By Noha Alshugairi
Many people have written about Hajj: what to expect, how to prepare, what to take, and how to perform the rituals, etc. I am not offering any of these tips. As a therapist, I see how my clients’ perceptions and attitudes impact the way they experience life; and since Hajj is a major life event, it is bound to be impacted by the same dynamics. What follows are tweaks on how you may approach or perceive your Hajj journey so it would be meaningful and powerful. If you are performing Hajj for the first time, you may feel yourself in a whirlwind, swept away by the activities and demanding schedule. The following ideas are meant to plant seeds of awareness so instead of being swept away, you take on an active role. Be aware that when I talk about Hajj, I am mainly talking about the actual act of Hajj: the four days that begin with `Arafa and end with the third day of Mena.
Catch the moments of spirituality when they embrace you:
What better motivation to do Hajj than reading the hadith (narration): “…the only reward for a righteous Hajj is Jannah [Paradise].” Somehow I imagined that performing Hajj would be a great spiritual experience that lasts for 4 days at the end of which you are deeply connected to Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). True, Hajj is a great experience, but it is not 4 days of constant spirituality.
The reality of the situation is that moments of spirituality are a rizq (divine bounty) from Allah (swt) that will catch you unaware. They will not last for hours on end. They will last for minutes and you better be conscious that they are happening and bask in their beauty. When I am talking about moments of spirituality, I am talking about private moments where you feel deeply connected to Allah (swt) with no barriers at all. They feel as if a door to heaven has opened just for you and you are somehow in the presence of Allah the Great. You lose sense of your body and your surroundings and become only conscious of Him. Those private moments are very special and very beautiful! Subhan Allah (glory be to God) when they happen, you have no doubt that you have been enveloped in Allah’s Mercy and Blessings. You may have already experienced them in your life, and if you did, you have been Blessed indeed! These moments are not limited to time or place; they occur randomly, and the same applies during Hajj.
Alhamdulillah (all praise and thanks belongs to God) I have been blessed to perform Hajj 3 times. The first one was not spiritual. It was merely doing the manasik (rites of hajj) and worrying about the details of the rituals without the spirit or connection. In my second Hajj, I was blessed to have my moments of spirituality during the last hour or so of the day of `Arafa. During my third Hajj, my moments of spirituality occurred during jamarat (the throwing of the stones) one day. I can imagine you asking yourself: “What was she doing the rest of the time?” I assure you praying and doing dhikr (remembering God) all the time is not synonymous with feeling this deep connection with Allah (swt). So my tip: when you feel that moment of spirituality, catch it, hold it, savor it, and accept the fact that it does not last for long. Just be grateful that you experienced it in the first place. And when you go back to your normal life be sensitized to how it feels so you may catch it again in your non-Hajj life.
Be aware of whom you spend your time with:
Subhan Allah the journey of Hajj highlights the hadith: “The example of the righteous companion and the companion of evil is similar to the musk merchant and the blacksmith. The musk merchant will either offer you some for free, sell you some, or you may just merely smell the fragrant smell of musk. As for the blacksmith, he either burns your clothes or you smell the repugnant smell of his shop.”
During no other time in your life will you need to be more cautious about your companions than during Hajj. They have the power to deplete your spirituality or raise it high above the clouds. It’s true that you do not control whom your companions are going to be, but you have control over how you spend your time. This is no time to worry about how people feel about you or what they think of you. If your goal is to have a stronger connection with Allah (swt), then choosing whom you associate with is crucial.
One thing that is common during Hajj is for people to complain about anything and everything. They complain about the trip to Saudi, the airport procedures, the crowds, the time it takes to get somewhere, the food, the unclean bathrooms, the dirt and trash, the rudeness and insensitivity, etc. Make it a point early on to avoid complainers. If the topic of conversation heads in that direction, remove yourself from the group. Empty complaints and a sense of entitlement detract from experiencing the blessings of Hajj.
During my last Hajj, my companions and I made a pact to avoid irrelevant talk, stop playing our Smartphone games, and focus on performing Hajj with ihsan (excellence). I was blessed by Allah (swt) to have such wonderful and supportive companions who had the same goal as I did. So what do you do if your companions are not on the same page with you? Take initiative and minimize your contact with them without being rude or disrespectful. During my last Hajj, on the day of `Arafa, more than one woman separated herself from the group, took a corner by herself, and spent the day supplicating, reading Qur’an, and praying. Make a conscious decision about how you want your Hajj to be, because amazingly enough, the rituals of Hajj take very little time and you end up with a lot of down time on your hands. Use it wisely!
Be ready to “retreat”:
Here in the U.S., people talk about going on retreats for various reasons. Some of us do work-related retreats. Others do spiritual or meditative retreats. And still others do personal growth retreats. I believe that for us Muslims, Hajj is our greatest retreat.
Generally, retreats have focused goals in mind. I have come to realize that one subtle goal of Hajj is to focus inward rather than outward: to reflect, think, and hopefully discover new meanings and insights. Have you ever reflected on why it is that the obligatory acts of Hajj do not include staying either at Makkah or Madina? I find it amazing that Hajj does not include visiting the Prophet’s ﷺ Masjid. Of course most hujjaj (those who make Hajj) make the trip to Madina before or after their Hajj but if you decide (like I did during my last Hajj) not to go to Madina, your Hajj is sound. Notice also that the majority of the obligatory acts of Hajj are performed outside Makkah. True we are required to visit the Kaabah a couple of times and do the sai`y (walking between the hills of Safa and Marwa) one time, but the rest of the time we reside in the valley of Makkah. We are even required to remain there most of the time. Is it not intriguing that Hajj is not about staying in Makkah nor Madinah? This detachment from places of reverence forces us to focus on our personal relationship with Allah (swt). `Arafa and Mena both do not invoke a sense of reverence in us. It’s our stay there, during the specified time ascribed by Allah (swt), that we cherish and value. It forces us inward rather than outward.
Did you also know that during Hajj your prayers are shortened and you get to pray some prayers together? One may assume that Hajj will include more prayers than the usual, but it does not. The obligatory prayers during Hajj are less than those during your normal everyday life. Additionally, tawwaaf (circling the Kaabah) and sai`y are both rituals that are basically achieved by merely doing the walk whether around the Kaabah or between Safa and Marwa. You are not obligated to do any specific dhikr and hence, these two rituals become a munajah (private conversation between you and Allah) focused on your world, your needs, and what is significant for you at the time. In fact, the days of `Arafa and Mena are filled with very little obligations and you end with many hours on your hands that compel you to reflect and retreat. That is, if you choose to avoid idle talk and irrelevant conversations. Be ready to focus inward rather than outward.
Be ready to conquer your demons:
Hajj is an exercise of self-discovery. The experience of being able to live without what you are used to is what makes Hajj a powerful journey. You face your weaknesses and your shortcomings at different levels: physical, emotional, and mental. Hajj forces you to face what patterns and routines you have established in your everyday life. You face your fears—using public restrooms, having no restrooms, getting sick, dealing with uncertainty, dealing with people you don’t like, etc. You are also forced to accept discomfort—walking long distances, maneuvering your way through crowds, sharing rooms and tents with others, and losing your privacy, disliking the food, not being able to shower properly during Mena, getting disgusted by scenes and behaviors around you, etc.
What transforms Hajj from a journey filled with rituals to a powerful moving experience is whether you do face your fears and shortcomings. The strength you gain from knowing that you conquered yourself is immeasurable. I remember during one Hajj being unable to take a shower for 3 days. I felt sticky, smelly, and very uncomfortable. The experience left me with a deeper appreciation for the small pleasures of life that I have come to take for granted and I was grateful for the chance to prove to myself that I could do it.
Accept your rizq:
As with everything in life, there is what you expect you will do, what actually happens, and what you wish would have happened. It’s the same with Hajj. You will go there with expectations on how you want things to happen: how many times you will pray in the Haram (area surrounding the Kaabah), how many times you will do tawwaaf, how many hours you will spend in the Haram, etc. And while there, your schedule will take on a life of its own. You may not necessarily achieve everything you set out to do. So while there, do not waste your energy on lamenting what could have been, or should have been. Accept that what opportunities you are given are rizq from Allah (swt) and appreciate them to the fullest. Be mindful of the present moment at any given time and avoid robbing it of its beauty with meaningless regret or wishful thinking.
I remember catching myself when things did not go the way I would have wished, thinking that my next Hajj will be better and I will do such and such. By thinking this way, I was forgetting that what I was given is a rizq from Allah (swt)and there are no guarantees that next time will be better. Who knows if one will be able to make Hajj a second time? You may wish for a second chance at Hajj and you may be invited a second time to visit Bayt Allah (the House of God); however, ensure that you are making the best of your Hajj with all of its shortcomings.
Bring back a piece of Hajj with you:
One thing that really helped me re-experience my Hajj many times over, was something that took place rather accidentally during my second Hajj—again a reminder of the many forms of rizq from Allah (swt). At that time, I was not a regular user of the masbaha (prayer beads). During our days in Mena, I discovered I had many hours on my hands and I remembered the ayah (verse) from Surat Al Baqarah (the Chapter of the Cow, Qur’an 2) about the days of Mena: “and remember Allah during those specific days.” So I decided to use a masbaha and I asked my sister for one. She gifted me one that was not special in any way, except that it became my Hajj masbaha. I took it back with me and one stressful day back in the U.S., I wanted to experience the peace and calm of Mena so I held my Hajj masbaha in my hand and focused on doing dhikr. From that day onwards, I would do the same whenever life became hectic.
In therapy, we talk to clients about being grounded and finding one’s center. If you are blessed, when you come back from Hajj you come back feeling grounded and centered. Time moves slowly and life becomes less urgent. But alas, after some time you lose that sense of peace and calm as you engage again in the rituals of daily living. However, if you bring back with you a masbaha that you used during Hajj you may be able to reclaim some of those feelings, albeit temporarily.
I pray that these thoughts will resonate for you and will be seeds of awareness to a deeper and more fulfilling Hajj journey. I pray that Allah accepts all that you put forth. I pray, if you are one of those blessed to be invited to Bayt Allah, that you come back with forgiveness, mercy, and an open door to Jannah. Ameen ya rab al `alameen (Amen, O Lord of the Worlds).