Getting a Head Start: Pilgrims Hajj Bound, Younger
It was a no-brainer for Salma, 26 and Safi Aslam, 29 from Oak Park, Illinois, to go for Hajj in 2011, just two years after they got married. Like many their age, it was the influence of the increasing number of programs and young scholars giving classes in metropolitan Chicago that motivated them to make the journey of a lifetime.
“And proclaim to the people the Hajj; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass.” (Quran – 22:27)
“You just don’t know what the future holds,” Salma Aslam said. “An early Hajj allows you to have the opportunity to refocus your goals and bring back barakah (blessings) for your family. It is also easier to change a bad habit such as backbiting, missing or delaying prayers when you are younger.”
Thanks to the social media eruption, even those that don’t have Hajj on their radar can feel their hearts soften as photos at the Kabah pop up in their newsfeed. Photos of friends praying in the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, and the halo of serenity around them, can make even the busiest people yearn to go.
Sayeed Shariff is an organizer with Sacred Hajj, based in Chicago. For the past ten years or so, he too has noticed that the Hajj-bound are younger than what was once the norm. He feels the cultural notions behind going for Hajj when you have fulfilled all your worldly responsibilities, such as getting the children educated and married, has changed. With so many young deaths and disease, everyone realizes that there is no guarantee that they will be physically able or even around to do the Hajj when they are older. Close to 80 percent of his group consists of second or third generation Muslim Americans in the 25-35 year age group.
“I think youth today are more in tune with local scholars and are connected with the mosques,” Shariff said. “Many younger professionals are going for Hajj as soon as they have saved the money. Young scholars that lead Hajj groups make it easier for everyone to relate.”
Hardly anyone in Shariff’s group had brought children along, so that they could focus exclusively on worship during the limited time they had there.
“That may be another reason why the Hajj packages from North America are shorter; 14-18 days as compared to 40 days from India or Pakistan,” Shariff said. “Many Hajjis (pilgrims) leave their kids with parents or siblings and therefore want to complete their obligation and come back home as soon as possible.”
Despite this growing trend in North America, globally a majority of devoted Muslims make their first Hajj when they are much older. Rahila Aslam, 65, of Fort Worth, Texas went for her first Hajj in 2010, once all four of her children were married. She is grateful for the opportunity to have completed this obligation, but says that if she had to do it over, she would have gone when she was younger.
Even though you do not have as many worldly distractions and young kids to worry about later in life, the health and strength implications outweigh these benefits.
Even though their daughter accompanied them for the Hajj, walking briskly between the hills of Safa and Marwah for instance was not as easy as it would have been thirty years earlier. She would love to go for Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, in an off-peak season so that she can get closer to the Kabah and not be so overwhelmed by the crowds.
“As you age, you are prone to more illness, heart issues and brittle bones and that can complicate things when you are exerting yourself in a foreign land,” Aslam said. “For instance, I really wanted to pray at the Station of Ibrahim and get close to the Kabah, but since I had double knee surgery, I didn’t even dare get close in case I fell and was not able to get up.”
About the Writer: Kiran Ansari is a Chicago-based writer and editor with more than 12 years of experience and bylines in more than 30 publications. She can be reached via LinkedIn and at Kiran@kiranansari.com.