30 Days in Arabia: My Hajj Experience

One of my first few sights of the Ka'abah when I went to the Grand Mosque (Masjidil Haram) as part of my pilgrimage.

When I received confirmation that I was going for Hajj I almost couldn't believe it. I re-read Malcolm X's description of his Hajj experience in the chapter 'Mecca' written in The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I felt honoured to embark on the same journey as the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and Malcolm X did but I felt somewhat undeserving of this blessing. In my mind, when someone gets the opportunity to perform Hajj it means they've done something truly worthy, but there I was (and I still am) a work in progress. It wasn't until later I realised God wanted me to go for Hajj because He was preparing for me for growth, the future and everything in between. God knew I needed this pilgrimage before I knew it myself. Hajj purifies the soul like nothing else does. And in the words of Lauryn Hill, "How you gonna win when you ain't right within?".

I had set the intention to go with an open heart, be present and detach myself from worldly and frivolous concerns. "No social media and less picture-taking!" I cautioned myself. My family and I left for Hajj in early August 2017 and the rest is history. Okay, I'm kidding. There's more to say! I wanted Hajj to be the start of a spiritual rebirth. And it was, but it wasn't an overnight process nor a rosy one. I remember being frustrated a lot during Hajj. I couldn't make sense of the state of our ummah (community).  Being a Hajj pilgrim is a great blessing in many ways but it was also mentally, emotionally and physically challenging. 

I spent a lot of time wondering why Muslim countries are so far behind. Why couldn't the Saudi government improve more of the Hajj facilities and infrastructures (I know they've improved a lot already, but what about building more bathrooms? 😫) and why does there seem to be a lack of empathy for the elderly or physically disabled? "We must find a way to hold on to Islamic fiqh, tradition and principles without sacrificing social progress and development," I reflected. I even found myself questioning if Islam was the right religion for me because I couldn't understand the way some of the Muslims I encountered behaved during Hajj! There was so much harshness and judgement. It's not in my spirit to treat others this way. 


During Hajj season, the only time to have some peace and quiet in Masjidil Haram is after midnight.


In retrospect, a lot of my frustrations were valid but they were heightened because of my own 'baggage' from dealing with bad Muslims in the past. Last year, 2 million pilgrims performed Hajj - something is bound to go wrong when that many people from all over the world gather in one place. Like it or not, I was exposed to Muslims from various types of upbringing, schools of thought and with their own dispositions. I came to the conclusion that it isn't the community I shouldn't be truly attached to because it is flawed like I am. My main attachment should be to God and the teachings of Islam - purify your heart, take care of yourself as even your body has rights over you, honour your parents, respect your spouse, protect women and children.

Just because Muslims don't always practice the teachings of Islam it doesn't mean there is no virtue in being Muslim and that there aren't good Muslims. In fact, I met plenty from around the world when I was on Hajj: a French teenage girl who appeared out of no where and introduced herself to me with the biggest smile and an infectious personality, Indonesian brothers and sisters who never hesitated to offer help to my Mum and I, a Mina camp manager from Yemen who organised transportation for us when there was a strict curfew due to an overflow of pilgrims, roommates from New Zealand who helped me when I had fallen ill due to dehydration. Our happiness depends on what we choose to focus on in life. Even when we disagree with others we have to see the humanity in them and seek forgiveness  from God for our own shortcomings. Only then will we find peace within ourselves.


Spot the hilal (crescent) in the sky outside the Prophet's mosque, also known as Masjid Nabawi, in Medina. 


The truth is, being Muslim is much like being anything else - it's all about what you make of it. Every individual's experience of being a Muslim and a Hajj pilgrim will differ and God is the Most Merciful and Understanding. Amidst the challenges and difficulties of Hajj, I took away 3 main lessons: the power of sacrifice, the importance of being with people from different backgrounds and the reality of growth and transformation.

Firstly, Hajj is a jihad (spiritual struggle). A companion of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم), Abu Sha'tha' said, "I contemplated the good deeds that a person does. I found that prayer as well as fasting are a jihad of the body. And that charity and alms-giving is a jihad of someone's wealth. But Hajj is a jihad of both body and wealth." This couldn't be more true. But every sacrifice comes with great rewards, as God promised - either in this life and/or in the hereafter. During Hajj, my brother overheard an ustadh (teacher) saying, "Hajj is not easy and it's a costly trip. Have you ever wondered why some people are willing to perform Hajj many times? Because Allah has promised that anyone who goes for Hajj will never become poor. They will get back everything they spend for and during Hajj, and much more."

“Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He may multiply it for him many times over? And it is Allah who withholds and grants abundance, and to Him you will be returned.” [al-Baqarah 2: 245]


The women's section in Masjid Nabawi brightened up when they opened the roof of the mosque. 


Secondly, the only way we can be one with people and alleviate our condition as a society is to be humble enough to understand others, their struggles and their needs. I am reminded of the friendship between Rumi and Shams described in The Forty Rules of Love, whereby Shams took Rumi out of his ivory tower so he could see the reality of the people who lived around him. The Prophet, caliphs and the greatest Islamic scholars spoke, ate and mingled with the poor, oppressed, troubled and anxious. It was said Umar al-Khattab, who was a powerful and revered caliph, dressed so simply that people who didn't know him weren't able to distinguish him from the average townsperson. In doing so, he remained humble and stood in solidarity with the masses. And Hajj, along with the smaller pilgrimage Umrah, is a great equaliser. When Muslim men are in the state of ihram, they are only allowed to wear two pieces of white cloths to cover their bodies, regardless of their socio-economic status. At the same time, the ihram is also reminiscent of the burial shroud, which is a sobering reminder of death and what really matters in life.

"Ask (questions from) the learned, speak with the wise, and associate with the poor." - Prophet Muhammad  

 A hypnotic sight - I could stare at the Kaabah and the sea of people for hours as they make the tawaf (circumambulation).


Thirdly, although I'm now a Hajjah it doesn't mean I am better than someone who hasn't performed Hajj.  I will still make mistakes and I will continue to grow and evolve as a Muslim. I may be expected to carry myself in a more honourable way but I will not feign my religiosity any more than what I truly feel and aspire to be (tarbiyyah). Hajj is part of my spiritual and religious journey but it is certainly not the end of it. There's this idea that once you've completed the Hajj pilgrimage you've reached the pinnacle of your faith as you've fulfilled all 5 pillars of Islam. Having done it, I can say that it is only one of many milestones in my life as the real work doesn't end there. Hajj is where a new level of spirituality and faith begins. The pilgrimage reveals your true potential and gives you an idea of what you need to work on - spiritually, mentally, physically - to reach your potential. For that very reason, Hajj isn't easy and it isn't meant to be easy.


Staying in the Mina camp for 4 nights was the most challenging part of Hajj for me.

I'm truly grateful for the entire Hajj experience. Despite all the challenges it could have been a lot tougher if we had not gone with an Australia/New Zealand Hajj agency, Labbaik Travel (perhaps this is the one time I will not complain about Western privilege!). I would go through all of that again just to have another day in the fields of Arafah, where I felt close to Allah and truly blessed and honoured to pray for my family, myself and everyone who had sent their prayers to me. I knew without any doubt that God would respond to my prayers in the best of ways.

"The best of dua (prayer, supplication) is dua on the day of Arafah... There is no Muslim who makes a supplication, in which there is neither sin nor severing ties of kinship, save that Allah will grant because of it one of three things: either He will grant him a prompt response, or store it up for him in the Hereafter, or avert from him an equivalent harm." - Prophet Muhammad

Our tent in Arafah was beautifully decorated with these colourful ethnic cushions. It was a nice touch to an extra special day for the Hajj pilgrims. 

I hope to go to Mecca and Madinah again someday. Who knows, maybe to perform Hajj again? God willing 😊 

Comments

Moi said…
Dearest what a lovely post. I was honored to perform Hajj last year and your post describes my feelings/ experiences/ frustrations to a T. It was if I wrote it myself!!

It was a moving experience no doubt and May we get to go to the house of Allah again - perhaps for Umrah

Lots of love - Hajj Mubarak and God Bless!
Shahirah Elaiza said…
@ Moi, Salaam :) Thanks for reading! InshaaAllah it was a Hajj mabrur for you. Where were you when I needed someone to express my frustrations to during Hajj? haha. Ameen to your beautiful dua <3
Tim said…
Oh Sya, whenever I need sometime to quench the thirst in my soul I know I can always find it in your blog. Thanks for this beautiful sharing, may Allah reward you! XOXO.
Shahirah Elaiza said…
@ Tim, I love that - "quench the thirst in my soul" :) Thank you for reading! Wa iyyaki