The annual pilgrimage to Mekkah performed by Muslims from all corners of the globe. Unlike other pillars of Islam, Hajj is only prescribed once to those with the means and ability to perform it. It is both physically and spiritually demanding.
What makes Hajj special? What motivates the old and young to go through such an arduous journey? Why do Muslims from all walks of life congregate, turning the empty plains of Mina and Arafah into a sea of men and women with a single objective?
It was not till I was given the opportunity to perform Hajj that I fully appreciated this 5th pillar of Islam.
This is my Hajj story and how even though performed once, it was a journey and experience that will last a lifetime.
“And proclaim among men the Pilgrimage: they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, coming from every remote path, that they may witness advantages for them and mention the name of Allah during stated days…” [Al Hajj 27 – 28]
A call made by Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) as commanded by Allah s.w.t, the call has been answered without fail till this very day. “Labaykallah humma hajjan – Here I am Allah, for Hajj”. I was thankful and grateful, feeling a great sense of syukr for being invited to perform Hajj at 20 on my own.
As pilgrims depart for Hajj as well as moving from one Hajj ritual to another they will proclaim full of enthusiasm and humility in unison: “LabaykAllah humma labayk – Here we are, O Lord! Here we are!”
Give your best effort and leave the rest to Allah
Throughout Hajj, pilgrims may face their own set of challenges. Due to the unexpected nature of what might happen during the journey, there will usually be a big send off at the airport. I too got my share of hugs and kisses from my relatives and strangers before departing. For some, it may be their last goodbye.
Despite preparing for months physically and mentally, I had butterflies in my stomach as I entered the departure hall at the airport, a mixture of excitement and nervousness. I tried to hold firmly to the advice given which is to have faith and tawakkal, being in constant remembrance of the Almighty. This was a takeaway that I try to adopt after Hajj. Give your best effort and leave the rest to Allah.
Keep calm, and zikr
Part of the intention requires pilgrims to be in the state of ihram. For men, it means donning 2 pieces of unstitched cloth. Even though it may be uncomfortable at the start, one of the most important lessons being in ihram was humility. Humility in knowing that before Allah, everyone is equal and how He judges one based only on their deeds.
Unlike Umrah during normal seasons, Hajj is a peak period in the 2 holy cities (Mekkah and Madinah), while the atmosphere is more vibrant and lively, expect to be more patient! Long queues everywhere, at the airport, food courts, toilets and wudhu area!
An essential that I learned during Hajj as well as something that we can use every day is to keep calm and zikr for indeed Allah is with the patient!
Take and grab this opportunity to interact and get to know the people within your group or even those from other countries!
If language is a barrier, start with a smile and Salam and believe me, all barriers to communication will be broken.
Hajj is Arafah
Many of us will be fasting on the day of Arafah, the culmination of Hajj.
As pilgrims fill the plains of Arafah under the heat of the Arabian sun, the day of Arafah reminds me of the temporary state of the world we are living in, and how the hereafter is our permanent home. It was a day of reflection and contemplation, a time for remembrance and gratitude to the Most Merciful.
Just before sunset, my group led by the Mutawwif stood outside our tent, raising our hands up high, making du’a hoping for Allah to accept our Hajj and grant us forgiveness. We ended the day of Arafah seeking forgiveness and giving hugs to one another, thankful for completing one of the most important rituals of Hajj.
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar
One of the most memorable moments during Hajj was when some pilgrims and I joined our Mutawwif for the walk from Mina to Mekkah.
We embarked on this journey just after having breakfast. During the walk, I saw men and women of all ages, some with walking sticks and wheelchairs, others marching forward full of enthusiasm and spirit. Despite the long walk, many were determined to reach the Kaabah to perform their Tawaf and Sa’i for Hajj proclaiming a new call, “God is Great! God is Great! To Allah all praises is due!”
Having completed the day of Arafah, pilgrims were filled with renewed spirit and enthusiasm. When we finally reached Masjidil Haram just after Zuhur, the crowd was intense, but it pushed us forward and filled us with strength.
After 8 years I was finally back, overwhelmed by a spectrum of emotions.
Despite the heat and the crowd shoving one another, there was an unexplained feeling of awe and amazement knowing how Hajj brought people of different cultures and languages together with a common objective and goal. I felt the strength of the Ummah and how we are connected spiritually in spite of our differences.
“The likeness of the believers is their mutual love, mercy and compassion is that of the body; when one part of it is in pain, the rest of the body joins it in restlessness and fever.”
[Hadith narrated by al-Bukhari & Muslim]
You will be tested
An unforgettable challenge that I faced during Hajj was on my walk back from Masjidil Haram to Mina.
We had to rush as we wanted to perform our Jamarat or the ritual of stone-throwing before Maghrib. Alhamdullilah despite feeling exhausted, we reached on time. Feeling exhausted and hungry after a whole day on foot, we gratefully accepted the food and soda that people were offering. After a short rest, we headed back for camp.
It was then when a sudden rainstorm hit Mina. I, too, fell suddenly ill and felt drained of energy (never drink soda on an empty stomach!). To make matters worse, our normal route back was blocked and we had to take a detour. Separated from our Mutawwif who were assisting a few pilgrims that were held back, we were lost! It is moments such as this that having faith in Allah is vital.
Barely able to pull myself up, an elderly Moroccan pilgrim who was also in our group helped me up and held my hand tightly throughout the journey back, never once letting go. With the rain pouring and people scouring for shelter, Indonesian pilgrims took us in sheltering us from the sudden downpour, offering hot drinks and snacks as well as assisting us back to our tent.
Hajj ingrained in me the importance of being compassionate to others and to treat them fairly, to be humble before the Almighty, it acts as a constant reminder to persevere and have faith in Allah during times of need and despair as well as to be patient when faced with any test.
Even though I went unaccompanied by family, I came back forming new bonds with pilgrims who would later be like family and we continue visiting one another regularly.
Although performed once, Hajj definitely was an experience that I will bring with me for the rest of my life.
This article was first published at theradiantmuslim.com