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World

Rain over Mecca

DW reporter Ali Almakhlafi says goodbye to Mecca. As he leaves, he discusses prejudices and superstitions in Islam with a German Muslim.

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It's raining cats and dogs in Mecca

The Hajj is over and I'm completely exhausted just like most of the people here, including Michael. He's a converted Muslim from Germany. I met him first in a mosque in Cologne before leaving for Mecca and now we actually managed to meet again in Mecca at the end of the Hajj. To organize our get-together among 2.5 million Muslims was quite a feat, despite all the ways to communicate via cell phone and Facebook.

"I'm totally overwhelmed by the pilgrimage," says Michael and one can really tell that he's excited about the experience, but one also notices that the past days have taken a toll on him. Just like me, Michael has caught a cold.

But that's not really a surprise: When you visit Islam's holy sites with millions of pilgrims during the day and then spent your nights either in tents or in hotel rooms with the air conditioner turned down low one probably shouldn’t expect anything else.

Spiritual camping

Alis Mekka Tagebuch

Michael Finkenbrink in Cologne before departing to Mecca

Michael's full name is Michael Finkenbrink and during our meeting we only hade a couple of minutes for the interview. Then we would be travelling on different buses to Jiddha airport. "The sanitary facilities here are pretty bad," Michael scolds gently. But he adds that for three or four days one can deal with it.

"It's absolutely fine with me to sit on a sandy rug for a long time and then spend the night on a simple mat." That, he says, is not all that different from going on a camping trip.

So what insights did he gain? Any new spiritual or other experiences? "I've met many Muslim brothers and sisters who know exactly what they're doing." And Michael still raves about the fact that many native-born Muslims were very helpful to him during the Hajj: "I have never had the privilege of learning about Islam through systematic religious instruction. But what I was able to experience here makes up for much of that."

Ali Mekka Tagebuch

After the Hajj, an exhausted, but happy Michael in Mecca

Still, Michael is already advanced enough in his faith to be seriously annoyed when rituals and religious ideas can't be derived convincingly from the Koran or other Islamic sources. "There are quite a number of devout, but uninformed Muslims here," he says. What he is referring to is for instance the old superstition that the black stone in Mecca is inhabited by a ghost: "That’s a focus on outward appearances that have nothing to do with God!"

Michael also didn’t like the stench and the piles of trash that the crowds of pilgrims have left behind at various places. "That's really unacceptable," he complains, shaking his head. "Cleanliness is of particular importance in Islam."

Serious messages and devout wishes

Michael wants to send a message to all the readers of my diary – particularly to readers from non-Muslim countries like Germany. He's speaking them directly into my microphone: "Don't look at the dirt here – look at the dedication of the people here. Dedication – that's what Islam is all about! To subordinate oneself to God's will! And please don't misunderstand that as a threat!"

Alis Mekka Tagebuch

On the window seat: José, a Brazilian Muslim of Italian descent

But Michael knows as well as I that this will probably remain a naïve wish as long as radical groups misuse Islam for their political purposes thereby automatically placing an entire religion under general suspicion.

How often do I need to circle the Kaaba?

After our talk, I run to my bus through the pouring rain. At least this will clean up the streets a little bit. One of my roommates has been kind enough and already packed my suitcases. I arrive at the bus, shivering and freezing, with the driver already waiting for me.

In the bus, I sit close to a friendly pilgrim with a well-sounding name: José Ruy Gandra – a Brazilian of Italian descent.

Alis Mekka Tagebuch

José questioning an Islamic scholar in Mecca about Hajj rituals

José and I get lost in a complex debate about whether pilgrims are required to repeat circling the Kaaba seven times on various days. About such seemingly minor details there are often great uncertainties and even disagreements here. A religious scholar answered me with a definite "No" when I had asked him about it earlier.

But José didn't want to miss out on this ritual - even tough it caused him considerable stress: Making the way to the buses and to mosque over and over and over again.

I've also circled the Kaaba several times. Just out of journalistic curiosity. And I remember the words of a pilgrim I met. He looked pretty exhausted – but he smiled when he told me: "The harder it gets, the more of your sins will be forgiven." Is this another superstition? Perhaps, but I don't mind. One should always respect what other people believe in.

Author: Ali Almakhlafi (ds)

Editor: Michael Knigge

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