HAJJ-MY JOURNEY OF FORGIVENESS, REDEMPTION AND REBIRTH
Walking in the footsteps of Adam, Abraham and Muhammad
By Idries Abdur-Rahman, M.D.
Hajj complete Dr. Idries now makes the long journey back home by way of Dubai and Frankfurt.
FORWARD: Hajj was never something I really wanted to do.
Hajj is a required journey for every physically and financially able Muslim at least once in his or her lifetime. I have to be completely honest, while Hajj was something that I’ve always known I would have to do, it was never something that I ever wanted to do. Sure Hajj is supposed to be this great spiritual journey, but I rarely heard any positive Hajj experiences from family and friends that had gone before me. Even the stories that were presented in a positive light honestly seemed pretty dreadful to me. So my head was filled with horror stories about the crowds (2-4 million people in a very confined space), the heat (think Saudi Arabia in the summertime, enough said), the conditions which could politely be described as unhygienic and of course the occasional mass casualty due to trampling’s or fires. Disney World Hajj is not. This meant years of excuses when my better half brought up the idea of making Hajj. Sometimes finances were the excuse (Hajj ain’t cheap folks), other times family (new babies) or career (residency, starting and nurturing a new private practice, etc…) were the excuses, but the overall theme was the same: I just wasn’t ready to go. Every Hajj pilgrim leaves home with the understanding that he or she very well may not return. You’re supposed to get all of your affairs in order and stated bluntly, you’re supposed to prepare yourself for death. So the idea of Hajj definitely scared me.
On the other side of it all now, I’ve come to realize that what makes Hajj so scary is the same thing that makes it so inexplicably beautiful simultaneously rewarding. Human beings spend a great deal of our lives trying to control our destiny from big things like our education and career choices to smaller things like the route we take to work. During Hajj however, you relinquish all control and for five days you are one with God (quite paradoxically so since you are surrounded by millions). For five days you are a mere speck in the mass of humanity that has converged from every corner of the globe with the shared sole purpose of worshiping God and self improvement. For this finite period of time you have absolutely zero control over your surroundings, zero control over your activities and zero control over your fate. While this probably sounds viscerally unappealing to most folks, it quickly not only becomes okay but it becomes welcome, even for a type A control freak like yours truly. You really learn what it means to let go and let God. All of the preceding years when I made excuse after excuse to avoid Hajj, the reality was that it just wasn’t my time. Through this journey I came to realize that you will never be ready for Hajj until Hajj is ready for you. Hajj is a deeply personal transformative journey and it means different things to different people. God knows when your heart and your soul is most in need of this transformation and for me that time was now. It was time for my personal journey of forgiveness, redemption and rebirth; it was my time to make Hajj.
WHAT IS HAJJ?:
Hajj is one of the so called “five pillars of Islam” that guide the lives and daily activities of every Muslim. The other pillars are the declaration of faith to one God (Shahadah), praying five times a day to that one God (Salat), fasting during the month of Ramadan and giving charity to the poor (Zakat). Hajj in particular is the holy pilgrimage to the city of Mecca that each financially and physically able Muslim must make at least once in their lifetime. There are specific rites that pilgrims must perform on each of the five days of Hajj. The purpose of these rites is to connect the pilgrim to God, allowing him or her to bear their soul and their sins, seek forgiveness and work towards renewal and rebirth. Many of the rites recreate the actions of prophets Adam, Abraham (his wife Hagar and son Ismael) and Muhammad and they have been in existence for centuries.
Our journey home was a bit more direct than the route over. We flew Saudia from Jeddah to Dubai, Lufthansa from Dubai to Frankfurt and good ole United from Frankfurt to sweet home Chicago.
I hear that there are plans to build a new airport in Jeddah. As far as I am concerned, this new airport cannot come soon enough. The small Saudia terminal is in desperate need of an overhaul and expansion.
One souvenir that every Hajji takes home is Zam Zam water. Each traveller is limited to a total of no more than two boxes.
The check-in lines were understandably busy as millions of people started the slow trek homeward. Despite the crowds the lines did move quickly and thankfully the agents were kind enough to check our bags all the way through to Chicago even though we were traveling on two separate tickets.
Boarding pass in hand, we cleared security, went through immigrations and headed airside.
The airside portion of the terminal is a bit more modern than landside but again a rehab/expansion or rebuild is needed.
Soon Saudia flight SV594 was ready for boarding on-time…
and we were soon climbing the airstairs boarding HZ-ASW, an Airbus A321 delivered to Saudia in April of 2013, for the 1,058 mile 2 hour and 47 minute flight to Dubai.
I am very partial to Saudia’s livery, there is something about the tan, gold and green that make an awesome combination.
The cabin however was pretty plain with uninspired gray leather seats…
and no visual in-flight entertainment options.
One side effect of flying to multiple desert destinations are dusty windows that make photography a challenge.
Legroom was decent but not as good as on the earlier A320. Despite a full load, boarding was quick and finished ahead of schedule. A short roll to the active runway was followed by a long take-off roll.
Soon we were flying high above the Arabian desert…
enjoying a quickly evolving sunset as we flew east towards Dubai.
By the time the sun was almost down…
the cabin crew was well into their dinner service.
The dinner consisted of a roll, a sesame seed covered baked snack, a salad, a dessert and…
the main dish, which was a rice and chicken dish. Good quality for a regional flight.
Soon after dinner the lights of Dubai were coming into view as we began a slow descent leading to a firm landing at DXB.
Our first stop at DXB was the transit counter where we received boarding passes for the DXB-FRA and FRA-ORD legs. From there we went to Lufthansa’s contract lounge for some free vittles and wifi. The two hours passed quickly and soon it was time to go to gate D2 to board Lufthansa flight LH631 for the 3,014 mile 7 hour flight to Frankfurt.
Tonight’s flight was operated by D-AIKH, an Airbus A330-300 delivered to Lufthansa in January of 2005. Little did I know that I would be taking this same plane a few months later from Frankfurt to Lagos.
The load was close to 100% in all classes but boarding was quick and we pushed off of the gate on time. Due to the late hour, a light snack (sandwich) was served after take-off with a full breakfast planned before landing.
Anyone who has read my prior trip reports knows that…
I love Lufthansa’s flight map. Of all the views, the cockpit POV is of course my favorite.
My sleep was somewhat restless partially due to jet leg and my non-existent post-Hajj circadian rhythms, so I drifted in and out of a pretty light sleep.
Look who caught the reflection of the red navigation light illuminating the wing on this moonless night.
Before long the cabin lights were turned on and the breakfast service began.
I love Lufthansa but I have to give this effort an F. The burned waffle and apple compote were as bad as they look.
Soon after breakfast dishes were collected we started our decent into Frankfurt Main airport.
Landing was well executed…
and with a spirited application of the breaks, we quickly vacated the active runway.
Welcome to Frankfurt, home of Lufty.
After a few hours spent napping and snacking in the Lufthansa lounge, we made our way to the Z gates where United flight UA945 was boarding for Chi-town.
Today’s 4,336 mile flight was operated by N223UA, a Boeing 777-200 delivered to United in August of 2001.
It seems like we were taxing forever on the rain soaked taxiways of Frankfurt Main.
and still going…..
We finally reached the thresh-hold of the active runway and the engines slowly came to life as we started our takeoff roll.
Less than a minute later we were up up and away into the soupy skies over Frankfurt.
Only 9 1/2 hours to go before reaching the comforts of my hometown.
Once we broke through the final layer of the thick cloud cover, a beautiful summer day greeted us aloft…
and I was reminded for the billionth time why I can’t get enough of life at 35,000 feet.
Soon lunch was served (bit strange for a 08:10 departure time).
I went for the pasta remembering how good the pasta dish was on the EWR-ZRH flight. Today’s pasta however was mediocre at best. The cous cous salad was good and ice cream is always appreciated.
A lot of fatigue and honestly a little bit of depression caught up with me and I slumbered until we were about 30 minutes out of Chicago.
As we crossed Lake Michigan heading eastward the shoreline came into view. Almost home.
Being on the starboard side of the plane we did not see downtown but we still got some nice views of the North Shore.
As we crossed the shoreline…
I heard the dull thud of the landing gear being deployed.
Within minutes we made a smooth landing at O’Hare airport where this landing 747-400 cargo jet seemed…
to almost be making a flyover it was…
taking so long to touch down. The taxi to international terminal 5 was quick and at this early hour we beat most of the trans-Atlantic heavies, so there was no wait for a gate and immigration was quick (especially with Global Entry).