When we go on holiday we often invest in travel guides, spend hours trawling the internet and become walking encyclopaedias of the destination in question. Doing the same for our journey to the Holy City could help you get a better sense or even offer a different perspective if it is not your first visit.
I remember the moment when our place on the Hajj group we had chosen to travel with was confirmed – just four months before we were due to travel out. I felt so blessed and grateful to have been chosen by Allah (SWT) to be amongst millions traversing to Makkah that year, for the most important journey of our lives. Like most other pilgrims-to-be I am sure, I began avidly researching for anything that I could find to help me prepare for the pilgrimage as well as to visualise what it was going to be like. I poured over journal entries detailing Hajj stories, scoured ‘checklists’ advising me of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ and quizzed relatives for advice.
Looking back on it now, I think I probably spent a little too much time mulling over what abaya and hijab fabric would be most suitable for the dry, Saudi heat, comparing fragrance free toiletries and researching the pros and cons of Sketchers and Crocs, after which I ended up taking both! Of course it is important to be practical and to consider appropriate clothing, footwear, toiletries and medicines especially if you are travelling with children or the elderly. But in reality, many of us probably end up taking too much and needing very little. Indeed, we are all too familiar with the stories of those who have given up all their worldly possessions for the opportunity to go on Hajj. Seeing whole families sleeping on the streets of the tented city of Mina and the courtyard of the Haram was an important reminder for me of those striving for the sake of Allah (SWT) with the most basic of provisions.
Reflecting on my own Hajj experience, paying as much if not more attention to what you can do to spiritually ready yourself beforehand, will be more beneficial than any practical preparation you can do insha Allah. I know many sisters will be undertaking their own preparations this year and wanted to share some advice on what helped me at the time and in hindsight what would have been useful to know.
Researching Makkah and how it has changed
When we go on holiday we often invest in travel guides, spend hours trawling the internet and become walking encyclopaedias of the destination in question. Doing the same for our journey to the Holy City could help you get a better sense or even offer a different perspective if it is not your first visit. It was not something I had considered doing until a friend gave me a copy of History of Makkah by Shaykh Safi-ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri in advance of my pilgrimage. The book is a useful summary of the construction of the Kabbah and the changing boundaries of the Haram. Reading it helped me imagine not only how Makkah has changed but also how much Hajj has changed. Speaking to elders in your family or wider community who performed Hajj in their youth about their experience could also be part of your quest to catch up on all things Meccan. Although the heat can be overwhelming at times and the washroom facilities are not what we are used to, knowing how much more basic they were 50 years ago will help you appreciate the blessing of being able to take advantage of how far things have come along.
Familiarise yourself with the rites of Umrah and Hajj
It might sound obvious, but it is important to have a handle of what you need to do and where you need to be in advance of performing your Hajj. Most groups offer seminars which combine practical information along with the rites of Hajj and have religious guides as part of the Hajj team that are on hand to give advice or to answer questions. Undoubtedly this is an amazing asset to be able to take advantage of but it is worth bearing in mind that often the guide to group ratio is quite high and it would be unrealistic to expect immediate answers to your religious queries. Therefore, doing some preparation in this area rather than relying on your group personnel as your one port of call for information would be helpful.
Many friends and family members recommended Getting the Best out of Al-Hajj by Abu Ismaeel Davids and it really does provide a comprehensive overview covering both practical and spiritual aspects. If you want something a little thinner Hajj & Umrah and Visitors by Abdullah ibn Sa’id ib Jirash is also very good and a little more succinct. There are also some great infographics on the Hajj and Umrah on the internet that you can take out with you and refer to as a refresher.
Whether you decide to do detailed research or are happy with a more general understanding, try not to be in a position where you are reliant on ‘following the crowd’ to get where you need to go. I am sure you have heard by now that Hajj is hectic and having supplemented the resources you get as part of your Hajj group with your own research will help dispel those annoying feelings of panic you may find yourself experiencing if you start getting overwhelmed at certain points.
Setting spiritual objectives
Pondering on the research you do can help you understand what the different rites signify and what they mean to you. Thinking about what you could get out of each experience can also help you plan and set out what you want to achieve.Once you know what you want to get out of your Hajj, you can see if there is anything you can to help you get closer to getting there. For example, if you want to read voluntary prayers during your pilgrimage, make the intention now and start trying to get into the habit of incorporating them in your daily worship. Similarly, if you want to work on the quality of your salah and dua, start trying now. We were given ‘Dua – The Weapon of the Believer’ by Yasir Qadhi which was a treasure trove of helpful advice on the etiquettes of making dua as well as practical tips on how to better connect with Allah (SWT) during this act of worship. If your goals relate to improving your character such as being more patient, then start addressing these now. Taking to steps to reconnect with Allah (SWT) as early as possible will help you immensely insha Allah.
Although many pilgrims extend their stay for longer, the Hajj rites themselves are spread out across approximately five days and they really do whizz by. The Hajj itself is a massive logistical operation and after being shuttled from place to place it can be easy to become distracted and lose your spiritual focus. Putting in the spiritual legwork beforehand can really help you stay connected insha Allah.
Highs and lows
That being said, don’t worry if you don’t have a religious epiphany when you go on Hajj. I read a lot of descriptive prose on Hajj in which phrases such as “life changing” and “journey of a lifetime” were used to describe the pilgrimage – and of course it is. It is an amazing opportunity for us to complete our religious obligation, seek forgiveness and repent for our sins. But from my experience it was life changing in a subtle way. Although it stressed me out initially – why was I not feeling what other sisters had wrote so eloquently about? – I came to realise that my experience was my own. And yours is too. Allah (SWT) guided me to make changes in exactly the areas of my life that I needed to and it wasn’t perhaps the sorts of areas that I had considered myself. The challenge is to strive against your nafs (base desires), put your trust in Allah, affirm that he knows us better than we know ourselves and start working to accept and implement these changes into your life.
Some people may be on cloud nine throughout their Hajj revelling in every challenge coming their way, happily accepting it as a necessity to come closer to Allah (SWT). Others may face uncomfortable truths about themselves, worry that they are too bad to be forgiven or have anxieties about their Hajj being accepted. We were constantly reminded that Shaytan will try and trick you with these feelings and dissuade you from turning back to Allah, especially on the Day of Arafat. We should always be optimistic of Allah’s forgiveness and ready to repent in the hope of being forgiven.
During our Hajj, we were reminded by our group leaders of the hadith of Abdullah ibn Al-Mubarak who asked Sufyan ibn al Uyaynah on the Day of Arafat: “Amongst the people who have gathered here for Hajj, who is in the worst state?” Sufyan ibn al-Uyaynah said, “He who thinks that Allah will not forgive him.” Allah’s mercy is boundless and we should constantly remind ourselves of this.
A final word…
We can only prepare so much for anything in life and leave the rest up to Allah (SWT). The same is true for Hajj. I pray insha Allah there is some benefit to be taken from these words and your Hajj is a beautiful experience full of reward and that it is accepted – Ameen.
Sana Ali works in political communications and is a freelance writer. She is trying to find her creative voice by writing articles offering reflections and advice with a firm intention to benefit other sisters, insha Allah.