All this talk these days about hajj brings back all sorts of memories. I always used to wonder why some people went to hajj year after year. Was it because these days it’s a sign of wealth and a sort of status? I wouldn’t doubt that, since in our country a certain proportion of people are usually the most frequenters, and their packages the most luxurious. Was it because, between each pilgrimage and the next, they had accumulated enough sins to make the trip a necessity? Possibly. That’s one concept I can understand. Or was it because they simply loved it? That’s something to think about it.

To describe my own experience, one word I would use would be: emotional. Before even leaving the house it had started: people we hadn’t seen in ages came to wish us good blessings and good luck. Asking us to pray for loved ones: children, parents, siblings, the starving back home, the fighters across the ocean, the Muslim nation as a whole. And then, loading the car in the dark of the night going to the airport, neighbours waking up and coming out to see us off, some of which I hadn’t seen or talked to in years. The airport itself, teeming with people, those leaving and those dropping off, everyone bubbling with excitement, myself not excluded. And then, heading towards the House of He Who is Most Merciful and Generous, to pay my modest respects and ask for forgiveness: I got into a fight. In the airport bathroom. With some stupid cleaner who didn’t want to do her job and clean the water that had spilled on the floor. My mother stared at me as I told her off for telling me off and then followed me out as I seethed with wrath at the ill manners of the ill-treated with non-Omanis. Bad start? I guess. And that wasn’t the only fight I got into or the only shouting I did before the trip was over, but let’s not talk about that, ahehheh. *cough*

The first views are everything: first view of Al-Qubba Al-Khadra in Medina, first view of the Prophet PBUH’s final resting place. Jostled around by the crowd and tired from the long wait in a disorganized line to reach the place, I thought of things other than where I was going, but the minute I stepped into that narrow chamber with the colourful carpets and columns and the pigeons above us on the beams, and the inscriptions visible over the barrier marking his and his companion’s graves, I felt a touch of it for the first time, and broke down. In the midst of the frantic prayers, shouting, crying, greetings and pushing, I cried for the first time, praying that I would never go back to the person I used to be, reaching out to the grave of the friend we all loved without knowing, prayed for without thinking and believed in without seeing.

From there to Mecca, passing through the Meqat and watching the crowds collecting, men changing from colourful outfits and different costumes into one colour, one uniform, and all tongues murmuring together one chant:

لبيك اللهم لبيك، لبيك لا شريك لك، لبيك! إن الحمد و النعمة لك، و الملك! لا شريك لك!

Such short phrases, such heart filling meaning! We are coming to You as You call us! To You and only to You, asking for forgiveness, hoping for recognition, to bask in Your Glory and beg for Your Mercy! To You we are coming!

The first view of the Haram in the dark of an early morning, still chanting, our adrenalin running high despite the many hours we have been awake and the exhaustion of the journey. Arriving just in time for Fajr prayers, walking between masses and masses of people, sitting, standing, leaning, praying, and still far away from the actual grounds. So many people! I don’t think I have ever or will ever again see so many! After prayers we head into mosque for the first Tawaf, and I have my first view of the Ka’bah. What I sight! I don’t remember what I thought or felt, but that it was so overwhelming my mind was blank. Also, the fact that I was terrified of being trampled to death under the millions of feet that were marching alongside us sort of shifted my focus. And so many people!

I won’t go into more details, except that for those 9 days we were in another world. We didn’t care about food and many times went without lunch and dinner without even noticing. I was in awe at all the things I saw: a man crying and falling down on his hands and knees, crawling towards the Ka’bah; young couples and old, marching through the crowds and holding on to each other for physical and emotional support; young sons carrying their aging parents tirelessly and devotedly and pointing out the sights for them; so many people lost in their thoughts and prayers, kneeling, crying, praying and praying and praying. And so many people!

And then suddenly, it was over and we were back in our quiet, clean home. We slept for days. More people, many of whom had never stepped into our house before, came to welcome us back. On the third day we remembered that we have a TV and turned it on. It was so strange, listening to all the talk about the South and Palestine and the Tunisian kid who had set himself on fire after being slapped by a woman. So strange. Like news from another world that had nothing to do with where we had come from.

I don’t know how other people feel about hajj and what makes them keep going back. For me, I feel a stab of painful longing every time I look at the pictures I took, because I miss it. I hear of people going this year and envy them. I think about all the time I wasted getting there and wish I had longer.

I feel like that was home, where I belong, and the rest of my life is just a holiday.