“Long before dawn, everyone is awake, bathed, dressed in ihram, in anticipation of the greatest emotional and physical journey we have pledged to undertake. I have by now seen thousands, hundreds of thousands of people in ihram, but this is different…this is ihram for Hajj!
Sporadic bursts of Talbiyah echo through the passages, and pierce my heart. I gaze out of the window and see that the ever-growing river of white has already begun ascending the hills to Mina.
All I can think at this point is:
Ya Rabb, you have brought me…unworthy, ignorant, sinful me…to this place, this point, on the doorstep of the greatest experience.
Oh Allah, make it easy for us, and we beg of you, accept it from us, and accept us!
I am here, my Lord, I am here!” ~Excerpt from Ayesha Desai’s Hajj Journal, November 2010, Dhul-Hijjah 1431
Hajj is both exciting and stressful. You know that you are making the trip of a lifetime, but it’s also a long and challenging pilgrimage. In past times, those who made the pilgrimage may have had months or weeks to prepare themselves physically, mentally and spiritually for the journey.
We can’t all be Mansa Musa I of Mali, the arguable richest king in human history (after King Solomon) who, on his journey with his entourage to Mecca, reportedly ordered a mosque to be built each day as he passed each town.
We certainly don’t want to make any mistakes and risk our hajj not being accepted, but there are so many things to prepare and remember that we may start to panic.
Author K.T. Lynn describes preparing for her experience: “In order to prepare, I had to push [the] fears away. I read as much as I could on Hajj preparation. We cleared out all of the unscented toiletries in our neighborhood Whites pharmacy. Our dua list grew to scroll like proportions. I even purchased a sparkling new white abaya for the occasion. At long last, we were ready.”
If we want to have a concentrated, inwardly transformational, and life-changing experience we need to remove potential hiccups and distractions.
This means it’s imperative to spend time and focus on choosing the best package for your circumstances.
But what does the perfect hajj package look like? Certainly, there are as many variables of circumstances as the number of people attending hajj. In 2018, 2.4 million pilgrims came from nearly every corner of the world.
“The Hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is considered the world’s largest human gathering,” notes Statistia. This is because about a quarter of the global human population self-identify as Muslims. And in Islam, one of our five religious imperatives is to perform the Hajj at least once in our lifetime.
Financial aspects of Hajj
Understandably, Hajj is an expensive undertaking for many Muslims. International travel, accommodations, fees, and time off work can amount to spending a significant chunk, or all, of one’s life savings in order to make this spiritual journey.
And while some governments may subsidize the costs for first-time pilgrims, it’s still important to keep finances in mind when planning your Hajj journey.
When considering tour companies and packages here are a few questions to ask:
• What is the total cost?
• What portion of services will the booking agency provide? Examples of covered services may include visas, flights, airport transfer, travel bookings, accommodations, sleeping arrangements, and meals.
• What level of budget (or luxury) do you need for your hajj experience? Everyone has different needs and desires. Be sure to speak up if you need special accommodations and make sure the agency you book with has packages that are a good fit for you and your family.
Consider Your Guides and Other Hajj-Hopefuls
After comparing costs, it’s also important to consider the range of hajj experiences each tour operator brings. Ask yourself questions like:
• How knowledgeable is your Guide?
• Which coordinators will attend and help guide and manage your group?
• Will there be additional female guides to assist women in your group?
• Who else will be in your group and what other company will you be keeping on the journey?
• Does the agency have full-time staff in both your home country and KSA?
• How experienced is the agency?
The answers to all these questions will help you evaluate your hajj experience for qualitative aspects. A hajj experience is as much a service of these tour companies as it is an experience. So look to these important markers to understand what type of experience you might have.
Logistics of Choosing a Reputable Company
If you want your trip to go as smoothly as possible, you have to make sure safeguards are in place for accountability. This means seeking answers to questions about the service quality and legality of your tour operators.
When evaluating hajj packages, as yourself these questions:
• Is the package with a registered and approved travel agency?
• What agency name will be on your hajj visa?
• Is this a sub-agency? If so, how will this affect accountability and support?
• If subcontracted, will service be up to par?
Final Considerations to Choosing a Hajj Package
Choosing a hajj package can be a daunting task, but the end result is a rewarding one.
Remember, instead of getting stuck in the anxiety of finding the perfect package, concentrate on finding one that is good enough. Don’t hold off having the experience of a lifetime for lack of finding everything you want and need with one agency.
Choose the best available package, make Istakharah, and then move forward with all the small actions and steps needed to make it to your big goal – Hajj.
Instead of worrying about all the things that may go wrong, focus on all the things you can do to make your hajj experience the best it can be. Focus on what’s going right. You’re being invited to the house of Allah!
Prepare yourself mentally for some things not going according to plan, and decide in advance to respond with kindness and understanding.
Remind yourself that the Hajj is both an obligatory gathering and a test for all of those gathered. If you gather millions of people together from all countries, cultures, and walks of life, you can’t expect everyone to get along perfectly.
We’re all only human after all, flawed, confused, but all striving to get closer to Allah.