The practice of pilgrimage has roots in the notion of inherent sacredness, which accounts for the universality of pilgrimage. Sanctity attaches to specific places in consequence of something decisive having happened there, for example, the Buddha Gaya near Benares in India, scene of Gautama’s enlightenment; Jerusalem (meaning the city of peace), the scene of Jesus’ alleged resurrection; and Canterbury where the archbishop Thomas was martyred. Any site of martyrdom (mashhad: martyrium) attracts pilgrims in its own right; witness the way pilgrims gravitate towards the scene of Hamza’s (the Prophet’s uncle) martyrdom at Uhud, or the city of Karbala which grew as a result of Imam Husayn being buried after he was martyred there.
An American in Makkah
The Hajj experience of convert Michael Wolfe
I am a Muslim. I revere the same God as my Christian mother and my Jewish father. Allah is simply the Arabic word for the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. I find the absence of priests and rabbis attractive. Islam means acknowledging the oneness of God, surrendering to it, cooperating with the way things are. Being a Muslim, God is as near as the veins in my neck. During the Hajj each year, millions of faithful come to Mecca. The men and women wear simple lengths of unstitched cloth. The garments are a symbol. The person who wears them agrees not to harm plants and animals or fellow pilgrims. No arguments, no violence. We agree to keep the peace. The garments are a great leveler too. Who can tell rich from poor? Millions Descend on Mecca Here I join people from all over the earth, all these human beings drawn together by the call of an idea, by the oneness of God. We have left daily life behind and come to a place hardly belonging to this world, a place filled by the almost tangible presence of God. To preserve its sanctity and protect pilgrims, the sacred territory around Mecca is forbidden to all but Muslims. It lies hidden in the mountains of Saudi Arabia 50 miles from the Red Sea, a modern city of 1.2 million people. To walk around the block in Mecca is to walk around the world. I step out the door and for 15 yards, I’m in Indonesia. Down the street past a couple of stores and it’s Africa. Pakistan is just around the corner and then I’m in Bangladesh. A vast majority of the world’s one billion Muslims—80 percent—now live outside the Middle East. There are more than five million in the United States.
Muslims Perform Sacred Duties The duties of the Hajj are symbolic of the story and obligations of Islam. Before prayer, Muslims wash, representing ritual purity. The walk around the Ka’ba—the black stone block in the great mosque—is an expression of our desire to put God at the center of our lives. Pilgrims also make a journey to Mina and to the plain of Arafat, 13 miles outside of Mecca. Making our way on foot, we trade city streets and buildings for tents and carpets on the sand of the barren plain, giving up our usual comforts, getting back to basics. On the plain of Arafat, we perform the central obligation of the pilgrimage, to be here together from noon until sunset. There is no ceremony. We stroll, we pray, we meditate. The Hajj goes on inside the hearts and thoughts of each of us. This is a rehearsal for that day of judgment. How will we account for our acts? Have I injured anyone? Have I been grateful enough for the simple gifts of life, water, food, friends, family and the air I breath? Before leaving Mecca, we visit the Ka’ba one last time. For most of us, this will be our last glimpse of the shrine. There is an old proverb—before you visit Mecca, it beckons you. When you leave it behind, it calls you forever.http://www.islamfortoday.com/wolfe4.htm
Malcolm X's (Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) Letter from Mecca
When he was in Makkah, Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz wrote a letter to his loyal assistants in Harlem... from his heart:
"Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.
"I have been blessed to visit the Holy City of Mecca, I have made my seven circuits around the Ka'ba, led by a young Mutawaf named Muhammad, I drank water from the well of the Zam Zam. I ran seven times back and forth between the hills of Mt. Al-Safa and Al Marwah. I have prayed in the ancient city of Mina, and I have prayed on Mt. Arafat."
"There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white."
"America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white - but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color."
"You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth."
"During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug - while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana."
"We were truly all the same (brothers) - because their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behavior, and the white from their attitude."
"I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man - and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their 'differences' in color."
"With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called 'Christian' white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster - the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves."
"Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual insights into what is happening in America between black and white. The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities - he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites. But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the walls and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth - the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to."
"Never have I been so highly honored. Never have I been made to feel more humble and unworthy. Who would believe the blessings that have been heaped upon an American Negro? A few nights ago, a man who would be called in America a white man, a United Nations diplomat, an ambassador, a companion of kings, gave me his hotel suite, his bed. Never would I have even thought of dreaming that I would ever be a recipient of such honors - honors that in America would be bestowed upon a King - not a Negro."
"All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the Worlds.
Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)
(From the AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X with assistance from Alex Haley, the author of ROOTS)
Malcolm X saw and experienced many positive things. Generosity and openheartedness were qualities which were impressed on him by the welcome which he received in many places. He saw brotherhood and the brotherhood of different races and this led him to disclaim racism and to say: "I am not a racist... In the past I permitted myself to be used... to make sweeping indictments of all white people, the entire white race, and these generalizations have caused injuries to some whites who perhaps did not deserve to be hurt. Because of the spiritual enlightenment which I was blessed to receive as the result of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca, I no longer subscribe to sweeping indictments of any one race. I am now striving to live the life of a true Sunni Muslim. I must repeat that I am not a racist nor do I subscribe to the tenets of racism. I can state in all sincerity that I wish nothing but freedom, justice and equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people."