Hajj Journal – Part 6 – Spending the Night in Muzdalifah
We were going to sleep on the roadside tonight, and I was pretty excited about it.
After spending the entire day in Arafat, all the pilgrims were now heading towards Muzdalifah, an open level area located between Arafat and Mina. The immense feelings of joy and relief was palpable as pilgrims hugged each other at the end of the day.
Now everyone was leaving at about the same time thereby rendering traveling quite a challenge for many. Keep in mind that there were more than 2 million pilgrims moving towards the same location, and I must say that I was highly impressed by the way the Saudi authorities have handled the logistics and safety of all.
What’s with spending the night on the rocky plains during Hajj?
Camping overnight on the rocky plain of Muzdalifah is one of the rituals of Hajj. Here pilgrims gather pebbles that they will later throw at three pillars, known as the Jamarat, which is situated in Mina.
The stoning of the pillars re-enacts the story of the Prophet Ibrahim (or Abraham – may Allah be please with him) who was confronted by the devil and was ordered by the Angel Jibril (Gabriel) to reject him by throwing stones. This ritual symbolises the destruction of the inner devil.
If you arrive late, chances are that you’ll be sleeping on the footpath next to complete strangers.
In the picture above, we were queueing up for our train to take us to Muzdalifah. It was a quick and relatively stress-free 10-minute ride. Majority of pilgrims traveled by bus, and I was told that it took them several hours to get to Muzdalifah due to immense traffic. Several pilgrims, specially the young and healthy ones, opted to walk the entire 6 kilometers instead—which turned out to be a faster way to reach the destination as compared to the bus ride.
The sadness I was feeling brought about by the Arafat day coming to an end was now superseded by apprehension brought about by spending the night in Muzdalifah. While I was quite excited about the entire experience, I was worried about the small stuff, such as sleeping arrangements, collection of pebbles, and bathrooms.
The Emirati camp was no more than an easy 10-minute walk from the Metro station. It was almost dark by now, and I saw pilgrims already camped out in various areas in Muzdalifah. Some were sitting on the footpath, chatting and sipping tea from disposable cups.
Considering that more than 2 million people were gathered here this evening, the roads and footpaths weren’t exactly clean. Yes, there were dustbins located all over the place, but then the fact remained that the number of trash produced by this many people was more than the number of dustbins, and then there were those amongst us who find it laborious to actually use the dustbin, preferring instead to leave the trash on the roadside for someone else to pick up.
Since most of the open areas were quickly filling up with pilgrims, a lot of people have started laying down their sleeping bags, blankets, or even newspapers on the roadside. There were people in white as far as my eyes could see. Some pilgrims brought tents with them. Seriously. Considering that we only get a few hours of sleep doesn’t really justify the inconvenience of carrying a bulky tent.
Based on the information I’d gathered from friends and family who’d performed Hajj, a pilgrim should camp wherever he or she finds a space. Muzdalifah isn’t a place for one to be finicky.
We only had two sleeping bags to share among the six of us, and I was worried that we may not find the exact type of pebbles.
My eyes were scanning the area as we walked towards our dedicated camping space. The street lamps were bright, thereby illuminating the entire area. There were food peddlers selling snacks, fruits, juice boxes, bottles of water, boxes of cooked food.
I was mentally prepared to spend the night out here in the open, amidst all the other pilgrims, the food peddlers, the police officers roaming the streets, and the stray cats. I was ready to ignore all the rubbish and embrace the chaos.
Soon, we arrived at the Emirati camp that was sectioned off from the rest of the pilgrims by a wall made of plywood. Stickers of the Emirati emblem—a golden falcon—were pasted on the walls. Within these walls were additional sections, separating the men from the women.
A 3-foot pile of perfectly sized pebbles welcomed us as we entered our camp, much to my surprise. So much for my worry about running out of pebbles! The Emirati organizers made it convenient for us by providing these pebbles on site to make sure we did not have to wander the streets at night. Who knows maybe next year, they might just pack the exact number of pebbles in velvet and hand them to the pilgrims in golden trays.
Walking further into the camp, there were more wooden partitions providing separate areas for men and women. Masood and his brother walked us ladies over to our side of the camp, making sure everything was okay for us, before heading back towards their side.
Everyone sleeps on the ground in Muzdalifah. I believe this practice really humbles a person because you leave all your luxury and comfort behind, thereby experiencing first hand what it’s like to spend a night without the things you are used to. I was looking forward to this experience. I was nervous and excited at the same time, therefore, I could not contain my surprise when I saw what lay ahead of me.
First, we had privacy. Temporary walls of plywood were erected, tall enough so that outsiders could not peek inside. These walls also, quite sadly, separated us physically from the rest of the pilgrims from all over the world. We were ensconced within these walls, totally cutoff from the millions of pilgrims sleeping on the ground.
Second, we did not have to worry about the barren grounds of Muzdalifah or the rocks pocking our backs as we slept—the place was fully carpeted! Rows upon rows of mattresses wrapped with clean white sheets awaited us. Each one of us had our own soft pillow and a thick blanket (which turned out quite useful considering it got cold in the evening).
Third, we had portable bathrooms exclusive for us. Outside our walls, public toilets were shared amongst millions.
The night in Muzdalifah should ideally be spent seeking forgiveness, making dua, and reflecting on Hajj and life.
Pilgrims often sleep in the same clothes they had on all day in Arafat because, given how much walking is involved, it isn’t practical to pack extra. Luckily for us, we had a nicely air-conditioned tent in Arafat and then we took the Metro instead of walking, therefore our clothes were still relatively clean by the end of the day.
We chose four mattresses from hundred others, pull them closer together so that the four of us were close to each other, lay down our backpacks, and wrapped the mattress in the white sheet that they’d provided us with. We picked a spot that wasn’t too close to the bathrooms but wasn’t too far either. We then washed up and prayed Maghrib and Isha’a combined.
There was no proper meal for dinner. Instead, boxes of snacks were provided. These were the same boxes they’d distributed in Arafat, and I’m glad that this was what they have decided to give us because these snacks would have gone to waste had we been served a different set of meal.
The ladies began relaxing eventually and, seeing that the walls were protecting us from outsiders, commenced on removing our hijabs. After an entire day spent with our hair covered, it felt absolutely good to feel the cool desert wind.
I sat there on the mattress, both hands stretched out at the back and my head tossed up to face the sky with my eyes closed. Few minutes later, I was abruptly jolted out of my reverie by some high-pitched voices. A couple of older Emirati women were speaking rapidly in Arabic and they sounded pretty cross. The ladies around me were frantically pulling up their hijabs. I turned to look at the direction most of them were looking at, and understood all the chaos. Turned out the men’s restroom was high enough so that when they came or left, they could easily look over the wall and see us. Well, not that I saw anyone actually attempt to look at us—I mean the brothers were decent enough to keep their gaze lowered—but the fact remained that we had to put on our hijab. Not a big deal, I thought.
Women around me were either sleeping, reading the Qur’an, or chatting. Closest to me were a group of vibrant and extremely alert young women who were giggling endlessly. I took out my little journal, wrote a few lines in it, and then decided to call it a night. I lay there looking up at the starry sky and felt myself wrapped in peace and calmness. I had always wondered how it would be like spending the night in Mudzalifah, and Allah gave me a beautiful and comfortable experience.
The giggling persisted. I had no idea where these ladies were getting so much energy from! Frustration began setting in so I decided to listen to the lectures I’d downloaded in my mp3. I selected a random lecture and it turned out to be about types of sins and the consequences that we have to face if we committed them. I forgot all about the giggling and chatter as I listen to the lecture. And just minutes later, even though the topic was about the horrors of jahannam, I fell in a deep, dreamless slumber. It was one of the most tranquil sleep I’ve had in my life.
And then it was time to get up.
Dazed from sleep, my mind was unable to process the sound of lecture still running from my mp3 and the phone ringing underneath my pillow. I slowly opened my eyes to see women walking around, packing their bags, and fixing their hijabs. What was happening? Did I sleep that long? But it was still quite dark! Both my mom and my mother-in-law were still sleeping.
I picked up the phone; it was Masood. “Get ready. We’re leaving.”
“Why? It’s only 1 am!”
“I’m not sure either,” he replied, his voice still heavy from sleep. “The group leader said we all need to go now because there are old people in the group.”
Reluctantly and, quite frankly, still confused with what was happening, I headed to the bathrooms. There was already a long queue when I got there. I asked the young women standing before me, “Why is everyone leaving so soon?”
“There are old women in the group, that’s why.” She replied, fixing her hijab.
“Yes, I understand that,” I said, “but why does everyone have to leave? Surely most of us can manage staying overnight.”
The lady looked at me, her eyes widening as if I just made the most ludicrous remark. “You can not expect us to stay overnight in this place,” she remarked. Then, with her eyes sweeping our surroundings, she added, “This place isn’t conducive for us. The bathrooms are too filthy.”
Meanwhile, the other pilgrims who had to sleep on the road spent the entire night in Muzdalifah.
When I met my sister and father the next evening in Mina, they told me about their experience in Muzdalifah. The bus they had been on from Arafat dropped them off at some random place in Muzdalifah. Most of the pilgrims were already there by the time they arrived so that there wasn’t a good spot for them to lay their sleeping mats on.
“It was such a shock at first,” my sister told me the next day, “when you realize that you’re going to sleep on the roadside. There’s some rubbish strewn about nearby, there’s absolutely no privacy, and I could smell the fumes of diesel from the buses driving past. But we spent the night out of obedience and love for Allah, and you know what? It wasn’t really so bad after all. In fact, I slept soundly and peacefully last night.”
I looked at my baby sister—well, she’s an adult, really, but Sonia will always be my baby sister given that she’s the youngest in the family, and the most affectionate—and I saw that despite the exhaustion of the Hajj rituals she exuded the sort of devotion, zeal and passion I had never seen before.
“Oh, and one more thing,” she told me before leaving to return to her camp in Mina, “I had always thought I can’t live without the basic comforts of life, but the night in Muzdalifah taught me that with Allah’s help, I can do even without the basics.”
Coming up next:
The Hajj ritual of stoning of the Jamaraat.