I’ve been lucky enough to visit Hajj three times. The first time was in 2001, then in 2006, and most recently in 2018. Each visit has affected me in different ways, and has shaped the Muslim and the person I am today.
Hajj is a rite of passage, and is the fifth and final pillar of Islam. It is a long, but rewarding journey to the Kaaba in Mecca, which for Muslims is regarded as Allah’s (SWT) house built by Prophet Ibrahim .
The purpose of Hajj is to complete your faith in Islam, and to seek forgiveness for your sins. For those who are able-bodied and who can afford to go on the journey, Hajj is compulsory; but for those who are less able, it isn’t obligatory.
The Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) only ever undertook the Hajj journey once in his lifetime, as he didn’t want his followers to burden themselves unnecessarily by going on Hajj multiple times. However, many people, including myself, undertake this journey several times in their lifetime, simply for the experience. I am very blessed and grateful that I can experience this beautiful journey multiple times in my life.
For me, Hajj is an exciting and overwhelming experience, filled with apprehension and a great sense of personal fulfillment. Being surrounded by millions of others, all sharing the same mission, but all looking for their own sense of self, fills you with a huge sense of appreciation, solidarity, and wholesomeness.
In a time, when so many have negative views of Islam because of so few, Hajj is an amazing opportunity to see the positives. It’s is a parade of devotion, commitment, love and equality – and a sight to behold. Every time I go, I am reminded of the diversity and faith in Islam, and that’s a sensational feeling.
I admit, coming to Hajj is certainly steeped in privilege, but what makes the journey so special is that, once there, everyone is the same. The rich and the poor are viewed as equal. All men have to wear just two sheets of white cloth known as Ihram – which is done to ensure that in Allah’s (SWT) house nobody is seen as being superior. Everyone is completely neutral. Such a sight truly humbles you, as you don’t know whether the person praying next to you is a prince or a peasant.
There have been several moments on my journey, which have left me breathless; in awe; inspired, and frankly, humbled. Praying in the main mosque in Mecca was the most incredible thing I have ever done; and certainly a ticked box and life-changing experience. Just the sight of the Holy Kaaba, the physical embodiment of the place you face during your daily prayers, makes you tremble . Seeing it in all its glory is difficult to describe, and certainly very emotional.
Having spent the day in Arafat, pilgrims then move on to Muzdalifah. The key task here, besides praying, is to collect some pebbles for the ritual stoning of Shaitan (the Devil) over the upcoming days. During this period, pilgrims also sacrifice one animal each. This not only represents the sacrifice made by Ibrahim, but is also an act of charity, with the meat being distributed to the poor.
After the sacrifice, male pilgrims will generally shave their heads. This is the equivalent of being a newborn. Women only need to cut a small tip of hair.
In Muzdalifah, we are tasked with the ritual stoning of Shaitan, or the Devil. This is a symbolic gesture to represent Ibrahim’s act of stoning the Devil when he was tempting him to disobey Allah (SWT) and not sacrifice Ishmeal.
Finally, there is a farewell trip to Mecca to perform Tawaf one last time, in order to complete the Hajj.
Depending on when you go to Hajj, some people then either go to Medina, the second most holy city in the Muslim world, immediately following Hajj. Others go there before starting their Hajj journey. The purpose of going to Medina, whilst not directly part of the Hajj process itself, is to visit Muhammad’s (p.b.u.h.) tomb and offer him your Salaam (greetings.) It also gives us the opportunity to pray in what is known as the Prophet’s mosque. It is said that a prayer inside the holy mosque in Mecca is the equivalent of 100,000 prayers said at home. Also, it’s considered “bad manners” to go on the most important journey a Muslim can undertake, and not make the time to visit the Prophet’s mosque.
For me, given the amount of traveling, walking, praying and the sheer number of people present meant that it is not something one can truly understand rationally whilst one is in the midst of undertaking the journey. It is only after it is all over that one can sit down and comprehend how lucky you have been to have been blessed, yet again, to be invited by Allah (SWT) to His house and given the opportunity to seek forgiveness for your sins.
While this Hajj was something my wife and I had planned since 2006, it had taken 12 years for the two of us to go together. I am a firm believer that only if Allah (SWT) calls you, will you be able to undertake such a spiritual journey.
Back in the UK, I have been focusing more and more on charitable projects, and partly from the humbling experience of Hajj, I am launching a social media platform called “Labayk.” Labayk is Arabic for “at your service” and is a supplication read out aloud by pilgrims during their Hajj journeys. The purpose of Labayk is to build a social enterprise where at least 50% of profits are given to charities chosen by platform users. This is in line with Islamic values of respect, kindness, and charity, as I felt that it is only fair that if society is creating content on social media, then it should be society that benefits from it, as well – instead of shareholders.
Labayk launched during Eid Al Adha 2019, and is available on desktop and as dedicated apps on Apple and Android devices.
Tanweer has spent his entire working career in financial markets in the UK and Singapore.He worked his way up from a cashier to the global head of a trading desk at a FTSE 100bank. Tanweer is also a photography enthusiast, and has traveled to over 35 countries photographing and documenting his experiences. He is currently undertaking a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge.