Student Spotlight: Ameer Khan


Ameer Khan

In Makkah, Saudi Arabia, senior Ameer Khan and his family circle the Ka’bah seven times. Over the winter break, Khan’s family went on Umrah, a religious journey to the holy cities.

From Dec. 27 to Jan. 8, along with his mother, father and grandfather, senior Ameer Khan undertook an Islamic trip referred to as Umrah, visiting the sacred (and truly breathtaking) cities of Makkah and Madinah, both located in Saudi Arabia.

“After landing in the Jeddah airport, we took a frightening SUV ride to Madinah, where we stayed for five days, and then moved to Makkah, where we stayed for five days until leaving the country from the Jeddah airport again,” Khan said.

As opposed to the Islamic journey Hajj, a central requirement (aka pillar) of Islam, Umrah does not have certain time frame in which it need be taken.

“The purpose of Umrah is to become closer to God and to ask Him to forgive the sins you have accumulated throughout your daily business and life. Since this was Umrah, this was more of a ‘getting-to-know-the-lay-of-the-land,’ preparatory experience rather than the actual Hajj itself,” Khan said.

The primary difference between Hajj and Umrah is not necessarily found in ritual and rite (though Hajj includes more and more extensive rites:) rather, a difference of when and how long it occurs.

“Umrah consists only of circling the Ka’bah seven times, praying two units of supererogatory prayer and then running back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah seven times. Hajj can only be done during the lunar month of Dhul-Hijjah, and is a long and arduous three-day long process,” Khan said.

Khan’s expectation for each city was to have an arab majority, and expectation that much to his advantage was not true.

“Muslims come in all races because the religion was spread through their empire. In each city, there was a wide variation between races: Bengalis, Indians, Malaysians, South Africans, Europeans from the UK  and Indonesians. Since my heritage is Bengali, I was able to communicate fairly well; It actually allowed me to get this shawl from a Bengali shopkeeper” Khan said.

While Khan did not experience culture shock, the trip was full of interesting quirks and unexpected events.

“For one, there were lots of stray cats and pigeons who walk or  fly up to humans for food instead of shying away. There was a strong presence of different ethnicities besides Saudis there, mainly foreign immigrants there for work. The city is completely full of Muslims; therefore, the entire city’s marketplace takes a break and shuts down temporarily for prayer times throughout the day. Overall, many interesting things happened in Saudi,” Khan said.

Although the trip had its pleasant surprises, Khan’s highlights came down to the purpose of the trip, worshipping, and what anyone would do on vacation, shopping.

“My favorite parts of the trip were probably worshipping in the mosques themselves and shopping for clothes. There are no governmental taxes on any of the businesses there, so you can haggle for almost all purchases you make. I find haggling to be fun,” Khan said.

To complete one of the pillars, Khan plans to return for his Hajj when he has enough money to travel with his family, particularly, his mother.

“I went to refresh my internal self, spiritually, so I can be a better Muslim throughout the year. At this point, I wasn’t ready to undertake Hajj because it’s a larger time commitment than Umrah: ten days,” Khan said.