Most memorable Hajj moments
Memory is a fascinating faculty of the human brain whereby the mind is able to store and retrieve various kinds of information. For this final part of the Labayk series, I spoke to several pilgrims of varied ages about their most memorable Hajj moment and have gathered the highlights to share with you in this article.
As we have seen in previous articles, Hajj is a journey of a lifetime, and it is such a privilege to be able to perform it. Imagine what it must feel like returning home after this phenomenal act of worship, reassured that past sins have been erased and grateful at the chance of a new birth. The entire experience of Hajj if performed with true spiritual essence, should leave an individual with a new meaning and refreshed purpose of life. The journey doesn’t end when the tires of the airplane screech against your homeland, in fact, it continues as you return to your daily work routine and the challenge now is how to maintain the spirit of Hajj and your connection with Allah (S.W.T), thousands of miles away from the holy city of Makkah.
Lots of pilgrims had different memories from the trip which we will touch on shortly, but the one unanimous experience that everyone reminisced about was the first glance of the Holy Kaabah. I cannot even begin to explain the fondness and emotion with which people talked about the first time they set their eyes on the Holy Kaabah. In my conversations, I found out that while the act of looking at the Holy Kaabah was the same for everyone in a physical sense, the subsequent consequences it had on the emotions of the individuals looking at it was far different. Some explained their state to be submissive, others surrendered, most teared immediately and many were simply lost in awe of His majestic house. And rightly so. I remember the first time I feasted my eyes on the Holy Kaabah, I was blown away by its superiority. 17 years later, I still vividly remember walking through the surrounding mosque, towards the centre of the Haram. My eyes were stretching to see what was ahead, I kept walking amidst the other pilgrims, and finally, the shade over my head ended and I was under the open skies, and in front of me was this magnificent structure that symbolised the house of God. Pictures and videos we see of the Kaabah throughout our lives do absolutely no justice to the experience of watching it directly with the naked eye. While the entire Hajj experience is a highlight for the Hujjaj, this particular memory of looking at the Kaabah holds a very special place in people’s heart.
I wondered at the reasoning of this memory and it didn’t take me long to come up with some thoughts. From a very young age, we are taught about furu-e-deen (Hajj being one of the pillars) in our homes and religion classes. We have framed pictures of the Kabaah and the prophet’s mosque in our living rooms and Islamic centres. Many of our prayer mats are printed with pictures of the Kaabah on it. Each year, we hear about the season of Hajj, commemorate the day of Arafah and celebrate Eid-ul-Adha. We hear of our family members, neighbours and fellow community members speak about their Hajj trip. We form an expectation in our minds, but it’s still raw because we haven’t experienced it. Moments in our entire life seem to be a build up towards that day when we finally find ourselves in the Holy city of Makkah and it takes just one glance at the Kaabah to come to this heightened realisation of the power of God. It is right there where Prophet Ibrahim stood with his son. It is right there where the prophets after him visited. It is right there where the mother of Imam Ali (a.s) brought our commander of faithful into this world. It is right there where the Holy Prophet Muhammed (s.a.w) prayed. It is right there where the Imams bowed their head and surrendered to Allah (s.w.t). It is right there where Imam Hussein (a.s) came for the last time with his family. It is right there, above the Kaabah where Hazrat Abbas delivered his epic speech to the people of Makaah. And finally, it is right here, where I stand, now a part of history, one out of seven billion people in the world. So small, yet significant enough to be picked by my Lord to be there. And that in itself can generate a myriad of emotions in different people. That first glance is a magical moment, it is a moment of realisation, a moment of repentance, a moment of astonishment, a moment of peace and happiness. It happens in a flash, but the memories last a lifetime. I wish this moment upon all my brothers and sisters.
One of the pilgrims described his highlight as “praying directly in front of the Kaabah,” a direction we pray 5 times a day towards, every day of our life. Another pilgrim described it beautifully saying “Although I was amongst all these people doing tawaaf, I was lost in this beauty with my Lord. No one and nothing mattered”. For some, they remember those tender moments of asking for the fulfilment of their wishes when they first set their eyes on the Holy Kaabah and having those earnest whispered prayers answered on return from their trip. Others remember the new bonds they made with people in their group, bonds that they remember and keep even 40 years later. It must be so meaningful to share those experiences of rebirth with fellow pilgrims. Many pilgrims experienced unsolicited help from locals and strangers, people who helped them out in times of need and touched their life, leaving the footprint of their memory in their hearts, never to be seen again. It was as if your prayers were answered before the words even made it to your lips. One of my friends described it as “feeling accomplished”, as she was now a guest of God standing in the vicinity of his symbolic house.
People remember shaving their head, some recall throwing pebbles as if to kill their own inner demons, others feeling so content, even in the heat and chaos of their surroundings. One young lady summarised her most memorable moment in such a touching way, I could not help but share her exact words with you “My most memorable moment was the night after Arafat. The evening we got to Muzdalifah to pick up pebbles and spend the night there. It's surreal to be on the plains of Muzdalifah after being guaranteed forgiveness, you start off fresh as a new baby that night. They say if you want a glimpse of the day of judgement you need to see Muzdalifah that night. I remember falling asleep right away after picking my pebbles, on a Rocky Mountain I had the best sleep of my lifetime. When I woke for Salaat-ul-Layl and started trekking towards the restroom all I saw was countless bodies all wrapped in white sleeping on the ground. Whether you're rich or poor, educated or not, fortunate or not you're all one and equal. That night really gives you perspective of how insignificant you are and that one day we will be summoned to our Lord and be answerable for our deeds”.
It is these life changing moments that initiate within us the change we have always wanted to be. As I come to the close of this article and hence this series, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and deeper love for my God. To be able to experience it must indeed be a privilege and as I sit here in Brampton, Canada, with my laptop in front of me typing this closing sentence, I feel my eyes well up with tears and I simply put my hand on my heart and tell my God, Labayk, Alahuma Labayk. One day, I too will be there.