The month of Dhul Hijjah is here, which means one thing to so many of us – it’s time for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca for hajj! An article published last year showed an incredibly different hajj just 60 years ago – and times have definitely changed, as we talked about in another recent blog.
Last year I embarked on my first hajj – but rather than telling you about the suddenly modern glitz and razzmatazz, I want to focus on my experiences in taking the religious journey, which haven’t changed.
Entering ihraam, I prepared myself physically, mentally and emotionally for what was to come. Once in a state of ihraam, I committed to stopping a range of usual day-to-day activities, including not using aftershave, shaving, or cutting nails and hair. Honestly, it was a refreshing change to not think about this stuff, and give all of my attention to much more meaningful experiences.
Passing the miqaat, I was into the Masjid al-Haram, to walk around the ka’bah seven times whilst reciting prayers. While maintaining my sense of purity and calm, I felt a strong recollection of the stories from my family about their own journeys, particularly upon drinking zam-zam water from the sacred well of the Angel Jibreel.
Continuing my trip, I found myself with time to reflect on all of the brothers and sisters who had made the trip before me, and the stories they must have captured of times when the pilgrimage was quieter and less in the shape of the 21st-century world.
After completing the umrah segment, some of the ihraam restrictions were relaxed until it was time to start again on the 8th of Dhul Hijjah, and travel to Mina staying overnight until dawn prayers. Next, it was to Mount Arafat where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon shortly before his death. The Day of Arafat is really important, as it’s said to be the moment in hajj when all your sins are eradicated; spending time in prayer, as with others I had left back at home, I joined others around the world fasting. At sunset, we moved to the town of Muzdalifah for the night. Here, I gathered stones to throw at the pillars called jamaraat, representing the devil, in Mina the next morning – just like my parents and grandparents had told me they had done. Returning to Mecca, I made another set of tawaaf, seven times around the ka’bah, before heading back to Mina for a longer stay. Finally, I returned once more to Mecca to make a farewell tawaaf. After offering prayers, my hajj was complete.
Travelling back home, I had the time to think about the journey I’d been on, both physically and mentally. I felt like I’d genuinely grown during the pilgrimage, and learnt a lot about myself as a person, and as a Muslim. I know that I’m lucky to have been healthy enough to have done this, and back in Britain, I’m proud to have “Hajji” on my title!