Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 10
Not quite “three wishes”
After arriving in Makkah, we settled into our hotel and had less than an hour to prepare for umrah – at 9.30PM on that Thursday night. Not only would it be our first umrah, but also our first ever sighting of the Kabah in person – a moment in which duas are very readily accepted by Allah.
With that in mind, we were advised beforehand to plan the dua we would make at that moment. It’s truly a once in a lifetime experience, so you really need to think ahead and have your dua planned. I’d already done that, including in my list a recommendation I’d heard: ask Allah to accept all your duas for the rest of your life to come.
That recommendation reminded me of a childhood idea that I’d often wondered about: in the story of Aladdin, Aladdin has only 3 wishes from the genie. I always wondered why he couldn’t outsmart the limit by using one of them to ask for more wishes. But Aladdin was just a fairytale – and a haraam one at that too (because the ‘genie’ is actually a jinn – and we can’t ever be asking jinn for things; we only ask Allah). So this first sighting of the Kabah was kind of like Aladdin’s experience – only real (and halaal :)).
I had a lot of anxiety about the experience – because I feared that the moment would be ‘hijacked’ by the group. On a trip like this, many of the acts of worship are done in the group – with the group leader doing something and everyone else following. I would be very angry if my precious moment of first seeing the Kabah was one of those scenarios – because it’s an intensely personal moment.
In cases where the pilgrim doesn’t have knowledge of this moment, or where the group ethos strongly overpowers the individual focus, it’s easy to fall into this trap. So I’d strongly advise that you always remember that this is your moment – your accepted dua to Allah. Do not simply read a dua from a book, and don’t just recite something you memorised in Arabic (if you don’t understand what it means). This dua is about you and your needs/ what you want to make dua for – so don’t blindly follow someone else (either a group leader in person, or reading from a book), because that robs you of a very special opportunity.
Before we left, I sought reassurance about it by asking our group leader about it. Alhamdullilah – this first dua would NOT be a group thing.
The big moment
We made our way down to Masjid-ul Haram – taking the 5 minute walk which we would later become so familiar with. It was a chaotic and nerve-racking few minutes, and – being such a large group – we couldn’t hear most of what our group leader was saying.
Once we got into the masjid, we tried to keep our eyes down so that we wouldn’t see the Kabah. This is highly recommended because you should first find a good spot – out of the way where you can make your dua in peace – before looking and having your special moment.
In all the chaos of trying to follow the group without looking up, I did actually get a glimpse for a split second – but I didn’t count that as being my moment. It couldn’t have been. My wife and I stuck together, and in our confusion about what was going on, we ended up looking at the Kabah before the rest of the group. We stopped right there and made our duas on the spot – those incredibly special duas which we’d planned for so long. To this day, I still remember my duas and look back on them with fondness, knowing they were accepted – some having been fulfilled already, and others still waiting to be answered as per Allah’s wisdom.
Once we realised that the rest of the group was only then making their duas (they’d walked a little further in before stopping), I was a little annoyed. I was already tense because of how crazy the experience was so far, and I’d rushed through my dua – thinking I had very limited time (2.5 minutes, to be exact).
But this was the way it was to be for us, and I couldn’t be upset. Things didn’t go exactly as I imagined or hoped they would, but it doesn’t mean that all was ruined. That’s another lesson in life: don’t judge things in a negative light when reality doesn’t meet your preconceived expectations. We plan, but Allah is the best of planners – and whatever Allah wills for us is what is best for us. So we have to remind ourselves to be satisfied with His will.
Upon seeing the Kabah for the first time, so many people break down in tears – this being the fulfilment of a life-long desire and a pinnacle moment in life. This building has been the centre point of many millions of worshippers through the ages. It was the very first house of worship built on Earth, on a sacred piece of land that the Prophets have come to, and where major events in human history have occurred.
Knowing what it is, it should be a grand sight, able to inspire tidal waves of emotion and religious fervour.
But my initial impression was rather different. It didn’t look real to me. It looked very plain, and kind of like a model, or a toy. At Hajj time, the authorities roll up the bottom part of the Kabah’s black covering (the kiswah) – leaving the bottom bricks exposed. My first sight was the Kabah in that state: those giant, Lego-like bricks sharply contrasting against the black cover and white inner section of the kiswah – making it look almost cartoon-like.
It also seemed so much smaller than I imagined. The masjid itself is massive, and seeing the Kabah on TV makes you think that the structure is huge. But my first impression was quite the opposite. It was so small to me, and so plain – not at all the awesome sight I’d anticipated.
My wife’s reaction was the same, and we later realised that there was nothing at all wrong with our perspective: the beauty of the Kabah is in its simplicity and plain-ness. It’s not the stone structure that is holy, nor is it the kiswah, the Black Stone, or any other part of the building that has special power to grant us miracles. The Kabah is not an idol that we worship. It’s merely a symbol; a representation of unity, history, and the omnipresence of Allah.
So the simplicity is very fitting: it doesn’t dazzle the eye or heart with outward beauty, but instead it reminds us that Allah alone is the only One worthy of our devotions.
Next up, insha-Allah: Our first umrah
- The first time you ever sight the Kabah in person (i.e. not on TV or in pictures) is a special, once-in-a-lifetime moment in which duas are very readily accepted by Allah. Prepare well for this moment by planning the dua you’d like to make. Among the many personal requests you could make, you could also ask Allah to accept all your duas for the rest of your life to come, and ask Allah to grant you Jannah without taking you to account on Qiyamah. There is no set dua to make, so know that this is all yours – and treat it as a personal treasure. Do not simply parrot what a group leader recites at that moment, and don’t just read a dua from a book if you don’t understand that dua or you have other requests that you’d rather make at the time.
- When you get into Masjid-ul Haram, keep your eyes down so that you don’t see the Kabah until an opportune moment. First find a good spot – out of the way where you can make your dua in peace – and only then look and have your special moment.
- When special experiences in life – such as these – don’t go according to the way you’d imagined or hoped, don’t judge things in a negative light. Allah is the best of planners, and whatever Allah wills for you is best for you. So remind yourself to be satisfied with His will and look for the wisdom in the way things played out.
- If you don’t break into tears when first seeing the Kabah, don’t worry – you’re not weird. Its beauty is in its simplicity. The structure itself is not holy and it has no special powers. It’s not an idol that we worship, but it’s merely a symbol; a representation of unity, history, and the omnipresence of Allah –the only One worthy of our devotions.
What happened next?
Update: The entire series (30 parts) is available at this link – post by post. Alternatively, you can download the complete series as an e-book in PDF format. Feel free to share with anyone you think may benefit.
Image sources: Opening shot and Ajyad Street – unknown; final image of the Kabah – me.