VISIT TO SAUDI ARABIA FOR HAJJ
Long Standing Dream Comes True:
I & wife went for Hajj this year (Dec 2009). It was a great experience and we learned a lot from it. Believe me friends it is not an easy task. It requires a lot physical effort and even more patience. Hardship and sabr (patience) are the essence of Hajj, and these carry great rewards from Allah Ta’ala. Please do it while young, and within next 2 or 3 years while weather is cooler. When my mum came back from Hajj, she just slept & slept for two weeks. I was wondering why, now I know exactly why!
Read some do’s & don’ts of hajj, and few important points to remember.
There are a huge no of people on Hajj, about 3 million. Saudia has a system in place to deal with them – it works but is very lousy – credit to Saudis but it can be enhanced & atomized.
We wore ehram chadors (& chappals) at Heathrow airport. Initially I felt very strange having nothing on body except sheets (not even underwear). But ehram is really a liberating dress. Surprisingly it is very easy to manage. People at airport were thinking we are some kind of monks.
Our flight left UK around 11 am, landing us in the Jeddah airport around 10 pm. To-be-hajis did wuzu (ablution) or whatever so much that water finished halfway on the flight.
Hajj is but Sabr (Patience) & Hardship:
From here the real test of sabr & hardship started. We spent next 10 hours in the airport passing through many stages from airport buses, immigration, luggage and wait for coach to Makkah. Each stage has a story of its own, e.g. finding luggage was really a task because flights were landing one after the other and porters were piling up luggage near conveyer belts. Thousands of similar looking bags! You really have to dig down to retrieve your luggage. I decided to put red tape around the bag handle as a distinctive mark. To my surprise many others had red tape also. On top, literally!, airline check-in staff ensured that she puts check-in tag right on top of the red tape.
After nearly 24 hrs from leaving home, we managed to board a bus to Makkah. Distance between Jeddah and Makkah is 50 miles. However coach took about 8 hrs to reach hotel. It stopped at many places on the way, where different checks were done. Anyhow we reached our hotel, checked in, & after a while with huge excitement, we decided to go to Masjid-e-Haram (Khana-e-Ka’aba). There were a lot of people on their way to Haram Shareef.
Duaa on first sight of Ka’aba carries acceptance so I had a long list of wishes to ask for. I was so conscious that I did not feel much while seeing it first time. However as the environment sank in, I began to realize where I am standing. Ka’aba is awesome & magnificent; its glory is impossible to explain, it can only be felt. It will just stun you. Lighting at night makes it glorious. Lighting is so good that it feels like natural day light. This is the best sight I have ever seen.
We performed our first twaaf at ground floor, which is almost impossible during hajj, especially if you have family with you. You have to go to 1st or 2nd (roof) floor. Tawwaf here is easy but longer.
Next day we performed umrah in the morning and some exploring around in the evening. The area is filled with accommodation places, hotels and souvenir shops.
Most of the hajis come from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia & India, being the larger nations. Majority workers & restaurants are Bangladeshi. Urdu is understood by most, even by Arabs but no English at all.
A shopkeeper (or any stranger) is called by Ya Muhammad. It is fair to say that all spiritual benefit from hajj goes to Muslims (insha Allah!!), and all material benefit goes to china because each & everything there is made in China.
As Hajj days drew closer, crowd increased, so much so that by hajj time it was not possible to move around in streets.At times we could not even get out of our hotel reception near namaz time. One has to go hours before namaz to get into Haram Shareef. Unfortunately we Muslims hate discipline or order of any kind. People were behaving like a mob. Biggest issue was people sitting in the walkways, stairs & entrance blocking entrance & exit. This often lead to accidents but Alhamdu Lillah nothing serious happened this year. We had a narrow escape ourselves. We were going upstairs using electric stairs. Suddenly people at the top stopped right at the exit because there were hajis sitting there. People coming behind them started piling up & pressing each other as escalators kept bringing people up. It was only a matter of seconds before few could have been crushed. Luckily people at front quickly cleared away avoiding an accident.
There was hardly space for standing let alone sajdah during hajj time, you have to do sajdah in your feet. People would walk right in front of you while praying. Men & women were mixed all over. Pushing, rushing, cutting through was common. However one has to be very careful of not doing any of these because these are not allowed normally, and with ehram you are not even allowed to pluck a hair or break a leaf. I just managed to touch Maqam-e-Ibrahim. Hajar-e-Aswad (black stone) was very crowded, it was not possible to reach it without pushing, so I avoided even trying to touch it.
On the night of 8th Zul Hajj we were taken to Mina camp, a huge city of tents. It again took us many hours to reach though it was only 10 KM away. we lived there in tents for about 5 days. Here men & women have separate tents. It was a good reminder & experience for people like me who are used to live in luxuries. Though it had all basic facilities and was clean & comfortable enough. By the time we left it was badly littered & spoiled. Piles of rubbish were lying around. A lot of food provided by Saudis as gift was wasted.
During our stay we spent one night in Muzdalifah under open sky. It was very cold night due to rain & wind. Toilets were only few. There was a long queue for toilets. I stood in the queue for about 1 hour before getting in. It was really patience-testing. Many people lost temper on it. Actually we are not used to making queues. So some people were jumping in and were getting told off by others.
Next stage was throwing stones on shaitaan. This event used to be the toughest one and used to claim many lives every year. Now government has done lots of improvements to make it safer. There are long walkways and many separate paths/levels making it less crowded. It is still very tiring though. As I was turning away after stoning the shaitaan, bang, someone hit me right at the back of my shaven head. Oh boy, it was painful. Do I look like shaitaan???
After stoning, we came back to Makkah for Tawwaf & Saee. It was the hardest tawwaf because everyone has to do and at the same time. Our hajj was complete now, Alhamdu Lillah.
Hair Hair Everywhere!
After Hajj (& Umrah) everyone has to shave or trim their hair, so there were hair lying everywhere after Hajj. There are many temporary barbers who do the job on spot for 5 or 10 riyals. They are unskilled & really rush the job, I saw a man with a lot of cuts & bleeding on his head. I avoided these and did my own shave. Nothing was left on my head to shave after third Umrah anyway, so I just rubbed the razor on head symbolically.
Next day we left for Madinah. The coaches took about 12 hours to reach Madinah (normal time should be 6). Masjad-e-Nabvi is very beautiful. I went in and said salam at Rozah Mubarak. There was a long queue. I managed to pass though Riaz al Jannah (place between minbar-e-rasool (SAW) & Rozah Shareef). It was hugely crowded & people were pushing hardest I have even seen. The feelings I had here can not be explained. This is the place where Muhammad SAW walked & lived.
It is unfortunate that Saudis have demolished each & every old building in Makkah & Madinah, even qaboor. I wanted to get the feel of what it would have been like where Muhammad SAW, Umar RA, Abu Bakar RA, etc., & Abu Jahal & co once walked, but I could only imagine. I visited Masjid-e-Quba (first mosque), Masjad-e-Qiblatain (where Qibla was changed to Makkah), jang-e-Khandaq (place of battle of trench) & mountain Uhad. It was really amazing experience.
I saw the small hill near mountain Uhad where Muhammad SAW asked about 50 sahabah to stay put, and not to leave in any circumstance. But as Muslims nearly won, these sahabah left the place. Khalid bin Walid RA (then kafir) realized this and attacked from that side. Muslims suffered badly, even Rasul Allah (SAW) got injured & lost teeth. After seeing this place I can imagine how it would have happened.
I bought dates from Madinah. There is a big Tamar (dates) market which has a lot of variety. Next day we left back for home. We nearly missed our flight because we were dropped at wrong terminal. However we managed to board and reach home safely with the help of few kind Saudi officials at air port, thanks to them.
Read My Suggestions here to Make Hajj an Easy & Enjoyable Journey.