well, it's pretty unusual for me, but i didn't get a chance to connect to the internet all weekend. like from friday afternoon til this evening, i haven't been on-line at home. which shows that a body can survive without the internet if she wants to. not good for my volunteer activities, as i missed sending something out for one of the organisations i work with, but on the other hand, rather liberating. like leaving your mobile off for a few days, it's actually quite relaxing. i guess we don't realise just how much "on call" we all are these days.
anyway, in case you missed it, i had a brief moment of fame on friday, being interviewed on morning report (radio nz, 24/7/09, 8.44am) about the restrictions on travel for hajj this year. this is a pretty big deal for muslims, because the hajj is not just like any other trip. it's a spiritual journey that begins well before the intention to travel is made. a commitment to go for hajj means a commitment to changing (ie improving) your life. it means setting higher standards of behaviour for yourself, as well as an increase of time devoted to worship.
it's a commitment one doesn't make lightly. once you've decided to go, there are preparations to be made. some of this relates to learning about the practicalities of the trip, getting the right clothing, learning about the rituals. in times gone by, when air travel didn't exist, when land and sea travel were risky business, people would set their affairs in order, make their wills, pay off outstanding loans.
and one of the things that happen even now is that people will go and ask for forgiveness from pretty much everyone they know and particularly from those who are estranged for any reason. that is not as easy as it sounds, as i can testify from having gone through the process! it's not easy to call people who you've had major disagreements with, people who you believe have wronged and hurt you (and who, you guiltily and very secretly admit to yourself that you may have also wronged and hurt).
it was actually my mother who encouraged me in this task, particularly at times when i didn't think i'd be able to do it. and i'm really glad i took the step. not that it suddenly meant that we were all good friends and everything that was in the past just disappeared. rather, i felt it as a spiritual cleansing for myself, an act of letting go. and i must say that every single person i contacted responded very positively, mostly because they understood the significance of the hajj & hence the sincerity of the task i was undertaking.
so yes, being told that you won't be able to go will be absolutely heart-breaking for the people affected. particularly because, for most countries, there is already a quota system in place to manage the numbers. so it isn't like you'll automatically be able to go next year. i can completely understand the reasons behind the decision, particularly because all health services are provided free of charge by the saudi government. even if they chose to charge people, there just aren't the resources available (human, medicinal, etc) to be able to deal with a pandemic.
i'm just very thankful that i was able to go 3 years ago. and i have a very strong desire to go again, inshaAllah. it's a beautiful experience that can't be described, only felt.