Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 14
Like Madinah, there are many historical sites to see in Makkah. We covered a number of these in two trips – the first being a bus ziyarah to the Cave of Thowr and Mount Arafah, among others. The cave, of course, is where the Prophet s.a.w. and Abu Bakr r.a. hid for a few days during their hijrah to Madinah. It was mid-morning, so we didn’t actually go up (it would be crazy to do so in that hear) – but some people did go on their own at a later date.
The other major stop of that trip was Mount Arafah, which is the exact spot that many of us wish to be at on the day of Arafah – since it was where the Prophet s.a.w. spent his wuqoof on his Hajj. But like the battlesite of Uhud, the place has a rather touristy type feel to it – which again distracts one from the historical and religious significance of it.
Quite shocking, though, was the number of beggars at the site. There were so many kids that were dismembered and begging – and you can’t help but feel sorry for them. Some of these injuries may have occurred naturally, but I suspect that in other cases, it was deliberate – where somebody has maimed the child to increase their ‘earning potential’. I shudder to think that parents could do this to their own kids (and I hope it’s not the case). I’ve heard of gangs in Saudi (especially in Makkah and Madinah) that send women and children out to beg, and it’s quite possible that the gang leaders – in their greed and ruthlessness – would do this to the innocent children.
It’s sad that this kind of thing happens – even in the holiest of lands – but I suppose it’s just another clear indication of how corrupted this world has become in our times.
On the way back, we drove through Azizia (the suburb we’d stay in just before Hajj) and Mina – getting our first glimpses of those famous, endless rows of tents that fill the entire valley.
Inspiration for life
To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy that first ziyarah. Unfortunately, our guides weren’t ideal and I didn’t really get much inspiration from their explanations. It confirmed the fact that – unless you’ve really prepared well on your own for visiting these sites – the quality of your experience will largely depend on the quality of your tour guide that day.
The difference was made abundantly clear later in Makkah, when we did the walking ziyarat in the areas surrounding the haram. Our guide that day was a young man who was bursting with passion and enthusiasm. He combined history with practical lessons for our individual situations, and was utterly inspiring. For example, as an engineer himself, he pointed out the engineering advances made by Muslims in the past, and how we – in our specific fields of work today – should also strive to excel and make great contributions to this world.
Anyone can tell you the history of a place, but it takes a special person to bring it to life and tie it to your current reality. In Islam, our history is absolutely full of inspirational events and lessons for all times – yet when we read about these things, or hear them in ‘boring’ lectures, we don’t absorb much. To find a teacher that can buck this trend is a great blessing, and this is even more enhanced when you can experience this type of learning at the actual sites where these events happened.
Part of the inspiration stemming from this experience was the reminder that Allah knows best what’s good for us. One of my favourite alims from home was supposed to be with us, but due to visa troubles, he didn’t make it. This young man, however, seemed to be the answer to my duas, and I suspect that his impact was more effective than the other alim’s would have been. Allah knows, and we do not know.
Anyway, so in this walking ziyarah, a number of sites were covered, including the birthplace of the Prophet s.a.w. (which is now a library) and Masjid al-Jinn – which has a somewhat scary story behind it (which is why it’s better that we visited in the daytime ;) Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to tour inside the haram or see Makkah’s famous graveyard – Jannatul Ma’la – and I really regret the fact that I didn’t join one of this brother’s later tours so that I could get those areas as well.
Blessing or curse?
In our Hajj classes back home, not much was made of the way the Saudi rulers have destroyed many of the sacred / heritage sites in Makkah and Madinah. It was mentioned, of course, but not with the kind of outrage and extensive debate that some people indulge in.
The Saudis justify these demolitions under the assumption that it’s better to destroy these sites – rather than have Muslims engage in unlawful innovations (bi’dah). But those who engage in these so-called bi’dahs believe that they’re doing nothing wrong.
I agree that the Saudi rulers have done some terrible things – such as blowing away part of Jabal Abu Qubays (the mountain where the Black Stone was housed) to build the king’s palace on top. But at the same time, the actions of some visitors to the historical sites can make it seem like just destroying things is justified.
The whole issue of religious relics and believing that specific places have special powers is really – to me – a branch of idolatry. In Christianity, people venerate physical relics and seem to worship the graves of saints. As Muslims co-exist with people of other religions (including Christians and those whose religions include idols – such as Hindus), some of these idolatrous beliefs and practices have crept into their own understanding of Islam – which is ironic because the pure doctrines of Islam are the absolute antithesis of such polytheism (shirk).
For example, don’t we have Muslims in India and other places that go and worship the pious people laying in their graves – seeking their ‘intercession’?
Even in majority Muslim countries it can happen. For example, in Cairo, at the grave of one of the righteous predecessors (Imam Shafi, I think), we saw the grave sit littered with money, clothing, and letters or notes – presumably placed by Muslims that believe such things will help them…as if these offerings to the dead person will act on their behalf. Such things are the very height of shirk – and shirk is the very WORST sin a person can commit. There’s no room for tolerating such practice in Islam.
So when some Muslims bring these ideas and practices to Makkah and Madinah, you can understand that the ultra-strict Saudi authorities find it repulsive and react strongly against any hint of such activity.
But because of the actions of these few, it seems the Saudi authorities suspect that everyone can be there for the same reasons – so they either destroy or discourage visiting many of the sites. They seem to ONLY look at the bi’dah perspective, but don’t see that some of us actually want to visit for HISTORICAL purposes.
That in itself is wrong- because these sites are important for their historical value. As Muslims, this is our heritage, and as such, we should visit the sites to remember our past and draw lessons from our history. Just like when you tour another country, the tour guides take you to historical places – it should be the same here.
But the intention needs to be correct. There’s no problem visiting a place for the right reasons, but when people go there with the intention of engaging in practices that have no authentic basis in Islam, the problem creeps in.
There’s a balanced approach to everything, and I think us as individuals – and them as the current authorities – should strive to find that balance.
The Saudis seem to have adopted a somewhat rational approach in some places. For example, in Madinah’s graveyard (Jannatul Baqi), there’s prominent signage explaining the correct etiquettes of visiting the graves and the prohibition of making dua TO the dwellers of the graves.
But that isn’t the case everywhere, and their approach in other cases is to simply destroy the place, make it visually inconspicuous, or clamp down on large groups visiting those areas.
Some sites – such as the house where the Prophet s.a.w. was born, and the cave of Hira (where the Prophet s.a.w. first received revelation) have prominent signage discouraging people from performing any religious acts there. At the foot of Mount Hira, they even have an information centre with leaflets explaining that the Prophet s.a.w. and sahabah r.a. did NOT visit this cave after revelation first came, and we shouldn’t visit it – but only visit the few places the authorities deem to be religiously and historically signficiant. (Our tour guide called this ‘Saudi propoganda’ ;)
So the whole thing is a very contentious issue, and it’s not likely to be resolved anytime soon.
As I said, the best solution would be a balance, and I pray that both the authorities and the visitors can strive for this – so that we can appreciate and honour our heritage, without making it a bitter ideological war that causes more fitnah and disunity in the ummah.
Coming up next, insha-Allah: Final days in Makkah
- Don’t expect your tour guides to teach you about or inspire you when visiting historical sites. Always do your own research and homework beforehand so that you can fully appreciate the places you visit.
- If you do have a choice of tour guides, and you know one is particularly inspiring, opt for that person. The benefit of having an outstanding tour guide is really, really tremendous.
- Take lessons from our heritage – both the historical events and great people of the past – and let them serve as an inspiration for you to make great contributions in your own capacity today.
- Take the time and effort to educate yourself about what is bi’dah and what is not – particularly when it comes to visiting ziyarah places. Do not rely on cultural practices or ‘what people have always done’ – because many spiritually-harmful (and even haraam) practices have become commonplace among the ummah. Don’t go to the ziyarah places with such things – because you harm yourself and you also reinforce the suspicions that the authorities already have about why people are visiting these sites.
- In line with the above, know Islam’s aqeedah (belief) very well, and be very well-versed about tawheed. This knowledge will serve you well in avoiding unlawful practices on your trip – particularly at historical sites.
- All talk and no action is an utter waste of time – so don’t waste your time in heated debates about what the Saudi authorities are doing to the historical sites. Rather, use your energy to appreciate the fact that you can still visit them and take as much benefit from your time there. If you feel strongly about the issue, make dua for a balanced solution, then make efforts in that path – whether you do so through writing / speaking, or by taking action.
What happened next?
Later parts in this series will be added at this link, insha-Allah.
Image sources: All pictures taken by me, except Masjid al-Jinn (from this website).