June 18, 3.00 am Saudi Time
Beggars are a common sight in Makkah, in the back alleys, suqs and wherever a crowd gathers. In addition, the streets are also littered with women whom have setup shop on the bare ground itself, selling anything from novelty items to sandals and abayas. Close to the haram, expectedly, the concentration of the beggars grows, consisting of women and children.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not, most of them sleep on the streets, in groups with their bundles of belongings serving as a pillow case. It’s not hard for initial sentiments of mercy and pity to turn into an almost revulsion, bordering on abhorrence. Feelings of pride also begin to creep in and an air of superiority manages to find a home when you least expect it.
Our daily routine was to wake up half an hour before fajr and head to the Kabah to pray tahajjud (night prayer) followed by fajr (morning prayer). After taking in the cool morning breeze and lying on the richly decorated carpets no more than 30-40 metres from the Kabah, we’d stay around till the afternoon prayer, often exploring the palace like halls in amazement and awe. After a quick meal at the hotel and coming back to the offer the Asr prayer, we’d usually come back to enjoy the silky smooth wind that blew before Maghrib prayer and stay till Isha prayer.
One morning, my mother and I left our hotel and headed off towards the Kabah as usual. A massive staircase on the right hand side of the hotel entrance led us to the back alley that we always took. Makkah is built on a mountain with jagged rocks sticking out in between houses and a steep vertical climb with every step. It was the last third of the night, a time of extreme importance for those who realize. As we were climbing down the stairs, I noticed a group of women and children, the street beggars and vendors, asleep in a corner of the passageway.
What I saw next was probably one of the defining moments of the trip: not far was a homeless woman standing in the last third of the night, shoulders wide, arms on her sides, facing the Kabah, and her sheet which had just served as the bed, now being used as a prayer rug to offer the Tahajjud prayer while the more wealthy and cultured slept soundly in their soft beds.