Hajj—the Pilgrimage—is a journey of a lifetime. Upon completing it, a Muslim completes the final pillar, or requirement, of their faith. As The Prophet (p) said, Islam is built upon five pillars:
- the testimony of faith
- paying the alms tax
- fasting the month of Ramadan, and
- completing the Pilgrimage if one is physically and financially able to.
About six months ago, I realized that I was both physically and financially capable of doing Hajj. This came about after I applied for an internship in Turkey. After an incredibly uncomfortable interview process, a mix up with my internship type (I was given a teaching internship instead of a writing internship) and a general lack of communication on the part of the organization, I decided to back down. I had studied communications for four years, and the organization did everything wrong.
One day, in the midst of this internship madness, I was praying and when I had finished, I paused and looked at my mat: the Ka’ba, the large black building in Mecca, was embroidered on it. And then it hit me: I’m young, my debts are paid off, I have a good job—now was the time for me to go and fulfill this obligation.
I knew Hajj was going to be difficult. But the first lesson I learned is that the trials of Hajj start long before you even get to Mecca.
“And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of [labour’s] fruits. But give glad tidings unto those who are patient in adversity— who, then calamity befalls them, say ‘Verily, unto God we belong and, verily, unto Him we shall return.'”
“SubhanAllah”—Glory to God—is a prayer that Muslims say when they recognize God’s power and will manifesting around them. And in my efforts to get the money to go to Hajj, I saw God’s work occurring around me.
Hajj is a pricey endeavor. The entire package can cost anywhere between $8,000 – $12,000, depending on the package you choose. I set my package up with a local travel agency that specialized in Hajj. I knew the organizer, and he allowed me extra time to save up the money. I had six months to come up with $10,000.
And that’s the second lesson about Hajj: it requires sacrifice. I had to hold off on buying things and get smarter about saving my money. And subhanAllah, I was helped along the way. For starters, I had a huge rebate on my income tax, so that helped; then I was promoted at work, which gave me a more stable source of finances; and, generally, any extra income I gained went to save for Hajj. My parents also contributed some cash, with the stipulation that I get them some a shirt while I was there.
And another thing about that glorification—”SubhanAllah”: it’s a recognition that you could not have done something on your own. God sends people to help other people, and in this way our many lives and destinies interweave like a beautiful, intricate carpet.
Everything seemed to fall into place. I got enough money in time; I got my vaccines and documentation (which included a “Certificate of Conversion”, something I didn’t even know existed); I started researching the rites of Hajj. I was scared: I’d never travelled out of the country on my own, and I was terrifying of making a mistake on Hajj and having the entire act of worship voided. Yet the more I learned, the more I realized how flexible Hajj is, and that there’s generally always a way to make up for mistakes.
But, of course, I learned a third lesson about Hajj: not everything goes as you expect.
The Hajj organizer submitted my visa application to the Ministry of Hajj in Saudi Arabia, along with about 80 other people in our group. The visas were submitted shortly after Ramadan and the Ministry would start processing them about a month before Hajj—which, as I learned, is their regular process. I waited patiently. Weeks rolled by. I asked the organizer for updates, and he said they were still being processed. I waited patiently. Then, two weeks before I was supposed to leave, we had a group workshop on Hajj.
That’s when the organizer broke the news to us: there was a problem.
The details were complex but the simple version is this: the Ministry decided to implement new technologies to help them speed up the process for issuing visas, and it didn’t work. Around the world, it was a mess. Visas were delayed, organizers were freaking out, and all the would-be hajjis were left wondering if they would even make it this year. We were told we would know within the week.
The week came and went, and neither I nor the organizers were closer to finding out who would actually be going. The stress from all this was wearing me down. As someone with general anxiety, I had to fend off panic attacks and worry. Then came Friday, September 19. My flight was scheduled to leave at midnight, and I still didn’t know if my visa went through. At this point, I had to simply accept that I had absolutely no control. I had to let go of any control I thought I had, and realize that, at this point, it was completely up to God.
That’s when I learned my fourth lesson: everything happens as God intends it.
The Greater Lesson
My flight left without me.
After Friday prayers I received an email from the organizer, telling me that no more visas were being issued.
I would not be going for Hajj this year.
Even though I was prepared for the worst, when the worst hit it was still a blow. I felt like I had been rejected, and for some reason it felt like a personal failure. Hajj is considered an invitation to the House of God, and it felt like my request to visit had been denied. Was it something I did? Was I not good enough? These kinds of questions wracked my mind.
But then I stopped.
I remembered all the prayers I had done, asking God to choose what was best for me. The prayer of decision, istikhara, is a prayer in which the person asks God to give them what they ask for, only if it is good for them. And even history, when The Prophet (p), was barred from doing Umrah (minor Hajj) with his Companions, and it resulted in the peace treaty of Hudaybiyah—which God refers to as a “manifest victory” in the Qur’an.
I did absolutely everything I could. I worked hard for it, I studied the rites of Hajj, I got everything in order, and God-willing I kept my intention pure.
And so I placated myself: perhaps the greater lesson was in not going. Perhaps something better would come out of this experience. Perhaps, in the year to come, I will be more prepared to go for Hajj.
Only God knows.
It will be another year until I attempt do Hajj again.
The organizer offered those who didn’t get visas a full refund or to get set up for Hajj next year. I chose the second option.
The hardest part, though, is deciding what to do with myself in the year that follows. Hajj had been my goal for so long, I didn’t give much thought to what I would do afterwards. I imagined I would have some kind of inner awakening on my journey, in which I would realize what I am supposed to do with the next stage of my life. But now that decision lies open before me, waiting for me to answer it.
And so perhaps the year that unfolds ahead of me is just another part of my pre-Hajj experience.“And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of [labour’s] fruits. But give glad tidings unto those who are patient in adversity—who, when calamity befalls them, say ‘Verily, unto God do we belong and, verily, unto Him we shall return.”