hajj from uae

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.

zamzam stations in haram

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.

hajj 2015

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.

hajj crowd

crowd during hajj

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.

makkah tunnel

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.

makkah during hajj

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!

welcome hajis back home

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.

Hajj is as much a personal journey as it is spiritual. No two pilgrims share the exact experiences. The Hajj Journal series on this blog reflects my journey from Abu Dhabi to Makkah in October 2014. These stories depict the pilgrimage trip as how it really transpired: day-to-day accounts of the rituals, the hardships, and lessons learned. By sharing the hardships we faced, I intend not to complain but to show you the real picture of Hajj as it happened. It is my experience that when preparing for this Holy journey, I spent hours looking for and reading personal accounts online and learn from these pilgrims. I craved for real information on what goes through a person’s mind during the rituals of Hajj. I hope, insha’Allah, that those of you planning to go on Hajj will find these posts beneficial. 
Posted in Makkah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

uae mina tents

“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.

inside ladies tent in mina

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.

Hajj is as much a personal journey as it is spiritual. No two pilgrims share the exact experiences. The Hajj Journal series on this blog reflects my journey from Abu Dhabi to Makkah in October 2014. These stories depict the pilgrimage trip as how it really transpired: day-to-day accounts of the rituals, the hardships, and lessons learned. By sharing the hardships we faced, I intend not to complain but to show you the real picture of Hajj as it happened. It is my experience that when preparing for this Holy journey, I spent hours looking for and reading personal accounts online and learn from these pilgrims. I craved for real information on what goes through a person’s mind during the rituals of Hajj. I hope, insha’Allah, that those of you planning to go on Hajj will find these posts beneficial. 
Posted in Mina | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

stoning of jamaraat

He hurled the tiny pebble toward the wall with too much force and fury. It was as if an enemy stood in front of him, all tied up, and he has been given the chance to deliver the punishment. He took another pebble from his left hand and flung it mightily toward the wall again. This time, quite unfortunately, another pilgrim stood a few meters away from him and got hit by the pebble on his head.

Folks, these pillars merely represent the locations where prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) was being tempted by Shaitaan. These pillars are not Shaitaan himself! Don’t take your frustrations out on these stone pillars.

We had to visit Jamaraat three times during Hajj. The first time was after spending a brief night in Muzdalifah. We left around two in the evening and took a short train ride to Jamaraat, which is basically in Mina just east of Makkah.

The stoning of the devil ritual is considered the most dangerous part of Hajj and had caused stampedes that led to the death of so many pilgrims over the years. Up until early 2000, the three Jamaraat were simply tall pillars.

Google Image

After the 2004 Hajj, Saudi authorities replaced the pillars with 85 ft walls for safety because many people were accidentally throwing pebbles at people on the other side. Furthermore, to allow easier access to the Jamaraat, four levels are built around the three walls, allowing pilgrims to throw stones from either ground level or from the different levels.

See? So much organized now:

stoning of jamaraat

Jamaraat Day 1: Prepare to walk a lot on an incline. It’s going to be tough pushing a wheelchair up on the upper levels of the Jamaraat.

going to jamaraat

This picture was taken while we were on our way to do the first stoning ritual, just after spending a portion of the night in Muzdalifah. My mother-in-law was in a wheelchair and it became a challenge to push it all the way up because of the incline and the massive crowd. Our group leader—may Allah reward him for his kindness—helped Masood and Mushtaq in pushing the chair.

Once we reached the walls of Jamaraat, everything went smoothly. We pelted the smallest wall first, then the middle-sized wall, and then finally the largest wall. The place did not appear as crowded anymore, the breeze was cool, and people did not appear to be rushing. There were several huge electric fans installed all over the place that blew mist at us. Both mom and mother-in-law pelted their pebbles with ease.

There was something greatly satisfying with the stoning ritual – it was actually quite fun! It’s probably because a person does not normally get the chance to hurl stones in public places. Happy and content to have completed this ritual, we walked back down toward the main road in order to get a bus ride to Makkah. Except that all the buses were full! We waited for what felt like forever before our group leader decided that we walked down the road where our chances of getting an empty bus were higher.

It turned out to be a long walk but somehow we were chatting the entire way and did not really notice the distance we’d covered. It helped that it was nighttime and the weather was cool.

An hour later we stopped walking and waited for a bus, and one did arrive in a few minutes, and it was completely empty! However, before we could even move closer to the doors, a huge group of tall and bulky men pushed their way through us and started getting into the bus. “Wait! We were here first and there are women in the group,” yelled our group leader in frustration. None of them paid any attention. It was then that our two group leaders forced their way toward the bus door, stood right at the entrance and blocked the way with their bodies. The tall and bulky men tried to push them aside, but our group leaders (though not as tall and bulky) stood firm and ordered the women in our group to get in. Initially, we were hesitant but looking at how our group leaders were being such gallant gentlemen, we made our way in. It wasn’t easy but we all got seats and traveled to Makkah without further issues.

We stopped briefly at our hotel in Makkah, used the washroom to freshen up and do ablutions and, by the time we headed back to masjid-al-haram for tawaaf, it was time for the fajr prayers.

Today was Eid! The masjid is full to the brim with both pilgrims and locals of Makkah.

You can easily tell the difference between the crowd: the locals arrived freshly-showered, wore new and pretty clothes, and looked absolutely relaxed and collected. The pilgrims, on the other hand, arrived sweaty, our ihram clothes filthy—from spending the whole day in Arafat, the entire night in Mina, and then returning from Jamaraat—and we looked exhausted and weary.

Moments later, the Eid prayer commenced so we stood with the rest of the crowd and joined the prayer. Despite our scraggy appearance, our hearts and soul were soaring with happiness and gratitude. My feet were aching badly and I badly needed a shower, but at that time I did not really care. I was here to complete my tawaaf and saee, and that was what I did.

We returned to the hotel. We received a call informing us that the sacrifice we paid for to be arranged (goats for us all) was done. The men shaved their hair, the women trimmed theirs. We all had a nice, warm shower. We were now officially out of ihram. We slept for a few hours, had lunch, prayed Dhuhr and then left for Mina.

Jamaraat Day 2: It rained!

We headed for Jamaraat from our camp in Mina. We were no longer in ihram and were feeling quite relaxed. And clean!

While walking towards the Metro station, it began to drizzle, much to the joy of all the pilgrims. “This is a sign of blessing, specially after the day of Arafat!” said one elated pilgrim.

stoning the devil in jamarat

hajj 2014

jamarat live on tv

Television crew was also around in Jamaraat for the live telecast of Hajj. People would briefly stop in from of the camera to smile and wave. I also stopped and waved! It was such a relaxed atmosphere and our second time of pelting the Jamaraat was also a breeze.

We then returned to Mina.

Jamaraat Day 3: This was the toughest day of my entire Hajj experience. I would suggest not to bring older people, pregnant women, and small children on the last day of this ritual.

We left Mina for Jamaraat at noon. We decided to send mom and mother-in-law back to our hotel in Makkah. Our group’s bus was waiting outside the tent for those who wanted to return to Makkah. We thought it better that we completed the ritual for them, considering that it was the last day of the Jamaraat ritual and there might be greater chances of stampede.

True enough, the crowd was massive. The midday sun was beating relentlessly down on us. We moved an inch at a time, making the journey from Mina to Jamaraat a very difficult one. We opened our umbrellas and tried to provide shade to as many pilgrims as we could. This was also when my handy foldable, hand fan came out extremely useful. We also brought a few water bottles with us.

It took hours to reach the Jamaraat wall. We were under the scorching heat of the sun the entire time, our bodies mere inches away from each other, making it more hot and suffocating. Soon, we ran out of water to drink. I kept my mind busy by thinking about pleasant things. I prayed a lot.

My sister-in-law fainted. One moment she was standing right behind me, the next moment she fell on the ground, unconscious. People immediately moved to give us breathing space. We did not have a drop of water left with us, but suddenly, random strangers began giving us their water bottles. Few seconds later, when she came to, we forced her to drink some water and made sure she wasn’t hurt. The simple act of people giving their water to someone else at the time when each drop was precious is absolutely touching.

By the time we reached the first Jamaraat wall, more pilgrims were fainting.  There was a dedicated medical team on standby at one side. Helicopters were available should anyone require immediate hospitalization.

The crowd appeared crazy—the heat, the massive number of people in one place, the overall exhaustion of Hajj. Masood had an extra bag of clothes with him—which belonged to mom but we forgot to give it to her so that she may bring it back to the hotel—but it was getting difficult to hold the bag and do the ritual amidst the crowd, so he just left the bag in one corner.

Our lips were parched, and the sweating was dehydrating us even more. Masood worried that I’d faint next so he gently asked a man standing next to him if he had some water. The man did not have any water with him but he had a can of soda and offered it to us.

It was a struggle getting closer to the wall. You see, the problem with pelting the pebbles from a distance is that you end up hurting someone in front of you. So we moved closer to the wall. Masood held my hand firmly. The pushing and shoving was totally insane and I felt my hand slipping from Masood’s several times. A large man pushed me. He literally pressed his big hand between my shoulder blades and pushed me forcibly. Twice. After the second time, I could no longer contain my anger and frustration, and pushed him back with all my might. He was caught off guard and looked surprised. I shouted at him—for you have to yell in order to be heard in all this chaos—and I said something to him that I can’t remember now. He quickly turned the other way and disappeared in the crowd. Truth be told, I still feel bad about pushing him back. Perhaps I should have exercised more patience.

There were broken umbrellas, torn clothes, missing shoes, and so much rubbish in Jamaraat.

It was totally chaotic. Although there were no reports of any casualty, thank God, several pilgrims were hurt. It was hard to see older people being pushed and shoved by stronger men and women, frightened children crying, wheelchairs hitting those walking in front. Masood and I felt relieved that we did not bring our mothers out on the last day of Jamaraat stoning. For me, this day was the hardest part of Hajj.

Coming up Next:

The last two days in Mina. The fainting and crying. The missing bed. And how the last day in Mina was the best of all.

Hajj is as much a personal journey as it is spiritual. No two pilgrims share the exact experiences. The Hajj Journal series on this blog reflects my journey from Abu Dhabi to Makkah in October 2014. These stories depict the pilgrimage trip as how it really transpired: day-to-day accounts of the rituals, the hardships, and lessons learned. By sharing the hardships we faced, I intend not to complain but to show you the real picture of Hajj as it happened. It is my experience that when preparing for this Holy journey, I spent hours looking for and reading personal accounts online and learn from these pilgrims. I craved for real information on what goes through a person’s mind during the rituals of Hajj. I hope, insha’Allah, that those of you planning to go on Hajj will find these posts beneficial. 
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