Makkah - The religious and spiritual journey known as the hajj is both awe-inspiring and exhausting.
The five-day hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars and this pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia involves moving between different parts of the sacred city.
Makkah is regarded as sacred because it is home to the Kaaba, the house of Allah that Prophet Ebrahim built. The hajj retraces the footsteps of Ebrahim and his wife, Hajira, back when present-day Arabia was no more than a desert.
It was Islam’s Prophet Muhammad who first showed his early converts how to retrace Ebrahim’s moments of spiritual growth, which would become the rituals of the hajj. Much like Ebrahim reached closer proximity to Allah because of his steadfastness - including against Satan, of course - the hajj is meant to be a journey for the pilgrim’s spiritual wellbeing.
More than that, it is obligatory for every Muslim to perform the hajj at least once in their lives if they have the means to do so.
On Saturday, the hajj started at the Kaaba with a circumnambulation called tawaaf. Pilgrims then move from Makkah to nearby Mina for the night.
The second day of the hajj is the most important part of the journey. In Arabic, it is called Youm al-Arafat or The Day of Arafat.
It entails pilgrims moving to Jabal Rahma, a hill where Prophet Muhammad delivered his last sermon, in an area called Arafat.
On this day, Muslims believe Allah hands them a clean slate, that their sins are forgiven and they are living like a newborn baby. The pilgrim is required to remain in Arafat on the second day until sunset praying, asking for forgiveness and seeking closeness to Allah.
Hearts burst with regret and tears flow like fountains throughout Arafat. Pilgrims know this day is like no other. It is their chance to return to their true state of purity.
Of course it comes with challenges. The heat is oppressive, not all pilgrims show patience with each other, there is a lot of pushing to get to the next station on the hajj route. And people travel on foot, the roofs of buses, in cars and by any means possible.
The timelines and locations of hajj are rigid in the sense that if you miss Arafat, for example, you have missed out on your hajj.
For other actions that are contrary to the hajj rules or require changing its course somewhat, you would likely be liable to fast or sacrifice an animal to feed the poor as compensation.
On a spiritual level, the hajj offers a chance to find our more about yourself. When you are on Jabal Rahma or circumnambulating the Kaaba and you’re in conversation with Allah - perhaps about all the things you want in life - you realise perhaps that you use prayer to get what you want, instead of getting closer to Allah.
But let me repeat: the hajj is exhausting. I wanted to document it in writing, photos and videos - I’ve been posting updates on social media - and found that trying to communicate about the hajj and participating in it fully is a test in itself.
There were various other tests along the way too. Maintaining patience in a crazy world of non-stop demands and deadlines will probably remain my test going forward.
Meanwhile, the hajj continues for two more days. After Arafat, pilgrims make their way to a nearby area called Muzdalifah and collect pebbles to stone the Jamarat.
The Jamarat comprises three tall stone structures that represent the three spots where Satan tried to stop Ebrahim from slaughtering his son.
After the stoning of one of the Jamarat, pilgrims are recommended to shave their hair while women only trim a piece.Before starting the hajj, all these rules can feel intimidating and make one nervous because you want to make sure that you do everything properly. In Islam, that would be following Prophet Muhammad’s way, known as the Sunnah.
With two more days to go, pilgrims will continue stoning the devil and finally make their farewell tawaaf to the Kaaba. Nobody knows when Allah would invite them back on this journey. Pilgrims thus savour every moment, even when they can hardly keep their eyes open.