‘I felt like I was talking to God’: An Islamic pilgrimage of devotion and unity

Muslims circling the Kabbah as part of the first ritual during Umrah.

Nasi Rahman

Muslims circling the Kabbah as part of the first ritual during Umrah.

By Noreen Mohamed, Amna Ahmad, and Aariz Khan

Each year, millions of Muslims travel to Saudi Arabia to complete Umrah, a sacred pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia. The pilgrimage offers an opportunity for Muslims to seek forgiveness, revitalize their faith and supplicate to God.

Umrah involves four to five hours of rituals, but many Muslims choose to spend many days in the holy cities to perform the pilgrimage multiple times.

Green Hope student Nasi Rahman (‘23) described his most recent pilgrimage in July 2022, saying, “we do a few different rituals such as walking around the Kaaba [a holy building in the middle of Mecca, considered to be the House of God for Muslims] seven times and walking between Safah and Marwah [two religiously significant hills] seven times.”

“You wear certain clothing and men shave their heads afterward, and you develop a more special connection to God. It shows how much Muslims are dedicated to what they believe in,” he said.

Observers wear plain-colored clothing known as Ihram, which refers to the state of purity that Muslims must enter into prior to participating in the pilgrimage. Ihram symbolizes the alikeness of all Muslims in the eyes of God, regardless of income, race, gender or age.

Sohaib Gulzar, another Green Hope student who performed Umrah in early March, also reflected on his pilgrimage.

When I touched the Kaaba, I felt like I was talking to God.

— Sohaib Gulzar

“It was the best experience of my life. This was my first time traveling to Mecca for pilgrimage, but one thing I noticed was that the environment was calm and peaceful during all of the rituals,” he said.

Gulzar also emphasized how the holy trip enabled him to spend time with family and friends. The pilgrimage was not only an opportunity to refocus, he said, but the days leading up to his Umrah trip also served as an opportunity to prepare with loved ones.

“Before we left for the airport, my family and I watched videos together about what to expect when we went to perform Umrah…When we got there, my parents made sure I was with them all the time because there were a lot of people,” Gulzar said.

Up to 100,000 people of all ethnic backgrounds can perform Umrah each day, creating a space of religious unity that many regard as incomparable to other Islamic practices.

Omar Khan (‘25), a Muslim Student Association member who completed the pilgrimage in 2018, spoke on the unifying aspects of Umrah, saying, “Umrah is a surreal experience and I recommend that everyone goes because the connection between the hundreds of thousands of people there is amazing. There were people who didn’t speak my language [at Umrah], but they were still helping me throughout my trip.”

The greatest thing about Umrah is the realization that it takes place at the holiest place in the world and unites all of the Muslims around you.

— Omar Khan ('25)

While Rahman, Gulzar, and Khan completed Umrah at different times, the pilgrimage provided all three with an opportunity to seek forgiveness, strengthen their faith and develop a stronger connection with God. Umrah highlights similarities between Muslims that come from different backgrounds and emphasizes the importance of unity and devotion in the Islamic faith.

This story was originally published on The Green Hope Falcon on March 30, 2023.