The pilgrimage was never merely about rites and rituals, for it has always involved science and progress, culture and intellection, and economics and humanities. Here we delve into Hajj as a civilizational ecosystem that speaks volumes on efforts, opportunities and prospects; past, present and future. Unveiling stories and tales of morals, values and meaning worthy of being heard by the world over in an attempt to raise awareness of this glorious timeless journey, the amazing people running it and those fortunate enough to embark on it .
It has been a long and exhausting year. But at least I've accomplished what I had set out to achieve many years ago. My labor of love...Yup, I finally got the "larger than life" Ph.D.!
Throughout my strenuously elaborate studies, it had never occurred to me to ponder: "What next?” Yet now this begging question lingers in my head and won’t let go. I know too well that one’s learning journey is never ending and that a doctorate is only the beginning, but by virtue of my work at a university, my moniker seems strange to me with the “Dr.” designation now preceding it, which eventually caused me to conclude that I rather prefer my name as it has always been, thank you very much. Without any prefixes nor titles preceding it.
By the time I had submitted/defended my thesis and gotten my degree, the hajj season was around the corner. And because I was just catching my breath and preparing myself for a new phase in life, going on a pilgrimage that year seemed the ideal next move. Hajj was an opportunity to get out of my own head, to reflect, re-evaluate, rejuvenate, re-energize and reconsider the peculiarity and value of this “larger than life” milestone of an academic degree. I chose to meditate on it all and more in the vast expanse of Makkah as a humble guest of Allah the most Merciful.
You reckon I'm dramatizing? Oh no, nothing of the sort, I assure you. You see Hajj is the best way to rearrange the tattered elements of a scattered spirit, to reclaim our right purposeful position in this life, to re-examine outstanding issues, only to re-discover that nothing is more reassuring to the heart nor more nourishing to the soul than to sense God’s constant company and his unflinching care.
I settled with my mother and sister at one of the camps. My mother had always loved to volunteer/serve the Pilgrims, or God’s guests as we like to call them, for many seasons on end and was she ever good at it! I knew I wouldn't be like the rest of the regular run-of-the-mill pilgrims, that I would merely be mom’s sidekick/helper which provided enough intellectual/spiritual contrast to my latest “larger than life” PH.D. fete. All the academic accomplishments in the world paled when compared to these seemingly endless waves of humans in white sheets. All the genuinely yearnful prayers rising to Allah in hopes for forgiveness. This wonderous egalitarianism. This marvelous honor.
At the camp female pilgrims gathered from everywhere and calls for assistance to my mom were non-stop: “I see there a guest who feels that she is not well, call her a doctor and stay with her until you rest assured she’s better ...oh, there's some kind of malfunction in the first toilet at the second row, see if you can locate a plumber and, while you’re at it, ask for a wheelchair for that old lady before we head to mount Arafa. The list went on and on and on...
That isn’t to say it was all chores, Hajj also packs a positively immense social intrigue manifesting itself in everyone’s desire, interest and joy of social introductions and exchanging conversations. It is, after all, like living a microcosm of life to its fullest, most minute details.
It is an unmatched thrill to be part of such a gathering and to willingly participate in its uniform phases and destinations, I have always enjoyed travel companions during trips for conferences, exhibitions and the like, but I tell you there is no companionship like that of hajj, it is truly something else. To equally bask in the tranquility of Mina, collectively receive mount Arafat’s super-charge of spirituality, keeping peaceful company during the hours of waiting in Muzdalifa and the stampede-like rush of throwing Jamarat. To be famished yet only indulge after you've ensured others had enough to eat. To consider slumber only when everyone is comfortable and sound asleep, to endure sweltering heat with them only to bask in sharing cold water together, all equal, similarly attired exchanging everything that brings us together and celebrating all the little cultural gems that make us different.
As my Hajj experience was coming to its conclusion, my heart remained filled with joy, my soul nourished, and an overwhelming sense of satisfaction washed over me.
Looking back now, I've come to realize how a tiny geographical spot at a particular time can engulf the "world" in its entirety placing it right at my door step. Now THAT is “larger than life”
- Arwa Khamis