Every year, millions of Muslims around the world go to Hajj in Mecca, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to fulfill one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Muslims are required to perform this duty at east once in a lifetime if able to do so.
Last January 2004, I was fortunate to be part of the Philippine Muslim youth Hajj program of the Saudi government and the Office on Muslims Affairs (OMA, which is now called as National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF). Ten (10) young Filipino Muslim pilgrims representing different Islamized ethnic groups participated in this program. I represented the Iranun – Maguindanao community of Maguindanao.
I was 29 years old then, married, when I performed the Hajj. I knew little about the Hajj. All I knew was that it is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Every Muslim who is financially capable is required to perform the Hajj or the pilgrimage to Mecca.
For benefit of my non-Muslim readers, allow me to explain what Hajj is and what are the different types of Hajj.
Based on the Al Qur’an, the origins of the Hajj date back to 2,000 B.C. when Ishmael, the infant son of the prophet Ibrahim (AS) (Or Abraham, as he is called in the Old Testament) and Ibrahim’s wife Hagar were stranded in the desert. The rituals being observed during the Hajj is the life story of Ishmael and Hagar. The Al Qur’an narrates when Ishmael was close to death from thirst, Hagar desperately ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa looking for water until the angel Jibril (Gabriel) went down to earth and told them that Allah (SWT) will provide for them. This act of Hagar became the part of the ritual of Hajj known as Sa’i. Jibril instructed her to return to Ishmael. Upon returning she found out that a pool of water sprung from where the heel of Ishamael struck the ground. The spring was then known as the Well of Zamzam.
The site became a holy place because of the presence of the water coming from Zamzam spring. Following the orders of Allah (SWT), Ibrahim (AS) is said to have built a monument at the site of the spring known as the Kaaba. Before the advent of Islam, worshipers from all faiths traveled to revel at the site. However, in 630 A.D., the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) led a group of Muslims to perform the first official Hajj in this place. He then destroyed the idols placed there by polytheistic worshipers and re-dedicating the site in the name of Allah (SAW). The experience of Ibrahim (AS) and his family became the rituals for the Hajj.
Pilgrimage to Mecca has two categories. The first one is called Hajj – known as the Greater Pilgrimage and ‘Umra – the lesser pilgrimage.
This year, the Hajj is on September 21 – 25, it takes place annually between the 8th and 12th days of Dhu-al-Hijjah, the final month of the lunar Islamic calendar. We Muslims believe that this is the time when Allah’s (SWT) mercy and compassion are closest to humankind. The second category may be performed at all other times of the year. Both pilgrimages begin at stations known as miqat, which pilgrims cannot cross unless they are in the white garments known as “ihram”. It is here where we don on the “ihram” and make our intention for Hajj and recite the talbiya – a prayer to announce to Allah that we arrived in Mecca for pilgrimage.
I remember the day that I arrived in Jeddah, the international airport near Mecca. At the airport, we were advised to wear our “ihram”. From there we travelled to Mecca by bus. On our way, we chanted “Labbayk allahumma labbayk… ’ ‘Here I am, Lord, responding to Your call [to perform the Hajj]. Praise belongs to You, all good things come from You and sovereignty is yours alone”. We arrived in Mecca at early dawn after more or less two hours of travel.
In Mecca, we stayed at Casablanca Hotel, a twenty-minute ride by bus to Masjid Al Haram. Upon arrival, we rested for few hours to recover from our jet lag. At around 9 o’clock in the morning, we went to Masjid Al Haram. When the Kaaba came into view, it felt so surreal. I was choked with intense emotion. It was truly then that felt that I was in the presence of the Supreme Being. The marbled floor of the Masjid was cold. As I walk near the Kaaba, I can feel my heart beating fast. I was really awed and humbled at the same time as I walked towards it.
I performed my Umrah with ease. I did the Tawaf or the circumambulation of the Kaaba in a counterclockwise manner. Tawaf is one of the key elements of the Hajj rituals. It is performed seven times around the Kaaba, starting from the eastern corner from which the Black Stone is embedded. Each time I looked at the Kaaba, I became emotional. There I was, standing about 50 meters away from the Kaaba. I kept thinking of the times I prayed at home, thousands of miles away. Indeed, there were no words to describe how I felt in that moment.
On the 8th day of Dhu al-Hijja, is the Day 1 of the Hajj. We once again made our intention to perform the Hajj and wore our Ihram. We went back to Masjid Al Haram and performed the Tawaf (circling the Kaaba) and Sa’i (passing between the hills of Safa and Marwa). Then, we proceeded to Mina. There we prayed Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and Fajr We stayed in Mina over night.
After praying Fajr, we went straight to Arafah. We stayed in our tents for a day of Wuquf or a day of supplications. Our Prophet Muhammad (SAW), said that “Hajj is Arafah”. It was the actual day of the Hajj when we stayed at Arafah. There I was with thousands of pilgrims trying to get onto the bus and get to Arafat. We managed to get to plains of Arafah before noon on the same day. We went straight into our respective tents. We saw some of the pilgrims went to Jabal Rahma and offered prayers. Jabal Rahma is part of Mount Arafah and described as the mountain of mercy.
Our group decided not to go there any more because it was too crowded. The weather at that time was okay. Our guide told us to find a quiet place to make Du’a (prayers). I stayed somewhere near our tent. I spent the day supplicating to Allah (SWT). I cried as I prayed to Allah. I prayed that He accepts my supplication and forgive me for all my past sins and mistakes in life. It was an amazing experience of complete silence. There were millions of Muslims who were also there at that time doing the same thing. Everyone had an intense conversation with their Creator.
After Magrib, the Imam who was assigned to us congratulated everyone on becoming “Hajjis”. We then congratulated each other. At sunset, from Arafah we went to Muzdalifah and there we prayed Maghrib, Isha, and Fajr. The distance of Arafah to Muzdalifah was not far. We hiked from Arafah to Muzdalifah. It took us about less than an hour to get to Muzdalifah. You can see thousands and thousands of pilgrims wearing their ihram and we were doing the same thing. Following the same ritual that was handed down to us for a thousand of years. When we arrived at Muzdalifah, we prayed Magrib and Isha in Jamaat with our group Imam. We were then instructed by our Imam to collect pebbles in preparation of another ritual.
Some groups left before Fajir. I remembered our imam in saying, “we must make a special supplication to Allah (SWT) after Fajir and before sunrise”. The special supplication was to ask Allah (SWT) to forgive our past mistakes. We also prayed for forgiveness to anyone whom we may have hurt. We are also taught that Allah (SWT) will not forgive us not until the people whom we may have hurt or offended have forgiven us. But it is during Hajj and when we pray at Muzdalifah after Fajir and before sunrise, it is the only time that Allah (SWT) will accept our supplication and forgive us of our past sins and mistakes.
Soon after sunrise, my fellow Filipino pilgrims decided to walk to the Jamarat. There were 10 of us walking together from Muzdalifah to the Jamarat. It was a long walk. It took us 2 hours to walk to the Jamarat. While walking to the Jamarat, I was again amazed by the number of pilgrims who were with us. You can feel the strong intensity of the crowd. The energy of the more or less 3 million Muslims was so powerful that I didn’t feel the hardships of performing the rituals.
The ritual at the Jamarat was also intense. I heard many stories of how hard it is. There were some pilgrims who died because of the stampede. We were told that dying on Hajj would have been such an honorable death, but the thought still did scare me. Like all the other pilgrims we walked up the Jamarat. We walked passed the small Jamarat, then the middle one, and then we approached the big Jamarat, which was the only one we had to stone the first day.
Alhamdulliah, I managed to get to the front with no hassle and threw stones to the Jamarat. As soon as I finished, my mind tells me to get out as fast as I could. I saw some pilgrims who were careless. All they did was to finish the ritual even though they may have hit or hurt others. They were so focused on their goal that their hearts were hard and cold in being insensitive to the others. They were not even hitting the Jamarat, rather hitting the pilgrims in front of them.
On the same day, it was also the Eidl Adaha or the feast of Sacrifice. Muslims celebrate the Eid on the same day the pilgrims were at Jamarat. By that time most of the Hajj rituals were completed. The only thing left for us to do was continue throwing pebbles at all three Jamarat on 11th and 12th Dhul Hijjah. On these two days, we had to stone all three pillars. The hardest part was on the third day. It was during this time when it will be overcrowded with pilgrims all doing the same ritual.
After the stoning was finished, all of us were happy and relieved. I was so grateful that Allah (SWT) gave me the opportunity to perform the Hajj. I was happy to perform the rituals in Jamarat safe and without hurting anyone.
On the 12th of Dhul Hijjah, we were so tired. We walked back to Mecca. The last ritual left was the Farewell Tawaf. We went back to Mecca and in Masjid Al Haram. It was during this time that I remembered what Rumi said in his poem, “The true Kaaba is inside our hearts. In our heart, we can find Allah (SWT).
I traveled thousand of miles away from home, only to find out that Allah (SWT) was inside my heart. He was with me all along.