A Visit to God’s Home: A reflection on home and Islamic pilgrimage

I tend to focus on the feelings & emotions I get from experiences rather than the experience itself. That is why I think a lot about the concept of Hajj and Umrah in Islam and the feeling of home that it creates. According to Islamic Relief, on average 2-3 million Muslims make pilgrimage to Makkah and Madinah every year, with numbers hitting new records every time. It is an established pillar of belief in Islam and people across the world pray and work hard to make it happen. For those who have had the opportunity to go, there is this sentiment of belonging when they are in the Holy Cities, and a deep emptiness upon return, as if their hearts have stayed behind. But what exactly is it that connects us and creates that feeling of home for us in Makkah and Madinah? 

We can find an explanation for this phenomenon in both scriptures and in culture. In the Qur’an first and foremost, The Ka’bah of Makkah, where pilgrimage is made, has a specific purpose: Allah has made the Ka’bah, the Sacred House, standing for the people… (5:97)’. In different translations ‘standing for the people’ has been interpreted as a sanctuary of well-being, an asylum and a means of support, which are all aspects of a safe space, or a home. Pilgrimage is mentioned many times in the Holy Book for its importance as well as all the rulings and regulations around it. In every verse, it is emphasised that pilgrimage is for all people, that all should try to make their way using any means necessary. Most importantly, the land awaits them; and for those who make it, it is pre-written that they will get a chance to come home. 

Culturally, I think about the importance of the language used around pilgrimage. Being Bangladeshi from the region of Sylhet, Islam is deeply ingrained into our culture and practices. Despite all the struggles of poverty and natural disaster, faith is what people turn towards in times of need. When looking specifically at the language, the word in focus is ‘Allahbari’, which I’ve heard used to describe Hajj/Umrah as a whole. The literal translation is ‘God’s Home’, the suffix ‘-bari’ means house and can be used for anyone. That was what intrigued me the most, a term used for anyone’s home being used in conjunction with God and pilgrimage, in such a normal way. It might not mean much, but it really struck me since house and home are so commonly used to describe anything of any status. A home is a home, after all.

However, these all apply to the description of Pilgrimage. What about the actual experience of being there? What is it there that people see and feel so deeply comforted by? I was blessed by the chance to make Umrah, the ‘minor’ pilgrimage, in 2017 and 2019. From that I can recount the ways that made me realise why this experience makes one feel at home and nostalgic. An important one was the Tawaaf, in which all pilgrims walk around the Ka’bah 7 times, reciting their prayers. No matter your age, status, ability, race or gender, all pilgrims do this and it is such a humbling and humanising experience. There were such joyous moments as well. I watched 3 siblings running and laughing together during the Sa’ee, where pilgrims make the same 7 runs between the mountains of Safa and Marwa as Hajar, the wife of Ibrahim (Abraham) A.S did in search of water for her son. How their sacrifices, along with others, has led to joy in these moments is so special.

Mosques in general are all known as Houses of God no matter where they are, and all carry the same homely feeling. The Masjid Al Haram in Makkah is one of the largest and of course, houses the Ka’bah, yet despite its size, it is a place of peace and comfort for me and millions of others. Though the only things you’ll find in Al Masjid Al Haram are books and Zamzam water, you can’t imagine needing anything else. It’s truly humbling to reflect on; some of the things so key to this homely feeling – normally so insignificant – yet help create this yearning to return. It makes me question the idea of what the ideal living standard should be; this basic form of living with nothing to distract you from focusing on yourself and your wellbeing.

Another thing linked to this was the feeling of community and the sharing I experienced. There were so many instances of gratitude that we encountered, from sharing fruit in silence with a sister, playing with little kids as the prayer went on in, the gift of a small umbrella from an older woman to shield us from the Madinah sun. All these instances helped solidify the feeling of family and togetherness, so key to creating the feeling of home that I felt. If it wasn’t the long days spent at the mosque or the tranquillity of the cities just before sunset, it would be the connection and hospitality of the people I encountered there. Home is such a grand and colossal concept, yet at the same time so small and squeezing in that sensory way. It is not just the 4 walls and a roof we’ve laughed and cried and thrived in, it’s found in people that we have shared experiences with.

God’s Home on earth is a testament to this; this great duty for Muslims to fulfil is not one greeted with heaviness, but with wonder and tears of joy, gratitude and laughter, and leaves us all with memories and a yearning to return one day. Just like a home to me.

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