take for granted without wondering how they came about.

Anonymous said...

"What, are we going to trick God by dressing a certain way? Is God not going to see the way we act, behave, think, and treat others?"

YES! I mean, God knows how we act, treat others - and what we THINK. It's not like we can "trick" our Creator. Sorry, I just paraphrased what you said, but I totally agree. :D

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Aynur: lol, Amen! Thank God I'm finding people out there that think these things too, I was starting to think I was weird!

Sarah the Seeker said...

I see what you mean about the common direction of prayer uniting Muslims. That's a powerful idea.

I'm aware that the Kaabah pre-dates Islam and I think it's entirely plausible that Abraham built it. Pretty interesting to think about. But maybe I think too much. :)

I can't even get my head around how big these mosques must be. I mean, wow!

On the subject of being told to cover your face, it really does seem like a strange, skewed interpretation of what's important in religion... based on what little I know, anyway. It sort of fits in with what you wrote about gender segregation though, I guess it's all part of the same mentality.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Yeah, the mosques are huuuge! The one in Makkah fits 4 million people, it's incredible.
Wahhabi Islam, the kind they practice in Saudi, is really strict and has a lot of weird traditions that they ascribe to Islam, especially those that oppress women. At the end of the day, Saudi was a bedouin tribal society until what, 70 years ago? I think they've had some trouble adjusting to all the wealth oil brought them, and so they felt the need to be very strict about Islam, hence segregation. That's my theory anyways.

Anonymous said...

Sarah - I thought Prophet Abraham (peace be on him) DID build the kaabah?? Actually I believe Adam built it first and it was later rebuilt....

Sarah the Seeker said...

Aynur - according to what source? I would doubt that it's a proven historical fact, however I'm saying I could believe it.

Anonymous said...

Sarah - It looks like the Qur'an says prophet Abraham (pbuh) built it, and according to Wikipedia it says that according to Islamic traditions that it was first built by Adam and then Prophet Abraham rebuilt it on the same foundation. So as long as you believe the Qur'an is accurate that would be pretty good evidence(I'm not sure if you're Muslim, I think you are??)
Here are a few links I found, HTH:

Sarah the Seeker said...

Thanks, Aynur! No, I'm not currently committed to any religion but I'm actively learning and finding out.

Lisa said...

Niqaab is not always a fard....This made me understand how some of the stomping deaths have occurred in!

Umm Omar said...

Interesting post, once again!
I am sooooo with you on this issue. I think people focus on dress because it's the easiest thing to point out. Even if someone said, "hey, you just shoved me, and that's not Islamically appropriate." The accused could deny it, make up an excuse, or whatever. But when it comes to dress and someone says, "you're not wearing hijab" what is the person supposed to do? Usually they just are turned off by Muslims and then stay away from the masjid, sadly. there are a lot of dynamics involved, but regardless, it is a sad state Muslims are in. There was a scholar who once said, "blessed is the person who is so preoccupied with his own faults, that he does not notice the faults of others."

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Lisa: yeah, it made me see how the stomping deaths happen too...especially in Madinah when thousands of women are waiting to see the Prophet's tomb...I saw some kids almost get stomped over. Can't imagine what hajj is like. Love you :)

Umm Omar: that's an amazing quote. I agree that we focus on dress because it is the easiest thing to point out. We can't see how religious someone is from the inside so we focus on the outside. I guess Muslims need to get to a point where we don't judge at all, from the inside or the outside. All this judging and focusing on dress is making a lot of people turn away from Islam, like you said. It was something I also had a problem with before becoming religious. Thanks for posting, I always love your comments :)