Hajj is one of the most exhilarating experiences one can have in life. Imam Ghazali (r) described it as an act of worship of a lifetime, seal of all that is commanded, perfection of Islam and completion of religion. Nearly three million Muslims (plus one million local) from 183 different countries performed Hajj this year.
As preference, our journey started from Medina. Our stay at Medina was very pleasant since the Hotel was barely 30-40 steps from Haram. There have been so many changes to the area that it was difficult to recognize since my last trip in 1995. The space of Masjid Nabawi has been greatly increased with addition of more courtyard and roof. More than a million people can easily pray there. Prophet Mohammad (s) grave area was very crowded and praying between his minbar and grave was very difficult. This space was described by him as paradise and 2 rakat Sunnah was prayed there. Visitation time for women was different from men. All area of Haram was well maintained and clean. The umbrella covering the courtyard was the most surprising feature, which provides shade during the day with continuous mist to keep people cool. Our visit to Masjid Quba, the first mosque built by our Prophet was next. We performed 2 rakat Sunnah in this Mosque, which has reward of an Umrah. We also visited Masjid Qiblatain, where during the middle of prayer Qibla was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca. Area of battle of Trench has been covered by road but the camping area of Sahaba has 7 different Mosque with the largest one called Masjid Khandak. Other sites included mountain of Uhud, where graveyard of the Martyrs were cordoned off. Jannatul Baqi is closest to Masjid Nabawi.
Miqat was at Dhul Hulaifah, short distance from Medina but we had put on our Ihram before heading to the bus. Mosque in Dhul Hulaifah was large with good facility for bath or shower and putting on Ihram. We prayed Isha, made our intention for Umrah and started our Talbiyah. Unfortunately, due to frequent checking by police at stops our bus trip took almost 15 hours to reach Mecca. After settling in our Hotel 5-7 km from Haram, we finally arrived by Taxi at Haram to do our Tawaf at 10:30 AM, the worst time of the day due to hot weather. Because of the motivation to finish our obligation , and joy of looking at magnimity of Kabbaâ€™s, we forgot any discomfort and joined the crowd to start our Tawaf. It took about one hour to finish it. According to scholars, Tawaf is one of the most important things that we will find in our record book on the Day of Judgment. According to one Hadith reported by Abdullah Ibn Abbas(r), everyday Allah (SWT) sends one hundred and twenty mercies on this house. Of which sixty are for those who are doing Tawaf, forty for those who are praying before it, while twenty for those who are just looking at Kabba. Subhanallah, even just looking at Kabba has so much merit.
Another Hadith points out that any act of worship at Masjid Haram in Mecca is multiplied by 100,000 times while at Masjid Nabawi is multiplied by 1000 times. After praying 2 rakat at Muqame Ibrahim, we drank some Zam Zam, supplicated and then headed to do our Saâ€™ee. Having the Saee area at three different levels, it is not as crowded. Walking between Safa and Marwah and running briskly between green lines reminded us the plight and struggle of Hajirah (A) who is the most honored women in Islam. Small hair trimming completed this process.
After staying at Shesha (just outskirt of Mecca) for one day, we were moved to Mina, the tent city on the morning of 8th Dhul Hijjah. Our tent had small beds close to each other with comfortable air conditioning in proximity of the Jamarat. Other tents were on outskirts of Mina 3 kilometer away. All prayers were performed in the tent in congregation. Food was plenty and served in buffet style at breakfast and dinner with tea and drinks available at all times. Yet it was shocking to see the streets littered with unofficial pilgrims everywhere. They were on mountains, street corners, and sidewalk and under the bus. This created a dangerous situation and difficulty for emergency ambulances and police cars to maneuver. Generally police personnel were seen to be very tolerant but firm.
Next day, we were woken up at 2am in order to get ready for the train to go to Arafat. The train ride was only 15 minutes but the entire process took almost two hours. Our Arafat tent was very close to the train station. The day of Arafat is considered the most important part of Hajj. Several hundred people were put in one large tent with carpet on the floor. All our activities like meditation, rest and prayer were confined to the tent. People could be seen making supplication inside and outside the tent, in groups or solitude, and some were praying loudly and some not so loudly. Prophet Mohammad (s) also prayed on the day of Arafat, â€œO Allah forgive the pilgrim and the man for whom the pilgrim asks forgiveness.â€ As the day passed supplication intensified with the ending reserved for collective supplication until Maghreb time.
Our train ride was orderly and took less than 10 minutes. Unfortunately due to some mishap, we were assigned one of the roughest areas to spend the night. The ground was under the bridge with broken asphalt all over, but no one complained about it. Every one spread out their sheet, prayer rug, and sleeping bag and lay down. Early morning, we prayed Fajr on the same ground then headed to Mina by train. This year train was only for Americans, Canadians and Europeans Hajji only. It does not have capacity to accommodate everyone yet.
Big Jamarat was located right near the train station. Rami was easy. Jamarats are located at three different levels creating one way traffic and decreasing the chances of any stamped that used to occur in the past. We went to Haram to do our Tawaf Ziyarat on the same day. Off course the area was exceptionally crowed that day but we were able to complete our Tawaf and Saâ€™ee without any difficulty. On 11th and 12 the of Dhul Hijjah, Jamarats were opened for Rami from early morning instead of after Dhuhr as described in the books.
After our Rami on 12th everyone seems to have headed for Haram for final farewell Tawaf. Everyone seems to be walking since there is no train system between Mina and Mecca. Buses and Taxis can barely crawl in this kind of crowd. While finishing the final rights of Hajj, I could not forget the teaching which says that Allah (SWT) grants all the supplication,forgiveness as well as intercession that is requested. Prophet Mohammad (pub) said â€œ whoever performs pilgrimage to the house without foul talk or iniquity is free from sin as he was on the day his mother gave birth to him.â€ We had no choice but to finish our farewell Tawaf as soon as possible since our flight was in the afternoon the very next day. We left for airport 6 hour before flight in order to avoid any delay.
For hajj people have travelled far distances sometimes with meager resources. Everyday they have to walk long distances just to get to Haram. In crowd includes elderly, women and children some with poor health. For them even surviving is not easy despite all the facilities provided. Due to large number of people performing Tawaf, Saâ€™ee, or Rami all at the same time, these rights are not easy to accomplish. Nevertheless, people persist solely for pleasure of Allah. They have hope that Allah (SWT) will accept their Hajj and they will be completely forgiven. This hope continues to keep people going until they accomplish all their rights of Hajj. Some people are exposed to 105-degree temperature, camping out in open, sidewalk, under the tree or bus with very little shelter. Their dedication in service to God is hard to miss.
Hajj must bring out the best in us in terms of understanding the concept of Tawheed; deepen our love of God and the Prophets. It must encourage us to sacrifice our health and wealth for the sake of Islam and emulate the example of Prophet Ibrahim (A). Hajj must bring us closer to Allah (SWT) and increase our zeal to work in our own communities. Our relationship with Allah and the outcome will be completely changed for the better.
May Allah give us opportunity to perform Hajj as early as possible preferably at young age before death takes over.
Anis Ansari, MD, President of Clinton Islamic Center, Clinton, Iowa.