It was 3 a.m. in a dark, hot room … there were at least 16 men in the same tight space, sleeping next to each other, packed like sardines in a tin … snoring heavily and making it impossible for me to sleep with all the snoring and body odor in the air … I was wrapped in two towel sheets that I hadn’t washed in days, and nothing else was on me, and it was very uncomfortable…
This might sound like the words of a prisoner in a cell, but it was actually my experience during my first hajj in 2004. Despite that, for me and millions of people, the hajj will always be a beautiful, cherished spiritual experience that is truly transformative.
Hajj was meant to be uncomfortable right from the start. Discomfort was baked right into it, from the choice of location in the hot desert of Arabia to the clothes you wear (and yes, no underwear for men!), to the prohibitions during the hajj rituals (for instance, you can’t shower with scented soap or use deodorant), to having to “compete” with millions of people trying to complete the same rituals during the same period of time without losing one’s cool or temper. As one former hajj minister said to a CNN reporter, “Hajj is like 20 Super Bowls or World Cups, and everyone’s playing on the field!”
The question is, why?
Why did God put so much discomfort in hajj? Why He didn’t choose a more fertile land, with a better climate and easier terrain, and make it comfortable for pilgrims to perform their rituals with comfortable clothing, or at least the ability to shower and dress up for the experience?
Here’s a thought: Hajj strips away from us all that is comfortable and familiar in our lives in order to help us reach the core of our spiritual being. As human beings, our core is our body and soul, the place where our body is connected to Earth and the material world and our Soul is connected to God and the spiritual world.
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Over the years, we’ve focused our attention on taking care of our bodies and material well-being, from the clothes we wear to the status we proclaim in society, yet we rarely take the time and energy to focus on nurturing our soul.
Hajj gives us “shock therapy” to strip us away from the comforts of our material world and help us resuscitate our soul. This therapy helps us understand:
- How little we need in our lives physically and materially to function as productive human beings
- How much our soul needs attention and focus to connect it to its Creator
- How good manners (and not status or money) are the true currency to getting along with people despite the challenging environment one is in
Therefore, the lesson of hajj is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, that sometimes you need to endure some discomfort in order to flourish in your life.
This lesson is relevant whether you’re on hajj, at work or with your family. As personal development gurus say, “If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing.”
Our bodies and material selves long for comfort and security, yet our souls and spiritual selves long for meaning and purpose. The struggle between the pull of the material world back to the comforts of Earth and the push of the spiritual world towards higher meaning and purpose is a lifelong power struggle.
Hajj help us rebalance this tension by reminding us to focus on our spirituality and ultimate purpose and journey in life whilst not neglecting our basic core human material needs (though not making them the focus either!).
That night, during my hajj of 2004, I may have woken up in the most uncomfortable environment, but I remember doing so with a smile and a genuine feeling of happiness that overcame me. It was the happiest, most spiritual night of my life, as I felt light and relieved from the shackles of our modern-day “comforts”.
Have you gone to Hajj before? What are the tips that helped keep you productive despite the seeming discomfort? Share with us your comments, and don’t forget to share this article with the new Hajjis for inspiration.