When I was in seventh grade, my family decided to embark on hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. When I first found out I was going on hajj, I was exhausted after a long day of junior high. My mom had picked me up from school that day, and she told me that I was to miss a month of school. At 12 years old, I was receiving the opportunity to trek to the other side of the world, stay in Saudi Arabia and complete the spiritual and religious journey that is the hajj. While my parents were the ones who funded the trip and decided to take me, I wanted to go on this journey after hearing about the experience from relatives, in Sunday school and in pictures from my textbooks.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is obligatory that every Muslim complete hajj at least once during their lifetime. Therefore, every year, during the month of Dhul-Hijja in the Islamic calendar, millions of Muslims travel to Saudi Arabia to carry out hajj. Its purpose is for Muslims to be able to gather together in a series of events, renew their senses of purpose and spirituality, and perform a series of rituals to absolve past sins and receive a fresh start.
After a day of rest from the grueling flight from Los Angeles, California, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, we went to al-Masjid al-Haram (the Sacred Mosque). As I entered the Masjid, I looked around at the dazzling marble and the pillars with golden decorations. After walking for a bit, I first saw the Kaaba, the small stone building in the middle of the court of the mosque, and I stood astounded by its beauty. My eyes followed the golden inscriptions of the Quran, and even from a distance, I was taken aback. It is said that the first dua (prayer) you make when seeing the Kaaba for the first time is especially listened to, and remembering this, I made a prayer myself. In my day-to-day life now, whenever I turn to face the Kaaba in my home mosque for prayer, I can still see the Kaaba that I saw on that day.
After staying in Mecca for a week, we headed to Medina, where I had the opportunity to visit the graves of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his companions, including Hazrat Abu Bakr and Hazrat Umar. As we visited the various graves, I was reminded of all that I had learned in Sunday school about what these figures had done. On hajj, I found myself walking the same grounds that the Prophet had walked, honored by his memory, and felt a deepening connection toward my religion. After staying at Medina, we headed to Mina.
In Mina, we lived in tents, and every person was robed in ihram, so there was no differentiating the rich from the poor. Everyone was equal in the eyes of God and had come here for the same reason: to worship. From Mina, we proceeded to Mount Arafat, where it is said that dua is most accepted.
Arafat is significant and is considered to be the culminating event of the entire pilgrimage. Mount Arafat is where worshippers are absolved of their past sins. Arafat is known for being where the Prophet gave his last sermon during his last year of life. It was during our time here that I, along with the other Muslims completing hajj alongside me, fell into prayer, repenting past sins and making new plans. Despite the intense heat, almost everyone was absorbed in reading duas, hoping for salvation. After Arafat, we went to Muzdalifah, an area near Mecca where we spent a part of the night collecting pebbles that we would later use to throw at three pillars representing the devil. For the next three days, we stoned the three pillars just as Prophet Ibrahim was tempted by the devil three times.
As the time of hajj came to an end, we had to finish one last act, Tawaf al-Wida, circling the Kaaba as a sort of farewell. To be able to experience hajj in seventh grade gave me great insight on my religion from a young age. This hajj was not only my first hajj, but also the first hajj of my parents. In fact, most people do not complete hajj until much later in life. It had been a dream of mine to be able to go, and there was a lot I was able to take away from the journey. Witnessing the presence of our Ummah, listening to sermons from some of the most prominent scholars in Islam and going through the various components of Hajj were both uplifting and enlightening.