A short buzz on his mobile alerted him to the fact that a new message awaited his attention. A short few words that would require his speedy attention and reaction virtually immediately. Thousands throughout South African awaited similar messages. Some crafted their requests many years previously and were absolutely certain that they would receive a positive answer to their application. Some knew they were in that borderline area, along with a few hundred others, who were in the awkward situation of either being rewarded for their patience or be asked to wait another few weeks or even another year, depending on a number of permutations. Others simply hoped and prayed that, even though thousands were ahead of them in the queue, somehow, through some quirk in the process, they would be fortunate to be elevated in time.
He looked at the screen of his phone. The message was short and concise. It informed him that he and his wife have been accredited to perform Hajj that year and very tersely instructed them to confirm their acceptance within a few days or else their names would be removed from the list. He was elated, but simultaneously devastated.
His joy knew no bounds as he and his spouse were invited as an infinitely small percentage of Muslims to stand on the plains of Arafat that year to be as close to their Creator as would ever be possible in their lives. He excitedly informed her and both of them burst out crying. Tears of joy flowed down her cheeks. They had saved, planned meticulously, and applied with considered calculations of the probability of being accredited that particular year. Now it seemed that all their dreams and hopes were going to be fulfilled.
Just six months earlier they would have described life as perfect. However, a lot can happen in six hours, six days, six weeks and especially six months. Life was not kind to them in those six months. They had saved enough to undertake the journey. In fact, they even budgeted to buy presents for all their family members in Saudi Arabia and freighting it home to South Africa. Their ordinary monthly expenses of house bond, car and other necessities were accordingly budgeted and set aside for.
As is the case of the vast majority of intending Cape Town pilgrims, their children were probably the least of their worries, as there is no such phrase in the community termed extended family. There is only family, family and more family. Hajj in the Cape community involves all and sundry, with family members of the Hujjaaj intricately and whole-heartedly involved in all preparations. Sometimes, when sitting in the family’s interactions, it is difficult to ascertain who actually is going to perform Hajj, so animated and excited everyone is! Their children would be seen to by immediate relatives who deemed it an absolute honour, and a deed that the Creator would indeed reward.
Yet six months ago everything changed when his employer called him into his office. He knew their firm was experiencing financial difficulties due to the tough economic times. They were all aware that that cost cutting and other austerity measures were introduced and that their boss was trying desperately to save their jobs. However he was not prepared for the devastating news that was to follow. The firm was closing down that very day and there was not even money for that month’s salaries.
No severance pay benefits, no immediate alternate employment, no nothing. He was aware that his boss worked tirelessly behind the scenes to save the firm, that the employer personally did not draw a salary himself for a few months in order to pay his staff. He did not blame the man at all. However he future was now uncertain. He might have been a good planner but his carefully worked out plan to perform his Hajj lay in tatters. Allah, however, is the ultimate planner.
They could not believe how their savings were devoured. Other unforeseen calamities, such as illness which had to be paid out of their own pockets instead of the work subsidised medical aid further aggravated their rapidly deteriorating financial situation. As the accreditation date drew nearer, so did their hope of economic salvation recede. Now they had to make a decision of either accepting to go on Hajj that year or postponing.
They looked at each other. The seed to perform the obligatory journey was planted years ago when they committed to accept the invitation extended thousands of years ago. The stem was firmly rooted into fertile soil by the many classes they attended and the numerous returning pilgrims they were blessed to interact with. The fresh green leaves surrounding soon to flower buds of desire to journey had blossomed by now. They did not hesitate. ‘Yes, we accept,’ they responded.
It was a strange balance sheet that they then filled in. On the positive side was the net effect of going to perform Hajj. That was non-negotiable. So they sold their car. The net effect was that they were going to perform Hajj. So they moved in with one set of parents and rented out own their house. The net effect was that they were going to perform Hajj.
There were many such transactions with exactly the same results. Their resolve and commitment was unwavering. He in the meantime went for a number of interviews and tow weeks before their departure date he was called in for a second interview by a particular company who were interested in his skills. They offered him a permanent job with long term security and better remunerations than he anticipated. He was overwhelmed. Allah was surely being merciful! However there was one problem; he had to start the next week, a few days before his scheduled departure for Saudi Arabia.
He had a day to decide about his precarious position but he informed the interviewing panel immediately that he was not deviating from his chosen balance sheet. He explained to them that he desperately needs the job for his family’s future financial stability and felt honoured that they offered him the position. He was prepared to shorten his pilgrimage but he was not prepared to cancel it. The company informed him that they regretfully could not comply with his wishes and would have to offer the position to someone else.
They came to consult me for a medical condition one day in Madinah about a week later and relate their story to me. ‘I feel completely at ease with my decision Doc,’ he said. ‘We are in the City of Peace, the City of Light,’ I replied as we marvelled the serenity of the Prophet’s City.
They were immensely grateful to be on the Holy Journey and knew that their children were well cared for by their grandparents. A few days later he approached me as I was having breakfast with a friend. He was smiling and his wife was beaming from ear to ear. ‘Look Doc,’ he said, showing me his mobile.
A simple clear message was displayed informing him that the company that said that they could not keep the position for him was now willing to wait until he returns. His Hajj had barely started and yet one of his journeys was already completed.