By Ishola Balogun
Hajj, one of the basic tenets of Islam, is a journey that Muslims are expected to make at least once in their lives, health and finances permitting.
It is the climax of the individual’s spiritual life and an embodiment of the unity of all nations which is based on brotherhood; one that towers above narrow considerations, above race, nationality, color or tongue. I have narrated my experience at Madinah, so, I wouldn’t want to bore you again with the same stories again.
The journey from Madinah to Makkah was smooth with all pilgrims in state of ihram chanting “Labaik, Allahummah Labbaik! (”I’ve heed the Call, O God ! Here I am). The millions of Muslims trooping in and out of Haram, housing the Kaaba was stupefying. I have not seen it live before so, I had no idea the shortest way to the House of God.
Led by a scholar, we entered through King AbdulAzeez gate 1 to perform the umrah (lesser hajj). After a few steps, I looked up to be sure Stillwell in touch with my group from Lagos. I saw before me, the famous Kaaba. It was really a mesmerising moment for me. I became still. I moved a few steps further to get a full glimpse of the House of Allah. A strong feeling of awe and excitement gripped me.
The Holy Kaaba
The Kaaba itself is a huge and imposing cubic building. Its grandeur is awesome. It arouses religious excitement and tranquility. It is majestic. Wrapped in white and black embroidery, with gold linings, it arrests the mind, thoughts and transforms you to another realm of life. You feel the presence of God.
Praising Allah, in tears, fighting back emotions, I couldn’t believe I was facing Kaaba real which had always held an alluring fascination to my imagination. Glory be unto you, Allah. I stood still, gazing towards the Kaaba. Myself? Here facing the Kaaba live? Tears found its way in me. It was a sight that will remain permanent in my mind.
I thought I was the only one, I saw others who were first-timer caught in similar web of feelings. I could hear cacophony of voices in different languages, from different nations, different direction. Only Allah knows; all directing to HIM.
The sight of millions of pilgrims doing the circumbulation is a humbling experience. I could see pilgrims crying, some shouting and begging for forgiveness of sins, in utter solemn manner and in demonstration of total submission to Allah. Nobody bothered about the other person. In Islam, it is a personal thing. The mammoth size crowd and the spiritual fervor that oozes out from the Kaaba where hundreds of thousands Muslims perform tawaf every minute of the day is enough to give you the feeling you are in the best place on earth. I can’t imagine how much more intense the feelings would be for those who haven’t been there. I could certainly see some of that feeling in my Mother, wife and those close to me.
Sarah and Marwa
The Sai rite was another spiritually fulfilling exercise which consists of running seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwa. It is a reenactment of the desperate run for water by Hajarah, wife of Prophet Ibrahim, who had left her infant son, Ismail, in the valley near the Ka’aba in search of water. The poor mother desperately combed the desert sand for water for her baby, who was dying of thirst. Finally, Allah came to her rescue causing water to ooze out of the mountain. That became the sacred Well of Zam Zam. The blessed Well still exists within the precinct of the Haram and generations of people have been drinking this blessed water without end to it.
An incident occurred which should serve as a lesson to others. A pilgrim from Bangladesh had gone to one of the spots of Zam Zam to drink from it. (Guess his first time). He pressed the nod but water didn’t come out. This is a place where thousands had drankvfrom and are still drinking from. He tried and tried again with no success. He gave way for others and others enjoyed from it. This disappointed pilgrim approached another spot but with no success. The strange development attracted other pilgrims including the security men. He was led to another spot and still, blessed Zam Zam refused to gush out. He was interrogated and he remorsefully confessed of how he had been causing pain to his neighbours, refusing to help those who sought his help.
The incident reminded me of a story told by a colleague during his hajj few years ago. One ‘big-man’ from Lagos had facilitated the locking up of innocent person in police cell and went on hajj with strict directive that he should not be released until he returns. While in hajj and during movement from Makkah to Mina in preparation for Arafat, this big-man was inadvertently locked in the room. How it came about, only Allah knows. But he he couldn’t find his way out, to Mina and Arafat on the first and secondary respectively, so he missed the most important hajj rite. Behold! It was until he realised his atrocity at home and made frantic efforts to release the innocent person through telephone after the third day, that reprieve came for him from the organisers who had searched for him. He got his freedom after the main exercise and after undoing what he had done at home. Lessons abound that reaffirm the sanctity and hallowed environment of masjidal-Haram.
At mount Arafat
The gathering at the Plains of Arafat is a unique sight. On that day, pilgrims spent most of part of the day standing near the Mount of Arafat, asking Allah for forgiveness and making supplications. The plains of Arafat are known to be where Adam and Eve met again after Allah had forgiven them. It is a great standing where Adam and Eve met, reconciled and blessed by Allah.
In fact, the Prophet (s.a.w) emphasised the importance of this day by saying that Hajj is Arafat. Arafat is not a cosmopolitan place where Muslims relax. No! It is instead a desolate valley on which the day of Judgement will begin.
It is at this plain that people seek Allah’s forgiveness and reflect on their past lives. In Arafat, people pour their hearts out and ask Allah for His mercy. Their remorsefulness and humility ignite uncontrollable tears. The memories of that day will ever remain indelible my mind.
Humility at Muzdalifah
Again, the Muzdalifah experience is another bundle of humility. It was a very rough open space. It isn’t a place any big-man will be finicky. You spread your blanket, or mat or better still, newspaper on the floor, on the road side and lay your head. Sometimes; you’ve got to push some garbage away from you to get a little ease from the stench that oozes around.
Even the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki including all other world leaders that performed hajj did the same. No matter your status or social standing, Muzdaliffah will humble you. But it was just for a night.
Throwing of pebbles
The throwing of pebbles is a symbolic way of denouncing the devil and its activities. Although it came with some inconveniences as pilgrims had to walk long distance to perform the rite under scorching sun and harsh weather reaching 45 degree Celsius. The difficulty was reduce by the kind gesture of Arabs who provided water at every point. Those who required emergency medical attention out if exhaustion and dehydration were promptly given. Although we lost some, but the causality rate compared to that if last year was very infinitesimal.
Hajj is not a luxury tour or vacation, and Allah has made it a bit strenuous so that we may learn to endure and be patient in life. Even with some of the inconveniences, you don’t complain because, the encumbrances are part of ibadah.
The farewell activity was with mixed reaction. Yes, you want to go back home to share the blessing of the hajj with your family and loved ones, but you also don’t want to leave the hallowed environment, where you have been cleansed.
After the farewell tawaf, I was numbed to the reality of leaving the holy land. I felt a chilling breeze on my body under a hot weather of about 35 degree Celsius after morning prayer. I held unto the walls of Kaaba, in tears, and after some good minutes, I recalled the organisers warned that buses would leave after Subhi, in soliloquy “I had to leave’. A flame of desire ignites my heart, yearning for another opportunity to be in the holy land. I really love to be there again!