One of the greatest longings for those who’ve never gone for Hajj or ‘Umrah is to pray at the Ka‘bah. For years you’ve seen footage and pictures of prayer being held there and may have heard stories of people raving about the experience after coming back from making a trip to visit it. But you’ve never actually experienced it yourself.
To give you a taste of what it’s like, here’s a recap of one of my instances of praying Fajr at the Ka‘bah. Using photos and videos I took from multiple prayers I was able to pray there, I’ll try to recreate the experience of praying at Masjid Al-Harām and the reflections I had while doing so.
Our journey began at our hotel in Aziziyah, a small suburb just outside Mecca, at 4:30am.
Every morning we would take a bus that left to and returned back from the Haram once every hour or so. Since Fajr was at 5:30am, we’d take an early bus so as to get there in time to not only find a nice spot, but also throw down some prayers before Fajr time hit.
The bus would get nearly packed with Hajjis from our hotel, some from our group, others from around the world staying in our hotel. The route to the Haram at the beginning of our trip, one week before Hajj, would take 15 to 20 minutes. As the days of Hajj approached, the travel time took longer because of the increased crowds.
Our bus arrives at a certain turnabout about 10 minutes walking distance from the Haram.
The place gets packed as dozens of buses, taxis, and people arrive to make way towards the holiest place of worship on Earth, and the same is for a number of other drop-off points around the vicinity.
The thing that stands out first while praying during Hajj season is the incredible amount of people there.
Even at 4:30am, there were easily over a million people coming in over an hour before Fajr time. Why? To get some extra worship in, of course! People came from all over the ends of the Earth. So before Hajj time kicks in, they figure, let’s go pray at the Haram as much as we can.
One of the greatest sites you’ll see on Hajj but also ever in your life is that of the Ka‘bah. Although we live in an age where you can take a picture of this sacred house of worship that people save up their lives for with just the click of a button, nothing can compare to the sight of it in person. It stirs your soul and grabs it with its presence, yet at the same time somehow makes it feel completely at ease at the same time. You must experience it one day if you haven’t. Most of the time before Fajr, we prayed up on the third floor where I took this picture.
There’s also ṭawāf going on, the act of circumambulating the Ka‘bah. Before Fajr, particularly after midnight until 3am, there aren’t that many people. These pictures are taken right around 2:30am or so, which explains how I was able to get so close.
Now back to Fajr, or rather pre-Fajr. Before the adhān for prayer goes off, people gather in the millions to grab and spot and perform worship. This moment, by far, is the one of the most serene and peaceful experiences of your life.
There are thousands of people all around you sitting and worship Allah in their own way before Fajr time. Some pray qiyām al-lail, the night prayer, focusing on their prayer counting 100,000 times more than normal and having the Ka‘bah so close in front of them.
Others are making du‘ā’, especially since they made it a point to come during the last third of the night when Allah descends from His throne and answers what His servants ask.
Or reading Qur‘ān and reciting just a bit out loud while birds fly overhead and chirp away while performing their own worship and remembrance of Allah.
The entire Haram is packed. Not a single place in the whole building structure exists that’s empty. Everywhere you look, there are people, and all of them are there for the same purpose.
So many people show up that every level of the Haram starts to get filled up. Massive amounts of worshipers accumulate outside the masjid because of the number of people anticipating prayer. And they are people of every single variety; old, young, South Asian, Arab, African, European, Asian, American, healthy, sick, wealthy, poor, disabled, strong, you name it. Throngs of people all staying in Mecca before or after the days of Hajj just to pray their prayers at Masjid Al-Harām.
With all that in mind, you take a moment for a mental time out to just think. Think about life, think about everything that happens, the history behind where you are and why you’re there, and thinking about Allah (SWT) Himself. And the whole time, the only thing you hear is the quiet murmur of ṭawāf and the sounds of birds above you.
Then, while you’re soaking all this in, the adhān for Fajr goes off.
This experience simply shakes you to the bone. Here you were sitting in the most peaceful moment of the night praying, reading Qur’ān, or reflecting, and the call to prayer begins echoing throughout the entire surrounding area. The sound system set up at the Haram is simply unmatched, and the feeling of hearing the adhān through it prepares you for prayer unlike any other.
With Fajr about fifteen to twenty minutes away, the ṭawāf starts to lessen as people sit down and situate themselves for prayer from the Ka‘bah area and back. Those performing ṭawāf at that point are absolutely packed up tight, but hope to find a place to pray super close to the Ka‘bah or maybe in the ḥaṭīm, the semi-circular part of the Ka‘bah inside which is considered to be part of the original Ka‘bah built by Prophet Ibrahim.
Even here, in the area between Safa and Marwa where pilgrims go back and forth from in sa‘i, there are worshipers taking a seat to get ready for prayer. For a lot of them, they were performing sa‘i and sat down once the adhān was called.
All over the Haram’s roofed areas are shelves full of copies of the Qur’ān that worshipers take and read from. Since Fajr is approaching quickly, people start to give the muṣḥaf to someone who volunteers to take them back.
Here a young brother jumps up to perform the task.
Are you always able to see the Ka‘bah from where you stand at the Haram? Not at all. In fact, it’s only really visible to you if you’re praying in the main courtyard where it gets super packed, or in the front most parts of the second and third floors. Also, the Haram guards have the women move backward out of the courtyard so as to not have men praying behind women during the congregational prayers (though, women are allowed to pray there all other times).
But if you can manage to pray there, it’s incredible. Your whole life as a Muslim you’ve been praying towards it in one direction. But that’s all it’s been, a direction. Imagine you’re praying in front of the very thing that you’ve been facing towards your whole life. It’s an entirely different experience, especially when it’s right in front of you.
I know it’s hard since you’ve never gone, but just envision the day that you get to pray this close to the Ka‘bah. It’s no longer a place across the ocean, or just a direction that you face. It’s the first site ever built for the worship of Allah. Ever. In the history of mankind. And you’re there, so much closer, worshiping so much that your heart becomes closer to Allah and wants to continue doing so forever.
After prayer ends, there is almost always a quick reminder of death: the funeral prayer, ṣalāt al-janāzah. There are millions of people in the city from all over, and deaths can occur anywhere. The bodies are brought in some time before prayer, and immediately after it finishes, the Imam leads the congregation for the funeral prayer after all five prayers of the day.
With Fajr over, over half the people leave. That’s not a light statement. We’re talking about a mass exodus of probably over a million people. The sight of that is amazing each and every time you see it. You’re just amazed not only at how many people came for Hajj, but also how many worshipers came to pray Fajr at the masjid.
The others would simply stay at the Haram and continue to worship, make i‘tikāf, or catch up on sleep. People stay there all day, getting food from places nearby and getting the most out of their time in the sacred city of Makkah.
To get back to our hotel, we would walk back to our drop off point to meet our driver and wait for him to make his way through the congestion of Haram traffic. As the smell of fried chicken mixed with exhaust fumes undoubtedly hits you, a realization comes to mind that my wife pointed out.
When we come for prayers at the Ka‘bah during Hajj, millions of people gather for it. They come hours in advance, compete for the best spot, and in the most literal sense of things, we wait for ṣalāh.
Back home, where ever it is that we come from, the case is the opposite. We delay praying to the end of the set times, miss them due to negligence, and in every meaning of the phrase, ṣalāh waits for us.
Praying at the Haram can serve as a reminder of this, and those who have done so will testify the same. Especially those who just recently came back from Hajj this year. If you haven’t gone, then inshaAllah this post can remind you in the same way.