I define myself as a Muslim and my faith has been a constant reassurance throughout my life. That being said, there were still times I would have doubts about certain rules in Islam, or why some things were the way that they were. However, an experience that changed the way I perceive myself was when I completed Umrah in December 2019. My journey shaped me to become a stronger Muslim because I saw so many other Muslims in one place with the same goal as mine; I felt more connected to a community who shared the same experiences as I did.
When I left my home for my journey, it did not hit me that I was about to accomplish one of the most important tasks of my life. As my family and I traveled from airport to airport, it felt like we were just taking a normal trip. It did not occur how crucial this experience would be until we were about to board the plane for Jeddah. There, all the men were changed into their white ihram clothing. The place buzzed with anticipation. The plane ride felt much shorter compared to the previous 11 hour flight.
When it was time for landing, the announcer’s voice boomed through the speakers. He recited the surah that one must say from the point of intention to perform Umrah to the moment they see the Kaaba. “Labbaik Allah humma labbaik Labbaik la sharika laka labbaik Innal hamda Wan-ni’mata Laka walmulk Laa sharika lah.” All the passengers chanted repeatedly in unison, the point at which I realized what I was actually doing. By performing Umrah, I would be fulfilling the commandment of Allah.
We arrived at the airport and took a taxi to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam. Although it was 3 am, my father was still determined for us to complete Umrah before fajr prayer. We checked into our hotel then headed to Masjid al-Haram. My family and I stayed close together because there were so many people and we didn’t want to lose one another. As we took our shoes off to enter the mosque, we recognized giant bugs crawling on the floor. Despite my anxiety, I had to be careful not to step on them because from the beginning to end of Umrah, you cannot kill another living being, even if it’s as small as a fly. This made me more self aware of how my presence impacted all of my surroundings, as though I may feel like a insignificant individual amongst the thousands of people, the smallest of my actions could determine the validity of my entire experience.
At that moment, I understood that this also reflected on how Allah views me, because He has created so many humans yet He still cares for each and every one of us. We walked further inside towards the Kaaba which is at the very center of the mosque. When we finally reached our destination, I was surprised at how quiet it was despite the place being packed with thousands of people. You could even hear the chirping of the insects through the serene silence. It was then my dad stopped in his tracks and told me, “look”. His voice started to crack as he tried to hold back his tears, staring at the Kaaba. What I had seen in images all my life was right there in front of my eyes. My heart was full.
We stood there and admired the beauty for a few seconds, then proceeded to start tawaf. As we approached the crammed circle of people walking counter-clockwise, I held on tight to my father’s arm. He told me what surahs to recite from one corner of the kaaba until the point of the black stone. It was difficult not to be overwhelmed by everyone pushing each other. When we reached the black stone, everyone lifted their right arm to it and you could just smell the intense sweat coming from everyone’s bodies because you are not allowed to apply any scents during Umrah, signifying the devotion to our task.
While we were walking, I even spotted old men with no legs pushing themselves forward with their upper body during tawaf. My heart went out to them because I knew they must have saved money for years to come to Mecca, but they could not even afford a wheelchair. Many of the people there were very old and came from poor backgrounds, and it was apparent that they had used all of their life savings to be able to afford this trip.
Each step became more challenging, especially because we were running on very few hours of sleep. We then had to complete seven rounds to and from mountains Safa and Marwa just as Hagar and Ismail, wife and infant son of Ibrahim, had done when they were being tested by Allah. After that, we concluded our mission by cutting our hair, giving our final donation to our righteous cause.
Performing Umrah changed my identity because it made me more proud to be a Muslim. When I was at Mecca, I saw how much others have struggled, and I also realized how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to strengthen my bond with Allah by fulfilling his wishes. It banished any doubts I had about Islam because I saw how all Muslims are equal under our creator. My journey made me more devoted to my faith and have a greater purpose in life; to serve God indefinitely.