By this time tomorrow I will be on a flight to Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula. I am performing the Hajj pilgrimage to the Kaaba, which is for many a once in a life time opportunity. The Kaaba, which is also called Bayt al-Allah or House of God, is the direction of prayer for all Muslims around the world. Every year 3 million Muslims or more perform the pilgrimage there to circumambulate the cubic building. Some of the rites performed on the journey are reenactments of historical events, but others (and I’d argue the more important) are outward expressions of an inward journey taken by the heart.
The pilgrimage predates Muhammad’s life in the 7th century, in fact the original foundation of the Kaaba was constructed by Abraham. At the beginning of Muhammad’s life the Kaaba was visited by the Christians, Jews and Pagans among the Arabs. Muhammad merely reconsecrated it as a place of worship for the God of Abraham. Some sources even suggest that Abraham reconstructed the temple built by Adam.
The history of the structure is difficult to confirm outside Islamic sources. The ancient Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus, described the Caaba as “a temple… which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians.” But he said nothing about their practices or beliefs at that time. Those who visited it in Muhammad’s time thought of it as the navel of the world, or the Axis Mundi. What the Vikings would have called Yggdrasil, the World Tree. It is the point of connection between Earth and the heavenly realms. The point of ascension where the sacred intersects with the secular.
Not coincidentally, it has also historically been a center of trade, as it is to this day. Among the many reforms that Muhammad made was to abolish the taxes that the Meccans imposed on pilgrims. Sadly, this tradition has been lost. In fact, the Saudi regime demands quite a bit from pilgrims today.
Bayt al-Allah is not the only name by which the Kaaba is known. It’s also known as Bayt al-Atiq, which is usually translated as “The Ancient House.” It may come as a surprise to many, both Muslim and non-Muslim, that Bayt al-Atiq used to be commonly translated as “The House of Liberation.” The pilgrimage was seen as a journey to personal freedom, both from whatever weaknesses or falsehood plagued the heart, and also whatever earthly master or intermediary would impose themselves between the pilgrim and their Lord… as the Saudi regime does today.
To me, this meaning is central to my mission. To me, for whom the State itself is an earthly master imposing itself upon me, a false god, the Kaaba is a single point of personal liberation inside the authoritarian and tyrannical hellstorm of Statism that is the Saudi regime. Like the tranquility of the eye within the chaos and violence of a hurricane.
One of the stations along this journey is Mount Arafat, which is a small granite hill east of Mecca. This is the place where Muhammad delivered his Farewell Sermon at the end of his life. This station of Hajj is a place of repentance, forgiveness and mercy, but its name carries a much deeper meaning. Arafa literally means “to know” as in the Prophetic saying Man arafa nafsahu, arafa Rabbahu or “To know thyself is to know thy Lord.” Mount Arafat is not merely a place of begging forgiveness. It is a place of rigorous self-examination. A place to admit to ourselves that which we conceal and deny in an effort to overcome our deficiencies. Mount Arafat, and the entire pilgrimage for that matter, is fundamentally a journey of the True self’s liberation from the false self.
The State, and all masters and intermediaries begin as weaknesses and falsehoods in the human heart. So, we must confront and overcome them internally before we confront them in the world, and once we do we can become an unstoppable instrument of positive change.
So, I’ll see you all again in two weeks with stories.