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Googled image of the plains of Arafat

 

There is no day upon which Allah frees His servants from the Hellfire more than the day of Arafat. He draws near and then He praises them to the angels, saying: What do these people want?

Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him). Sahih Muslim 1348.

The Day of Arafat is the Day of Hajj. 

When Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) was standing in Arafat on a Friday, a Qur’anic verse was revealed to him, “This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” This is from Surah al-Maidah (5:3).

It is this day when the pilgrims gather in Arafat, praying and supplicating to their Lord because Arafat is a day of forgiveness from sins.

This is the day that every pilgrim look forward to with great anticipation. Let’s put is this way: the entire hajj and its validity is confined in the actual day of Arafat.

This means that Hajj becomes valid only when the day of Arafat is observed by those who undertake the journey. Regardless how long the pilgrims stay in Makkah, if they missed this day, they have then missed the whole Hajj.

The intense excitement for Arafat was palpable within the tents of Mina.

After a restless few hours of sleep during our first night in the Mina tent, I woke up at 3:00 AM and, finding most of the women still asleep, decided to head to the bathrooms to wash and make ablution for Fajr. While the prayers were to be offered at 4:30 AM, the bathroom queue was already long enough for me to catch another hour of sleep, if only sleeping whilst standing was possible.

Almost two hours later, I was back in my tent. All the lights have been switched on. Everyone was awake at this point and there was a very busy buzz in all the tents as people were either praying or packing their belongings.

Our group leader knocked on our door and announced that we need not bring all our belongings to Arafat and that the door will be locked and secured while we were away. Mom and I decided to leave our clothes behind. We packed our dua list/books, Qur’an, MP3 prayer with Islamic lectures, toiletries, umbrella, and a bottle of water.

Makkah’s new Metro system is a great way to travel. 

It was a Friday. Our group assembled right outside the back gate of the UAE maktab. Our group leader was standing in front holding a big sign that has the name of our group on it, next to UAE’s flag.

Stepping out of the gate that separated the UAE group of tents from the tents of other countries, felt like stepping into another world. Right outside our comfortable tents with soft mattresses and endless supply of food and drinks, were hundreds of other pilgrims sitting on newspapers and cardboard boxes. Men, women, and their children sat there in the open with their belongings. I wondered why they were not in tents. I mean, the Saudi government regulates the number of pilgrims each year, so I had always assumed that one of the reasons for this is for everyone to be accommodated comfortably in Mina.

I felt Masood’s hand on my back, gently urging me to keep pace with the rest of the group. It’s almost 8 AM and there are pilgrims everywhere, all heading towards Arafat. The sun already felt hot, yet I’m too excited to be bothered by it. Our group leader kept looking back at us to make sure none of us went missing; he’d do a quick headcount every 15 minutes or so.

heading to arafah from mina

Our group reached Metro Station # 2 and we were instructed to alight at Arafat 2. Several young men in uniform (both regular staff of the Metro as well as volunteer workers) were busy guiding the pilgrims where to go.

Our group leader handed out Metro “bracelets” the other night, back in the Mina tent. These things fasten securely once you put them on and the only way to remove them is to cut them with scissors.

hajj metro train pass

I haven’t seen anyone sell these things during Hajj so I am assuming that our Hajj group has applied for these beforehand. Oh, and checkout my pretty abaya. It’s extremely light, cool to the skin, and dries very easily. Most of the women wore white, which became dirty even before reaching Arafat. And then there were those who wore black, and that seemed pretty hot under the sun and amidst the sea of pilgrims.

The entire trip from Mina to Arafat takes about 2 hours by train and 6 hours by bus. 

As a matter of fact, the actual train ride itself took no more than 20 minutes but the long queues took forever. Still, traveling by train was a lot more convenient than taking the bus. Pilgrims who had to take the bus experienced horrible traffic conditions, exhaustion, and, ultimately, frustration. May Allah reward every single hardship faced by all hujjaj.

makkah metro train hajj

We were separated from the rest of our group because mom was in a wheelchair and we were directed to use the elevator. So families with a wheelchair with them all gathered in front of the elevator. The problem was that there was only one elevator and everyone was in a rush.

Inch by inch, we moved forward, closer to the doors of the elevator. By the time we were in front of the line, people started pushing us from behind. The second the doors opened, some of the pilgrims began behaving like crazy, shoving us violently inside the elevator so that they could also all fit in and not wait for the next trip. As I was unsuccessfully trying to keep a decent distance between myself and the gentleman in front of me, I felt a wheel almost crush my right foot. There was a huge commotion at the doors with the pilgrims refusing to move back and the staff desperately attempting to make space so that the automatic doors would close.

By the time the doors did close—which, by the way, seemed quite a miraculous feat in itself—the elevator was filled so much there wasn’t an inch of empty space. Pilgrims were pressed against each other, all sweating and visibly shaken from all the pushing and shoving. The elevator quickly filled up with carbon monoxide and the odor of sweat,  and before we all ended up fainting right then and there, the doors reopened, sending in fresh, cool air from outside.

The next train arrived almost immediately. There was a separate queue for wheelchairs and disabled, so we were asked to line up there. Quite predictably, the moment the doors of the train opened, people disregarded the lines and proceeded to rush violently inside as if their lives depended on this particular train. Two gentlemen gave up their seats for me and mom. The train was very new, modern-looking, clean, cool, and spacious.

Outside the huge glass windows of the train, I could see the entire city of Mina lay magnificently for us to admire. Rows upon rows of white tents as far as my eyes could see. For a few minutes, the massive number of pilgrims crammed inside the train and their voices faded away, and all I could see, hear, and breathe was the view of Mina.

I was abruptly brought back to reality when someone stepped on my toe. I looked up and gave that lady a smile. She must have been exhausted. I got up and offered her my seat, which she promptly accepted.

If you find yourself separated from your group and lost, approach a man in uniform. 

Army, policemen, and volunteers are trained to look after the hujjaj, and they can successfully guide you back to your group if you approach them – specially if you have your identification cards with you. I saw a few men and women—all of them older than 50 and unable to read directions/signs— who looked apprehensive as their nervous eyes scanned the crowd looking for someone familiar. One woman stood at the side of the road, obviously lost, but refused to talk to us. I wanted to offer her to use my cellphone, in case she wanted to talk to someone from her group.

Down at the metro station of Arafat, we couldn’t find our group at the spot where they’d say they would meet us. Masood called our group leader, who told us to remain where we were and that he’d come get us. The crowd was thick in Arafat; every single pilgrim was here.

Our group leader found us shortly, and he is accompanied by two other pilgrims from our group. We thought it extremely sweet and kind of them to come find us. They even helped push ammi’s wheelchair.

We did lose our way once, having entered the wrong gate. The place can get so confusing! But when we did reach our tent in Arafat, I could not believe what I saw.

When we hear the word Arafat, we immediately visualize a place that’s dry, dusty, hot, and crowded. But did you know there’s also luxury here?

The footpath outside the gate was covered by straw mats and pieces of cardboard boxes. Families, even those with small babies, occupied these narrow spaces. A makeshift tent of plastic and more cardboard boxes protected them from the sun. Some families had portable stoves to whip up simple meals, others bought from street side vendors who took advantage of the crowd that the season of Hajj has brought in.

Despite these difficult conditions, I had not seen nor had been approached by any pilgrim who begged for food or money. Even though their faces clearly showed exhaustion and lack of sleep, every single pilgrim held on, their faith giving them strength and contentment.

My father and sister came to Hajj from Pakistan. They had taken a VIP package so that my father—whose body is taking a toll from diabetes, hypertension, and advancing age—could perform all the rituals comfortably. But while they did get to stay in five-star hotels in Makkah and Madinah, their tent in Arafat was the same as the majority of pilgrims: it was big and carpeted, yes, and they were provided with drinks and food, but the fan was blowing hot air within the tent. Lethargy and dehydration began to set in. Most of the pilgrims from their group developed severe headache, and my sister vomited twice. “Spending the day in Arafat was the toughest for me,” she would later tell me.

I stood outside a wide gate, my umbrella shielding me from the harsh rays of the midday sun. A couple of security guys checked our IDs before letting us in. There were UAE flags everywhere. The first thing I noticed was stepping on a thick green carpet that looked and felt like grass.

 uae arafah tent

There was a covered area on the left in which chairs with comfortable cushions welcomed the pilgrims. There were large electric fans (that also blows cool mist) all over the place. Large dustbins made sure the place was always clean. Lamps illuminated the place at dusk.

To our right was the men’s tent, and further inside were three more tents – two for the ladies and another one for the men. My mom and I walked into the ladies’ tent. I pulled up the flap of the tent and peered in. Cold air blew on my face. It took a few minutes for my eyes to get adjusted to the darker interior of the tent, considering that the sun was too bright outside.

Each of the Emirati tent was huge. My tent was fully carpeted and so cold you couldn’t tell it was scorching hot outside. To my left were refrigerators with glass doors so that I could see that they were filled up with water, juice, soda, cups of yoghurt, chocolate bars, and bottles of buttermilk. There were tables filled with assorted snacks, baskets of fruits and fresh dates, and flasks of tea and coffee. The first few rows to my right were soft mattresses with pillows and blankets, all of which were occupied by women who were already sound asleep when I walked in. I wondered what time they arrived here.

Just as my group was the last one to reach Mina, it was also the last one to reach in Arafat. All the mattresses and sofa beds were taken up, and we could hardly find a place for us to sit down. There were several trees inside our tent. Yes, real trees! Apparently, whoever organized these tents made sure there were trees around. And when I looked up, I saw crystal chandeliers. Too bad I couldn’t take a picture to show you because the women around me were unveiled.

Mom and I walked toward the end of the tent and found a spot near a tree. My mom-in-law and sister-in-law also joined us. A few ladies from our group secured a couple of sofa beds and gestured for me to send my mom over to where they were. I asked my mom to go and get some rest.

Masood called to check if we were okay. “I can’t believe the ladies are actually sleeping here!” I whispered on the phone. “How can you sleep on a sacred day like this?” He told me it was the same in the men’s tent. Pilgrims were tired. It was hot in the Mina tents and we did not get much sleep the other night.

Once settled in, my sister-in-law and I got ourselves a fruit basket and some drinks. We then decided to go to the bathroom to freshen up and do ablutions to avoid the crowd later. There were four separate toilets and, next to them, was a wall with four taps attached to it for ablutions. On the other side of the toilets was a wall with sinks and mirrors. This entire area was then enclosed by a makeshift wall and huge white sheets to provide the women some privacy.

One of the ladies bought a Dettol spray which was passed to whoever waited in line next. It was handed to me by the lady who went in before me, and I gave it to the lady who came next. I thought it was such a good gesture. The tap inside the toilet was broken and water was all over the place. Again, I was glad I was wearing a washable pair of shoes from Crocs.

While coming out of the bathroom, we heard what sounded like an explosion followed by women screaming. We rushed outside to see what was happening. Immediately, like a minute or so later, a fire truck and an ambulance arrived at the scene. Two women were carried out of the tent and into the ambulance. Later, we learned that there had been a short circuit in the tent, and the spark and noise scared the women. The ones closest to the air-conditioning unit that had the electrical malfunction got so scared they had to be calmed down by medics.

The Friday sermon was inaudible through the speakers. Moments later, a lady rose and read from a paper that she held. It was about the importance and significance of the Day of Arafat. It was also about how we should be spending this day in order to gain maximum rewards from Allah. After her impressive sermon, we offered prayers. Lunch was served afterwards: chicken biryani, fresh salad, and yoghurt. We all sat together and had lunch as a huge group. I had a brief, friendly chitchat with a couple of ladies.

A lot of women promptly went back to sleep after lunch. My family and I took out our dua list and books. We had so many dua requests from family and friends. We had so many duas to make for people we don’t personally know. We had so many duas for all the pilgrims. We had so many duas to make for ourselves. The Day of Arafat is the day to make duas. Every single moment is precious, and when I see my dua list and book, I realized that one day wasn’t enough.

Masood called to tell me that he felt extremely sleepy inside the tent. He decided it best to go sit outside and read his duas there. “It’s hot out here, but at least I know I won’t fall asleep,” he told me.

Everyone was awoken during Asar time, and pilgrims were urged to get out of the tents and make dua out in the open. 

It was quite sad to notice that some pilgrims had to be awaken from their deep slumber on a blessed day such as today. There were also those who preferred to chitchat in the coolness and comfort of the tent instead of going out and making dua.

There were those who were out praying in the barren land of Arafah—completely ignoring the crowd, the heat, the discomfort of not having a soft spot to sit on—their lips quivering and their eyes welling up with tears as they sought forgiveness from Allah for their sins:

arafah

Image source: http://thebeautyofislam.tumblr.com

 

And then there were those of us whom Allah has blessed with an abundance of comfort and luxury, alhumdulillah.

day of arafah

We sat under the shade of trees as fans with cool mist kept us comfortable. The sky above me was bright and blue, the thick clouds dulling the sun’s heat. I began my prayers by thanking my Creator for all the blessings I had been bestowed with. I imagined myself as a child and thought of all the privileges I had growing up, the education I had the chance to receive and complete, my family and friends, health, career, this Hajj, and so much more. Tears were pouring like they never flowed before.

As I got lost in my prayers, I forgot about all the people around me. We were standing there, under the afternoon sky, our hands spread out, begging for forgiveness and imploring Allah blessings. More than anything else, each pilgrim would want to return home as pure and clean as a new-born baby. Each one of us beseeched Allah to grant us jannat-ul-firdaus. We prayed that we change as a person so that we are a better and improved version of ourselves when we return to our normal lives. We prayed for those who are living, and we sought forgiveness for those who have departed.

Regardless of the state of comfort or discomfort one was in on the Day of Arafat, knowing that more than 2 million pilgrims were here in one place—leaving their families and possessions behind, and spending a fortune to be here as a sign of obedience to Allah—was a powerful feeling. When you’re out there in the open seeking forgiveness, you realize how small you are amidst this sea of people. You realize that being rich or poor does not matter in the end. You stand before Allah in Arafat with nothing on you except the basic necessities, and you know that when you die you will have much less than this.

Prophet Mohammed’s (may peace be upon him) final sermon on this day was a powerful one. Every time I read it, I marvel at its words, get inspired by the goodness of the message. I can’t help but share it here today:

“O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore, listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.

O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that He will indeed reckon your deeds. God has forbidden you to take usury (interest), therefore all interest obligation shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer any inequity. God has Judged that there shall be no interest, and that all the interest due to Abbas ibn Abd’al Muttalib shall henceforth be waived…

Beware of Satan, for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.

O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under a trust from God and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with any one of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste.

O People, listen to me in earnest, worship God, perform your five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, and offer Zakat. Perform Hajj if you have the means.

All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; white has no superiority over black, nor does a black have any superiority over white; [none have superiority over another] except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.

Remember, one day you will appear before God and answer for your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.

O People, no prophet or apostle will come after me, and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O people, and understand words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Quran and my example, the Sunnah, and if you follow these you will never go astray.

All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and it may be that the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness, O God, that I have conveyed your message to your people.”

Thus the beloved Prophet completed his Final Sermon, and upon it, near the summit of Arafat, the revelation came down:

“…This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My Grace upon you, and have chosen Islam for you as your religion…” (Quran 5:3)

When it was time to leave we held each other’s hands, hugged, and cried some more. This time, they were tears of joy. Being able to perform hajj with one’s family is something most pilgrims are unable to do, mostly due to financial and health constraints. I looked at my family and immediately felt my heart fill with immense joy and gratitude.

Our group assembled to leave. Lines were formed, and the leader did head counts to make sure nobody went missing. We were now heading to Muzdalifah to spend the night under the sky, and I couldn’t wait to experience this evening.

Coming up next:

Getting to Muzdalifah and spending the night under the stars. Gathering pebbles for Jamarat, will there be enough for all of us? How does the six of us manage with only two sleeping bags?

Disclaimer:
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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Googled Image

Googled Image

About 8 kilometers east from the Holy city of Makkah, cradled in a low-lying valley, lies the incredible city of tents called Mina. What’s even more incredible is that this city only comes to life for 4-5 days during Hajj and then lays deserted for the rest of the year.

It was in this city that Prophet Ibrahim (known also Abraham, peace be upon him) spent the night before he was set to carry out an order by God to slaughter his son. As Prophet Ibrahim prepared to slaughter Ismaeel, God instructed him to sacrifice a sheep instead. Muslims around the world slaughter sheep, cows and camels to feed the poor marking Prophet Ibrahim’s supreme sacrifice.

Preparing for Mina? Leave Everything Behind.

We were all back in the state of Ihram by 8 AM. Looking out of my 4th floor hotel window earlier after the Fajr prayers, I watched the streets as they fill up with pilgrims, all leaving for Mina. Every male pilgrim wore only two pieces of white, unstitched cloth. More like towels, really. It looked as if the entire city of Makkah was in Ihram. Such an incredible site it was!

Leaving the our room to meet the group in the hotel lobby, our group leader took one look at the small suitcases that we were dragging behind us and said, “There’s no space for that; bring a small bag containing bare necessities.”

“But these are bare necessities!” I protested. I mean, we’re going to stay in Mina for three whole days. Plus, I’m the sort of traveler that would pack my kitchen sink if I could. How could I possibly fit all my important stuff in one small bag?

“No, that’s too big. No space.” His final word.

We marched back in the room, opened our suitcases (each of us had one small suitcase), and reevaluated what our bare necessities were. This is the time when you are reminded that nobody really cares about your possessions, that you have no choice but to leave almost everything behind. It was a tough decision, specially for ladies because there are so many things that we need on a daily basis.

So What Do I Bring?

When we reemerged from our room, each one of us had only a bag pack. The following list is mainly for the ladies. My bag contained:

  • 1 change of clothes
  • 1 extra abaya and scarf
  • toiletries (unscented soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, hair clip, safety pins, unscented/0 alcohol-containing deodorant, unscented/non-alchoholic wipes, small tissue packets, hand sanitizer)
  • Two hooks with suction at the back
  • 1 small towel
  • 1 box of Smint
  • pills (most women need to take pills in order to delay the period so as not to miss any Hajj ritual and prayer), paracetamol, vitamin C tablets, and analgesic cream.
  • my diary and pen
  • dua list/book, Hajj ritual printouts, a small Qur’an
  • phone charger
  • a folding hand fan (came out VERY handy)
  • a small umbrella that folds and fits easily in the bag (this also came out VERY handy)
  • flip-flops for the loo (however, since I chose to wear washable, slingback crocs shoes for hajj, I was able to leave the flip-flops behind. This turned out to be a very wise decision)
  • underwear/liners
  • phone and mp3 (yes, I bought one in which I downloaded several Hajj related lectures)

I had two lightweight, cotton abayas made: one in beige while another in light grey. Since I’ve read that it could get pretty hot in Mina and that there could also be a lot of walking to be done under the sun, it’s best to avoid the traditional black colored abaya. And it turned out to be a good decision. I also bought ready-made scarves that I can easily pull over my head instead of the long, pashmina types that I usually wear.

Underneath my abaya, I wore the lightest cotton shirt I could find and loose cotton pants.  These kept me comfortable during my stay. Despite of all these light clothes and abaya choices that I made, I still ended up having prickly heat rashes all over my body.

Rewinding to the hotel earlier today, our bus was late, and it turned out that our group was one of the last ones to leave Makkah. While we were ready at 8 AM, it wasn’t until 2 PM that we reached Mina. Did I mention Mina is only 8 kilometers away from Makkah? It took us about two hours to reach the tent because of the traffic.

So What Was Mina Like?

It’s like a huge maze. An extremely crowded and complicated maze. There were tents as far as my eyes could see. There were people everywhere I looked. It was overwhelming.

Walking towards our tents.

Walking towards our tents.

Our bus stopped in front of maktab number 116. Tents are divided into large groups, called maktabs, each representing the country its pilgrims flew in from. Ever since we got our hajj documents and visas back, we had been told that ours will be maktab number 2, which is a stone-throw away from the Jamarat pillars (another place that we need to visit as part of the hajj ritual). I looked around; no Jamarat in sight. I looked up and saw a big UAE flag perched up high on one of the tents. It appeared like two group of tents were allocated for UAE. Across the road from us was India’s maktab number 45. It appeared like a dozen groups of tents were allocated for Indian pilgrims, that’s how many they are in number, masha’Allah!

The UAE maktab’s gate was manned by a uniformed guard. He would keep the gates closed and check each pilgrim’s ID before allowing him or her through. This wasn’t the case for India, as I’d been observing. Pilgrims seemed to freely come and go as they please in the Indian tents.

As soon as I entered the gate, there was a fridge on the right side that contained water bottles and juice packs. There was a coffee and iced-tea dispenser on a table. The cold coffee was not only very good, it was probably what gave my body the energy I needed to stay sane and calm in Mina.

To my left was a small stall manned by a young man selling Mobily sim cards. We purchased phone credits from him.

Past the sim cards and cold coffee, there were several rows of tents separated by tiny alleys. Green carpet, that looked and felt like soft grass, lined all pathways. Stickers were posted on the walls at the beginning of each alley. These stickers told us the tent numbers as well as the hajj agent’s name. A few steps ahead were the men and ladies’ bathrooms and ablution areas.

Our group’s tent turned out to be located on the second row to the left. There was a fridge containing water and juice every few feet. I spotted my tent. To my relief, Masood’s was right across from mine.

How Does a Tent Look From Inside?

While this is how it looks for the majority of pilgrims…

Photo credit: http://adrenaline-junkie-nd.blogspot.ae/

this was what it looked for us:

inside ladies tent in mina

Alhumdulillah. Compared to the majority of pilgrims, the Emarati tents seemed like luxury rooms. There were twenty pilgrims in each tent, and notice how the walls were solidly built (not the usual teflon ones), and comfortable sofa beds were provided for us. And we had free wi-fi connection.

Since we were last to arrive in Mina, all the sofa beds were taken. Mom and I settled for the last two remaining ones that were near the door, away from the air conditioner vent. Each of us were provided with a blanket, a pillow, and a thin white sheet to spread on the sofa bed.

Our group leader was right; there absolutely was no space for an extra bag, let alone a suitcase.

It was hot inside the tent and I started perspiring almost immediately. The air-conditioner vents (there were two) were both facing away from me. I looked around and timidly smiled at the Emirati ladies around me. They were also speaking Arabic, making mom and I feel like new kids in the school where everyone already knew each other.

Lunch was served shortly after we arrived: huge, round plates of warm chicken biryani. Five of us shared from one plate. It’s customary for several pilgrims to eat from one plate or tray, emulating what Prophet Mohammed (may peace be upon him) and his companions had done. The reason behind this is to encourage closeness and humbleness,  and obliterate any feelings of superiority. Truth be told, however, I felt awkward at first. Here I was, sharing a meal so intimately with these strangers. I was careful with eating the rice that was immediately in front of me, and when the chicken piece closest to me was finished, I felt shy to reach to the middle and get some more.

Two ladies were serving our tent. They brought the food, fruits, and drinks. They cleaned up for us. They waited for us to tell them if we needed anything, like more water or tea. They were a mother and daughter team. I was like, “Subhan’Allah, I had no idea one could get help during Hajj!”

I went out to explore more after lunch and also to find out where my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were. Their tent was about fifty feet from mine, and they had been provided with two electric fans as well. You see, the fact that women needed to keep the doors closed at all times (hijab purposes) made the room very suffocating.

I asked Masood to request for an electric fan for my tent. He was told that they will do their best to procure one for me. In the meantime, I managed with my foldable, handheld fan.

Do not expect clean bathrooms unless you’ve taken the VIP package.

Friends and relatives who’d been to hajj tell me to leave all my bathroom-related qualms (aka nakhrey, in Urdu) behind for this journey. “Do not expect clean bathrooms fragrant with pine or lavender,” they warned me. “Be glad you have a bathroom to use.” One aunt told me, “Bring hooks with you to hang your scarf or towel. I had no place to hang my scarf so I gave it to the lady waiting next in line to hold and she left with my scarf while I was still inside the bathroom.”

All their warnings were true. I’d seen the common bathrooms outside our maktab and I could smell them three kilometers away. Two hours prior to each prayer, there’d be a serpentine queue, and you only get 10 seconds before someone will start to violently bang on the door for you to hurry up.

Fortunately for us in the Emarati tents, there were enough number of bathrooms. There was still a queue but mostly an hour or so before prayer times, but my turn would usually come within 15 minutes. The worst time was before Fajr. The prayer was at 4:30 AM or so but I was already in the queue at 3 AM. My turn came at 5 AM because some of the sisters decided to take a morning shower. Luckily, this was a one-time issue.

Also, our bathrooms had a dedicated cleaning lady, abundant rolls of toilet paper, hand wash, dust bins, and hooks behind the door to hang our clothes on. The bathrooms were always clean. And this, ladies and gentleman, made us feel as if we were staying in a luxury resort.

There is nothing much to do the entire day, which is a test on how one chooses to spend his or her time. 

The prayers were shortened and there were no specific hajj rituals, so we basically just had to spend the entire day in the tent. I noticed that the only time women ever left the tent was when they had to go to the bathroom. And they almost always went as a group.

Men, on the other hand, were walking about the area, drinking coffee, chit-chatting and making new friends, going out the main gate and inspecting the surrounding tents. I was also envious of the fact that they did not need to keep their doors closed so that fresh air circulated in their tents.

Initially, my mom and I assumed that nobody spoke Urdu/Hindi or English. Turned out, when they started to talk with me, that majority of the women in my tent were professional women who held high positions in their respective jobs, masha’Allah. I was genuinely impressed! The sister sitting next to me is currently doing her PhD in Abu Dhabi and works in the Department of Public Health. She’s the one I had the most fun and interesting conversations with. She and her husband were such down-to-earth and lovely people, masha’Allah. Another sister, the one sitting across me, is the head of HR department.

I spent most of my time reading my dua book and going through my extensive dua list. I had printed a 50-page dua book, because trust me, you’ll forget so many duas that you had intended to make prior to the journey. I spent a large amount of time reading the Qur’an – like reading really slowly and paying attention to the words.

The hour after meals was spent socializing with the women in my tent, getting to know them better. Two elder women were from Hyderabad, India. They got married to Emiratis at a very young age, thereby permanently moving to the UAE.

It’s extremely crucial to avoid idle gossiping whilst in Mina. It was extremely tempting to just sit and chat with these lovely ladies and you wouldn’t even notice the time pass by! I took it as a blessing that I couldn’t understand their language otherwise how is it possible to be spending an entire day in a room with 19 other women and not participate in the conversation? So while they chatted, I read.

Unlike the ladies in my tent, I went out frequently to get some fresh air. I would give Masood a call and we’d meet outside our tents and then go for a quick stroll to the coffee machine.

The toughest part for me was spending the night. The women had removed their abayas but it was still quite suffocating inside the tent. I had absolutely no idea how the women slept so soundly because I kept tossing and turning, the sofa bed feeling hot against my back. I looked at their sleeping forms and prayed that I would be blessed with a good night’s sleep. I’d put in my earphones and listened to the lectures I’d downloaded. Sometime in the middle of the night, I quietly crept out to take a cold shower. This helped me sleep for 2 hours and then it was time for Fajr prayers.

Coming Up Next …

The Day of Arafat – the day of Hajj, the day of forgiveness, and the day the prayers are answered.

Disclaimer:
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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2

baitmisk

 

This quaint Lebanese restaurant is located in the Fisherman’s Harbour in Jumeira 1, a place that is a pain to locate for those who are unfamiliar with the area, such us ourselves. But the food is totally worth the drive!

Bait Misk opened sometime late last year, although I have never heard or read about it until two weeks ago. But then Dubai is home to a gazillion restaurants, with probably a dozen new ones opening up each month. It’s hard to keep track!

I came to know about Bait Misk whilst searching online for a good Lebanese restaurant. My newly wed sister and her husband came for a short trip and we wanted them to try something different. The pictures and reviews on the restaurant’s Facebook page look promising so we decided to give it a try.

The Ambiance:

The building that houses Bait Misk is called the Gourmet Souq. Bait Misk shares this building with three other restaurants, all of them colorful and gorgeously decorated. Bait Misk appears to be like an Arabian tent from within, complete with brick walls, a few pieces of antiques, and lamps.

We made dinner reservation for 11 people on a Sunday evening and requested for an outdoor seating arrangement. The weather was delightfully pleasant, and while waiting for our guests, Masood and I explored the quaint harbour and the parked yachts that were swaying with the water.

I would definitely suggest this place for a romantic date, preferably during sunset.

The Service:

From the moment we arrived at Bait Misk until the time that we left, completely satiated and happy, the staff treated us like VIP guests. I could not find a fault with regard to service. Everyone was polite, courteous, smiling, and knowledgeable.

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I would like to specially mention this gentleman who was in charge of your table. His name is Ali and he’s simply the best. Everyone at the table appreciated his polite and friendly manners. He knew the food very well and made excellent suggestions. He made us feel like we’re guests at his home.

Thank you so much, Ali!

The Food:

I can only say this: The food served at Bait Misk is the best we’ve had in the UAE. Everything was served warm, fresh, and flavorful. Everyone at the table were highly satisfied with the meal. I highly recommend the following:

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Fattoush – Cucumber and tomato salad, fresh herbs, olive oil, vinegar, pomegranate sauce, and toasted Arabic bread. AED 24

Hummus – Velvety puree of freshly boiled chickpeas and tahina sauce. AED 22

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Chicken Wings – Grilled chicken wings brushed with coriander, lemon and garlic sauce. AED 26

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Grilled Hamour Fillet – Marinated in lemon and garlic and then charcoal grilled. Served with melt-in-your-mouth mashed potato and assorted grilled vegetables. AED 79

Now, while I normally do not purchase or order the endangered hamour, I had to make an exception here for my seafood-loving mother. I was disappointed to learn that Bait Misk does not serve any other kind of fish.

Not shown in the pictures (but you must order when you visit):

Grilled Lamb Chops – AED 75

Shish Taouk – Chicken cubes marinated in garlic and lemon. AED 59

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Fresh fruit platter, AED 24

Mouhalabiyah – Classic Arabic milk, sugar and rosewater pudding. AED 22

Umm Ali – Puff pastry with fresh milk, raisin and pistachio. AED 24

Kunafa bil Jiben – Kunafa dough with white sweet cheese and pistachio. AED 24

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Halawa bin Jaben – Rolls of sweet cheese with pistachio and sugar syrup. AED 24

I must say that although I am not fond of desserts, Bait Misk has awaken my sweet tooth. Everything was so delicious!

Bait Misk

If you’re craving for some good and authentic Arabic food, then head straight to this restaurant. There wasn’t a dish that we did not like. The bread, by the way, arrived fresh from the oven (both white and brown types). They also give you garlic paste and chili paste, but the grilled meat is flavorful enough to not require these condiments.

Lots of free parking available, which is a plus.

Cons: The place is difficult to locate. The water (from Spain) is overpriced.

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Bait Misk
Fishing Harbour, Jumeira 1
Opening Hours: 9 AM – 11:30 PM
Phone: (04) 343 7332

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