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Hajj – 10th Dhul Hajj: Mina and Makkah

November 28, 2009

I woke up to the sounds of people milling about, packing, getting ready to leave for Mina. It’s about 4:30 a.m., and I can’t even remember how much sleep I got… it could not have been more than 3.5 hours. Strangely, as has been the case with many segments of the Hajj, I was astonishingly refreshed considering the lack of sleep.
In yesterday’s post, I forgot to include a short video of people sleeping here, so here it is:

I got up, and headed over to the bathrooms (again, thankfully, for number 1…). I waited, waited, and waited in line, and despite there being only about 10 to 15 people or so ahead of me in line, I was finally able to use the facilities after 45 minutes.
After Fajr prayer with the group, we all left Muzdalifah around 6:30 a.m. As written in a prior post, many of our group members had left the night before; our group bus was also no longer with us. Thus we began our travel by foot to Mina.
Similar to other areas one travels to during the Hajj, there are clear signs demarcating the beginning and end of each location; Muzdalifah ended here:
Hajj088
and Mina started here!
Hajj089
(see the top of the tents?)
We walked, and we walked, and we walked… along with hordes of other people, sliding in between buses and trucks; the air was filled with exhaust fume, we were so glad we brought our masks to wear… Here is Maryam:
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and here is me:
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Here is a video of our group walking towards Mina:

There are very helpful signs indicating where the tents are:
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As we got closer and closer to the Jamarat area, one could see an endless sea of tents:
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I think I have a panned video of the tents in a prior post as well.
There were also tents higher up in the mountains:
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Some tents even had escalators!!!
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After about 1.5 to 2 hours, we finally made it to our tent (which was basically at the OPPOSITE end, closest to Makkah):
Hajj096
There was some breakfast left in the tent, so I ate a little, and we decided to head over to the Jamarat after resting in the tent.
As we walked over to the Jamarat complex (which incidentally looks like a humongous parking deck), I encountered these rays of light (called Crepuscular Rays), also known as “God Rays.” I sung a choral “Aaaaaaah” in my head for dramatic effect 🙂
Hajj097
Here is one section of the Jamarat complex:
Hajj098
Inside, there are escalators to head up to the upper levels; we were able to go to the fourth floor.
Hajj099
As you exit the elevator, you have a walk a short distance to where the pillars are. Here is a photo showing the pillar from near the elevators… still not too close:
Hajj100
The “pillar” is the gray structure traversing the many floor and partially visible above the roof, in the middle of the picture.
Hajj100
We walked towards the Pillars, and luckily it was not crowded at all. Here is a picture of the largest pillar (Jamarat al Aqabah), which is the farthest of the three pillars and the only one to stone today:
Hajj101
Here, I waxed philosophical for a second; was it just coincidence that the 3 pillars have become larger and larger over the years, or is it a reflection of the increased influence of the Shaytan in the world? I remember, back when I was around 10, I had the opportunity to come here with my family for Hajj, and at that time, the Jamarat complex was two stories high and the pillars were actually pillar shaped and much smaller.
In any case, as we got closer and closer to the pillar to stone today, I started becoming more and more excited, more than I would have expected. I got close to the pillar, and threw my stones; I felt an odd sense of child-like excitement and jubilation upon throwing my seven stones.
Here, people throwing the stones:

A great improvement the Saudis have made is to have a one-way design so people start from the same end and finish at the same end. When it gets crowded, it’s still unpleasant, however much better than people going in all directions.
After we stoned the devil, we headed to the exit. We found a local to taxi us to the Haram for 20SR each. The road was very crowded, and it took us about 2 hours to get close to the hotel. We did make it in time for Juma prayers at the Haram; there was still plenty of space on the third floor. Looking down, the Tawaf area was very crowded as expected. After prayers, I and the hordes of Hajjis went looking for a barber to shave our heads. As part of the Hajj, an animal sacrifice was also required before shaving the head; this was arranged by our group, and we had purchased tickets to have the slaughtering performed on our behalf.
I attempted to go to the “Barber Row” adjacent to the Marwa side of the Haram, but there was too much of a crowd outside, that I could not make it there. Maryam and I went back to the hotel, to see if the barbers there would be available, but all the barbers in and near the hotel had very long lines.
While walking around looking for a barber, we saw some people on the side of the street shaving heads; we thought they might be barbers, so approached them. They turned out to be a group of Pakistani friends who had come to perform the Hajj together; the guy shaving actually was a cook! He was very nice, and said if we brought a razor, he would shave my head. We then went to the 2 Riyal store around the corner:
Hajj111
We got the razor, and proceeded with my head shave!
I had feared that, being an amateur, his shaving skills might not be up to par with professional barbers… I had seen people on the street with quite a few cuts on their heads, and these were from real barbers. Some of them looked like they just came out of a WWF match. I suppose the barbers were trying to do things quickly due to the sheer number of heads they needed to shave.
Well luckily, my amateur-barber-friend was quite good, and was able to shave my head really well with essentially no cuts!
In the meantime, Maryam also had her hair cut by a woman nearby.
After I got my hair cut, quite a few people started coming up to my amateur-barber-friend to ask to get their head shaved, but he kept on having to refuse.
Total time it took me to shave my head? 10 minutes! And no waiting in line! I was very happy 🙂
We went back to the hotel, and I took a shower… finally, after 3 days!!! It was so refreshing.
The rest of the day was spend with the usual prayers at the Haram. At 10 p.m., we decided to retire. Although many of our group members went to spend the night in Mina, we stayed in Makkah as we understood that for our school of thought in Islam, it was not required to do so.
I woke up to the sounds of people milling about, packing, getting ready to leave for Mina. It’s about 4:30 a.m., and I can’t even remember how much sleep I got… it could not have been more than 3.5 hours. Strangely, as has been the case with many segments of the Hajj, I was astonishingly refreshed considering the lack of sleep.
In yesterday’s post, I forgot to include a short video of people sleeping here, so here it is:

I got up, and headed over to the bathrooms (again, thankfully, for number 1…). I waited, waited, and waited in line, and despite there being only about 10 to 15 people or so ahead of me in line, I was finally able to use the facilities after 45 minutes.
After Fajr prayer with the group, we all left Muzdalifah around 6:30 a.m. As written in a prior post, many of our group members had left the night before; our group bus was also no longer with us. Thus we began our travel by foot to Mina.
Similar to other areas one travels to during the Hajj, there are clear signs demarcating the beginning and end of each location; Muzdalifah ended here:
Hajj088
and Mina started here!
Hajj089
(see the top of the tents?)
We walked, and we walked, and we walked… along with hordes of other people, sliding in between buses and trucks; the air was filled with exhaust fume, we were so glad we brought our masks to wear… Here is Maryam:
Hajj090
and here is me:
Hajj092
Here is a video of our group walking towards Mina:

There are very helpful signs indicating where the tents are:
Hajj091
As we got closer and closer to the Jamarat area, one could see an endless sea of tents:
Hajj093
I think I have a panned video of the tents in a prior post as well.
There were also tents higher up in the mountains:
Hajj094
Some tents even had escalators!!!
Hajj095
After about 1.5 to 2 hours, we finally made it to our tent (which was basically at the OPPOSITE end, closest to Makkah):
Hajj096
There was some breakfast left in the tent, so I ate a little, and we decided to head over to the Jamarat after resting in the tent.
As we walked over to the Jamarat complex (which incidentally looks like a humongous parking deck), I encountered these rays of light (called Crepuscular Rays), also known as “God Rays.” I sung a choral “Aaaaaaah” in my head for dramatic effect 🙂
Hajj097
Here is one section of the Jamarat complex:
Hajj098
Inside, there are escalators to head up to the upper levels; we were able to go to the fourth floor.
Hajj099
As you exit the elevator, you have a walk a short distance to where the pillars are. Here is a photo showing the pillar from near the elevators… still not too close:
Hajj100
The “pillar” is the gray structure traversing the many floor and partially visible above the roof, in the middle of the picture.
Hajj100
We walked towards the Pillars, and luckily it was not crowded at all. Here is a picture of the largest pillar (Jamarat al Aqabah), which is the farthest of the three pillars and the only one to stone today:
Hajj101
Here, I waxed philosophical for a second; was it just coincidence that the 3 pillars have become larger and larger over the years, or is it a reflection of the increased influence of the Shaytan in the world? I remember, back when I was around 10, I had the opportunity to come here with my family for Hajj, and at that time, the Jamarat complex was two stories high and the pillars were actually pillar shaped and much smaller.
In any case, as we got closer and closer to the pillar to stone today, I started becoming more and more excited, more than I would have expected. I got close to the pillar, and threw my stones; I felt an odd sense of child-like excitement and jubilation upon throwing my seven stones.
Here, people throwing the stones:

A great improvement the Saudis have made is to have a one-way design so people start from the same end and finish at the same end. When it gets crowded, it’s still unpleasant, however much better than people going in all directions.
After we stoned the devil, we headed to the exit. We found a local to taxi us to the Haram for 20SR each. The road was very crowded, and it took us about 2 hours to get close to the hotel. We did make it in time for Juma prayers at the Haram; there was still plenty of space on the third floor. Looking down, the Tawaf area was very crowded as expected. After prayers, I and the hordes of Hajjis went looking for a barber to shave our heads. As part of the Hajj, an animal sacrifice was also required before shaving the head; this was arranged by our group, and we had purchased tickets to have the slaughtering performed on our behalf.
I attempted to go to the “Barber Row” adjacent to the Marwa side of the Haram, but there was too much of a crowd outside, that I could not make it there. Maryam and I went back to the hotel, to see if the barbers there would be available, but all the barbers in and near the hotel had very long lines.
While walking around looking for a barber, we saw some people on the side of the street shaving heads; we thought they might be barbers, so approached them. They turned out to be a group of Pakistani friends who had come to perform the Hajj together; the guy shaving actually was a cook! He was very nice, and said if we brought a razor, he would shave my head. We then went to the 2 Riyal store around the corner:
Hajj111
We got the razor, and proceeded with my head shave!
I had feared that, being an amateur, his shaving skills might not be up to par with professional barbers… I had seen people on the street with quite a few cuts on their heads, and these were from real barbers. Some of them looked like they just came out of a WWF match. I suppose the barbers were trying to do things quickly due to the sheer number of heads they needed to shave.
Well luckily, my amateur-barber-friend was quite good, and was able to shave my head really well with essentially no cuts!
In the meantime, Maryam also had her hair cut by a woman nearby.
After I got my hair cut, quite a few people started coming up to my amateur-barber-friend to ask to get their head shaved, but he kept on having to refuse.
Total time it took me to shave my head? 10 minutes! And no waiting in line! I was very happy 🙂
We went back to the hotel, and I took a shower… finally, after 3 days!!! It was so refreshing.
The rest of the day was spend with the usual prayers at the Haram. At 10 p.m., we decided to retire. Although many of our group members went to spend the night in Mina, we stayed in Makkah as we understood that for our school of thought in Islam, it was not required to do so.

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Hajj – 9th Dhul Hajj: Arafat and Muzdalifah

November 27, 2009

4:15 a.m. I woke up more refreshed than I thought I would be, given I slept through the night mostly in 3 hour increments, waking up intermittently from people snoring, talking, praying, and the sounds of people and buses outside the tent.

I went to the bathroom (for #1; hooray for Pepto-Bismol!) and waited in line for about 15 minutes. Apparently some people had to wait for more than 1 hour! Some advice: if you have to go for #2, be prepared. Bring disposable toilet covers, tissue paper, and unscented soap!

Other random advice I just thought I’d add here. In the tent, try to get a place as far away from the entrance as possible to avoid people bumping into to you on the way out. Try to get a flat place if you don’t have a bed or cushions available. Bring a Quran and a book of duas.

Back in the tent, I had a small breakfast of a cheese danish and orange juice. After Fajr, we all got on the bus to leave towards Arafat. I took a quick picture of our tent area:

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See the blue tents up on the mountain? Those guys are hard core.

Here is a video of one area of the “Tent City”; I took this later but thought I’d show it here):

We left around 6:15 am or so. There are tons of buses. It’s basically stop and go traffic. On the way, you see people piled up onto the vehicles:

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I chuckled when I saw people traveling in a yellow schoolbus with the roof removed:

At 8:00 a.m., we reached the tents of Arafat. Upon entering Arafat, there is a sign – Arafat starts here:

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In contrast to the tents in Mina, where one large mega-tent had many smaller section in it, here the tents were side by side but not part of a larger structure. Our tent had a tree right smack dab in the middle of it:

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The carpets on the floor were still damp from the recent rain, but we again had the same cushions to sit on as we had in Mina.

We received a snack box with breads, jam, honey, apple, cookies, cheese, milk, and juice:

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After eating, I headed up to a nearby hill, close to another hill famous in Arafat called the Jabal ar-Rahmah where the Prophet delivered his Farewell Sermon.

Here is a photo of the Jabal ar-Rahmah, with tons of worshippers on it:

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Here is a panned video:

There were some camels on the hill, presumable to aid those that might have a difficult time climbing the mountain:

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I made as many duas as I could, until it started getting a little too hot for me. I then went to continue my duas in the tent. On the way down, I saw across the hill, the Dar-el-Salaam tents. I’m assuming they were the VIP tents, cause they had these patio tables outside with umbrellas! I was half expecting a swimming pool there or something too!

Here is a photo of their tents:

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See the area to the right of the photo? A closer view:

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Back in the tent, I made duas until prayer time. The experience here was quite different from the other aspects of Hajj, as there is no tangible object of focus here, for example the pillars when stoning the devils, or even the Kaaba. Here there was a feeling of a direct connection with the Creator.

After praying, 4 Imams from the Adams travel group gave khutbas in succession. It was very emotional, and a lot of people were crying during the khutbas, including myself. This, combined with the simplicity of Arafat, and being in the state of Ihram, was unbelievably cathartic. No wonder the Prophet said that “Hajj is Arafat.” We were all now pure, cleansed, ready to start with a clean slate.

Afterwards, lunch was served, which was a huge plate of rice with salsa. We all sat around in groups sharing the meal:

Hajj085

There weren’t enough plates to go around in the beginning, and some people were getting upset about this, but eventually everybody was able to eat. I ate just a little bit, then went outside again for duas.

Around 3:30 p.m. the Imams gathered everybody for duas outside, and we prayed for about 2 hours standing. It was all in Arabic, and some people were bawling. I wish I understood…

At 5:30 p.m., we were back on the bus to Muzdalifah, and we departed shortly afterwards.

At 8:00 p.m., after much stop and go traffic, we entered the area of Muzdalifah, where we were to spend the night under the open sky and also collect stones for the Jamarat. What usually apparently takes 40 minutes took us 2 hours. We planned to drive up to the end of Muzdalifah, so that we would be closer to Mina and the trip would be shorter tomorrow when we had to leave. At 10:00 p.m., we arrived at the destination.

Unfortunately, it seems as though many people had the same idea as our group to stay at the edge of Mudzalifah closest to Mina, so this area was extremely crowded. There were people sprawled everywhere. I thought Woodstock must have been like this…

We walked around to look for a decent spot:

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Eventually, we found a place not as crowded to lay our blankets. Here is the Imam with some other of the group members sitting and chatting:

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We prayed Maghrib and Isha at around midnight. I tried to sit down and rest a little, but soon afterwards, our group started debating whether to stay or leave due to what some thought were unideal conditions for the women. Apparently, the women are excused from staying after midnight, and if they are married, their husbands are allowed to accompany them and thus are also excused. The intricacies of the rules depend on the particular school of thought in Islam that one follows.

Collectively, the group decided that it was better to leave. There really wasn’t much time for discussion unfortunately, as the Saudi officials were moving the buses and trucks away; our own bus was already quite far from where it had parked. Some of the group members started walking, and we had to make our own decision…. We decided to stay.

We felt a little abandoned, as now we essentially had to walk to Mina tomorrow morning instead of taking the bus…

I searched for pea sized stones and collected them into a ziploc bag, making sure I had well in excess of the number needed for the Jamarat for the next few days.

And then I went to sleep under the open skies.

Hajj – 8th Dhul Hajj: to Mina

November 26, 2009

Continuing from yesterday’s post…

We decided to squeeze in an additional Umrah before our departure to Mina in the morning. We got ready, and left the hotel at 12:30 a.m, to an underground tunnel where a makeshift taxi area was. We stopped a taxi and asked how much it would be to go to the Meeqat – 200 Riyal! I had heard that sometimes the Makkah locals provide “taxi” service to supplement their income during Hajj season, so we tried to flag a random car, which actually stopped for us! He said he would charge 40 Riyal (which we initially thought was the total price but actually was for one way), which was much better than 200, so we hopped in, and prayed he wouldn’t kidnap us or something. Once en route, there were some crazy drivers, and our own driver likewise was driving like a manic. He was very wound up for some reason, maybe too much coffee? And at one point started frantically searching for something with his right hand while driving; turned out to be a tasbih (prayer beads), which once he got his hands on, started using to pray at lightning speed.

We eventually arrived at the Meeqat, prayed, and promptly went back to the cab, then rushed back to the Haram. They had blocked off a road near the end, so he dropped us off as near as possible. We walked for about 15 minutes, and got to the Haram, starting our Umrah around 2:00 a.m. It was more crowded than during our earlier Tawaf, despite the time. Still, we tried to go more towards the Kaaba, and were able to do so to an extent. We did see the Maqam-e-Ibrahim, where the footprints of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) are. After the Tawaf, we drank zamzam, then completed the sa’ee. I then got my haircut. By the time we were finished, it was around 4:15 a.m.! We went back to the hotel room to freshen up, then promptly back to the Haram for Tahajjud and then Fajr. I am ACHING!

Just before Fajr I was able to take a photo from the third floor of the Haram:

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Turning around, you can see how close our hotel is to the Haram complex; it’s the building to the left. The people facing left in the photo are doing the Tawaf:

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After Fajr, we stayed through sunrise until Ashraaq. This was a good opportunity to take more photos 🙂

The sunrise was absolutely amazing, I felt as though I was in a movie. The sky turned from deep purple, to brilliant orange, then a crystal sky blue.

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The above I think are my favorite photos from the Hajj!

I also took a couple pictures inside:

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There seem to be different styles within the Haram depending on when the structure was built.

We then went back to the hotel, around 7 or 7:30 a.m, and I had to take a short nap.

At around 11:00, I got up, quickly got ready, and put on the Ihram for our departure to Mina. My stomach was getting upset… bad timing, as I heard the bathrooms in Mina and Arafat are best to be avoided. I took some Pepto-Bismol, and hoped for the best. After Zuhr prayer in the room, we went to the lobby to meet the rest of the crew. Here are the guys:

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After 2 nafls, we boarded the bus; it was now around 2:00 p.m. Raining outside…

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We left shortly afterwards, with a special treat of the Imam reciting a dua:

I ❤ Imam Nasr! Here he is (forgot to get rid of the red eye, sorry Imam):

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We reached Mina around 2:30 p.m. The Jamarat complex for stoning of the devils was on the right side, and our tent was to our left, immediately after a long tunnel where people were also walking.

We got to the tent, and proceeded to our section. Basically, one large tent contains many different sections with groupings of about 20 or 30 people. Here is the entrance to our section:

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Once in the tent, we each took a spot and organized our bed/chair/cushion thing. We also got one blanket, one sheet and one pillow. Thank goodness for the cushions, because the floor was wet from the rain, not to mention really bumpy regardless.

Here is my bed, the one in the tan with the black blanket:

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A short movie clip of the tent:

After some prayers, I took some more precautionary Pepto-Bismol after Maryam came to inform me that the bathrooms here were not as clean as one hoped.

The Imam then started a Quran recitation circle, then lead us in making some duas. This was followed by Maghrib prayers, then time for dinner!

There was only one table set up for the main dishes, and another table for the sides/salads, which didn’t seem to be enough for so many people. After a little while though, everybody was able to get some food. Here is a pic of the sides/salads:

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I decided to not eat too much, as had been recommended in many references I read before the trip. I got a plate with some rice, olives, and one skewer each of Chicken and Beef kabobs:

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They had some nice lights set up in the tent at night:

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Oh I didn’t even notice the hand in the bottom right corner until now…

After dinner the Imam lectured and led a discussion about the Quran:

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Afterwards, we prayed Isha and then after listening to the Imam discussing tomorrow’s plans, went to bed around 8:40 p.m.

Tomorrow, we leave for Arafat!

Hajj – 7th Dhul Hajj: Arrival in Makkah

November 25, 2009

1:30 a.m. We are on the bus to Makkah; I slept for about 45 minutes after our stop last night. We were now apparently near the border of Makkah. We started to recite the Talbiyah:

Around 2:00 to 2:30, we arrived at a Hajj Ministry office where we got our wristband to identify which group we belonged with, mainly for the sake of figuring out the tent assignments in Mina. The odd thing about these offices are that they are not in any kind of logical order. We needed to find office #72, eventually found it, and the majority of us got our wristbands there. But apparently there were some people who didn’t get their wristbands, and for some reason they needed to get #42, so now we had to find #42 office. We drove around, back and forth, looking for office #42. There was #58, #32, #41, #31… no #42. (here is a sample of the sign of the offices):

Hajj046

After a little while the driver finally found the office, and we were off to the hotel.

As we arrived around the corner to the hotel, we saw swarms of people walking towards the Masjid al Haram. It’s about 3:00 in the morning! In the video below, you can see the Masjid al Haram in front of everyone:

So close!

The initial plan was to do Tawaf as soon as we got here, but the assumption was that we would be here a little earlier. We checked into the hotel, and decided that we would all pray Fajr together, then go to the Masjid as a group afterwards.

We debated whether to go to the Haram for Fajr, but when we looked outside, there were people on the street, far far beyond the borders of the Haram. So we prayed in the masjid in the hotel, which was a room on the 5th floor. Apparently there is a view of the Haram and Ka’aba from the front of the masjid here! I stayed in the back, and tried not to look up too much. Why? Because viewing the Ka’aba in person for the first time is a powerful experience, and they recommend that one try to avoid looking at it until is in the Haram, with as good a view as possible.

After Fajr, we gathered outside the hotel masjid with the Imam, and headed over to the Haram for Tawaf.

We went down some steps, and down escalators, and lo and behold, were already at the boundary of the Haram courtyard! We started reciting Labbayk again, and walked together into the Haram. The emotions were filling me now, the excitement was palpable. The Imam instructed us to keep looking down as he led us through the entrance, and further and further inside the Haram. I tried my best not to sneak a peak. I was getting nervous.

The Imam stopped, and said we could look up. I did, and started crying. There was the Ka’a’ba, full view in front of me. I started making dua’s – they say the first dua after seeing the Ka’aba for the first time is always granted. (People usually make dua that all their duas are granted!) I made as many duas as I could, uncontrollably crying. I heard Maryam next to me crying as well. I cannot describe what a powerful moment that was. (The following photo is the same spot I just described, but the actual photo was taken at a later time):

Hajj062

The Imam was kind enough to give us plenty of time to soak it all in, and make our duas. We then went to do the Tawaf. Maryam and I initially started with the group, but because it was so crowded, we had a difficult time staying together with them, so separated.

One would think, that there are so many people, all needing to go in one direction, that despite occasional difficulties, there would be some sort of order. However, we saw that not infrequently, there were people going PERPENDICULAR to the flow (trying to get towards the Ka’aba or away from it in a straight line before or after the Tawaf), people going OPPOSITE the flow (for what reason, I have no idea), and people PRAYING IN THE MIDDLE. All of these caused “traffic jams” and more pushing and shoving than necessary.

Here is a diagram of the Kaaba and important landmarks, courtesy of wikipedia:

The Tawaf started at the corner of the black stone (#1 above). This corner is somewhat crowded due to people trying to get to the black stone in a straight line, and also because of people exiting as it is the end point of the Tawaf. There are also people trying to touch the door (#2), which is just past the Black Stone. Supposedly there is a line on the floor demarcating the stone so that one knows where to start and end the Tawaf, but I never saw it. Instead, Maryam and I always looked for a green light that is placed in front of the building opposite the Black Stone.

Before the next corner, slightly separated from the Kaaba itself, is a small display called the Maqam Ibrahim (#7), where there are footprints of the Prophet Ibrahim. This area gets quite crowded because of people trying to get to the Maqam and view the footprints. And there are always Saudi guards trying to push people away, shouting “Bida! Bida!!!!”

Then, at the corner, starts a semicircular wall called the Hateem, which end in the following corner. In the original design, this area was also supposed to be part of the Kaaba, so people have to walk around it as going throught it would mean that one is walking through the Kaaba, thus nullifying the Tawaf. Here, it gets SUPER crowded, the most of any area, simply because there is less space for people to walk through.

The last corner, the Rukn Yemeni, is also slightly crowded because of people trying to touch that corner, as the Prophet did when he performed his Tawaf. There is an area of this corner where the brick has become worn because of people rubbing their clothes and stuff onto it.

————–

Maryam and I finished our 7 rounds of the Tawaf, then prayed two nafls and went to drink Zamzam. The group had also finished, so we all went for the Sa’ee.
We made our seven rounds between Mount Safa and Mount Marwah, then after we finished, I got my hair trimmed. One Umrah done!

We then went back to the hotel, and had breakfast. Breakfast was delicious! Fresh pancakes, omelets, etc etc. Maybe it was so good because I was so tired… my feet were so sore (all the walking above was done barefoot on marble).

For the remainder of the day, we spent time resting in the hotel room, and praying at the Haram. We discovered that the third floor was much less crowded, and actually had a great view of the Kaaba. We also had the fortune of having a nice view of a portion of the Haram, so we could see how crowded it was:

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Notice, there are tons more people outside than inside. As best as I can tell, it’s because the people outside have traveled from far, and have more things with them including food and water that the guards at the Haram would not let in, so they stay and pray just outside.

Here is a picture from the hotel as well:

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Throughout the day, I also took some photos of the Haram:

King Faisal Gate:

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One of the entrances to the Haram:

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A view from the third floor of the Haram:

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Closeup. There are a lot of people!:

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Tomorrow, the plan was to leave for Mina. But before that, we decided to squeeze in another Umrah! Since this post has become so long, I’ll break here and continue it in tomorrow’s post.

Hajj – 6th Dhul Hajj: Medinah to Makkah (for real this time!)

November 24, 2009

4:00 a.m., and I am up again. I think I might have slept for about 2 hours, wondering when we were going to get the call for our departure to Makkah. But no news… There were rumors now that we could be leaving at 9:00 a.m. Unfortunately as it could take half the day to get there, we lost this one day of prayers in Makkah…

I went to the Masjid al Nabawi to pray. I smiled a little when I realize my wish of being able to return here had been granted; I just didn’t think it would be so soon haha. The masjid was not very crowded now, presumably because of a significant portion of the Hajj groups having already left for Makkah.

Back at the hotel, ate breakfast, then back to the room to rest. The latest news was that we would leave at 9:30 a.m.

Well 9:30 rolls around, and there is no bus. The Group Leader said the Saudi Government was controlling accessibility to the buses due to traffic to Makkah. Again, nothing to do but wait here. I am still in my Ihram… I noticed it was getting a little loose around the waist. I remembered I put it on after dinner, when my stomach was full. Thank goodness for the belt!

We ended up spending most of the day waiting at the hotel lobby, and when prayer time rolled around and the bus had still not arrived, went to the Masjid, and again came back to the lobby to wait. People were getting very angry. Two of the four groups started organized a small protest, and brought all their luggage down to the lobby. I didn’t know what they were going to do. Possibly, force their luggage onto the first bus that comes, regardless of whose bus it is? I don’t now.

Luckily, I didn’t have to find out. The bus finally arrived, before Maghrib. We started getting onto the bus, but before everybody was there, we heard the athan for Maghrib, so we went to the Masjid to pray. As I walked, I noticed that the bottom of my big toe was getting a little sticky; I looked down, and there was blood on my sandals! I quickly went to the wudu area, cleaned, wudu’d, and prayed. I didn’t know whether blood would void the Ihram, so I tried to run back to the bus where the Imam was, but for some reason the Ihram got tighter around my waist so I ended up shuffling like a Geisha. He said it was ok, that blood wouldn’t void the Ihram. So I prayed the Niyya (intention) of the Ihram, and now was fully in the state of Ihram. I put on a bandaid that someone on the bus gave me.

6:45 p.m. Finally the bus is moving, and we are on the way to Makkah! About 21 hours behind schedule! I mostly slept on the bus, feeling relieved that we were actually proceeding to the next step of the Hajj.

11:45 p.m. The Imam woke us up at a stop where a small masjid was, to pray Isha. I went to the bathroom for wudu. The bathrooms… were… filthy beyond belief… They were Eastern style, with so much mud and water on the floor. I just hoped there was nothing more than mud… One had to take extra care not to let the Ihram touch the ground. Even in the wudu area, there was quite a bit of mud on the ground. I thankfully succeeded in keeping my Ihram clean, and prayed in the masjid, then waited back on the bus. At around 12:45 a.m., we left again, and I soon fell asleep.

Hajj – 5th Dhul Hajj: Medinah to Makkah (or not)

November 23, 2009

4:00 a.m. Woke up to pray at the Masjid al Nabawi. Took some photos of the dawn in bewteen prayers. The purple sky was so beautiful this morning:

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After Fajr, we went to the Janntul Baqi (“Garden of Heaven”) cemetary, which is just next to the Masjid al Nabawi complex. Many of the Prophet’s relatives and companions are buried here. It seemed to be quite large, but we stayed near the entrance, prayed for the dead, and headed back out. Here is a photo of on of the ends of the Jannatul Baqi, with the Masjid al Nabawi behind it:

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The Masjid al Nabawi looked incredible bathed in soft purple light:

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We walked through the Masjid, back to the hotel, as the sky became lighter:

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After breakfast at the hotel, I took a 2 hour nap until 10:00 a.m., when the Imam was going to have a meeting/lecture on the rites of Hajj to make sure everybody was on the same page. The meeting took place on the 14th floor of the hotel, I didn’t realize what a beautiful view of the Masjid there was from here!

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The plan was to leave tonight for Makkah, after Maghrib!

Spent the rest of the afternoon going back and forth between the hotel and Masjid al Nabawi for prayers. I attempted to go to the Rawdah again, and succeeded; this time I made my way to the Pillar of Aisha, which is of special importance (a great short reference on the Rawdah and some of its important points here).

After Asr, we packed, and I got ready for the Ihram. One first cleanses the body, then puts on two simple white, seamless cloths. One however is not fully in the “state” of Ihram until an intention is recited; we were going to do this latter part as a group.

Putting on the Ihram is tricky business in itself! The important point is to make sure the bottom garment is loose enough so you can walk, but not too loose (for reasons of modesty. One way to do it is to wrap the cloth around and around the waist. The advantage of this is that things that need to be hidden are well hidden. The disadvantage is that it can get difficult to walk unless you really wrap it loosely. One can use a belt, which comes in very handy. The second way to do it is to wrap it saree style, where you wrap it once around and then go back and forth in the front. The advantage here is that it is much easier to walk, but the disadvantage is, as I observed later, you are at MUCH higher risk of exposing yourself!

I decided to go the multi-wrap route. You have to spread your legs REALLY REALLY wide, like a sumo wrestler in preparation, while wrapping the Ihram. It’s better to keep it slightly loose even at the waist, because when you fold this part over the belt, it will tighten.

I had to redo it a few times to get the correct “tightness,” but eventually when I figured it out, I had a relatively easy time walking and had no issues with feeling secure.

Here I am in the Ihram:

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It’s very comfortable, and one does feel quite pure when in the Ihram. The purity of a newborn baby, also always wrapped in a simple cloth. And in the other end of the spectrum, it is the same simple cloth wrapped around the deceased.

There were some issues with our deoparture to Makkah (passports not cleared? buses not available? nobody was sure…) so I ended up praying Isha at the masjid after dinner – our last prayer here. I made a duah that we would have the opportunity to come back here again.

We waited.

And we waited.

And we waited.

But no sign of us going to leave. I tried to rest a little, but I couldn’t sleep, thinking they could call us at Any Time.

Turned out, we would not be going to Makkah tonight…

Hajj – 4rd Dhul Hajj, including Ziyarah

November 22, 2009

2:30 a.m. Woke up to try to pray again at the Rawdah. Still a lot of people! A nice young fellow gave me his spot after he prayed, so I prayed and made duahs and then gave way for others.

There is a very interesting situation here, due to the fact that it is so difficult to get into, yet the rewards of praying here and supplicating here are great. Does one hold his fort despite the throngs of people wanting to come in and pray? Or, in the other extreme, does one offer to let others in before oneself, to be truly selfless, a virtue in Islam? From hearsay, the Prophet (PBUH) once discussed that competition in religious matters is a good thing, however it should be done in a way that does not harm others.

Well at the end of the day, each individual has his own idea of what is right and wrong in this situation. I decided that I would definitely make a big effort to pray here, however would also make it efficient and short so others could benefit from it.

So, I prayed 2 nafls, made some duahs, and gave my spot to another fellow Hajji.

I stayed in the Masjid for the subsequent prayers, and read the Quran in between. There were many people coughing!

As the sun was rising, I took a few more photos:

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And a photo of the inside:

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Following this, it was back to the hotel for breakfast, then to rest a little. Today, we were going to visit holy sites in Medinah (otherwise known as Ziyarah) with the tour group. We all met at the bus at 1:10 p.m, and finally left just before 2:00 p.m.

The first stop was the Masjid al Quba. This is the first Masjid ever built in Saudi Arabia, and according to the Imam, the place where the first loud prayer was recited by the Prophet (PBUH). Apparently, there is a reward of one Umrah if one prays here after making wudu at home, which thankfully we all did as the Imam had asked us to do. The Masjid al Quba:

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Me (on the right), Imam Khalid Nasr (middle), and a fellow Adam 4B member (on the left) in from the Masjid:

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Next stop was the mountain of Uhud, where the Battle of Uhud took place in 625 AD between the Muslims and the Meccans. A reading of the battle (you can follow the preceding link to wikipedia) is highly recommended!

There is a long mountain to the front, a smaller one to the right where people were climbing, and a cemetary to the left. Here is a panorama of Mount Uhud (this picture is hosted here and not on flickr, so if you click on the photo you can see the whole picture):

The following are on flickr:

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The next stop was the Masjid al Qiblatain, where we prayed Asr. This is the “Mosque of two Qiblahs,” denoting one Qiblah being Jerusalem, and the other being the Kaa’ba. The Prophet (PBUH) was instructed in the middle of a prayer to change the direction from Jerusalem to Makkah. A short description on wikipedia here.

Masjid al Qiblatain:

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Next, we debated whether to go do the Friday Mosque or to a famous date factory (the fruit!) in Medinah. While we were debating on the bus, taking votes and such, the bus driver had already brought us to the date factory…

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The imam told us we had very limited time if we wanted to visit the Friday Mosque as well, and told us to get back on the bus by 4:18 p.m. (I think he gave us 15 minutes). So we quickly went inside and sampled some dates:

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We didn’t have enough time to decide what to purchase… M and I went back onto the bus as instructed by 4:18 p.m. The majority of the group however had not arrived, and by the time everyone was on the bus, it was 4:35, and there was not enough time to go to the Friday Mosque. Oh well…

We headed back to the hotel, then prayed Maghrib and Isha at the Masjid al Nabawi.

Here, heading for the Maghrib prayers:

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M and I then went out to the market; there was a huge tent with vendors, mostly of dates, nearby, so we bought some dates here:

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Then, back to the hotel for dinner, then back to the room – it’s almost 9:30 p.m. and I’ve been awake since 2:30 a.m.!!! Off to sleep…