If someone told me that returning from Hajj would lead me to write an article about death, I would consider it a strange comment. People go to Hajj to fulfill their religious obligation to God, renew their faith in God and experience a community with Muslims all over the world. Death is not the first thing that reminds Hajj. However, thinking about death was one of the key lessons that I learned in my time in God’s House.
Death is not something that I usually think about. I am a teacher and an aspiring professor, so I spend most of my time thinking about the opportunities and opportunities of young people. I find joy in the quirkiness of my students and hear dynamic stories that liven up their lives. However, I am not a stranger with close experiences of death. In 2013, my father almost passed away from a life-threatening condition known as gallonating necrotic pancreatitis. This is a rare complication in the United States, and 1 in 100,000 people develop this condition. Mortality rates are strikingly high. Despite these alarming statistics, my father still lives a good life, testimony confirming life, that miracles happen in real life.
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Nevertheless, those 5 days in the hospital, when we sat next to him, watching him tearing at the ventilator, his abdomen open for further operation, he put the fear of death in my heart. I held my father’s hand, terrified of the future, when I didn’t want my father to listen carefully to events in my life, as only one parent can do. I was afraid that death would come too soon, and my father would not watch me get married or have children or support me in my adult life. I have never prayed so hard in my life for someone to live. Death was the enemy who had to be defeated. At this point, God heard my prayers.
5 years later, I still fear death. I’m still afraid that my parents will die and leave me with a deep loss that will never leave me. I’m still afraid that I will not have parents with me when I get married, have children or finish my doctor, wanting God. I’m still afraid that I won’t be able to handle it if my parents leave before I am ready. These were my fears that I experienced when I was performing a hajj with my mother, brother, and especially my father next to me. My father was also afraid to perform the hajj. His last direct ancestor to perform the hajj in the mid-1800s, his paternal grandfather, Haji Sabr Mondol, was buried at sea upon returning home from Hajj. Since then, no other direct ancestor of my father has performed the hajj. I think my father was afraid that if he goes on the hajj, he will also die.
Our fears were our companions when we performed the hajj. I tried to focus more on my hopes than on my fears, asking God or about a better life for myself and my loved ones. But I could not escape the centrality of death in the rituals of the hajj. I found myself visiting the graves of the dead comrades of the Prophet (although women are legally forbidden to visit graves in Saudi Arabia because of the fear that women will worship the dead in a cult manner that is anathema of Islamic monotheism). I prayed for the prayers of Janaz (death) after each of the five daily prayers. In the janazah prayer, those who die in the name of God are celebrated. Because of the thousands of people who die during the Hajj, like my great-great-grandfather, the Janaza prayer is an institutionalized part of the rituals during the Hajj.
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Many of the deceased came to Hajj with the hope that they would die near the House of Allah (SWT) and go straight to heaven, clearing their sins and pure hearts. In fact, because of old age, extreme heat, physical exhaustion, lack of sleep, lack of proper nutrition, and impaired medical care, many truly achieve this dream of death during the Hajj. The late male pilgrims are wrapped in white towels, ihram, in which they came to appear before God on Arafat Day (the day of prayer and absolution).
On the day when the Hajj rituals ended, my father also asked my mother to wash his play towels and pack them neatly. It was the clothes he wanted to bury when he died.
In his comments there was something that gave rise to all my fears. I was struck by the calm with which he uttered these words. Isn’t he the person who was afraid to perform the hajj, the same person who returned from the near death just 5 years ago? I puzzled his sense of calm when he faced what seemed like one of his greatest fears. Along with my bewilderment at the change in my father, I also wondered how the Jinaz Zivaz prayers were during the Hajj. They were part of everyday rituals, and they were included in five daily prayers that guide the devotion of a Muslim to God. Why has God commanded death so closely related to the rituals of the hajj? Shouldn’t life be the goal, not death? But there were people eagerly awaiting death during their pilgrimage.
The only answer I could put together was something about death that can be released, and not just horrifying. Perhaps death becomes easier when believers understand that death is just a transition to the afterlife, where they can be reunited with God. The point is not that they do not ask God for a good life – they exist. But at the same time they also ask Him for a good death. In order not to fear death anymore, what comes after it should be as desirable as what it was before, perhaps more so because Life after death promises an eternity of peace and happiness. Life, on the contrary, has too much sadness, loss and regret.
But, of course, the desire to return to God does not mean that life does not make sense. There must surely be moments of fear among pilgrims in the prospect of leaving the world, as they know it. And, perhaps, deep sadness when they left their loved ones. But that which must overcome this natural fear and sorrow is the great realization that God is waiting on the other bank; that if their loved ones believe, they too will be reunited through the waters. It is not an awareness that comes easy, but it should take years of faith in a loving God.
Although I am still afraid of the feeling of impostiness that the death of my loved ones may go away in my life, the pilgrims during the Hajj, especially my father, taught me that death is not something to fear. If a person is a believer, death is just a transition to a larger world. Even for those who do not believe, but are good people, of course, God must also have mercy for them.
Reconciliation with death does not mean that life is not worth living. In fact, death makes life even more precious, because it shows us how temporary our time with our loved ones on this earth really is. The only thing that makes you contemplate the death of my loved ones, tolerant of me, is to believe that our Love will not end here – it will lead us to God and to life beyond its borders.
Meditation during the Hajj Last modified: October 8, 2018 from