Maleeha Samer
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Mecca and Medina

 

Preserving the Holy


A sacred journey attended by millions is both intensely intimate and public. You are in a sea of people who are praying; the content of their prayers known only by Allah and their own heart. Each word reverberates in your soul and said with such intention and uncertainty, you feel it roll around your tongue even when the prayers are silent. 

I performed a religious pilgrimage with a group of families alongside over seventy-nine thousand Muslims. The pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina is called Hajj or Umrah. Hajj takes place during the last month of the Islamic calendar and Umrah is at any other point of the year. Since Hajj is the highest achievement as a Muslim, it is more involved and a lengthier journey. Even though Umrah differs in timing and physicality, it is arduous and requires full spiritual attention. The beauty of it all is that it dates back to Hazrat Ibrahim and Hazrat Hajra [Abraham and Hagar], this pilgrimage shows that Islam is a religion that recognizes and reveres ones’ ancestors. It is a cleanse for all humankind and strips everyone of their socioeconomic status by requiring simple attire. 

In each moment, I felt a oneness with my Muslim brethren, yet I knew I was different, as well. As an Ahmadi Muslim, traveling to countries where we are discriminated against is always an issue of safety. The intolerance is a political belief masked as a religious one that is shared amongst countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. I understood that with my camera and making myself visible there was always a chance that a police officer could randomly question me. These questions may include where I come from, what mosque do I attend back home in the United States, who did I travel with, etc., which could potentially lead to my family’s expulsion from the country. For this reason, each photo was taken with purpose and without much time to spare. 

Performing Umrah was transformative to my lifetime spiritual journey, which required a level of honesty and vulnerability. Even with the political distinction and my identity hidden, I am still a Muslim and the surface acceptance is enough for now. In the Western world, Muslims are seen as a threat and in Mecca it is obvious we seek only inner peace. This series highlights the intimacy and serenity that comes from a spiritually exhausting, yet fulfilling journey. Each moment part of a larger whole; a thread that ties us all together.