Nearly a year ago, I wrote this piece –which crystallised the dream that so strongly made its way into my heart and mind at the time. For those who are familiar with the process of going for Hajj, you’ll know that many across the world – including here in South Africa – need to go through a process of accreditation with the country’s Hajj authorities, since there are limited Hajj visas available to many countries.
So, this being my main mission at that time, I’d check our local authority’s website for the date when I’d be able to register for the coming year. South Africa only gets an initial quota of 2500 people that can go – a tiny number based on the fact that we’re a minority group in South Africa’s larger population.
So to get into the 2011 list seemed far from guaranteed. And to cut the chances further, there were already people that were unsuccessful the previous year who were pushed over to the 2011 list.
I knew that – in the realm of human efforts – the earlier I registered, the better my chances of success. So imagine my surprise when I happened to visit the registration site just a couple of days after registration for the new year had opened. You can call it ‘luck’ or good timing – but I believe it was Divine intervention. Allah is the One that decides who goes and who doesn’t go – and this was my first sign that it was to happen for me.
My wife and I were extremely blessed to be in that first batch of 2500 that were accredited. Getting accreditation early meant that we could prepare well in advance – in all senses. But some weren’t so fortunate. Many had been waiting and waiting for the additional quota, and were in limbo with regard to planning, leave, shopping, etc. Now, just a few weeks before people start leaving, the country’s additional quota came through (yesterday). The extra quota is a disappointing 500 extra – which is far less than was expected. That makes this the smallest South African quota in recent years; and it makes me even more appreciative of the blessing of getting to go.
During the course of the last year, we’ve gone through some challenges – but nothing too major. For me, one big issue was the loss of motivation – or rather – loss of intensity in motivation; and I spent long periods not doing what I thought I would in terms of preparation. But, of course, I still did take in a lot of information and advice – via books, speaking to people, websites, lectures (including good ones here) , and Hajj classes (which, it seems, is uniquely Capetonian in that we have 6 months of Hajj classes and not just a one day seminar).
And I knew that the preparation for this journey – and the journey itself – needed to be a long term thing. What I learn now – the good habits and actions I pick up and bad ones I drop – need to be set in stone; set into the foundation of my life.
Because as much as we all aspire to change and be better, the reality is that it’s extremely difficult. And every year, Ramadan comes around, and we have hope of making permanent life changes after it leaves. But sadly, for many of us, the same pattern repeats annually – where the ‘buzz’ wears off, and we go back to our old selves and forget the striving we intended.
But this Ramadan was different. This post-Ramadan is different. Because I’m not going back to my ‘normal’ life. I’m supposed to be building – building up that spirituality, patience, taqwa, and all good things – to take with me on this incredible journey of a lifetime.
And I need that all for the actual trip; but more importantly, I need it for after the trip. Because, as people say, the hard part is not the actual pilgrimage. The hard part is living that Hajj when you get back home. Living the rest of your life in a state of heightened spirituality and consciousness, with better values, better habits, and a better you.
To go on Hajj, and to have it accepted and be totally cleansed of all your sins (including those against other people – who you would have sought forgiveness from before leaving) – is something tremendously liberating. I have this idea of carrying this burden of sins right now – a lifetime of wrongdoing and flawed thinking and habits to the very root of my existence – which all built up from the time I was a child, through my teenage years, early adult life, and to this day.
And if Hajj is to take all of this off my back – wash it away and give me a clean slate – then when I come back, I need to do my best to never let things of that nature build up again. Because I may never go back for Hajj. I may never go back there at all – even for Umrah. So it really is a once in a lifetime shot. One chance to drop everything bad and start again.
That’s not to say that I expect change to be instantaneous – because that’s not very realistic. I expect change to come over time – little by little (which is the critical concept of gradualism that is such a big part of the Islamic ethos of change).
But what I do hope will be instant is that sincere intention to change permanently. That point where I’d say to myself: ‘This is it. From this point on, I intend to leave everything bad behind, and strive for everything good. And whether I succeed or not, this intention is absolutely, one million percent solid and unshakeable. And I’ll try, with Allah’s help, for the rest of my life, to work towards fulfilling it – no matter what happens in future.’
The process of how that change happens – I don’t know. But the core is the intention, and that’s my focus. Will I be ready to do that? To make that intention and be serious about it? Committed to it?
‘Positive change’ is a very nice term – it sounds good, and it feels good to think that you’re pursuing it. But when things get tough, and when you’re faced with intense challenges to that goal, that’s when your real test comes.
So that’s what I need my core focus to be. Preparing myself to be ready to make that intention, firstly, and then being committed to it thereafter.
I’m scared as I write this – because this heart of mine is so attached to things I know I’d have to leave behind, for the most part. But if there’s any experience that can strengthen me to the point where I’m ready to go forward with it, then this is it.
So now, with just under 4 weeks until departure insha-Allah, I know all the logistical and physical preparations that need to happen; and I even know some of the spiritual preparation I need to still do. But underlying everything, there’s only one thing that truly needs to be ready – the heart. And my heart isn’t ready; and I don’t know if it ever will be. But I go forward knowing that it’s the main roleplayer in whether I succeed or fail in this.
So, more than anything else, that’s what needs to be my focus. And I hope and pray that, by the time I reach that peak of the 5 days, this heart will be where it needs to be.
To all who read this blog: I want to thank you for the role you’ve played in my life – whether you commented or not, and whether you’ve been reading long or not. This blog has been an important part of my identity and life for the five years I’ve been at it, and I appreciate the chance to share what I’ve shared with other people.
And now, as I prepare to leave for this journey, I ask that – if I’ve offended or hurt any of you in any way – please forgive me. I’ll try to remember you all in my duas, and ask that you do the same for me, and for all who are going; and for those who didn’t get the chance to go this year.
And if you yourself are planning to go at some point in the not too distant future, please start preparing NOW. We prepare so much for our big exams and tests in our academic and professional lives – but this is truly the most important experience we have as Muslims in this world. So it deserves the best of preparation – and that begins long before you go. Long, long before.
And even if you think it’s impossible at this time – due to finances or whatever – know that Allah chooses who goes; and it’s not impossible for Him to choose the most unlikely of candidates.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And the three pillars of success in anything – I’ve come to learn – are first making the sincere intention, then asking Allah for success, and then making your efforts (while always bearing patience and continuously asking Allah for success).