The first time my children were involved in what is commonly referred to as Hajj Day, was about nine years ago. My son was involved in a Sunday school type class at the mosque, and when the teacher told us that Hajj Day was coming, I had no idea what she meant. Khaled didn’t know either, because this is not something they do in Egypt. I asked her if I needed to do anything to help, and she said that I did not. I asked if my son needed to bring anything special for this day, and she said that if he had any clothes from Egypt, he should wear those. Of course, we didn’t have any Egyptian Clothes, because in my husband’s family, the men don’t wear ethnic clothing. I had never seen any man in my husband’s family wear a thobe until many years later. I didn’t have any idea that there were places in Egypt where you could go and purchase the traditional clothing of the country. Any store I had been in only sold regular children’s clothing, and the quality of which I would not bring back to the United States. So, this teacher brought something for my son to wear. I had invited all of the grandparents, the aunts and uncles in my family to attend. In my head, I was thinking back to those school productions in the gymnasium, where the kids are up on the stage and the parents and family members are in the audience. I pictured sitting proudly with my family, video taping this production for later in life when I am old and reminiscing.
When we arrived for the event, if was a completely different story! Most of the boys were wearing white bath towels, and the girls were wearing complete prayer outfits, most were white. I was confused. I asked the teacher, and she said that my son will be fine. It is okay what he is wearing, and don’t worry. I asked what we should do. She said, go upstairs, and enjoy…but when I got upstairs I didn’t know what was happening. I kept watching for my son, and he was beautiful and precious and was participating in something that I had no understanding of. My family asked questions for which I had no answers.
Fast forward seven years.
The first year my daughters were involved in Hajj Day at their school, we were given a months notice to prepare. As soon as we were told, I went off to the fabric store in search of white fabric that I could use to make the prayer outfits for my daughters. These outfits were the first I had made, and became the blueprint for many more outfits I will make for them and others.
During Hajj Day preparations, the students are immersed in learning the steps of the Hajj, they learn the chant, and they learn the meaning behind their actions. The girls bring home mini Kabbas that they have made from juice containers, and they teach me the Talbiyah;
“Labbayk Allahumma labbayk. Labbayka laa shareeka laka labbayk. Innal-hamda wan-ni’mata laka wal mulk. Laa shareeka lak.”
The ladies are persistent in correcting my pronunciation, making sure that I am doing it right. They excitedly talk about the stories of Safa and Marwa, asking Khaled to tell them the stories over and over, making sure that every detail is right. They ask detailed questions about when my husband went on his Hajj, and what it was like being at Arafa.
When Hajj Day arrives, the parent volunteer helps the teacher with the students put on their Hajj Outfits after they have made wudu. The Talbiyah is chanted over and over, and it echoes through the hallways. Each grade level makes Hajj at a specified time.
In the gymnasium there is a mini Mecca reconstructed. The main focus is the children circling the Kabbah. It stands 7 feet tall and just as wide, 25 children at a time, circling around and chanting. Often parents join their children in walking with them, other times the parents are on the sidelines taking photos. The children complete all the steps of the Hajj, from circling the Khabbah, to running Safa and Marwa all the way to getting their bottle of Zem Zem water.
Now that we have been participating in Hajj Day, off and on now for over nine years, I know how to prepare and what to expect for the day. When I meet new mothers to the school who are non-Muslim, I reach out to them and offer help, and make sure that they understand what will occur during the day, and not to be surprised to see local news crews taping footage for the evening news.
I recommend they watch Nightline: The Hajj and National Geographic: Inside Mecca and the book Tell Me About Hajj. These resources helped me to understand what would be happening when Khaled traveled to perform his own Hajj and have helped me to understand what the children will be doing. On Hajj Day I check in with the parents like me and make sure that they don’t feel as lost and as left out as I did my first year.
Kristina ElSayed is an American, Thirty-something
mother, married to an Egyptian, Forty-ish man for more than a decade. “I have muddled my way through the Islamic community in my Midwestern town now for as long as I’ve been married, and I am hoping to help other women, like me, navigate through a little easier. I write about living an Islamic Life and Parenting Muslim Children, your own way.” Follow her blog and read more about her on Muslimahs Working at Home.