The Atheist’s Pilgrimage


We were on a plane on our way to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The long flight was in search of the Kaaba, which is situated in the centre of Mecca. I, a 16-year-old atheist from London, was excited to go on this trip to Saudi. Unlike my mother and my sister who accompanied, I was going for research; they were going to touch God, to speak to God and to beg for an easier, happier life. Of course, none of the people I was with, nor the Saudi government could know that I was an atheist (any non-Muslims found in the area in which the Kaaba is situated can be punished by death). So I was definitely keeping that bit of information to myself.

Three-thousand feet in the air, my mother taught me a Muslim prayer and claimed, “if you recite this during your journey to Mecca, God will reward you by granting you whatever you wish for when you first lay eyes upon his house”.

“Bullshit.”, I thought, before proceeding to recite the prayer (I had to keep up the ruse, you see).

Eventually, after two plane rides and a particularly uncomfortable coach ride, we arrived at our destination. Throughout the entire journey, my mother and Bufa (my older sister) recited prayers, in an effort to ensure that when they do pray to their Lord, he will grant them their wishes. Anxious to see the Kaaba, we chucked our bags in the hotel and headed straight for the mosque.

It was a fifteen-minute walk to ‘The Black Cube’. Being a Westerner in such a place makes you feel a little bit like a celebrity. The local homeless lined the street on either side of me, creating a passage, from the door of my hotel all the way to the Mosque. With their knees on the concrete and their hands in my face, the world’s poorest came out to beg for me. I gave them what I felt I could afford. You can always give more, can’t you? The guilt of not giving enough to those who are less fortunate is a privilege for the privileged.

After this initial encounter with the homeless, we arrived at our destination. For the first time in my life, this cube that I had been hearing about since the day I was born was right there.

I did not feel God, however. As beautiful as the Kaaba was, there was no sense of enlightenment in my heart… There was no euphoria.

Pissed off at not feeling any different, I was ready to head back to the hotel when I turned to my family. What metaphor could I pen to make you understand? What river or what waterfall do I compare their tears to for you to get a sense of what I saw at that moment? I had seen my mother cry before but never like this. And my sister, too. I realised that as an Atheist, I can’t really know what it must feel like to look at the house of Allah, to pray for what you truly desire and to have the faith that your prayers will be accepted, and your wishes will be granted to you.

My mother had very clear intentions when she set out to visit the house of Allah. She had just gotten out of a marriage with a man who caused her great suffering and incredible pain. She was screamed at, she was slapped, she was kicked and she was punched. And then she left. An uneducated, poor, Muslim, Asian woman set out into the world on her own for the first time with two kids to feed and no money to feed them with. She was in a pretty bad place. My sister, too, was a recently divorced woman who had – on four occasions – lost four babies during childbirth. After losing child after child, my sister turned to drugs as people often do in times of hardship. It was clear that they needed redemption, in their own way.

( . . . )

Two years later, I revisited Mecca with, yet again, my mother and my sister. Although, this time, both brought with them their second husbands as well as a baby each. Just as excitedly as last time, we dumped our bags in the hotel and rushed to the mosque. The wailing walls of the homeless, once again, escorted us all the way.

And then, we arrived. With the Black Cube in the distance, I trailed behind the others for a minute. From there, I watched my baby brother walking between my mum and my step-dad and it reminded me of everything that’s changed; about how different my mum is now, two decades after she gave birth to me. I thought about the gift that is my niece and that, after so many tries, my sister is a mother now. And I thought about everything that had to happen for us to get here…

Finally, I thought, did he do all of this?

Aporia (a nom de plume) is a Creative Writing student at Coventry University. In his spare time, he tutors English and Maths. As well as studying and teaching, Aporia is also working on his first album, set to be released in December of 2018.

Edited by Richard Horton