On Hajj & Its True Meaning

I pray that my message finds you in the most beautiful state of health and Iman. Please allow me share with you some reflections from Hajj. It has been three months exactly but during these difficult times, I find myself drawing strength from that beautiful journey.  I have always intended to go for Hajj, subconsciously at least. Every year when we hear stories from the intending and the returning pilgrims, I always said albeit softly to myself that I would love to make Hajj the very next year. Last year, was not one of those years. 
I remember after reading about the stampede and further the crane incident, there were lumps in my throat. Some told of how "lucky" the dead where as Allah would grant him immediate Jannah. I believe in His mercy AND (because I don't like to use the word 'but' if it threads on the path of understanding Allah's magnificence) I can only imagine, the pain of being trampled to death. I also shared my opinion about the need to regulate the number of pilgrims as it remains a struggle to control such crowd. Anyhow, I had no plans of going to Hajj at all this year.
Fast forward Ramadan 2016.  Alhamdulillah, I have a very flexible job and I try to limit my work load during Ramadan. I also try to take the last ten days off or as much of it as I need to reach my Ramadan goals. This Ramadan though, I wished to experience it in another environment. I wondered what Ramadan would be like outside of Southern California. I was in Turkey days before Ramadan and toyed with the idea of staying there for the first 10 days. However, my hosts in Bursa convinced me that perhaps Ramadan in America would be better after I described our amazing Southern California Muslim community. I decided to leave and came home just time for the first Tarawih.  A few days later, I got offered a small contract job in Minnesota. I hesitated at first. I never travel during Ramadan. But then I thought perhaps it was my opportunity to experience "another environment" in Ramadan. 
I had immense baraka in Minnesota. There is barakah in that state, I just want to mention it for those who live there. There is immense barakah in Minnesota and perhaps only someone who visits you can tell you.  I made a friend on the plane ride there, and in the short 7 days we spent together, she took Shahada, became Muslim and attempted the Hijab. Please make duah for her. She is a kind soul. I also met a lot of amazing people including some beautiful MAS sisters who opened their home to me. The barakah of Ramadan was truly overflowing. May Allah bless Minnesota.
Alhamdulillah, there was also immense baraka in my earnings. I wanted there to be a legacy for this Ramadan that was spent in "another environment." The idea crept up in my mind; what better way to spend 'Ramadan earnings' than to go for Hajj. The legacy of my work in Ramadan was going to be Hajj. I pronounced my intentions and Allah invited me.  It was the best decision I made. Hajj was amazing. Hajj is amazing. Its baraka is still with me as I write, Alhamdulillah.
In preparation, I read articles, watched videos and spoke to everyone I know who had made the journey before me. I got all kinds of advice ranging from what to pack and how to deal with the "expected unexpected."  The best advice I got was from, my mother and one of my teachers when I lived in Qatar. My mother said, in her frank and often truthful tone "How you are, you will find yourself in Hajj". I don't remember the exact words of my teacher but she promised that it was going to be as I "pronounced" it. I feared that I would get sick, that I would get the Hajj cough and perhaps it was going to be tough as many people recount.
 She asked me to think of what I wanted it to be. She advised that it would be a reflection of my life. That I did not have to get sick. She advised that I be open and free, that I be of service to people and that I go there bare, ready to worship Allah and serve those who had joined me in worship. She advised that I embrace the whole experience and take every bit of it as Allah's mercy, a message of His mercy. I took the advice seriously.
Yes, we spent over 7 hours waiting at the airport in Jeddah. Yes, we woke up to smoke from the bus' engine as the bus broke down in the middle of the highway on the way to Makkah. Yes, some people got their bags stolen inside the Haram. Yes, the tents in Minna were crowded and the bathrooms reminded you of life in the villages in need of the Peace Corps. Yes, the bread was hard as a rock and I wondered if they were left over from last year's Hajj. Yes the sound system was not so great so we had to listen to a summary of the Khutbah of Arafat and not the real thing from Sheikh Shuraim. Yes, we soaked in our own sweat as we went to throw stones at the Jamarat. Yes, we had to change hotels just a day before leaving Makkah. Yes, I missed out on a few 100,000 hajer as I did not get to pray all my salah at the Haram despite being right there. Yes, I did not get to go to Madina because the agent didn't make do on his promise. Yes Hajj was.... Hajj.
BUT Hajj was amazing.
Some of my companions were the most beautiful people. One of them was a young man who had been to Hajj too many times to count, yet he struggled with the fundamentals of this Deen. While we waited at the airport in Jeddah, we talked about Islam and shared the concepts of the higher objectives of this deen and the meanings behind rituals; this thing called Maqasid Al-Sharia. I was touched by his sincerity in admitting his struggles despite being on such a journey.
As I ran out of a bus filling with smoke, I practiced being calm and finding serenity. I started to read my Quran. I did not wince or moan for one minute as we waited, destitute on the road until they came to our rescue with gallons of water to cool the engine and NOT another bus as I would have expected.
I made friends with a lady that got her bag stolen at the haram. I gave her one of my prayer books and I found immense joy as I watched her read it during the early mornings in our tent in Minna. 
Those crowded bathrooms gave succor when I had a 24 hour episode of diarrhea. 
For the 5 days we spent in Minna, I did not eat the bread but it made me grow a sincere appreciation for choice. I had the choice to wait patiently for a lunch that I knew would come. And it came everyday without fail. Alhamdulillah.
The brother that gave the summary of the Khutbah also got a chance to infuse cultural relativity into his delivery. His rendition of the khutbah made a huge impact on a young Nigerian woman.
 I drank so much water during Hajj to offset the sweat that my skin indeed had a glow to it on my return home.
I made friends with a woman old enough to be my mother. We grew to love each other. She gave me the honor of relieving her of her Ihram. She left the camp in Mina before me but she waited for me to return, to join the group in Makka, to cut her hair. This love touched the depths of my heart.
As I helped hurl luggage from one hotel to another, I made friends along the way. I made friends with an old woman who made sincere duah for me as I helped her with her luggage up the stairs. Her grandson was strapped to her back and she struggled with him and their luggage. She was grateful for my help.
I served as the camp nurse for the group as the Saudi Authorities did not allow them bring their own private nurses. I missed a few salah in congregation because I was taking patients to the main hospital in Makkah or helping to translate for patients at the emergency hospital at the Haram. One woman in particular had severe bradycardia and we were trying to get her consent for heart surgery.  She feared she'd die in Makkah. However,  she did not want me to call her family. She said we were her family and responsible for her while on Hajj. Further she was confident in whatever decisions we made on her behalf. That woman had faith in her fellow Muslims. She touched my heart.
I really wanted to visit the Prophet's Mosque in Madina again (I have visited before during an Umrah trip). I could not make it and I reminded myself that I must be content with what is enough. I had observed the rituals of Hajj. It was enough. I must be content with what is enough. This is a lesson for life.
Hajj was amazing.
It is a fulfillment of a pillar of religion but there was something more that I understood about the pilgrimage from my own journey. I know that Hajj is a personal obligation but I believe it's meanings are about our shared responsibility towards one another in fulfilling that obligation. The journey is a reflection of life. 
Like my mother said, "How you are, you will find yourself in Hajj" I honestly don't know how I am. There is no way to truly know that. However, I know how I can be. Perhaps this is the deeper meaning that my mother and my teacher was trying to share with me.   Life is tough but we all can help each other meet life's obligations. We can be each other's helper as we journey through life.
Hajj was amazing. 
It was more amazing than the words above describe, if it did come through. I don't know if Allah accepted my Hajj, I sincerely pray that He does. But I know that I accepted the lessons, I just pray that I am always able to live it.  May Allah continue to be generous in His mercy towards us all (Amin)

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