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There is something about stepping foot into a foreign land and seeing its history, culture and traditions come alive. There is something about connecting with someone from another place. There is something about understanding that we are so different, yet all the same. Wherever I go, even if language barriers may exist between us, there is still beauty in the way we connect with each other and it fascinates me that there is a universal language that everyone understands: kindness.

One of the tips I would suggest to anyone going to Hajj is to remember that people are coming from all over the world. Some people have worked all their lives to afford the trip. Be kind to everyone, and be patient. The reason I emphasize on this is because dealing with people you come across is difficult. There are people coming from all walks of life, adapting to living with strangers, and constantly being around people you don't know is extremely hard, especially when each have a personality of their own. Giving charity while in Hajj is also recommended, as it can be very rewarding and enhance your experience.

It won't be easy and you have to keep a mental note of that prior to your trip. It is emotionally, physically and mentally challenging. It is not a vacation. It is a journey you need to prepare for. The intention needs to be there. You need to enter the state of ritual purity (ihram). No matter how many people describe the journey, it's not something you can understand until you personally experience it. It is not the same for everyone. I share my personal story with you, in hopes of giving you a better idea of what may come your way.

When I went to Hajj, I wasn't sure what to expect or how to feel. I was feeling nervous knowing that I had to share a room with complete strangers for 3 weeks. Part of me felt like it will be okay. Little did I know how challenging it would be. The most important thing you need to know and that nobody tells you is that the challenges start the moment you leave home, not when you get there.

If I had to describe how Hajj feels like in short, it would be this:

Crowds like I've never seen before. Heat like I've never felt before. The test of patience like I've never experienced before. Sick like never before. Living with strangers, seeing poverty everywhere I went, learning about the history of those who came before me and walking in their footsteps. Too many feelings and experiences to put into words. Overwhelming, yet an unforgettable and beautiful transformative journey of a lifetime.

What is Hajj?

Embarking on the sacred journey of Hajj is a profound spiritual experience, a pilgrimage that millions of Muslims undertake every year, during the holy month of Dhul Hijjah, the 12th month in the Islamic calendar. It's a journey that transcends geographical distances, connecting believers to the heart of Islam and their faith. Hajj is one of best acts of worship and it is the fifth pillar of Islam. It's a call to leave behind the comforts of home and embark on a journey of self-discovery and spiritual enlightenment.

What can you expect?

Preparing for Hajj involves both physical and spiritual readiness. Engage in rituals of purification, cleanse your heart and mind of worldly distractions. It's a time of reflection, repentance, and seeking forgiveness. As much as possible, try to detach from material possessions and focus solely on the worship of Allah. Keep your phone off or on silent.

Since Hajj draws millions of Muslims every year and the event takes place once, annually, you can expect a huge crowd. You may have visited the Holy Land at other times of year, but when it comes to Hajj season, things are different. The crowd can feel suffocating.

I suggest going to Umrah at least once if possible, before going for Hajj. It will give you a better idea of how to perform the rituals. However, beyond Umrah, Hajj has more to it, including spending several nights in a tent at the Mina camp, going to the plains of Arafat, then heading to Muzdalifah, where you will spend a night under the stars.

The Great Mosque, Masjid Al Haram is the biggest one in the world. One day we found ourselves on the roof of the mosque and it took us forty minutes to get from there, back to the hotel (which was supposed to be a five minute walk). You can surely expect to get lost if you're not sure where you're heading, so it's always a good idea to have a main point of guidance. That for me, is the clock tower. I just look up and follow my steps back to it. ⠀⠀⠀⠀

Staying in Mina, the largest camp in the world, was something completely out of my comfort zone. The space given was restricted, the way of life was different. We had to leave our luggage in the storage and bring with us only a small bag and carry-on with the essentials we need for our time in Mina. Suddenly I had to learn to adapt to the environment I was in.

In our tents in Mina, we shared the space with over 15 women coming from all over the world. There wasn't much space in the room, once everyone got ready to sleep. Sometimes it's hard to adapt, as you may find it hard to sleep if someone else is snoring loudly, or wants to keep the light on, or read out loud. Our space was limited in the tent, since we had a single sofa which turned into a bed at night.

As the showers and washrooms are part of a shared space with the other women, you can expect long line ups. We had buffets for every meal, but I tried to avoid eating a lot. Instead, I survived mainly on Cliff energy bars. I wanted to avoid the risk of getting food poisoning, since it was uncomfortably hot out and the food at the buffet was out for hours. I especially avoided meat and salads.

Mount Arafat, also known as the Mount of Mercy, is considered a fundamental part of Hajj, and standing on the plains of Arafat is one of the essential rituals of Hajj. It holds significant importance as it is where Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) Farewell Sermon was delivered. The day spent at Arafat is regarded as a day of forgiveness and supplication. It is believed that sincere repentance and prayers offered on this day can lead to spiritual purification and the forgiveness of sins.

Arafat serves as a powerful symbol of unity among Muslims from diverse backgrounds, as millions of pilgrims gather in one place, dressed in simple white garments (ihram), symbolizing equality and humility before God.

On the day of Arafat, I would recommend not eating too much (again, to not fall ill from the food and to avoid feeling sleepy after eating). Instead, I'd recommend bringing small snacks to keep you energized. Avoid interacting with others, and spend the day in worship. Keep the day for yourself and focus on you. I would advise to prepare a du'a list in advance to ensure you don't miss anything and you are more prepared to maximize your time.

Rain is perceived as a sign of mercy in Islam. We were extremely blessed to get a bad storm on the day of Arafat. It rained heavily for hours, and though I was safe and kept dry under the tent, it was not long until the strong winds knocked down some of the tents. I sat on the sofa without moving, but noticed the light on top of my head swinging. I thought it would fall on me at any point and I would die, but I still didn't move. "What better place to die?", I thought to myself. Upon exiting Arafat later that day, and seeing the damages to the tents reminded me of the power of God, and how everything can change in the blink of an eye. The winds knocked down many tents, especially the luxurious ones.

After spending the day at Arafat, we moved to Muzdalifah to spend the night before heading to Mina for the symbolic stoning of the devil (Rami). The best sleep I had was in Muzdalifah. We slept outdoors, along with millions of other people, under the stars. No tents. The most challenging part of it for me were the washroom facilities. Although there are washrooms accessible, they get dirty quickly given it's the same washroom being used by thousands of people. If you are like me and hate public washrooms, avoid drinking/eating much on the day you are going to Muzdalifa, to not have to use them.

For the 3 days following this beautiful night, we engaged in the stoning ritual, where we threw the pebbles we had collected in Muzdalifah to the 3 pillars at Jamarat. When we got there, the escalators were down and we had to go up more than 300 steps. I wanted to cry when I saw it, as I did not know how I would make it upstairs, but there is ease that is sent down even during trials and it is especially visible in Hajj. Afterwards, it is recommended to sacrifice an animal (you can also have this done on your behalf), usually a sheep, goat, cow, or camel, symbolizing obedience to God. The meat is distributed to the needy.

The pilgrimage ends with another circling of the Kaaba. Men often shave their heads. For women, clipping a portion of the hair is enough. This final step gets you out of the state of Ihram and signifies renewal. The tawaf was extremely hard for me, and again, I felt like I was going to die. As I attempted to get closer to the Kaaba to touch it, I slowly got crushed by the crowd and kept having people pushing me around. It felt suffocating.

We ended our final days of Hajj back at Mina, before heading onwards to Madinah for the remaining of our trip. Madinah was the perfect place to relax following our tiring journey.

Physically back home, mentally and emotionally still stuck in the Holy Land. Going for Hajj moves you, and you come back different. Every year after that, when the time comes around for the pilgrimage again, you start feeling sad for not being there, but you remember it again, and it feels like you get to live it over and over again, every year.

A trip that cannot be compared to anything else. But I would do it all over again, despite all the trials that come along the way.

Have you been to Hajj? Let me know.

If you are planning to do so, please don't forget me in your prayers!


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