The people of Makkah were asleep when our bus entered its borders. I checked the time: 1 am. I thought, still drowsy from sleep, of having read a sign that said non-Muslims are forbidden to enter from this point onwards. I must have dozed off for a couple of hours in the bus, and when I looked out of the window, I saw mountains – right next to me! I once read that Makkah city is built in a narrow valley, surrounded by mountains, and is 910 feet above sea level. So they carved the mountains and built this highway, which by this time has considerably narrowed down in size and has bright street lights. I tried to imagine how this must have all been during the Prophet’s, sallalahu alayhi wassalam, time. How difficult and life threatening it must have been for him and his companions to cross the hostile desert weather and rough mountains, and make it to Madinah.
Thirty minutes later, after driving up and down the road (we so got used to the leveled roads here in the U.A.E., so I was actually enjoying this ride), I can finally see the minarets! By then, everyone in the bus had awaken. We had stopped reciting the talbiyah and I thought, “Oh Allah, please grant me the opportunity to recite these words again soon.”
My first glimpse of the Masjid al Haram was from inside the bus, across the street. It seemed like a dream and I rubbed my eyes, “It is the Grand Mosque! We’re finally here!” The masjid glowed in the dark, sparkling in all its grandeur. The bus continued past the masjid, on the two-way street and made a U-turn. The street is lined with hotels, restaurants and shops. The place was abuzz like it’s 2 pm and not 2 am!
SAPTCO bus terminal is right in front of the masjid. We got off and gathered at the steps of the masjid with our luggage. Masood left to search for the hotel. Mom sat on her folding chair, while Mushtaq and I waited for Masood’s return. He had called up the hotel while we were in Madinah and informed them of our arrival. The payment has already been made in Dubai.
I looked up at Masjid al Haram in awe. Its white marble walls stood out against the black sky, its minarets kissing the stars. There wasn’t much crowd either; I had imagined the place to be packed. I looked around. Men walked pass in their white Ihraam clothes, some exposing their right shoulders. Hadn’t they read that the right shoulder is to be exposed only during tawaaf? There was constant movement of people in and out of the masjid, mostly in groups.
A lot of women, in niqaab, sold scarves, slippers, and prayer rugs along the footpath in front of the masjid. Their children running around in the massive courtyard of the masjid. It was disappointing to see the garbage and plastic bags lying around the area. I thought of Madinah at that moment, of how clean it has been maintained anytime of the day or night.
I checked my watch: 2:30 am. “Where is Masood? He should’ve been back by now,” I thought aloud. Mom told me to call him, but when I dialed his Etisalat number, a woman’s voice answered instead, very obvious that I had awaken her from her deep sleep. I apologized, disconnected the call and sent a text message asking Masood to call me. Fifteen minutes later and still no response.
3 am. We all started to worry. I felt people were already looking at us. We had planned to start the tawaaf at 3 am, yet here we stood, in front of the masjid with our luggage. Ten minutes later, Masood came running towards us and suitcases in hand, we strode towards the taxi behind him. We drove past the masjid, through a tunnel, arrived behind the masjid, then took a left turn. A couple of minutes later, we were standing in front of a hotel - the hotel that we didn’t book.
What happened was that when Masood arrived at the hotel – the one we had booked and paid for in Dubai – he was told up front that our rooms have given to someone else. This was after he was asked to wait in the lobby for 30 minutes! Trying his best to control his temper, Masood tried to show the receipt and explained that his mother and wife are out there with the luggage and that we had intended to perform the tawaaf in 30 minutes. The guy at the reception calmly told him not to worry. He made a phone call, ordered another employee to hail a cab and asked Masood to follow that guy. “I’ve arranged for rooms in another hotel for you,” he said, “and it’s walking distance from Haram.”
What he didn’t mention was that on the way back from the haram, we would have to climb a hill to get to the road that leads to our hotel. We ended up taking a cab on our way to and from the masjid each time. I don’t have anything good to say about our rooms. Mom’s cough got worse.
Men in Makkah, the ones we have had the pleasure to interact with at least, had short temper. The locals drive private taxis, charging us SR10-15 for a 2 minute ride. One of them took off while Mom was still getting in the car, resulting in muscle pain in her left arm and shoulder. Another one picked us up from the main entrance of haram, drove all the way around and stopped at the back entrance of the masjid. “Dar al salaam,” Masood told him again. “Bab al Salaam,” the driver gestured towards the back entrance of the masjid. “No, not Bab al Salaam. Dar al Salaam,” said Masood. Both men communicated in sign language with lots of Dar al salaams and Bab al salaams in between, until the driver finally announced that he didn’t know where dar al salaam was. Masood explained the way.
Given the limited time that we had in Makkah and Mom’s poor health, we had decided to postpone seeing other places in the city and focused on spending most of our time in Haram.