At seven in the morning I would step out of my house into glorious sunshine and board the bus with my neighbours, who were also my colleagues, my friends, and my newly adopted family. In a state of Ihram and donned in two pieces of white cloth, the men would take the front of the bus. The women would be armed with their prayer beads and supplies of breakfast snacks as we yet again shared our overwhelming awe of being absorbed in the present moment: a day trip to the glorious Kaaba.
We were a group of British and South African teachers living out an adventure in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The reasons to emigrate were many, but the common thread was our desire to be within close proximity to our spiritual home. The frustrations and stresses of working within a Saudi system paled in comparison to standing in front of the Kaaba, or in front of the beloved Prophet Muhammed’s (peace be upon him) grave and amongst thousands of worshippers who shared the same desire and passion to immerse themselves in contemplation of the oneness of God — escaping from the earthly world and into the ephemeral where the human heart can find complete rest and tranquillity.
Words cannot convey the immensity of gratitude that ran through me each time I visited the two holy cities. Inevitably, large crowds of worshippers brought with them many challenges that had to be overcome; patience, respect, and understanding were all part of the process in ensuring that the full benefits of the Umrah trips were gained. However, during periods when international visas were closed, uninterrupted meditations were an absolute blessing. I would place my hands on the wall of the Kaaba fully absorbed in the moment. Deep in heartfelt prayers, I had the privileged opportunity to pray for all of humanity. From my late father who passed away prematurely from pancreatic cancer to the stranger who laboured endlessly to fund his child’s education, I asked Allah to grant them all peace in this world and the hereafter.
Medina was a more relaxed experience compared to Mecca, and during the periods of closed visas, it offered an even more incredible opportunity to feel the love of the beloved prophet (pbuh). Through the blessings of Allah, I could sit close to the Prophet’s grave, taking my time in offering the two rakats of prayer and simply absorbing the immense strength of spirituality that seemed to have a unique and powerful vibe exclusively reserved for the city of Medina.
My one year stay in Jeddah was an eclectic mix of experiences. Frustration, anger, and disappointment was balanced out with inspiring nature and beautiful friendships. But my greatest motivation was always my deep desire to be spiritually moved, to be fully absorbed into a world of prayer where only God exists. Mecca and Medina fulfilled this desire, and as I sit in my home in the UK watching the autumn change into winter, I cannot express enough gratitude for the blessings of having said time and time again, “Let’s go for a day trip to the Kaaba!”
It is narrated on the authority of the amir al-muminin (leader of the believers), Abu Hafs Umar bin al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), who said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), say, ‘Actions are according to intentions, and everyone will get what was intended. Whoever migrates with an intention for Allah and His messenger, the migration will be for the sake of Allah and his Messenger. And whoever migrates for worldly gain or to marry a woman, then his migration will be for the sake of whatever he migrated for’” (Bukhari and Muslim).