Stranded on a road in a foreign country, clutching my stomach, I looked around at the busy street. My vision was blurry, the tears wouldn’t stop, but I could make out the people as they rushed past. It was 3 a.m. and the city
of Mecca was as alive as ever.
In the distance, I could hear my husband speaking in broken Arabic, trying to convince a taxi driver to help us. Sick to my stomach, I was doubled over, holding myself back from throwing up yet again. With my eyes shut tight I tried to take a deep breath through clenched teeth. “This is it,” I thought. “I’m going to die and nothing can help me.”
I opened my eyes as I suddenly realized the irony of my situation.
It is an obligation for every Muslim to make pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia at least once in their life as long as they are physically and financially able.
It is the fifth pillar of Islam, and Muslims from all around the globe fulfill this religious duty every year. Hajj is commemorated for many reasons and one of the reasons is to honor Prophet Abraham and his family for their absolute submission to God. Muslims believe that Abraham was ordered by God to leave his infant son Ishmael and his wife Hagar in a desolate desert, which is now the city of Mecca.
As Abraham was leaving, Hagar questioned him, wanting to know the reason for being left alone. When he did not reply she understood that he was simply following orders from God and felt reassured that God would not abandon them.
As the story goes, Hagar was right in her convictions. When the thirst of her child became unbearable, a water spring miraculously burst and flowed especially for Hagar and her thirsty son, Ishmael. This spring today is called Zamzam and is an important part of Hajj.
I was traveling overseas for the first time in 16 years. I was seven when my family migrated to the US, and now at 23 I couldn’t wait to see more of the world.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy to go to a land more different than the US, but my excitement exceeded all fears. I contacted my professors before the fall semester, letting them know I would need two weeks off from school, for I was going on a religious pilgrimage to Mecca. I worked hard to get ahead in all my classes and turned in all assignments before I left.
My stay in Saudi Arabia started off well. I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the city, the shops on the streets, the food, the interactions, the smiles of the old and the young and the constant honking of cars. It was completely different than what I was used to.
However, with millions of pilgrims from around the world congregating in the same place the risk of catching a disease was high. I soon had a severe sore throat that led me to take antibiotics. The medication cured my throat but caused an imbalance in my stomach. For whatever reason, the medicine did not suit me and caused me to feel intense pain and incessant vomiting.
Our Hajj group’s bus, unable to take us to a hospital due to the heavy traffic, left us to fend for ourselves on the side of the road. As thoughts of my death filled my head and tears rolled down my face, I remembered the story of Hagar and realized how similar our stories were.
We were both left stranded in Mecca, a city unknown to us. The difference was that she had unflinching faith in God, and I thought I had faith in God until I was truly tested. I was so ashamed that I cried even harder.
Needless to say, I survived, making it to a hospital despite the traffic and getting free treatment to boot. Upon reflecting on my ordeal, I recognize the importance of having faith through the test of life.
Many rituals of Hajj serve as symbolic reminders of the importance of trusting God as we patiently endure the trials He puts us through. It seems I needed more than just a symbolic reminder and I got it. In retrospect, I am thankful for the lesson.