It’s been exactly one year since I commenced my journey to Hajj, and as Hajj season is underway again I’m left reminiscing and reflecting on the experience and the year that has passed. A part of me has been procrastinating writing this post – I’m not sure why – maybe because to put it to paper would be to culminate the incredible journey to an end? Maybe because it’s hard to put into words such a remarkable experience?
The fact that I was even at Hajj was a huge deal for me. Me? I was invited to His house? The most holy place on this entire earth, and Allah (S) sent me a personal invitation? There were people who had saved money their entire lives, who year after year, make the intention to go only to be turned away, people who literally walk to Hajj (yes, they walk old school Ibn Battuta style). So I want to preface this reflection with the very sincere and humble sense of gratitude that I was even able experience this once in a lifetime journey.
Looking back, the experience was a series of very poignant moments of clarity, of tremendous spirituality, and of course rigorous physical ibadah (acts of worship). The journey started in Medina Munawara, at Masjid An-Nabawi, or the Prophet’s mosque. Now let me begin by saying that I was blessed enough to perform Hajj with my husband and father. My father being my Hajj leader (He leads a group with Adams Travel each year, shoutout to Group 4A!) and although I was there with my husband and father, as a woman, I was separated from them for most of the trip. So in Medina, I was on my own as I ventured my way to the women’s section of the mosque.
Sitting inside the Prophet’s mosque in and of itself was incredible. This was my first time in Saudi Arabia, so all of this was a new experience for me. As we took the bus into our hotel I caught glimpses of the glorious mosque in between buildings – and I saw those beautiful umbrella’s you always see in photos. I felt like a child - giddy and exuberant. Walking up to the mosque, I was alone, extremely overwhelmed and disoriented. Asr prayer had just ended so there was a huge rush of people exiting the mosque. I managed to ask a woman where the women’s section was and made my way over. As I sat down I instantly felt a wave of calm rush over me. Something in the air was different, something just felt so right. The nervousness of not being fully prepared for Hajj completely washed away.
After Friday prayer the second day in Medina, I pushed my way through the crowds to find a place to sit and read my du’as. I sat down in one spot, but it quickly became crowded, so I got up and moved to a second spot, then moved for a third time and finally settled in and started reading. A woman was laying down next to me. She looked at me and asked, “Are you going to the rowdah?” (The rowdah is the area of the original mosque, next to which is the house of Aisha (RA) where the Prophet (S) is buried). Flashback to a week before leaving for Hajj, one of my beloved friends called me to give me a “Hajj 101” talk and I remembered her in that moment as she advised me, “Nothing is a coincidence at Hajj - even the people you sit next to has wisdom.” “No, I think I’ll go after Isha' – it’ll be too crowded now,” I replied to the mystery woman. “Go now – you’re just reading anyway – go while you have time.” Feeling that this was some divine encounter I remembered my friend and listened to the woman. Now, keep in mind I have no idea what the rowdah protocol was – how it worked, where to go – what to do even. I literally just learned the word “rowdah” days earlier. So I sat and waited.
After some time, I heard a huge rush and looked up and thought – this must be it! I got up and followed the crowd. Luckily I’m a pretty small and agile person so I managed to squeeze myself through the sea of women all making their way [read: running] to the rowdah. I found myself in a courtyard and saw the green dome where I knew the Prophet (S) was buried. My heart skipped a beat – was I really going to get to send my salams to the Prophet (S)? What have I done to deserve this moment? I wiped a tear from my cheek and kept going – now was not the time to get emotional.
I found myself being carried by the crowd – it was intense and judging by the hysteria among the women I knew the rowdah was near. I kept looking down for that green carpet (once you see the green carpet you know you’re in the actual rowdah) and there it was – the glorious green carpet – but something in me kept pushing – and besides that, I felt that if I stopped there to pray my two rakah’s someone would’ve legitimately stepped on my head. The women were pushing their way to the front so hard that little fights would erupt. People were shouting, elbows were being thrown, belongings were flying in the air – it was absolute chaos. I distinctly remember being scratched and also elbowed (or kneed?) pretty hard. Despite the chaos I was trying to be as patient and calm as possible, but at that moment your base instincts kick in – there was a young girl crying as she was smothered by the crowd and I yelled for people to get back (I wondered if it was wrong that I raised my voice).
After a lot of struggling (and waiting for people who take their sweeeeet time praying two rakah after two rakah) I finally made my way to the very front where a white partition separates us from the actual tomb. I managed to pray my two rakat (ok I prayed four) in the tiniest little space my small body could take up. The second I put my head to the ground - something phenomenal happened. All the noise and chaos around me sounded like muffled noise and I instantly zoned out in du'a and concentrated on the salams I was sending to the Prophet (S). It's easy to get carried away in this moment, wanting to have a deep and intense conversation with him (S) and tell him how much you love him (S). It was like being transported to a totally different place and you completely forget about the utter mayhem ensuing behind you.
It was extremely emotional – just thinking about the fact that the Rasool (S)’s unchanged body was right in front of me/beneath me was so overwhelming and surreal. Every other important moment in my life paled in comparison to the few minutes I spent praying on that green carpet. Everything else – my entire life was like living in 1-D but being there and having that experience was different – it was like another dimension was opened up and I experienced something on a level I never had before. It was the sweetest moment of my life.
As I walked out I prayed again in the exit area because I kept feeling like my few rakat weren’t sufficient and more realistically, a part of me didn’t want to leave. My heart was attached and I got so emotional at the thought of leaving that I sat down next to a pillar at the exit and finished reading the du’as that I was reading when I initially sat next to that mystery woman. Funnily enough I still had those printed papers (they were the du’as that my friends had all given me before I left) clutched in my hand. When I first heard that rush I didn’t have time to put them away and throughout everything there they were, clenched between my fists. Perhaps it was those du’as - the powerful supplications my friends had poured their hearts out for that gave me the strength to keep going - to pray in the most holiest of places to Allah (S) to answer all these du'as.
Stay tuned for Part II, the journey to Mecca…