National Geographic : 1953 Jul
VOL. CIV, No. 1 WASHINGTON JULY, 1953 THE G]EOGAIHI COPYRIGHT, 1953, BY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY, WASHINGTON, D. C. INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT SECURED 1 From America to Mecca on Airborne Pilgrimage A Moslem Student at Harvard Business School Records Islam's Sacred Rites in Color in the Interest of World Understanding BY ABDUL GHAFUR SHEIK With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author FROM every land, by every route, we came, driblets and droplets of humanity trickling down from distant mountains and from far-off ancient cities until over the whole scope of Islam our stream became in time a river, and our river a tide. We flowed, at the command of the Prophet, toward Mecca. "Verily," the Koran says to us, "the first house founded for mankind to worship in is surely at Mecca, a blessing and a guidance to the worlds." To visit it at least once before we died, if at all possible, was our duty and our privilege. We pilgrims numbered nearly 500,000; about a third were women. Some, trudging down dusty roads from Central Asia toward India, had already been a year or more upon the way. Others, journeying in the stifling holds of freighters and tramp steamers, made their slow passage from South America or the green islands of Indonesia (map, page 9). Magic Carpet from New York Still others, traveling by night under the desert stars, plodded eastward by camel from Meknes and Fes and the sandy wastes of Libya. Not a few still squatted on the wharves of Istanbul, Dubrovnik, Algiers, Gaza, Bizerte, Piraeus, waiting with haggard pa tience for a place on some crowded open deck. But I, I came from America by magic car pet. Standing at the New York International Airport, I had uttered the pilgrim's traditional prayer: "Lord, roll up the earth for me!" And it had been done. Oceans, countries, continents had fallen away beneath the wings of my Pan American Clipper until, on August 26, the sixth day of the Moslem month of Dhu 'l-Hijja, I stood at last before the Great Mosque of Mecca. I entered it by the Gate of Salvation and passed thence through the inner Gate of the Sons of the Old Woman. Before the Black-draped Kaaba The dawn sky above Mecca was pale, and the air under the archway dank and cold. Two pilgrims hastening to prayers brushed by me, padding on brown bare feet. I gave them greeting, pressed forward, and emerged suddenly within the courtyard. There, beyond the wide, stone-set pave ment, stood the House toward which all Mos The Author Abdul Ghafur Sheikh is the third son of a prom inent East African businessman and philanthropist, Sheikh Fazal Ilahi, who came to Kenya in 1898 from what is now Pakistan. Prospering mightily, Sheikh Fazal Ilahi has set up the Sheikh Charitable Trust for welfare work in the Near and Middle East. To man age it he chose Abdul Ghafur and sent him to Dart mouth College and Harvard Graduate School of Busi ness Administration. Last year 21-year-old Abdul Ghafur came to the National Geographic Society's headquarters in Wash ington and announced his intention to go on hadj to Mecca during his vacation. He wished to make a photographic record of the pilgrimage as a means of interpreting Islam's sacred rituals to the West. Though he had had little experience in color photography, he sallied forth with two small cameras lent by The Society and returned with the extraordinary photo graphs which illustrate this article. -Editor.