My First Hajj


By Farah El-Sharif

hajj photo

Our journey began with the intention of ihram: “I’ve made my skin, my hair, and my nails sacred for You, Allah.” Even as I was getting ready to travel to Mecca from my bedroom in hilly Amman, Jordan, I still couldn’t believe that I was about to make the most important journey of my life. Was I ready enough? Do I even deserve this opportunity? Wasawes I thought; “this is written for me. It’s my naseeb, and I am grateful. Ya Rab! Help me make the most out of it and focus.”

Qibla-bound, we first stopped in Jeddah. I tried to remain indifferent to the lavishness of the glitzy port-city. Instead, I was excited by the prospect of completing umrah under the clear, starry nights of Mecca. This has long been a fantasy of mine. I hoped that we would arrive in Mecca after midnight so that we could perform tawaf in the cool, crisp night air when anxiety-inducing concepts such as “late” and “early” do not exist. Despite delay after delay in our journey, we piled onto a bus and left Jeddah by midnight, destined for Mecca. We recited resoundingly into the darkness of the age-old city, “Labayka Allahumma labayak! Labayka la sharika laka labayk!” (“I answer your call, O God, I answer your call!). This was the very call that Abraham, the Father of the Prophets, was asked to make. I felt proud to be fulfilling this ancient duty. I thought to myself: do Jews and Christians know how much Islam teaches love their prophets, Abraham, Jesus and Moses too? If they knew Muhammad like we know him, they would love him too.

Having booked our accommodations late, the hotel we managed to find wasn’t exactly the type that left you a mint on your pillow, but it was clean and friendly. I was afraid that a five-star, glitzy hajj would detract from the spiritual aesthetics of Mecca and diminish my experience as a pilgrim. In the coming days, I came to see our hotel as a palace (really, it was called the White Palace Hotel) relative to the living situation of most of the pilgrims we saw, who found nightly shelter on the bare cold rocks of the hajj trail.

Walking to the Masjid al-Haram, I felt like a nervous bride, anxious to see her groom for the first time on their wedding day. It was exhilarating to be conscious of entering an immediate portal to the Divine. I asked my Mama to hold my hands and walk me to the Ka’abah with my eyes closed so that, when I opened them, I would see it there, fully and in all its majesty, before me.

When Mama said “We’re here, open your eyes,” my lips mumbled a little prayer and my eyes gushed uncontrollably. It was as if my entire life was leading up to that moment. I felt like I had known this place since birth; like it had been waiting for me, perhaps because I turned my face to it five times, every day. As if pulled by a magnetic field, I began to float in circles around it and praised my Creator and Sustainer for inviting me here. My heart fluttered, and I felt wiped clean with the wings of angels. I had never felt such joy in my life! I prayed for the eternal joy of this ummah, my extended Muslim family. And I thought about how elegant and sophisticated my creed was for enjoining such a gentle physical ritual in complete unity alongside the river of blessed water in this otherwise scorching desert!

After tawaf, I prayed behind the Maqam of Abraham (peace be upon him) and went to collect zamzam water for myself and my mother. I went to the nearest water station without realizing that there were designated stations for women to get zamzam. A brother snapped at me when I tried to stand in line behind the men: “Men only, lady!” I replied defiantly, “It’s all the same, brother.” He laughed and said “No, it’s not!”

By then I was surrounded by a crowd of men and felt embarrassed by the man’s remarks. This being the Haram, chivalry found its way and another man kindly offered to pour me a cup-full while I retreated to the back. I thought about the otherwise open atmosphere that allowed for the mixing of the sexes here and compared them to those of mosques in most Muslim-majority communities; there a woman would not be welcomed into the main space of the mosque as she is in the House of God. Despite the men-only water stations and many a pushy religious police’s attempts to keep women in the back during prayers, the imprints of Wahhabi patriarchy could not penetrate these walls, thankfully.

Next, I performed sai between the hills of Safa and Marwa . I could now call myself a mu’tamirah – one who has completed umrah. The following day, I was set for Arafah. The day before arafat is called tarwiyah, and it is the day pilgrims begin to settle into Mina. But since it is not a mandatory rite, we spent the day in Mecca. In Arabic, tarwiyah can mean “quenching” and, appropriately, the dryness of our day in Mecca and Jeddah was quenched by heavy rainfall. This was perhaps one of the most memorable afternoons of my journey.

I left our hotel to catch dhuhr prayer at the Haram when suddenly a light pitter-patter fell from the sky. By the time the adhan sounded off, thousands of pilgrims were circumambulating under a heavy downpour. The Holy Masjid was cleansed, as if in preparation for the hajj crowds. It was an incredible experience to hear takbeers and tahleels through the rain with my head on the cold, wet marble before the drenched black House. Like a shower from Heaven itself, that rainy day in Mecca was both miraculous and merciful but, above all it was beautiful.

By nightfall, it was time for us to reenter our sacred state of ihram and proceed to Arafah, the mountain where Adam and Eve first “arafah” – literally “came to know” – one another, and where the beloved Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him, gave his historic last sermon. “Hajj is Arafah”, as the Prophet proclaimed, and after seeing the mountain during the day, it was easy to understand why it defines hajj. Two million Muslims from all over the world with different social, cultural and economic backgrounds left their homes behind and journeyed to this scorching desert mountain for one purpose and one purpose only: to fulfill the call of their one God. I listened to the khutbah of Arafah from Namirah mosque and admired the general themes: “the ummah of Muhammad needs to unite! …Terrorism has no place in Islam! …Return to the true teachings of your religion and you will succeed! …Be clean, save the earth!” What powerful messages for a powerful audience.

The diversity of all humankind lay before me on Arafah. The sight was so awe-inspiring that even a non-believer would not help but feel overwhelmed when considering the magic of it. It is said that after Asr time on Arafah day, God Himself descends to the earth and boasts of his loving pilgrims to the angels! A complete yet glorious surrender of hearts happens here a million fold, and with it brings promises of paradise and a new-born state of purity. I saw old men and young children beaming with joy after the call to maghrib came in. We flowed down the mountain in unison in what is called the nafrah, excited for our newly acquired “clean slates”. We were all sons and daughters of Adam, and we rejoiced in the great steps towards heaven that we made together that day.

Next, we went to Mina to throw the first seven jimars of Aqaba. I did not expect the act of throwing stones to be so fulfilling! My arm felt powerful when I threw pebbles at a figurative Devil. The mere act of stoning was much more than cursing the devil: it was an expression of our collective choice to live, without compromise, a sinless life to the best of our abilities. I pledged to be more vigorous in my own struggle against sin and temptation. I was going to stop backbiting and complaining once and for all!

The move from Mina to Mecca was heavy and surreal. After all, saying goodbye to a loved one is never easy. As a final treat, we arrived in Mecca after midnight and I could do my last tawaf at night once more. Bidding this wondrous city farewell, I prayed for the opportunity to make this life-changing journey at least once more. As a twenty-two year old with many passions, I knew that my life was destined for many more changes, challenges and opportunities. Despite any apprehension I felt, I found great solace in knowing that I will always have my “sophisticated creed” to guide me along the way. Hajj made this realization all the more strong. At a time when I felt so unaccomplished still, I felt like I mastered the greatest accomplishment of all: to live by the reminder that even when my face is not turned towards the qibla, my compass should forever point towards the Almighty and Him alone.

Farah El-Sharif is a graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service where she majored in Culture and Politics with a concentration in Islam and Colonialism studies. She currently resides in Amman, Jordan with her family.




  • rimasaifi

    Congratulations Hajja:) Reading your piece really made my day ! Gave me a lot of hope to go through it myself.And I would say it was the most heartwarming article I read about Hajj. Thank you

  • ramseytesdell

    sounds like a powerful experience.

    has anyone watched, le grand voyage? I think that is also a powerful experience of a father/son heading on hajj.

  • http://ammanis.wordpress.com/ MK

    Beautifully written. Hajjan mabroran wa sa'yan mashkoran.

    Favorite line: 'like it had been waiting for me, perhaps because I turned my face to it five times, every day'.

    :)

  • http://twitter.com/bonbonloverr bonbonloverr

    BEAUTIFUL! What a surreal description of such a spiritual experience! Hajjeh Farah, I'm so jealous of you halla2!
    Hope I'd be able to embark on the Hajj journey some time soon in my life, inshalla.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaden.abdulrahman Shaden Abdul-Rahman

    It seems like a powerful experience. You made me want to go through everything you've talked about as soon as possible!

  • Um Omar

    Allah yazeek al khair for your wonderful prose! MashAllah. InshAllah your prayers and dua'a will be answered on this magical journey. You have made us all hungry to attempt the same voyage, Sister. May Allah reward you!

  • Musa Alshuqairi

    Since you chose to share your experience with us, please allow me to ask you a few questions:
    -With an age limit on people participating in Hajj, how did you end up with one of the very few Hajj spots available for Jordanians at the age of 22?
    -Throughout your experience, did you encounter any feelings that some Hajj practices has strong pagan rituals feel to them (the fulfilling act of throwing stones or the floating around the Kaabeh while angels washed the heart) – especially that most of them where performed in the same exact manner pre-Islam?

  • Zein Abu Hassan

    Farah my dear … I couldn't stop crying :) Allah yirda 3aleiki ya rab! Ya zeenet il banat inti! Mashallah 3aleiki … May God the Almighty bless me with the same wisdom and strength.

  • farahelsharif

    Thank you all for your kind comments and for taking the time to read my writings. Sharing excerpts from my hajj experience doesn't do the magnitude of the pilgrimage itself justice: for those who long to go, I pray that you may be able to go on hajj yourselves one day. Make the intention!

    @ Musa Alshuqairi: I sense that my “choice” of sharing this with you did not enthuse you like everybody else =) Thank you for your questions and above all, for humbling me. I'll try my best to answer them.
    - I forged my papers of course!. like any desperate pilgrim would do, I'm going to hajj, so bribing a govt. official is halal, right? (joke, long story, but let's just say I was invited… I got very lucky.)
    - I never once felt like I was performing empty rituals reminiscent of pre-Islamic pagan practices. Orientalists and skeptics often use this correlation to make hajj seem like an ancient, backward practice that their misinformed brand of Islam commands. In reality though, Islam is a creed of action, and not mere pacifism, soothsaying or heresy. The physical act of cirumbulating or throwing stones are therefore not measured for their mere ritualistic value, but their spiritual one. As a practicing Muslim, I believe in the Divine revelation of the Qur'an and the enlightened message that Muhammad brought to mankind; this entails obliging the commands therein. Hajj is one of those commands – Islam came to eradicate the ills of paganism, and DEROUTE its practices to enjoin the worship of a One God. So it really isn't about throwing stones or kissing a stone — I could care less about the stones (إنك حجر أصم لا تعقل ولا تنفع ولا تضر) . It's about the instrument of the material as a portal to the Divine. If you read Arabic, please refer to this link for more on the theological value of Hajj in Islam and even some of it's scientific revelations:http://islamtoday.net/nawafeth/artshow-92-10920.htm

    Hope this helps. Peace!

  • farahelsharif

    Thank you all for your kind comments and for taking the time to read my writings. Sharing excerpts from my hajj experience doesn't do the magnitude of the pilgrimage itself justice: for those who long to go, I pray that you may be able to go on hajj yourselves one day. Make the intention!

    @ Musa Alshuqairi: I sense that my “choice” of sharing this with you did not enthuse you like everybody else =) Thank you for your questions and above all, for humbling me. I'll try my best to answer them.
    - I forged my papers of course!. like any desperate pilgrim would do, I'm going to hajj, so bribing a govt. official is halal, right? (joke, long story, but let's just say I was invited… I got very lucky.)
    - I never once felt like I was performing empty rituals reminiscent of pre-Islamic pagan practices. Orientalists and skeptics often use this correlation to make hajj seem like an ancient, backward practice that their misinformed brand of Islam commands. In reality though, Islam is a creed of action, and not mere pacifism, soothsaying or heresy. The physical act of cirumbulating or throwing stones are therefore not measured for their mere ritualistic value, but their spiritual one. As a practicing Muslim, I believe in the Divine revelation of the Qur'an and the enlightened message that Muhammad brought to mankind; this entails obliging the commands therein. Hajj is one of those commands – Islam came to eradicate the ills of paganism, and DEROUTE its practices to enjoin the worship of a One God. So it really isn't about throwing stones or kissing a stone — I could care less about the stones (إنك حجر أصم لا تعقل ولا تنفع ولا تضر) . It's about the instrument of the material as a portal to the Divine. If you read Arabic, please refer to this link for more on the theological value of Hajj in Islam and even some of it's scientific revelations:http://islamtoday.net/nawafeth/artshow-92-10920.htm

    Hope this helps. Peace!

  • malk

    You are an abject serf. You have just described the essence of the master-slave relationship.

  • strangerinastrangeworld

    Elf salams.

    O Malk, we are all slaves. The only question is, who is our master?

    the Divine Presence, or
    that one who aims only to block our path

    Your choice.