It’s time, once again, for Hajj. The pilgrimage all muslims must make once in their life to Mecca if they are physically able and can afford to do so. It is the biggest religious pilgrimage in the world. In 2010 there were around three millions people performing Hajj.
Every year we pray that it goes without incidents. Some years we are lucky and the accidents are minimal and unavoidable. Some years we have not been so lucky. The logistics of organizing crowds of over 3 million people who mostly do not speak the same language are complicated and delicate. Not to mention the many thousands who are trying to get in to perform Hajj without the proper permits.
Every year Saudi gets better at crowd control and safety. We have built new foot paths and expanded certain areas around the Holy Mosque to accommodate all the people as well as created specific routes for the pilgrims to take that eliminate the possibility of over crowding and trampling.
Last year was my first Hajj. I am not allowed to go to Hajj again for a set period of time in order to give other people the chance to go. My pilgrimage is done now and I’m not required to do it again but I think in 10 years I would like to. Maybe in 15 years when my children are older I may take them.
Hajj was an indescribable experience for me. All of those millions of people there for one reason. All side by side, leaving behind money, status, material things to be in one place for one reason. To worship and give thanks and pray for forgiveness and peace and happiness.
During Hajj last year my Aunt passed away after a long illness following a near drowning. I was devastated and wanted to cut my Hajj short. I was told I could but I would have to give penance after in the form of money and food for the poor. I wanted to cut it short and go to my cousins and I almost did till my husband told me that I am in the best place for her. I am in a unique position now to pray for her and her family while doing Hajj and that cutting it short to go to my cousins who had the rest of our extended family around them was less helpful than being there and praying for her and for them.
Now for people who are not religious this must seem like a strange and maybe to some silly thing to do. But for people who have any faith this makes total sense. There was no place like the place I was standing in with 3 million other pilgrims all praying and loving and worshiping God. I stayed and I am happy I did. I prayed and cried and emptied my hearth out to God with every action and movement I made.
I went to Mecca for the last part of the Hajj where we had to go around the Kaaba 7 times. When we stepped foot inside the Mosque and onto the area around the Kaaba the heavens split and rain poured down for the full hour and a half we did the tawaf (walking around the Kaaba). It was beautiful and moving and scary. Rain for us in our desert country is a blessing and a mercy.
When we were done we drove to Jeddah where my cousins live, soaked to the bone. The next day we went to Mecca again to perform the last prayer on my Aunts body. When a child is born the call for prayer is said into his or her right ear but there is no prayer performed. At the end of one’s life the prayer for the dead is performed over their bodies. This is the prayer that was called for when the child was born.
When a muslim passes away at a time like Hajj or Ramadan it is seen as a blessing because of the holy time and the fact that there will be so many more people in the mosques to pray for them. We said our goodbyes to our Aunt and our male cousins and family members carried her body into the holy mosque. She was then taken and laid at the front of the Kaaba and they call for the prayer for the deceased. There were two other bodies there as well and people were praying for them already and congratulating their families because so many hundreds of thousands, if not more people would be praying for them.
We decided to stay back and pray from a distance because of the many people performing their last part of Hajj in the mosque. It was crowded and difficult to got to the front of the praying people. My cousin had another idea. She told me she wanted to go inside with them, with her mother. To pray for her standing in front of her body. I told her not to. I told her she would get stuck somewhere in between and be on her own while praying, not with her mother or with us. Thank God she ignored me and ran in with a friend of hers. A man saw her and asked her if she was following the funeral procession. She said yes and he took her arm and led her, somehow, straight to where her mother lay. I have never been happier to have been ignored in my life.
I pray for all the men and women who are working to keep these pilgrims and this pilgrimage safe and out of harms way. I hope you will all pray for them and for the over 3 million people pouring into the holy lands. Many of whom have waited all their lives to be able to do this.
اللهم لك الحمد والشكر خلقتني من أمة تشرفت بخدمة بيت الله الحرام
الله أكبر الله أكبر لا إله إلى الله، الله أكبر الله أكبر ولله الحمد