Today is the last day of Hajj. It’s 10 a.m. in New York, and I am waiting to hear from you. You will be returning from the Jamaraat after the third and final throwing of the stones. I hope it was not too crowded. Ever wondered what happens to all those pebbles? Three million pilgrims throwing 21 pebbles three days in a row?
11:00 a.m. Just got your text message. All praise be to God. You have one more rite to perform—the Farewell Tawaaf at the Kaaba, and then you are done.
HAJJ MUBARAK! You are now a Hajji. May God accept your hajj, your prayers, and bless you with spiritual bliss. Ameen.
You must be exhausted. Do you feel it? Or is it a sense of peace?
In this moment, I can’t help but reflect on the hajj experience of pilgrims over the centuries.
Then And Now
I had read Michael Wolfe's 'A Thousand Roads to Mecca' before going for Hajj-- a compilation of travelogues of Hajjis. He relates that a thousand years ago, it took people over a year to get to Mecca. They would come from all parts of the world, and travel along the pilgrim routes, on camel back, in caravans. Many never made it. They traded along the way, took up jobs, made some money, and then resumed their travel. Those without means, survived on the charity and hospitality of their host countries. Men of learning were engaged by the courts of ruling Sultans and by institutions of learning, where they shared their knowledge, and brought back their experiences. These men (lawyers, scholars, writers, scientists, explorers) were welcome where ever they went; such was the thirst for learning. They were raided by bandits, taken sick, and they continued on with the journey until they reached Mecca. They would live in Mecca for several months, sometimes for a year, before beginning the journey back home. Some never made it back, and their families were left wondering and living with the pain and loss. If we think the world is small now, it was small a thousand years ago, just slower. Sariah’s or travel lodges were set up along the pilgrim routes where centers of learning were established, and each learned from the other. When the pilgrims left after each brief stay, they were provided provisions, guides and guards. When I read about the challenges that these people faced and the hardships that they endured en route for Hajj, and the charity of the individuals who came to their aid, I am embarrassed at the trivia that we indulge ourselves in. When we were making a decision on which agent to engage for the Hajj, we were getting picky over the quality of washroom facilities, air-conditioned bus, the meal plan…. In preparing for travel, we are getting anxious over, ‘am I going to be hot in the day? Am I going to be cold at night? Do I need a blanket? Should I keep my pillow? Should I keep an extra pair of shades, just in case? In days gone by, people said their goodbyes, knowing that the next time they connect with their families, will be in person when they return. If they return. The thought of a portable phone charger was millennials away.
And look at you now! Not only travel made easy and short, but connectivity with family back home. I know where my son is at this very moment—well almost; I can see you on Facebook with your shiny bald head digging into those donuts. I can see that you listened to mummy and wore the mask. I am wondering if you used hand sanitizer. Ah, but you are holding the donut with the waxed paper. Thank you, technology! Beyond relief and being utterly grateful, I marvel at the spirit of those who undertook the pilgrimage in days gone by. God must have prepared a special place for them in paradise.
Son, Dad and I will be waiting for you at JFK airport in the Arrivals Hall, eager to embrace you and take in your energy. Have a safe flight back.
Audio book available, narrated by author: