Just returned from a weekend trip to Mecca and came back with some interesting discoveries as well as some nice pics.
I didn't notice it until this last trip, but people are constantly taking pictures with their phone cameras. I remember back when I performed my first Hajj in 2001, cameras were strictly prohibited in the Haram. Some people would sneak in their small disposable cameras and steal some photos when no one was around (I remember hearing stories about some people getting their cameras taken away).
But with the ubiquitous cellphone camera, the Haram authorities have basically given up. So now you'll see people unabashedly taking pictures from every corner of the Haram. In that spirit, here's my Nokia 6300-sponsored picture of the Ka'bah:
Its low season here, meaning that Umrah visas aren't currently being issued to overseas pilgrims. So there's a lot less of a crowd, which is quite nice. The sparse crowd allowed the kids to get all the way up to the Ka'bah. However, there are Saudi mutawaa (religious police) stationed at each wall constantly keeping the flow of the people moving. Fortunately, as he was shooing away some other folks, I was able to quickly snap this picture of the kids:
The construction to expand the Masa'a (the place where Sae'e is performed between Safa and Marwa) is simply amazing. I knew they were expanding it horizontally to widen it, but I failed to realize that they're even adding another level!
They recently opened up the new ground floor and the level on top, while closing the entire three floors of the old Masa'a. They're destroying the old structure so they can reconstruct it with an additional fourth level.
And can someone NOT from America please explain to me how the rest of the world numbers the floors in a building?? In America, the ground floor is referred to as the first floor, the floor on top is the second floor, and so on. Here in Saudi, the ground floor is called the ground floor, the next floor up is the first floor and so on. This has caused me and my family SO much confusion.
So, I would like to know if America is in fact the Great Retard and has it backwards (like how they're the only nation that uses pounds, gallons, and miles) or is it just the Saudis who have it all screwed up?
More than a year ago, I was blessed to perform Umrah with Sh Zulfiqar Ahmed. Before we began, he pointed out the exact location where the Prophet (saw) was sleeping when Angel Jibreel (as) took him for the famous Night Journey (Isra and Miraj).
According to Sh. Zulfiqar, the Prophet (saw) was sleeping in between the two pillars (of course those pillars weren't there at the time). He also showed us a nearby pillar which was built on the spot where Jibreel tied al-Buraq (the winged horse). The Ottomans had painted that pillar with a special red paint, but when the Saudis came, they painted over it with a gray marble color. We actually noticed how some of the red paint was still visible at the foot of the pillar. Sadly, when I went looking for that pillar this time around, I couldn't tell which one it was – they seem to have covered up the remnants of red paint. Too bad.
I discovered that I'm really disgusted by the Abraj al-Bait towers. At first, I didn't mind the looming complex that dwarfed all its neighboring hotels. I didn't even mind the fact that its super-mall was being built right outside the Haram. But sitting in front of the Ka'bah, I noticed just how great a distraction these building have become to the once serene skyline. How unbelievably awkward!
And yes, I am bothered that a western style mall is coming to the Haram sanctuary. I understand that Mecca has always been a business center, especially during the peak seasons of Ramadan and Hajj. I realize that many people come to Mecca for the purpose of trade. Countless pilgrims buy scarves, kufis, and other trinkets to remind them and their loved ones of their blessed visit. But who in the world needs to shop at Gap, Pumpkin Patch, and Louis Vetton when coming to the house of Allah?
I discovered that while the thin crowd is nice and all, the pleasure of seeing the clusters of Turks, Persians, Indonesians, Nigerians, and Indians is sorely missed. But on the bright side, the lack of distraction afforded me the chance to focus on the Ka'bah and I discovered that it can talk – and what it said to me was quite harsh (fodder for a future post).