National Geographic : 1953 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine street to the mosque itself, and already only a few feet short of the tomb of the Prophet. "The king gave thanks for God's timely warning, stopped the tunnel with earth, and ordered the tomb enclosed in metals of the hardest degree." "And what happened to the scholars?" I asked. "They did not die of old age," said my companion curtly. Where the Prophet Became a General From Medina I went out to the battlefields of Badr and Ohod where Mohammed fought the armies of Mecca. Driven into exile by the powerful Koreish tribe that controlled and profited from the idol worship around the Kaaba, Mohammed had sought allies among Medina's citizenry, many of them Jews. These men became the Prophet's first troops and, after some initial reverses, proved that crusading passion, linked with shrewd general ship, could make a devoted handful the equal of a horde. I visited the cemetery where many of these companions-in-arms lie buried, and the Kuba mosque, built on what is believed to be the spot where Mohammed received his revelation in structing the faithful to face no longer toward Jerusalem when they prayed, but toward Mecca (pages 39, 41). I heard about, but did not inspect, the well whose waters the Prophet's prayers changed from bitter to sweet, and the shrine where a bow and arrow supposed to have been his are displayed. Higher, more temperate in climate than Mecca, Medina is calm, peaceful, almost lux uriant. The dust blows through its streets, yet there is greenery evident everywhere (page 40). Date palms wave over courtyard walls (and the dates are delicious); truck gardens provide an abundance of fresh vegetables; milk can be had, and pomegranates, the fruit of Paradise! Second Holiest City of Islam Time means little in Medina; eternity everything. The city seems not merely rec onciled to death but half in love with it. For it is reckoned a great blessing to die in Islam's second holiest city; on the Day of Judgment, so legend says, the Prophet will arise, wake his family and the citizens of Medina, and together they will all march down to Mecca to arouse the rest of mankind. How much this hope is prized became clear to me when I tried to tempt Zeyahodin to visit my family in Africa. I offered him safaris into the bush, a shot at a lion or an elephant, mountains to climb. He only shook his head sadly and said: "But what if, after all these years, I should die outside of Medina?" I countered: "Would that not be the will of Allah? And do you question His will?" He smiled ruefully. "I question it not. Yet... I cannot go." Most pilgrims to Medina perform at least 40 prayers. At five a day, these would con sume eight days. I left the city after only 10 prayers. This disturbed my friends; but I knew that if I remained longer, it would disturb the Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration even more. Already I was quite sure to miss the day of registration. Mercifully the plane back to Jidda pursued a calmer course than the one on which I had arrived. But on landing I discovered that commercial flights from that city to points outside the country were now subject to six days' quarantine imposed by foreign author ities. In despair I turned again to Aramco. Obliging as ever, the company promised me space on a plane leaving the next day for Dhahran, whence I could fly home. With several hours to spare, I drove up the long road to Mecca, now relatively deserted, to say farewell to my family; for, true to my expectations, they had never quite made up their minds to join me in Medina. The Pilgrim's Farewell Most pilgrims making their tawaf of fare well around the Kaaba and bidding goodbye to Mecca know a gentle sorrow. They cannot tell when, if ever, they will lay their eyes again upon the holy city. My regrets stemmed largely from another source. There is a saying among Arabs: "On the first hadj, one sees the House of the Lord only; on the second, one sees the House and the Lord; on the third, the Lord only." This was my third hadj, and I asked myself the sharp question: Had I reversed this order of spiritual progress, so that, distracted by my photographic mission, I had focused solely upon the House and missed the Host? With Allah lay the answer. I walked for the last time up the muddy streets (wet with water sloshed on them by merchants fighting the dust); stepped past the divans where men lounged and called languidly to the gahwa wallahs, "Coffee, I pray! "; and wheeled about for one lingering look at the mosque's high walls and slim, aspiring minarets. Then to myself I murmured the prayer all pilgrims pray on their homeward course: "Lord, accept my hadj." And I turned and strode to the waiting car and drove toward Jidda and the plane which would take me to Dhahran and a flight westward to complete in New York my airborne pilgrimage.