When you come back from Hajj, the question which you are inevitably faced with is, “How was it?” The strange thing is, you can’t really answer the question even if you try. This is because the sacred journey of Hajj is without any exaggeration, the most intensely, exhausting and difficult journey that takes you through a plethora of emotions, trials and joys. It’s a test that pushes you past your physical, mental, and spiritual capacities and leaves you devastated to go home and let it all sink in. It’s something that has no parallel to anything anyone else has experienced.
On the plane ride home, ‘as I sat back still in awe of the whole experience’, I asked myself…So what did the Hajj do for me? Was it a life changing experience? Will my life now be different?Was it even accepted? Acutely aware of the whispering from Shaytan, the accursed, I searched for these answers and pondered. Only now though, after many weeks am I able to appraise my trip and share with you the three most pertinent lessons I learnt from my trip.
The perfect symbol of Tawheed.
I embarked on this path, expecting an epic journey with healthy doses of extreme spiritual highs as my pre-conceived notions of Hajj were coloured by its ability to transform and humble its attendees. Despite these ideas, I did anticipate hardship but nothing can suitably prepare you for the long queues (allegedly the biggest traffic jams in the world), wild hooting of vehicles, the constant fumes, the inevitable upset stomach or suffocating congestion you face, which all but slips away when you step into the Haram and behold that magnificent focus of the Islamic world: the Ka’bah. You can’t help but be completely awestruck. As I stared at the Ka’bah whilst performing Tawaf I felt the gravity of history and thought about the millions of people who have performed Tawaf around it since the time of Ibraheem (peace be upon him) as now I too was getting that chance. This was the very place from which the prophet propagated his message and was met with persecution and ridicule, endured torture and was even exiled from Mecca, but this was also the place where he was eventually embraced by the people of Arabia and beyond; his call to humanity to leave the worship of created things, to the worship of the Creator alone is so deeply imbued in the essence of all pillars of Hajj. It all begins with the call: “Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik! Here I am O God, here I am at Your service! Here I am, You have no partners, here I am!” which is chanted by millions as the pilgrims arrive showing their submission to Gods call. Only then to hear the same pilgrims again at Arafah all murmuring the supplication “None has the right to be worshipped except Allaah, alone, without partner. To Him belongs all praise and sovereignty and He is over all things omnipotent.” That is the Day of Arafah, the pinnacle of the journey, and its conclusion with the farewell Tawaf. For me the Hajj was the perfect symbol of unifying Allah as the One true being worthy of worship.
The prayer pacing the atmosphere
I have always wondered how it was possible for pilgrims to concentrate on spirituality in and amongst all the intense hustle and bustle not to mention the dusty air. In fact many pilgrims wear masks because of the pollution and the recent outbreak of swine flu, which was a strange sight to see. You see the elderly and destitute people, having saved up for Hajj all their lives, have travelled here from every corner of the Earth. They sit cross-legged; gazing at the Ka’bah or napping in between prayer times with weariness etched clearly on their faces as they await the next congregational prayer.
One of the most amazing things to witness was how prayer time changed the pace of the city. It became serene and deafeningly silent. Every single street was filled with people and prayer mats for as far as the eye could see. It was very beautiful and awe inspiring. Two million people, praying and prostrating at the same time is one of the most moving images I have been left with. All the tradesman would leave their shops and join the rows; whether inside the grand Masjid or on a street corner. You could have come from a plush apartment in the financial centre of Canary Warf or from one of the foulest Mumbai slums and yet you would be standing shoulder to shoulder in prayer, one direction, one dress, one human family: all Children of Adam, all equal in the sight of the One God. You cannot help but feel part of something bigger and greater and you can almost feel your heart increasing in humbleness and being purified of any semblance of partisanship or pride.
It was astonishing to see all the various faces, cultures, currencies and to also listen to all the different languages spoken. Here I saw the Ummah of Muhammad; a global community undertaking a pillar of their faith, representing a tremendous diversity of languages and cultures, social classes and professions: Nigerians and Egyptians, Saudi Arabians and Iranians, Americans and Europeans; be they monarchs, presidents or prime ministers, doctors, lawyers, and engineers; corporate leaders or workers.
The logistics for Hajj are awesome. Transport, food and water for this mass of people is a monumental mandate. Here are some statistics I came across: 10 million loaves of bread are baked every day; there are 12,000 food outlets and 14,000 buses to transport pilgrims to and fro.
You can recognize the various sects present by the way they dress or pray and you do see many saddening sights on Hajj all showing the great need this Ummah has of being re-educated in its fundamentals. For instance we found ourselves advising a group of female pilgrims against supplicating facing the Jamaraat- a symbol of the devil! But the one overwhelming thing that unites all the Muslims here is the rituals of Hajj and every ritual has a story behind it, which is extremely symbolic for Muslims. Moreover, every single one of the ancient rites and rituals is a test of the human spirit because it takes you out of your comfort zone. A basic test of resilience as at no point in the Hajj you are ever in complete control. It is sort of a mandatory disconnection from modern life’s creature comforts, forcing the pilgrims to reconnect to a more primal time centuries ago. It is a harsh test of one’s commitment to God and this entire spiritual journey is an appropriate analogy, which resonates with the one who truly chooses to understand it, of the greater, more testing journey to Allah.
In a world where so many of us are constantly striving for control and dominance, the Hajj is fundamentally about challenging that reality and simultaneously providing the ultimate lesson in submission to He who is the Master and Lord of all of the worlds.