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U.S. couple from Georgia experiences Hajj pilgrimage

By Amir Ahmed, CNN
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From Mecca to Mina
  • U.S. couple arrives in Saudi Arabia to celebrate Hajj pilgrimage
  • Hina Babar, who lives in Georgia, was raised in the Saudi capital Riyadh
  • Babar, a new mom, and her husband spent a year planning for trip
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Islam

Mina, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- Hina Babar had prepared for this day for months. But now, as she landed in Saudi Arabia for the Muslim pilgrimage Hajj, the time seemed to have flown by.

"I never thought this day would come so quickly," Babar said, as she and her husband, Khuram, arrived from Marietta, Georgia.

For the new mom, preparations for the trip began more than a year ago, when she was seven months pregnant.

"I was just beginning to feel what a mother's love is like for her child, yet I had no understanding of how difficult it was going to be to leave my baby behind," Babar said.

The couple left their now-10-month-old boy with Hina Babar's parents before embarking on their sacred journey.

The Hajj, an obligatory pilgrimage for able-bodied Muslims, began this year on Wednesday.

Despite a rare rainstorm that inundated the city of Mina, 2.5 million pilgrims performed the ancient rituals without incident.

For Babar, a final phone call to her parents before she boarded her flight to Saudi Arabia last week brought news that baby Kamran's first tooth had come in.

"Now I am bawling," she said. "This is my baby's first tooth, and I missed it."

Twenty hours later, the couple arrived from New York in Medina, Islam's second-holiest city after Mecca.

The couple prayed at al-Masjid al-Nabawi, where Muslims believe their prophet, Mohammed, is buried. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from more than 50 countries prayed alongside them.

Babar found herself sharing her prayer rug with an elderly woman whom she didn't know.

"At the mosque, you just don't look at who is next to you. Everyone shares, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes involuntarily," she said.

Beyond the pilgrimage, the trip to Saudi Arabia carries special significance for Babar: She lived in the capital, Riyadh, as a child, and she wanted to share some of those childhood landmarks with her husband.

"There are so many things that I talk about that are absolutely foreign to him, ... even eating a chicken shawarma, the best sandwich in the entire world," she added.

So, during their stay in Mina, Babar took her husband on a quest for some good shawarma.

He agreed: Saudis do make the best.

"Driving through the streets, smelling all the scents, I smell some familiar scents that I can make out and some that are absolutely new to me," Babar said.

Now the couple is readying for Friday, when they travel to Mecca to circle the Kaaba, the most sacred site in Islam.

It will be the next chapter on what has already been a trip that's yielded a lifetime of memories.