“It takes you away from the paraphernalia of this world and you have to face yourself and your ruh. It is a strenuous journey spiritually, emotionally and physically. Yes it is hard work, but it is a beautiful journey.” This is how one emotional pilgrim eloquently described her maiden hajj experience, having braved scorching conditions in the Saudi Kingdom to undertake the five-day pilgrimage.
Each year millions of Muslims journey to the holy lands with the hopes of standing before their creator and atoning for their sins. Around 2000 South Africans were amongst 2 million people to have performed hajj during the past week.
On the verge of tears and speaking passionately about her experience, Shanaaz Galant said that whilst the journey itself was strenuous in all forms, the aim was effectively to strip pilgrims “down to their bone”.
“You need to make ibadah with the kind of challenges you are going to endure. You are going to endure the heat, the flies, the smells and the conditions. This is how Allah takes away all of the paraphernalia and things of the dunya so that you can face yourself,” she fervently said.
Joining her as part of the Travel Unlimited tour group was Ferozah Jacobs, who left for the Kingdom in poor health with doubts of whether she could actually complete her pilgrimage. But her prayers were effectively answered during the hajj as her health gradually improved, and she was able to fully commit herself in a spiritual sense towards the journey.
While the most pressing challenge for most hujaaj had been the blazing heat, temperatures soaring well over 40°C on an average day in Makkah, another issue Jacobs noted was the struggle to constantly remind herself of her purpose, and the need not to be distracted from her ibadah.
“You’re staying in the tents with different kinds of people and having to listen to people’s conversations. If shaytaan could constantly distract Nabi Ebrahim, then we are normal people and he is with us all the time trying to distract us from doing good deeds. So that was also a really big challenge,” she highlighted.
Jacobs also had praise for her chosen operator, which she claimed had gone “out of its way” to ensure pilgrim comfort and satisfaction, as well as equal praise in the direction of the South African Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc).
“You always here negative remarks (about Sahuc). Alhamdullilah they played a big role in our lives, even now with the stampede. The muasasa would designate time slots for each country, and you would have Sahuc representatives coming to our camp, lining us up and walking us to the jamarat and back again,” she noted.
Silma Rawoot, travelling with the Al Nur Hajj and Umrah tour group, said the hajj had left her feeling like a complete new person. Among the highlights of her pilgrimage included their visit to the grave of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) in Medina, as well as the Day of Arafat.
“When I looked at the kabah the first time it did not touch my heart but when I tawaaf’d around it, every step I took it just grew bigger and stronger in my heart. It confirmed (to me) that the Nabi Muhammad (saw) is the last prophet, and Allah is the greatest and the only one who can give you whatever you need,” she declared.
She also describe Arafat as the high point of the pilgrimage, especially seeing two million fellow Muslims gathering together in the same location, with the same spiritual mind-set for the same purpose.
“The programmes we had on Arafat just took you to another level of being a Muslim, and knowing and appreciating that you have been born a Muslim. It just confirmed that this is the right way of life,” she admitted.
One of the older South African hujaaj this year round was Wasielah Omar, who at the age of 61 finally completed a lifelong wish to ‘validate’ her practice of Islam.
“The heat was beyond human endurance, but you ask Allah to guide and protect you and you will feel that breeze come along. If you feel that it is overbearing, that calmness comes over you and you just continue with your thikr, your thoughts and your connection with Allah,” she said, recounting her experiences in the Kingdom.
And Omar also had some crucial advice for fellow Muslims; perform hajj at a young age when still physically and financially capable so as to avoid difficulties later in life.
The first group of South African hujaaj are expected back in the country on Monday, with the majority also expected to arrive in the coming days. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)