What Hajj taught me

Published: November 5, 2011

PHOTO: AFP We were all the same. Wearing the same brand called Islam. There is no difference between us. There is no worry of being different from the others. This is what Hajj teaches you. PHOTO: AFP


A friend and I were shopping for my sneakers. I told him that I could not walk without Caterpillar shoes. “I can run but cannot walk without feeling pain.It’s probably a varicose vein.” My friend suggested I try Adidas. We decided that I could get them whenever I went to Dubai.


I was walking – in simple slippers and even barefoot. I walked 1.5 kilometers to the train station every day, two kilometeres in Jamrat (ritual of stoning the Satan) thrice in three days and similar distances in Arafat. Longer distances in three Tawafs (circumambulating the Holy Kaaba) and saee… almost 12 kilometres in six hours in one of Tawaf. There were no Caterpillar shoes or sneakers. There was no varicose vein. I felt no pain. There is no pain when you set your feet in the path of Allah. This is what Hajj taught me.


My wife and I were furniture shopping for our new home. I told her that I wanted an eight-inch mattress for the bed. “Not foam. Spring is better.” We had extensive discussions on the kind of bed, sofas, coffee tables and chairs we wanted. Only the best would do.


I was lying on the ground of Muzdalifa looking at the star filled sky. There was no furniture, no mattress and no pillow. Next to me, my wife and daughter were sleeping soundly as if they were at a comfortable five-star hotel. But what five-star hotel could be better than the sacred dry sand of Muzdalifa? It’s a place where everyone is the same. There is no difference between a marketing manager, a lawyer, a beggar or a taxi driver. Everyone has to spend the night out in the open with millions of other fellow Muslims. There are no tents, no beds, no one to look after your belongings when you sleep and yet, everyone sleeps peacefully as if there are no worries in the world. Human needs are much more basic than we have made them in our own greed. This is what Hajj taught me.


When a friend texted me “Meet me at Banana Republic,” I had told myself that I would have to stop myself from impulse shopping as I had been on quite a shopping spree lately. Hopping between Massimo Dutti, Giordano, Milano, Paul Smith and Zara, eyeing the stitching, fall and crease of every item carefully before making my final choice. After all, nice clothes make you stand out in a crowd.


 I was wearing two unstitched pieces of cloth just like millions around me. There were no brand names in Mina. When the upper cloth of my Ihram fell from my shoulders to my chest, I was least bothered about it. By the end of my pilgrimage my Ihram becae filthy because of dust and even mud. Lying on the ground in Arafat mud made it black. Nobody cared. We were all the same. Wearing the same brand called Islam. This is what Hajj taught me.


At a bonfire with friends at Fujairah beach I rattled off the names my favorite fragrances: Kenzo, Escada Sentiment and Armani Mania are my favorite fragrances. My friend Ehtisham playfully joked, “Have you even used these perfumes or you have just memorized the names?”  “I like perfume,” was my answer.


I was standing in Arafat drenched in sweat under the scorching heat of the desert. It was the biggest moment of the entire Hajj process. The biggest moment of my life probably. Several others around me were standing the same way as I was following the ritual of Wuqoof-e-Arafa (standing in Arafat). The pilgrims stand in Arafat and pray to Allah between Zuhar (noon) and Maghrib (sunset). I had not touched a bar of soap for the last five days let alone perfumes. Everyone stank of sweat and lack of bath and cleanliness. Nobody cared. Millions were praying to Allah and secretly asking for their wishes to come true. Worldly cleanliness means nothing when you are on a journey to cleanse your soul and conscience. This is what Hajj taught me.


“My hair is the longest I have had in the last decade or so,” I said showing my hair to my wife on Skype. “I want to grow it. I am quite sick of these spikes and I need a change. I need to sport a different look. I will probably go to a stylist when it’s long enough.”


I was sitting a few meters away from my tent in Mina. A careless man, who I am sure was only a part-time barber was running a razor across my head. In just a few minutes minutes, my head was shaved. My Ihram was full of the long hair that I had grown in four months.  Several other men were walking around me, they looked like I did; without any hair on their head. I smiled as I walked back to the tent to take my Hajj completion shower. What seems important to us in our day to day lives, like being good looking and impressing others with the way we look, is actually a very petty thing. One needs to get over the petty things and look at the bigger picture. This is what Hajj taught me.

There is a lot more one learns from Hajj which nobody can explain. I learned how to give and not react if something goes against my will. It taught me how to endure pain and still keep a smiling face. It taught me how to respect the others who go through what I don’t. It taught me that in the eyes of Allah, those who have paid thousands of dollars for a VIP Hajj are similar to the ones sleeping on the mountains without any cover.

There is one side of Hajj which people might overlook; it is a very romantic event. At least to me it was. There has never been a feeling of higher degree of romance before than walking in circles around the Kaaba holding your beloved in your arms. Standing on the top floor of Haram at night, feeling the cold November breeze on your face, holding each other’s hands and praying to Allah for an eternal relationship of trust and togetherness is a touching experience. There is nothing more romantic than a cup of tea in Muzdalifa watching the moon and stars before the carefree sleep on one small sheet.

Many would disagree when I say that even non-Muslims should experience Hajj. It’s a universal process of understanding the human needs, the importance of being humane, the feeling of being ordinary and nothing special and the longing for being together. It’s a much higher level of spiritual journeys than most will ever see and experience.


Sami Saayer

A Dubai based Pakistani looking for excuses to write.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Dr.jobless

    I could picture all of that as i read. Wonderful piece. Love it.
    An umrah had me awe-struck. The magnamity of the Ka’aba, the beauty of it. Oh-so-wonderful. And then Hajj. Can’t wait to experience it.Recommend

  • http://www.pakistani-revival.blogspot.com Ovais

    oh nooo … u are an extremist now … right liberals ???Recommend

  • Common Man

    With tear in my eyes, just want to congratulate on this master piece. A part from forgiveness of our sin and begging for the best to be in our lives, Dear you pointed The Unique Dimension of Hajj;

    Aik he saf main kharay hain Mehmood aur Ayar,
    Na koi banda raha na banda nawaz….!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Recommend

  • sami

    burger bacha :PRecommend

  • SB

    you want non muslims to experience hajj because ” It’s a much higher level of spiritual journeys than most will ever see and experience.” Oh please, spare the readers your religious gyaan. How can u just assume that people from other religions do not experience the same thrill on their own religious journeys ?

    And wearing good clothes, looking pretty and loving perfumes etc is NOT PETTY. You can do all of that while being a good human being. They can do aLL That while being nice to others, being tolerant, helping the needy and living like a responsible human being.Recommend

  • http://www.sidrahmoizkhan.blogspot.com Sidrah Moiz Khan

    What you wrote just touched my heart, really. Bless you.Recommend

  • OhLaLa

    Found a keera to whine about? Feel better? Good for you!Recommend

  • Ashfaq Shah

    Lovely piece. God Bless you.Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    I’m glad you found your spiritual satisfaction in this.

    But I ask this: why would you recommend a non-Muslim to participate in or observe this ritual when you would probably never have a taste of their rituals, which too can be quite spiritual. Would you, as a Muslim, ever light a joss-stick in front of Buddha’s image in Wat Arun? Would you ever visit the Vatican for kneel before the pope to receive his blessings? Would you go to Amsterdam and smoke cannabis with Rastas?

    If you are not open to other spiritual experiences, and have no frame of reference, how do you know that hajj beats all? And why would you tell others to do what you’d never reciprocate?Recommend

  • Wowemkay

    You sound like you had a whale of a time rediscovering your penury and its joys. Please try and go every year and while you’re in Paki make sure you don’t use any perfume or try to wear decent clothes. In fact, you should apply for a job in Mecca and take all the rubbish the dehumanized Saudis are going to fling at you. waiting for your piece next yearRecommend

  • d2412412

    MashAllah Brilliant , Cha gaye ho . Recommend

  • Err

    People like you give liberals a bad name and make them come across overbearing intolerant whingers who need to critique everything. I think the gist of his analysis is just to give a personal narrative the experience of an exhilaration that he acquired during his trip. Take it or leave it at that. How can you make assumptions about whether or not he is open to other experiences, or not? Can a man not even talk about simple experiences without raising your ire in one way or the other??Recommend

  • Ramzan Ali

    Its the best time of your life…… One can never forget the experience at Arafat, Muzalfah & Minna….. Really Awesome….. May Allah give courage to everyone to perform Hajj & Umrah !! Aameen………..

    ek hi saf me kharay ho gaye Mehmood-o-Ayaz
    Na Koi Banda Na Koi Banda Nawaz….Recommend

  • http://zealforwriting.blogspot.com Sarah B. Haider

    This must have been a wonderful experience for you, and I hope all the Muslims get the opportunity to perform Hajj. Amen. It was indeed a beautiful portrayal of your feelings of exaltation and your comparison of it with your daily, worldly life. However, the last part of your blog seemed to be colored as you gave a chance for many people to challenge the grandeur and sanctity of Hajj. Seriously, it was a beautiful piece and I am sure many people would be touched by it, including me. Why on earth did you decide to present a debatable element to a wonderful piece of writing, especially, when many of us are not even qualified to present a convincible argument? Seriously, there was no need to incorporate a controversial element to it, as this would lead to nothing but another religion versus secularism argumentation.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Interesting read.
    Question : After your Hajj experience have you incorporated the virtuous principles that you experienced into your daily life ? If yes, then you have done well.Recommend

  • Ozy

    How lovely! Please ignore the trolls. They are a sad sad lot with nothing better to do. In fact, you should be glad that you have provided them a small degree of satisfaction in their otherwise bitter livesRecommend

  • Shahid

    Haj with Adidas… a great idea.Recommend

  • khurram kaleem

    one of the best article i read on pilgrimage .

    Better than a mufti could writeRecommend

  • Adam

    must be really nice to see no boundaries between high class citizens and the low ones. we are all the same human being.Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    And people like you perpetuate the stereotype that religious people making up their mind without attempting to understand what the other person has said.

    I didn’t criticize the article. There’s no point in doing so, since the this just a personal account of how hajj changed him, and as I said right in the beginning, I’m glad he liked it.

    It’s not an “assumption” that Muslims don’t kneel before an idol of Buddha. It’s just how things work. I wasn’t being flippant, I was just making a simple point about how the author can ask non-Muslims to be open-minded and participate in Islamic rituals, when he would probably never show the same open-mindedness and participate and fully participate in theirs?Recommend

  • Hana

    Splendid article! May Allah s.w.t bless youRecommend

  • Nayab

    That sounds so wonderful. I hope to go for Hajj soon and really just can’t wait for it. It does seem like you learnt quite a bit and hopefully incorporate some of the things learnt into your life.

    At the liberel wannabes: I am a liberel. I am also a muslim. Now start whining.

    Spirituality exists in all religions, whether it be christianity or hinduism, spirituality has played often significant roles in these respective religions. The author was merely stating that the feeling of love for all mankind, a unity and brotherhood that one feels in hajj is a trait that makes it attractive, even if you’re not religous. Recommend

  • Hania

    True to the core.

    Non Muslims being exposed to Islamic rituals has its meaning in essence, Its true that when we are exposed to certain experiences first hand then only do we understand them better and believe in them strongly. Enlightening people of the supreme nature of this true religion will put truth in their hearts.

    Yes it is not wrong to love fragrances or to sleep on comfortable beds, but there are levels of faith that a man can achieve, The higher the better.

    May we all get to experience the feeling of Hajj. Recommend

  • SB

    Loneliberal Pak – I love ur comments in the blogs i’ve read. I am so glad to know that not all muslims are extremists who like to see people follow their version of faith. And i say this coz i m a non muslim. While i have no issue with islam, i dont like the authors’ assumption that non muslims should experience hajj because ” It’s a much higher level of spiritual journeys than most will ever see and experience.” I mean, COME ON !! There is christianity, jewism, hinduism and other great religions in the world. how can he assume that people of these faiths do not have soul stirring experiences while on religious pilgrimages ? wHAT i have said is simple enough. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that out! If someone tells me to experience hajj coz it is a great experience, i have no problem. But if someone says go on hajj coz *”It’s a much higher level of spiritual journeys than most will ever see and experience”, then i have an issue. I follow a great religion as well. Please , for the love of god, don’t assume that i won’t experience a spiritual high as great as urs while i am on my pilgrimage. Please spare me the ” gyaan “* And, i love perfumes,clothes,watches and the works, coz i know that you don’t need to give everything up to be close to god. My god, i know, wants me to enjoy life while being humane,While being a honest, helpful and respectful human being. And i try to be what my god wants me to be. And i know that if god were reading my comment, he’d say “Hear, Hear ” :))Recommend

  • Err

    Exactly, how can you be so sure he isnt open minded? Oh wait is it the fact that he practised his religion and went to hajj, should now make him intolerant and close minded about other cultures and religions? People practice what they want to practice and how they want to practice, just like you practice being a staunch liberal. I am merely pointing out your inherent contradiction and hypocrisy in making assumptions about the author’s intentions and whether or not he will reciprocate. Dont criticise for the sake of it and stay true to at least what you keep espousing all over ET!Recommend

  • Asad

    i don’t think its a matter of choice for non-Muslims to attend hajj. non Muslims are not even allowed in Makkah. the writer probably meant that it should be exposed to non Muslims. Christians and other religions often go to ashrams in India and Nepal only for spirituality, if they can perform Hajj and go through this, it can be a bigger experience for them. but i also agree with Sarah that the writer could have excluded that part from the article. why create unnecessary debate.Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    a good one … shabaash … thorough to the core ! a punch on the nose for all those 2 number maulvees …

    It just stuck me that how many Hajjis in Pakistan … and still we are such a nation !!!! that spirit to be good is missing I guess …Recommend

  • Cynical

    Non-muslims should be allowed to perform hajj.
    Many of them will be so overwhelmed by the experience,that they will convert to Islam.Recommend

  • moiz

    its all about simplicity in our religion which the writer discovered in his journey. Having a luxurious lifestyle is not forbidden but a simple one is preferred.Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    I will not argue with you any further since you’re obviously not even bothering to read my statements, and simply venting your irrational anger against secularists.
    The author had an opinion…he expressed it. If he’s wrong, he might learn something from you to change his view. If you’re wrong, he might be able to change yours. There’s no such thing as a “bad” debate, since we all learn from it.Recommend

  • yousaf

    @ Author:- very very enchanting is the way of expression of your feelings at the place,like of which is nowhere else in the world.The magic of the place is that I could feel your experience while reading the article…..Have no words just thankyou and God bless you.Recommend

  • the daughter

    @Loneliberal PK:
    for once i think u kinda missed the point the author was making. i dont think his intent was to get non-muslims to have the ‘muslim’ experience of hajj. i think he was more generalising and just wishing that people of any faith or no faith to get a wholesome and amaizing experience which is encompassed in hajj.

    would i stand in the vatacin and receieve communion? yes! would i burn incense at a budhist temple yes….i might draw the line at smoking pot though:) but on a more serious note…. participating in some rituals that are not of my faith doesnt diminish ones faith….and its foolish to think so….. why i would do any of the above…just to experience something that might leave a mark on my life….so if i would like someone i am close to experience Hajj or Umrah for that matter, be that person be a non-muslim i see no harm?Recommend

  • Awais

    man you are rich hehe !! You have written good and congrats on Hajj.

    I’m waiting my turn … whenever the destiny has it for me, cuz i’m not in control of my life. Well i guess no one is.Recommend

  • Salman Arshad

    What is very difficult for me to understand is that all that you experienced has anything to do with Hajj itself.
    I have known people who felt absolutely no spiritual connection during Hajj, especially those who have been there multiple times. This is just like people who pray habitually 5 times a day.
    Also, people who already sleep on the floor due to lack of means have nothing special to “learn” about not wanting a thick spring mattress. For them, they would probably we praying to God for a thick spring mattress when they get back.
    Still, its great you experienced all that through Hajj.
    Its sad that our society has lost the values you were fortunate enough to realize through Hajj, when we could have had all those values even without spending billions on rituals.
    Even more sad is the fact that even after spending those billions on Hajj every year, the Hajis contribute nothing to the overall well-being of the country. They are even unable to transfer those values to their children.Recommend

  • xoya khan

    very interesting! it just touched my heart. its true that we don’t even think about these things in our life.Good job!Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    I personally feel that it’s important to experience and study multiple religions before one makes up his/her about a particular one.

    If not, then for anyone to suggest the hajj is the best kind of spiritual experience or that Islam is the best religion (generally speaking, not talking about the author specifically) is like a man who has eaten nothing but boiled rice his entire life becoming convinced that rice is the “best food in the world”. It is, if you don’t have a wide frame of reference.Recommend

  • http://zealforwriting.blogspot.com Sarah B. Haider

    @Loneliberal PK: Debating is healthy as it gives an individual the opportunity to contemplate and build an opinion through reasoning; however, in our context where people are more driven by emotions rather than their rational abilities,stirring up a debate is not a wise thing to do especially when we know that it would not lead to a conclusion and would linger on and on until it would completely evanesce . Besides, I firmly believe that if one does not have the ability to support their premise with a line of reasoning, and their arguments cannot be convincing enough for others, they shouldn’t indulge in such a debate.Recommend

  • Parvez

    On reading the comments a question comes to mind :
    Islam, is very active in its missionary zeal and policy towards conversion from other faiths. So why the restriction on non-Muslims from visiting Mecca or experiencing Hajj ?? Is it a restriction due to logistical constraints or something else ? Recommend

  • Aima

    Beautiful article MASHALLAH! Made me cry.. I really wish to experience all this!Recommend

  • girl

    lovely…made me remember my time in UmrahRecommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    Realities are not subservient to our emotions. Rather than discouraging open, rational discussion, we must learn to keep our emotions in check.

    Galileo too sparked off quite an outburst from the church and the general public when he snuck in a bit of science in his poetic explanation of the motion of the celestial bodies. Would you have told Galileo not to flare up this controversy merely to cater for the emotions of the ignorant?Recommend

  • Asad

    we are totally missing the point in these commentsRecommend

  • http://zealforwriting.blogspot.com Sarah B. Haider

    @Loneliberal PK: I never proposed succumbing to the emotions of the “ignorant” (a very relative term), I stressed that “if one does not have the ability to support their premise with a line of reasoning, and their arguments cannot be convincing enough for others, they shouldn’t indulge in such a debate.” For instance, I would never indulge in an emotionally driven debate with an atheist to convince him/her of the existence of God unless and until I am fully qualified to do so. Wouldn’t it be absurd of me to hurl religiously biased statements at an out-group who wouldn’t have the (as you put it) frame of reference and field of experience to understand it and rationally accept it? Recommend

  • Hareem

    Loved it! Thanks so much for writing this. A good read on ET after a long time.Recommend

  • Hajira Mirza

    heart touching..beautiful article :)Recommend

  • Zee

    MashALLAH! Hajj Mubarak :)
    May Allah grant this opportunity to all Muslims in the world.Recommend

  • Adeel Suhail

    Dear Brother,

    Jazakallah Kharian for sharing your thoughts & learning. I did perform Hajj last yr as well. I did change your thought, life if you want to change. Quran is a great guidance for all mankind if they want to guidance.

    I am sure you are following the same path as well. Unfortunately lot of muslims don’t do that. E.g. if you consider Pakistan, around 1 lacs muslim go for Hajj every year from Pakistan. By now at least 50lacs would be Hajji. If they all would have learned & changed than this country would be so without corruption n all

    May Allah guide us to right path. AmeenRecommend

  • Mahnoor

    This is simply a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you for sharing!Recommend

  • Midhat

    @ Loneliberal PK
    Dont generalize, dont assume and please dont judge. At times you come accorss as islamophoic, always critisizing otherwise harmless and insighful accounts, Brother give it a rest. Being Liberal means you resepect other person’s choice of living but you seem to bash religious people unnecessarily at times.


  • afifa jeelani

    one of the best post i’ve ver read at Tribune!!
    beautifully written and the way you’ve captured the human emotions and thought process- this is just remarkable :)Recommend

  • mahwish mamoon rashid

    101 % sach likha hay, acha likha hay, hajj kay baad or hajj kay doran meri bhi yahee kaifyat thi….allah qabool farmai…aameenRecommend

  • safwan umair

    Spell biding stuff ….. masha’ Allah! :)Recommend

  • Erum

    A brilliant piece.Recommend

  • Hira

    Amazing read, mashAllah :)Recommend