By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
28 August 2018
WHEN I finally decided to perform Haj, few
years ago, it was a holy journey into humanity. So many deep experiences, in so
few days! Travel brings the best and the worst in people. Here, I must say, I
only saw the best, most of the time.
I was hesitant about going to Haj that
year, for the same reason that kept me away most of the last decade — giving
first-time performers more space.
Then, all of a sudden, I was fortunate enough
to receive an invitation that couldn’t be refused. A group of close friends
were going, and I felt an irresistible urge to join them. They helped me get
permission and organized the whole journey. It was a lifetime experience!
The young African was making her rounds in
Muzdalifah selling tea and coffee. We were seven Hajis, and she had other
multiple orders. As we were leaving, she came back a bit confused. “How much
did you give me, sir?” she asked our group leader.
“Twenty riyals that is more than the 16
riyals you deserve! What more do you want?” he answered, angrily. “No, I don’t
want more!” she answered in a quiet voice, giving him back four riyals.
“Actually, that is what I thought!.. You overpaid me!” she explained.
Now, he was embarrassed and full of guilt,
especially with everyone looking at him accusingly. “I know, but I meant to
give you more! Keep it, daughter!” he handed her back the returned money. She
smiled and hesitated. “Are you sure? You only owe me 16!” When we all
responded, “sure, sure, take it!” she prayed for us and took the four riyals.
That was amazing, we, thought. Drivers were
charging SR100 for every seat in rundown, crowded buses to take Hajjis few
kilometres down the road. A lady was begging for a discount, promising to pray for
the driver. “No need for your prayers! Pay me instead!” he sarcastically
responded. And this poor girl was returning four riyals she wasn’t sure about.
Of course, not all drivers were the same.
Friends told me of one who returned half the agreed fee because he couldn’t
take them to their final destination. Half the way, he was diverted by a sudden
change in the traffic system.
A young Saudi, with a brand-new Ford
Explorer, took us almost all over Makkah to help us reach our friends’ place.
Since he was local, he managed to get us around heavy traffic spots, and to
find alternative routes.
The half hour he thought it would take to
reach our destination turned into triple the time.
He didn’t ask for more or leave us half
way, or even show his frustration. Instead, he kept us upbeat with his
optimistic solutions and sweet smile. We compensated him, of course, but he
deserved much more.
Mixing with crowds is quite a feast of
enlightenment. Mixing with millions is an incredible one. You just never know
what to expect when you get eye-to-eye and shoulder-to-shoulder with people
from all over the world. All follow the same call and move towards the same
goal — at the same time. It is an amazing feel of unity of purpose and strength
I admired the way most security men treated
us. They were helpful, kind and understanding. An Egyptian elderly person was
distributing cups of cold water. When done, his smile was shining like the
sunny day of Arafat.
A Pakistani sheikh had only few dates to
give away, so he carefully chose the people he felt more in need. A little
Indonesian girl was sent by her parents to ask if we would share their food.
They were cooking and giving.
A Saudi boy had only one ice-cream box to
distribute. The look of sadness, when he showed me his empty box as I asked for
a piece, was touching. Almost all were giving, helping, sharing and praying for
No matter how tired, hungry and thirsty, no
one was complaining. Millions were moving, praying, helping and serving under
unfriendly weather conditions, but I never heard anyone regretting being there.
We all felt privileged and lucky to be in
the holiest place on earth, performing one of the greatest “tasks”, and
enjoying the cleansing of our sins, enlightenment of our hearts and elevation
of our souls.
My Haj journeys have always been the best I
ever had. It is hard to express or explain the feelings in words. You have to
be actually there to absorb them.
I pray for those who haven’t had the chance
to perform Haj, to have it in the coming years. And I pray for those who
perform Haj to be richly rewarded.