Haj ... what a journey!

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WHEN I finally decided to perform Haj, few years ago, it was a holy journey into humanity. So many deep experiences, in so few days! Travel brings the best and the worst in people. Here, I must say, I only saw the best, most of the time.

I was hesitant about going to Haj that year, for the same reason that kept me away most of the last decade — giving first-time performers more space.

Then, all of a sudden, I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation that couldn’t be refused. A group of close friends were going, and I felt an irresistible urge to join them. They helped me get permission and organized the whole journey. It was a lifetime experience!

The young African was making her rounds in Muzdalifah selling tea and coffee. We were seven Hajis, and she had other multiple orders. As we were leaving, she came back a bit confused. “How much did you give me, sir?” she asked our group leader.

“Twenty riyals, that is more than the 16 riyals you deserve! What more do you want?” he answered, angrily. “No, I don’t want more!” she answered in a quiet voice, giving him back four riyals. “Actually, that is what I thought!.. You overpaid me!” she explained.

Now, he was embarrassed and full of guilt, especially with everyone looking at him accusingly. “I know, but I meant to give you more! Keep it, daughter!” he handed her back the returned money. She smiled and hesitated. “Are you sure? You only owe me 16!” When we all responded, “sure, sure, take it!” she prayed for us and took the four riyals.

That was amazing, we, thought. Drivers were charging SR100 for every seat in rundown, crowded buses to take Hajis few kilometers down the road. A lady was begging for a discount, promising to pray for the driver. “No need for your prayers! Pay me instead!” he sarcastically responded. And this poor girl was returning four riyals she wasn’t sure about.

Of course, not all drivers were the same. Friends told me of one who returned half the agreed fee because he couldn’t take them to their final destination. Half the way, he was diverted by a sudden change in the traffic system.

A young Saudi, with a brand-new Ford Explorer, took us almost all over Makkah to help us reach our friends’ place. Since he was local, he managed to get us around heavy traffic spots, and to find alternative routes.

The half hour he thought it would take to reach our destination turned into triple the time.

He didn’t ask for more or leave us half way, or even show his frustration. Instead, he kept us upbeat with his optimistic solutions and sweet smile. We compensated him, of course, but he deserved much more.

Mixing with crowds is quite a feast of enlightenment. Mixing with millions is an incredible one. You just never know what to expect when you get eye-to-eye and shoulder-to-shoulder with people from all over the world. All follow the same call and move towards the same goal — at the same time. It is an amazing feel of unity of purpose and strength of attachment.

I admired the way most security men treated us. They were helpful, kind and understanding. An Egyptian elderly person was distributing cups of cold water. When done, his smile was shining like the sunny day of Arafat.

A Pakistani sheikh had only few dates to give away, so he carefully chose the people he felt more in need. A little Indonesian girl was sent by her parents to ask if we would share their food. They were cooking and giving.

A Saudi boy had only one ice-cream box to distribute. The look of sadness, when he showed me his empty box as I asked for a piece, was touching. Almost all were giving, helping, sharing and praying for each other.

No matter how tired, hungry and thirsty, no one was complaining. Millions were moving, praying, helping and serving under unfriendly weather conditions, but I never heard anyone regretting being there.

We all felt privileged and lucky to be in the holiest place on earth, performing one of the greatest “tasks”, and enjoying the cleansing of our sins, enlightenment of our hearts and elevation of our souls.

My Haj journeys have always been the best I ever had. It is hard to express or explain the feelings in words. You have to be actually there to absorb them.

I pray for those who haven’t had the chance to perform Haj, to have it in the coming years. And I pray for those who perform Haj to be richly rewarded.

– Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com and followed on Twitter: @kbatarfi


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