Called to the Pilgrimage
Growing up, I wasn't like the "normal" children around me. I didn't crave the sweetness that others found within this life. Instead, I felt wholly and completely fulfilled during our little family "Halaqas" (translation: "Circles [of faith; i.e. lessons]") where my father would enthusiastically teach my siblings and I for hours at a time about the history of the Islamic faith and the amazing figures and characters who gave up everything so that my religion could survive until now. The Islamic faith truly survived against all odds despite it still being a target of many who fear the power that this beautiful Message brings.
And I dreamed, from the very first moment that my father explained to us the power of a Believer's prayers, the very first moment he or she lays eyes on the Ka'aba--the very first house of God built on earth--of what my supplication would be. I can't help but weep, thinking now about those lonely childhood dreams and how God comforted me and made them a reality. God is truly the Greatest.
Two years ago, when I first signed a contract and headed to Saudi Arabia with my cat, I planned on making the Hajj pilgrimage and I excitedly planned my first trip to Mecca. Unfortunately, my heart was broken by my employer, who carelessly informed me that I needed to obtain permission prior to embarking on the pilgrimage, and this permission would not be granted until I had worked at least one or two years with the company. I was truly saddened and I felt rejected by God. Muslims believe that the pilgrimage will only be made possible after a human is "called" by our Creator, as this is one of the greatest spiritual honors that we can be granted in our short lifetimes.
But I was crushed. I felt angry at my current employer, even though I know that the reasoning behind the decision was to prevent expats from using companies in Saudi to obtain entry visas and then simply leave after the hajj was fulfilled.
I even gave up hope of seeing Mecca for Hajj the next year, so when suddenly my father happened to be visiting and seats happened to be available on a group trip going to Mecca, I only partially believed that I was being called by Him.
I remember the first time the bus broke down on our way to Mecca, and I wondered if we would make it to Arafat. We experienced so many trials on the way and there was such terrible traffic going to Mecca that I truly doubted whether or not I deserved to reach the mountain of Arafat in time for my pilgrimage to be complete.
And the moment I laid eyes on those blessed rocky hills, the horrible diesel fumes began to smell like rose water and the pains of traveling were replaced with the comfort of effort not wasted.
Despite all my perceived worthlessness, I was home. After a lonely lifetime of dreaming, I was granted the opportunity to return to the very mountains that we all once stood on before our Lord, promising Him not to forget the Covenant we took with Him before He even placed us into the wombs of our mother. I remember, I thought, and with my whole heart I renewed my vow not to forget.