First encounters with the Kaaba

The Grand Mosque is the largest in the world. It is home to the Holy Kaaba, which is the “Qibla,” toward which all Muslims face when praying. Shutterstock
Updated 17 June 2018

First encounters with the Kaaba

MAKKAH: “Awe at first sight” was the fitting title of a special event at Makkah Cultural Club in celebration of the Kaaba and its importance to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Dr. Abdullah Al-Tariqi, a Saudi academic specialized in historical studies, highlighted some of most important cultural trips to Makkah by intellectuals and other travelers, and the overwhelming feelings they described upon seeing the Kaaba for the first time.

Western travelers
1: Renowned French photographer Jules Gervais-Courtellemont was born near Paris in 1863 and moved with his stepfather to Algeria in 1874, where his passion for photography prompted him to open a small shop. He visited Makkah after converting to Islam and took exquisite photographs that he displayed in Paris.
First impressions of the Kaaba: “During this incredible journey in this mysterious city whose very name breathes mystery and enchantment, I find myself living a miracle. I conjure up events of the night, I see mists, hallucinations and bewilderment of the unknown as I come closer to the wall of the Kaaba. Sleep has abandoned me for three nights now, and with the temperature dropping, I find pleasure in going to the Kaaba, enjoying the sound of muezzins calling for prayer. There are no human tones more harmonious, more warm, more strong and fresher then the call for prayer, what a mesmerizing scene.”

2: Joseph Pitts, an Englishman born in 1663, was obsessed with the sea and travel. Captured by pirates in Algeria, he was sold as a slave. He accompanied his master on a pilgrimage to Makkah and later, when he wrote about his experiences, he became the first Englishman to give an account of the proceedings of Hajj.
First impressions of the Kaaba: “At the very first sight of the Kaaba, the pilgrims melt into tears; and I profess, I could not choose but to admire their devotion and affection, and the awe and trembling they were possessed in. In so much, that I could scarce forbear shedding of tears to see their zeal.”

3: German explorer Domingo Francisco Jorge Badía y Leblich, better known by his pseudonym Ali Bey el Abbassi, visited Makkah in the early 19th century to perform Hajj.
First impressions of the Kaaba: “It was an overwhelming experience. When I kissed the black stone, a sense of tranquility invaded me.”

4: British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton disguised himself as a Muslim pilgrim to visit the holy cities of Medina and Makkah in 1853, at a time when Europeans were banned under penalty of death. The following year he sneaked into the equally forbidden East African city of  Harar in Eritrea.
First impressions of the Kaaba: “The scene is one of the wildest excitement. Men prostrate themselves on the pavement, shedding floods of tears and pouring forth frenzied ejaculations. As for me, I felt a sense of satisfaction, a mystic lure.”

Contemporary writers
1: Egyptian author and intellectual Taha Hussein, born in 1889, was known as “The Dean of Arabic Literature” and is considered one of the most important writers from the Arab world.  Although he wrote many novels and essays, in the West he is best known for  his autobiography.
When Hussein arrived at the Hadiba Mosque on his way to perform Umrah, he stopped and took a bunch of dirt in his hand, smelled it and said, while shedding tears: “I smell the scent of the Prophet in this sacred soil.” This feeling accompanied him throughout the Umrah, and when he reached the Kaaba, he stood there crying.
First impressions of the Kaaba: “The French say that every educated person has two countries: His homeland and France, where he got his education. But I say today that every Muslim has two countries: His homeland and this sacred country which established his nation and shaped his heart, mind and taste.

2: Dr. Mohamed Hussein Haykal, born in 1888, was an Egyptian writer, journalist, intellectual and politician. He obtained a Ph.D. in Law from the Sorbonne University in Paris in 1912.
First impressions of the Kaaba: “I was so amazed by the scene of the Kaaba, standing tall in the middle of the Mosque, that I couldn’t take my eyes off it. A feeling of serenity rocked my body as I moved toward it with reverence and awe.”

Travelers from Andalusia and the Muslim West
1: Ibn Battuta, born in Tangier, Morocco, in 1304, was a traveler, historian and magistrate of Berber descent. Named the prince of Muslim travelers, he visited much of the Islamic world and many non-Muslim lands.
First impressions of the Kaaba: “Like a bride who is displayed upon the bridal-chair of majesty, and walks with proud steps in the mantles of beauty.”

2: Ibn Jubayr, an Arab geographer, traveler and poet from Al-Andalus (which at its peak occupied most what is now Spain and Portugal), was born in Valencia in 1145. He is renowned for his abilities in mathematics, science, linguistics and literature, as well as his travels.
First impressions of the Kaaba: “As we marched that night, the full moon had thrown its rays upon the earth, the night had lifted its veil, voices struck the ears with cries of, ‘Here I am O God, here I am,’ from all sides.”


Russia’s Putin lauds good relations with Saudi Arabia, condemns Aramco attacks

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires. (File/AFP)
Updated 13 October 2019

Russia’s Putin lauds good relations with Saudi Arabia, condemns Aramco attacks

  • Moscow could play a key role in easing regional tensions given its good ties with Gulf states and Iran
  • The Russian president made his only trip to Riyadh way back in 2007

RIYADH: Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia and condemned the recent attacks on state-owned Aramco oil facilities.
Putin said such attacks only strengthened cooperation between oil producers inside and outside OPEC, an alliance known as OPEC+, and that Russia would work with its partners to reduce attempts to destabilize markets.
As President Donald Trump reinstated US sanctions, increasing pressure on Iran’s economy, there have been a series of attacks in Saudi Arabia and in Gulf waters that Washington and close allies have blamed on Iran, which denies responsibility.
Putin told Arab broadcasters in an interview aired on Sunday ahead of his visit to the Kingdom in more than a decade, that he has “very good relations” with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Russian president is due to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Monday and then heads to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
Putin said that there has been a 38 percent growth in economic cooperation between the Kingdom and Russia.
Russia’s Direct Investment Fund and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund have created a base of $10 billion, with $2 billion in investments, he added.
Russian petrochemicals company Sibur Holding is looking to build a petrochemical complex worth more than $1 billion in investments, Putin also said.
Syrian Conflict
On Syria, where Russia and Iran have been key allies of President Bashar Assad in an 8-1/2-year civil war, the Russian president said they would not have been able to reach a positive outcome without Saudi cooperation.
“I would like to emphasize the positive role Saudi Arabia has played in resolving the Syrian crisis … without Saudi Arabia’s contribution toward a Syrian settlement, it would have been impossible to achieve a positive trend,” he said, thanking King Salman and Mohammed bin Salman for their “constructive approach.”
He said Moscow supports the Assad regime in Syria, not because they have no blame in the situation but to prevent terrorist organizations from infiltrating the war-torn country.
“We are working with Turkey and Iran to resolve the Syrian conflict, but without Saudi it would not be possible to come to a good solution,” he said.
A congress convened by Russia last year tasked the United Nations envoy for Syria with forming a committee to draft a new constitution, after many rounds of talks to end the war failed.
UN officials say forming a constitutional committee is key to political reforms and new elections meant to unify Syria and end a war which has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced about half of the pre-war 22 million population.
Turkey launched an assault last week against Kurdish forces in border areas of northern Syria, saying it seeks to set up a “safe zone” to resettle Syrian refugees but raising international alarm over the possibility of Daesh militants escaping from prisons.
Iran Deal
Asked if Moscow supported new a return to negotiations with Iran to limit its missile program as Trump has called for enforcing the nuclear deal first, Putin said the two issues should be dealt with separately.
“Most likely it (the missiles) can and should be discussed ... The missile program is one thing and the nuclear program is another thing,” he said. “Of course, this is necessary, but there is no need to merge one with the other...”
The Russian president said OPEC+ was an initiative introduced by the crown prince to increase their cooperation in oil sector, and that he was the one who suggested to expand military collaboration between the two countries.
Saudi Arabia was not just a regional energy player but also a global one, and “we care about our cooperation,” Putin said.
The Russian leader added that anything that threatens energy trade stability must be stopped, and “we should work together” to stop it.
Aramco Attacks
Putin also condemned the Sept. 14 attacks on Aramco facilities, noting “such actions do not bring any positive results to anybody, including perpetrators,” as they do not have a strong effect on the market.
“We condemn any such actions, end of story. This is the official position … regardless of who stood behind the incident,” said Putin.
He insisted Russia’s intelligence community does not know who perpetrated the Aramco attacks, but he also said that his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, has denied Tehran’s complicity in the attacks. Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Riyadh and Washington blamed Tehran.
However, Putin said: “It is wrong to determine who is guilty before it is known reliably and clearly who is behind this act,” Putin said, adding that he had agreed to help investigate the attack.
“If someone may have wanted to deal a blow to the oil market, they failed. There were indeed some fluctuations in prices, but I do not think it was anything too serious, even though the initial response was quite strong.
“We need to respond to any attempt to destabilize the market. Russia will certainly continue working with Saudi Arabia and other partners and friends in the Arab world to counter any attempts to wreak havoc in the market,” he said in an interview with Al Arabiya.
Putin believes Russia can play a positive role in resolving regional disagreements, because of Moscow’s positive relations with the Arab world, Iranians, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.