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Tawhid 'Umrah to Mecca and Madinah
Inclusive pilgrimage with the woman imam Amina Wadud at the sources of Islam

We were several individual who wanted to live together a spiritual retreat and a cultural quest, at the roots of our Islamic faith, in company of inclusive Muslim brothers and sisters. The aim of this trip was to offer participants a unique experience, filling them of positive energy, at the source of the Islamic culture.

Our inclusive group of “'Umrah of Tawheed 2012” was made ​​up of Muslims from Europe, North Africa and North America; inclusive, progressive, reformist Muslims, supporting an appeased, egalitarian and gender-neutral representation of Islam. We were accompanied in this quest, alhamdouliAllah, by a great woman of contemporary Islam: Dr. Amina Wadud - who is an Imam, a theologian and a Hadja -, that throughout this journey embodied with us the peaceful share of the Islamic spiritual quest. Such was the history of our inclusive pilgrimage to the sources of Islamic Liberation...

TAWHEED  UMRAH - documentary about our quest to the sources of Islam

Download the Tawheed Umrah's presentation & travel blog full texts here

We hope that this token of our spiritual quest to the sources of Islamic Liberation, shall inspire those who fear to do their pilgrimage, not to be reluctant anymore to accomplish this path toward Allah.

We are Thursday, June 7, 2012; it is the eighteenth day of the lunar month of peace: Radjab, year 1433. Amina Wadud arrived this morning in Paris, from San Francisco. She will spend the night with us, so we could all leave together from Paris to Medina, Saudi Arabia. After a short nap to recover from jetlag between North America and Europe, Amina and the rest of our group met with some of our Friends and our loved ones for share a traditional dinner and to celebrate our imminent departure for the Holy Land. Farida prepared some North African dishes. The atmosphere is full swing; we spend the evening discussing about this and that. After evening prayers done together, our friends eventually return home. We fall asleep bearing in mind the unique night that separates us now from our meeting with the Ka'aba: this historical relic, the square, dark room, which symbolizes all that is most sacred in the hopes and ideals of our humanity.

The next morning, after the dawn prayer and a light breakfast, our group sat around Amina Wadud to pray together on the doorstep. Then we go by train to Charles De Gaulle airport, which is located nearby. A few hours later, we take our mid day flight with the Jordanian towards Amman. The flight went smoothly; we fly over Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean sea, then Palestine and the Jordanian desert. We finally fly over the Dead Sea, before landing at Amman airport. After the usual identity security checks for all passengers in transit - travelers of North African nationalities do not pay any visitor’s visa fee - we are out-licensed to visit the capital. We pray in the airport mosque before sunset and then we take the 8am o’clock bus to the city center. There, some of us who already know the place, advise us a restaurant among the best in town: Al-Quds ("Palestine"). We eat delicious traditional dishes, such as some mansaf: a dish consisting of yellow rice coating of butter, beef and curd milk... Are there any takers? We taste some oriental pastries, before settling at an outdoor cafe overlooking the city center, smoking a shisha while listening to an orchestra of Arab music. After a few hours of well deserved relaxation, to forget about the months of stress preparing for this inclusive pilgrimage and to get discreetly our visas without problems with the Saudi authorities - remember that Saudi Arabia is still one of the seven Muslim countries in the world that condemns homosexuality of the death penalty -, we return to the airport where our planes takes off at 2am.


All photos before departure, please click here

After a two hour flight, we arrive at the airport of Medina exhausted as well as tremendously excited by the discoveries that are waiting for us. Moreover, although some of us have already done one or even several pilgrimages - some are accomplishing here there fifth pilgrimage -, it is the first time we participate in such an adventure among a group as diverse and motivated. On our descent from the aircraft, after performing the dawn prayer, a minibus that was booked by our agency in Paris leads us to our downtown hotel. The establishment Ishraq Al Madinah is located a few hundred meters from one of the main gates of the Haram al-Madani - a term that refers simultaneously to the sin and the sanctuary. The Haram in Medina, the Holy Mosque, encompasses the tomb of our beloved Prophet Muhammad , built on the site of his former residence and one of the first mosque of Islam. At the hotel we find spacious rooms with all comforts to spend four days dedicated to worship and meditation. After a nap that lasted until shortly before midday praying, we take a shower, put on our white robes of pilgrims and all together we leave for the Haram. We go through the majestic doors of the grand Mosque, under a scorching heat, and discover a sparsely decorated interior, worthy of the finest monuments in the world: the pillars are adorned with gold, ceilings are ornamented with stucco, walls are covered with marble... A most delicate debauchery of luxury that is criticized by many Muslims who come to visit these holy places by abnegation, to meditate at the sources of the Islamic liturgical tradition. We have to say that the air conditioning of all the holy places is a luxury that would be hard to dispense with in the desert of Saudi Arabia. After zuhr prayers, we go in the closest mall in front of the Mosque to share a lunch. Again, we appreciate the local cuisine, usually made of meat and varied salads. Then some decide to return to the Mosque to pray, others return to the hotel to freshen up, while others decide to finally start now to do their shopping: Medina is known for centuries for its flourishing trade, importing from the four corners of the world's most valuable Islamic fabrics and more expensive jewelry.


All pictures of outside the main Madinah Haram mosque, please click here

In the late afternoon, since the visit to the tomb of the Prophet is governed by rules of strict segregation of the sexes, the men in our group decided to take this afternoon to pay tribute to our Prophet Muhammad and the more faithful companions, Abu Bakr and 'Umar Allah be pleased with them, buried in these drawings:

اللهم صل على محمد وعلى آل محمد كما صليت على ابراهيم وعلى آل ابراهيم وبارك على محمد وآل محمد كما باركت على ابراهيم وعلى آل ابراهيم في العالمين انك حميد مجيد

“O Allah, Confer blessing upon Muhammad and the Folk of Muhammad, as You conferred blessing upon Abraham and the Folk of Abraham. O Allah, confer bounty upon Muhammad and the Folk of Muhammad, as You conferred blessing upon Abraham and the Folk of Abraham. Lo! You are Praiseworthy, Glorious!"


All pictures of Madinah main Haram mosque, please click here

Between evening prayer, al-Maghrib, and that of the night, al-'isha, most of us spend their free time at the Haram, usually to read verses from the Qur’an. Some of our group helps those who have the biggest difficulties to decipher Arabic. These are special moments, unforgettable, a brotherhood and an unparalleled devotion. After a frugal meal, we return to the hotel to sleep: drunken with sleep after so many efforts. The next morning at around 4am, we go back to the Mosque. It's amazing to see we are thousands to converge towards the Haram, in this early hour, to prostrate ourselves at the same time before the Lord our God, at the rhythm of allahu akbar chanted by the crowd of believers in communion. We spend three days and four nights in Medina, where daily life is punctuated by prayers, meals together, meditation, and for some a bit of shopping. Before leaving the Holy City of the Prophet  , we also visit the market with dates and the “mosque of two qibla” - direction to which we pray - : Masjid al-Qiblatain. Indeed, the first qibla was not towards Mecca but al-Quds - Jerusalem; the direction in which Bilal the African - may Allah be satisfied of him -, Prophet’s companion and the first muezzin of the Islamic history, called on Muslims to prayer. Then, after more than ten years of prayer turned to Al-Quds, Allah - the Exalted - ordered in the second year of the Hegira, to change direction to the one we know today, Mecca:

قَدْ نَرَى تَقَلُّبَ وَجْهِكَ فِي السَّمَاء فَلَنُوَلِّيَنَّكَ قِبْلَةً تَرْضَاهَا فَوَلِّ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ وَحَيْثُ مَا كُنتُمْ فَوَلُّواْ وُجُوِهَكُمْ شَطْرَهُ وَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ أُوْتُواْ الْكِتَابَ لَيَعْلَمُونَ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّهِمْ وَمَا اللّهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا يَعْمَلُونَ

“Thus We have appointed you a middle nation, that ye may be witnesses against mankind. and that the messenger may be a witness against you. And We appointed the qiblah which ye formerly observed only that We might know him who followeth the messenger, from him who turneth on his heels. In truth it was a hard (test) save for those whom Allah guided. But it was not Allah' s purpose that your faith should be in vain , for Allah is full of pity , Merciful toward mankind.” (Qur’an: 2.144).


                On Monday, June 11 of 2012, it is the last time we pray at the Haram of Medina, before returning to the hotel to take our clothes of pilgrims to accomplish, in Mecca, specific acts which are the heart of the of the 'Umrah pilgrimage rites. Men of our group coat the two traditional white sails: al-Rida and al-izar, with nothing else to wear but a belt and sandals, to symbolize the deprivation of human existence in this face of the majesty of Allah; and women in our group dress all in white. Earlier this afternoon, we drive towards Mecca under a heat of about fifty degrees Celsius in the shade, surrounded by a moonscape made ​​of dust and rocks. Our minibus takes us first of all, on our way to the holiest cities of Islam, to the Abyar 'Ali - "Ali wells" - mosque at Dhul Hulayfa; which is the miqat - the starting point of the pilgrimage to Mecca, strictly speaking - for those who come from Medina; on the way we start praying like it is advised to do so on the way to Mecca:

لبيك اللهم لبيك لبيك لا شريك لك لبيك ان الحمد والنعمه لك والملك لاشريك لك

"I obey Thee, O Lord, I obey; You have no associate, I surely obey Thee, praise and well come from You, and sovereignty is Thine, You did not partner."

Abyar 'Ali mosque (miqat Dhul Hulayfa - click here for a 3D video tour of the mosque )

After a short prayer of two rak'at - prostrations - in this beautiful mosque, we take again the road to Mecca, where we arrived shortly after sunset. In this crowded city because of the pilgrims, especially during the Hajj pilgrimage that we will not make this year, the Al-Mohadjireen hotel is located farther from the Haram al-Meqi: the holiest mosques of Islam. We also find that the rooms are cramped and less clean. But we do not linger: after a quick shower, our group left for the Haram to respond to the call to prayer. O Lord, we will soon respond to your universal call:

وَأَذِّن فِي النَّاسِ بِالْحَجِّ يَأْتُوكَ رِجَالاً وَعَلَى كُلِّ ضَامِرٍ يَأْتِينَ مِن كُلِّ فَجٍّ عَمِيقٍ

And proclaim unto mankind the Pilgrimage. They will come unto thee on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every deep ravine.”  (Qur’an: 22.27).

                On the road, we must bypass many streets sentenced for work; due to the huge influx of pilgrims in recent decades, Mecca is indeed a work in progress: the entire historic districts are unfortunately razed to build new grandest hotels. Once you're finally on the main square facing the Haram, we feel an atmosphere which incredibly borrowed of meditation, despite the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims; we enter the holy of holy through the closest monumental gate to our hotel.


We walk along the aisles of the mosque, before seeing at the end of the path the central courtyard where the Kaaba is; we do not yet see it clearly from here. Our hearts are accelerating; the emotion is palpable in our group. We finally see the House of God! We are moving in the central square, by following each other in single file and being careful not to get lost amidst this sea of ​​people performing, at the same time that we, the seven ritual convolutions - tawaf - around of the Kaaba. To each of our tours, we salute with our right hand the Black Stone: This meteorite which felt from the sky and was millennia ago, they say, the symbol of the gift of Allah to the Arab tribes. During the tawaf around the Kaaba, we feel the strong magnetism of this historic relic, now completely empty, stripped of ancestral superstitions. Once indeed, the Kaaba was used to store more than three hundred statues of the Arabic pantheon gods. Today the intentions of Muslims are, in principle, purified, as in the testimony given by every Muslim, la ilaha illa Allah - "there is no God… but Allah"! It is this void that allows a physical yet full of spiritual sacrifice; the sacrifice of giving up a part of our human superstition, for the love of God.

Once our convolutions completed, we pray briefly behind the monument dedicated to a prophet, father of all the Semitic traditions: Ibrahim, which would have left his footprints in the clay when he built the Kaaba with his son Ishmael. Then we run between the famous two hills, now integral parts of the holy places: the hillocks of Safa and Marwa, or what's left of them. We run just like Ishmael's mother did in hopes of finding help from a caravanserai which would have gone off. The slave who wanted to save her son from the horrors of the desert, after his lover and master Abraham abandoned them, obedient to the will of Sarah his wife, not to leave a half-brother to his legitimate son, Isaac. We drink water from the well of Zamzam: the miraculous spring, the Lourdes of Muslims. It appeared according to the tradition after the archangel Gabriel hit the sand with his heel to provide to the slave and her son what quench their thirst. Water supposed to cure all diseases. Our pilgrimage is now done in the tradition of the Prophet . Bloodless, we return to the hotel to refresh ourselves. Before enjoying a few hours of sleep in the morning, we return to the Haram, in time for the dawn prayer as we are advised by the Qur'an:

فَاصْبِرْ عَلَى مَا يَقُولُونَ وَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ قَبْلَ طُلُوعِ الشَّمْسِ وَقَبْلَ غُرُوبِهَا وَمِنْ آنَاء اللَّيْلِ فَسَبِّحْ وَأَطْرَافَ النَّهَارِ لَعَلَّكَ تَرْضَى

“Therefor (O Muhammad), bear with what they say, and celebrate the praises of thy Lord ere the rising of the sun and ere the going down thereof. And glorify Him some hours of the night and at the two ends of the day, that thou mayst find acceptance.”  (Qur’an: 20.130).

                In general, our days are punctuated in Mecca, as in Medina, by prayer, meals and shopping. Some of us are like the Peripatetic philosophers of ancient times, walking in the teeming streets of the holy city - Umm al-Qura, "the mother of all cities" - between the Haram and our hotel, while discussing metaphysical and Islamic exegesis. Some are talking about verses of the Qur’an regarding the status of women in Islam, they heard several times during their prayer led by the imam, or passing a shop selling audio CDs of the Qur'an: "Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath men the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women )..." (Qur’an: 4.34). That is not a coincidence that we heard this verse repeatedly during our 'Umrah of Tawheed, as this is a verse that is often used to demean wrongly women to an inferior status and sometimes to lead some dogmatic Muslims to justify physical violence against women, while other interpretations are possible. We also speak of this term often used in the Qur’an, Amina has crossed several times at random from these readings from the Qur’an during our 'Umrah. Namely the term fahisha - فحش - which appears six times in the Qur’an; this term can be translated as "abomination" or "serious transgression of social rules" but is invariably translated by the dogmatic Muslims by "homosexuality" or "sodomy", when it comes to describing the extent of all rapes, robberies, and crimes of piracy committed by the people of Lut. Again, we all agree on the fact that the prejudices of some scholars too heavily influence the representation, which should be soothed and universally inclusive, we develop freely of our, cultural and spiritual Islamic heritage.

                 Anyway here in Mecca, during our free times, we took our habits in the huge shopping center, topped by a luxury condominium over a hundred floors high, newly built just in front of Mecca; an enormous building among the highest in the world, dominated by a clock of a garish taste only a few of us really appreciated. But this is probably a sign of a mandatory modernization, against which we can do nothing. Some of us escape as much as possible these crowded spaces to meditate facing the Ka'aba. We try hard to always pray together, usually at the rear of the Grand Mosque and on the second floor; since the mutawwa - religious police - strictly forbid, and sometimes violently, to the men and women to pray together. This is a bid'ah - an innovation in Islam - against which our group tries several times to resist: we try to pray the sunset prayer over the central courtyard facing the Ka'aba, men and women in our group all mixed. Unfortunately, we were driven out and some have even been pushed aggressively by the conservatives who have no respect for human dignity. Indeed, the religious police deploy incredible energies to impose its sectarian and dogmatic patriarchy at the heart of the Islamic holy of holies. It seems thought that some form of violence is now authorized to maintain strict gender segregation, that still a few years - those who already came on pilgrimage to Mecca told us - had never been applied in Mecca.

                  Conservatives’ violence does not forbid us to stay there sometimes for hours, rocked by this tremendously positive magnetism from the Ka'aba, thanks to millennia of worship and prayer invoked by generations of men and women of goodwill; we will spend six extraordinary days here in Mecca. Not far from the center of the city, we will also visit the Hira cave on djabal Noor - “Mount of Light” - where the Prophet Muhammad  used to isolate himself from the bustling city to meditate. This is where our beloved Prophet received the 17 of Ramadan 611 AD the first Qur'anic revelation that leads him to direct, from that time and for over twenty years, these human brothers and sisters to knowledge:

اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ

خَلَقَ الْإِنسَانَ مِنْ عَلَق

اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُ

الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ

عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ


Read: In the name of thy Lord who createth, Createth man from a clot. Read: And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous, Who teacheth by the pen, Teacheth man that which be knew not.” (Qur’an: 96.1-5).


 HIRA cave on MOUNT NOOR (click here for a 3D tour)

In Mecca either, Amina Wadud was invited even before we left by family and friends of the famous Saudi feminist: Dr. Ajwad Hatoon al-Fassi. The father of Dr. Hatoon, Sheik al-Fassi, is one of the foremost masters of Saudi Arabian Sufism; his family was persecuted for years by the totalitarian regime of the Wahhabis. Amina, on his return, will share with us very warm story of these two days she spent in company of Saudi intellectuals who who still believe that a better, enlightened future, far from the macho and patriarchal myths and superstitions, will ever be possible for Saudi Arabia and all Muslims.


Cheikh al-Fassi & Amina Wadud in Mecca during our Pilgrimage (left picture); 
Hatoon al-Fassi & Amina Wadudf at a Stanford university conference (right picture).

Moreover, a member of our group, Mustapha, decided shortly before we left to dedicate a second 'Umra pilgrimage to his late mother, may God welcome her soul in His infinite mercy. We follow him until the miqat for people of Mecca; it is the beautiful mosque of 'Aisha, the favorite wives of the Prophet Muhammad . The corbels interiors are beautifully decorated of finely carved precious woods.

Aicha mosque (click here for the 3D tour)

After our ablutions, we pray there before we return to Mecca where we arrive once again just in time for the sunset prayer. Mustapha accomplishes once again the rites for this 'Umrah to his mother: seven convolutions around the Ka'ba, the salute to the black stone, the prayer behind the mausoleum of Abraham, the running between Safa and Marwa, the visit to the waters of Zamzam. Then the next day, on the 18 June - 28 Radjab 1433 Hejira -, after performing tawaf al-wada’ - “the convolutions of the farewell to the Ka'aba” - we leave Mecca by the Jeddah International Airport, located less than fifty kilometers away, by the flight of 7am for Paris. Once at the airport Charles De Gaulle, most of us separate, the feeling of having experienced a mystical, human experience, beyond our most positive expectations. Amina Wadud will be leaving the next day to return home to San Francisco, California. Some of us share thereafter the fact that they now carry in their heart, when they pray at home facing the Kaaba, the vision of warm brotherly love lavished on each other by all members of the first 'Umrah of Tawheed.


Thanks to Amina Wadud and the INIMUslim networking program towards inclusive Muslims

Blog texts by Amina Wadud & L.Zahed
Blog pictures taken by Mustapha & L.Zahed
Travel blog and pictures edited by L.Zahed

Documentary production: CALEM, dans le cadre du programme INIMuslim ;
Documentary edition: Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed et Qiyaamudeen Jantjies-Zahed
Musique of the documentary (free of rights, after authorization by Hicham Chahidi on the 3/09/2012 at 2.10 PM) :