Right now, millions of Muslims are gathering in Makkah to perform Hajj — a pillar of Islam that is mandatory upon all Muslims to perform at least once in their lifetime, provided they are physically and financially able. I've never been myself, but dream of being able to make the incredible journey one day. From what I've heard from friends, family and even strangers that have performed this pilgrimage, it is truly a revolutionary journey in more ways than one.
1. The level of unity and equality are unparalleled
This is the place where you could stand next to a janitor or a prince during the prayer, touch shoulders with them and exchange smiles and Salam and you wouldn't even know. Here every man and woman is your equal, and everyone is the others' brother and sister. There are no distinctions among race, class, skin color, ethnicity – everyone is a worshipper here to devote themselves to one cause.
2. You realize your own relative insignificance
We've become so accustomed to carrying around inflated ideas of our own importance, whether it's due to our level of education or wealth or whatever else. I may not have ever been on Hajj but I have visited Makkah and seen the Kaaba — a structure Muslims reverently consider the 'House of God.' Standing before the 43 ft. cubic building, I realized just how important I was in the overall scheme of the world (which really isn't that important at all) and standing in that place, bowing down in worship with your forehead touching the floor and surrounded by 2 million other Muslims makes me feel a bit like an ant. But many ants find their true purpose while on this miraculous journey.
3. You distance yourself from the world
Social media. Cellphones. Internet. These are the norms of our life, our safe zones as we drag ourselves from day to day. If someone asked me to give up my phone for a week, I'm sure I would consider him akin to a murderer (yes, I'm exaggerating, but not by a lot). But while you're on this journey, you're focused on completing all the rites and centering all your focus on God and worshipping Him. Not only do you not have time to check Snapchat, you don't care about it because it seems like an anchor out there, dragging you down when you could be finding your purpose.
4. It reminds us of how spoiled we are
Yes, there are five-star hotels in Makkah and some people do choose to go that route, but I think it detracts from the actual significance of what Hajj is supposed to mean. You're dressed in simple cloth, with no perfume or jewelry; you're using outhouses on the roadside that would break hundreds of normal hygiene standards and you're trekking along long routes in scorching temperatures. My parents tell me about how their sleeping mattresses were so close to others that they had no room to turn over and about how buses were crowded to the point of overflowing on trips of seven and eight hours, but all of that ceased to matter. They stopped worrying about being crushed under the hordes or the air-conditioning and thought instead of how back in the day, people would journey thousands of miles for months by camel just for the opportunity to perform the pilgrimage (so no matter how unspoiled we are, we're still pretty entitled).
5. It's as much a historical connection as it is a spiritual connection
Each rite in Hajj has some religious historical significance – the crossing back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa symbolizes how the wife of Abraham ran between those hills looking for water for her baby son; the stoning of the three pillars symbolizes how the devil tried to stop Abraham thrice on his way to sacrifice his son and the sacrifice of animals is of course the mark of the Eid celebration, symbolizing how God replaced Ishmael with an animal before Abraham sacrificed him. All of these are important stories that form the core of Islamic history — stories that I grew up hearing in Sunday School and I can only imagine how amazing it will be to see them brought to life; it's like taking a field trip to see George Washington's home or the place Emily Dickinson wrote her poetry. It does miracles for your faith to witness the site of ancient religious battles and see the truths of Sunday School books present in the real world.