YES, YES and YES!!!
Everyone knows that hajj is an obligatory act, one of the five pillars of Islam. Some people imagine doing it at some later point in their lives, when they are ‘free’ of all the other pressing duties and responsibilities. Some are waiting for their kids to grow up, others feel like they never have enough money, or have not yet reached that spiritual level. Here’s what I have learnt from my experience:
Sooner is better than later. I would say we performed hajj at quite a young age in very comfortable circumstances. But even then, it took its toll on us. It is mentally, physically, emotionally and financially taxing. I marveled at all the people who were much older than us, or were sick or were disabled. There were times when I felt really exhausted and totally drained and I can’t imagine what it would be like for them. Youth in itself is energy, strength, power and ability. And you need all of those things on your side.
Prioritize. No doubt there are people who are just in the right place at the right time and they manage to perform hajj without any preplanning. Notwithstanding such good fortune, it is an obligatory act and some amount of effort needs to go into performing it. You can’t keep waiting for an anonymous check to arrive in the mail. Put money aside for your hajj. Just like you save for a trip to Hawaii or your dream car. Make this your first priority. Before that vacation to Europe or trip to Pakistan. If you can afford an expensive vacation, that means you had the resources and ability to perform hajj, but didn’t.
What about the kids? We didn’t take our 2 year old with us. I can tell you, it is incredibly easy when you don’t have to care for a small child. If you have the option of leaving your children with loved ones, you should definitely take it. The stay in Mecca and Medina is relatively comfortable, it is when the actual hajj starts that the going will get much more tough with little ones. Buses, delays, tents, limited bathrooms, the possibility of having to walk for miles in extreme weather, travelling at odd hours etc.
But if you can’t leave them with anyone, you certainly won’t hear me say don’t go. There were people there with four young ones, taking their meals sitting on pieces of cardboard, sleeping on the sidewalk, piling them on a wheelchair to perform tawaf. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but when they were given the option, they chose hajj. At the end of it, they also went through it and emerged hajis like all the rest. Hajj was their priority and I truly admire them. People do believe that they won’t be able to concentrate when they have their kids with them. Here’s the thing- don’t think that because this is hajj, you are supposed to or you will be in tears and praying 24/7. You will be travelling, eating, sleeping, tired, resting, talking, even shopping. Prayer becomes a state of mind and body. You are constantly in a state of worship because of the act that you are there to perform. Everything you are doing is for the sake of fulfilling Allah’s command and to please Him. This is not eitakaaf (praying in complete isolation). This is pilgrimage. Kids are allowed. Yes, it is much easier without them, but I strongly believe that once you make hajj your priority and make the intention, Allah will resolve all the rest.
We will do umrah first because we don’t want to make any mistakes during hajj. This seems to be the most commonly held misconception about umrahand hajj. Firstly, umrah is not a practice for hajj. When you arrive in Mecca, you are to perform umrah. Umrah consists of tawaf around the Kaaba, saee between the hills of Safa and Marwa and cutting of the hair. This is where umrah ends. Hajj starts after this, therefore, doing it can’t possibly help you not to make any mistakes during hajj. Umrah can only be practice for the umrah that one performs before hajj, and it is so simple that there is absolutely no need to ‘practice’ it at all. Secondly, be prepared, study well, and there is no reason for you to be making mistakes during hajj anyway.
Other than that, if something goes wrong that you don’t have any control over, e.g. your bus breaks down, you don’t reach where you were supposed to be on time etc, well, that can’t possibly be helped. And certainly, going for umrah first will not help in such a situation! Nothing in this world can really ‘prepare’ you for hajj. You really have to dive headfirst into it and experience it for what it is. The scale of it is very, very large and you just have to become a part of that movement. Don’t go into it worrying about the mistakes you are going to make. Once you start gathering information, you will realize that you won’t actually be stumbling every step of the way. And worse comes to worst, offering sacrifices and fasting are ways to amend any errors committed during hajj. Lastly, hajj is the obligatory act, not umrah. Remember how mom always said, “Finish your homework first, then you can play?” Do the obligatory and important act first, then, go ahead, do as many umrahs as you like. I don’t mean to say that one should pass up the chance to perform umrah. But hajj should be the priority, not the other way around.