An Enlightened Journey: Part 1 – Yaseen Najeeb

During our conversations over Zoom, some of the fellows in my cohort expressed interest in the Islamic pilgrimage, Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam. Two years ago, I had the privilege of going on Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage. I decided to share my reflections on that enlightening journey, though to do it justice I will do it in two blog posts.

“Labbayka-Allaahumma-labbayk! Labbayka-laa-shareeka-laka-labbayk!” (“Here I am, O Allah, here I am. Here I am, You have no partner, here I am.”)

The mass of voices in the airplane rang out with these beautiful words as we descended into Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The entire plane was filled with people of all ages and colors, coming from different backgrounds and social classes, many wearing nothing more than two large white cloths. These simple clothes are called the ‘ihram’ which pilgrims wear to humble ourselves as we present ourselves to our Lord.

I look out the window, eagerly waiting for the plane to touch down so I can continue my journey to one of the holiest places in the world, Mecca. As we arrived, the spiritual energy in the air was tangible.

I had yearned to see the Kaaba for as long as I could remember.

After settling down in my hotel, I began walking the couple blocks towards the religious symbol that Muslims all over the world know as the Kaaba. My family and I lowered our eyes and pushed through the crowds, staying as close as possible, then all together we lifted our eyes. We saw a box-shaped structure, shrouded by a sleek black robe with intricate gold patterns. The Kaaba itself is not what melts the hearts of the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world. It is what the Kaaba represents. It is a symbol of God’s pact with Prophet Abraham, his son Ishmael, and devout Muslims.

As I watched the tens of thousands of Muslims circling the structure, I stood in awe, realizing that I was at the center of Islamic history. The Kaaba was built by Prophet Ibraheem (Abraham), as the first structure built on earth for the worship of the one God, and a symbol Muslims use to connect with their Creator.

I began the ritual of walking around the Kaaba seven times, glorifying God. As I got closer to the Kaaba, I lost myself amongst the swarms of people. At first, I watched the people walking by me, all so different yet all there for the same reason, reconnecting with God and asking for His mercy. There was not a single dry eye in the sacred place. Then I turned my attention to the Kaaba. This was the direction toward which all Muslims in the world turn their faces countless times a day during our prayers, symbolically showing that they worship the God of Abraham.

Is there a place that you feel a personal or spiritual connection to that you’ve never been to/seen with your own eyes?

9 thoughts on “An Enlightened Journey: Part 1 – Yaseen Najeeb”

  1. Hi Yaseen,

    I know it’s not the same as a religious experience like yours, but the first time I ever went to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. was quite surreal. It’s a place I had seen often in movies or documentaries, and in American history it’s a place both of austere figures (Washington, Jefferson, etc) and transformative moments, like Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In some ways, the National Mall really is the locus of many deeply-held American beliefs about the nature of our early leaders, our troubled history, and our many reform movements.

  2. Hi Yaseen,

    To answer your question, I always grew up believing in my connection to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites of Judaism. But the first time I was there, myself and all of the members of the group I was with were yelled at by an Orthodox Man saying that we weren’t Jewish, because we declined his offer to wear certain traditional garments (which I should mention, aren’t a requirement to be at the wall). It tainted what could have been a holy experience, but then just became an uncomfortable 10ish minutes next to a wall in the hot sun. In a way it was beneficial, it was one of the most impactful examples of inter-denominational conflict within Judaism, which has become a topic I’ve grown to care a lot about in the recent years.

  3. Yaseen,

    This was such a beautiful account of your Hajj. It reminded me of when I went to Darbar Sahib, the Golden Temple, in Amritsar (the center of the Sikh faith). I went when I was 7 years old. However, it was until later in my life that I feel the spiritual energy. Rather, I recall how cold the granite floor was and how I couldn’t wear socks or how strange it was that the prasad that we received was on leaves instead of napkins. Tiny details like that.

    As for a personal/spiritual connection with a place I have never seen, I would have to say Punjab before it became riddled with corruption, Partition, pollution, and disenchantment. I think about going back ‘home’ to a place where I feel like I belong and that my Sikhi isn’t something that I have to constantly feel like I have to justify or explain and that I can just be. I yearn to go see the birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev Ji in Talwandi (now in present day Pakistan). I want to be able to see my grandfather’s home in Lyallpur and see where he went to school where he’d show me where he learned how to read and write in Urdu and Punjabi. Being Sikh and being Punjabi go hand in hand and that identity of being Punjabi is something that has gotten lost. The scars and trauma of the land and people become something you feel whether or not you were actually born there or related to anyone. The hushed stories of Partition and past Sikh genocides are what I have been able to call my own and I hope to go back so that the stories of these people carry on. That they might live on through me and how I carry myself and how I treat others.

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. Hi Yaseen,

    Your blog post made me feel as though I was with you on your journey! I can see that this experience was very meaningful to you. I had heard about Hajj being one of the five main pillars of Islam, but I did not know about Umrah. I can only imagine how beautiful and humbling it must have been for you to see Mecca and the Kaaba and realize that you were in the place that is so profound to Islam. Similarly, a religious journey that I have embarked on was to the Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) which is located in Amritsar, Punjab. Harmandir Sahib holds a lot of religious and spiritual significance for Sikh people and Sikhi. It was created by the fifth Sikh Guru (fifth spiritual leader of Sikhi), Guru Arjun Dev Ji. Harmandir Sahib was built in a way to be a space open to people of all backgrounds, faiths or religions. When I went there in 2011, I was humbled by the weight of the history that the Harmandir Sahib symbolized – I could not believe I was standing on the same ground that our religious leaders stood on centuries ago. This history is composed of both success and victory but also pain, tragedy and heartache. As we waited in line to enter the Diwan to pray and listened to the Kirtan (prayers that are sung with musical instruments), I felt peace and gratitude as I thought about the sacrifices made by those before me to ensure a foundation for Sikhi. Waiting in line and listening to the Kirtan gave me the time to reflect on my relationship with Sikhi in the place that is considered the most holy for Sikhs. In that moment, I knew that I would be okay and was grateful for the live I had been given. I have thought about that day many times and hope that I am someday able to go back and visit the Harmandir Sahib once again.

  5. Hi Yaseen,
    Thank you for sharing this story. I think it’s really cool how the people around you who were also on the Hajj had as big of an impact on you as the physical place you were in itself. It sounds like such a powerful experience. I actually kind of had the kind of the opposite experience when I went to the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem after high school, after so many years of praying in that direction and learning about that place, etc. I had such high expectations that I would have some sort of spiritual epiphany, that when I actually got there I felt kind of underwhelmed and then honestly kind of guilty that I wasn’t having more of a connection with such a holy place. Lots of Jews put pictures on the eastern wall of our house that say “mizrach” on them, which means “east,” so we are always reminded of our holy place in Jerusalem. But when I actually got to the Kotel, I remember thinking that I felt so much more at peace just by the mizrach sign in my house (granted, I was living there kind of long term and very homesick at the time). And then I felt kind of guilty about that.

  6. Hi Yaseen,

    I too had the privilege to attend Umrah about 4 years ago. The experience you had was very similar to mine. When I first went there I was in complete awe. Especially when I saw the Kaba for the first time because I was physically looking with my own eyes at the place where all Muslims from all around turn towards for prayer. My favorite part of being in Mecca and doing Umrah was seeing all the different people from all around the world doing the same ritual. I can’t wait to do Hajj because I can only imagine how amazing the feeling is when you look around and see everyone coming together for such a holy time.

  7. Thank you for sharing part of your journey with us, Yaseen! It was really interesting to see the importance of your experience for you. I cannot recall any place that I feel especially connected to and haven’t seen or visited, but I can think of many important connections I have with specific places from past experiences. It is interesting to see the connections between place, spiritual/personal significance, and experience. Thank you again!

  8. Hi Yaseen,

    Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us. To answer your question, I think that the most powerful space for me is at the Kotel or the Western Wall.

    Thank you!

  9. Hi Yaseen, I enjoyed hearing about your experience attending Umrah, you write about it so eloquently. I do not feel I have a similar sense of connection to a place that I have not seen with my own eyes. I know several people from my church have taken trips to Jerusalem and Israel as part of a religious trip. I do not feel a particular draw to go on a similar trip, and I think the best answer I have to your question is my church on a holiday, such as Easter or Christmas. Of course, I have attended many holiday services so it is not something that I have not seen or experienced, but every year I do look forward to it. The physical place feels especially meaningful on holidays, and it is certainly something that I have missed during the pandemic.

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