I performed my hajj last year, Alhamdulillah, and managed to post some blogs here – http://hadithoftheday.com/the-hajj-diaries/. The whole experience passed by like a blur, it was at whirlwind speed and I'm still getting my head around it!
Now a year later, I'm watching the live footage of hajj being broadcast on television. It brings back a flood of memories, and makes me realize the sheer enormity of scale involved, and what a momentous event it was in my life.
The issue I'm still absorbing is that Allah actually allowed me to perform my hajj! I thought that this was a right reserved for the super-pious – certainly I never thought that people who led ordinary lives like me would ever be worthy of Allah's invitation.
Each person's hajj is unique, and no two experiences will ever compare. The different experiences in hajj are not just a matter of variations in the travel agent and accommodation, but it is a unique personal journey for each of us. Each has different stories to tell, and each has different personal battles to conquer before and during the journey.
As a prelude to the actual rituals, we started our journey in Madinah, which in my view, is a gentler environment compared to Mekah. Although not obligatory, it is a sunnah to also pay a visit to Masjid Al Nabawi in Madinah when performing umrah and hajj, not least because of the numerous blessings of that holy city and masjid. A prayer in Masjid Al Nabawi is worth 1000 of that in other mosques, apart from Masjid Al Haram.
Madinah is where Rasulullah SAW established the first centre of Islam after his migration from Mekah, and this is where he passed away and is buried. There is a spot called Rawdhat ul Jannah of which Rasulullah SAW said "one of the gardens of Jannah lies between my house and my pulpit." Imagine being able to perform salat on this spot!
Two of the most famous Companions are buried beside the Prophet SAW: his best friend Abu Bakr as Siddiq RA; and a man who set out to the Prophet SAW with the intention to kill him but instead embraced Islam and became one of its best people - Umar Al Khattab RA. It is possible to give salutations to the Prophet SAW in close proximity to his grave, when access to the Rawdhat is permitted. Visiting the Rawdhat was an intensely personal and inspirational experience – of course, the intention was to make "salawat" to the Prophet SAW and to give greetings to his Companions, not to pray to them.
When Rasulullah SAW passed away, there were roughly 120,000 Companions, yet only a few of them (less than 10,000) are buried in Madinah. The rest, including the great names of Islam such as Bilal RA and Khalid Al Walid RA, uprooted themselves from Arabia and spent their lives spreading Islam in foreign lands. How many of us are now Muslim through their indirect efforts which were initiated centuries ago? Masha Allah, what a legacy these people left behind. May Allah bless all of them and give us the qualities they had. Ameen.
Mekah – Facing the Ka'bah
When we headed for Mekah for the official rites of the hajj and umrah, what struck me was how barren and desolate the landscape was. Mount Uhud at best, is a rugged and harsh environment. Yet, Rasulullah SAW and his Companions RA travelled this hostile terrain, some of them on foot, and some of them barefoot.
It does not even compare to our experience, riding on a coach with air conditioning and tinted windows – while many may complain of hardship during hajj, not even our worst experiences can compare to the hardship faced by the Prophet SAW and the Companions.
The atmosphere was solemn, but also charged, where the passengers, all decked in ihram (simple ceremonial clothes prescribed for performing hajj or umrah) chanted the famous call of "Labaikallahumma Labaik" (Here I am, O Allah, in response to your call. Here I am).
The central focus of Mekah is the Ka'bah. Physically, it is a modest structure, but the spiritual power emanating from it can reduce grown men to tears. Perhaps (and this is a personal opinion only) the effect can be felt in direct proportion to one's faith.
As a rebellious teenager, when I first saw the Ka'bah, I was initially disappointed. It was so tiny! But now, when I see it, I literally go weak in the knees. As an arrogant teenager, the Ka'bah seemed so diminutive, and now, having experienced some hard knocks in life, the Ka'bah to me is truly the most magnificent structure in the world. It is not just the building, but also the layers of history it represents.
The Ka'bah is the house of Allah on this world, and to be in its proximity was humbling and inspiring at the same time. I spent many hours greedily gazing upon its beauty, praying, and supplicating.