To go for hajj is certainly one of the most remarkable experiences a believing Muslim can have. It can be compared to nothing else, and is absolutely unique in every way.
When we say our daily prayers, we turn towards the Ka’bah in Makkah, but for most Muslims this is a rather abstract matter, as they have only seen pictures of the holy site.
As soon as you get there, the direction of the prayer — the qiblah — becomes something entirely different.
I had my first blessed visit to that holy place in 1986, which was only a few years after having entered into Islam. I had come to Islam from a long travel through the world and through myself, during which I had spent some years as a Hindu going to Hindu holy sites in India.
So, it was not an entirely new experience for me to set off for a pilgrimage, and I had an expectation that it would be somewhat similar to what I had experienced before.
But when I got to Makkah, I was totally overwhelmed in a way which I had never experienced anywhere before. I had been told that the first supplication at the first sight of the Ka’bah is granted and accepted by the Lord, and therefore I kept my gaze to the floor, as I entered the holy mosque.
When I had reached a point, where there were steps leading down to the inner courtyard, I looked up, and the square building in the middle of the area filled my sight.
In the same instant, it was as if all my inner barriers were broken. I was totally transparent and open as a book. My heart was ripped open and tears started flowing from my eyes.
I was a grown man of 32 years of age, and I had not cried for years, since in Danish culture we are taught that men don’t cry. And there I stood in front of a square building and cried like a small child. Cried and prayed, prayed and cried. It probably lasted for about half an hour, and I was totally lost in that overwhelming feeling.
As a rather rational person, I was astonished of this reaction, but at the same time, I understood that it was a sign of the power of that very place on Earth. Having been to many holy sites from different religions throughout my life, I have never found a place with such a vivid spiritual power emanating through every inch.
Hajj is primarily an inner travel, and when the pilgrims come from the most important of all the rituals of them all, the day of prayer at the Arafah plain, they come out as clean (inwardly) as newborn babies.
It is a once-in-a-lifetime for most of us, when we get a chance like this, and as such, hajj is an extremely unique experience. Most Muslims never get the chance to see the holy Mosque in Makkah, or to stand in prayer at the plain of Arafah, and whoever gets the opportunity must understand that nobody reaches these places without a specific invitation from the Lord Himself.
The rituals for hajj are all relating back to the time of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him). And according to Islam even the very place in Makkah, is where Abraham and his son Ismail (peace be upon them) built the first house in recorded history for the worship of the One and Only Creator on His command.
Since that time, this particular place on Earth has been the chosen spot appointed by none else than Allah Himself. So when we as Muslims feel that there is a special blessing in that place, it is not just because we want it to be so, but because that place is picked out of all places on Earth by the Creator of the Earth. And who should know the most holy place on Earth if not Him?
Hajj is not a holiday-trip, and it can be rather hard to get through the few days with the actual rituals of the pilgrimage. The long afternoon on the plain of Arafah is hard for some due to the intense heat in Saudi Arabia.
The night at Muzdalifah on the way back from Arafat is quite a challenge. The stoning of the Jamarat (the Satan-symbols) at the plain of Mina, where the pilgrims stay two or three days in tents can be very strenuous, although the Saudi government has done a lot over the years to ease the process.
And even the last walk around the Ka’bah can be very hard, since far too many people want to do the walk at the same time. Moving a mere 7–10 meters may take half an hour in those last days of the hajj season.
After completing the hajj, many of the pilgrims go to Madinah, the town where Prophet Muhammad (may the endless blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) established the first Muslim community, and where his grave is to be found.
The visit to that town is very much different, and it can in many ways be seen as a kind of holiday after the hajj. It is much more relaxed and the number of people is much less.
There are no specific rituals to be performed, and therefore, one is much more at ease. Of course all visitors want to pay tribute to the Prophet, and therefore his grave is visited by thousands every day praying for his blessings and peace. And a visit to that particular place in his mosque, which is said to be like a small part of Paradise, is something all visitors strive to reach.
For me the first time to Makkah was comparable to nothing else, and although Makkah is a tremendous experience every time, the first time was something special. Madinah seems to get better and better from time to time. The sweetness of Madinah becomes more intense with every visit and especially in the Holy Mosque, which is the second holiest place on Earth according to Muslims.
These two wonderful places — Makkah and Madinah — will always work in their special way on every pilgrim visiting them, and even if you are in an ocean of people, when you are traveling for hajj, every pilgrim is on his or her own inner trip, and for everybody, the hajj is a deeply personal trip to the inside, even if we travel in the outer world.
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)