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Journey of the Soul

There are five basic principles or "pillars" and the fifth and final one is Hajj.

Source: By Marjorie Cowan/"Haj and Umra"magazine/October 2009

HAJ, the Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah, is an intensely personal journey, which challenges the individual in many ways. First, there is a physical chal­lenge of having to adapt to a severe scorching hot desert climate. There is an emotional challenge of being over­joyed one moment and sometimes fearful the next; a psychological chal­lenge of adjusting to the culture; and many times even a spiritual challenge.


My longings to make this pilgrimage began well before I set foot on an air­plane to Saudi Arabia. So for me, the spiritual aspects were the seeds that were planted even prior to my con­version to Islam. When I was a college student in a small Mid-western town, I developed an appreciation of jazz and rock music while living in a small-town in the black South.

I stumbled upon an old recording by Rashaan Roland Kirk. There was one song I will never forget, entitled "Journey to Mecca" that promised a peaceful and happy "masterplan" by the Creator. The artists sang of the joy of this journey, of touching and kissing the Black Stone, the cornerstone of the sacred structure called the Ka'ba.

I continued my carefree life as a college student, oblivious to the pow­erful influences all around me, but somewhere on a subconscious level, perhaps, the seeds suggesting the presence of a beneficent God, began to grow as I hummed the words of that song: "1 am going on a journey to Mec­ca. Alalh-o-Akbar, Allah-o-Akbar".

Eventually, I became a college gradu­ate and migrated to the bright lights-big-city of Detroit to try to "make my way in the world." It was a wonderful time when friends and relatives stuck together and pitched in to help each other. I left the South with my new BA degree and moved in with my young­er brother. My older sister and her husband were also there. Detroit was truly a beautiful city in the seventies. There was always laughter and youth­ful good times. I finally even got my career on-track.

So here I was, having a great time in a thrilling city with the warmth of family surrounding me. I had landed my first professional job of rehabilita­tion counselor. So everything looked fine, right? Wrong.

I knew deep within that my life was still missing some very key ingredi­ents, something that good times, and hip clothes, trips to Chicago, concerts and even a brand new 1976 Mercury Cougar couldn't make up for.

I was happy, but unfulfilled - so I be­gan to search for that special "some­thing" that would take away my de­pression. I was looking for more than a friend and intoxicants were just not the answer. So my quest for peace of mind, and at that time I did not even recognize that "peace" is what most people are searching for, led me to study different faiths. When I first left college, religion was something "way on the back burner" for me. But I sup­pose I was the typical offspring of de­vout Baptists. Our hearts were in the right place and I, like others, meant well.

Eventually my wanderings led me to read about Islam; and I remember what I liked right away was that what I read made sense. The doctrines were ratio­nal and appealed to my intellect and to my common sense; the emotional­ism (the extremes of crying, shouting, and tongues) were all absent. So I felt a sense of comfort, a sense of belonging right away. I began to read more. I at­tended some meetings, sporadically at first; but later I began to go on a regu­lar basis every Sunday afternoon. Af­ter about six months, I fully embraced the faith of Islam and took my Shadha-da. And although my family thought I was a little" strange" at first, they were generally very supportive or at least voiced very few objections.

I joined a community of African-American Muslims, who had just re­cently changed their entire focus and ideology.

Shortly after converting to the great religion of Al-Islam in 1976, I began to feel the pull of Makkah. But "life" events took first priority and it seemed as if my life was moving at breathtak­ing speed. In early 1977,I met my fu­ture husband, and we were married within three months. Our wedding took place in the mosque, with only my mother, one sister and a cousin in attendance. At that time we did not care about a traditional wedding; we even went back to work the day after the ceremony. We did have a small re­ception at my apartment that evening, and my husband actually prepared all the food.

My first child of six was born at the end of that year, and for the next 20 years, there were two relocations to new cities, completion of a Master's degree, trips to the emergency room for various accidents or illnesses, two boys and four girls to raise, private-school bills ( wanted the children to go to a Muslim school, which they did for a while).

Meanwhile, my first experience of Ramadan when I was a young moth­er was a very powerful event. It was very inspirational. Every morning I would arise before sunrise to have the morning meal or "Suhoor". We would go about our normal daily routine. At the end of the day, we would break our fast about nine p.m., since the days were very long in the heart of the sum­mer. Once the body adjusts to the lim­ited intake of food, and once the mind adjusts to systematic "delayed gratifi­cation", hey, the spirit is set free and from that moment forward, we can go on auto-pilot. Over the years I learned to appreciate more fully the blessings of this sacred time, but I think the pure delight and enjoyment of that first Ramadan will always be special in my heart.

Islam is a very simple religion, with concepts that are pure and easy for any person to understand. There are five basic principles or "pillars" and the fifth and final one is Haj. The Mus­lim is required to make this journey only once in his or her lifetime; and then only if he is physically and men­tally able to do so.

For the Muslim, Haj has a natural pull or tug, and sometimes, as in my case, this feeling or urge came over me even before I fully grasped the complexity and profound nature of this religion. A part of me wanted to make this jour­ney so very long ago, way back to my college days, when I barely knew about Islam. I finally began my quest for this journey in earnest in the fall of 1996. I began to concentrate almost entirely on Haj and making the dream a real­ity. I was fortunate to have moved to Atlanta by that time, and here at our Masjid, there is a network of people who have made the pilgrimage many times.

I was able to attend a series of classes in which we were taught how to per­form all required rituals of the Haj. We listened to reports of others who had made the journey, and could ask ques­tions about what to expect. The Haj travelers are given a festive "send-off" party, with food and gifts. They were accompanied to the airport, where relatives, friends, and fellow believ­ers wait for the last pilgrim to board the plane. It was a beautiful and soul-warming experience.

Looking back I realize that I never stressed about how I would pay for the trip. We had one daughter gradu­ating from high school the year I went on Haj. We had five other children, the youngest being in Kindergarten. And not only the money, but also, I would be leaving a lot of responsibilities in my three-week absence from home.

Because of the support of my hus­band and my older children all of these things fell into place, although not without some other kinds of stum­bling blocks. But the most difficult and challenging situation, by far, was that my father was very ill at that time. He had been diagnosed with cancer, and had been hospitalized several times by the time I was preparing to leave. So I was very torn, because I wanted to be with him as much as possible, but I also knew I had to take this journey. My father gave me encouragement in a few very simple words. He seemed to understand why I wanted to go and how sacred was the journey; and he even wanted me to write a book about my experiences.

On the first day of April in 1997 when I boarded a plane to New York on the first leg of my journey to Makkah, I was both thrilled and just a little bit afraid. But Allah had brought me this far and now there would be no turn­ing back. I had just begun a journey which I would later discover is truly a "journey of a lifetime', the journey of my soul


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