If there is anything that is certain about life, it is that it never is what you expect it to be. My life’s journey has been all but what I expected it to be. Now I am at that stage of my life where I have no regrets, not anymore. And yes, life does have different stages or phases. I have been through a few of the phases; the idealistic phase when I wanted to change the world; the rebellious and hedonistic phase when gratification seemed therapeutic; and lastly the self-discovery or the acceptance phase.
Despite being in a wheelchair permanently due to Spinal Muscular Atrophy, I recently decided to take a journey that no one in my health condition normally undertakes. I decided to go for Hajj, knowing that I am exempt from such hardship. I have had a deep motivation for the past 25 years to make this journey. I was determined. Despite the determination and strong will power, I am sure you can imagine my fears and apprehensions as this type of journey is strenuous even for the healthy pilgrims.
On the way to the airport, my mind became preoccupied with the difficulties that I perceived I would have to face during the entire trip. So I decided to discuss it once again with my colleague. He sat next to me and heard my fears and anxieties. His reply was very profound, he says, “Khalid, you are a guest of Allah now, let Him worry about your needs and you just relax and trust Him”. With one sentence he removed all my anxieties. My whole body became relaxed and tranquil; I could feel my shoulders drop as the haze in my mind cleared. Suddenly, I felt a strong connection with my Creator.
With my faith recharged, the journey now seemed less arduous. However, what is peculiar about the mind is that it never stops thinking. So my thoughts shifted to something else. I began to wonder how my concept of my Creator had changed during the last two decades. As a child, I was taught to fear God. The image of God I was given by my teachers was of a God who enjoyed punishing his creation for their sins. This image seemed plausible to me as schools and masjids in Pakistan regularly punished pupils as a norm. My world during childhood was parched for a loving God.
My new concept of God derived from reading the literature to gain a better understanding. I now submitted to a God of mercy, a merciful God. According to Islamic literature, God placed only 1% mercy on earth for all the creatures, while He kept 99% mercy for his creation for the judgement day. This Hajj journey for me was full of mercy. Whenever we came across any hurdles, minor or major, help arrived immediately. Perhaps one of the biggest difficulties we faced was travelling, climbing up and down the stairs of coaches. My disability is such that I needed to be lifted manually as there were no lifts inside the coaches. Allah the Most Merciful was always there for me, and helpers were always present.
Spending the day of Hajj in Arafat and the night under the open sky in Muzdalifah contemplating and rebuilding a relationship with the Creator is perhaps the most important part of the journey. For me, it was the spiritual transformation and changes that took place within that amounted to an experience of a lifetime. More than 4 million people gathered in Muzdalifah and yet it was so peaceful. Each individual present there was praying with absolute certainty that God is hearing their prayers. Everyone was busy calling to God seeking that deep connection and Allah’s mercy.
My metaphor for Hajj would be that it is an intensive training program on being human. It is a gigantic classroom for practical learning and practical testing. You are obliged to practice patience, humility, gratitude, politeness, helping the needy, forgiving and seeking forgiveness as well as all types of good manners including giving charity and making sacrifices. This should give you a bit of backdrop about building a relationship with Allah, the path to Allah is through His creation. It is about being a good human being and consideration for others. Perhaps this is the reason why happiness is not found in being selfish but being selfless or altruistic; you feel happier when you help others.
As I write, I keep pondering over the spiritual awakening that takes place for many pilgrims during the journey. Then again each awakening is unique, based on an individual’s needs. For me, ever since I took this journey, I see the world as it is; a playground full of toys. These toys (materialistic things and wealth) and our attachments to them as well as to our relationships become the source of suffering at times. Too often our egos and our desires overtake our rationality, as a result, we damage our souls when we succumb to our egos and unleash our negativity e.g. anger, greed and selfishness.
What all this signifies is that we have a higher purpose in life. Our real goal should be to help humanity by facilitating each other’s efforts in unleashing human potential. We redeem ourselves when we restore ourselves. We need to adopt behaviours which bolster our inner strength and help our struggle in restoring the mind.