SubhanAllah I cannot believe that it has been ten years since I took the journey of a lifetime: Hajj. Tears prick my eyes as I reflect and write. How do I convey to you the magnitude and blessings and beauty of receiving THE invitation. I recall making the intention nine years prior and I really felt like Cinderella waiting for her chance whilst helping and watching others get ready for their attendance each and every year until it arrived. Alhamdulilla,h and it came at the right moment for me in so many ways. I’m going to try and share just a few tidbits that really helped me in making the most of this wonderful and blessed journey insha’Allah (God-willing)
1. RSVP and Tawwakul up
As soon as you receive your invitation – which you may struggle to notice at first as it can come at any time, in any shape and size. Mine came as a phone call from my elder brother. – you need to RSVP. My mind straight away went to panic as it scrambled to answer all the questions that arose. However a short pause and some slow deep breaths helped me to recognise that I just needed to accept the invitation as my Host would take care of the rest. Alhamdulillah. As soon as you show shukr (appreciation) it can all become so easy. I have learnt over a span of time that we are not in control and we need to relinquish the need for it for sakeena (contentment) to descend.
Next thing is to clarify and purify your reasons for going to THE party. I believe that if our intentions are not aligned, much as we are told with fasting, all we will feel is tiredness, thirst and hunger if we make it to there at all. Ask yourself ‘What are my purposes for going on the Hajj? What do I want to achieve? What am I looking to get out of this?’ And then explore how you can ensure that these are fulfilled. I found myself going back regularly to my intention and having to reaffirm it on occasion.
3. Good company
All the best intentions in the world can be laid to waste if the company we keep is not ‘good’. You may be perplexed by this and be thinking something along the lines of ‘How does the people we surround ourselves or the hajj agency we go with have anything to do our intentions?’ Muslims are not immune to their desires and whims and the whispering of Shaytaan – unlike Ramadan, he isn’t chained up! – although none of these things have authority over us. Good companions will encourage good thoughts and help us to remember why we are there. There will be lots of waiting around and time to squander so it helps to have people you can have useful conversations with or to plan what you will do in those times.
4. Prepare, prepare, prepare
Preparation cannot be emphasised enough. Read, learn and listen to others who have some knowledge – not just scholars and shaykhs but also people who’ve made the journey before you. You don’t have to take all the advice on and you may have to do a fair amount of sifting to get to what you want to keep and stick to.
5. Fill up with love and patience
There will be times when something or another will stretch that elastic band of patience. You may find yourself struggling to keep the anger at bay. Remind yourself and your companions of the benefits of an accepted Hajj which cannot be attained, unless Allah wills it, if our lid gets flipped. One thing I found that really helped me was to make (realistic) excuses for others. For example if someone cuts into the toilet line then I found telling myself that they had no concept perhaps of queuing helped or that they were desperate.
6. Going to the toilet
It has to be mentioned as I know that it is a fear and concern in people’s minds. I suggest going regularly and in plenty of time. Do not leave it until you are bursting or any where near bursting. And they are more often than not wrinkle nose worthy at best. What helped me was that water was available and to remind myself of the purpose of the entire journey and this was a very small part of it.
7. Regular check up
It is important to check the health of your intentions and thoughts. Take time to pause and reflect. If you like to write carry writing equipment with you. Go back to your answers to the questions in relation to your intentions again and again and again.
8. Open up
Any experience can make us bitter or better. To try to get better we need to open ourselves – our minds and our hearts – to possibility. If we think a thing and even if we are right it does not necessarily mean that the other person is wrong – they too could be right and in a different way. If you find yourself using small or closed or negative minded language with yourself or others – stop, think and listen (to yourself and others).
9. Some practical stuff
Some things I found helpful to do or pack:
10. Upon return
And during, remain grateful. We can easily get caught up in complaining – about the waits and the toilets and the hotels and the food and the Saudis and the other hajjees and the journeys and all sorts of creature comforts and just about anything. Hajj these days is super easy when you consider how our forefathers just a few generations ago made this journey. For many of them, it truly was once in a lifetime. And the Greater Pilgrimage is more of an inward journey than an external one.
As with life, you will encounter highs and lows, difficulties and ease and a whole host of accompanying emotions. Go with the flow and allow the ultimate Host to take care of you and you will come away brimming with hope bi’idnillah.
May Allah bless you with an invitation and may you experience this truly epic and beautiful journey. Hajj Mabrook, an accepted Hajj, insha’Allah.
Khalida Haque is a counseling psychotherapist, clinical supervisor and group facilitator. She is also founding director of www.khair-therapeutic.com and co-host of www.thebigreconnectsleepover.com. She started her writing journey with SISTERS magazine and holds on to the dream of becoming a 'proper' author.