MECCA—Speaking to reporters after traveling to the Muslim holy city of Mecca and completing his five-day hajj pilgrimage, 38-year-old Toronto resident Imad Marikh expressed his surprise and disappointment Wednesday that he didn’t find the experience to be more transformative.
Marikh, a lifelong Muslim of Moroccan descent, told reporters he made the 6,500-mile holy journey with the hope that he would forge a deeper connection with God, but confessed that, despite performing the required rituals as faithfully as he could, he failed to undergo the “whole cathartic religious enlightenment thing” common for many others who fulfill the fifth pillar of Islam.
“I’m happy I was able to take part in such a revered tradition of my religion, but to be totally honest, I guess I thought it was going to be a bigger deal or something,” said Marikh, adding that he had always been eager to complete his religious duty to visit Mecca, but noted that, for him personally, the trip had been “kind of a letdown, actually.” “Before I came out here, all I ever heard was, ‘Mecca will completely change you as a person’ and ‘Becoming a hajji will bring you closer to Allah than you could ever imagine.’ Gotta say, though, that never really happened for me. It just kind of feels like I took a long trip some place far away. I’m sort of tired, but that’s about it.”
“Maybe my expectations were too high—and to be fair, I’m not the best traveler—but I assumed I’d come away from this with a new, more profound perspective on the world,” Marikh continued. “Pretty much feel the same, though.”
According to Marikh, despite his initial excitement upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, donning ihram garments, and spending his first night in the small town of Mina, his enthusiasm began to wane after hiking to Mecca and being “only somewhat moved” by the sight of the sacred Masjid al-Haram mosque occupied by millions of fellow worshippers.
Marikh went on to say that during his first-ever ṭawāf—the ancient ritual in which Muslims walk counterclockwise around the Kaaba seven times—he didn’t feel anything that could be described as “life-altering, per se” and began to worry that he might not be overcome with an intense spiritual fervor at all during his trip.
“At a certain point I started wondering if I was even doing the hajj correctly,” said Marikh, adding that while performing the Sa’i, in which pilgrims traverse back and forth between the al-Safa and al-Marwah mountains, he was “just going through the motions by the end.” “Everyone else seemed to be having these incredibly deep spiritual reawakenings—falling to their knees in prayer, or hugging complete strangers, or weeping uncontrollably, that kind of thing. So I guess I was the only one who didn’t really get it. I’m not sure why, but for whatever reason it just didn’t do it for me.”
“I mean, I felt close to the Almighty, sure, but it wasn’t very different from the feeling I get when I pray at my local mosque,” Marikh added. “Or, you know, if I just read the Quran at home.”
Marikh admitted that, unlike those around him, he simply couldn’t achieve a transcendent state of inner peace at any point during the nearly week-long pilgrimage. Though he reportedly reminded himself often that he was treading on hallowed ground where the Holy Prophet Muhammad gave his Final Sermon 14 centuries ago, Marikh noted that he “kept waiting” to be washed over by God’s holy light, but acknowledged that such a sensation never came.
Moreover, the 38-year-old conceded that during the traditional Stoning of the Devil rite at the walls of Jamarāt, he began to feel an overwhelming sense of guilt for not enjoying any higher level of spiritual fulfillment whatsoever.
“I was really hoping that maybe it would all just hit me later, but after my third day performing ṭawāf and pointing toward the Black Stone, I just thought, ‘You know what, if I were going to have some sort of big, life-changing revelation, it probably would have happened by now,’” said Marikh, shrugging his shoulders before explaining that he tries to always be a kind, generous, and devout person, so perhaps he doesn’t even need to fundamentally change. “There were actually a few seconds at the end of Eid al-Adha when I thought I felt a divine presence enter my body and I began to rethink my entire life, but frankly, I think I just wanted so badly to feel anything at all at that point that I probably just forced it.”
“I just thought this whole thing would be...I don’t know,” added Marikh, his voice trailing off. “I just kind of want to go home.”
At press time, upon returning to Toronto, Marikh warmly greeted his family, smiled, and said the trip was the greatest experience of his life.