by Hayy Yaqzan (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 2, Sha'ban, 1441)
With the world paralyzed by the spread of COVID-19 at I write this, it seems amazing that only a few weeks ago I was traveling to perform the umrah, the minor pilgrimage to the sacred precincts in Makkah and Madinah. It was my very first trip for umrah, and I am very grateful that I was able to perform it and return home, just narrowly missing the sweeping restrictions on travel and the closure of the two sacred mosques.
The trip looms even larger in my mind given everything that has happened since I returned. I would like to share some reflections that readers will hopefully find as thought-provoking and inspiring as I did.
I have had the desire to go for umrah since I was very young, not only for the purpose of fulfilling the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and for the spiritually enriching experience, but also due to my deep-seated interest in Islamic history. We often discuss the importance of the unity of the Muslim ummah across space; that is, that Muslims across the world should be united. However, we neglect to discuss the importance of unity across time, with those of our believing brothers and sisters who came before us and those who will come after us.
Some of the āyāt in the Qur’an encourage us to situate ourselves on the spectrum of Islamic history, such as, for example, the du‘ā (59:10): “Our Lord! Forgive us and our fellow believers who preceded us in faith, and do not allow bitterness into our hearts towards those who believe. Our Lord! Indeed, You are Ever Gracious, Most Merciful.” This is a du‘ā that we make for those who came before us, and a du‘ā that we hope Muslims of the future will make for us, thus nurturing the unity of believers across time.
Traveling for umrah certainly nurtures this relationship as well, which may be part of the wisdom for prescribing pilgrimage as a highly meritorious act in Islam. As I performed the tawāf around the Ka‘bah, the thought kept crossing my mind of so many of the people I was uniting myself with by virtue of the fact that they, too, had come to the same place, for the same purpose, performed the same actions and repeated the same words.
Here, around the Bayt al-‘Atīq (the Ancient House, as the Ka‘bah is also known), so many destinies converge. Apart from our Prophet (ﷺ) and his supporters, the “visitors’ log” of this place also includes such names as our parents Ādam and Hawwa, our spiritual inspirations Ibrāhīm, Hājar and Ismā‘īl, and countless other figures from Qur’anic history (peace be upon them all). The list also includes Imam Zayn ul-‘Ābidīn, the West African king Mansa Musa, the globetrotter Ibn Battutah, the Mongol princess El-Qutlugh Khatun, the prolific scholar Ibn al-Qayyim, the Chinese admiral Zheng He, the activist Malcolm X, and so many others. I was reminded of some lines of Urdu poetry which translate to, “How can I express my gratitude for this blessing | My friends, what else can I ask my Master for | Is it not enough that my Lord made me | from among the community of His beloved?”
In Makkah, I also had the opportunity to climb Jabal al-Nūr (Mountain of Light), near the top of which is the Cave of Hirā, where the first revelation was given to the Prophet (ﷺ). I did not expect the climb to be nearly as demanding as it was, and felt myself having to take breaks and wipe the sweat off my forehead. As I got to the cave, and saw the valley of Masjid al-Haram about 10 km away in the distance, I had to ask myself: I put myself through this out of love for the Prophet (ﷺ), but why did he put himself through all of this?
There was only one answer that came to mind. He traversed that distance and made the difficult climb up to the cave and stayed there for weeks at a time because he was that uncomfortable with the injustices that were “just the way things are” in his society. He did not just shrug it off and say, as some Muslims do today, “well, what can I do?”, nor did he choose to “work with the system” to try to find meaningful solutions when that very system was the root cause of the injustices in the first place.
But he also did not alienate himself. After all, if the situation in Makkah was so unacceptable to him, why did he not just go somewhere else? He did not just abandon his people to their fate, or give up hope in their ability to change their ways. He secluded himself in a cave, far enough from Makkah to be able to think clearly and creatively, but close enough so as to maintain bonds with the people he would ultimately have to work with. His yearning for justice and his love for his people preceded his nubuwwah.
Islam took that yearning for justice and crystallized it into a vision of justice. When you drive through the hills and valleys of Makkah, when you walk through the streets of Madinah, climb up Mount Uhud or visit the string of mosques which mark the site at which the khandaq (trench) was dug, in all of these places you think of the incredible sacrifices made by the Prophet (ﷺ) and the first generation of Muslims. It is just a glimpse, but it is very powerful.
When you step out into the midday sun, that is when you get a slight glimpse of the pain of Bilal as he was dragged through the streets in shackles, or made to lay on the sand with a heavy rock crushing his chest. When you look out the window of your bus on the way to Madinah and see the harsh desert, that is when you really reflect on the fact that Imam ‘Alī made his hijrah from Makkah to Madinah, a distance of 300 kms, on foot, and his feet were scarred and bloody when he reached Quba.
Nowadays, we live in a world which admires visionary people. I do not know of any group of people who were more visionary than the Prophet (ﷺ) and his supporters. They were treated in ways that left them doubtful about whether they would live to see the sun rise again, but when the Prophet gave them a vision that one day the Muslim community would not only fill the valleys of Makkah and Madinah but would also reach the farthest corners of the world, they believed with yaqīn, with certainty.
I returned from my umrah trip with more questions than answers. What am I learning from the Muslims of the past, and what am I preparing to leave behind for the Muslims of the future? How much do I yearn for justice, what am I willing to sacrifice to pursue it, and is my pursuit rooted in my love and concern for humanity? What is my vision, and with how much yaqīn do I hold to it? As Muslims, these are some of the important questions that we need to ask ourselves.