By: Sr. Rita Ramchandar
My son Ryan and I left Winnipeg on October 30th, 2010, to begin a trip of a lifetime; always wanting and wishing to visit Islam’s holy land, and never imagining fully that this could become a reality. Insha Allah, Allah swt fulfilled this dream for both Ryan and I, and may Allah swt accept our Hajj. I feel truly blessed to have been given this opportunity.
We over nighted in Toronto, in order to prepare ourselves for the long 12 hour flight to Abu Dhabi the next day. After an overnight stay in this beautiful city, we boarded our flight to Jeddah, and arrived late into the evening. Here we waited for about 4 to 5 hours as officials checked our passports and placed the appropriate stickers to admit us into Saudi Arabia. We later checked to make sure our luggage had arrived, and then made our way to an awaiting bus which would eventually take us to our hotel in Mecca, where we would spend one week. Our hotel restaurant remained open late into the night for us to have a proper meal, before resting up a bit, so that we could proceed to perform Umrah. This was done about 1.00 am that morning.
Standing in front of the Kaaba, after only reading about it and seeing pictures of it was totally awesome, incredible, and I felt a sense of peace watching this beautiful black robed structure; knowing that our prophets Ibrahim and Ishmael and Muhammad (phut) had walked here, had prayed here, had been in this very place so many, many, many years before us. We performed our rituals of circumambulating the Kaaba 7 times and made the journey between the two mountain spots of Safa and Marwah.
The pressure and closeness of the pilgrims as we proceeded around the Kaaba was daunting but tolerable. We all moved together as one, for the same purpose to worship our one God. Later we completed the shaving of the men’s heads and cutting of the women’s hair. We stayed to pray Fajr prayer, and later explored a bit of the Grand Mosque, before heading back to our hotel across the street for some breakfast, and much needed sleep. We woke up later that day to heavy rain, thunder and lightning. Ryan had gone out to pray Maghrib prayer and was blessed with squeegee water (from the cleaners) all over his head while in sujud J With the large numbers of pilgrims onsite daily, we felt comfortable heading up to the 3rd floor for prayer as it was less crowded there, men praying together, and women praying together. From this floor we could look down and see the perfect rows of the pilgrims as they surrounded the Kaaba, all moving as one as they performed ruku and sujud together. Temperatures were in the high 30s, with many 40 degrees Celsius days.
In Medina, we prayed in the Prophet’s mosque (pbuh) whenever we could get in or in the courtyard when necessary under the huge folding umbrellas. We had to wait our turn in order to visit the Rawdah (green carpeted area of the Prophet’s original mosque representing bit of Jannah on earth). Women are only allowed to visit at certain times of the day. This area was very crowded with groups organized by language or country. We awaited our turn to enter this sacred place to give our salaams to our Prophet (pbuh) and his two companions who were buried next to him, and to pray our 2 Rakats.
In Mecca and Medina, we were also fortunate to go on the Ziyarah (tours) where we were able to see and visit Aziziah, Mina, Muzdalifa, Mount Arafat, Masjid Quiblatain, Masjid Quba, and Mount Uhud.
Our next stop was at Aziziah, a suburb of Mecca, a trip that took about 12 to 13 hours. Two days later we headed out to Mina which had now been transformed into a tent city to accommodate the millions of pilgrims who had come to perform Hajj; to our surprise this trip took just approximately ½ hour. Our tent was close to the Jamaraat and it did not take us long to go back and forth to perform the ritual of throwing the stones.
The next day, we left for Arafat at 6 am, with our bus winding its way through the heavy traffic – many buses, cars, scooters, trucks, pedestrians, arriving about an hour later. Here we were shown to large covered tents where we rested, read, slept, until it was time for Dhur prayer, after which time we would be spending the rest of the day until sunset praying to Allah, and asking Allah for whatever we wanted. We left Arafat after sunset arriving in Muzdalifa around 9 pm. The crowds were phenomenal; no matter where you looked there was a sea of people stretching from end to end. Our bus stopped on a street very close to a washroom for women. We bunked down close to our bus for the night, and under a half moon and a one star night, I slept surprisingly well! We awoke at 4 am to take our bus back to Mina arriving around 6.30 am. After a quick breakfast we left for the Jamaraat, taking the escalators up to the 4th floor to avoid the heavy crowds. Here, Ryan and I were able to walk to the far side of the pillar and throw our stones without any crowd congestion.
What an experience, to be among so many people from all over the world (the rich, poor, old, young, feeble, different languages, cultures), all here for the same cause, to worship Allah, and perform this pillar of Islam, the Hajj. After the hair cutting, we rested and I got to know our sister Hajjis better. I have met some wonderful sisters on this trip. On this Eid Ul Adha day we enjoyed a very delicious lunch. Our next test was to perform Tawaf al Ifadah and Sai at the Haram in Mecca.
Due to traffic congestion we were told that our buses would not be able to come to our tents to pick us up for our trip to Mecca, therefore we would have to walk part of the way to where the bus would pick us up. At about 1.30 am in the morning with a 29 degree Celsius temperature it was cool enough for our walk. We arrived at the Haram in time to do Fajr prayer before completing Tawaf al Ifadah and Sai. At 8.30 am we returned to our tents in time to go to the Jamaraat to throw the stones at the 3 Jamaraats.
The crowds appeared to be huge and a bit scary, and I was happy to have my son with me to guide me through these massive crowds of pilgrims, as we wended our way to the 3 pillars. Back in our tents the skies opened up and we were treated to some heavy rain, thunder and lightning. At bedtime, for the first time I was very, very exhausted. The next day, after a bit of breakfast, I felt refreshed and energized. We completed the Jamaraat one more time before leaving our tent city in Mina for Aziziah.
As we prepared to leave Mina, the skies opened up once more and this time we had hail along with the heavy rain, thunder and lightning. The rain flooded the hallways between our tents and slippers floated by like miniature boats. For the second time we were told that our buses would not be able to make it to our tents due to the rain. We waited for the rain to slow down somewhat before heading out at 3.30 pm in light rain to walk until such a time we could flag down a bus. We walked through flooded streets helping those with luggage. The air was cool and comfortable for our long walk, and after negotiating a bus we arrived in Aziziah around 9 pm. Ryan and some of the brothers had to walk almost all the way back. On our last day, we were up and ready by 2 am to leave for Makkah to make Tawaf ul Wida (the farewell Tawaf) before we could return to our homes.
The Haraam was crushingly full of pilgrims, and we finally made it to the 3rd floor, and then decided to move down to the 2nd Floor to complete our Tawaf, as it seemed less crowded. By 8.15 am we had completed our rituals and were back on the bus for our return trip to Aziziah, and later that night, our trip to the Jeddah airport, then Abu Dhabi airport for our final journey home, a 13 hour flight back to Toronto.
This journey of a lifetime was a joyful and happy one for me. Just being there made me feel closer to Allah; my emotions were on a high as I prayed and contemplated the Haraam, the Kaaba, the Prophet’s Mosque, Mount Arafat , drove by place the prophets had walked, and lived. It was an overwhelming and wonderful spiritual experience. Insha Allah we can all make this journey one day to please Allah swt.
For those sisters hoping to make this journey Insha Allah one day, I would offer these words of advice and encouragement during their stay in Mecca, Medina, and the days of Hajj:
- Before you begin your journey, read as much as you can about Hajj and what is required. Attend seminars on Hajj when offered.
- Discuss your trip with tour planners in advance, and with others who have already performed Hajj to get feedback on their experiences and their itineraries, and what to take with you. Ask lots of questions.
- On the very hot days, stay in your hotel or in the shade to cool off, to avoid heat strokes, etc.
- When you are in large crowds, especially at the Haraam, follow the stream of pilgrims heading in the direction you are headed. This makes it much easier than trying to cut through the many, many pilgrims. Crowds are manageable, and be sure to have your mahram or someone with you so that you can assist each other.
- Be sure to take breaks during the day and night so that you do not tire yourself needlessly; drink lots of water during the hot days; plan washroom breaks in advance, so that you are not waiting in long lines.
- While you are at the Haraam, for a fee, there are wheelchairs and attendants readily available to take the elderly and those who may have problems walking.
- Travel light and smart – you may have to carry your luggage from time to time.
- Be Patient. If you feel angry or upset at someone just remember they may be someone who has saved their entire life for this once chance to be next to the Kaaba.
- Enjoy the experience and do not worry too much about other people. Remember the focus is Allah swt – not the food, hotels, shops and other distractions.