Hajj is often touted as a life changing journey. It marks the final act a Muslim must fulfil that is owed to God. Completing it by no means makes you a complete Muslim. But it does complete the 5 pillars you owe to God as a person who submits to Him.
A year ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to go for Hajj. During my time, I documented my experiences in my Hajj Journal; I’ve also spoken about it on the radio. Hajj was a journey that is impossible to fully describe. It’s an all-encompassing spiritual and physical and mental journey where each event that occurs is tailored to you, personally, by God.
What terrified me most about Hajj was the notion that it was going to change me into a different person. Change, in general, is frightening. Spiritual change is terrifying. My fear was that I would become a super-strict, ultra-hardline, everything-is-haram Muslim. I remember standing on the roof of our hotel on the eve of Hajj with both fear and excitement, wondering who I would be at the end of Hajj.
Well, it’s been a year now. And here is who I am.
A memory of spirituality
Some changes after Hajj were immediate. For starters, when I came home, I was sick for the next month. My voice was strained and raspy, constantly tired and coughing. Getting sick on Hajj is pretty much a given, as most of the people I traveled with got ill in some form or another.
However, the real change came with adjusting to life back home. Interestingly, I had a bit of reverse-culture-shock. The first time I had to get groceries after coming home, I went to the Superstore. In Mecca, I was in the middle of a thousands-large crowd on a daily basis so became normal. But for some reason the hundred-or-so shoppers at the grocery store were giving me anxiety. In Mecca, everyone was moving in the same direction, towards the same goal, with the same purpose. In the grocery store, people were going here and there in any direction, all in their own world. It was like going from an ant colony to a swarm of flies. It was disorder and chaos compared to the larger crowds in Mecca.
When I returned from Hajj I was very calm. As a person who spent most of his adult life as a clockwatcher, I have always been stressing about time. After Hajj, though, I stopped worrying about time. I let myself enjoy my time. I didn’t try to live life by the clock.
But it didn’t last.
In a society built around being on the clock, I slowly felt myself falling back into my old ways. Today, I still put a lot of emphasis on time — doing things on time, being places at a certain time, and so on. But I allow myself moments to just forget about the clock, and just absorb the moment as it comes to me.
Early in my time as a Muslim, I was preconditioned to expect that the spiritual high one has in Hajj will fade. I knew it would happen; the spiritual calmness and high would go away. And it did. The thing is, even if you are told that it’s normal, and that you aren’t less of a Muslim because of it, you still felt like something is wrong with you. But the memory of that spirituality sticks with you and has keeps your heart close and attached to the sacred cities of Medina and Mecca. You remember your soul at ease, perhaps singing, in this land where everyone is your brother and sister, and where the House of God is only a short walk or drive away. To this day, when I pray, I find myself imagining that I’m in front of the Ka’bah again with the sun beating down on me, or in the large white courtyard of the Prophet’s mosque praying in the shade of immense umbrellas.
It’s true that one’s life changes after Hajj. The biggest change for me came 8 months later, when I finally married my fiancé. And marriage is its own lifelong journey as well, complete with many ups and downs. The lessons you can learn from marriage alone are abundant if you choose to look for them. More than anything, it requires a lot of patience.
Patience is something you learn in abundance during Hajj. Things go wrong, you fret about making mistakes, vehicles breakdown, you stand and wait for a long time. But all the while your patience and trust in God is being refined. The patience I learned in Hajj seeped into the rest of my life that followed. I would remember the experiences I had in Hajj and relate them to my daily life and challenges. But more than anything, it reminded me then, as it does now, that God has always been there and has always brought me through my challenges.
I gained a lot of introspection from Hajj. I had a lot of time to think and reflect while I was in Mecca, Medina and Mina. I used that time to write as much as I could about my journal, recording it in a journal. I learned to put less value on material things—stemming from wearing the simple white garments of the ihram. Death was a constant reminder on Hajj, as nearly every one of the 5 daily prayers was proceeded by a funeral (janazah) prayer. In the time since, I’ve become more comfortable with the notion of death, and what happens to our souls after we die. I learned that in the way of God, one must be indomitable. All of the challenges that come your way are God’s way of testing you, bringing you nearer to him, and showing both Him and yourself what you’re made of. There were times, both in Hajj and after, where I felt like there was no direction left I could go in, and so all I could do was trust in God and keep on walking.
When I came home, my humility was tested as well. Going for Hajj carries with it a certain sense of amazement from everyone back home—expect a lot of people to call you “Hajji” when you return. Compound that with the fact that I’m a convert and young, and it’s easy to see why it can be a struggle to keep it all from getting to your head. If ever for a moment I felt like I was somehow special or accomplished because I had gone for Hajj, I only needed to remind myself that over 3 million other people went for Hajj as well, and many of them struggled far more than I did to get there.
Hajj became part of my life story, and part of who I am. It brought me closer to my faith, and opened my eyes to another side of the world that, previously, I had only seen in pictures or heard in stories. I was told to make the most of my Hajj; I feel like I did.
By no means does completing Hajj guarantee that you’re a complete Muslim—or even a complete person. While it signifies that you’ve completed the last major pillar of your faith, that doesn’t mean your faith is complete. You can always work towards becoming a better Muslim.
The honorific title of “Hajji” is often given to people who have completed the pilgrimage. While I was never fond of the title, I understand the attachment to it. It’s a symbol that you undertook the journey to the House of God, that you fulfilled your once-in-a-lifetime obligation. Upon completing it, though, you now have to live up to it. If the trials and tribulations of Hajj didn’t bring you closer to God or make you a better person in some way—well then what was the point of it all? Hajj, like any act of worship, it supposed to bring you closer to God and make you a better person.
I’m not saying that I’ve got my life figured out or that I have all the answers. I’m not saying that Hajj made me sinless or more pious than anyone else. What I’m saying is that Hajj definitely made an impact on me, spiritually, emotionally and physically. It was, indeed, life changing in ways both subtle, personal and profound.
And so my lifelong journey continues.