Mecca never sleeps

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Pilgrims performing Tawaf (circumambulating) the Kaaba- Photograph: Muhammad Mahdi Karim; edited by jjron - Own work, GFDL 1.2, commons.wikimedia.org

The non-stop hours in Mecca reflect brisk business, especially with the surge of pilgrims entering the holy city during the hajj season, writes Mustafa K Anuar.

“What time do you close?”

“We’re open 24 hours,” quipped the assistant of a shop that sells an assortment of dates.

Two doors away is a pharmacy. It, too, is open around the clock.

“Malaysia boleh,” shouts a man, who presumably has interacted with many Malaysian customers before, upon seeing the Malaysian flag on my sling bag. His shop, which also never shuts, sells delicacies such as “BBQ Chicken Rise”, “Shawaya & Rise” and other things nice to eat.

The non-stop hours are reflective of brisk business here especially with the surge of pilgrims entering the holy city of Mecca during the hajj season.

The faithful, who hail from as far away as Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Canada and Nigeria, throng these shops and others in the vicinity of the big clock tower facing the Grand Mosque of Mecca.

The pilgrims need basic necessities such as toiletries, prayer mats, tasbih (prayer beads), food, “umbrella-hats” and paracetamol; they may even purchase a long flowing robe, perfume and jewellery.

The shops, particularly those along busy Ajyad Road, are strategically located near a host of hotels, a bus stand and more importantly, the Grand Mosque. It is here that many people pass by on their way to the mosque and back, daily.

To be sure, the pilgrims on the whole go to the mosque around the clock. Essentially, they pray five times a day. The heat and other avoidable hurdles are secondary to their intense submission to Allah.

In many ways, these shops serve the needs of the faithful who spend a long time in the mosque, performing rituals of prayer and supplication, among other spiritual things.

This explains why, for instance, ice cream parlours have that magnetic force to attract the pilgrims on a very hot afternoon in the midst of a cacophony of coughs. They are also patronised even after midnight.

The hot temperature easily dehydrates the human body. The Zamzam (sacred) water that is freely available to the pilgrims in the Grand Mosque is indeed a godsend.

Quenching one’s thirst is a constant concern of everyone here. A one woman of African descent is spotted walking away from the mosque with a 10-litre bottle of water balanced on her head. Her composure and posture would be the envy of models on a catwalk.

Barber shops that are open all day come in handy especially for pilgrims who have just completed their hajj rituals, for it is recommended that the men shave their heads.

There is a row of eateries near the clock tower that also open at night to serve meals to the poor paid for by certain pilgrims in the form of donations or sedekah.

Cultural differences or plain bafflement can emerge particularly when a buyer interacts with a shopkeeper.

At a shop selling praying mats, I volunteered to ask a shop assistant which part of Central Asia he came from.

“Altantuya!” he cheekily responded after sensing that I am Malaysian, referring to the Mongolian woman who was bombed to smithereens in a mysterious incident a few years ago in Malaysia.

And in a department store, if you’re planning to buy a shirt and pants, be culturally prepared when asking for a dressing room in order to try out your intended purchase. The shop assistant would show you a little corner strewn with little boxes behind a showcase. You’d have to cast away a little coyness in order to undress yourself at the risk of being accidentally peered at.

Cultural differences notwithstanding, business goes on as usual, around the clock and around the mosque.

Source: The Malaysian Insight

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