MECCA, Saudi Arabia—Muslims from communities across the United States recently spent 10 days traveling from Madinah to Mecca to Cairo with Hajj Pros, the only Black company taking groups to Hajj and Umrah. This was Hajj Pros second Umrah group since the pandemic.
The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Eternal Leader of the Nation of Islam, visited the Holy Land, Africa and made Umrah. His National Representative, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, also made Hajj, and Umrah, and visited the Middle East and Africa on many occasions.
In the late 1990’s Imam W.D. Mohammed, son of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, sent a group of students to Syria to study Islam. In that group was a young couple, Suleiman Hameed and Shahidah Sharif. There they learned the language and were with other Black Muslims who wanted to do Umrah, a shorter pilgrimage of the Hajj.
“While studying in Syria, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed told us to lead ourselves on Hajj. We shouldn’t be led by other folks. We did our first Umrah from Syria and brought other Western students with us. We saw our community with other companies being abused and mistreated. We knew Arabic and vowed to return home to start a business to make sure that we were able to serve our people,” Imam Suleiman Hameed, Hajj Pros co-founder told The Final Call.
For the past 18 years, he’s been taking groups to Hajj and Umrah. Their latest 10-day trip in late December 2022, from Madinah to Mecca and Cairo, was one of their largest groups with 61 Muslims from across the country. It was an intergenerational collection ranging from a toddler to several nearly 80 years old.
Imam Suleiman Hameed is part husband, part father, part wheelchair driver, part interpreter, all parts Muslim. He also organizes the security for the trip, makes sure everyone has their luggage and even finds the nearest pharmacy for cough drops.
“I enjoy using my Arabic to help people have a pure worship experience. If I can share something to educate participants, bring you to the Kaaba and you cry, that’s what I enjoy the most. I’m an imam that provides spiritual care. This is the pinnacle of spirituality. I try to ensure that I can help as many of our people have that experience,” he told The Final Call.
Lenard Muhammad from Baltimore’s Mosque No. 6 took the trip with his wife Karen. He told The Final Call, “I wanted to complete one of the five pillars of Islam. I had the opportunity, and blessings from Allah (God) to receive the money to do it. I wanted to do this for myself and with my wife.”
The group spent five days in Madinah worshipping at Al-Masjid an-Nawabi (the Prophet’s Masjid). Then they took a bus from Madinah to Mecca. Performing Umrah was their first stop. Everyone had to make their intentions to perform Umrah and be in a state of Ikram. This is a divine state that Muslim men and women enter to perform the rituals of Umrah. They become pilgrims. Men must wear an Ikram which is two pieces of white fabric. The Ikram equalizes all men with the same outfit. Women wear white too but can also wear any color. A pilgrim enters the state of Ikram with their attire and by performing certain cleansing acts.
Mecca is home of the Kaaba, a cube-shaped building covered with a silk and cotton veil. It is the most sacred site for Muslims, and millions travel as a pilgrim each year for Hajj and Umrah. The origin of this structure goes back to Adam. The floods during the time of Noah caused it to be partially damaged. Allah (God) ordered the reconstruction of the Kaaba by Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) and his son, Ishmael. This event was revealed in the Qur’an with the following verse: “Our Lord, accept it from us! Indeed, You are the All-hearing, the All-knowing,” (2:127).
“Their first Umrah as students from Syria, was by land from Damascus to Saudi,” Hajj Pros co-founder Shahidah Sharif told The Final Call. “We went through the Jordanian border, Saudi border. It was very interesting because it was affordable. We were on a student budget. We stayed in student housing type. There were eight of us and we did everything in the community. It was a very humble beginning for Hajj Pros. It showed us that there was a need for that support to our community.”
“When we take groups there are a lot of unique needs. We want participants to be able to focus on their worship and not worry about logistics or the headaches stuff. We love being able to serve ourselves. We are particular about the rest stops. We have our security brothers on post waiting for us. We want everyone to feel safe, protected and supported. My husband (Imam Suleiman) and I returned to the states after studying for three and a half years.”
Their first group was in 2004 and Hajj Pros became licensed and official in 2005, she stated.
At that time there were other Black people organizing Hajj and Umrah trips by working with other companies. When Hajj Pros came on the scene, they built upon the foundation of other Black Muslims providing similar services. Over time these small groups went out of business and Hajj Pros became the only Black Hajj and Umrah company.
“We are licensed in the U.S. and with the Hajj Ministry. We speak the language and have lived in the culture. This helps us navigate the challenges of the trip. This allows us to alleviate any discomfort. It puts the travelers’ hearts and mind at ease to focus on what they came to do. Many people assume that because you’re Muslim, you should know what to do,” said Ms. Sharif.
“You can read a book. But when you’re in that group, you get anxiety, you get nervous, you want to make sure you’re doing things correctly. We provide reminders to help you. We have studied the laws of Hajj and Umrah to make sure we’re doing it the way Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) instructed. That’s reassuring for our participants.”
Imam Suleiman Hameed organized the group into what he called a cocoon. The brothers were on the outside with the women, children and seniors on the inside. There were strict instructions in how to move around the Kaaba in this formation.
“This formation is for our security and protection,” he explained to the group. “Follow my lead and Allah will bless us.” The group formation, secured by brothers familiar with group security like Lenard Muhammad, was able to maneuver through the crowds of thousands to give participants an enjoyable Umrah experience.
After completing Umrah some wanted to do another Umrah in the name of friends, or family members who were not there. This required them to enter the state of Ikram again and perform the same rituals.
Ayisha Karim from Atlanta performed Hajj 15 years ago. She joined the Umrah trip with great anticipation. “I just completed Umrah minutes before the second Adhan for Fajr (morning prayer). Our guides, Imam and Shahidah gently guided me through till the end,” she told The Final Call. “It rained on us from start to finish. It was such blessings. Masha’Allah (expresses a feeling of awe Allah has allowed this to happen),” she expressed.