I had no intention of going to Mecca this year – but sometimes God wills for us what we least expect. I had just begun working as a producer on a new NBC series entitled “Kings” and was focused on getting the show off the ground. As one of the few Muslim screenwriters in Hollywood, I often feel the need to put my career before my faith, missing prayers and even forgoing some of the fasts in Ramadan to concentrate on my work. But I would learn this year that my focus on material success was coming at the cost of something far more precious – my relationship with God.
My mother called me this summer and told me she had a dream summoning her to perform the Pilgrimage to Mecca – and as her son, I was duty bound to accompany her. Suddenly everything I had planned was thrown into chaos. I nervously asked my Jewish executive producer Michael Green if I could leave the country in the middle of production and embark on a personal spiritual into the heart of Islam. To my relief, Michael enthusiastically embraced the idea and wished me godspeed.
And so last week I left the air-conditioned writers room at our studio in Brooklyn and flew halfway across the world to a land where time stops and man is confronted directly with his Creator. We arrived first at Medina, the city in Saudi Arabia where Prophet Muhammad transformed the Muslim community from a persecuted minority into a global power. I was filled with awe, walking amidst the palm trees in the ancient oasis where the Prophet taught and built a civilization. And my eyes filled with tears when I stood before the Prophet’s tomb and wished him peace.
Standing there before his grave, I was struck by how my priorities had become skewed. I thought I was a storyteller. But the story of Muhammad’s rise from an illiterate merchant to the founder of one of the most successful religious movements in history is far more remarkable than any of the Hollywood epics I have written. And it was a story which continues to grow over the centuries, and one in which I myself was a character. In that scheme of things, Hollywood suddenly didn’t look so grandiose after all.
From Medina, my mother and I traveled to Mecca to officially begin our Hajj. The sacred pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, required of every healthy Muslim who can afford it once in life. I cast off my normal clothes and donned the ihram, a garment consisting of two simple white sheets that all male pilgrims wear. In that moment, all distinctions between race, class and wealth were eliminated, and I became part of a flowing sea of humanity praising God at the Holy Kaaba, the temple built by Abraham. My Hollywood pretensions were stripped away and I was struck by how small I was in the cosmos, and yet still precious to my Creator, who had summoned me here to visit His House.
The Pilgrimage will continue over the next several days, as three million believers from every nation on earth, of every race and age, perform sacred rites unchanged for almost 1,400 years. We are united in faith and in love, for God and each other. It is an Islam that is rarely seen in the medium I work in, films and television, an Islam of joy, compassion and humility. As news of the shocking terrorist attack in Mumbai rocks the world, acts committed by those who claim to share my faith, I pray that the Islam that I experienced here in Mecca will one day become the vision of Islam in the eyes of mankind
An Islam that lives up to the meaning of its name. Peace.
Kamran Pasha is a producer for the upcoming NBC television series Kings. He is the author of Mother of the Believers, a novel on the birth of Islam to be published by Atria Books in April 2009. Go here to follow his live blog from Mecca.