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Modernity Alongside History

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As I sipped my deliciously sweet hot tea, my eyes carefully followed the steam’s journey from the white porcelain mug towards the ceiling and then disappear into thin air. Not bothered about the steam’s short lifespan, my eyes switched to concentrate on my surroundings; the rich relaxing colours my mind processed encouraged me to sit further back into my comfortable chair and deeply inhale.

This place was fit for a king, much needed after the struggle I had been through to get here. Sitting in the Dar Attaw’heed, Intercontinental Hotel, in Makkah, I continued to sip my tea, my eyes occasionally dashing from one corner of the Zamzam cafe to another.I analysed my surroundings, taking in the well chosen paintings of nature on the walls and the magic they possessed.

Strangely the magic portrayed in the paintings seemed to leak into the café, for the whole hotel seemed like an illusion, a mirrage in the middle of a thirsty desert, a magical palace high up in the mountains. It seemed that everyone was enchanted by this magical spirit, but I deeply sensed that this spirit was not coming from the hotel alone. This modern hotel stood right next to Almasjid Al’haraam, the home of the Ka‘bah.

On cue, my eyes darted to the wall-to-wall window in front of me, but not only my eyes observed, my soul had awoken, absorbing a different view. By far, this Masjid, with its mysterious and otherworldly white and grey colours, stood proudly, guarding the sacred Ka‘bah, the most ancient building in the world.

I stood up, walking towards the window, observing Allaah’s worshippers sat there on the white marble floor, patiently waiting for the next prayer. They all faced an ancient building, the Ka‘bah, with their backs to a modern building, the hotel. With their backs to the hotel, one would assume that they had given their backs to the world, giving their sole attention to Allaah and the Hereafter.

Both buildings are indeed made of the same earthly materials and were built with the same architectural process, yet it was unmistakably clear they were both different.  Paying for my tea, I walked out of the hotel. I had my worldly recuperation; I now needed spiritual healing to take on its role. Joining the masses, I walked into Almasjid Al’haraam, and instantly felt a difference in the modern building I had just left and the ancient building I was now walking towards.

Without a doubt you could tell that the two buildings had the same human touches to them, but what was different was that in front of the Ka‘bah, your soul was set free to fly with the birds who had already taken a dose of euphoria long before I got there.

I was now in front of Allaah’s Holy House; I was now feeding my hungry soul, a complete contrast to feeding my hungry appetite back at the hotel. Indeed the hotel had to play soothing instrumental tunes to ensure the hotel residents were relaxed and happy, a complete contrast to the spiritual, euphoric atmosphere that radiated with Allaah’s Mercy, making the soul deliriously elated. In the hotel the hard marble floors are delicately polished to ensure our ease and satisfaction, a complete contrast to the polished marble floors in Almasjid Al’haraam, which are converted into soft, bouncy cushions that help you float in the air.

Then the journey ended as I stood on the steps leading down towards the Ka‘bah, the eyes of my soul drank in the Ka‘bah’s elegance and pride, a complete contrast to the paintings I earlier saw in the hotel that was pleasing to the eye, but would never exceed the ultimate soul quencher, the Ka‘bah. Just as the water quenches the thirst of our thirsty bodies, the Ka’bah quenches the thirst of our thirsty souls.

There I stood, walking in the footsteps of the Prophets and the believers, yet they walked on sand, while I walked on marble. They circled the Ka‘bah on the ground, most probably in the blazing heat, while I could circle indoors in the Masjid’s cool shade, or on the first ground or on the roof top.

The modernisation made it hard to imagine how it was like when Haajar was there, all alone with her son. It made it hard to imagine if they ever imagined how it would be in centuries to come. It was hard to imagine if they ever imagined that a Masjid would be erected around the Ka‘bah, guarding it with pride.

It made it hard to imagine if they knew that air conditioning and fans placed in Almasjid Al’haraam’s high ceilings would take the place of the sun’s cruel blaze, leaving no shadow for them to seek refuge in. I wonder if they ever imagined that the sandy, pebbled floor they walked upon would one day become a cool marbled floor, stretching out as far as the eye can see.

There I sat in another modern hotel, this time in the city of Madeenah, sipping my tea, thinking about the wisdom behind all the signs that Allaah has left for us to ponder on. Indeed Allaah says: “And He has subjected to you, as from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold, in that are signs indeed for those who reflect” (The Holy ’Qura~n [T.M.Q.], chapter of Aljaathiyah, verse 13).

There I stood in front of the Prophet’s grave, amazed that a part of history stood along side a modern world. The feeling I had in Makkah was resurrected again; I felt sad that I could not imagine how my surroundings must have been like at the time of the Prophet. How beautiful and successful architectural modernisation is, I thought, and how sad it is that things cannot remain as they are. Indeed the only One that will always remain is our Lord, Allaah.

Surely the world will keep rotating into a newer world, but it is our memories and the beliefs, morals and teachings we leave for our children, and the generations to come, that will always remain; just like the beliefs and teachings of past nations have remained for us to acknowledge and pass on; an everlasting baton race.

Indeed this world is just a passing trial; advice that the historical buildings warn us of, in case we have become like those who have forgotten. Certainly these historical buildings and sites are signs, reminding us of the nations that have passed away. Surely these signs are food for the soul, whereas modern buildings feed our worldly exterior.

There I was again, sitting on the modern plane, leaving the ancient holy land, sipping my tea, and reflecting on my journey.

Surely in years to come, new things will be made; modernity will persevere on its endless quest. Our times will be looked back on as ancient history; this is indeed the scheme of things.

Indeed as the plane released itself into the air, my thoughts concluded to this; in our times, modernity stands alongside history, and in the years to come, our modernity will become the history that will stand alongside a brave new world.

Marwah Elazhary -
Marwah El-Azhary [Marwah Alazhary] is founder, editor-in-chief and site administrator of daralislamlive.com, a translation and creative arts website, publishing in English the works of influential preachers such as Amr Khaled ['Amr ’Khaaled].Read More >>

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