Between hope and fear

My journey to Mecca to perform the Hajj had finally begun. As the plane took off from Detroit I felt a bit relieved, because there was a fear in my mind that perhaps I would not be able to make the trip for one reason or another. One thought that kept recurring in my mind was: Am I worthy of presenting myself in front of God. What if God revokes my invitation to be his “guest” due to all my sins. But then I would take comfort in the following: “O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of God. for God forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (Qur’an 39:53).  My fear was not completely allayed yet, because we still had a long way to go before reaching our final destination.

During the flight it would have been easier to pass the time by watching movies, listening to music, or reading a novel. But this was not an ordinary journey. I was on my way to the holy land. I couldn’t expect to just show up in front of the ‘house’ of God; glorify, praise, and worship him; pray to him for forgiveness with complete sincerity and concentration, and be accepted by him, if I kept myself busy in worldly things. Hajj requires spiritual, physical, and mental preparation starting from the day one decides to undertake it. It’s a bit like preparing for a final exam, or a championship game – letting yourself be distracted away from preparation could adversely affect the results. So the time available to us in the plane was spent reading the Qur’an, praying, reviewing the rites of Hajj, or just resting.

Dubai-3

Dubai

So many people fly to Saudi Arabia in the days immediately preceding Hajj that it is hard to get direct flights. Most people reserve their trips about six months in advance. But I, being a procrastinator, did not do so. Our flight to Saudi Arabia was quite circuitous. We flew from Detroit to Washington D.C. to London to Dubai. We arrived in Dubai late at night, about 20 hours after we had left Detroit. Our flight to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia was the next morning, so the airline provided us hotel rooms for the night.

The time we spent in Dubai made me think of the contrast between it and Makkah. Dubai has become a glittering city that attracts tourists and business people from all around the world, which is similar to how observant Muslims from the world over flock to Makkah. But unlike Makkah, Dubai is a place where people go to seek the world. It has miles of beaches along the Persian Gulf, shopping malls galore, every kind of resort imaginable (including the only indoor ski resort), the tallest building in the world, corporate headquarters, artificial islands, and much more. I did not want to be distracted by this man-made paradise and lose sight of my goal. To my surprise, I found myself the least bit interested in these worldly things.

Uncomfortably dressed

The next morning our group left the hotel in Dubai to go to the airport, where we were to board our flight to Jeddah. All the men in the group, including me, were now dressed in two sheets of un-stitched white cloth. One piece was tied around the waist and covered the lower part of the body, while the second piece was wrapped around the torso. Women wear their normal clothes, with only their faces, hands, and feet exposed.

For me it was the first time wearing this attire of pilgrimage, and it was the part I had dreaded the most. I felt so odd dressed like this, and I was so afraid that my lower cloth would fall off. The one thing that provided some comfort to me was that I was in a predominantly Muslim country. Everyone there knew that a Haaji dresses this way. In fact, I felt that people treated us with a bit more respect.

After wearing those two sheets for a while I got more comfortable in them, but never felt quite at ease until I had changed back into my regular clothes. When we got to Dubai airport, I saw many more people dressed just like me. Dubai is a major hub for air travel in the region, and many Haajis fly to Saudi Arabia via this city.

Since this was Hajj season, almost all the passengers on our flight to Jeddah were pilgrims. There was the large group of Australians, most of whom were of Lebanese or Egyptian ancestry, but with some white Australian converts. Another group was from Indonesia. As I would later find out, Indonesia sends the largest number of Haajis of any single country; which makes perfect sense since Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any country. I felt a strange bond with these people sitting around me in the airplane – we were all Haajis!

To be continued…