Remona Aly
Wednesday 15 August 2018 BBC Radio 2

The Kaba, the compass and a sacred selfie

Hajj

This week thousands of Brits will be leaving the country as they embark on the journey of a lifetime.  They’ll be joining the largest annual gathering of people in the world as they begin the Islamic pilgrimage known as the Hajj.

Like planets orbit the sun, around two million pilgrims will be circling the Kaba – which Muslims believe to be the first house of worship of One God. And by God, it’s a place that never sleeps.

I was once there for the lesser pilgrimage, but lesser was the last word on my mind. I entered some kind of Muslim mosh pit crammed with worshippers making their seven circuits of the holy house, while others raised their hands in prayer and some even raised the odd selfie stick for a sneak sacred snap.

There really is nothing like it, and, for me, nothing like seeing the cube-shaped Kaba for the first time. I’ve grown up gazing at its photographs in living rooms, I’ve marvelled at countless artistic interpretations, I’ve even put the Kaba in my pocket when it’s on a keyring – so seeing the real Kaba in the flesh, or in the brick –  was like being reunited with your oldest, closest and truest friend.

I turn my heart, body and faith towards this point five times a day, wherever I am in the world. For me, it’s more than merely a place, it’s a direction when I feel lost, and a nucleus around which my life, chaotic as it is, will always come back to find peace, again and again.

I reckon we all seek to return to something, whether it’s a memory, a person or a circle on a map, as we follow the compass towards that which we love the most.

The Andalusian Muslim scholar and philosopher, Ibn Arabi, who left Spain for the first time aged 30 to go on pilgrimage, said: “I believe in the religion of Love, whatever direction its caravans may take, for Love is my religion and my faith.”

Whether it’s to a sacred site, or the path inwards, I believe we all embrace our own journeys of a lifetime. And only you can know if your heart is going in the right direction.