Translating my thoughts and emotions into words for the Hajj Journal series is not easy.
First, whenever I reflect on this Holy journey, the entire experience runs in my mind like a film. It’s only been seven months since that day when I set foot in Makkah so I can still vividly recall every single detail as if it had happened yesterday. But the words appearing on the screen as I type do not do justice to this film that I’m seeing in my mind. Words fail to paint the pictures as striking and resplendent as I see them.
Second, Hajj is something that you have to experience yourself to truly understand and appreciate it. I used to read Hajj books, go through Hajj related blog posts and articles very carefully, and intently listen to someone else’s Hajj experience. Sure, they were all enlightening and inspiring, and they gave me a good idea of what transpires in those few days in Makkah and Mina, but they fail to satiate the thirsty soul. I went back and read all my previous posts on Hajj and I wonder what this might mean to someone who has never been to Hajj or even Umrah (for those making niyyah, I sincerely pray that Allah grant you the opportunity to perform these Holy trips). After Hajj, I still read Hajj books and articles, and yes, it’s not the same. Now, the words make a lot more sense. Now, each word evokes and stirs emotions and memories that immediately transport me back in Makkah and Mina. The problem is, I am not satisfied with my work. I don’t think I have written as eloquently and expressively as I would have liked to. But we all have our limitations and I should accept mine, with the du’a that some of these words would help and inspire another person.
The third and final day of stoning at Jamaraat was the most difficult and challenging. It seemed like all the pilgrims have gathered in this one place, all wanting to complete the ritual at the same time, thus resulting in total chaos.
Earlier today, we had left the tents of Mina with our bags and heavy hearts. Mina is a place that tests your patience because you are forced to live with several other strangers for three or four days, have a limited space to sit and sleep on, make do of the very basics (you are only allowed to bring 1 small backpack with you), and wait for an hour (or more) for your turn to use the bathroom. But Mina is also a place that tugs at your heart when you’re about to leave her. Without you knowing it, she makes a special place in your heart and teaches you to love her, except that you mostly realize this when you are about to leave.
Getting to Jamaraat at noon, when the unrelenting heat of the sun was at its peak, was quite a challenge. Having an umbrella and extra bottles of water at this time was a great blessing. Despite of these, people were fainting around us. There was complete disorder and confusion – a lot of pilgrims were, quite sadly, very rude, impolite, and aggressive.
When we finally completed the ritual—with our limbs intact and without having had to hurt anyone else in the process—we joined our group leaders and a young boy (one of the leader’s nine-year-old son) and headed down to the bus stop. We needed to get on a bus or taxi to get to Makkah. On the way, we ran towards the first source of drinking water we saw and joined the crowd to fill our water bottles. Our parched lips and dehydrated body haven’t tasted water as refreshing and invigorating as this cold zamzam water. Silver, stainless steel boxes with taps dispense the chilled water. You can find these zamzam “stations” all over haram and around Jamaraat. Inside haram, however, these water stations are made of marble.
Having had our fill, we walked towards the main road hoping to find a ride to Makkah. Soon, we discovered that the roads were filled with pilgrims as far as our eyes could see, and quickly realized that there was no way for any sort of vehicle to pass this way. We were left with only one option – walk.
Our group leaders, now fully rehydrated, were in a very jolly mood. They opened a couple of water bottles and began to gently sprinkle water to anyone we passed by. For someone who’d been walking under the sun for hours, the cool water on their head or faces was a welcome gesture. Masood and I also playfully sprinkled water on each other.
If you look at the picture above, there’s a truck on the left with a man standing on it’s roof and there are several pilgrims on the right with their arms raised. This truck was loaded with water bottles which were being distributed for free to whoever wanted it. Within seconds, a large group of people surrounded the truck, each one hoping to get a few bottles of water. One of our group leaders went and brought back a couple of bottles for us.
So we walked, and walked, and walked. The thing is, the mere thought that we’re taking the last few steps towards the end of our Hajj journey was fueling our patience and tired feet.
Soon, the sun prepared to end the day’s work, its strength diminishing by the minute. We folded our umbrellas and thanked Allah for the respite from the heat. We continued walking alongside thousands of others. The road seemed to go on forever. There was still no sign of any vehicle. We’d been perspiring for hours, our skin warm, sticky, and in dire need of a good shower.
Several kilometers later, my sister-in-law asked if we could pause to rest. We found an empty spot along the footpath and sat there for a few minutes. There were orange and banana peels next to me. I ignored the empty plastic bag that flew to my feet and did not mind the dust that clung to my abaya. People continued walking towards Makkah.
We got back up and continued walking until we saw buses and cars on the road running parallel to where we were. Hope sparked within our exhausted selves. We literally ran toward the buses and asked wether they were heading for masjid-al-haram. We spent almost an hour asking countless of buses and cars, but none of them was willing to go to haram because of the traffic.
It was now time for the asar prayers and we had no clue how far we were from our hotel in Makkah. Masood gestured toward a building that looked like a hotel. “Let’s stop there for namaaz. Let’s also get something to eat and drink.”
There were security guards manning the hotel entrance. I noticed that they were turning down a few men and women, denying them entry. This made me nervous. However, we were allowed to get in when we tried. The air-conditioned lobby of the hotel felt like a slice of paradise. I felt too disheveled and grimy for this spotless place.
Masood bought us juice and asked us to sit on one of the sofas while we wait for them. We couldn’t locate the prayer room, so while the men formed a small congregation at one corner of the room, we sat and waited (and decided to offer our namaaz once we’re back in our own hotel).
As we sat and enjoyed sipping the juice, a local man in clean and crisp kandura approached us. He asked if we were guests at the hotel. We said no. He asked if we knew someone who was a guest at the hotel. We said no. He then gently, and in a very friendly manner, informed us that the hotel management does not allow outsiders to sit in the lobby. Makes sense; otherwise, the thousands of pilgrims outside would be sitting here, sipping juice instead. We explained that our men were offering salah and that we’re just waiting for them and will leave as soon as they’ve finished. He agreed, offered a brief apology for not being able to allow us to sit longer, and left with a smile.
We finally found a car whose driver is willing to take us to Masjid al Haram!
It was an old, beat-up car that must have seen several seasons of Hajj. Regardless, it was in a running condition and will, we hoped, take us to our destination safely. The driver said he will charge as 500 riyals ($134) for the trip. “How far is haram from here?” we asked. “About 30 minutes away, with all this crowd.” We agreed. I did not think I could walk another inch.
Five minutes down the road, quite expectedly, we got stuck in traffic. What we had not expected was the fact that both tunnels that lead to our hotel were filled with pilgrims. Police couldn’t do anything to stop the pedestrians, who were already exhausted and cranky. So they stopped the vehicles instead. We sat in the car contemplating our next move. The tunnel was unlikely to clear of the pilgrims for the next several hours and we couldn’t just simply sit in the car till then.
Eventually, we paid some amount to the driver for his time and explained that it made more sense for us to walk to the hotel. He agreed. We were back on the road. On our feet. It felt so weird to walk through the tunnel that were only meant for vehicles. Somehow, our moods lightened and we began to enjoy the walk. We took pictures, made videos, reflected on the past few days, and joked around.
Our mothers had been calling us incessantly, asking why we’d taken the entire day to get from Jamaraat to our hotel in haram. I broke down upon hearing my mom’s voice and cried on the phone as I told her what we’ve been through. I had not intended to tell her everything on the phone but I just couldn’t help the flood of emotions that ensued.
We continued walking for what felt like a lifetime and finally saw the walls of the masjid-al-haram. We briefly got distracted by a nearby fried chicken shop. The aroma of deep-fried chicken wafted in the air and pulled us towards its source. People crowded the shop as if the chickens were bring distributed for free. Our turn eventually came and we had the food packed to take away.
The worried faces of our mothers greeted us at the door. The moment we stepped inside the room, they hugged us. Tears followed. More hugging continued. More tears were shed – tears of relief and joy. Tears of making it safely back to the hotel. But mostly, tears of having had completed the most important journey of our lives together.
Too soon, it was time to head back home.
My family and I left Makkah with our respective groups. Masood, mom, and I were the last to leave. The night before our flight, we visited the shops in the nearby malls and bought gifts for family and friends back home.
It is difficult to recall what exactly my feelings were on the plane back home. I became aware of my tired and achy limbs the moment I settled in my seat, and we all mostly drifted in and out of sleep all the way back to Abu Dhabi.
Outside the arrival lounge, past the immigration counters, we briefly met up with our group members to exchange phone numbers and say our goodbyes. It was then that I noticed my sister waving at me. She came to welcome us with flowers!
It still feels surreal, this trip for Hajj. If not for the journal with my handwritten account or these photographs, I would have thought it was all a very pleasant dream.
I’ll tell you this frankly: one does not feel like a different person upon returning from hajj. It’s not like you come back and suddenly become this model of piousness and righteousness. No, it’s nothing like that.
During last year’s Peace Conference a man from the audience asked a scholar, “How can I tell whether or not my hajj has been accepted by Allah?” The scholar tells him that while it is only Allah who holds that knowledge, a person can more or less have an idea based on whether or not he is inspired to make good changes, both in religion and life. There should be this desire to learn, to seek what’s in the Qur’an and Sunnah and implement that in his or her life, the yearning to seek forgiveness and the conscious struggle to leave bad habits behind. It’s when you actually take steps to improve yourself (specially in deen) and abandon the acts that Allah dislikes is when you know that your Hajj has been accepted.
Do not postpone Hajj if you have the means to do it this year.
It is common in Pakistan, for example, to postpone Hajj until a person has finished all his or her obligations and has retired from his or her job. Hajj is something you would put aside for your old age. Well, yes, Hajj is fardh if you have the health and financial means, so you should prioritize those. But sadly, it’s quite common to see families spending a large amount of money for a couple of weeks in an exotic country for vacations. Why not spend that money to perform Hajj instead? Hajj in old age is tough. You will be unable to perform your best when you face your Lord in that most important event of your life. You will be unable to help others. You will be unable to concentrate because you’re already weak and tired. Or, more unfortunately, you may not live long enough to perform Hajj when you wanted to.
After Hajj comes immense responsibility.
For those of us who have returned from Hajj, it is our responsibility not to return to our old ways of life that is filled with activities that do no good for us in the eyes of Allah. It is upon us to improve ourselves so that we’re better, more compassionate human beings. Regardless of our status in society, we should strive to become givers so that the people around us benefit from us. We need to learn the difficult act of forgiveness. We need to set good examples wherever we go so that others may know what being a Muslim truly means.
I pray that Allah help us improve ourselves, forgive our misgivings, and bless us with more opportunities for Hajj and Umrah. I sincerely hope that some of you may find these Hajj posts beneficial, and I request that you please remember me and my family in your prayers.
For a list of all the Hajj posts, please click here.