Every year Harvard Muslim students are given the opportunity to visit Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah. This trip is organized by the Harvard Muslim Chaplains Khalil Abdur-Rashid and Samia Omar (except for the years of the COVID-19 Pandemic).
This school year I had the privilege of performing Umrah with the Harvard Muslim community for free! Thanks to a very generous donor, Harvard affiliates are able to get need-based financial coverage for this spiritual journey. Harvard affiliates on the trip are allowed to bring family members if space is available and I was fortunate enough to bring my mother and welcome her into the Harvard Muslim community.
Our first stop was Medina where we were instantly welcomed with flowers and tea at the airport, and stayed at a hotel right next to Masjid al-Nabawi, the Prophet’s Mosque. This mosque is where we prayed most if not all our prayers. Every day after fajr prayer we would come together and partake in an enlightening halaqa led by Chaplain Khalil. Afterward, we would get breakfast together and continue with various activities including visiting a university in Medina, Masjid Quba, and the Rawdah, historical sightseeing, and lots of shopping for abayas, thobes, dates, and more. The days felt long in the best way possible, starting our day at the crack of dawn and ending very late at night as we kept ourselves occupied with prayer and exploration.
After staying in Medina for a few days we headed to Mecca on a high-speed train and entered our state of Ihram for Umrah. After Isha prayer, we came together and prepared to enter Masjid al-Haram, where the Kaaba is, to perform Umrah. We entered with our eyes closed and heads down and when we arrived within sight of the Kaaba, words cannot describe what I was feeling at the sight - nonetheless, it was an emotional experience. After we completed our first Umrah together, the next few days were left for us to focus on ourselves spiritually - continuously praying by reading the Qur’an, doing dhikr, praying salah, and if people wanted, performing Umrah again.
Overall, one key aspect of this trip, for me, was the community - both the Harvard community and the Muslim community. My mother was one of two mothers on the trip and I truly appreciate all my friends who would constantly converse, eat, shop, and accompany her throughout the trip. They made her feel welcomed and truly a part of the Harvard community. As for the Muslim community, seeing thousands of Muslims migrate to Saudi Arabia from all over the globe for the same spiritual purpose was so heart-warming. This highlighted the fact that regardless of our background, we are all one community and united by our faith. As a Bangladeshi American, I was constantly interacting with Bangladeshis everywhere whether they worked there or there to perform Umrah as well - they were very sweet people who were constantly willing to help us with anything we needed. This trip made me reflect on the fact that my Muslim identity is what creates strong bonds between me and Muslims I have never even met before. It is this community that made me feel happy, safe, and grateful.
Although the main purpose of this trip was to connect to my Muslim faith on a deeper level and perform Umrah, it was so much more than that. I made new friends and created stronger bonds with old friends, we shared stories, laughs, and tears, and I became better at my bargaining skills.
I would like to give a special thanks to the Harvard Muslim Chaplains Khalil Abdur-Rashid and Samia Omar for playing such a large role in preparing, planning, and leading the trip; the donor for helping me and many other students in making this trip possible; and the Harvard Muslim students who attended this trip for making this experience one to remember.