Our own chapter in the ever-thickening chronicle of yearly pilgrimage opened when, one day, my husband decided to perform his obligatory fifth tenet of Islam. Expressing my own desire, I pictured the stories that I had heard about old women saving bit by bit, in their small tattered black handbags from a young age, in the hope of performing hajj. They wouldn’t even flinch in selling their gold. If the process took longer than expected, sometimes those poor souls would die with a dream of seeing the holy House of Allah frozen in their eyes.
Not compelled to sell my gold, I thanked Allah (SWT) for providing me with the means and health to perform my ritual. Our only concern was our one year old daughter who I was still breastfeeding. We couldn’t leave her behind, nor was I willing to postpone doing the hajj next year when our child would be older. Who knows what lay ahead?
Amidst all the confusion, negative remarks and serious concerns about our planned journey, I found it really hard to make a decision. I obviously didn’t want to put a strain on my young child. Plus, hajj being a difficult form of ‘ibadah in itself, I wanted to make the most of my experience and knew that a one year old, breast-fed baby might not let me fulfill this wish. So I prayed for a solution and there it was: the wonderful story of Hajar (RA) and her infant son Isma’eel (AS) left alone in the empty desert of Arabia shared my own predicament. Although it occurred centuries ago, I could now empathise with that strong woman of faith. Relying completely on the mercy of her Lord, she did not complain to her husband once of the bare resources he was leaving her with. And here I was with all the modern conveniences and still worried about my comfort level during this traditional ritual of surrender and sacrifice.
Ready, steady, go!
After deciding we would be travelling with our daughter, I started brainstorming backpack essentials. I wanted important things for my daughter within easy reach; I ensured I had lots of snacks for her all of the time and a roll of trash bags to contain soiled nappies and food wrappers. Just in case, I also bought a can of formula milk and a bottle if conditions to nurse her weren’t discrete. From loads of nappies to a stack full of wet wipes, my backpack was all ready to accompany me and my daughter on this exciting journey. In fact, I foolishly packed too many nappies; there were numerous shops within easy reach in Saudi selling babycare products!
We reached our hotel in Azizia and at 3:30 a.m. my husband texted and woke me up. I spared no time as we had planned to leave early for the Haram to avoid the rush hour. We reached the Grand Mosque by taxi as the adhan for fajr was being called. The weather was chilly and we found some space outside on the tiled verandah of the masjid to pray. It was a holy and serene atmosphere – I felt as if I was being washed pure and clean. After everyone had prayed, I felt a tap on my back. A Saudi lady was offering me a vanilla custard cup meant for my daughter. I was amazed yet pleased. This simple and thoughtful sign of showing her concern for my child touched my heart.
Eyeing the increasing rush of pilgrims now filling the mosque, we quickly entered the Mutaf and started with our Tawaf al Qudoom. We could only complete one circuit when people started to push each other violently. It became suffocating and the frequent bumps from strangers felt very uncomfortable. So we planned to complete the remaining Tawaf on the first floor instead. It did take us longer, but we could at least breathe easily and more importantly, concentrate on the supplications while also experiencing the spiritual highs. In order not to overtire our daughter, we took rest gaps in between the circumambulation and drank lots of Zamzam water to keep up our energy levels. Moreover, throughout the Tawaf my rucksack kept being topped up: a Turkish elderly lady handing us a banana and an Indonesian sister passing a pack of biscuits, for example. Since children are a rare sight during the Hajj season, our child received plenty of tender love (and yummy snacks) for the entire 23-day journey.
Being the last Jumu’ah before the beginning of the Hajj, there was hardly any space left inside the Haram. I sat cramped with fellow Muslims, listening intently to the khutba, while people jumped around us in search of an empty spot. I heard a child crying hysterically from somewhere, and I prayed for both the mother and the infant, knowing exactly how distraught she must be feeling.
After we reached our hotel, we kept marvelling at how we managed to come out of the crowd unscathed. Miraculously, through all this suffocative heat and mob, my daughter slept soundly and when I finally reflected on the day’s progress, I was pleased with the small achievement of doing the first part of our hajj successfully.
Labbayk Allahumma labbayk
On the crisp morning of the 8th of Dhul Hijjah, we left our hotel around 9 a.m to camp at Mina. Our group leader guided us through the sea of huge white tents and after we found ours, told us to quickly settle in. However, being in a sleepy and hungry state, my daughter decided otherwise. The desert coolers which were installed inside the pavilion weren’t working and the hot weather drove my daughter mad. She started crying wildly, making me distressed as well. All the ladies of my group started consoling us and, with much effort and prayers, she finally went to sleep. But the incident left me wondering how she would cope in the upcoming days of exhaustion and hard work.
We woke up early on the 9th of Dhul Hijjah for the big day of Arafah – the most crucial day of all. I packed my favourite du’a booklet and a couple of other books to read throughout the day. I definitely did not want to miss out on any supplication to be heard by the All Merciful. Upon our arrival at Arafat, I found there were no such luxuries as desert coolers and sofa beds here as in Mina and we would have to spend the whole day till sunset on carpets without any electrical means of cooling ourselves. My only concern was for my daughter. Amazingly, she actually played around and showed the best of her manners. The still and hot air outside didn’t seem to bother her.
From proper beds in a hotel to beach mats in Muzdalifah, the night of the 10th of Dhul Hijjah saw us sleeping under a beautiful starry sky. After performing our Fajr prayers, we took the bus to Mina. However, due to the huge mass of pilgrims going on foot, we had to wait for three hours before the wheels turned. On reaching our destination, my husband slaughtered the animals and we came out from the state of ihraam. After dhuhr prayers, we headed on foot to Jamaraat to stone the cursed Satan. The maddening crowd furiously stoned the brick walls, obviously in a hurry as many completed their rite by pushing everyone aside. It was a difficult task to do along with our daughter but Allah (SWT) helped us with this ritual too.
Even now, as I remember our trip, a nostalgic feeling grips my chest. It was the best expedition and most humbling experience that I have ever decided to undertake. It taught me lessons of generosity and selflessness. As with every other hajji, we were also tested with challenges, given the fact that my husband had had a recent knee injury prior to hajj and I had a child who relied primarily on me for her source of nutrition. But despite the arduous experience, we savoured a sweetness of faith and spirituality that we had never tasted before. The joy of offering our body and souls in the absolute servitude of our Creator overcame every tiring emotion.
Sumreen Wasiq is glad she has managed to perform this obligatory pillar of worship when she did as the blessings of two more children after her daughter would definitely have rendered her incapable of undertaking this monumental, yet gratifying, journey.