People have urged me to write something about my recent visit to Mecca and Medina and to the
‘Urs of Khawaja Muinuddin Hassan Chishti in Ajmer. I will do my best to comply with their request.
This is of course no more than a personal impression.
I undertook the first part of this journey in the company of my wife Farhana who is a lifelong devout Muslim –
she had long been urging me to undertake such a holy journey which she also regards as a preparation for
undertaking the Hajj – which as you know is obligatory on Muslims who have the means. To perform such a
journey had long been a desire of mine also but I wanted to make sure the time and conditions were quite right.
Having obtained the necessary visas and made travel arrangements through a travel agent we then made sure
we were free of debts large or small.
The previous year the following incident had occurred. I was returning from a visit to India by aeroplane. It so
happened that my warm clothing was packed in my suitcase and I was wearing very light clothing. I had a wait of
several hours in an airport in the Middle East whilst changing planes. The airport was air-conditioned and I
found myself becoming very cold. The only way to ease my discomfort seemed to be to buy at the airport shops
something warmer to wear. I looked around but could find nothing suitable – except a packet of what appeared
to be two towels. I purchased these and, wrapping the towels around me like a blanket, eased my discomfort. I
was curious that the two towels were quite thin but also larger than normal. I thought little more of it and on
return to home put the ‘towels’ away.
Now that we were preparing to undertake the ‘Umra (minor pilgrimage which can be undertaken at time of the
year unlike the Hajj itself) we realised that I would need ‘Ihram - two unstitched white cloths which are the only
dress men wear whilst actually on the ‘Umra. Suddenly we both realised the real nature of the ‘towels’ I had
purchased. We took this as a sign that indeed the time was right for our journey.
Ladies too have to wear clothing that covers their body and hair (but not their face). This clothing has to be put
on before reaching an invisible boundary that surrounds Mecca. In our case we put on our respective garbs in
the aeroplane having taken ritual ablutions (wuddhu). We then performed two rackaat of namaz (the Muslim
ritual prayers) and began to recite in Arabic the following: ‘Labayk, Allahumma Labayk. Labayk la sharika laqa
labayk. Innal humma wan ney matta laqa mal mulk. Laa sharika Laka.’ This can be summarised as meaning
‘Oh Allah (God) I have come’. This is repeated as many times as one likes until one arrives at the Kaaba itself
and begins to circle it. As we travelled by Saudi Arabian Airlines there were many people aboard the plane
dressed for the ‘Umra and there was a place to offer the prayers on the plane. We took as blessing the fact
that, though booked into ordinary tourist class seats, the airlines transferred us to ‘business class seats’ adding
considerably to the comfort of the journey.
I must admit however to a little discomfort with the ‘Ihram as we went through Jeddah airport controls until I
finally found a how to tie the cloth properly.
We were met by a prearranged taxi which took us to the holy city itself. Like most vehicles in Saudi Arabia it was
fitted with air conditioning which again made this part of the journey comfortable as the heat was above 45
degrees centigrade. One could not but reflect on how conditions have changed when one considers the
arduous journeys undertaken in the past by pilgrims. There is one Sufi who is renowned for having made the
journey on foot – offering prayers after every few yards!
The landscape surprised us as we drove towards Mecca, in that it was not the sand- dune filled wilderness of
romantic films but was rather rocky and at times grey.
The Centre of the Religion
Our arrival at Mecca filled us with excitement as we first saw the holy Kabaah. We had seen it many times in
pictures and on TV of course – but its physical reality still came as a surprise. We were taken to our pre-
booked hotel which was just across a marbled ‘courtyard’ from the main entrance. Depositing our luggage and
renewing our ritual ablutions, we quickly made our way to the Haraam Sharif, the mosque surrounding the
Kabaah. We had arrived on Friday morning so we hastened to complete the ‘Umra before the commencement
of the Friday congregational prayer. Having left our sandals near the entrance we passed through the tall
columns of the surrounding mosque and into the intensely bright and hot sunshine of the main concourse. The
marble was remarkably cool to walk on due to some form of underground cooling system as we understand. In
front of us the simple dignified Kabaah stood – somehow not as large as we had expected from aerial
photographs but immensely impressive in its simplicity.
In the circling throng the white Ihram worn by many of the men contrasted with the mostly black of the women.
All were circling the building in an anti-clockwise direction. We joined them looking for the starting line, which
had been described to us as a black line – in fact it turned out to be a line light grey marble extending outward
from the corner where the famous black stone is located. It is this stone the pilgrims are intended to try and
kiss before commencement of the circling (Tawaaf). In practise this is really difficult to reach due to the intensity
of the crowds around it. We satisfied ourselves, as did most, in raising our arms and calling out ‘Allahu Akbar’
(Greatness belongs to God). Not being sure of exactly how everything worked and being somewhat
overwhelmed by the whole occasion we found ourselves initially somewhat confused, but set out on our journey
round what is called the House of God, built by Abraham and blessed by God.
As we walked, Farhana holding on tightly to me from fear of getting lost in the throng, we recited religious
verses. Farhana had a book with her and was trying to read the full prescribed verses which are different from
corner to corner. I preferred to stick to something simple, as is always my way in matters of religion, so I recited
the third Kalma. As we went round we passed first the gold door to the Kabaah which we were able to touch.
Beyond that there is a small kiosk which is said to contain the footprints of Hazrat Ibrahim (the Prophet
Abraham). There is also an area on one side of the Kaaba where prayer can be offered. We completed seven
circuits ( seven Tawaaf), sometimes in the more crowded area close to the building and sometimes the longer
but less crowded route further away from the building. Though thronged with people the procession around
was remarkable for its orderliness. As you will know the Kabaah itself is not black but covered with a black
Having completed the seven circuits we knew from our reading it was time to drink the water of Abi Zam Zam –
we expected to be going to a well of some sort – but in fact nowadays there are taps throughout the mosque,
each with an efficient ready supply of plastic cups. Having drunk our fill of this we proceeded to search for the
next part of the ritual – the running between the hills of Safa and Marwa. We had both visualised this as being
in some way outside and involving natural hills. In fact we found a covered passageway, integrated within the
mosque complex. It is as wide as a road and not unlike a road in that it had two lanes for the human ‘traffic’.
One walked on one side to go in one direction and on the other for the return journey. The two sides were
separated by a central aisle with two pathways wide enough for use by wheelchairs.
We initially arrived about half way down the concourse and then made our way to the Safa. To our surprise this
was more of a gentle slope than a hill. The original rocks of the hill appear to have been artificially preserved in
some way. From the slope of the mound we duly made our intentions (niat) for undertaking the ‘saay’ and
commenced a fairly fast walk. About half way along there is a green line that indicates a section in which one
walks or runs with increased speed for a short length. Reaching the far end we came to another slope which
was clearly ‘Marwa’. Following the instructions we again praised God and made our intention – then
commenced the return leg. In total one must complete seven legs ending up at Marwa. There at the top of the
‘mound’ I found people passing scissors around, and somebody volunteered to cut three locks of hair – the
ritual that completes the ‘Umra’. I also assisted Farhana in this.
The walk is not extensive – perhaps two or three miles in total – but bare feet pounding hard marble does take
a toll on the underneath of the feet. We made our way back to the hotel where I was able to change into the
more familiar pyjamas and kurta. During the four days in Mecca we performed the ‘Umra one more time – on
behalf of someone who had passed on, and also performed the circling a number of times.
To complete a second ‘Umra we took a taxi to Hazrat Aisha’s mosque a few miles from the Kaaba – where we
changed again into our ritual clothes and performed two rakats of Namaz in the blessed Mosque there, before
returning to Haraam Sharif.
For the remainder of the time we were occupied either with Namaz in the Haraam Sharif, resting, or going on
Ziyarat (visiting of holy places) to see some of the sites only used during the full Hajj. Once or twice we went to
look around the luxurious air-conditioned shopping centres (those who know Farhana will know that such a
thing could hardly be avoided). We obtained two large containers of the water of Abi Zam Zam to distribute to
friends and guests on return.
Mecca is, in some respects, the outward manifestation of the heart of the religion of Islam – with the original
Kabaah predating the time of the holy Prophet himself by many generations, the perennial and universal nature
of Islam is emphasised. It challenges the tendency of either Arabs or indeed Easterners to claim it exclusively
To those of insight it is like being at the centre or axis of the world. If we attempt to circle the world at its
‘equator’ it may take a long time to do so, it is a slow process, but at the pole it is but a step. In Mecca one is at
the very pole of the religion. With relatively few steps one appears to circle the religion. The process is so fast
that one can hardly apprehend its rapidity - but the reality of this is something mercifully veiled from many a
The mystically inclined cannot fail but to find its inner beauty breathtaking, but some may not be able to resist
saying – ‘is there something more?’ In Sufism too, can a person be said to be a Sufi who has not gone beyond
City of Light
The second leg of our journey was again by taxi but a rather longer journey of about 5/6 hours. The modern
roads are not busy but our taxi driver strictly obeyed the speed limits – even having a device that bleeped if his
speed began to exceed it. The landscape was more dramatic than we had seen before and we couldn't help
commenting on some small mountains that appeared perfectly conical as in a child’s drawing.
During part of the journey we dozed a little until at one point I became aware, as if in a dream, of a city laid our
before me – a city made of light. Opening my eyes I discovered we were indeed entering the wondrous city of
Medina. I can no more describe the pervading atmosphere than others were able to do to me. Mecca was a
powerful experience – Medina full of an all-pervading warmth of spirit.
To our surprise the tour operator had booked us into a 5 star hotel – an entirely new experience for me – but
although one was tempted to wonder whether such luxury was appropriate to the spirit of pilgrimage I must
admit it didn’t seem to matter a bit so pervasive was the lightness of spirit.
Once again the Mosque (of the holy Prophet, peace be upon him) was just a walk across the courtyard and we
wasted little time in making our way across that blessed ground). Women pray separately from men of course
so here our experiences diverged somewhat. Having walked through the enormous beautifully pillared mosque
it was possible to locate the area around the holy Prophet’s shrine. There was a separate time when women
only could access this area – which Farhana took full advantage of.
Initially it was difficult to offer prayer as near this area as one would have liked as it was densely packed with
worshippers. However that night I found I could not sleep and although I knew the Mosque was closed I became
so restless that I decided to walk over to the Mosque anyway. The doors were all locked so I started to walk
around the Mosque and as I reached the area of the holy Prophet’s shrine (and that of some of the blessed
companions) I noticed a small gathering of about thirty or forty people near the door – I went across to
investigate and to my surprise arrived at just the very moment when the doors were opened. I went in and was
able to find a place for prayer next to the shrine. I was able to offer two rackats of Namaz on the platform
adjacent to the holy shines – the platform where used to sit those persons about whom it is said in the holy
Qur’an : ‘neither traffic nor trade was able to divert them from the remembrance of Allah’. There are other
places around the immediate mosque that have a particular holiness – there is one green carpet where it is
said that if one prays there one gains paradise. I found myself on it quite ‘by chance’ during one visit.
There were so many examples of the holy Prophet’s hospitality during our three day stay that my regret was
only that the stay could not be longer. What constitutes hospitality and generosity on the part of those that
appear dead but are really the epitome of life, can not be easily spoken about – it is understood by those who
know and thus does not need description and cannot be understood with any amount of description by those
who do not know. Let us remind ourselves of the extraordinary blessings bestowed on Khawaja Gharib Nawaz
when he visited the Kabaah and the shrine of the holy Prophet.
Dr Sharib describes it thus:
One day, when he was absorbed in prayer in the Kaaba, he heard a voice saying “O, Muinuddin We are greatly
pleased with thee. Thou art given salvation. Ask for anything thou mayst like, so that We may grant that to
thee.” He (Khawaja Saheb) submitted respectfully: “O, great God! Give salvation to the followers and disciples
of Muinuddin.” Came the reply: “O Muinuddin thou art Our accepted one. I will give salvation to thy followers
and disciples and also to those who may enter thy fold till the Day of Resurrection.”
After…. performing the Hajj he reached Medina. Here he was engaged in prayers in the Quba Mosque. During
this time he received the direction from the holy Prophet Muhammed to the effect -
“O Muinuddin! Thou art a helper of my religion. I entrust to thee the country of Hindustan (India). Proceed on to
Ajmer and spread there the Gospel of Truth.”
Receiving this mandate, he was immensely pleased, but wondered as to where Ajmer was situated.
In the meanwhile, he felt drowsiness. He was blessed by seeing the holy Prophet Muhammed in dream, who
showed him the city, the fort and the situation of Ajmer. He was bid farewell with the gift of a pomegranate from
(Khawaja Gharib Nawaz by Dr Zahurul Hasan Sharib (Sh. Muhammed Ashraf – reprinted 1990.)
It was a great honour that amongst the different sites in Medina we were also able to visit Quba Mosque and to
offer prayer there. It is a Mosque associated with the holy Prophet being given instruction to change the
direction of prayer so that it would henceforth be performed towards the Qibla of Mecca. We also visited the
graveyard in Medina where so many saintly souls are buried, and the hill where the famous battle of Ahud took
Our time was too short, but I had also an important appointment to attend the ‘Urs of Khawaja Saheb in Ajmer.
We soon found ourselves aboard an airliner heading to India. We stopped first in Delhi where time was too
limited to pay the respects of visiting the great shrines of Hazrat Nizamuddin, Hazrat Qutub Saheb, Hazrat
Chiraguddin, Hazrat Sarmad and Hazrat Huree Bari Saheb, or Hazrat Shah Wali Ullah Saheb other than in our
Nowadays the trains to Ajmer are faster and more comfortable that in the past so the next leg of the journey
soon passed. The train that brought me into Ajmer in time for the flag ceremony that precedes the main
festivities of the ‘Urs had been thoughtfully booked by my Nephew Rizwan.
Of course things were more familiar here, the crowded streets, the noise and bustle, the narrow gulleys and
then the familiar house of Nawob Saheb. Here I met old and new friends. There were many visitors from Italy
who had accompanied Qamar Bhai, Haseena and their two lovely daughters. Some I had met in Italy previously.
There were also visitors from Australia, France, America and elsewhere, and of course from, many parts of
India. There too I met Faiz Ahmed and Hamubhai again after the gap of a year. Regrettably Hamu suffers from
continued poor health but remains resilient and cheerful. I was glad later on also to meet his brother Munnu
Bhai and his wife and sister. Wajid Bhai and his wife and beautiful children also came later.
Inaam Saheb spends much of his time on the Chilla, near to the tombs of Sheikhs of the Gudri Shah Order and
to the large school which he founded. It was here, after a visit to the shrines, that I met him and of course his
charming wife and delightful son. Inaam Saheb greeted me with the courtesy and affection and humility which is
The flag ceremony began in the afternoon and we were soon following the traditional band up the main street
towards the shrine of Khawaja Saheb, following the familiar rituals. The actual ‘Urs was delayed by a day as the
moon had not yet been sited for the beginning of the Islamic month, but in next to no time we were seated in the
vast Mehfil Khanna (Hall of gathering for Sama) at midnight, hearing the Qwaals and becoming absorbed in the
loving atmosphere which can better be tasted than described. I will not go into detail here – I have written
elsewhere of the ‘Urs but amongst the other highlights was the poetry recital at the end of the ‘Urs at which
Inaam was kind enough to present the second volume of ‘The Qur’anic Precepts’ which seemed to be well
The ‘Urs is a combination of delight and spiritual feasting, with a degree of hardship for the body. In particular
Inaam, who was not well, endured the hardships with great stoicism. The rewards are literally ‘out of this world’.
If I say the occasion, for me, was not without the presence of my spiritual guide Zahurmian I will be engaging in
the common British practice of understatement.
In order to attend the final gathering of the 'Urs, which was the Mehfil e Rindan (with lady Qwaalis) I found
myself at risk of missing my plane – and in fact I did reach Delhi just too late – however even here the blessings
of Khawaja Saheb were present, since not only did I get a better plane the next day with a shorter stopover, but
I had an extra day to spend in Delhi with my relatives who had come there, and also the chance to visit Hazrat
Nizamuddin and Hazrat Amir Khusrao’s shrines. I arrived back on Friday in time to attend my local Mosque in
Southampton where I was greeted with great warmth by friends keen to hear how I had found the pilgrimage.
Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri
Southampton, October 2005
The photo of the shrine of the holy Prophet is by an unknown photographer to whom we offer our thanks.
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