Saturday, April 3, 2010

Day 11: Mecca

So I have had an amazing journey thus far, but today things got a little more risky. I wanted to travel in Mecca, the birthplace of the founder of Islam, Mohammed, making it holiest city of the Islam religion. As you may recall, I admitted that I knew nothing about this place at the beginning of my travels. Luckily, I have had many amazing experiences in my previous journeys and have learned many new things along the way. Including the fact that it is completely against Saudi law for a non-Muslim to enter into the city of Mecca, and what am I? Non-Muslim. This posed a bit of a problem when it came my travels.
However, while traveling with my friend Adem around Istanbul, he asked me where I would be traveling in the days to come. I told him that my plan was to go to Tehran, Mecca, and Dubai. When the word “Mecca” came out of my mouth, his face immediately dropped.

He then informed me that I was not legally allowed to enter the city, but others have done it before. However, the consequences if caught are extremely severe. If I attempt to enter, I could be arrested and prosecuted by Saudi Arabian authorities. Now, usually I am not a huge risk taker, but I really wanted to get the full experience of this place while I was here. I needed to find a way to get into the city, so I asked him how it could be done. I realize that my actions were completely and utterly disrespectful to Islam, but this was a chance of a lifetime that I had to take. Adem knew some friends who knew how to get me a fake Visa saying that I was Muslim and that my name was “Shadha Al-Fulan”. He also has a friend that lives in Mecca that went to UNC as a foreign exchange student. Since Adem arranged a fake ID for Abdul to get into Franklin Street bars, he owed him a favor.

I had to buy the proper attire to wear into the city which is called ihram, a white dress and head scarf. Adem told me everything that I needed to be aware of while in the city, including that I should make myself as inconspicuous as possible and the proper way to worship.

This was not an easy task, and there were times that I felt uneasy about the whole thing, but I followed through with it. I was careful about not drawing any attention to myself because I was well aware of the repercussions of my actions. Once we got into the city, I was surrounded by people wearing white ihrams and speaking the Arabic language. I was able to take a few pictures as we walked around the city for a little while. I took this amazing picture of the Grand Mosque which is the holiest mosque in the city. It was absolutely beautiful! I noticed that there are tons of hotels in the city and when I asked why, I was informed that Mecca is the destination of the pilgrimage, known as Hajj. Hajj is the annual gathering of thousands of Muslims to worship and pray about the difficulties they encounter in life. The many hotels are needed to house the people during their five days of Hajj. This also opens up many job opportunities for the people of Mecca to tend to the large influx of people who travel to the city.

The average temperature for this time of year is between 83ºF and 110ºF. Today as Abdul and I walked around the city, it was a sweltering 100ºF! Wearing the ihram only added to the heat which made me thirsty. So we stopped at a local shop where I was introduced to “Mecca-Cola,” an imitation of “Coca-Cola”. It was the most refreshing thing I had consumed all day! Abdul walked me back to my hotel because I was tired and wanted to rest up for another busy day of exploring Mecca.

This is my favorite picture of the day: