In days of old the tribulations faced by the pilgrim on his journey to Mecca included the assault of ravaging bandits determined to make quick profits by pillaging the winding desert caravans. In our own age, say some, the road to Mecca is easy, a comfortable voyage by jetliner to comfortable five-star accommodation. That may be so for some, but others of us unlucky enough to encounter the twenty-first century bandits know that all of us are tested by degrees according to our intention and will.
Today’s bandits come in different guises. Some may claim to be mujuhideen, while others ascribe to themselves Islamic legitimacy unaware even to themselves that they are no more than petty criminals. But the bandits we encountered were the suave businessmen who sold Hajj Packages to hundreds of eager pilgrims, pocketing tens of thousands of pounds and leaving the worshipers high and dry. There were those who never left these shores, who stayed behind when they were told that their Hajj visas had been rejected. There were the others who arrived in Arabia only to discover that no accommodation had been arranged for them, and no transport, and nowhere to rest in Mina or Arafat. We met many of these despondent folk along the way.
Our own Hajj was filled with great blessings, too many to enumerate: the kindness shown to us by others, the generosity of strangers, the beauty of our two days in Medina, the ease with which we completed many of our rites. We were truly humbled by the experience. Yet with every period of ease there was hardship and with every period of hardship came ease. The most frequent thoughts that recurred in my mind over and over again were those words of the Qur’an: ‘Do the believers think they will say, “We Believe” and will not be tested?’
Our agent would have had us believe that the Saudis were sitting on our visa application and were dragging their heels. Only, the leader of our group discovered that the Embassy did not even have our passports and had received no application on our behalf. Were it not for the kindest soul from another agency who came to our rescue to take these Hajj Orphans under his wing, we would have had no hope of standing on the Plain of Arafat or kneeling by the Prophet’s minbar. Blessings and trials. There was great beauty in our Hajj, great ease at times and bounty. And still sometimes there was hardship, even if only for moments.
Do the believers think they will be left to say, ‘We Believe’ and will not be tested? We have had our tests. But I wonder if the bandits — ancient and modern — realise that we are a test for them. Do they not think they will be asked?