My Hajj Experience: Solidarity with the Muslim Ummah
Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.
Glory be to Allah who brought me to Islam 5 years ago.
I was seven months pregnant with our second child when my husband and I decided to make our Hajj, in 1998, al-hamdu lillah.
We spoke to others who had made Pilgrimage for advice, but the resounding response was that we were mad to make Pilgrimage at such a time. We were also planning to go by ourselves, that is, without a group, which also brought a round of incredulous responses. Others supported us with “in sha’ Allah.”
Nevertheless, al-hamdu lillah, we put our trust in Allah, and He took care of us. It seemed that from the moment we made our decision, everything more or less fell into place, subhan Allah. We prepared ourselves by studying about Hajj, and what was required on different days, as well as finding out the approximate dates. Our time was limited, so we had to be quite precise about where we were going to be so that we could fulfill all the rites of Hajj properly.
Last Flight Before the Deadline
We booked our flight from Australia to Saudi Arabia (Jeddah) through a regular travel agent, and applied for our visas through the Saudi Embassy in Canberra. We planned to spend 12 days in Saudi, with the first 4 to 5 days in Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah and the rest of the time in Hajj. For this reason, we chose to fly from Jeddah to Madinah return.
Al-hamdu lillah, we arrived safely at the Hajj terminal at Jeddah, with Muslims from all around the world prepared to make pilgrimage. I was in awe at the scale of the place, ma sha’ Allah. Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of people, who had to be processed through customs & immigration, we missed our connecting flight to Madinah. Al-hamdu lillah, though, a Saudi official, may Allah reward him, found us a place on the next flight, albeit with a handwritten boarding card. I feel that this was a favor on his part to help us, as I think this was unofficial.
It was helpful that my husband speaks Arabic (he is Moroccan), and I have a little conversational Arabic, al-hamdu lillah, but most of the Saudi officials and helpers speak excellent English, so I think language doesn’t play too much of a role in official dealings.
One should be aware that the Saudi government has strict rules about when is the last day to travel to Madinah or from Madinah to Makkah. Al-hamdu lillah we got that flight, having just boarded prior to midnight, which was the deadline, because if we had not, we would have been unable to go to Madinah at all.
Our passports were taken away from us and sent to Madinah to the Pilgrim’s Office for those who have traveled by air, there is another office for those who have traveled by land. We were given two vouchers, one for each passport, with the address of the office on them, and were told to go to the office as soon as practical to tell of our return trip plans, so that our passports could follow us back to Jeddah. Because we were not with a group, we had to do all this ourselves, which was sometimes quite time-consuming, but al-hamdu lillah, it didn’t get in the way of performing prayers. The offices seem quite chaotic, with no queues and many Hajjis wanting to be attended to at the same time. It took a couple of visits to enter the second room where the passports are held; they were located, and marked with our return journey plans.
Arrival in Madinah
Ma sha’ Allah, the breathtaking first view of the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) mosque at night on arrival by taxi from the airport, brought tears to our eyes and we will never forget it.
We had not booked a hotel, so the taxi driver kindly dropped us near the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) mosque where there were a lot of hotels. Because we were entering Madinah at a time just days prior to the Hajj, many people were already leaving to go to Makkah, so al-hamdu lillah, the hotels had a few vacancies, and we found a room easily. The room had nine beds! We had the room all to ourselves, but a shared bathroom. It was so close to the mosque that you could hear the Adhan, make wudu’ and get there in plenty of time for Prayer, which was excellent for Fajr Prayers, al-hamdu lillah. The prices were also very negotiable, as the hotels were keen to have business.
Al-hamdu lillah, a friend of ours in Australia had friends who lived in Madinah, so we made contact with them and ma sha’ Allah, they were excellent guides during ziyarah (the visit to the Prophet’s Mosque).
Ziyarah took us a full afternoon in a private taxi. We changed to another hotel, Dar al Bab Al Jumu`ah, that had a smaller room and a private bathroom, at a better price, ma sha’ Allah, we will return there in the future, in sha’ Allah.
Another time consuming occupation was the reconfirmation of flights, as obviously all pilgrims are trying to do the exact same thing. It just takes several visits, patience and perseverance.
Ma sha’ Allah, it is easy to see why the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) loved this city and its people. To walk in a place so steeped in Islamic history is inspiring and humbling. The evenings, with the crescent moon hanging above the minarets of the Prophet’s mosque, were sensational, subhan Allah.
I am sorry to leave out all the details of the Sunnah of visiting Madinah and the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) mosque, but this is something that is easily found in good books, and beautifully simplified and easy to follow in the guidebook provided by the Saudi Government on arrival in Jeddah. Actually, it was my most used book during our visit, as it was very clear about what needs to be done. May Allah reward them for this.
Feeling of Solidarity in Makkah
We were sad to leave Madinah, but equally excited about the main event, Hajj. We flew back to Jeddah, this time in our ihram, intending to make Hajj. We arrived at the “normal” airport, where we had to go to another office within the airport to be triaged into nationality groups, according to the nationality of our passports. We were given the address and number of the Establishment for Pilgrims responsible for us in Makkah, which was number 19. The group including pilgrims from America, Australia, Europe and Turkey. Our passports were again held and sent to that office.
We then traveled by taxi to Makkah, where we dropped off at the Sacred Mosque. We performed our `Umrah before Fajr, al-hamdu lillah. A nearby hotel obligingly kept our luggage for us while we did this.
The Sacred mosque is one of the largest structures I have ever seen; its sheer bulk just seemed to dwarf me, subhan Allah. The atmosphere is almost tangible, the feeling of solidarity with the Muslim Ummah just made me feel that I had really come “home”. The sighting of the Ka`bah for the first time is awesome, its beauty cannot be portrayed in any other way except by pure experience of its presence and its meaning to us as Muslims. The fact that everyone is there to do exactly the same thing in praising their creator, Allah, just elevates and magnifies the feelings, so that it feels as though your heart is going to leap out of your chest with joy. Subhan Allah, nowhere else have I felt such a strong sense of “rightness” and belonging.
During our Tawaf, we were lucky enough, al-hamdu lillah, to meet with a Moroccan woman, who seeing my condition and knowing we had no hotel booked, invited us to her hotel for a rest after our `Umrah. She guided us to the Zamzam well, and to Safa and Marwah to make our Sa`i, may Allah reward her.
The miracle of Zamzam water, subhan Allah, still never ceases to astound me. So many people drinking and washing with it and taking liters back home with them to their home countries, it truly is a blessing of Allah, and the sweetest and most refreshing water on Earth.
We rested for a while at her hotel. She had gone with a group and there were many people in each room, segregated by sex, unless part of a large family group, in which case they had a room together. I rested with the women, while my husband of course, was with the men.
We went by taxi to Office 19, and met the people responsible for us during the days of Hajj. This is what you are paying for when you apply for your visa, and get your bus travel vouchers. You are paying for the infrastructure and organization, accommodation in tents at Mina and `Arafat, plumbing, sanitation and water supply. They were also selling vouchers for meals at Mina and we bought some. We met Abdullah, the head of Number 19, who was very helpful and friendly and really went out of his way to help us, may Allah reward him for that. He and most of the staff there spoke perfect English, so, as I was saying before, communication was no problem.
Unfortunately, our Australian passports were not at his office and that made us worried. Al-hamdu lillah, to his credit, he reassured us, and told us he would look after us under the group number 19, gave us our Number 19 ID bands, told us to have a good Hajj in sha’ Allah, and he would sort it out. We trusted him. We left for Mina that night on a group 19 bus from the 19 office. Al-hamdu lillah, it was all very easy, they even stored our luggage at the office for us. All we had to do was stick to buses and tents with group 19 on them, and we would be all right in sha` Allah.
Mina, ‘Arafat and Muzdalifah
The bus trip took a very long time, but al-hamdu lillah, we eventually arrived in Mina. We met with a lovely, ma sha’ Allah, Jordanian-American couple, with whom we traveled most of the time while performing our Hajj. It was good to have another sister to talk to and two men to help guard us in the particularly crowded areas such as the Jamarat.
On our first night in Mina, we climbed up on a nearby mountainside, and watched the big picture unfolding around us. People walking, the cars and buses jostling for space amongst the sea of people, the little community of people living in tents on the hillside, who have gathered there to sell cooked food to the pilgrims, and most impressively, the massive city of tents that is Mina, with peaked tents reaching as far as the eye can see, Subhan Allah.
The accommodation was simple and adequate, al-hamdu lillah, with rugs on the floor, fans spaced regularly, and dispensers of cold iced water.
Lots of ablution blocks, but obviously, with so many people there was often a wait, especially at peak traffic times, such as before Prayers. Our tents were not partitioned off at all, which meant that there was no privacy, but it didn’t matter, as privacy wasn’t really required.
My husband and I decided to move from Mina to `Arafat by foot, while our companions chose the bus. Al-hamdu lillah, I am pleased that we decided to do that, as it was such a group experience, everyone chanting “Labbayka Allahumma, Labbayk”, and the swarming tide of the crowd all heading to `Arafat, made the day of `Arafat a real glory and thanksgiving for the bounties bestowed on us by Allah. The site of Masjid Namirah was again joyous, marking our imminent arrival, Al-hamdu lillah. The walking road is very comfortable, with ablution blocks and cold-water fountains all along the way. Ma sha’ Allah, considering that there were four million people everything was very clean. Compare this to an event such as, for example, the Grand Prix, which has been held in Adelaide, Australia, and although only attracted crowds in the thousands, there was lots of vandalism and filthy toilet facilities. Hajj to me was spotless, al-hamdu lillah.
However, on reaching `Arafat, we had no idea where, in this sprawling tent city, our tent 19 was. Obviously, being pregnant, I needed a good sit down in the shade by this stage. Al-hamdu lillah, we stumbled upon a group of tents with an Algerian flag. The finding of the Algerian tent-being the next best thing to finding the Moroccan tent-was really sent by Allah! My husband asked a man near the tent at the front if I could sit down in the shade with some women. He was a Saudi national, who had come to perform Hajj with his extended family, al-hamdu lillah, their acceptance of us as part of their family and their hospitality towards us is a credit to them, and may Allah reward them in full. My husband stayed with the men, and thanked them, but they responded that it was they who must thank us, because it is because of the pilgrims and the service that Saudi Arabia provides them, that in sha’ Allah, they, the Saudis, are rewarded many times over. I truly do believe it is with this spirit that the Hajj organizers do their duty, ma sha’ Allah.
We made our du`aa’s, and spent some time at the Mount of Mercy, which was full of an incredible hum of people, all thanking, glorifying and pleading to Allah Most High. It is the day where the tears fall and the heart overflows with thankfulness to Allah, and belief in his mercy and that all our sins will be forgiven.
After Maghrib Prayers, again we made our way with the flowing exodus of people, to Muzdalifah. We had brought a backpack with us that contained a “therm-a-rest” mat, which is a very small blow-up insulated mattress found at camping stores, and some sleeping bags, but, due to my pregnancy, we only stayed in Muzdalifah until after midnight before making our way back to Mina. Again, rules-and their exceptions-can be found in books on Hajj, so please check. May Allah find this acceptable,in sha’ Allah.
After Fajr Prayers in Mina, we performed the rites of Yaum An-Nahr, al-hamdu lillah. I am thankful to my husband who encouraged me to be brave and to throw my own stones at the Jamarat, and, al-hamdu lillah, it was relatively easy, with a space opening up just at the right time. Yes, I will admit there were a few times where the push, pull and ebb of the crowd was a little too close to my baby for comfort, but, al-hamdu lillah Allah protected us as we just prayed constantly to Him to make it easy for us. Our du`aa’s were answered, al-hamdu lillah.
With this rite personally accomplished, rather than by proxy, I felt a real accomplishment in the completion of Hajj, al-hamdu lillah. We actually preferred the downstairs part of the Jamarat, and found it easier to gain good access there.
In Madinah we had bought sacrifice vouchers, which I feel is an excellent idea on the part of the Saudis, ma sha’ Allah, with the sacrificial meat slaughtered, frozen or canned, and sent to people in need all over the world. It was good to feel that you were benefiting Muslim brothers and sisters, al-hamdu lillah.
Festival Atmosphere in the Days of Tashreeq
We went by taxi back to Makkah to perform Tawaf al Ifadah and Sa`i, having broken our ihram. We survived at Mina on packaged food such as processed cheese, bread, fruit and juice. I can recommend “Tang” as a must for the traveler as it adds extra salts, vitamins and sugars to the diet. The food we had bought vouchers for was unfortunately spoiled by the heat, and on our return, we were offered a full refund, ma sha’ Allah, of which we only accepted half. We returned to Mina that evening, tired and sore although elated. We spent the next two days in the festival atmosphere of Mina in the Days of Tashreeq, when all the traders put out their wares to create a colorful street market.
Al-hamdu lillah, I was also able to throw my own stones at the three Jamarat on the first day, but on the second day, we, and the rest of the pilgrims, had gathered at the Jamarat waiting for Zhuhr, after which time it is permissible to throw the stones on these days. It was obvious that everyone else had the same idea as us, that is, to throw the stones as soon after Zhuhr as possible and to execute a quick exit back to Makkah. After all, we had passports to find.
That day the crowd was far too intense for me, and my female traveling companion, to throw our own stones. We tried, but the flow was pressured. Therefore, we appointed our husbands as proxies for us and waited in proximity. Al-hamdu lillah, Allah kept them safe from harm and we left for Makkah.
We went back to Office 19, where Abdullah, unfortunately, had not located our passports. He recommended we return after `Isha’ Prayers. Again, the Sacred Mosque is a miracle. The background hum of people, mixed with the chirping of the swallows that nest in the various corners of the mosque is an unforgettable sound. The swallows even nest inside the speakers, subhan Allah, and we saw some of them actually flying back into their nests next to the speakers, after the Adhan for Prayer. How beautiful that all of Allah’s creatures find His Glorious Qur’an harmonious, subhan Allah.
After `Isha’, Abdullah sent one of his workers to drive us to the far away Central Office for Pilgrims, in the hope we could find our passports. Ma sha’ Allah, it was very far, and he drove us to several places until they were located, having been held at one of the offices, and marked on the computer. It was reassuring to have an inside look into the organization the Saudis actually have for locating passports, as from an outside view it can certainly look like there is no organization at all. It was impressive, that at the central office the computer easily located the passports. The mind boggles at the amount of time it must take to log on all the information. I’m sure that most of the organizers work 24 hours a day to serve the pilgrims, ma sha’ Allah.
That night we were accommodated at Office 19, and then left for Jeddah after making our Tawaf Al-Wada`. Al-hamdu lillah, all praise to Allah who made our Hajj easy and gave us patience.
Moved and Enriched by Our Experience
I think that we had several good experiences by virtue of going by ourselves. We met many good people, whom we still have contact with, we walked everywhere we could, and we were not restrained by having to wait for, or do what, other group members wanted to do, al- hamdu lillah. Al-hamdu lillah, we were able to concentrate on our prayers and rites without being sidetracked by idle talk, which can often happen in a group. We also were able to ignore, without criticism or discussion, the inevitable “bad” things that one sees during travel, as we should overlook these things while on Hajj. Al-hamdu lillah, it seemed that if a situation developed, a person was sent, or a space opened up whenever needed, thanks to Allah.
We were so moved and enriched by our experience that we could not resist the call to Allah in 1999, and this time we took our three and a half year old first-born daughter… But that’s another story, in sha’ Allah.
*Excerpted by IslamOnline.net with modifications from ICM/The Web Plaza (TM).