The first step which the Muslim makes is perhaps the easiest part, the niyyah. We all intend to go for Hajj at some point or another. However, what is slightly more difficult is making a 'serious' niyyah, that we intend on going sooner (ie this year or next) as opposed to some distant point in the future. It is important to bear in mind that once you have the physical, financial and mental capacity to perform Hajj, it becomes Fard upon you from that point on. In fact, the Muslim should hasten to perform the Pilgrimage, for there is no guarantee on life. If the Muslim passes away and had the means to perform Hajj, but he did not fulfil the pillar of Hajj or at least make a serious intention to do so, then he would have died omitting one of the fundamental pillars of Islam.
So, you have now made your intention, alhumdulillah. You've got enough money saved up, and your running marathons every week. Now comes the really difficult bit, choosing your Hajj group!
Now pause for one moment and picture the following scenario in your mind. You have made intention for doing Hajj this year, and you meet your best friend for a coffee. You tell him about your intention for Hajj this year....
You: I've made intention for Hajj this year bro! I've taken time off work, just gotta sort out the logistics
Friend: Alhumdulillah bro, that great news! Which group you thinking of?
You: Well its a choice between Green Emerald and Minaret Tours at the moment?
Friend: So which hotels are they putting you up in? And what airline? Are the gonna provide food? do you get buffet breakfast? Are you gonna stay in VIP Tents? Whats your weight allowance on the flight? Cos you need space for all that shopping!!
You:.......(getting even more confused than you are)
Choosing the right Hajj group for you is very important. There are packages catering for all budgets and tastes. Hajj is very expensive, and it is important to know what you are getting for your money.
But having gone through this scenario many times myself, I cant help but wonder whether our obsession which Hajj Packages and hotels has made us loose the true meaning of Hajj?
Why do we go for Hajj in the first place?
Is it because it is a pillar if Islam? Is it because its something everyone else seems to be doing? Or is because we want to keep up with the Jones' next door?
For me, there are two reasons. First of all, I am doing it to seek the pleasure of Allah, and secondly because there is no reward for an accepted Hajj except Paradise.
Think about that for one second.....if your Hajj is accepted, your reward is Paradise.......and that is truly priceless. For all the people making Hajj, or indeed those who have performed Hajj, we should be making dua to Allah until the day we die that He accept our Hajj.
Most people take for granted that Allah will accept their Hajj. At this point it is important to realise the difference between performing an act of worship and having that act accepted. Take prayer for example. You may have performed your 5 daily prayers today, so you wont be accountable for not praying inshAllah. But if you didn't perform those prayers with full concentration (Khushoo'), will Allah really accept those prayers?
The same applies for Hajj. Performing Hajj alleviates the obligation we have upon us, but whether it is accepted or not is another issue altogether:
As Ibn `Umar, radhiallahu `anhu, said to Mujahid, after he heard him say, "How numerous the Hujjaj are!", in reply he said, "In reality, How few! Rather you should say, how numerous the riders are!" (paraphrased)
There are certain signs of a Hajj Mabroor:
That the Hajj is done with Sincerity - ie Solely for the sake of Allah. Purify that intention!
That the Hajj is performed in accordance to the Sunnah - So rather than asking about hotels and flights with regards to the Hajj groups, the first question we should really ask is which religious scholar is accompanying the group.
The funds for Hajj are from Halal means - This is so important, and highlights the magnitude of Muslims having halal sources of income. It is sad to see Muslims selling alcohol, and earning money from dealings with interest.
That your state is better than it was before - In other words, you come back a changed person.
I pray to Allah that he gives us all the ability to perform Hajj in our lifetimes, and that we can achieve the invaluable status of a Hajj Mabroor. Ameen