“Get some rest. We’ll leave for Mina by 10am,” said our group leader as he instructed us where and when to meet later. We were back in our hotel in Makkah for the day and I couldn’t help but welcome the comforts it provided—the coolness of the air-conditioner, the hot shower, the dry and clean bathroom, fluffy towels, the soft mattress and pillow.
I recalled the last two days. We had spent the day in Arafat and felt grateful to have been granted this rare and blessed opportunity to seek forgiveness and pray to our heart’s content. I was happy that I was able to pray for the people I love, people I cherish, people I know, and also for those who I don’t.
We had spent the night under the star-studded sky of Muzdalifah, one of the experiences that every pilgrim looks forward to. This is the night when you part from the comforts you’ve known in life and sleep on the street or an open field with millions of other pilgrims, without any privacy. And yet, you emerge from it all, happy to have made it and grateful to the Almighty to have been given the chance to have experienced it.
Throwing pebbles at Jamaraat was also quite an experience. While the ritual went smoothly on days 1 and 2, we were almost crushed on day 3. Regardless, it was a fun ritual and at some point I wished more pebbles were required to be thrown. Actually, I did have extra – Masood and I threw extra pebbles on behalf of our mothers.
We were now officially out of Ihraam. Everyone looked fresh, calm, and rejuvenated. We had finished our tawaf on the rooftop, trimmed our hair, enjoyed a good shower, and had a sumptuous breakfast followed by a much-appreciated nap afterward. Later, while most of the Muslims around the world were busy celebrating Eid, we prepared to head back to the tents in Mina.
The traffic from Makkah to Mina was horrendous and we reached our tent at two in the morning.
Despite planning to leave early for Mina, we were still in the hotel until quite late in the afternoon. First, we were told that our van was stuck in traffic. Then we learned that one of the families from our group hasn’t returned from their tawaf yet. While waiting for the van and the family, mom and I began chatting with the ladies from our group. One of the ladies’ brother bought a few slices of cake and we all shared a bite. We learned how well-educated and family-oriented the Emirati ladies were. They were also quite articulate in English so we ended up discussing a whole range of topics from religion to career to politics and family affairs.
By the time we left our hotel in Makkah, the sky was getting dark. The van was an old and sad thing. I was curious to find out how the 18 of us were going to fit in a 12-seater van! Everyone looked perplexed, first at the state of the vehicle and then at the size of it. The driver assured us that we can all fit in effortlessly.
The ladies went in the van first. The eight of us occupied the last two and a half rows. The men followed. There were three men seating next to the driver, instead of just two. The remaining men were directed to sit on top of the van. I was completely surprised by this! These Emirati men were professionals, a couple of whom held high-profile jobs, and who, I’m sure, drove expensive cars to work. But since no other vehicle could be arranged, they cautiously stepped up the rusty ladder and sat on the roof. Along the way, each time we were stuck in traffic and the van would come to a complete halt for 20 minutes or so, the men would come down from the roof and stand on the road. This was how uncomfortable it was sitting on the roof.
It was equally uncomfortable inside the van. The cooling system broke down within 15 minutes of our journey and the windows won’t open. We were perspiring under our abayas and hijabs. This was another situation where my foldable handheld fan came handy. To distract ourselves, we talked about various topics and tried to entertain ourselves. Soon, however, the heat became too unbearable and the rest of the trip was spent in silence.
The traffic eventually forced us to leave the van and cover the rest of journey on foot.
We still had about 3 kilometers to cover but it was unanimously decided that walking the rest of way was much better than suffering a heat stroke inside the van. So we all alighted and took to the streets. It was one in the morning.
One of the ladies said she felt dizzy and nauseous. She sat on the roadside, completely distraught. We moved closer to her, giving her water to drink and trying to make her comfortable. There was a hospital nearby, so her husband took her there as we continued our journey on foot toward our tent. An elderly gentleman from our group had a problem with his back and walking up an incline was becoming painful for him. We had him sit in a wheelchair and the men took turns to push it. He was reluctant to sit in the wheelchair, saying he did not want to be a burden on anyone. The men insisted, so he finally agreed.
Along the way, we saw entire families lying on the side of the road. Prior to arriving here for Hajj, I was under the impression that everyone gets allocated a specific tent, but this does not seem to be the case. Thousands of people still arrive for Hajj illegally and, therefore, unaccounted for. The roads were congested. Buses, cars and motorcycles were inching their way through the massive crowd, their fumes making it difficult for us to breathe. I held Masood’s hand and mom held mine as we navigated the narrow space between pilgrims sleeping on the pavement and vehicles moving slowly. Several pilgrims where moving about. It also appeared that some of the tents may be so congested and hot that the occupants decided it best to spend the time outside in the open.
We kept walking toward our tent. There was so much activity that it did not feel like it’s past midnight. There was a fire brigade station along the way, the men in uniform ready and alert for any emergency. I wrote the names of the streets and the noted the landmarks. My father and sister called earlier today and mentioned visiting us so I wanted to be able to describe to them accurately how to get to the Emirati tent.
There was also a police station, a small clinic, and an office to accommodate and help lost pilgrims. Despite having so many trash bins all over the place, litter is scattered everywhere.
Another lady from our group started feeling sick, or so I initially thought. She broke down, right there in the middle of the road, and cried. “This is just too much,” she whispered to her husband, “and I don’t think I can take anymore.” Her husband and sister-in-law held her gently and comforted her. Soon, she was back on her feet and we continued walking toward our camp.
The Eid night was spent with family – on the roadside.
Because the security guard at the Emirati camp would not let an outsider in. Masood tried to reason with him, explaining that our guests were my father and sister, but he insisted he couldn’t let them in.
So there we were, at almost 3 am, at the road side. A young gentleman offered his chair to my father. We sat and chatted for a couple of hours. There were orange peels next to where I sat. Motorcycles and police vehicles drove past as we sat and talked. I noticed that my father’s feet were swollen. He and my youngest sister had to walk for more than 2 hours to see me. They both looked tired and weary, but happy. We exchanged stories about Arafat and Muzdalifah, and I felt so much love for and from my family. Soon, it was almost time for Fajr prayers and they needed to head back to their camp.
I couldn’t sleep in my tent. It was too hot and suffocating once the door was closed. I pulled up a chair, sat outside my tent where the breeze was cooler, and refused to budge unless someone provided me with an electric fan. Masood was worried because I hadn’t slept well for two nights in a row. “You’ll fall ill if you don’t get rest,” he said. Our group leader noticed us sitting outside and came to ask what the problem was. The nice man did his best to look for an extra electric stand fan, but to no avail. I appreciated his effort.
I also noticed that one of the mattresses was missing from the tent. This belonged to the lady who went to the hospital with her husband earlier today. I informed the group leader. Poor guy went out again to search for the mattress. By the time the lady returned to Mina, her bed was ready for her. I inquired about her health and she told me that she needed rehydration and was given IV fluids.
Then it was time for Fajr so I went to make ablutions and then read the Qur’an until breakfast was served.
The last day was my favorite, and I’m so glad we stayed behind.
After breakfast, I met Masood outside my tent. With him was a young Emirati man who I did not remember seeing before. He asked us to follow him to another tent. “You can stay here, sister,” he said. “Go in and check if you find this more comfortable.”
I knocked on the door and drew the curtain slightly as I entered so that the men standing outside did not see the women inside the tent. There were only about six ladies inside, and this tent was definitely much cooler than my tent. I went back to the men waiting outside. Masood asked if I liked the tent. When I confirmed that this tent was more cooler, the Emirati man said, “You can stay here now. We’re sorry for the inconvenience you have had to go through. You should be comfortable here, but let us know if there is any problem.” Masood later told me that he met with the group leader and complained about my hot tent so they decided to move me to another one.
At first it felt so awkward with the ladies in the new tent. I mean, they were together from day one and here I was, a total stranger. Also, none of them spoke English fluently so we made use of a language that contained Arabic, English, Urdu and hand gestures. But they were very sweet and welcomed me warmly. I went back to my previous tent to get my things and bring Ammi with me. My group mates asked where we were going, and when I told them that I was moving into another tent, the older women began teasing me. “Fine, now you’re going to leave us.” It was a bitter-sweet moment and, for a second, I felt as if I was betraying them. But the lure of the cool tent was too strong for me.
I picked the mattress facing the air-condition vent. I was so exhausted and sleepy that after praying Dhuhr, I fell into a deep sleep for a few hours and woke up rejuvenated and happy.
We went for stoning the jamaraat and it drizzled so it made for a pleasant experience. Everyone was mostly smiling and laughing. We returned to Mina close to sunset. By 11 pm, more than half of the Emiratis left Mina to return to Makkah. This was something optional, in case a pilgrim wasn’t feeling well or is too old to stay in the camp. But most of the pilgrims left regardless.
I wouldn’t lie and say that I wasn’t tempted to leave as well. However, given that Allah had made things easier for me meant that I must remain focused on the purpose of this journey. Following the footsteps of our beloved Prophet Mohammed (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم), we decided to remain in Mina for another night and day. It was a good decision to make. Not only is Mina empty—and therefore quiet and calm—on the last day, but one’s heart and soul is at peace for making the right decision to stay.
The bathrooms were always clean and dry. There were no queues anywhere. The tents felt big and spacious with few people around. And, now that I was calm and well-rested, discovered that we had free wi-fi all along! So I went online, got in touch with family and friends, and posted some pictures on social media. The meal times which were usually a rushed and crowded affair turned into what seemed like a family get-together, where we all ate leisurely and laughed together.
Leaving Mina the next day was difficult – emotionally. It dawned upon us that Hajj was about to end, and it felt too soon! I was beginning to enjoy my stay in Mina and I just did not want to leave. By noon, however, it was time to go. We sent our mothers back to Makkah by bus, with the rest of the older pilgrims. The rest of us prepared to go to Jamaraat for the final stoning ritual.
Coming up Next:
The walk from Jamaraat to Makkah. The last post of Hajj 2014.