By Aliya Vaughan
“Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear?”
Surah Al-Hajj 22:46
Life itself is one long journey, full of twists and turns, taking us down one-way streets and dead ends, but every now and then they lead us to wondrous new pathways towards mystery and enlightenment. Only in hindsight do we see how the meandering roads that seemingly lead to nowhere were Allah’s destiny, guiding and shaping us for our future.
Many years ago, when I was in my twenties, I decided to take a gap year travelling. Australia was the destination and it was my first time away from home. Unfortunately, a worldwide recession ruined my chances of working and backpacking around the country. Jobs were scarce and my money was dwindling, causing me to cut my trip short. I was determined to make the most of the time I had left, however. The backpacker’s lifestyle is a hedonistic one, full of carefree partying, going wherever the wind takes you. But after several months of self-indulgence, sightseeing and travelling, my mood took a nose dive. There is no doubt Australia is a beautiful country and there are so many places to visit and experiences to be had, but the lifestyle was taking its toll on me. Everyone was living life to excess and yet personally, I felt it had become empty, shallow and meaningless. Despite being surrounded by many people appearing to be having a good time, I felt miserable and lonely. I couldn’t talk to anyone about my feelings without sounding like a party pooper, so I suffered in silence. It was during this low period that I questioned the existence of an ‘All Knowing super power’ who understood exactly what I was going through, who knew me inside out without having to explain myself. Someone who actually cared about me and how I felt. I didn’t indulge this philosophical thought much further but it did sow a seed that grew a few years later into a quest to find life’s true meaning and purpose. Looking back, I can see clearly that this ‘All Knowing super power’ was my acknowledgement of God, even though I would not admit it at the time. And I had travelled to the opposite ends of the earth to find Him.
My journey in search for God lead down many routes that were, at times, frustrating. I chose different pathways, looking into different religions and ideologies, but I now realise all were necessary in making my final decision to embrace Islam. It was as though Allah was saving the best until last.
A year after reverting to Islam, I decided to embark on another trip. This time it was to travel to Saudi Arabia in the last ten days of Ramadhan to perform Umrah. Being new to Islam and not very knowledgeable in the religion, I didn’t appreciate how blessed I was to go. I assumed everyone performed Umrah. But this is not the case. I now know it is an honour and a privilege to be invited to Allah’s House.
I remember taking a short bus ride from the hotel to the Haram. We were dropped off in an underground tunnel near an escalator. As everyone was speaking in Arabic, I had no idea where I was or the significance of where I was about to go. As usual I just went along with the flow. Halfway up the escalator I had an overwhelming urge to cry but I had no idea why. I tried desperately to pull myself together. I stepped off the escalator into a sea of people standing on beautiful marbled tiles staring in awe at something in the distance. They too were crying. As I looked up, I suddenly realised where I was. Standing in front of me in all its majestic glory was the Ka’aba. I could no longer hold back my tears. This was the closest I was ever going to get to Allah on this earth. Although I was not able to see Allah, I felt the connection deep within my heart. It was innate, strong and undeniably real. I remember on the 27th night of Ramadhan, the atmosphere among the thronging crowds on the Meccan streets was electric. For me it was better than watching the fireworks on New Year’s Eve on Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia- and I thought nothing could ever beat that.
Since my trip to Umrah I’ve had a longing to return to Mecca to perform the Hajj. Year upon year my longing intensifies. I remember how my trip to perform Umrah almost never happened. The days were counting down to my flight and my visa had been delayed. The tour guide told me that if it didn’t come through in time, I would not be able to go. Even on the morning of the flight I was still unsure if I was going or not. My bags were packed just in case but I had also resigned myself to my fate. By mid-day I received a phone call to say my visa had arrived. So, it was written in my qadar to go on Umrah after all. It saddens me that my time has not yet come to perform the Hajj, but for now I will continue to travel along life’s journey until Allah invites to visit His House again. It could be that Allah is saving my best trip until last.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“…an accepted Hajj brings no reward but Paradise.”
Bukhari (1773) and Muslim (1349)
About the author:
Aliya Vaughan has been a Muslim for 24 years. She lives in the UK with her husband and six children. She is a qualified life coach and author. She has recently published her award-winning children’s story ‘A Race to Prayer’ with Kube Publishing.
Compass image credit: schaeffler from Pixabay