It has been a few years, since I returned from the blessed journey of Hajj, but it really feels like yesterday. The physical toil may have been forgotten, but the emotional experience of Hajj is still fresh in my mind. Like a childhood memory that one thinks of fondly and revisits often, everyone loves to talk about their Hajj. Just yesterday, we were discussing it over tea and sharing our experiences with a friend, who is planning to go this year. The streets of Makkah and Madinah, though visited for just a few days, become integral parts of our souls. Even as I type, I can feel the blistering heat of the sun-baked streets through the soles of my feet and the blinding glare of the white marble in the midday sun. Tears come to my eyes, as I yearn to hear once again the Adhan of the Haram. A few more steps, and the Kabah will come in view…

Many preparations are made for Hajj: paperwork, passports, packing, learning about the Arkan, preparing the Ihram, taking medicine, etc. It is critical to be fully prepared for Hajj, so that you can perform it in the most excellent manner. Many of us, especially with the rising expense, will only be able to do it once. As frenzied preparations are made for the physical aspects of the journey, do not forget to take that which Allah commanded: “Zad it Taqwa.” (The provision of Taqwa).

“The Hajj (pilgrimage) is (in) the well-known (lunar year) months (i.e. the 10th month, the 11th month and the first ten days of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, i.e. two months and ten days). So whosoever intends to perform Hajj therein by assuming Ihram), then he should not have sexual relations (with his wife), nor commit sin, nor dispute unjustly during the Hajj. And whatever good you do, (be sure) Allah knows it. And take a provision (with you) for the journey, but the best provision is At-Taqwa (piety, righteousness, etc.). So fear Me, O men of understanding!” (Al-Baqarah 2:197)

If you forget to pack something, Insha’Allah, you can buy it there, but if you lose sight of Taqwa, your Hajj will be meaningless. It is important to remember that Hajj is not a vacation, though some act as if it is. It is not an empty ritual, because there are no empty rituals in Islam. Every ritual is merely a spiritual exercise to earn the pleasure of Allah (swt).

Each aspect of the journey of Hajj is a beautiful reminder of the realities of life. As you bid farewell to your family and friends, you realize that each of us has to leave this world soon. The children will cry, and your heart will be torn between your desire to visit the House of Allah (swt) and your love for them. Life is a constant struggle between pleasing those around us and fulfilling the rights of Allah (swt). Subhan’Allah, as soon as the plane takes off, a strange serenity will descend upon you, and you will forget about those that you have left behind. Each of us thinks that we are indispensible, but the reality is that life continues just fine without us around. The anticipation of the journey ahead will possess your heart, and all other worries will subside.

I cannot capture in words the sweetness of seeing the Kabah for the first time. May Allah (swt) grant everyone the joy and the pure bliss of that experience! You may have seen thousands of pictures since your childhood, but not a single picture does justice to it. It is ethereal and seems to glisten before your eyes, and it is much larger than it appears in the pictures. The photographs always place the Kabah in the physical context of the mosque, but it is a purely an emotional experience. You will feel this attraction, this magnetic pull and even in the midst of the pulsating crowd, you will feel as if it is just you and the Kabah. Your eyes will not tire of looking at it and you will be possessed by the desire to get close to it. Be careful of the crowds! If I recall correctly, the Kabah looks even more beautiful from the roof of the Masjid.

As you make the Tawaf, remember that the Tawaf of life is of obedience to the Rabb (swt). Once you leave this blessed sanctuary, do not forget that your steps should continue to place Allah (swt) in the center of your lives. As an added reminder, reflect on the fact that Allah (swt) commanded us to pray the two Rakat near the footprint of Prophet Ibraheem (as). It is his footsteps and his example that we are supposed to follow. It is he who was commanded by Allah (swt) to call us to Hajj. Recall the events of his life: his search for Allah (swt), his patience and politeness towards his father, his Tawakkul on being thrown in the fire, his Hijrah, his pleading for the people of Lut (as) and his incomparable spirit of sacrifice. You are at Hajj to find your place with your Rabb (swt), and under all circumstances, it is important to be patient and polite. People will shove and push; they will use bad language; the temperature will rise and so will the tempers. Remember that if you trust Allah (swt), complete forgiveness and the coolness of Paradise are promised to you. You have sacrificed the comforts of home already – do not abandon the spirit of sacrifice, once you are actually performing the Hajj. I have watched people resort to abusive language, because they received a four star hotel room, instead of the five star one that they had paid for!

The greatest challenge is being patient. In fact, that is one of the most critical lessons of Hajj. Why else would Allah (swt) command millions of people to move from Mina to Muzdalifah to Arafat within the span of a few days? If He had willed, Hajj could have been like Umrah and you could have made it any time of the year. But in His infinite wisdom, this great gathering of people comes together every year for teaching Muslims that even when you are a speck of humanity in this great multitude, maintain your dignity. You will have complete conversations with people that do not speak your language, and you will be dumbfounded by the number of languages a single shopkeeper in Madinah actually knows. Others will impress you with their compassion and Ibadah. Time at Hajj is more valuable than the gold dripping from the shops of Makkah and Madinah. Resist the urge to spend your precious hours on shopping.

At all the Manasik of Hajj, remember the lesson that you have been sent there to learn. As you sleep in the tents of Mina, realize that all of life is just one camping trip. As you lie under the stars at Muzdalifah, look around and you will realize that, clad in Ihrams, people resemble bodies laid out. As you stand at Arafat, remember that the Day of Standing is very close. It is easy to throw stones at the new and improved Jamarat, but much more difficult to fight the temptations of Shaitan in this technological age, when a lot of Haram is just a click away. Pour your heart out and make Dua, as if you will never get a chance to make Dua again. If you are reading this right now, it is because Allah (swt) answered the prayers that I made at my Hajj. Keep your tongue moist with the remembrance of Allah (swt), recite the Quran and speak gently to those around you. Gossiping, backbiting, slandering and especially complaining will hurt your Hajj.

Each Hajji will be tested in a different manner. For some, the physical exertion will take its toll, while others will be tested by the suffocating crowds, the intense heat, and the excruciating wait in traffic. For some, the overflowing bathroom will prove to be the most severe test of all. My test came, sadly, in the Masjid of the Messenger (sa). I am forever scarred by that experience.

We read in the books about the great Muslim female scholars of Islam, beginning with Aisha (rtaf), who must have taught the Sahabah and Sahabiyat not very far from where I was standing, when my phone was stolen. We read about such female scholars as Fatimah bint Ibrahim ibn Jowhar, a famous teacher of Imam Bukhari, who at one time sat and taught by the grave of the Prophet (sa) and gave Ijazah to the students that recited Ahadeeth to her. I had just come from Makkah, where millions of Muslims retraced the steps of Hajrah, as she ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa.  But sadly, women are no longer allowed even a glimpse of the Prophet’s (sa) grave. Is he not my Rasool, as much as he is of the men? But the behaviour of women was so appalling that I almost do not blame the men for barring them from seeing the grave of the Messenger (sa). The female guards pleaded with them in multiple languages to restrain themselves and be patient, as everyone would get a turn to pray on the green carpet. The guards even made a human chain to restrain them, but they broke through. A wild, uncontrollable horde showing no respect to the sanctity of the Masjid or the Messenger (sa) and his companions that lay buried there. Wouldn’t Aisha (rtaf) be ashamed of us? To this day, I am grieved, when I think about it. May Allah (swt) enable the women of this Ummah to recover their true dignity and grant us the ability to serve this Deen, as our righteous predecessors did.

May Allah (swt) accept the Hajj of all those that are departing for this remarkable journey. May Allah (swt) give each and every one of us the opportunity to perform it, to fulfill its rights and obligations and to understand its true spirit. The Shaikh, who visited our mosque, said: “Many go for Hajj, but there are few that bring their Hajj back with them.” May Allah (swt) make us of those that carry with us the lessons learned during Hajj for the rest of our lives and attain forgiveness and reward in the Hereafter. Ameen.