My parents always told me Hajj is a privilege and only those lucky enough get to experience the spirituality of it. I never realised that, until it became harder and harder to do Hajj. Over the past four years, with the introduction of Hajj permits, and their sky rocketing price tags, Hajj truly has become a journey for the able and privileged. Though I've heard people talk about the 'spiritual journey' of Hajj, I have yet to experience that aspect for myself.
Throughout my lifetime, I've been lucky enough to have been able to perform Hajj eight times and now I've been given the opportunity to embark on this journey once more. Being born in Jeddah, I've always done Hajj as a local, which is not as easy and convenient as perceived to be. Hajj as a local meant travelling with extended family and friends that decided to tag along. It always stated by packing numerous people into a car along with essentials to get by the next five days. We would then drive an hour and half from Jeddah to Mina - the starting grounds for Hajj, also known famously as the City of Tents. By the time we arrived, some child would always have had an "accident" and the adults would already start to get headaches.
Hajj was more like a camping trip, setting up tents, waiting in lines to go to the bathroom and sleeping under the stars, except with millions of other people around you doing the exact same thing. Of all the times I've done Hajj, the only part that was difficult to bear was the heat, this year being the hottest I've ever experienced. With temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius at night, you can't even imagine the heat and humidity that lasts throughout the day. Add on thousands of people together in close proximity, the heat almost becomes intolerable. But then again, Hajj isn't meant to be easy. It is supposed to be a mental and spiritual journey after all.
With unfortunate events occurring in the previous years that resulted in the deaths of many, Hajj has become more exclusive and controlled. This year, two million pilgrims will be taking part in Hajj (thats equivalent to the population of Paris, France), as compared to the 1.8 million that were present the previous year. Last year there was an underestimation of resources and lack of crowd control. However, this year the security and aid measures have been increased to be able to handle the crowd properly. The group sizes have also become smaller so it is easier to manage them. With these measures in place, for me it is evident that Hajj 2017 will be successful.
I believe this year it's going to be very different. For starters, this is the first time I'm coming from Canada to do Hajj. Like always, I'm doing it with my family, expect that there's no more kids anymore. All of us are mature now, so this is an experience we'll all remember. Although it's only the first day, I've realised that I overpacked, as usual. By limiting the number of pilgrims, the resources have increased, mannerly transportation is provided, a buffet of food is available 24/7 and best of all, tents are air conditioned. Easing what would normally be considered hardships, allows me to spiritually gain the full experience I came seeking. I look forward to the next couple of days and hope to refresh both my mind and my body. But waiting in line for the bathrooms? Definitely not worth looking forward to.