[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/08/hajj.jpg caption="Hajj pilgrims at Mercy Mountain."]
Arwa Damon | BIO
CNN International Correspondent
To Muslims, the holiest place on earth is a black-draped, square shrine called the Kaaba in the central courtyard of the vast Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca. According to the Quran, it was built by Prophet Abraham on God’s command. A goal for devout Muslims is to make a pilgrimage here at least once in a lifetime – following the same rituals carried out by Prophet Mohammed centuries years ago. This pilgrimage is known as the Hajj.
I stood staring at the famous al-Haram mosque, seeing it in person for the first time, and mesmerized by the river of pilgrims swirling around the Ka’aba, through the courtyard, into all visible streets, and as far as the eye could see.
As the call to prayer rang out at sunset, the pilgrims formed perfectly straight lines in unison. And prayed.
People from all corners of the globe and all walks of life prayed in perfect harmony, united here for the single purpose of completing the Hajj. It is a breathtaking sight.
The beautiful spirituality of it aside, covering the Hajj as a journalist is challenging to say the least. While in Mecca, we regularly miscalculated timings and found ourselves stuck in corners during prayer time, when literally human walls are formed blocking the streets. Getting anywhere requires extreme navigation and “crowd weaving” skills, not to mention while carrying (or lugging around) heavy TV equipment because, for example, one of us had the ‘brilliant’ idea to go live from Mount Mercy at Arafat.
It is at Mount Mercy that Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon some 1400 years ago, asking God to forgive the sins of his followers. The moments spent at Mount Mercy define the Hajj for Pilgrims, who spend the day from sunrise to sunset praying for the same forgiveness. Those that have performed the Hajj before say that it is there they felt closest to God, and upon completion were given a second chance at life, a chance to be better individuals – spiritually elevated. The pilgrims dot the hillside, covering it in a blanket of white.
As the sun rises we can clearly see them, arms outstretched, some crying, as they pray. The sea of pilgrims spills down and extends as far as the eye can see.
We failed miserably in our attempt to leave before the pilgrims and found ourselves caught up in the masses, schlepping our gear for hours, sweat pouring, abaya (overgarment) itching, and a headscarf that refused to stay put. These moments reminded me of producer Mohammed Tawfeeq’s words: “you have no idea what you’re getting us into”. He has obviously covered the Hajj before.
Still, it’s an experience like no other. Where else can one encounter such a huge crowd of people from all over the world, the vast majority of whom return home with peace of spirit?
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