By Noha Alshugairi
I still remember myself as a young child of 6 moving from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia, struggling with a new country, language, and school. My first spoken language was the English of Nigeria; a mix of British English with an accent of the local dialect. My Arabic at the time was limited to a few words here and there. Certainly, I did not know classical Arabic. Imagine the 180 degree shift in everything that suddenly took place once we arrived in Saudi Arabia. My biggest challenge was school. I was enrolled in First Grade and was expected to learn my lessons in Classical Arabic and memorize a lot of Qur’an. My mom, may Allah Bless her in this dunya (worldly life) andakhirah (afterlife), spent endless hours with my sister and me, helping with the lessons and the memorization. It was because of Allah’s Grace and then her efforts that we ultimately succeeded alhamdulilLah (all praise be to God).
One of my first memories of the Classical Arabic text is a definition of Islam that states:
الإسلام هو الإستسلام لله والإنقياد لطاعته
“Islam is submission to Allah (swt) and yielding to His commands.” The translation robs the original of its poetic beauty because the word إستسلام (submission) comes from the same root as the word Islam. The rhyming of the definition captivated me. I found it easy to memorize and it stayed with me to this day—proof of the power of memorizing and learning while young.
However, as with all learning, our life’s journey tweaks our understanding of concepts and ideas. As a child of 6, the definition of Islam was merely homework to be memorized and recited during tests. As an adult, the definition takes on a deeper significance; it has a life of its own. A moment in Hajj brought home the definition and made it a living reality for me. I am ever grateful to Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) for experiencing it. AlhamdulilLah.
I am a person who is by nature a planner. I take initiative to direct and plan events according to how I would like them to be. My Hajj journey was an experience in letting go and submitting to Allah (swt). It was an experience of knowing for certain that Allah’s will supersedes all.
It began with me arrogantly assuming that since I was a Saudi Citizen, I would not have a problem getting the Hajj visa and hence, our Hajj was guaranteed. My kids would get a visa based on my citizenship and all would be well. I even bought our tickets 6 months in advance believing we wouldn’t have any obstacles. “What could go wrong?” I would say to myself. “The most difficult piece is the visa and that one is guaranteed for certain.”
One thing did go wrong: my visa status in the U.S. needed to be renewed and when I applied for renewal, I was told that it would take some time and no one was able to tell me how long! I explained my plans and that we had bought the tickets but to no avail. There was nothing they could do for me. I had to wait and see. In that moment of losing control, I submitted to Allah (swt). I was reminded that Hajj is a divine invitation and if Allah (swt) had invited us, we would go no matter what difficulties and obstacles were there. Despite my sadness and sorrow over the possibility of not going to Hajj, my submission saved me. I let go of my control and waited to see what Allah (swt) had decreed. AlhamdulilLah, one month before our travel date, I received my U.S. visa renewal and we scrambled to get the visas for the kids. Allah (swt) had extended His invitation for us to go and so we went.
Nonetheless, my greatest moment of submission to Allah (swt) came during طواف الإفاضة. This is the tawaf (circling around the Kaabah) one does following the day of `Arafa. It is currently the most difficult part of the Hajj experience since the Saudi Government (may Allah bless their efforts on behalf of the hujjaj, those performing Hajj) have expanded the areas for Jamarat and Sa`iy. To get an idea of what occurs during this tawaf, one needs to understand that all 2 million plus hujjajhave to perform this nusuk within the span of 2-3 days. Most of the hujjaj do it on the first day of Eid Al Adha immediately following the day of `Arafa. Imagine thousands upon thousands converging to Mecca to encircle the Kaabah in the ritualistic 7 laps of tawaf. The space is limited despite the 3 levels. A friend of mine told me that when she did this tawaf she could not move; she became part of the mass that is the crowd and was propelled along with everyone else. I remember listening to her and in mind wondering how that could be. I even thought to myself she must be exaggerating! And then I experienced it myself.
I remember the moment of panic when I felt bound by all the people around me, unable to move my arms even to salute the Kaabah as I began a new lap. My arms felt tied to my sides as if I had been bound by a straight jacket, only it was made of real people like me. I was like a log on a river being pushed here and there by the current. The current of people was moving me and I had no control over how fast I went, where I went, or even how close I could stay to my own kids. In that moment of panic, of utter loss of control, I submitted to His Will. I knew in that moment that it’s not in my hands, that I had no choice but to leave it up to Him to protect me and guide me. And in that complete submission came an overwhelming sense of relief knowing that it is in His Hands and I need not worry. What will be will be, and I know for certain that it will be the best for me. For He alone knows what is best for me.
The experience of Hajj is full of unpredictability. No matter how well you plan, no matter what agency you use for your Hajj, anything can go wrong very suddenly and very quickly. The chaos and the lack of clear schedule and plans have prompted one German covert to declare that the journey of Hajj is by itself proof of divine existence. He stipulated that there must be a God in existence who would facilitate this whole journey with the inadequate human planning that usually takes place. I believe he is right. Allah’s will supersedes all and His Mercy and Care trumps everything else. And our response needs to be: O Allah, I submit to your Will, protect me and guide me to what is best for me dunya and akhirah!
This article is not a call to suspend all planning for one’s life. Taking initiative is a duty on each one of us. But when you are faced with what is beyond your control, know that you are enveloped in His Mercy and submit to His Will with humility and reverence. “And the last of what we pray is: alhamdulilLah the Lord of all.”