Kaaba: The House without Any Windows
By Javed Ahmad
I was supposed to fly for Saudi Arabia around 4:00 PM, but it is now 12 noon and I still haven’t received my ticket and pilgrim pass for hajj. My guide and travel agent Moulana Faruki advised me to wait till I hear from him, so I was waiting. Finally around 2:00 PM my brother advised me to contact the agent to find out what was going on, at that point I too felt yes I’ve waited enough. But surprisingly, when I called, Maulana Faruki began to yell at me saying where I was and why I was not at the airport! When I tried to remind him that he was supposed to let me know when all the papers are ready, he got angry with me and yelled even more concluding that my flight was at 4:00 PM and I ought to arrive at the airport immediately!
By the time we reached Dhaka International Airport, it was almost 3:30 PM. We were rushed at the passenger boarding room of Saudi Arabian Airlines where I found Moulana Faruki and my cousins putting on their hajj outfit “Ihram”. As soon as they saw me, they asked me to do the same immediately as we were the last passengers to board the plane. Nervously, with little help from them, I managed to put on the ihram not knowing for sure if I did it right.
On the plane I saw my other two cousins who were looking pale, but as soon as they saw my mother, and me their face changed and expressed relief. They thought we would miss the flight.
This is how I began my journey for hajj. Although, there have been some anxiety, agony and uncertainty, but later on I’ve heard that this sort of things happens to many and many eventually fails to go for hajj for various unavoidable last minute circumstances.
Yes, thousands of Muslims from different parts of the world head for Saudi Arabia during the hajj season. And thus, things does get unmanageable at times. Thousands of Muslims goes to hajj every year from Bangladesh alone.
While on the air heading toward Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I’ve seen some putting on ihram on the plane. Later I found out that it is okay to do that and it is not necessary to put it on at the airport. Many Muslims put on their ihram at the border line or before entering the area of Mecca, which is known as Mikat.
Many of you may not even know where on the globe is Saudi Arabia. See it on the map below to get an idea on where the country is located. It is between Africa and Asia, neighboring Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE and Kuwait.
The official name of the country is Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Our flight landed at the Jeddah airport after about 7 hours of continuous flight from Dhaka. One of the air hostesses of the Saudi Arabian Airlines was a Bangladeshi. We didn’t know that until she spoke in Bangla just before landing drawing everyone’s attention to the Kaaba when we were flying over it.
Jeddah is about 3 hour’s bus ride away from Mecca. We had to wait a long time at the special area (tent like, but not tents) for the pilgrims at the airport for our turn to get on the bus to go to Mecca. Finally, after a long wait, our turn came around 1 o’clock in the morning.
Mecca, the center of the world!
When re reached Mecca, it was close to fajr (dawn). We were all exhausted and hungry. After reaching our assigned rooms in a boarding house, we took some food and went to sleep after offering our fajr prayer in our own rooms. Some went to the Gazzah mosque close to our abode which is within the area of Haram Sharif (i.e., Kaaba). Therefore, prayers offered within the area of Kaba will be considered as if the prayer was offered at Haram Sharif.
After few hours sleep, we all got up and freshened ourselves to prepare for umrah (the short hajj). The night before, we all arrived at Mecca in the dark, therefore, we could not see the Kaba. As such, we were all very excited and enthusiastic about seeing it. The organizers came and gave us some briefing on how we would be performing our first umrah. They advised us to perform it in a group and as a group for safety and accuracy.
We had to keep the ihram on all this time, as required. Later we all went out and gathered in front of the Gazzah mosque to follow the leader from there. To keep the groups small and manageable, two groups were formed headed by two leaders. My group leader was brother Zulfiqar, a soft spoken gentleman who had performed hajj before. The leader of the other group Moulana Faruki preformed hajj 14 more times before this one. For him, hajj is now a business.
Kaba, the house of Allah!
So, this is Kaaba! This is exactly how I felt inside me when I first saw the Kaba. A small squared structure covered with a black cover; a huge golden door high above the ground, and no windows.
We reached Mecca few days earlier; as such the crowd was less. It was pre-planned by Moulana Faruki who have had bitter experiences earlier and wanted to save us from experiencing those agonies by planning the trip avoiding all the hassles. We thought it was very nice of him to consider everyone’s well being. No matter what, my primary focus was my mother who is diabetic patient and is of age 63. Therefore, I was right behind her all the time during the umrah making sure that she is performing her hajj smoothly. And that boosted her confidence too! At times she demonstrated much more vigor and swiftness than me!
Kaaba is and has always been a symbolic house which is considered as the center of the world and where the Almighty Allah is assumed to be in. As such the whole of the Muslim world around the world face this Kaaba five times during their daily prayers. No one really lives there. Once however, it was turned into a house of man-made gods prior to the era of Islam.
It is believed that the Kaaba is the exact replica of the house of God in the heavens, and the replica is situated right below it. The original boundary of Kaba (not the house) was drawn by Prophet Adam (peace be upon him). Prophet Adam used to live in a place which we know as Sri Lanka today. He used to come to perform his hajj to Mecca every year like we do today. Therefore, hajj is actually a ritual of pre-Islamic era, and the practice was carried on by the following generations. Although the intention and it meaning was later changed.
Later on, the actual house of Kaaba was built by Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) with the help of his first son Ishmael (peace be upon him). Laying the stones to build the house was not an easy task just for two people. Therefore, Allah had sent a slab of stone from the heaven on which the prophet used stand and the stone used to work as an elevator that helped him to lay the stones layers at heights. That stone, although it no longer works as an elevator is still there to see with the foot prints of the prophet embedded (maybe due t the pressures) on it. This is located in an area in front of the Kaaba door and is called Maqam-e-Ibrahim. The stone is now kept in a cage like covering for protection and visibility. It is now a part of the hajj rituals to perform two rakat optional prayers in front of this stone (not necessarily close to it), and that is for two reasons, 1. At this location Prophet Adam also offered his prayers; 2. The twaf begins and ends here; 3. This is where angel Gabriel taught Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them both) about the regular prayers how to pray.
I don’t know why, I was for reason expecting to see large foot prints on the stone. But no, they were quite small just like ours! I think I’ve had the notion of giants as Prophet Adam was a giant. It is said that he was 60 feet tall! Gradually, human beings got smaller in size and will continue to get smaller until they become smaller than the size of an eggplant tree (according to a tradition of the Prophet).
Near that area, once there was a passage to the Zamzam well. But the passage has now been closed for public for cleanliness reasons. Now there is no door or passage to the area, and it was officially closed in the year 2003. The place has now been merged with the main floor where the twaf is done. The water from Zamzam is now brought through the water taps around the Kaba and Haram Sahrif. I wanted to see the well so much, but there were no access. The well is now under the main floors and cannot be seen anymore.
In fact, the entire Kaba has been raised way above the actual ground for its protection from occasional flood damages. This Kaaba and its surrounding areas have gone through several major renovations over the years, especially over the last 40 years. As such, it has now lost its natural charm, and looks very artificial. Actual Kaaba floor was way below the present height as we see today, because the original Zamzam well is still below the surface of Mataf. If you walk toward the Kaaba, you will notice that you are walking down the slope, even when you enter the Haramain the Kaaba is situated further below as you step down the stairs.
Same disappointment came when we came to perform our sai (run or quick walking) between the hills called Safa and Marwa. My expectation was that the hills would be out in the open and we would have to run between them in the sun over the dust and rocks. But no, I was wrong; today the hills are covered with a roof making it a part of the Haram Sharif mosque, and the floors are marbled. Then again due to the increased heights, they no longer look like hills or mountains, which they once were. Therefore, running between the mountains back and forth seven times is no longer a hard job, besides; the room is now air-conditioned too! This ritual came from the time of Hagar's (peace be upon her), the wife of Prophet Abraham and the mother of Prophet Ishmael, when she was desperately looking for water for her thirsty son (when he was just a baby) running between the Safa – Marwa mountains and calling upon Allah for help. After the seventh round the Zamzam pond came into being with water flowing out of it. And to keep the water from flowing away, she protected it by creating a sand wall around it, and while doing it she was calling out “zam zam”, which means “stop stop”. Thus, the name of the miracle well became Zamzam.
The water of Zamzam is special. It is now a part of the ritual to drink the water in standing position in three sips facing toward the Kaaba after completing the 7 rounds around the Kaba, which is called “Tawf”. This water has a miraculous healing power. Many ill hajjis (pilgrims) got cured after drinking it with a clean heart. I too felt the power of the water after drinking it. The water tastes so clean and fresh that I now miss it very much. A month of water therapy there cleansed my body.
Before appearance of the Zamzam well, there were no inhabitants in the area. The city of Mecca later developed around it. The landscape of Mecca is still very rocky exposing a rough and tough environment. The area is predominantly rocky without any soil or trees, which gives a strange feeling of emptiness. While there, I often wondered, how do the people live there day after day, year after year? It is said, and I too have noticed that the people of Mecca are hard hearted compared to the people of Medina. Probably their hard geographical settings made them like that.
When Prophet Adam was sent to earth for a period of trial and punishment, he used to miss the heaven his original home very much. Therefore, he requested Allah to make a place similar to the heaven where he could go and relax for some time. Allah accepted his requested and made Mecca like that. Now the question that automatically came in my mind is, “were Mecca always barren and a rocky terrain?” The answer is probably a “no”, because I reasoned, heaven is green and full of live, then why would a heaven like place be barren and dead? Chances are, the area which we now call the Middle-East (especially the Mecca area) was actually a green and lively place, full of trees, mountains, rivers and live inhabitants. But due to major geographical changes over the centuries, the place is no longer the same. As such, today we find huge amount of oil reserves deposited in that area, which is mainly a by product of fossils! Therefore, it is logical to conclude that the place was once full of “life”. Another indication we find from one of the hadiths (traditions) of our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when he said, “the last days will not come until the lands of Arabia turns green again”. The key word here are “green again”, that automatically makes us think, “Was it green before?” Today, much of the middle-east is turning green due to implantation of trees there. For instance, Arafat was once a barren land, but today the area is full of Neem trees that were once presented by the late president Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh to the Saudi government. The process of implantation of trees is still under way and the result is re-evolving of the “green” Arabia, just as predicted by our Prophet. Yes, like it or not, unknowingly, we are heading towards the end days.
While in the US, I once read an article in a scientific magazine (can’t recall which one) that revealed that under the rocky terrains in the middle-east mighty rivers are flowing. Now that explains why we are still getting water at Zamzam. Yes, those heavenly lakes and rivers are still there buried deep underground for some unknown reasons.
Considering the above points we can draw a conclusion on our after life. Many likes to think that our after life will be in an immaterial form, at a different energy level or something. But the discoveries suggest that our next life after death will also be a material one. The images (Kaaba) and gifts (the heavenly stones) that we received from the heavens are all in material form, Prophet Adam and Eve (peace be upon them) both arrived on Earth as humans, i.e., in a material form. Moreover, we are told that, after our death, we will be re-created! Why would there be a need for re-creation if we are to remain in an immaterial form?
But that creation will be different from what we are today. We will be in a more refined form, but still humans made of clay. The clay that would not decay. In the heavens, we will eat, drink and enjoy life as we do on Earth. And the heaven is green, full of trees, lakes and rivers; green birds and the angels flying, etc. Sounds like a fairy tale, right?
On the right hand side of Kaaba, where the door is; there is an area surrounded by a half circled wall called “Hatim”. This area is now surrounded because it was once a part of the original Kaaba area as drawn by Prophet Adam. But due to shortage of halal or pure resources at the time of re-building the Kaaba, this area was left out and the Kaba was built in a small scale as we see today. As such, that area is still considered a part of Kaaba, and thus offering prayer in that area is considered equivalent to offering prayer inside the Kaaba. As such, people try to push through the crowd to offer at least two rakats of optional prayers in that area. I did too two times! In this area, Prophet Ishmael and his mother Hager (peace be upon them both) are buried.
Kaaba doors are now opened only few times a year mainly for the purpose of cleaning inside. And occasionally, it is also opened to allow the distinguished world leaders to offer their prayers inside it. It is not open to public anymore. Therefore, getting a chance to offer a prayer inside it is considered a matter of luck. Local people there always look for the opportunity to enter the Kaaba when ever it is opened. Once opened, people are normally allowed to go in during the window of opportunity.
At the corner of Kaaba, right on the left side of the door, the heavenly stone (Hazre Aswad) is present. Although it was originally a separate stone given to Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) on the mountain of Abu Kubais, but later during the time of Prophet Noah (peace be upon him) and great flood, the stone was taken back to the heaven. Only at the time of building the Kaaba it was sent back through the angels to Prophet Abraham which he place at the present location (separate from the house) of the Kaaba from where we now begin our twaf. Later the stone was incorporated into the house of Kaaba’s corner wall. It is said that the stone used to emit light, but now it no longer does so. And in fact has turned black over the years. The faithful Muslims try to get closer to the stone to kiss it hoping that it would absorb all his or her earlier sins and make them clean again. As such, it is said that the stone has turned black by continually absorbing the sins of people over the centuries, and thus lost its own glitter.
It gets really tough to get even closer to the stone during the hajj season because of the huge crowd. After several attempts, one day I did manage to get closer to the stone, but only managed to touch it with my left hand and had to rush out for an exit from the pressure of people around me. At that time I was feeling like I was losing my breath due to pressure of people. When I made out of the crowd, I said to myself, “mission accomplished!” but soon realized I could hardly walk straight as I was feeling drowsy.
Before I forget, let me share a trick to getting close to the Kaaba. It is better to get closer to the Kaaba in each round little by little. That way, you could stay with the flow and make your way closer without over taking or disturbing anyone. I used to move closer to the Kaaba in each rounds and on the 7th or the last round I was in a position to touch the Kaaba walls, the stone, the door, and even enter Hatim. The difficult task among them all is to reach the stone, as people from all directions tend to come to it. So, do not attempt to touch it unless you are strong enough to push through the crowd, once moving in and then moving out. Using this strategy, I managed to do it all without much problem both times I attempted it. In other times, I just completed the tawf (circles) on the outer circle and left.
The main twaf floor (called Mataf) around the Kaaba is actually the burial ground of many saints including some unknown prophets. Today we walk on their graves covered with white marbled floors to complete the required 7 rounds. Due to considerable changes in and around the Kaaba, today it is hard to imagine what it was like 1400 years ago when Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was alive. It was under his rule the idols of man gods were removed from the Kaaba. Before him, Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) too rebelled against the man gods. Today inside the Kaaba is said to be empty. This is the center, to show a direction for prayer discipline, Muslims around the world bow down toward this Kaaba assuming that the Almighty Allah is in there. Therefore, during the prayer times, people stands in rows circling the Kaaba to perform prayers and not in rows behind an imam or prayer leader as we normally do at mosques elsewhere.
First and obligatory umrah performed!
By completing the sai, our first obligatory umrah was completed. After that it was a requirement for the men to either shave off the head or cut the hair very short. I decided to shave it off for 5 riyals. It took about 10 minutes, and I got it done while my mother was waiting outside the barber shop. As soon as I came out of the shop, my mom was looking at me smiling and said “you look so different!” And I was running my palm on my head as it felt so smooth and good. The barber shops are located close to the open public toilet area.
After completion of umrah, we were no longer to require keeping our ihram on. Therefore, I just couldn’t wait to go home and take a shower and put on my regular clothes. So we went back to do just that.
After that we frequented the Kaaba on every waqt of prayers, which was only 5 to 7 minutes walk from where we were staying. And by doing that, we got to know the area well and learnt our ways around home and Kaaba. It is very important that one get to learn the ways and the surrounding area well to avoid getting lost in the large crowd. Many people gets lost every year, and two of my cousins did too the next day!
To identify the people who get lost, the hajj authorities have come up with a identification plan that works quite well. Every hajji there is given a wrist band that they are required to wear all the times when they go out. The name, address and the phone number of the muallim or the group under whom the hajji is assigned is printed on the band. Therefore, when someone gets lost, by showing of that information printed on it works as a guide to identify the person and notify the appropriate department or group to rescue the person. Thus, the lost and found technique works very well there.
Now-a-days, in addition to what arrangements they have, people who have mobile or cell phones gets a local pre-paid sim card and installs it on their phones. My cousins, after getting lost once, bought a sim card for 120 riyals with 100 minutes of talk time. On the day of their departure, they noticed that they have only used half of the time on the phone. My mobile or cell phone (which was a Philips made) was not compatible with the bandwidth and frequencies used in the Middle-east, therefore, I could not use it over there. So, I had to share my cousin’s phone. With that sim and phone we could receive calls from worried family members from back home who kept calling frequently to know about our situation there. We could also call home from that phone, but we hardly had the time to do so.
It is good to perform optional umrah as many times as possible while there. We too performed an optional hajj after that. While in Mecca, if one wants to perform an umrah, then he or she would have to go outside the Haram Sharif area to put on ihram and then re-enter the city of Mecca with the intention of umrah. The location where intention is made and ihram is worn is called mikat. The nearest mikat to Mecca was the Aisha Mosque. So we went there to get ready for umrah. Many among us performed umrah almost daily! My father in law performed umrah 22 times when he went to hajj few years back.
Guided tours in and around the Kaba!
One of the agreements we had with our travel agent Pan Bright Travels that they would arrange a guided tour for us there. Since we had time before hajj that was still couple of weeks away, we aspired for sight seeing. The agent had all planned out ahead of time on when and how to do that. As per the plans, we were taken to the following sites and were shown around within the next few days while Mecca was still not that crowded.
Apart from the locations mentioned above there are few other historical spots available which one might want to visit. Although time is very short and busy during the hajj season, if one chooses to visit those location then he or she must identify those spots and prepare and plan ahead of time to do so. Many good books are available that identifies those locations. One such book is, Ma-a-reful Haramain, written by Maulana Nurul Islam Faruki. This book is quite descriptive and well compiled, but is in Bangla (Bengali) language only. We received this book as a part of the hajj materials supplied by Mr. Faruki for joining his hajj team.
One should plan ahead of time to see the historical sites; otherwise one may not see them all. As the hajj time approaches, the city of Mecca gets crowded and as such it gets not only difficult but also expensive to move around the city. All you will see is rush and crowd of people everywhere you go. Many however, opt for sight seeing few days after the hajj or during umrah some other time in the year. The advantage of seeing the site locations during umrah is that the crowd is small and it is convenient to move around. But that would mean making another trip to KSA
It was nice and exciting to visit those places of which we heard of so much since our childhood. And now, finally, I’m there! I was thanking God every time I visited a site for allowing me to do so. One must know the existence of such locations before going there so that the visits could be planned and arranged accordingly. Some sites are located outside Mecca or in other cities. Therefore, a need for transport is required. For us, our guides arranged for reserved buses to move around.
Many go to hajj on their own and not with a group or a guide. Although it is not required to have a group or guide, but it helps a lot if you are involved with one; especially if you are going there for the first time. We joined a private hajj kafela or caravan or team. There are some governmental ones too. The one arranged by the government are normally cheaper compared to the private ones, but we have heard of lot of cases of negligence in the government groups. So, we didn’t opt for it. Besides, I’ve had my mother and two other female cousins (for whom I was the male guardian or mahrum) accompanying me, so I had to pick and choose from among the group whom I thought would do their best in care.
Our accommodation in Mecca was not that great considering the hotel standards. We were kept in two neighboring buildings which were pretty old, but close to Kaaba. My mother and cousins were given a small room with an attached bath. 4 of them lived there in 4 different single beds right next to each other. There was hardly any space left to walk. Similarly, I was assigned a larger room where I had to share with 6 other hajjis, beds all lined up next to each other leaving just a passage to walk and pass in between them. And all of us were to share just one bathroom with a low commode or toilet. My mother was on the 3rd floor and I was on the 5th. And there was no elevator in the building. Often I went to use the attached toilet at my moms room when there was a line up in ours. Luckily, their toilet had high commode.
Although we never met before, but during the hajj staying together days after days, 7 of us developed a sense of brotherhood among ourselves gradually looking after each other and caring for one another. Later on, I’ve identified them as “Hajji Brothers”. And I still keep in touch sometimes. Among them were a young banker, an owner of a jewelry store, a retired bank manager, a consulting engineer, a garment manufacturing owner, a manager and vice president of a local bank, and myself. So you see they were all from a decent and educated background. And we got along very well; most of the time we used to gang up together to go places, prayers and to discover new places. And my mother ganged up with my cousins – all 4 women (the 3rd one was my other cousin who went with her husband) to do the same. Well, that doesn’t mean I ignored my family, the arrangement was just a matter of convenience and I did give time to my family as well. Among the hajji brothers, some of them too had families with them like I did and they too were doing the same. Not jut among the hajji brothers; we made friends with other hajjis as well while we went out on trips together.
It may sound strange that some hajjis were busy shopping while on hajj, but it is true that some people do go there with the intention to shop (especially gold) during hajj. In the past, hajj season had always been a shopping place as merchants from different parts of the world used to gather there to buy and sell. The traditional ritual did not fade away even today. During the free times, the hajjis there go around looking for bargain deals. As such, many markets and shopping centers have been created both in Mecca and Medina. In fact, the hajj season is the only season throughout the year when Mecca and Medina sees large number of tourists and thus generates some revenues. Rest of the year, Mecca and Medina are pretty much slow and dead without much economic activity. Compared to the other cities, these two cities are still backward and neglected by the Saudi government. But the people who goes to hajj often said many new hotels and shopping centers are springing up around the city due to increase of umrah visitors year round. I’ve also heard that now-a-days the month of Ramadan also draws a lot of visitors like hajj. In other words, it seems to me, due to increase of Muslims the world over, Mecca and Medina now draws a lot of visitors year round. Otherwise, those hotels, motels and shopping centers would not sustain.
Unfortunately, you won’t find anything locally made there, most of the items sold there are imported cheap China stuffs. Since the majority of the population there are poor, there aren’t many expensive or quality shops and markets that carry quality goods. However, by buying from there, one is actually contributing to their economy. Our Prophet too kept that practice, but he preferred to buy more from Medina than Mecca. Frankly, I could not find anything to buy from Mecca other than few souvenirs. The only attraction I had there is to get the Zamzam water, which is free. All I had to buy were the containers for 10 riyals each that could hold 10 liter of water. And each person is allowed to bring 10 liter. In Medina however, my main attraction was to buy dates of various kinds, especially the one called Aswa, which is well known for its medicinal value and can only be found at a particular date garden in Medina. As such, they are expensive.
My mother and cousins went crazy shopping there; they brought along with them two suitcases each on their way back! And what did they buy, all junk basically. Their main intention was to buy gifts for the folks back home; therefore, many of those items were distributed among them after our return home. Both in Mecca and Medina, there are some 2 riyal stores where anything you buy costs only two riyals. Just like the 99 cents stores we have in the US and Canada.
One thing must be kept in mind though. One needs to keep track of the total weight of their luggage if they are flying back home. We encountered a serious problem at the Jeddah airport while returning home. Due to uncontrolled shopping, our total luggage weight got higher and as such we were told that we won’t be able to bring the Zamzam water containers. If we want, we would have to pay extra for them, which was quite high. But then it was too late to do anything. Upon suggestion of an airport personnel I approached politely to the supervisor explaining to him that we carried with us all the water containers all the way from Mecca and now we are feeling sad that we won’t be able to bring them with us, and if there was any way we could bring them. After hearing me, and after looking at the pale faces of my family, he got generous and allowed me to bring the water containers without any additional charges. I thanked him from my heart and told him how much it meant to us. Yes, we were lucky that day. What if he were not considerate? Then we would have to leave all those (6 of them) containers at Jeddah airport. Earlier years, the weight of the water containers were not considered as a part of the luggage, as such hajjis could always bring the waters irrespective to the total weight, but the rule changed from the year we went.
Although meal was included in our hajj package, yet often we opted to eat out for a change and to have a taste of local food. There are many different kinds of restaurants that serve Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, Turkish, and even European fast food and restaurant style foods at a reasonable price. Fruits are also freely available at the street corners. Hajjis used to buy and share fruits and other food with others out of good will, and often times, the food were so much in plenty that they used to get thrown away at the end of the day because of rots. Zamzam water used to get supplied at out rooms in large containers for drinking purposes.
Some rich sheikhs and food industries prepare gift food packages for the hajjis and distribute them at different areas of the city of Mecca and Medina. In Mecca, I have seen them distributing the packages at the entrance of the tunnel going to Mina and at the Bukhari Mosque in Medina. Hajjis are required to line up to collect the free food, and the queue is sometimes very long. but since the packages are all ready to go, it didn't really take long to collect as the line moved fast. Although I did not line up to collect those packages, but some of my hajji brothers did. We also found them at a rest area on our way to Medina from Mecca. And they made sure each one of us got one pack. The pack contained some snack type prepackaged food like biscuits, cakes, chocolates, and a small bottle of Zamzam water. They were pretty good. Often, some other private individuals also offered free cooked food to hajjis, but I never tired them.
At the Jeddah airport upon arrival, we were given a set of books on hajj rituals in Bangla including a copy of the Qur'an as gifts. Later, we received few more free books at Arafat.
But in Arafat and Mina, there are no shops, markets or restaurants. Only few peddlers are seen selling out of their mobile stores at few locations. Therefore, one must have a preparation to bring food and water at those locations during hajj time. On the other hand, Medina was similar to Mecca, shops, markets and restaurants are readily available.
It would definitely help if you know some spoken Arabic at least; otherwise you would have to fully depend on your guide who does. Saudi’s hardly speaks or understands English. Due to interaction with some Indians and Pakistanis living there they managed to learn some Hindi or Urdu words, but not English. Therefore, people coming from the Indian sub-continent do not face many problems with language there as many of the shop keepers are from that region. So you are likely to find a sales person from your country who speaks your language at least while shopping. We found many Bangladeshis there working at different occupations.
I got ill!
For some reason unknown, I somehow developed pain on my left leg that gradually swallowed and prevented me from walking for long. Doctors there said it is a common phenomenon for the hajjis coming from other countries and not to worry. First few days I neglected the matter and did not bother to see a doctor, but when the pain continued and began to get worse, I was taken to a local private clinic for a treatment. Initially, they thought it was a bug bite, and was a result of poison; but could not be sure. I had to take some antibiotics to get fully cured. The pain gradually subsided as I continued to take the drugs. Later on I learned that the Saudi government maintains free medical clinics for the hajjis during the hajj and there was no need for me to go to a private clinic and pay for either the treatment or even for the medicine! The service is totally free! But of course at that time I didn’t know nor did the folks those who took me to the clinic at that time.
The funny thing was, I was basically worried about my mother who was a diabetic patient and was in relatively poorer health than me, but she remained strong and able while I got ill! So, instead of me looking after her, she looked after me for a while. Our guide said, all kind of unexpected things happens during hajj, so one needs to stay prepared to deal with them as they surface. As such a preparation, we were advised to bring with us some medicines for common illness like cold, fever, stomach ache, headaches, vomiting tendencies, diarrhea, etc which we did. It is good to keep them handy for a quick relief and to avoid going to a clinic.
I was really getting worried about my illness as the real hajj time was approaching. I was in bed most of the time, and when walking I could hardly walk home after the prayer at the mosque. During that time, I mostly went to the Gazzah mosque close to our place to offer my prayers in jammat or congregation. And when the pain was too high and could not walk at all, I offered them at home. Those few days, my family and hajji brothers left me alone to go about their errands. Had I gone to the doctor at the beginning phase of the pain I could have gotten well much earlier. I finally got well only two days before the real hajj. But then I was dealing with another problem, physical weakness. Due the high antibiotics doses and lack of proper diet while illness, I became physically weak. And the hajj began while I was still recuperating.
The Hajj begins!
I was still not fully well, often having light fever and feeling drowsy on and off. Hajj is basically a 5 days program beginning on the 8th of the Arabic month of Jilhajj. The diagram of hajj steps in a nut shell is given below:
We didn’t do anything different from the rest of the crowd except for delaying our journey to Mujdalifa from Arafat. By the time we went there, it was almost Fajr time (Dawn prayer time). Therefore, we rushed to offer our prayer as soon as we reached there. After that, to fulfill the minimum requirements, we sat there and rested for a while. The reasons for our delay was; 1. Our guide Mr. Faruki thought it was better to spend most of the remaining night at Arafat than Mujdalifa as it would be colder in the open there; 2. The bus came late to pick us up; 3. By the time we would be ready to go there the rush and crowd would be less. But many among the hajjis did not like the idea and went on their own on other buses or on foot. Rest of us decided to stay with our guide.
When we reached Mujdalifa, I found that it wasn’t at all cold there mainly due to the fact that the place is surrounded by mountains, and the mounts blocked the flow of the cold wind. Therefore, it was actually warmer there compared to Arafat! Later on we have heard that the bus actually came on time (it came around 8:00 PM) but was turned back and was asked to come later. And the reality was, the roads were still full of traffic and people even when we started at 2:00 AM in the morning, as a result of traffic jams we reached there late.
Considering the entire above situation, my suggestion would be to start for Mujdalifa around the time we were supposed to go. You could even walk there from Arafat! To do that, try to avoid taking too much stuff with you which you would end up carrying if you walk. Bringing a luggage with wheels might help for that purpose. Since we went to hajj in winter, so we had to take blankets, as such we ended up carrying some loads. On our return we had to leave some heavy objects (like water containers) behind to avoid carrying them back. This may not have been the case if we went in summer.
We went to Mujdalifa on a micro bus, but we had to walk to Mina from there, which was a painful journey. There was a long queue of buses on the road to Mina and the buses were demanding much higher fares than usual. We could see the Mina tents from Mujdalifa, so we thought we could just walk. Our new guide there was not a new comer, but still didn’t know his ways well there. Depending on his guidance we ended up walking some unnecessary distance and were totally exhausted by the time we reached our tents. That toll brought back my fever again. I felt asleep at the tent. After some rest, I went for first stone throwing at Jammarat with a small group.
In Arafat, the tents were built on panels in rows with partitions in between. But the tents in Mina were air-conditioned (they are opened in summer) and were traditional tent like. All tent locations are pre-defined for each group and as per the country of origin, therefore, the groups knows for sure that they would find a place to rest. The problem there is with the toilets and bath rooms. They are all common and situated in a common areas as per the country domian, as a result there are always long lines to use them. Compared to the number of hajjis, the numbers of toilets were insufficient. But surprisingly, they were well maintained and regularly cleaned even after such a heavy use. Most of the toilets there are of low commode (the old style), therefore, for those who are not used to it would find it difficult to use in the beginning. Due to my on and off fever, I did not take shower until my return to Mecca’s home on the 3rd day. Once the steps are completed, it is okay to return to Mecca for a while. So, I returned to Mecca to freshen up. Some however, continually remained in Mina tents and did not return to Mecca until the final stoning at Jammarat. I had to go back to Mina for the final stone throwing. At that time I walked to Mina from Mecca through the walking tunnel and took me about an hour. One of my hajji brothers accompanied me. On our way back however, we fell victim in heavy rain. It never rained so much in Mecca in the last 30 years!
The rain that flooded Mecca!
For some reason, we missed the tunnel and had to go the alternative way in the rain. Tried to get on a bus but the bus got stuck in traffic jam, so we had to get off and begin to walk. I was all soaked in rain and now feeling the pinch of cold air in my body in fever that found a reason to return. While returning to Mecca on foot in the rain and cold wind, I began to feel pain in my stomach. It was the strong gas forming and I needed to go to a toilet. I could hardly walk in that condition, so I had to look for a mosque to use a toilet there. But there too were lines! I said to myself, “Oh, Allah! What am I going to do now? I can’t hold it anymore!” Gradually, I managed to approach two gentlemen (they were probably of Pakistani origin, therefore understood my English) ahead of me on the line and asked them if I could overtake them to use the toilet as I was having an emergency natural call. After few moments of thought they allowed me in. It didn’t take me long to find relief. I came out thanking them once again. After coming out of the toilet I had to walk again toward Mecca, at that time I was feeling I was walking on a road that has no end.
It was a terrible day for me. Being all wet and cold in rain walking on rubber slippers that caused cuts and bruises in my finder joints, I felt like collapsing at times. I was feeling pain on my foot due to long continuous walk. Sometimes, I had to wade through flowing water trying to find escapes.
Mecca city got pretty messy in this half hour rain fall. Since the area is rocky and mountainous, all the water poured down the mountains and hills and entered the city through the street and tunnels. Thus it got flooded in a very short time. The tunnels were blocked by water and the cars got stuck there. Looking over from the road into the tunnel I could see some cars stuck in the tunnel and the water level was up to the car roof! At that point I thanked Allah for letting us miss the walking tunnel; because if we went in, then for sure we would be swimming inside there. Three people said to have died in the flooding in that rain that day. It is said that raining during hajj is an indication of acceptance of hajj of the hajjis performing the hajj. I wonder if it is true when it rains that much when people dies. Blessing in disguise? Allah knows best.
It was good that I didn’t bring the ladies with me at Jammarat, because if I did then they too would have suffered a similar consequence like I did. Based on the fact that caused death of some people due to stampede at Jammarat, we were advised by our guides not to bring the ladies for stone throwing, instead they advised that we throw proxy stones on their behalf, which is allowed. That’s exactly what I did. I threw the stones for my mom, and someone else threw the stones for my cousins (as it would be too many stones to throw for me if I were to do it for all). But in reality I found that the Jammarat was quite organized and a lot of female hajjis went there to throw stones! In fact what has happened is, now the flow of people is guided from one way to the other, therefore, there is no chance for people coming from the opposite side which was the case in earlier years. As such, Jammarat is now quite safe, even for women. Therefore, it is now safe for women to go and throw their own stones and experience the whole excitement.
That day after returning home I was totally unable to stand anymore, some how I managed to take a shower and shave off my own head with a razor myself (as required) then I lay flat on my bed in my room while everyone else was looking for an opportunity complete their last twaf around the Kaaba. I don’t know when I fell asleep, at one pint I could hear my mom come upstairs to check up on me. I was almost like in comma in high fever. She began to worry about me. I too began to worry as that was the last day in Mecca and I was supposed to complete my last twaf that day before midnight to complete my hajj, otherwise my hajj would be incomplete. I told my mom not to worry about me and go with the cousins to complete her part of the hajj, and I’ll follow her in no time. After she left, I prayed to my Lord, “O’Allah, would you not allow me to complete my hajj?” Few minutes later, I began to feel good and felt that my strengths were coming back and I was getting well. I don’t know how, but I managed to get up and sit on my bed. I looked around and found myself alone in the room and it was already 11:00 PM. I got dressed, and then began to start for the Kaaba for the final twaf.
When I reached the Kaaba, there were few people on the mataf floor and it was drizzling a little. I didn’t wait; in the name of Allah I began my closing 7 twaf. In about half an hour time I was done! On my way home, I saw my mom in a worried face, but as soon as she saw me, her face changed into a happy smiling one, right at that moment I knew she was thinking about me.
Qurbani or the sacrifice of an animal!
Qurbani was taken care of by our guide Mr. Faruki himself at a particular location in Mina. Majority of the hajjis did not bother to go to see. Even though I wanted, but my physical condition made it out of question. We just paid for our share of the sacrifice and it was done appropriately as per the eye witnesses who went along. Allah knows best, as it is always the intention that counts.
Medina, the land of the Prophet (peace be upon him)!
Visiting Medina is not a part of hajj, but the Muslims do not miss the opportunity to say “hello” to the Prophet in Median which is about 5 hours bus ride from Mecca. Many hajjis visit Median before coming to Mecca, we did the opposite. It is recommended that a hajji offers 40 waqt of 5 regular or daily prayers in Medina before departing. As such, our plan was to stay there for 8 days, which would make a total of (8x5 = 40) 40 waqt of prayers.
On our way to Medina, we stopped at Aisha mosque for packaged lunch, and started for Medina after the Asar prayer. Everyone offered their prayer in the open field before the time occurred, which I didn’t know. I thought they would wait till the prayer time and start again after the jamaat. But at the mosque when I couldn’t find a single hajji from our group I got worried and said to myself, “something is wrong…” Immediately after the jamaat, I went to the bus and heard Mr. Faruki calling on my name on the loud speaker. I ran to the bus and saw everyone angry at my absence. They were blaming me for their delay including Mr. Faruki. No matter how many times I would say that I didn’t know about your plans, no one wanted to listen to my arguments. Bitterly, we began our journey again.
Eventually, we reached Medina in the evening time, and by the time we reached our boarding rooms, it was about 10:00 PM. We had to wait at the Medina hajj office for clearance that took couple of hours.
In Medina, our boarding house was little better than the one in Mecca. And it took about 7 to 10 minutes walk to Masidunnabi from there. This time we were given rooms on the 2nd floor. But due to limitation of accommodation in one room, I was given a bed in a room next to the room my hajji brothers were. So, this time I ended up sharing a room with 5 more new hajjis including my cousin-in-law. My mother and cousins were given a larger room with an attached bathroom on the other end of the same floor. Therefore, it was lot convenient for us to keep contact with each other as we all shared the same hallway, stairs and elevators. Yes, this building had an elevator! But we hardly used it as we were on the 2nd floor.
Median is not as rocky as Mecca. The mountains are situated far away from the main locality. And the terrain is largely flat. I felt a sense of peace there, things were sort of serene. But inside me I was still very weak and having cold, due to which I missed the sight seeing tours organized in Medina the following days. The hajjis were shown the following sites:
Along with the above, some other locations were also visited by the hajjis I missed due to my illness. There too they took a guided tour on reserved buses. One can rent a taxi to visit the historical places there, which are commonly known as “jiarat”. You would hear the taxi drivers calling the hajjis to go for a ride to jiarat to some of those places. But I do not know how much that trip cost.
Some of the main attractions in Medina are inside the Nawabbi mosque itself. The Prophet (peace be upon him) along with his companions Hazrat Abu Bakar, Hazrat Omar (peace be upon them both) are laid to rest there. And the grave space for Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) the son of Mary is left there for his burial after his second coming. The following picture (in the middle) shows that area:
The first picture above shows the Mimbar of the Prophet, from where the Prophet used to deliver khutbas. The second photo shows the doors to the graves of the prophets. . One could see through the door grills and the hole inside. The graves are lined next to one another. People normally approach from the left hand side direction, and passes through the passage at the front to find an exit on the right. And the third photo shows the view of the Jannatul Baki.
Following is the diagram of locations of some of the original pillars of the Nawabbi mosque:
The pillars (usually made of date trees) inside the mosque have some historical background and significance. Followings are some details:
The people of Medina were the first to acknowledge Islam as a true religion and willingly came to meet with the Prophet in Mecca and asked him to move to Medina. Later on, when the Muslims were persecuted in Mecca, the Prophet asked the Muslims to migrate to Medina. This event is known as the “Hizrah” in the Islamic world and the Islamic calendar set its footing from that day. Eventually, the Prophet too migrated there after making sure that all his followers have left Mecca.
In Medina, Islam found its footing and the first Islamic state was established there. Muslims were now in a position to defend themselves from outside threats and plan offensives from there. Eventually, the Muslims marched from there to Mecca, and Mecca was conquered without any bloodshed following surrender to the Muslim army. This victory brought Mecca under the rule of Islam.
Last, but not he least!
It is very normal to ask why we do the things we do at hajj. I have had those questions myself and looked for the answers. Followings are the background stories for the hajj rituals:
It was Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) after completing re-building of the Kaaba after its destruction during the flood of Prophet Noah (peace be upon him) called upon the humanity to come to Kaaba for pilgrimage. It was Allah who reached this invitation to each and every human being born and unborn. Some accepted the invitation while others didn’t. Those who accepted the invitation, manages to pay a visit there. Later, when Islam was chosen by Allah as the only valid religion, hajj was made one of the five pillars of the religion.
Why Twaf on mataf?
It was Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) who used to perform the twafs around the Kaaba area. Therefore, it is basically a pre-Islamic ritual initiated by him. All the prophets after him did the same including our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), thus making it an obligation on us as well.
Why do we go to Mina?
Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) took his son Ishmael to Mina for slaughter. To commemorate the occasion, we too perform our animal sacrifice there. Besides, Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) was buried there.
Why do we stone the three pillars at Jammarat?
On the way to Mina, Satan (the devil) tied to deceive Ishmael three times in order to change his mind about taking the sacrifice willingly. And all those three times Ishmael chased the devil away by stoning him. Therefore, we too do that symbolically.
Why do we go to Mujdalifa?
When Adam and Eve (peace be upon them) were coming to Mina from Arafat, it became dark, so they rested there for the night. Therefore, we too stop there on our way to Mina and spend the night there. At Mujdalifa, we are also required to collect 21 small stones (7 stones for each of the 3 pillars) to throw at Jammarat in Mina. Jammarat is in fact at the border of Mujdalifa, therefore, many hajjis collect the stones crossing into the Mujdalifa border line there at a later time on their way to Jammarat. Well, I didn't take any chances, I picked them up right from the heart of Mujdalifa when I was there.
The significance of Arafat is, 1. Jebel-e-Rahmat is located there where Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) bowed down seeking Allah’s forgiveness for the mistake he had committed in the heaven. The spot is now earmarked with a stone pillar on the mount. Following forgiveness of Allah, he met his wife Eve (peace be upon her) in Arafat. 2. This is where our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) delivered his last sermon. Since Prophet Adam received mercy from Allah there, we too seek mercy from Allah there hoping that He would forgive us as well.
So you see, the rituals are rooted long before Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) time. Beginning from Prophet Adam (peace be upon him), the first human being on earth to Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him), the hajj is founded. In Islam, we do not make any differences in between the prophets. They were all the mighty prophets of Allah sent with specific mission at a specific time. Their impacts however have remained even up to this day. They were the universal prophets for all of mankind. Thus it is interesting to note that this hajj covers the prophets of the three major monotheistic religions namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Leading to the notion of “One God, one world and one humanity”.
Hajj literally means enduring hardships. What it basically means is that one vows to endure hardship during hajj before even going there. It is not a vacation or a fun trip; rather it is an obligation and once in a lifetime obligation. Hajj is compulsory on every able and solvent Muslims for at least once in his or her lifetime. Many however go to hajj more than once. I remember, when my grand parents whet to perform their hajj around the 60’s, they had to reach Saudi Arabia by boat (probably starting from Bombay, India), then from the port they had to go on camels and on foot to Mecca. It was journey for days, and today we could reach there by air and buses in only few hours! The cost of travel has also gone down considerably. As such many can now afford to travel there.
Before, the hajjis used to perform the entire hajj mostly on foot. This means one had to have a strong physical condition to under take such a long walk in the hot open sun. But today one could take buses and taxis to reach those places in much shorter time, and so on.
A hajji takes hajj very seriously. Before heading for it one is required to settle all unfinished issues in case he or she fails to return home alive. Anything could go wrong during hajj, as things went seriously wrong with me there. I was healthy and strong when I went there, but came back ill and weak. And there have been many such cases like mine. In fact, one of the hajjis from our group died one month after his return home. He too was a healthy and strong man. For many, hajj is a turning point in life.
It took me a couple of months of full rest to fully recover from the stress, and hardships I endured there. I don’t know if I should consider myself fortunate or unfortunate, but the experiences I have gained in that one month was enormous. And I desire to go back there again!
It is advisable to go there with minimum belongings. I took a medium sized bag with me with some light clothing’s, a dinner plate and a drinking glass made of melamine, a spoon, toiletries, light towel (so that it would dry quick), etc. My mom did the same. If you ever find yourself in a situation that you need something and did not bring, just buy it there.
I have decided to share my experiences there just to help the future hajjis better prepare when their turn for hajj comes. Things may change for the new hajjis; as the Saudi Arabian government is at the discretion to make any changes regarding rules and regulations on hajj as they have done in the past. But still, I have tried to cover most of the basic issues related to hajj which might come to some assistance to the reader to anticipate things ahead of time.
I did not bother too much to give historical details here as they can be found on the Internet, book stores, and libraries on demand. And there are many wonderful informative resources available to learn from. But the experience I have had there will not be found anywhere else except here.
I hope my personal understanding and analysis would guide you in some favorable way down the road. Keeping that in mind I have taken the trouble to write this long article for you. Hope you liked it. Thank you.
"Labbaik Allahumma labbaik,
( "Here I am O Lord, here I am )
labbaika la sharika laka labbaik,
( You have no partner, here I am )
inn alhamda wannimata laka wal mulk,
( Surely praise, blessings and the kingdoms are for you )
la sharika lak"
( You have no partner" )
Further readings: There are a lot of hajj resources available on the internet. A simple google search on “hajj” would reveal those links. Besides, many good audio, video and printed materials are also available in the market.
Acknowledgements: To add some pictures on this article, I randomly collected some photographs from the Internet through google search.