Hajj Journal: Heading to Hajj
A recent college grad shares her thoughts on the beginning of the journey.
Su'ad Abdul-Khabeer, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Georgetown University, performed the Hajj, a pilgrimage that all Muslims are required to do. This article originally appeared on Beliefnet in 2001.
It's been confirmed. I'm on my way to Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the holiest city of Islam. All Muslims are required to perform Hajj at least once in their lives, if they can afford to. It is one of the Five Pillars of Islam--devotional acts required of all Muslims.
I was beginning to wonder if this Hajj journal would ever get written. The Saudi embassy was reluctant to grant me a visa because I would be traveling as a single woman. According to Saudi laws, Muslim women are supposed to travel with a mahram (an uncle, brother, or father) for safety considerations, but I think their interpretation only serves a certain class of Muslim women--which I find to be un-Islamic. After much frustration, I finally received the visa. I had truly been invited by God.
On Hajj, one visits the Ka'bah, the cube-shaped structure Muslims call the house of God. A hajja/hajji (pilgrim) has been invited on this journey by God, the Ultimate. Therefore, a hajja is literally a guest of God. Imagine that.
The pilgrimage started for me as soon as I got to the airport terminal at JFK. I felt a luggage cart biting into my ankles. I turned my head and an Egyptian woman was motioning for me to hurry up, as if there was anyplace I could move. I gave her the common Egyptian signal for patience and thought to myself, "I am still in America, but it's started already!"
"It" is the chaos and disorder of traveling in Arabic-speaking Africa and the Middle East. The Egypt Air boarding area was already like I'd entered a foreign country: the clamor of colloquial Egyptian Arabic, people pushing and shoving, cutting the line, trying to convince the agents to let them check just one more box, even though they had already checked eight pieces. Slight annoyances, but ones I was determined wouldn't annoy me; if I can't deal with a hundred people in an airport, how will I ever deal with millions of people on the Hajj?