Dick Whittington and Mecca

The golden gates of Mecca swung open. The heavenly Saudi sunlight poured over the pilgrims balding heads. The distant view of the mosque of the prophet glistened like a diamond in the barren landscape. The dark black Kabba was just visible. Some of the other pilgrims had tears in their eyes but as a British-born Muslim I avoided such public performances.

Buses and minivans were filled with women in niquabs and burkhas. Men hung onto the sides of buses as their pure white pilgrim dress fluttered behind them like angels. Three-wheeled little cars overfilled at the seams so that people hung out like rag dolls. The atmosphere was expectant as if the devout believed that god would appear to them as they uttered the sacred prayers. Burly Saudi guards stood without their guns or weapons as they were banned in god’s sacred ground. They were reduced to holding their ham-fisted hands near their stomachs.

The several thousand pilgrims had decided to come during Umrah or lesser Hajj. The crowds were smaller but no less big. The pilgrims and me streamed towards the holiest site in the whole of the Islamic world. The men and their (always escorted) wives were dressed in the purest of white to show that all humans were equal in the eyes of Allah. Mountains of uncomfortable sandals littered the burning tarmac as we shook them off quickly to get to the front of the queue.

“Through the road, do not step on the desert that our Arab forefathers stepped in” says one of the imams of Mecca in a thick Arab accent. Although we are in Saudi Arabia, English is still the language of choice as many Muslims speak so many languages. The crowd itself exerted whispers of Arabic, French, Urdu and Persian.

A gang of Igbo-speaking Nigerians scurried to the mosque. “ We’ve spent our life savings on this trip and Allah will surely grant me a good life” said the only English-speaking member. The twinkle in his eyes and the grinning smile showed me his expectance and belief.

The signs of excitement were evident as the pilgrims tapped their feet; clicked their tongues and jumped three feet into the air to catch a glimpse of their beloved. The imam gave a sign and all the pilgrims push forwards. The gates of the mosque loomed closer and closer. The curly Arabic on the entrance shone into my eyes and briefly made me see golden streets. The alleys poured out more pilgrims including several cats which were “shooed” away quickly.

A smile stretched across my face. Cats, golden streets and men shouting in English, maybe Mecca wasn’t so different from London. The devotees continued to shove.

J Dyal

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