Hajj 2014 – Never Say Never – Umrah with Our Autistic Daughter

Hajj 2014 – Never Say Never – Umrah with Our Autistic Daughter October 3, 2014

This article is part of Patheos Muslim’s and Altmuslim’s Hajj 2014 reflection series, which is focusing on the good, the difficult and everything in between about the holy days of Dhul Hijjah, the Hajj pilgrimage and Eid ul Adha, the second major holiday for Muslims. Although this post is about an Umrah trip, it ties into the spirit of the Hajj.

Editor’s Note: This post is written by my friend and guest writer, Joohi Tahir, about the Umrah she and her family did a few years back. Joohi’s daughter is autistic and nonverbal like my son, Lil D. Travel, especially via airplane, is tough with Lil D, and I’ve often thought that if I’m ever to subject him to long-distance airline travel again, it will only be to perform Umrah. Reading this piece and the determination of Joohi and her husband to take their whole family for Umrah, including their special needs daughter, touched me in a way that is indescribable. May Allah swt bless all those who have done Hajj and/or Umrah and who are doing so this year. May all our prayers be accepted.

Mehreen and her Baba performing Umrah.
Mehreen and her Baba performing Umrah.

By Joohi Tahir

When you’ve tried every imaginable treatment and therapy available, you know you want the best for your child and are not willing to give up. Our “special” children, those with special needs, are even higher on the priority list when you have to search high and low for the long-awaited cure that you believe is out there. Well, in our family’s case, we never say “never”.

After a 15 month stint with a treatment in Dallas, a thousand miles away from home, to help our 12-year-old daughter, Mehreen with her symptoms of autism, I thought to myself, we must have tried everything – why aren’t we getting those results that we pray for. Then suddenly I saw things in a new light.  The BEST therapy for Mehreen was going to the Kaabah. That was it; it became so clear at that moment — that through all those years of trying treatments and tons of prayers, why had we not considered the best therapy of all? A visit to the house of Allah.

My husband and I had often talked about Hajj, and how we yearned to go. And it was always followed by, but who would watch our daughter, Mehreen, how would we leave her? Should one of us go first and then the other later? Overall, we thought taking her there would be impossible and when discussing the idea with others, they agreed — it would indeed be next to impossible.  We never even gave Umrah a second thought until that moment.

After all, most children on the autism spectrum cannot handle crowds, noise, unfamiliar surroundings, long plane rides and anything out of their normal routine and comfort zone – going to Umrah would not involve one of these factors, but almost all of them. But, I had made my mind up – this was going to be the ultimate family trip. We really needed to do this, and Allah (SWT) was going to make it possible for us and help us all the way through inshaAllah. If you think about it, what better way to pray for anything, but to go to Makkah and pour your heart out? I wanted my daughter to be able to experience such a blessed place with us.

Allah Makes it Easy

Every step of this journey became easy for us from the minute we decided to go. We had all the support materials and prepping done, even to the point of showing Mehreen YouTube clips of tawaaf (circling around the Kaabah) and what to expect, so that she knew what we would be doing. We even had her teacher make PECS (picture exchange communication system) cards and a schedule of actions, like salaah (prayer), airplane, hotel and the Kaabah. Once we arrived in Makkah, we noticed all the miracles beginning to unfold – tentative at every point, yet filled with strong iman and hope.

Never say never.

Outside Masjid al Haram, after a 30 hour journey, it was 1 a.m. the night we arrived, Mehreen tugged at our hands. (We never would let go of her hand, as she tends to take off if given the chance. We could not lose her at Umrah.) She started tugging and pulling us toward the entrance door and was anxious to get inside as we stood outside admiring the beauty of the masjid.  Once in front of the awe-inspiring Kaabah, Mehreen lit up, she smiled with wonder and was ready. Our hearts were beating with excitement while at the same time uncertainty about what this experience would hold in store for us.

As we had strategized, my husband and I placed Mehreen in the middle and flanked her front and back so that we could keep track of her in the crowds during tawaaf. If the unthinkable happened and we lost her, she would not be able to communicate or find her way back to us or the hotel – she is, after all, non-verbal. We arranged for our other two daughters to be with family members we were with and in their protection, so that we could focus on keeping Mehreen safe and comfortable.

Her eyes constantly looked up at the sky, never moving her sight for a moment. She complied and walked the entire seven rounds of tawaaf with us, never moving her sight from the sky with that amazing smile on her face.  What was she looking at? I kept checking – I saw nothing. I kept making du’a and quietly continued whispering words of dhikr in her ear. Mehreen was more than content and had made a spiritual connection I could not explain. She even laughed and giggled; she was happy and loved the rhythmic movement of the thousands of fellow pilgrims. Those that passed by and saw her felt compelled to smile and touch her head as if to want to be a part of her experience. There was an aura about her, mashaAllah that I will never forget.

Mehreen and her Mamma
Mehreen and her Mamma

Once tawaaf was done and we had all completed the other rites, including drinking Zam Zam and praying two rakats by Muqaam-e-Ibrahim. Then we started towards Mount Safa to walk between Safa and Marwah seven times. I recall praying while locking my arm in hers to prevent her from wandering off. Mehreen, as enthusiastic as ever, not tired, and ready for another incredible experience. She did all the trips back and forth, never taking a break, never losing her energy. I can’t say how relieved I was. W

We did it, we actually performed Umrah with her – Alhumdulillah!

The entire trip was a blessing – we took a chance, and Allah never let us down. We prayed before we left, and  amidst all our reservations, I wondered how I would perform my own Umrah. All I knew was that if Mehreen got to go there and was OK, I would be happy and that type of ibaadat (worship) and that taking care of her would be enough for me. This experience was so memorable for the entire family that we often talk about going back again all together. All the “what ifs” are gone, and we know it was the best decision ever – Allah’s infinite mercy and blessings were with us and still are always.

Trust in Allah

The lessons learned were that if you put your trust in Allah, anything is possible. Mehreen often asks to go to the Kaabah – she pulls out her picture cards and insists on going back again. For years, Mehreen has understood the concept of submission in our faith – she joins in with us at times in salaah and prostrates, saying “Allahu Akbar”.  She calls out “Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem” at times when struggling, never being taught to do this except when eating as we teach small children.

She calls her Lord – it’s in her Fitrah to call to her Creator. Mehreen is an eternal reminder that our love for Allah is innate, it is in all of us and the need to worship, each in our individual way, is deep in our souls. We saw that in her connection during tawaaf, her wonderment and amazement. Even while in Madinah, Mehreen was restless one night and couldn’t sleep, a little upset. We showed her the Kaabah on the live streaming TV in the hotel, and in that surreal moment she immediately calmed down at the beautiful site, subhanAllah.

These things cannot be explained except for attributed to the Divine plan. To this day, she watches the live feed from Makkah often. A peace comes over her that I cannot describe.

Having just performed our long awaited Hajj this past year with my husband, Alhumdulillah, I felt that peace we all do when blessed with the opportunity to worship there and focus purely on our ibadat with no worldly distractions.

Remember, Mehreen taught us a lesson: Never say never.

Joohi Tahir is a mother of three girls living the Chicago area, she works in the Halal Industry as well as leads Sh. Omar Suleiman’s newly launched non-profit organization for Muslims with Disabilities, MUHSEN.
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