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Diary of A Haji: 21 Days for the Holy Land
May 9, 1994:
There is a seven-hour time difference between the United States (East) and Saudi Arabia. A bus took us from the plane to the immigration area. It took about three hours at immigration and customs. Our group leaders [took care of] all the conversation with the officials.
Khalid and [our] Maulana could speak Arabic. Khalid had spent about ten years in Saudi Arabia and was aware of Saudi customs and habits.
The Maulana is a graduate of the Islamic school of Dew Band, India. He is currently an Imam of a Masjid, among his other responsibilities. He is well-versed in Islamic Fiqh.
The immigration 'crowd' was handled by a group of Saudi youngsters in blue uniforms. Passengers from several flights got mixed in that crowd. We went through a couple of halls to get to the immigration counters.
There were separate counters depending on the nationalities. The service was not on the basis of first-come first served. If I can describe it by a self-coined technical term, I would call it a multi-queue with external priorities, where the priorities were determined and redetermined by the blue-uniformed youth based on nationalities and their kindness.
They were a nice bunch of kids [but] ill-trained for the job. I was selected to go to the counter about three times and then [sent] back.
Right next to the immigration was a desk to submit the Hajj draft and obtain required papers. Customs thereafter did not take long.
Once outside the customs, our group waited for the luggage carts to come in and take us for bus transportation to Makkah. The carts took our luggage to the bus terminals, about 500 yards away.
There, our group leaders went into intense 'negotiations' with the Saudi personnel to arrange for the buses to Makkah. One cannot just board any bus. It has to be an official bus.
Part of the time passports were taken and checked and rechecked and counted and recounted. It took FOUR hours to get inside a bus.
Once inside the bus, we were not allowed to get out while waiting to depart. Most of us just heard the Fajr Adhan and could not pray. The driver, when asked [about] getting off the bus and praying, just said no and 'Alhamdulillah, Khalas.' Some of us did not care [for] any impediments and either prayed while seated or went out to pray.
Our group took up three buses. When the buses finally reversed from the parking lot of the Jeddah airport terminal, we [breathed] a sigh of relief.
However, our relief was short-lived.
When the buses were ready to 'take off' for Makkah, we saw a group of Saudis walking back and forth in the middle of the road, playing with their walkie-talkies. One of them stopped us and asked the buses to be parked on the roadside and [for us to] wait!
Wait for what? That was not explained to us and is still a mystery to me. We waited and waited, sitting in Ihram garments, tired of the long journey from Charleston, JFK, Amsterdam, Amman, and to Jeddah.
I had left home in the morning of May 7 and now it was after the sunrise of May 9 at Jeddah airport. We remained in the buses for about two hours and were then let go. During our stationary state we saw many other buses leave, which frustrated us more.
Anyway, later on we were told that we were lucky that we were only stopped for a couple of hours. Most people who came from Pakistan were kept in that state for perhaps
eight hours or more. We were treated better (or punished less) since we came from the U.S. Most of us in the group were Pakistani and Indian nationals. Our group did have a few Arabs and a couple of Afro-Americans.
Alhamdulillah, the buses finally left Jeddah airport. We reached a place of 'Unified Agents' offices where we had yet another stop for more than an hour. Everyone received a bottle of Zamzam [water].
There were designated offices based on the country of origin of the pilgrims. Our group leaders went back and forth between a couple of offices, since some of us had U.S. passports while others had Pakistani passports with green cards. Eventually we 'received' our papers.
A Saudi worker was to accompany each bus to take us to our Muallim's office, the next step where our passports and other papers will be kept during our stay. (A Muallim is a knowledgeable professional who can guide the pilgrim during Hajj; also called a Mutawwif).
Muallim's office was in Makkah. Our U.S.-based group had made all of our Saudi arrangements through a Saudi agency which was headed by Ismael.
Ismael Farooque, with a couple of his employees was waiting for us at the Muallim's office. We did not have to wait at the Muallim's office since Ismael was kind enough to take care of the paperwork for us and directed us to go to the place where we were to stay.
We finally reached our abode at about Zuhr time. The place was a four-storey apartment complex. Each room had about six beds, and was air-conditioned. Each floor had two bathrooms with showers. One bathroom did have an American type of commode.
Ismael's workers were to unload all the luggage from the buses for us. I had a luggage cart with my Reebok shoes inside the bus which were not unloaded from the bus and I had to do without them during my stay.
Luckily I had a pair of sandals which turned out to be the right thing to use most of the time while going to the Masjids.
At about Asr time we decided to go for Umra.
I suddenly found a lot of energy and enthusiastically boarded the buses. The official buses had already disappeared and from now on we were to travel in the buses arranged by Ismael.
Our residence was about three kilometers away from the Holy Kaba. While going towards the Kaba, I had another chance to look at the landscape of Makkah. Even though there were so many high-rise buildings, they were unable to hide the bare, rocky hills which were all over Makkah.
It was a unique experience to actually feel about the lives of Abraham, Ismael, Hajira (peace be upon them) and Mohamed (peace and blessings be upon him).
I tried to imagine how the place would [have been like] about 3,000 years ago if I removed all the buildings, roads and cars.
I could then just see rocky hills with clouds of dust. The place would be without any vegetation or greenery or water. I could really then appreciate the trials which [Prophet] Ismail (peace be upon him) and Hajira (may Allah be pleased with her) went through.
I felt the immense greatness of Prophet Ibrahim. Only a Prophet of his caliber could go through such a test by leaving his young son Ismail and his wife Hajira in such a barren land with no water food or humans in sight.
While riding through the streets of Makkah, I felt the life
story of Prophet Mohamed (peace and blessings be upon him) and the Sahaba (his
Companions) Karam run before my eyes.
I felt the torture given by the Makkans to Bilal, Ammar and his parents and other Muslims.
I wondered about the places where they had lived, walked and preached.
I started to realize and appreciate their struggle to establish Islam. It was indeed a highly charged experience. Labbaika Allah humma labbaik.
ALHAMDULILLAH, THE UMRA IS PERFORMED
Buses dropped us [off] on a road next to the Holy Kaba. We crossed the street while trying to stare at the Masjid-e-Haram as long as possible.
We passed through the outside gate and walked about a couple of blocks [of] long marble floor to get to the gate, known as Bab as-Salam.
We went up the steps and crossed a bridge over a huge crowd of Muslims performing their Sai. (The Sai is the devotional act of walking seven times back and forth between the knolls of Safa and Marwa. This act retraces the footsteps of Hajira (wife of Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him), during her desperate search for water for her infant son Ismail after they were left in the desert by Prophet Ibrahim in response to a Divine vision).
There it was! The Holy Kaba, wrapped in black cloth with verses inscribed in gold.
It was a moment of great joy. Tears started flowing [from] my eyes. I tried to collect myself to join the Muslims performing Tawaf of the Kaba.
The Tawaf must start from the Black Stone (The Hajar ul Aswad-this is a Sacred Black Stone built into the south-east corner of the Kaba at a height of approximately four feet. Touching and kissing, or Istilam, of Hajar ul Aswad during Umra and Hajj are Sunnah). None of us dared to reach the Stone and kiss it. Instead we felt content to kiss the Stone by a gesture of hands from a distance.
The circuit goes counterclockwise around the Kaba and seven circuits need to be performed.
There is a dark marbled about one foot-wide "line" from the side of the Black Stone from which the Tawaf ought to begin. Each time we get close to the completion of a circuit, we watch the floor to see the line so that we can send our kisses to the [Sacred Black] Stone again.
The crowd was large and the pace was slow. There was constant pushing and shoving and the danger of stampede. One really has to watch out at the starting point of the Tawaf, which is also the ending point.
There, groups of Muslims try to stop for a moment to ensure that they see the dark line to start or finish correctly. It was also the place to make Duas (supplications). There were people who were trying to get out and groups of people trying to get in at the same location.
The crowd was heavy closer to the Kaba and was less dense as you moved to the outer perimeter.
Soon I had to give up staying with the group and had to complete the Tawaf on my own pace. Seeing the strength of the crowd, I gave up the idea of trying to touch any wall of the Kaba.
To make an attempt to kiss the Black Stone was tantamount to a broken neck. In one circuit, I was however able to touch the Maqam-o-Ibrahim (The Station of Ibrahim-this is the step-stone used by Prophet Ibrahim during the original construction of the Kaba. The stone carries the imprints of his feet, and is housed in a glass enclosure on the north side of the Kaba).
In the third or fourth circuit, I encountered a stampede which luckily did not get out of hand and I was able to remain in the upright position. I pressed on other people's feet and others on my feet. There are a couple of fingers of my feet which kept hurting for a long time even after my return from Hajj.
Going around the Kaba, I recited the Quran, the supplications, and the Talbiyah, Labbaika Allah humma Labbaik...
There are some Duas which one should perform at the Yemeni Corner (the third corner), and the fourth wall. Like so many other people, I had a book of Duas which I tried to read in as much as possible. The supplications need not be in Arabic.
Here is your chance to speak to Allah Ta'ala as you go around the most sacred house on earth and pray whatever you want to. God will understand you in any language you speak. You don't have to even speak. He knows your inner thoughts and feelings. After all He created you.
There however come moments when you do want to say something and you don't know what to say or you can't find words for it or you want to say it with the best possible words.
Thanks to the unparalleled work of Muslim Traditionists, we have the books which have preserved the supplications, actions and methods of the last Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him). These are the best of the words to speak. It is a good thing to carry a book of Duas.
At the completion of the Tawaf, I exerted myself out of the mass and found a place to offer two Rakat of obligatory Salah facing the Kaba. There were so many people sitting around praying and waiting for the Maghrib Salah. It took some effort to pass through them and go to Safa for Sai, the next step in Umra.
THE SAI (HAJIRA AND ISMAiL REMEMBERED)
After reaching Safa, I rested and waited for the Maghrib Salah.
The site for Sai is within the bounds of the Masjid ul Haram (this is the mosque around the Kaba also known as Haram ash-Shareef).
One can perform the Sai at any of the three levels. The third level is the rooftop, hot but less crowded. I felt confident about performing the Sai at the main level.
Sai consists of seven (one-way) trips between Safa and Marwa, the two ends of the hallways. The Sai must begin at Safa and end at Marwa. Both Safa and Marwa are small hills, now inside the building.
A few yards after starting from Safa, there are green marks where we should start running until the next green markers. This is most likely what Hajira must have done. Returning from Marwa towards Safa we run again between the two green markers.
The Isha Salah time came during the Sai. We all stopped and finished the prayer before continuing. While resting near Safa, a few persons came asking for monetary help. There were also funeral prayers performed after Maghrib and Isha. Later on I came to know that funeral prayers are a regular occurrence after every prayer. The dead are mostly the Hajis but also the Saudi residents.
During Sai, I thought about Hajira and Ismail. Sai commemorates Hajira's efforts to feed the young Ismail.That was when Prophet Ibrahim had left them alone in the wilderness of Makkah and had gone back to Palestine by the Decree of God. When their water supply was exhausted, Hajira went to the Safa hill to look out for water, a caravan or an oasis.
She ran back and forth between the two hills in search of provisions. Then the fountain of Zamzam was provided to them by Almighty Allah Ta'ala. It is that fountain that supplies water to the pilgrims who visit the Holy Kaba.
Saudis have built a pipeline of Zamzam water to Madinah, over 400 kilometers away from Makkah. Pilgrims visiting the Masjid-e-Nabawi in Madinah will find Zamzam water coolers there to quench their thirst.
So Muslim men, women and children, anyone who can afford the journey, pay their high regards and tributes to a noble lady by tracing her footsteps in a ritual that [has been] going on for centuries. May Allah shower His blessings on them.
When the Sai was over, I went out for the haircut. There are enough barber shops within the precincts of the Masjid. It was 10 Riyals (3.70 Riyals = $1.00). I had to go to the shops nearby to get the exchange, since the barbers did not accept dollars.
Alhamdulillah, Allahu Akbar, the Umra was complete.
I could now come out of the state of Ihram and change clothes until the time for Hajj came. This was [because] we were doing Hajj Tammattu.
We remained together within the precincts of the Masjid while waiting for everyone in the group to show up at a prearranged location. We spent some time searching for an old lady who was eventually found downstairs near the Zamzam fountains. We returned home around 11:00 p.m. by bus, took showers, changed clothes and thus slept late.
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