|More than two milion people are expected at this year’s Hajj [AFP]|
It is day one and I am up early. The fact that I am about to make the journey of my life is just starting to sink in.
I have taken a shower and put on the two pieces of plain white cloth, as is mandatory for all those performing Hajj, the annual pilgrimage made by Muslims to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
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It is strange, because I have seen many of my friends and family go and come back from Mecca, yet I have never really thought about how I would feel when I would go. I guess I never really expected to go so soon!
The rituals of Hajj start before you actually leave home. This includes showering, seeking forgiveness from all you know, returning any money owed and writing your will. The latter was the most surreal.
After bidding farewell to my sister and her husband at the airport, I met up with the rest of the Al Jazeera team travelling to Saudi Arabia to cover Hajj this year.
Faith and brotherhood
Map – Tracking Hajj
While waiting for our aircraft to depart, I looked around and realised that our team manifested on a micro level one of the essences of Hajj – the whole idea that faith and brotherhood transcends racial and cultural differences or divisions. Our team consisted of Egyptians, Moroccans, Englishmen and an Austrian.
As we approached Jeddah International Airport, the pilot announced that we had just flown over the Miqat, where one enters into the state of Ihram. We were now fully pilgrims.
Chants of “Labayk Allahuma Labbayk” (I am ready to obey your orders O Allah) filled the plane.
My heart started to beat a little faster, I felt like I was returning home after years of being away, despite the fact that I had never been to Mecca before in my life.
Representatives of the Saudi ministry for information greeted us at the airport and took us to Mecca, where Prophet Muhammad first proclaimed Islam.
Having not slept well the night before, I did so almost as soon as I sat in the car. Despite this, and whether it was a coincidence, luck or my psyche’s yearning to see Mecca from the beginning, I found myself awake as we approached the city’s gateway.
There, traffic was almost at a standstill as police checked permits for those entering the holy city.
Despite visiting bustling Cairo, Egypt’s capital, so many times in my life, the traffic in Mecca took me by surprise.
After checking into our hotel and resting, the team decided to go to the Kaaba to perform Tawaf Alqudoom – the initial rituals – where the pilgrim circuits the Holy Kaaba seven times praising his or her lord in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad.
No matter how many stories I have heard, or how many pictures I have seen, none prepared me for what I saw.
Hundreds of thousands of people of every shade and colour, every age, every race performing the exact same action, in the exact same place, for the exact same reason.
The person next to me could have been a billionaire businessman or a receptionist. There was no way to tell as nothing differentiated us, not our cloths, not the words we spoke. Nothing.
After circuiting the Kaaba seven times, we drank from the Well of Zamzam, a well that has been running since the time of the Prophet Abraham.
Hajar, his stranded wife, ran in despair between two points in the desert with her baby in her arms in search of water.
It is believed that God answered her call forcing water to spring from the ground.
Muslims are also taught to walk seven times between the same two points, this time following in the footsteps of a woman.
It is the end of the first day, so much has happened and I’m yet to absorb it all.
I have seen so much but I am yet to comprehend it.
All I know is that, if ever there was a human manifestation of equality, I have just experienced it.
In an imperfect world, I have just had the most perfect experience.