I know…I know…I also thought that the next Hajj season would have arrived by the time we finally sat down and shared the effect of our Hajj experience but alas, this is our attempt to put into words some of our thoughts and feelings we experienced in the generous city of Mecca and the illuminated city of Medinah.
To be completely honest, I had some less-than-happy feelings a few nights before our departure to Jeddah; possibly a combination of several circumstances. Firstly, we didn’t have our hajj visas and passports in hand until less than two weeks before our departure day and then we didn’t have our flight tickets in hand until two or three days before our departure. So, there was a lot of “Insha-Allah”-ing i.e. that all of our conversations around hajj concluded with the phrase “God willing”; because we didn’t have in hand what was materially necessary to make this journey. When we finally did have all of the necessary prerequisites, it took time for our emotions to shift towards the pending reality.
Secondly, we felt so undeserving of such an honorable experience. Many people try for their entire life to make this journey or attempt to make the journey without success. So, we were incredibly floored and humbled by how Allah (God) facilitated our intentions and plans and then how they manifested into reality. We felt spiritually unprepared for the Hajj and were fearful that we would return from the Hajj without understanding its inner reality, learning its many lessons, or having a sincere intention to obey and seek the pleasure of God by means of it. Urbndervish reminded me that none of us deserve any of God’s bounties and mercies but it is from the generosity of the Most High, that we receive the many blessings of life and are given insight to realize them for what they are and to take benefit from them. He also reminded that we knew the basics of what the Hajj entails and that once we arrived in Mecca, there would be many people of knowledge available to guide us through the details of the Hajj and highlight the spiritual significance of the rituals, places, and people we would encounter.
Thirdly, we felt physically unprepared. We were concluding our last semester of classes in Sana’a, packing and cleaning our apartment, and preparing for our move to Hadhramaut. There wasn’t much time to really be still and prepare the self for Hajj but it was assuring to know that we would have nearly two weeks in Mecca and Medinah before the start of Hajj, and once we got there, we could prepare without the aforementioned distractions.
As we shared earlier, our first week was spent at the Sacred Sanctuary where the Ka’bah resides. Worshipping in it as much as possible was our only real agenda. We attended the meetings, tour trips, and classes that our Hajj group offered and we got to know some of our fellow pilgrims but other than that, we tried to fill our time with prayer and worship. The agenda in Medinah was similar; however, we tried to spend as much time in Masjid an-Nabawi (the Prophet’s [peace be upon him] Mosque) as possible. I (eternitysojourner) caught a bad chest cold on our last day in Mecca and spent most of the time in Medinah sick. Fortunately, we were in the presence of a dear, like-minded, aunt/sister who attended the Hajj with an arsenal of essential oils and herbal remedies. Her assistance was a true gift from the Most High. Thankfully, I was feeling much better by the time the Hajj officially began.
The day before the start of Hajj is spent at Mina, which is known as the City of Tents. Mina was quite an experience. Because the number of pilgrims is so numerous, space has to be used very efficiently. How efficiently? I shared a tent with nearly 100 women from our Hajj group. We all had a tiny cot and it was the only place to call our own in the entire tent. That little, narrow cot was where we slept, prayed, and ate. One sister in our group said that the experience made her imagine what life in a refugee camp might be like. As much as people complained and complained, fact remains that our stay there was for only a few days, this was a trip that we all voluntarily made, and at least we didn’t have to fight for limited resources or deal with water and food shortages, etc. Speaking of food, that comfort-level steadily decreased throughout our stay and this was a challenge for many. We went from buffet-meals to boxed meals. Fresh squeezed juices to boxed drinks. You could tell that the test that we considered the dense crowds to be were only the tip of the iceberg.
Somehow, I (eternitysojourner) was designated as the light and air-conditioner controller of the ladies tent. Yes- alhamdulillah (praise be to God), we did have air-conditioners in the tent. Keeping a schedule for the air-condition controls and the lighting was no small feat with that many people in such a small place. Some people were sick, menopausal, cranky…you name it! I also became one of the unofficial coordinators of the tent which meant helping to serve meals, checking on the older aunties and making sure they were okay, etc. So, it’s the day before likely the biggest day of our lives i.e. the start of Hajj, and it was busied with passing out boxed lunches and trying to keep the peace between the ladies. A very selfish part of me wanted that day to my self. I wanted to retreat into my heart and remove the baggage I didn’t want to weigh me down on the Day of Arafat (the first day of Hajj). I wanted to spend that day in prayer and contemplation, tilling the hardness of my heart, knowing that the rain of mercy was near. However, the realization of how great of an opportunity that khidmah (service) is allowed me to embrace the blessing of being able to serve the guests of Allah. The very people that “came from a far land, carrying many sins” just to fulfill this command of God; hoping for forgiveness, mercy, and acceptance of their Hajj. There are no better guests to serve than the guests invited by God and this realization had a tremendous effect on my heart. I ended that day tired but eager for the Day of Arafat.
The Day of Arafat is a day where we stand in prayer on the plains of Arafat. It is the Hajj experience and the blessings were so apparent that everyone could feel it. It is a day where we draw close to God on a special day, in special place, in a special way. I can’t describe the Day of Arafat as being anything other than a day of cleansing and purification. From the moment we stepped on Arafat and made our way to our tents (no air conditioners at these tents), you felt present in an entirely different way. The virtue of this honorable day was so apparent: the intensity of the sun beaming down on you, the sand beneath your feet, and the tears flowing from your eyes and heart…it is a day like no other.
Before I left for Hajj, my brother told me that he hoped I would attain the same feeling I had when I first became when Muslim. His hope was realized. On the Day of Arafat, I prayed from a place within myself that is not always easy to reach. Many of us have lives filled with distractions, demands, and responsibilities that easily preoccupy us from the remembrance of God. It takes a strong inner awareness and spiritual training to remain mindful of God during the hustle and bustle of life- to see the reality of how all things relate to the Creator while not being by deceived by the apparent realm of creation. The Hajj was one of the experiences that I would describe as “martial arts for the soul”. The Hajj provides a unique context and set of circumstances that can help to test and strengthen the soul, if one is open to receive such training. I didn’t realize the effect the Hajj had on my heart until the first prayer I prayed at Arafat. My heart was more acutely aware of God than it was of time, space, and the people and places surrounding me…they receded from my consciousness to the extent that I was barely aware of my self. I just prayed and cried and cried and prayed. I could taste the sweetness and the meaning of every word of the Qur’an I recited that day and I had the feeling of being in complete awe and being completely humbled at the mercy of God, as I did when I submitted to the will of the Divine. Please know that I don’t share this to boast of my self or my state. I still have a long way to go on the journey of spiritual excellence (ihsan), but the mercy was so evident that day that even I received a portion of Divine downpour on the Day of Arafat. There are watering places where we can find refreshment on this path- this path of sincerely turning our entire beings towards the Creator and striving to live in the light and practice of Divinely-revealed guidance. Arafat was a watering place for many of us. We all left Arafat feeling lighter and more connected than before. Some very heavy burdens were lifted from us that day and we left Arafat in a state other than how we arrived.
At the end of day, we spent the night outdoors at Muzdalifah. Some of us romanticized what Muzdalifah would be. We imagined a quiet night under the stars, reveling in our Arafat experience. Reality check: Where did we think all of the pilgrims would go so we could enjoy this “quiet night under the stars”? We saw no stars because the lights were so bright around us. The crowd grew larger and larger with vendors selling tea and snacks all night. I slept for a few hours that night and could barely orient myself as to my location because so many people came in that time, occluding the paths that were my landmarks only a few hours earlier. The lines for the bathroom were long and painful- it was just easier to risk mild dehydration than to be stuck in those lines with the urge to go. After the morning prayer at dawn, we made our exodus back to Mina.
From Mina, we make several trips to the Jamaraat, which are stone edifices that we throw stones at, to symbolize stoning the devil.
The rest of our time in Mina was spent in worship, attending lectures, walking around, and hunting for vegan food. Fortunately, we found several Indian and Pakistani vendors selling dhal and curried veggies. We also found East African women selling french fries. They peeled, cut, and fried the potatoes right along the road side. The fries were hot, greasy and good! Myself and a beautiful sister that was in my Hajj group would go for our mid-morning Mina potato runs. 😉
After completing our time in Mina, we’re able to return to Mecca for our final acts of worship at the Haram. Mecca didn’t feel the same because the crowds multiplied. Because we arrived in Mecca early, our first night around the Ka’bah was relaxed. We were blessed to be able to reach the Kab’ah and the Maqaam of Ibrahim (Station of Abraham, peace be upon him) which is one of the preserved places that Prophet Abraham (pbuh) prayed. However, by the time the Hajj began, you could only glance at these sites from afar. The crowd was even denser than before! Fortunately, our trip was safe and the yearning to be in the holy cities remains within us. May Allah (God) bless us to all to visit these holy lands and witness the reality of their holiness- ameen!