I was in Mecca at last. Before me was the Ka'bah, a great black cube partly submerged in a torrent of white-robed pilgrims circling round and round. Around us, like a great dam containing the torrent, stood the massive walls and the seven slim minarets of the Sacred Mosque. High above, the muezzin began the evening call to prayer: "Allahu Akbar!... God is Most Great!"
Up on the hills the thin reedy voices of the muezzins in the smaller mosques joined in, each voice picking up the call in a fugue of prayer soaring into the golden crest of the afternoon.
In response, the crowds circling the Ka'bah slowed and stopped while new thousands flooded into the courtyard. In unison we bowed, fell to our knees and touched our foreheads to the earth, the familiar words of the prayer filling the courtyard and cloisters with a hoarse whisper that spilled out into the streets of the hushed city.
Indeed the very air vibrated in anticipation of the days to come. In the morning I would embark on the last miles of a journey that had begun years before and far away. It was not, certainly, comparable to the trans-continental trek of the African Muslim, or the long sea voyage faced by the believer in Asia, or even to the former caravan journey from Damascus. Yet in a sense it was an even longer journey. For my journey had begun not only in another culture, but in another religion.
I have deep roots in America. Some of my father's forbearers migrated to the Virginia Colony in 1609, and on my mother's side are ancestors who fought with Washington and Lincoln and a great-grandfather who was a Pony Express rider. Until I was 16, I myself had had an upbringing generally regarded as typically American: Midwestern, middle class and Protestant. I grew up in Bay City, Michigan, belonged to the Episcopal Church, went to Sunday School and sang in the church choir.
At 16, however, I discovered the Koran. I was attending a high-school journalism seminar at the University of Michigan and Michael Jansen, dressed in Ihrarn, bids her daughter farewell. I met some students from Iraq. We somehow began to discuss the Koran. I decided to read a translation and, one evening shortly after, opened a copy to the first chapter: "All praise is due to God, the Lord of the Worlds, the Beneficent, the Merciful; the Master of the Day of Requital; Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help; Guide us on the Right Path, the Path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favor, not of those on whom wrath is brought down, nor of those who go astray."
Those words, simple and direct, expressing ideas I had always held, so impressed me that I immediately set out to memorize them. Indeed, they drew me into Islam, an example perhaps of the Prophet Muhammad's assertion that everyone is born a Muslim and made a Jew or a Christian by his parents.
From that time forward I charted my life in the direction of Mecca. I studied Islamic history at Mount Holyoke College; I spent the summer of 1961 working with Palestinian refugees in Beirut; I earned a graduate degree at the American University of Beirut; I married and put down new roots in the Lebanese village of Shemlan. Finally, one bright December morning in 1967, with a descendant of the Prophet's family as my witness, I formally declared my adherence to Islam.
Like every Muslim, I was theoretically on the road to Mecca from that moment on. I had not envisaged making the journey so soon, however, and when the opportunity to go to Mecca unexpectedly arose in 1973 I was completely unprepared. I had to find out, for example, where to buy the Ihram, where to book accommodations, how to engage a mutawwif and so forth. Officials, acquaintances and even friends who had made the Hajj proved to be mines of misinformation. Airline reservations clerks, for example, said there was no need to book far ahead, but three weeks before the Hajj was due to begin I learned there were almost no seats left and was barely able to get one. One presumably knowledgeable person said I would not be able to go on the Hajj at all because I had not assumed an Arabic name when I made my declaration. This was especially upsetting, first because my name, Michael, appears in the Koran (Sura II–verse 91), but also because, as I said, I had never considered myself as a "convert." I had simply considered myself as someone who had recognized where she belonged. (Later, I learned that it was customary to take an Arabic name, but not necessary.)
The actual journey to Mecca began on the fifth of Dhu al-Hijjah, 1393 (the 29th of December, 1973, according to the Gregorian calendar), at Beirut International Airport, but it was not until the afternoon of the seventh that I donned the Ihram and drove along on the road from Jiddah to Mecca. The road was crowded with cars, buses and trucks all packed with pilgrims chanting the Hajj refrain, the Talbiyah :
Labbayk, Allahumma, Labbayk!
Labbayk, la sharika laka, Labbayk!
Inna-al-hamda, wa an-ni'mata laka wa'l mulkl
La sharika laka, Labbayk!
Here I am, O God, at Thy Command,
Here I am!
Thou art without associates
Thine are praise and grace and dominion
Thou art without associates, Here I am!
As we drove along I had joined in, sometimes at the beginning, sometimes in the middle, "Labbayk. . . Labbayk!" echoing over the stony plain. "Labbayk . .. Labbayk!" a tunnel of sound from Jiddah to Mecca, reaffirming with each mile the directness of the relationship between God and man that is fundamental in Islam.
At the end of the tunnel the car plunged into choked city streets, crept down the steep side of the bowl that holds the Holy City and stopped at the Mecca Hotel, directly across the street from the Masjid al-Haram, the Sacred Mosque. There I alighted, suddenly aware, amid the torrent of white-robed pilgrims that I was about to embark on an even more momentous journey than the one I had already accomplished.
Like most pilgrims, I could barely resist the desire to pay my formal respects at the Ka'bah immediately, but the crowds were so dense that I thought it wiser to wait. In the interim I stood in the arched cloisters and looked out at the marvelous spectacle taking place in the great courtyard before me.
The center of the spectacle, of course, was the Ka'bah, shrouded in black silk, with a wide band of golden calligraphy two-thirds of the way to the top. Just that morning the Ka'bah had received its ceremonial washing and, as is customary, the corners of the covering had been raised for the duration of the Pilgrimage, exposing the dark-gray blocks of Mecca stone of which it is constructed, roughly cemented together.
Around the Ka'bah, following their mutawwifs (see p. 40) and repeating the customary prayers, swirled men and women of every race and nation, from every corner of the earth. There were brown men, black men, yellow men and white men; some young, some old; some with the bearing of ancient patriarchs, others with the faces of medieval peasants and warriors, many with the clean-shaven look of modern businessmen. It was as if the sea had risen in a great tide around the world and swept us all to Mecca and into the whirlpool spinning about the massive black cube.
After a short time I realized that the crowds were not going to diminish, and decided to delay no longer. Leaving the cloisters, I walked along one of the nine broad stone walks that lead to the wide marble oval pavement which surrounds the Ka'bah and tucked my sandals (which I had removed before entering the mosque) into the gravel near a bench. Then I engaged a mutawwif and, left shoulder to the Ka'bah, edged into the current.
Although this first ceremony is a moving experience for a pilgrim, the Tawaf, or "the Circling"—that is making seven circuits around the Ka'bah—is not, at that point, considered part of the Hajj. Along with the Sa'y, or "the Running," it comprises the 'Umrah, or "Lesser Pilgrimage" (see p. 2), which is a gesture of respect to the Holy City made by the pilgrim on his first visit. It begins, traditionally, with the pilgrim kissing or touching the Black Stone (see p. 6), but on that night there was no question of my getting near enough to touch it. The throng, gently but firmly, had carried me off.
In spite of its size, the Hajj multitude is surprisingly gentle. Occasionally, as one group or another would attempt to cross the mighty stream, there would be an angry wave of pushing and jostling, but even that was understandable. To many pilgrims, who may never have gone further than the next village before making the Hajj, getting lost or separated was an experience too terrifying to contemplate.
On the seventh circuit the mutawwif steered me from the center of the stream to the outer bank and found a place for us to perform a Salah—the recitation of a prayer while bowing, kneeling and touching the forehead to the earth. This Salah , which completed "the Circling," is performed near the Place of Abraham, a spot where Abraham prayed.
For the next rite I mounted the small rocky hillock called al-Safa, turned toward the Ka'bah, raised my hands in salutation and declared my intention to perform the rite of Sa'y , or "the Running" (see p. 2). Then, descending from al-Safa, I entered the Mas'a, a spacious promenade bisected lengthwise by two narrow, railed pathways for the wheelchairs of the infirm, and joined another throng of believers, walking briskly to al-Marwa, another hillock, in the first of seven "Runnings" between the hills.
This throng, I found, was more relaxed than the crowds outside. Although there were occasional groups of determined peasants from the Anatolian steppes or the plains of the Punjab, who, arms firmly interlocked, swept other pilgrims aside as they rushed at a headlong pace down the Mas'a, most were exceptionally considerate. Children unconcernedly followed their parents, proud fathers bore infants in their arms and on their shoulders; the old, the blind and the crippled, who either could not afford or would not countenance wheelchairs, slowly but safely made their way.
After the Sa'y , I visited the Well of Zamzam, where Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, found water. I descended the white marble steps to a large divided chamber with a long pipe equipped with brass spiggots running along its back and side walls. Crowding round the taps were ample Egyptian women, who wept as they splashed themselves and everyone else with the warm water, which I found had a slightly brackish smell but little or no taste. At the top of the steps I saw two men wringing out a long white piece of material: "A burial shroud," someone said, explaining that some simple folk bring their shrouds to Zamzam because they believe that a shroud bathed in its waters will help them gain entrance to Paradise.
Although by then it was long past midnight I was not disposed to leave, and quietly drifted around the cloisters and galleries. The Gregorian New Year—1974—was an hour old before I recalled that elsewhere people would be celebrating New Year's Eve. But on that night I was not of that world. I was in a very special world where dates and hours, mundane duties and appointments did not impose themselves—a world in which my time belonged to God alone.
In the dark corners of the mosque, pilgrims slept wrapped in blankets, shawls and even prayer rugs. During the Pilgrimage, the Sacred Mosque becomes a part of the daily life of the pilgrims as well as a center of Pilgrimage. This may seem surprising to Westerners, but to a Muslim religion is a part of living; it is not folded up like a churchgoer's Sunday best until the next service. A prayer rug may serve as a bed, blanket, shawl or turban, as well as for devotions. Only the Koran is kept apart, wrapped carefully in a cloth and placed respectfully on top of one's goods.
As I walked on, the peace and serenity of the mosque crept into my heart. At the rail of the dim gallery above the cloisters, a man sat facing the Ka'bah transfixed, a Koran in his lap, and an Iranian woman stood alone quietly weeping. In the courtyard, where great throngs still circled the Ka'bah, the sedan chairs of pilgrims unable to perform the Tawaf on foot bobbed above the heads of the multitude like boats plying through waters. "How far I've come," I thought. "How far I've come."
The next morning, with the thunderous refrain, "Labbayk, Allahumma, Labbayk!" the Pilgrimage began. Thundering through the streets of Mecca the crowds swept out of the city in a great river that flowed along the broad road to Mina and past Jabal al-Nur, "The Mountain of Light."
For many, the Pilgrimage begins with this first glimpse of Jabal al-Nur, where Muhammad received his first revelation. To them, the mountain where the Prophet was summoned to God's service finally becomes a reality. Here Muhammad was commanded, "Read: In the name of thy Lord Who createth; createth man from a clot. Read: And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous, Who teacheth by the pen, teacheth man that which he knew not." Here, with these words spoken in this place, Islam began, and here we joyfully responded, "Labbayk, Allahumma, Labbayk!", knowing that God was indeed with us in this lonely inhospitable valley. The sky was a hard ice blue and the air like crystal, sparkling with the rising dust. Yes, this was indeed a place fit for revelation, an intense solitary place, brown and blue and filled with white-robed believers as far as the eye could see.
With new understanding in our hearts, we streamed into the little desert town of Mina, where Muhammad and his Companions spent the night on their way to 'Arafat. Following in his footsteps we halted at Mina, set in a steep-sided wadi, barren and brown, only three quarters of a mile across on the Mecca side but widening into the plain of Muzdalifah. At the narrow end of the wadi stand the three stone pillars, the Jamarat , which represent the three attempts made by Satan to prevent Abraham from sacrificing his son. As the wadi broadens there are streets of pastel-painted buildings, three to four stories high, in which pilgrims are housed. At the edge of the built-up area are the Mina field hospital, the public bathhouse, blocks housing the Hajj Administration and the vast tent city, sprawling as far as you can see, filling the wadi, creeping up its rugged sides and spilling forth upon Muzdalifah.
In the building in which I stayed I found that I had six Pakistani women and seven children as roommates. As their blankets and mattresses were already spread out and their baggage stowed I could just find a slice of floor large enough for the narrow foam-rubber mattress I had bought in the Jiddah suq. It was a clean, cool and pleasant room, with gaily striped rugs on the floor and a propeller fan for ventilation. I have no idea how old our hostel was—or how long hajjis have been settling into similar buildings—but I do know that there were such khans at Mina when the Swiss traveler Burckhardt performed the Hajj in 1814.
I immediately set out to explore Mina and and found it fascinating. Stalls selling iced drinks, cloth, ready-made clothing, toys and strings of beads lined the streets. There were goods from the world over: watches from Japan, bananas from Guatemala, apples from Lebanon, citrus fruits from Jordan, bolts of cloth from Hong Kong and India, dresses and shirts from Africa, chocolates from Switzerland, sandals from China, an accumulation of goods as heterogeneous in origin as the pilgrims themselves.
In the afternoon I also explored the tent city where most of the pilgrims live—and found that it was a city in every sense of the word, with broad avenues and narrow streets, sanitation facilities and running water. Along the highway I saw free dispensaries, first-aid tents, a small Swiss plane spraying the area against fleas and flies, and some helicopters hovering overhead to help ambulance teams find pilgrims in need of medical attention. The tents were of all shapes and sizes, and for many purposes. There were striped tents and flowered tents and muticolored tents; soaring pavilions with beautiful patterns inside and long low halls with partitioned rooms; tents for sleeping and tents for eating; privy tents and bathing tents.
In the evenings as I lay on my little mattress, I could look out the window at the curious apparition of the building across the street which had green and pink sugar-icing towers and was decorated with geometric designs and flower motifs. How lovely I thought, drowsily, that a place devoted to spiritual pursuits should be decorated with flights of fancy—how lovely and human . . .
Before dawn the next day—the ninth of Dhu al-Hijjah and the second day of the Hajj—I rose to the call of prayer, made my ablutions and performed the Salah , and opened my Koran to the introduction to refresh my memory on the life of the Prophet, particularly on his Farewell Pilgrimage, which Muslims have ever since tried to emulate. Thus, it became my practice during the Pilgrimage to turn to the Koran, or to a book on the meaning of the Prophet's message, whenever I felt puzzled or when I had a problem.
At about eight o'clock I tossed my gear onto the roof of one of our mutawwif's little coaster buses, climbed up and made myself comfortable among the bedrolls and bundles of the pilgrims within. The street was jammed with cars, buses and trucks brimming with hajjis and their goods waiting for the signal to begin the journey to 'Arafat. The din of the engines drowned out this signal—but there must have been one, for in one instant we all were moving, sailing smartly and smoothly above the traffic, waving gaily to other happy passehgers, all part of the mighty river flowing from Mina to 'Arafat. "Labbayk, Allahumma, Labbayk!" cried a group of Africans from the back of a small truck, and the multitude joined in, each nationality responding in its own accent, to the Divine call issued more than 13 centuries before: "And proclaim unto mankind the Pilgrimage. They will come to thee on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every deep ravine" (the Koran, Sura XXII, verse 27).
At 'Arafat I set out at once for Jabal al-Rahmah, the Mount of Mercy, where, at the foot of a dark granite hill on the edge of the plain, the Prophet had stood to deliver the sermon during his Farewell Pilgrimage. At the base many pilgrims stood, eyes uplifted to the dazzling white pillar erected near the top of the 200-foot slope. Some prayed, others sat on mats talking, family groups had their photographs taken and a knot of Africans crowded beneath a striped beach umbrella chanted "Labbayk." One mutawwif , leading a long line of Turks, exhorted them through a loud-speaker. Television cameras scanned the goings-on from a scaffold, perched high above our heads. Keeping pace with me was an obviously sophisticated pilgrim, chatting animatedly to his wife, apparently oblivious of where he was and what was happening around him. But then he looked up and, seeing the Mount just before him, stopped in his tracks and burst into a flood of tears.
As I began to ascend the Mount a tall African generously shared the shade of his green silk umbrella with me and I recalled the Prophet's word: ". . . Above all else, never forget that each Muslim is the brother of all others: for all Muslims in this world form one race of brothers."
Back in the tent I found that the Pakistani ladies—now part of my group—had not visited the Mount of Mercy. Instead they sat on their bedrolls, reading their Korans. For me the meaning of those words was enhanced outside in the streets of 'Arafat, at the foot of the Mount and on the barren plain enclosed by stark azure mountains on three sides. I went out and walked alone until I found a place I could peacefully stand and gaze at the Mount, in my own private commemoration of the Wuquf or "the Standing" of the congregation for the Prophet's sermon. There were many of us who stood in the streets of 'Arafat that day, under the noon sun, recalling that God had given His last revelation to Muhammad at 'Arafat: "This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion" (the Koran, Sura V, verse 4). When they heard those words, the Prophet's Companions wept, for they knew that he would not remain with them long, and every pilgrim who has "stood" at 'Arafat since has felt the same sense of loss.
After the noon prayer, the multitude at 'Arafat seemed to heave a great sigh of relief and the atmosphere changed from grave devotion to lighthearted serenity. There is a lovely story about the Prophet which explains the transformation at 'Arafat, a story which few pilgrims know, but the essence of which they all feel in their hearts.
While he was at Mina during his Farewell Pilgrimage, Muhammad seemed glum, but his Companions, who felt his mood, hesitated to ask him why. At 'Arafat the next day, however, the Prophet's face glowed with happiness. One of the Companions asked him what had happened, why his spirits had changed from gloom to gaiety. The Prophet replied that the day before he had been depressed because he had asked God to forgive the pilgrims all their sins and God had replied that He could forgive only the sins against Himself. He could not forgive the sins they had committed against one another. But now He had said that He would forgive all the sins of the pilgrims at 'Arafat. And from that day onward pilgrims have left 'Arafat free men and women, reborn and without sin, for there is no concept of original sin in Islam.
Back in our compound, I found the magic of 'Arafat had made everyone serenely happy. A picnic atmosphere had swept across the plain. In our tent we were served enormous dishes of lamb and chicken cooked in spices with rice, and a sweet saffron-rice pudding. After lunch the streets filled with people, long trains of pilgrims marching behind banners proclaiming their nationalities, families gathering in the shade of little striped awnings attached to their cars, men and women sipping tea in refreshment tents. I passed one youth in his Ihram who was encased in plaster from his ribs down to one ankle and I wondered if he had had a skiing accident. I came across the "Children's Lost Tent," manned by patient Boy Scouts who had a supply of toys to divert their crying wards until their parents claimed them.
As the sun dropped toward the horizon, the multitude at 'Arafat began to stow their things on top of the buses, to strike their tents and pull up poles and stakes. I reclaimed my place on top of my bus and found that I had been joined by a Pakistani businessman, Mr. M.M. Ahmad, and his wife who, I learned in the course of our conversation, had made the Hajj 17 times.
"But why?" I asked. "I thought most people made the Hajj just once."
"Well," he replied thoughtfully. "We don't always plan to come, my wife and I ... but then the time for the Hajj comes round and we cannot stay away."
As we talked—we were discussing the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence and sipping sugared tea—the sunset cannon boomed and the vast happy caravan began the slow journey to Muzdalifah with a thunderous shout of "Labbayk !"
At Muzdalifah, where traffic police, wearing belts of flashing lights across their chests and carrying red torches, directed us to a camping site, we gathered 49 stones, stumbling over the rugged hills of Muzdalifah in the dark, and then I shared a supper of delicacies with the Ahmads which had been brought all the way from Pakistan for the occasion. Later, we stretched out under the cold, distant stars to sleep and as the hum of the multitude died down to a whisper, dropped off to sleep one by one, released by God from the weight of of our transgressions and filled with the joy of 'Arafat.
At dawn cannon announced the morning prayer. In the chill mist that blanketed the plain, I began to walk from Muzdalifah to the pillars at Mina. In order to keep their little groups together, some hajjis had raised distinctive standards on long poles: teapots and paper bags, rags and plastic bottles, posters and flags were solemnly held aloft. The problem of losing hajjis was solved by the mutawwifs in various ways. Some gave their charges little cards with their addresses at Mina which a lost hajji could present to the nearest Boy Scout or policeman so he could be sent to the correct tent. Desert tribesmen traveled in tight little rings, women and children on the inside, men forming an elastic outer circle. But it was the Iranians who had devised the most ingenious way of keeping track of their ladies, they simply stitched their addresses onto the back of the billowing white cloaks in which the women enveloped themselves from top to toe. Nearing Mina we met two smiling men carrying a cleaned and dressed lamb in a basket between them. They had completed the Sacrifice and were on their way home to roast the Adha lamb. "Hajj mabrur !"—"May your Hajj be acceptable to God!"—passersby called in greeting. As we met more and more people carrying meat from the Sacrifice, I began to feel uneasy. Since I have not completely outgrown the tenderheartedness I had known as a child, I had balked at the idea of the Sacrifice long before being confronted with it—and now the time had come to do it. What was I to do? As a girl I had cared for lost dogs or stray cats, adopting any fledgling that had fallen from its nest, splinting a bird's broken leg with a matchstick and feeding injured butterflies on sugar syrup. But a companion had been adamant. "You must do the Sacrifice. There is no question of your not being able to afford it." Yet I now felt even more oppressed because my sense of kinship with animals had been revived by a renewed respect for all life generated by the prohibition against harming undomesticated plants or animals while wearing the Ihram.
Back at our building at Mina I turned to the Koran. I found that the Sacrifice has many meanings: it commemorates Abraham's offering of his son's life and God's rejection of this sacrifice in exchange for Abraham's submission to God's will; it marks the end of idolatry among the Arabs; it is an offering of thanksgiving to the God of Creation, Who has been so benevolent to mankind; and it teaches the well-to-do to share their blessings, to "eat thereof (the Sacrifice) and feed the beggar and suppliant" (the Koran, Sura XXII, verse 36).
As I pondered what I had read, a great weight was lifted from my conscience. I suddenly saw that the Sacrifice upholds the sacredness of life, that it, in fact, constitutes a pledge by the pilgrim that he will slay for sustenance only. And where I had felt reluctance before I now felt eagerness to fulfill all the requirements of my Pilgrimage. But before the Sacrifice there was the Stoning.
Because I was well ahead of the mass of pilgrims coming from Muzdalifah, I was able to approach the Jamrah quite easily. I took careful aim and cast the first seven pebbles home: one .. . two ... three. They flew in shallow arcs ... tic ... tic ... tic as they hit the pillar. I felt complete solidarity with the people all round, both great and humble; people who were at that moment striking out at their weaknesses, their misdeeds against God and one another ... tac ... tac ... tac against the pillar. The earnestness with which the majority of the pilgrims—peasants and villagers of Africa and Asia—approached the Jamrah shamed the more worldly of us who, feeling foolish, initially hesitated on the edges of the crowd. But with each stone I felt more strongly the link between past and present, between the Patriarch Abraham and this vast assemblage: the millennia dissolved and the good intentions and resolutions of all the pilgrims who had cast their stones over the ages were fused into the collective Muslim will to follow "the Right Path."
As it was now time for the Sacrifice I explained to my companion that I would perform it only if I could arrange to have the animal cooked, eat a part of the meat and give the remainder to someone who was less fortunate than I. (Some hajjis follow this procedure, but most leave the carcass with the attendants at the Place of Sacrifice for distribution among the poor.) We proceeded, therefore, to the Place of Sacrifice, purchased a sheep from one of the Bedouin shepherds who were selling their flocks, sacrificed it and took it, cleaned and ready for cooking, to the proprietor of a shop where a charming rascal called Hajj Muhammad Atiq had agreed to cook it for me. While the meat cooked I crossed the street to a shop that sold kitchen utensils to buy an aluminum pot, for Hajj Muhammad had flatly refused to allow us to tie up any of his crockery with the meat we planned to distribute. I had just handed the washed pot to Hajj Muhammad when a young French-speaking hajji in street clothes—indicating that he had made the Sacrifice and doffed his Ihram —sprang out of a car which had stopped outside. Presenting me with an unopened bottle of Evian mineral water, he commanded, "Have a drink!" with officious good will and waited until I had done so. "We are leaving," he announced and threw himself back into the car, well pleased with his demonstration of brotherhood and charity.
An old man, obviously without means, drifted by clutching a loaf of bread from the bakery next door and asked Hajj Muhammad timidly the price of the meat. But it was too costly and he turned to go. My companion leapt up and offered him some of our meat as it lay simmering in the dish. Shakily the old man held out a nylon bag while Hajj Muhammad spooned in pieces from the pan. "Go in peace," the old man said as he ambled away.
After eating our fill, we left the shop of Hajj Muhammad in search of a recipient for the rest of the Sacrifice. As we thrust through the crowd in the street, a thin dark hand reached up from the pavement and plucked at my sleeve: "Some bread please, some bread." And we gave the lot to this crippled man, sitting on a mat with his crutches beside him.
Meanwhile, the story of how I had consulted the Koran and then strictly followed God's command to "feed the beggar and suppliant" had reached my Pakistani roommates and brought about a change in their attitude towards me as a stranger. My adherence to the letter of the law had generated considerable respect, where before their attitude had been wary circumspection. From that time on I was accepted as one of them; they warmly drew me into their circle. In the golden light of the afternoon which flooded our room, one of the women carefully snipped off a lock of my hair to mark the completion of the key rituals.
After packing some clean clothing into a bag I caught a bus to Mecca to perform the Tawaf and Sa'y of the Pilgrimage. The ride gave me a moment to reflect on what had happened to me since I had left Mecca two days earlier. Before I had embarked on the Pilgrimage its rituals seemed to me just so many curious exercises. But as I participated in the events of the Pilgrimage, the meaning of these rites unfolded, my understanding of Islam was deepened and I learned more fully what it meant to be a Muslim. Indeed, this is why God had commanded Muhammad to issue the call for the Pilgrimage: "That they (the pilgrims) may witness things that are of benefit to them . . ." (the Koran, Sura XXII, verse 28).
Back at the Mecca Hotel the time had come to doff the Ihram, shower and put on fresh clothing for the Tawaf : "... Let them make an end of their unkemptness and pay their vows and go round the Ancient House" (the Koran, Sura XXII, verse 29).
The courtyard was not as crowded as it had been when we performed the 'Umrah. After engaging a mutawwif I began the circuits, graceful gray and white pigeons fluttering overhead. From the minarets above us the call to prayer pierced the silence of the Sacred Mosque and my guide led us to the edge of the oval floor where we prepared for the congregational devotions of the evening Salah . In the radiant evening the throng stood and knelt in unison round the House built by Abraham to proclaim the oneness of God and the unity of mankind. At that moment I understood why Muslims turn toward this great black cube in prayer.
Back in Mina I called on a man recommended to me by a friend, a man learned in the ways of religion, whose face simply radiates his inner peace and goodness. "When you come here," he said, "you are calling on God, you are entering His House. The Talbiyah is your application for admittance to His House, a request for an appointment with Him. And that you were able to make the Pilgrimage at all is a sign of God's willingness to accept you. It is a very great blessing for you, for all of us."
As for the rest, it ended swiftly. I returned to Mina one more time—to find my Pakistani ladies shopping and visiting happily—took part in the final stoning of the pillars and stood entranced as the final cannon thundered and a deafening shout of joy rose up from the multitude all round: "God is Most Great." I then returned to Mecca to make a final Tawaf around the Ka'bah. I joined in the prayers of a passing group, mixing their devotions with my own. I drank some water from the Well of Zamzam and then sat in solitude in the colonnade. Finally, I walked round for a last look at the marvelous silver door of the Ka'bah and bade the Ancient House farewell. Driving to Jiddah along the open highway, I began to see the outside world with the eyes of one who has stood at 'Arafat.