First life
I was a latecomer to Islam. No – I didn’t convert into the religion. I was born a Muslim, but for most of my life growing up, I wasn’t really one – not the way I should have been, at least. I lacked the proper understanding, knowledge, and, most of all, commitment to the religion. As a result, much of my life was spent without real attachment to Islam – confined to merely ritualistic acts of worship I was expected to do, and not much interest beyond that.

As a child, I learnt Islam’s basics in madrassah, and my family acted as a good moral compass in guiding me through the racially and culturally diverse society that was South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. I had plenty of exposure to other religions – Hindu family friends, where I’d see their prayer lamps and idols; a Christian junior school, where every morning’s assembly included the Lord’s prayer; and my Jewish high school, where Jewish Studies was a compulsory subject for a couple of years.

I always had a conscience about Islam, and what my Creator expected of me as a Muslim. But without practical action, conscience can’t lead you very far. In school holidays, for Friday prayers, and on other religious occasions, I’d attend Islamic religious services, and hear the religious advice given by the imams and moulanas. I’d sometimes be inspired to want to be a better Muslim, but the feeling would fade a few hours later, and I’d continue as normal – not really thinking about my purpose in life or how I could be better to my fellow human beings.

That changed ten years ago, when I reached a turning point – a ‘spiritual awakening’ that changed my entire focus and orientation in life. Such events are common in any religion – not just Islam. Anything could act as a catalyst – from a near death experience, loss of a loved one, a period of desperation, or any other event. Different people have different experiences, yet all end with the same result: a movement from a state of heedlessness to one of consciousness.

Over time, I came to learn more about Islam, and firmly believe in its truth – understanding the wisdom behind its acts of worship and social values, and its timeless message of pure monotheism, which was the message of every prophet, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all). I came to understand how, as a comprehensive belief system, it links an individual to their Creator, without any intermediaries; guiding them to live in the way that would bring true happiness, inner peace, and success – both in life and in the realm beyond death.

Journey of a lifetime
A few weeks ago, I was honoured to perform the Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah – the Hajj. As far as mandatory religious activities go, it’s one of the most important acts in Islam. It’s a journey that re-enacts the life of Prophet Abraham and his family, and draws millions each year – promising great reward from the Creator; and immense liberation, such that the pilgrim returns from the journey completely forgiven from every sin – spiritually, like a newborn baby.

It’s a journey of sacrifice, self-purification, and great humility. Pilgrims leave their families and comfortable homes to go all the way to the Holy Land, spending days and nights in a simple, unflattering tent – where the only physical comforts are a mattress, blanket, and pillow. They leave behind the ease of cars for a journey involving walking for miles and miles on dirty, congested roads, in huge crowds that they’d normally run away from. They shed the adornments of plush clothing to wear nothing but two white, unstitched pieces of cloth – wherein they’ll look exactly like everyone else, with nothing to distinguish between a king and a beggar. They go out to a flat, empty plain – in the middle of a desert – to stand in the scorching sun for a few hours, reciting a few words, pleading with their Creator, and crying their hearts out. And they walk around an ancient building, the first house of worship dedicated to the Creator, praising Him and supplicating for all that they desire.

Second chance
The experiences and lessons of Hajj are numerous, but for me, the most important result was the liberation I spoke of earlier – a second chance at life. A person who survives a near-fatal accident may relate, as could a reformed convict who leaves prison as a ‘new’ person.

After repentance on Hajj, the feeling of being completely forgiven – for every single sin you’ve ever committed – is truly amazing, and beyond words. It’s like a lightness of the soul – like there’s no longer this burden on your shoulders, and you literally feel pure and clean. Your mind feels more free, your spirit feels light, and you feel so much closer to your Creator. It’s really the most awesome feeling imaginable.

And it’s also empowering, because you now have this ‘clean slate’ – this second chance to start your life again, from a state of purity. And with that feeling, you’re more sensitive to every wrong you do. You can recognize it more easily, and you feel the need to repent or make up for it immediately – because now that you’re ‘clean’, you want to stay that way, and never let any spiritual ‘dirt’ pollute your heart again.

Naturally, it isn’t possible to remain on such a high for a sustained period. And in the few weeks since Hajj, such feelings of spiritual euphoria have decreased. But the effects of those feelings, and that experience, remain with me, and have hopefully benefitted me as I returned to my normal environment and responsibilities.

In Muslim circles, it’s a common cliché to say that Hajj really begins once you get home – meaning that Hajj itself is not the main challenge. The main challenge is what becomes your life’s mission after Hajj: to ‘live’ that Hajj by taking forward what you’ve learnt, and being that better person you were inspired to be.

I thank you for allowing me to share this account with you, and I hope that – regardless of your religious persuasion or belief system – you can take some benefit from these words, and that you yourself will have an experience of such magnitude in your life, if you haven’t already.

Note: This piece is a deviation from the current Hajj Chronicles series (part 2 of which is due this weekend insha-Allah). This one is a separate article, written for a non-muslim audience, which I hope to publish elsewhere at the appropriate time. As always, comments are welcome.

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5 thoughts on “Rebirth

  1. I can totally relate to the rebirth as you put it. Does that make us “born again muslims”?
    Your words ring true for me, because I think I’m currently in a state of change and not because I have outgrown it but more importantly I have seen the “other” side and I’m disillusioned.

    Mabrouk on completing your Hajj and may you grow from strength to strength.

  2. JazakAllah. I’m reluctant to use the term “born again”, because of the connotations it has with regard to Christians who go through their re-awakenings. It’s not that I’m now this new, fundamentalist preachy type person – but it’s more of a fresh start, from ‘birth’ as it were – like the wording of the hadith.

    I’m glad that you can relate, and that your process of refocus is underway.

    The ‘other’ side, as you mention, is a personal perspective of things. I often think of it like that one scene in the 2nd Matrix movie – where Neo is at that restaurant with the Frenchman, and he can literally see that the environment around him is a fake. He sees through the façade and recognises that what the normal eye sees is not actually what’s really going on.

    ANd that particular scene reminds me of a hadith (or might be a verse of Quran – not sure), that says something like: ‘beware the insight of the believer, for he sees with the light of Allah’ – meaning that someone that reaches that state of eman has that ability to see through the superficial layers of this world, and can see the true reality of things.

    Anyway, in terms of seeing the ‘other’ side manifested physically, the contrast between our world and the other side is even more magnified in the environments of Madinah and Makkah. The lifestyle there – the values, and the foundation of the society – is so completely different to the rest of the world; and you can’t help but see the difference – the ‘other’ side. Because we grew up and live in a Westernised world, that’s the foundation of how we see things – and being in those 2 places just flipped the perspective completely, because it’s so different to everywhere we’re used to (and even other places in Saudi, I hear). Anyway, more on that later in the ‘Hajj Chronicles’ series insha-Allah.

    • I see your point about using born again. my re-awakening has been a slow process. Each of my fears or concerns are being slowly clarified and solved. iA I go for Umrah in 3 months

  3. im enjoying reading ur hajj posts, please continue! i am desperately trying to hold on and re live my hajj…and by reading posts like these i draw closer to that life changing Journey . May we hold fast to the rope we have been provided with and dutifully honour our contract with Him. IA & Ameen.

  4. JazakAllah – and ameen to that dua. It’s easy to forget the pledges we made now that life is ‘back to normal’ – but we can’t let ourselves slip like that. it would be a tragedy to succumb to forgetfulness. which is why we have to work to preserve it.

    I hope to continue these posts insha-Allah. i kept a journal throughout, so it makes it easier to write each post – because i can just go back and read, and hopefully remember the events, emotions, and lessons.

    I was talking to someone the other day about that – reliving, or holding onto your Hajj. And he has this idea of trying to find moments / recreate moments where you get the feelings you did – those special times – in Madinah or Makkah. So you attach your memory of Hajj to specific events – which you capture in whatever way you do (whether writing or picture), and then whenever you think of those events, it acts like a trigger to bring you back to the memory and emotions etc. If you have those things recorded – like pictures you took, or stuff you wrote, then every now and then go back to look / read it, so that you can be reminded.

    If you haven’t written much (and assuming writing is your thing), while it’s still fresh in your memory, i’d suggest you also write – with the aim of preserving the experience, with the above idea in mind.

    I find for me, talking about it to others just doesn’t come near recapturing it – spoken words just can’t…and as you repeat the stories over and over, it becomes routine and tired; and loses its ‘shine’. Which is why writing – like this here – is one of my ways of preserving it.

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