"Isn't this a beautiful hotel?" she said her etched face spoke of pain and suffering she had endured, but her shiny eyes spoke of resilience and acceptance. "Yes, it is," I said praying my voice did not reveal the truth that I and my privileged party coming from California were about ready to walk over and file a complaint with our travel agent for poor accommodations. This was the filthiest hotel any of us had ever seen. I looked over to my sister who was also performing Hajj, the year was 2004, and we both stood there looking at this woman and feeling ashamed that we had lost sight of the reason we were there.

Each person's Hajj experience is phenomenally different. Yet the principles of Hajj are the exact same for everybody. The intention for Muslims is to perform this pillar of the religion, going to Mecca, at least once before they die. I was young, 27 years of age, compared to the ages around me, people of 40, 50, and older. Most wait to perform Hajj later in life, some wait to first perfect all other pillars such as fasting and praying, while others wait to save for the expensive trip, I was given the trip as a gift by my husband. With that point said, and as anything in life when handed to you, one simply takes it for granted. I sadly and humbly regret that I went with an immature eye and heart. However being a writer I did make numerous observations about those that were performing Hajj and I had more than a few memorable moments.

First, passion, people wanted to fulfill every step of the Hajj to perfection. I received the greatest opportunity to touch the Kaaba, crossing between brute burly men that were elbowing and jostling to try to come close to the cube; my party felt a surge of adrenalin and purpose. Armed guards stood at the very front of the Kaaba and when we, a group of California Muslim women, came close they asked us to leave a few times before they realized we weren't going anywhere and allowed us to touch and kiss the Kaaba. It was at that moment that I felt a surge of something moving inside me, not so much that I was so near the cube draped in the finest black cloth, but that I was touching the symbol I have spent all my years facing and praying towards. The Kaaba is the most sacred site in Islam. The Quran states the Kaaba was constructed by Abraham and his son Ishmael, as ordered of them by God over 1400 years ago. The cube has a mosque built around it. All Muslims around the globe face the Kaaba during the five prayers, every day. I later looked back and realized what brave women we were to get through the chaos of those circling the Kaaba and those that have spent their entire lives waiting to touch the sacred cube. We held hands tight and quickly forced our way away from the crowds and to the safety of the outskirts where we could gaze on the beauty of the cube from afar.

The second thing I noticed was charitable people, who were so giving of themselves. I injured my ankle while walking around the Kaaba, you are required to walk seven times around the Kaaba in a counter clockwise direction, this is done numerous times. A crowd of different colors and nationalities that were all devoid of any socioeconomic markers came to help. Men during Hajj wear two pieces of white cloth. Women usually wear simple modest clothing. Those people that encircled me could of ranged from peasants to princes and I will never know anything about them but their kindness.

Lastly, I was touched by the humility people exuded, weeping big gasping echoing sobs for forgiveness, pain, regret, and strength seeking it only from their lord. I want to say that through these observations Hajj did change me. I did learn so much about my physical and emotional abilities, and I got a rare glimpse of people behaving at their best.

GhadaB-220Ghada was born in Cairo, Egypt and lived there to the age of four before coming to the United States at such a young age. She feels immensely blessed that she has been immersed in the traditions of a different culture, and able to tap into another world in her creative endeavors.

She finds that her children inspire her by the simplicity that they perceive the world. From that, she is able to let go of her complex views and see the world simply as it is.

For more about Ghada and her writing, visit www.ghadabedair.com