I came to this place with deep yearning in my heart, so deep that even I had not realized quite how deep it was, until that moment when my feet took that first step. I was in complete awe, and yet never so at peace. I was in a place where so many others had stood before me… with so many millions of people around me… and yet it felt like I was completely alone. Alone with Allah. Allah Subhana’wa’ta’aala.
It was as if every fiber of my being was asking Allah (SWT) to cleanse me, body and soul- and His answer was immediate. I could feel everything being washed away, literally. I could feel the warm blessings of Allah (SWT) on every inch of my body. All the impurities, all the hardships I had experienced… none of that mattered anymore, now that I was finally in this place.
That’s how amazing that first shower was after I finally got back to the hotel after Hajj. It was truly divine. Hajj itself was pretty cool too. Let me tell you about it in painstaking, self-absorbed detail, since everyone seems to care about that kind of thing.
Our group arrived at the airport on a Monday. My father had passed away a few years back, so my mother and I had brought my little cousin, Moohamad, to be our male guardian. He had to miss his first few days of kindergarten to come, but he said it was alright.
When we arrived at the airport, my pulse began to quicken. I was in awe. This was the airport that the Messenger of Allah himself would have arrived at for Hajj, had their been airports during the time of the Prophet!
We were immediately separated into groups of men and women. My mother and I were greeted by the Saudi customs officer, who asked us the necessary questions, including verifying if we were Muslims; how much money we had brought with us; and what stage we were at in our menstrual cycles. Then he groped me which I did not enjoy, but subhan’Allah, he quickly reminded me that I should be forgiving because I was here for Allah (swt) and not for myself; and that sometimes passports get lost when people complain too much. I was grateful for this reminder to be humble, and we proceeded on.
The House of Allah
All Muslims know the importance of the Hajj pilgrimage by heart. But for the many non-Muslims reading this who want to know what it’s all about, here is a little history.
During the time of the Prophet (saws), the pagan Meccans had a temple called the Ka’aba where they kept all their idols. The Ka’aba was a huge source of tourism and economic strength for the family that ruled Mecca, so when Muhammad (pbuh)’s message threatened their economic security, they got very upset at him and tried to kill Muhammmad (pbuh).
So Muhammad (pbuh) and his followers fought back against the Meccans, and when Allah (swt) granted them victory, Muhammad (pbuh) got rid of all the idols and reclaimed the Ka’aba for Allah (swt).
Today, the Ka’aba is a still huge source of tourism and economic strength for the family that rules Mecca. But the difference is that now it’s all for Allah subhana wa’ta’aala, the one true God of all mankind, not the pagan gods.
Mum, Moohamad and I traveled from our hotel to Mecca, to the Masjid al Haram. It was only 500 meters away, but it took us 5 hours to make our way through the crowd. But when we arrived, my pulse began to quicken. Here I was at the holiest place on earth, the House of Allah, which we had dreamed of seeing all our lives! We began the ritual of circumambulating the Ka’aba, walking around it counter-clockwise 7 times, and pointing at the black stone. I was groped again several times, but Moohamad said that it was alright, that we were here for Allah, that things like this did not matter, and could he have one of his biscuits?
Tent City at Mina
We stayed at the tent city at Mina, where all of the pilgrims were sleeping under communal roofs with only simple accommodations. Though there were plenty of expensive accommodations for those who sought luxury, for us it was not about the luxury. In Islam, every person is equal except in belief.
In Islam, it is not wealth or status that makes you a better person- it is belief in Islam that makes you a better person.
People from all different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and all different social and economic classes, coming together and worshiping the one true God of all mankind, the correct God that is explained in the Qur’an and by our learned scholars of Islam. It was so beautiful, my pulse began to quicken again just thinking about it. Oh, and I was groped again, which was by now getting a little distracting.
Other Holy Rituals
The next day we went to do the running between Safa and Marwah. My pulse began to quicken. Here were the very hills that Ibrahim‘s wife Hagar had run between 7 times when her son Ishmael had no water, and where the well of zamzam was discovered. We got to drink from this holy fountain of water. It tasted slightly creamy.
The day after that, we went to pray for the whole day on Mount Arafah, asking Allah (swt) for forgiveness for everything we had done- we had to wait because Moohamad wanted to make extra du’as into the late night. Then we gathered pebbles for “Stoning of the Devil” at Al-Aqabah, and when we approached the three pillars that represented the temptation of Shaitaan, we threw 7 pebbles at each pillar.
The day after that, we went to select an animal for the sacrifice to take place on Eid ul Adha, which was to commemorate the time when Prophet Ibrahim almost killed his own son out of love for Allah. We chose a camel, one which Moohamad named “Billy Madison.” Then Billy Madison spit at Moohamad, and Moohamad spit back at Billy Madison. This went on for several minutes.
A few hours later we got a text message informing us that our camel, Billy Madison, had been sacrificed. Moohamad was relieved, as he had been nervous all day that the camel would be coming for him. He celebrated with one of his biscuits.
The Hajj Experience
That night we finally left the tent city and returned to our hotel. It was there that I was finally able to cut my hair, trim my fingernails, and take a shower. And then I had a very deep thought.
I thought about what I had just experienced: all the rituals- walking around the Holy Ka’aba seven times; the ceremonial kissing of the black stone; the ceremonial running between Safa and Marwa; the stoning of the Devils; the sacrifice of Billy Madison, our camel… and then I thought about how similar these rituals must have been to the very rituals that the pagans of Mecca practiced before Islam came. How these rituals that we practice today are almost indistinguishable from the very pagan religious practices that we ridicule as being backward forms of idol worship.
And then I thought:
“Subhan’Allah! How lucky we are as Muslims that Allah sent us the Noble Prophet, to explain to us which rituals are loved by Allah subhana wa’ta’aala, so that we can distinguish them from the ignorant tribal practices which look similar but are completely different!”
Truly, Islam is a beautiful religion, the best religion for all mankind, and Allah is the One God for all mankind. And that is why we come here to visit His house, and to walk around it, but not go inside it, because it is not so large. Allah is eternal and absolute, and He is everywhere. And He has a house, and it is here, in Mecca!
The Ka’aba is not an idol like the ignorant Meccan pagans worshipped. It is simply aconstruction that we believe carries sacred significance that we perform ceremonial rituals of great importance around. And Allah lives inside of it. See the difference?
We left the next day, taking our flight from Jeddah back home. Mum was happy that she got to go for Hajj with her daughter. Moohamad was happy since his mortal enemy, Billy Madison the camel, had met his fitting end, and was munching on the last of his biscuits. As for me, I looked the same, but inside, I was a changed person. Now I truly knew what Islam was all about, and I loved Islam and Allah (swt) and the Prophet (pbuh) even more than I ever thought was possible. I was already planning to go for Umrah next year.