September 21, 2015
I’m here on the rooftop of our hotel, between the shadow of a mountain and the lights of Mecca. In just a few hours, I’ll put on my ihram and, God willing, start my Hajj. The evening breeze is warm and agreeable. Lights of different colours illuminate the rooftops yellow, blue, purple. Strings of lights hang from the roof of a nearby hotel. Around me, Mecca hums with the sounds of evening life. Mecca. The Holy City. The Mother of All Cities, as it’s mentioned in the Qur’an. The city where, for 1400 years, Muslims have journeyed to in order to answer the call made by Abraham millennia ago. Tonight is the last night of the old me. Whoever I’ll be after the journey is done is, right now, known only by God. But I pray that I’ll be the best version of myself when I return home.
The night air on the eve of Hajj was thick and heavy. I felt like I was standing on the precipice of something great. I was standing on the rooftop of our hotel in Aziziya, looking out over this corner of the city. Silhouettes of rock towering high above us obscured the lights from the core of the city. Only a faint glow in the sky gave an indication of where the Ka’bah was.
It’s strange, waiting on an event you know is going to change your life. It’s all at once exciting and terrifying. I spent a long time in the faint orange light of the rooftop. I looked at the city around me and the stars above me. I felt like life would be different after this night.
In the movie Pitch Black, the character Imam—one of the best portrayals of a Muslim character in a mainstream Hollywood movie—says, “Once in a lifetime should there be a great Hajj. To know God, yes—but to know oneself as well.” And it’s very true. In the days and nights that would follow, I would come to learn more about God, and more about myself as well. I would learn about God’s magnificence and mercy; I would learn about my own weaknesses and shortcomings. I would learn that to be on the path of God, one must be indomitable and sturdy. I would learn what it was like to reach one’s limits, and how the drive for self-preservation threatens to overtake mercy and selflessness. I would learn fear, hope and trust.
The next five days would be a challenge unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I knew that. And I knew that, at the end of it, I would be a different person. But what would that person be like?
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