8. “The other” (The Hajj Journal)

Aaron wearing a kurta

September 12, 2015

I also experienced how it feels to be “the other”. In my jeans and button-up shirt and hiking shoes, I felt like an oddity among the sea of white thaubs and kurtas. At least 90% of the people wore some form of Arabic clothing. For so long I fought against the notion of having to “Arabize” myself. But now it’s pretty much become a necessity. And I mean that quite literally, because even with my tolerance for warm temperatures, I’m nearly dying in my jeans, shirt and socks. I bought a couple thaubs and a kurtah... [which have] helped me to feel more comfortable (both physically and emotionally –these things pretty much breathe when you’re outside).

Continue reading “8. “The other” (The Hajj Journal)”

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7. “A gift from God” (The Hajj Journal)

The courtyard of the Prophet's Mosque

September 11, 2015

I got to pray at the Prophet’s (p) Mosque today. The first time was for maghrib (the sunset prayer), and there was no more space inside so everyone prayed in the courtyard. It is one of—if not the—most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. It’s sprawling canopies cover the courtyard worshippers, and the interior (from what I saw at isha (the evening prayer)) is [decorated with] intricate marble and arabesque designs. I got to pray on the rooftop—a massive white [floor] with domes and giant minarets that unabashedly sound the call to prayer and prayer itself. Then, as we started to pray, something beautiful happened: it rained. I prayed on the roof of the Prophet’s mosque in the rain, and the moment was truly a gift [from] God.

Continue reading “7. “A gift from God” (The Hajj Journal)”

6. “Two gardens” (The Hajj Journal)

An orchard of date trees

September 11, 2015

My day of travel is almost over. I’m currently at Medina airport, waiting for everyone’s luggage to show. The flight over the desert was amazing. The flat, sandy plains almost instantly gave way to dark red hills, with cuts where ancient rivers used to run… Razor-back hills crest out of the sand, like the backs of ancient dinosaurs. Rows of mountains pervade the landscape. I didn’t have my camera on me, so the sights are preserved in memory only. Perhaps, sometimes, that’s the way it should be.

The sparse dots of greenery reminded me of the BBC doc “Human Planet”, which showcased the lives of people that live in extreme climates. One of the communities maintained an orchard in the desert. Here, among the harsh and unrelenting but beautiful desert, it’s easy to be why God refers to Gardens of Paradise; or the story of the two men, one of whom had two dense, beautiful productive gardens, and the other who had none. The rich gloried in his arrogance, despite warnings from his friend not to be boastful and proud. The man didn’t think God would take him to account. And so his fruitful gardens were brought to ruin.

Out here, that wouldn’t just be a minor inconvenience. Your entire livelihood would be wiped out. All you would have left is just sand and dust.

Continue reading “6. “Two gardens” (The Hajj Journal)”

5. “Losing your save file” (The Hajj Journal)

September 11, 2015

The more I think about it, the more I worry about my sincerity. I worry about losing my intention for Hajj. I worry about over-questioning the rites of Hajj. I think about the mistakes I’ve made since I became a Muslim… I worry that all of the things I’ve worked hard to do to please God, all of them have been annulled because of a stupid thing I did or said. I mean, I get frustrated and distraught when I lose a save file on a game—all those hours of progress lost. Imagine seeing an entire life being lost in the same way. As if nothing you ever did matters. God protect us.

Continue reading “5. “Losing your save file” (The Hajj Journal)”

4. “Sunrise over Egypt” (The Hajj Journal)

Sun hiding behind the clouds.

September 11, 2015

So this is what jet lag feels like. At home it’s 9:50 pm; here we just had breakfast. I got to see sunrise above Egypt. The horizon was at first a deep, hazy orange that I’d never seen before. Gradually the sky lightened and I could see the rolling desert. One interesting point is that I noticed that even though the sun was above the horizon, the land directly below us was still dark. I mean, I’ve always known that the earth is round, but as with anything, it’s one thing to learn the proof of something, and quite another to actually experience it for yourself. Continue reading “4. “Sunrise over Egypt” (The Hajj Journal)”

3. “Prayer at 10,000 feet” (The Hajj Journal)

Saudia Airlines airplane

September 9, 2015

I’m now leaving the western hemisphere behind. Thank God I’ve made it this far. But there’s still many kilometers, hours, and many days to go before I can consider if my journey was a success. On a side note, I’m on a giant 10-seat-row plane. The captain began his flight with a “Bismillah”, while the supplication of the traveler played on the screen. The flight attendants all wear blue caps with hijab. Continue reading “3. “Prayer at 10,000 feet” (The Hajj Journal)”

2. “Faces” (The Hajj Journal)

September 9, 2015

Currently at Toronto International Airport, running somehow on 3 hours of broken sleep and Tim Hortons. There’s so many faces here. I think I get why classical Arabic uses “face” as a metaphor for a person’s entire being. Our faces are our most identifiable feature. It’s amazing how humans can recognize faces and determine if they are familiar or not almost subconsciously. Looking at all the different faces, you can truly see the handiwork of God. Many faces may have a similar shape or similar features but there are such minute differences that we can detect almost instantly whether the face belongs to someone we know. Continue reading “2. “Faces” (The Hajj Journal)”

The Hajj Journal

The red journal I wrote in during HajjIntroduction

In September 2015, eight years after I accepted Islam, God opened the way for me to go for Hajj.

Hajj is a once in a lifetime journey. It’s the last of the 5 pillars of Islam, preceded by shahada (testimony), prayer, obligatory charity, and fasting in Ramadan. It’s due upon every Muslim at least once in their lifetime, if they are physically and financially able to do so, and if it is safe to do so.

My journey was as much a physical challenge as it was a spiritual one. In addition to the many hours of walking and intense heat, I sometimes found myself confronted by questions about  my faith that I hadn’t thought to ask before. Throughout my 17-day journey, I kept track of my thoughts and experiences in a journal.

The following are selections from my journal entries. I edited them for grammar, and changed names where I felt it was necessary. I’ve added commentary after most journal entries, either to expand on the ideas in the entry or to cover something I didn’t get to write about.

This isn’t going to be a guide on Hajj. Instead, it’s a chronicle of my thoughts, feelings and experiences as a Canadian Muslim convert as I became part of the largest gathering of human beings on the planet.

Read the journal

1. “Departure” (The Hajj Journal)

A journal entry

September 9, 2015

Here I am, at the Edmonton airport, closer than I’ve ever been to my dream of Hajj. It’s 9:30 PM and I’m tired. Around me, families are gathering –no doubt part of our group—to see their loved ones off. My Dad dropped me off, hugged me, and wished me a good trip…

Part of me is still in awe that it’s happening. God willing I’ll be on the other side of the world, in the holy city of Medina, in a few days’ time. We leave at midnight, land in Toronto at about 7 AM. Then depart from Toronto at 1 PM and land in Jeddah at 7 AM the next day. After that, a 7 hour wait to fly to Medina. After that, jetlag. However, there’s still many miles—sorry, kilometers—to cross between here and there. Anything could happen in that time.

Am I afraid? Only as much as is reasonably necessary. I think my life post-Hajj is more frightening to me. Who will I be when I come back? Where will my life go? I keep hearing how Hajj is a transformative experience. How it’s a completion of your faith. But what will that mean for me?


 

Commentary

Preparing to leave for Hajj is like preparing to leave your life behind. In the days leading up to Hajj, it was like I was planning on checking out of my life for good: I had to eat all perishable food in my place, I tried to see all my friends at least one more time before I left, and yes, it was even recommended to write up my will—which I did. The last thing I did was drive to my parent’s place and drop my car and my cat off. I had to square with the notion that I may never be coming back home. And that’s something that plagued me more during my trip than I thought it would.

But assuming I made it home safely, it was my post-Hajj life is what worried the most. A general fear of change has always hovered over me, especially on the verge of life-changing decisions like this one. I knew that it would take some readjustment going back to my normal life. But the question I wondered was: who was I going to be? Whether it was Hajj or even just attending a conference, one fear that always plagued me is that I would somehow come back as a hardcore, humourless extremist. I didn’t fear so much a change in my life as a change in my personality and, by extension, my identity.

 

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