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Hajj Journal, Chapter 3: Madinah

This is a continuation of Hajj journal, chapter 1 and chapter 2.

Madinah was a place of firsts for us and provided clues to the trip to come. We got off the plane like tourists, giddy and exhausted. The giddiness dissipated as we stood in line to be processed by a series of clerks who were the first in the long line of alternately aggressive and apathetic bureaucratic employees we would encounter during our hajj journey. The chaos of getting onto a bus and checking in to the hotel was the first of many moments of chaos we would encounter. We got settled in our hotel room and immediately set off with two friends from Houston for the masjid an Nabawi.

Being in the masjid an Nabawi and visiting nearby mosques of historical significance would give us the first taste of the terrible pushing crowds we would experience. In that way it was beneficial to go to Madinah first – it prepared us as best we could be for the crowds to come in Mecca. My husband and friends made plans to get up after a few hours of sleep to pray tahajjud at the mosque, but I was tired and disoriented and opted for sleep instead.

December 31, 2005, ~3:15 a.m. Room 317, Hilton Madinah. I’ve been up for about an hour or so, taking my time and having a nice hot shower. Husband left to see the Rawdah ~1:30 a.m. but I thought I wanted to sleep more – as it turned out I wasn’t as tired as I thought, and got up shortly thereafter. The plan is for my friend and I to go to fajr together at the masjid an Nabawi and stay to see the Rawdah. After that we’ll meet our husbands back at the hotel and go on the tour of historic sites and such. Unfortunately the plan isn’t 100% clear to me, though, as far as what time my friend and I are meeting, and I will likely end up walking over to fajr alone. I’m kind of nervous about doing things alone.

So I’m looking out the window right now watching people steadily walking towards the Prophet’s masjid. Madinah is like a party town in total reverse – people are out at all hours of the night to pray, not to party.

I was totally jonesing for some coffee, even though I’m down to one cup in the morning and really do well without it. I was simply dreaming of sitting down with a hot cup of black bitter coffee when I started writing. I ordered a small Arabic coffee from room service and ended up with a carafe full of tea-colored cardamom-flavored hot beverage, which I’m hoping has caffeine in it…

I see so many people heading towards the masjid that I keep thinking it will run out of space – but then I remember it can hold a million people within the building and surrounding grounds. It’s enormous! And gorgeous. Subhanallah! Off I go.

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  • Hajj Journal, Chapter 2: Leaving

    This is a continuation of Hajj journal, chapter 1. The first leg of our trip took us from New York to Madinah. Once we got to the airport I continued to muse on the things for which I would ask God’s forgiveness. In a lecture I had listened to in preparation for hajj, the sheikh described the day of Arafat as the most important day of a Muslim’s life. I recalled the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) words about the day of Arafat:

    There is no day on which Allah frees more of His slaves from Fire than the Day of Arafat, and He verily draws near, then boasts of them before the angels, saying: “What do they seek?”

    December 29, 2005, ~9:15 p.m. At JFK. Feeling really good now after a brief bout of “eye ache” [pain in my eyes that’s often a precursor to a migraine]. I drank a tall Starbuck’s Americano and now I feel much more energized. I also got myself up and chatting, which helped. Talking to a friend, I found out her story is much like mine, although she’s a born Muslim from the middle east. She didn’t practice her deen for many years; about four years ago she returned to being a practicing Muslim, although her family hasn’t necessarily followed suit. Like me, she will be making du’a on Arafat for her closest family.

    This afternoon on the way home from lunch Daughter kind of laughingly made reference to stupid terrible things I did as a mother and it made me cry. On Arafat I will have so much to beg forgiveness for as a mother. I apologized to her and told her my “bad mother moments” are top on the list of things I will ask to be forgiven for. I still can’t imagine what that day in Arafat is going to be like. There are so many things I’ve done wrong that have kind of hidden or festered somewhere inside me because of my inability to manage my feelings about them. I can only imagine what it will feel like to confront my guilt, acknowledge it, feel it as really part of my life and part of me and then beg for pardon.

    …~Midnight, I think. Aboard Saudi Air flight 34 headed to Madinah. The flight was scheduled to leave at 9 and just now left, but it was a delay I was prepared for, as we’ve been told again and again to anticipate delays and that patience will be essential to successfully navigate and finish this trip and the hajj. The plane has TV screens that during taxiing transmit the picture from a camera mounted outside the plane. When at long last the plane came to the takeoff strip and began speeding over the white arrows pointing out, out, out, I felt that now I am a pilgrim; now the pilgrimage has begun.

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  • Hajj Journal, Part 1: Prelude

    My husband and I went on hajj two years ago, alhamdulillah, and I kept a journal of my experiences. I’m sharing it here, and will do so over a series of posts. I’ve made minor editing changes and have left out people’s names. Although I’ve taken out some of the more private details, this is a very personal journal and I hope it will serve to personalize the centuries-old journey that is hajj.

    We started our trip – which lasted almost three weeks – by visiting my family in New Jersey. Our itinerary would take us from New York to Madinah, where we would stay for two days before going on to Mecca.

    December 25, 2005, ~11:45 a.m. (eastern time). On the plane from Houston to Newark. I’ve been trying to decide if I’m a pilgrim as of today, in a broad sense, that is. Although I’m not yet headed toward Madinah, today is the first day of a journey that will ultimately make a hajji of me, insha Allah. On the other hand, though, it’s Christmas and we’re on our way to visit my family for a few days. It’s hard to get my head around one or the other or both trips. I feel disoriented. I’m still really nervous about hajj and feel like I’ll be in a fog the whole time in NJ. I do want to stay focused on hajj and preparing myself for it.

    So strange – melange of the many “ME’s” I’ve been – kid, high school, wife, mother, single girl, Muslim, then much more Muslim. When I broke away from my old life, I didn’t go in the direction I planned. This is the alternative, one that is, of course, quite superior. I’m almost – well, just about – to the point of not regretting my choices of the last few years, and maybe somehow this trip is the thing that will seal my acceptance of the life I chose and the life Allah guided me to.

    I never actually thought about that before – that if I do hajj seriously and I do it well none of the other stuff I’ve prioritized or valued will seem so important. Hajj – pilgrimage – should make me feel like I’m truly a Muslim first and everything else secondarily, and in support of, my deen. I imagine that when I see the kaaba and when I see Arafat, places of such ancient history, I will feel so rooted in the beliefs Allah has given us since the days of Adam that nothing else will truly matter. If I can open my heart wide enough and absorb the experience enough I can feel content and satisfied. I look out the plane window and see the clouds. I’m traveling in a beautiful place above everything else, a place whose essence is much purer and simpler than life below. When I descend I hope I will be purer and simpler too.

    December 27, 2005, ~ 6 p.m. At my parents’ house. I’m a little weary. We went into the city [New York] today – me, husband, Dad, daughter, sister and niece – and went to the MOMA, walked around Rockefeller Center (which was crazy crowded) and had lunch at a restaurant on 48th Street and 5th Avenue. It was so crowded we didn’t get to do much more. I feel bad for niece because she really wanted to go to the American Girl store (whatever that is; I think it’s a kind of doll) but the line was ridiculous.

    December 28, 2005, ~10:30 p.m. Last night at my parents’ house. Tomorrow is Dad’s birthday and we’re going out for brunch at 11:30. Then the limo comes for us at 2 p.m. It all seems unreal. I finally got shoes for the trip that I’m happy with. I’ve been way overeating. Tomorrow will be a day to move on. I am nervous.

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  • Hajj Reflections: 2007

    My heart yearns for Makkah. I want more…

    This year Allah swt blessed me and my parents with the humbling opportunity to make our hajj, and what an experience it was.

    Words cannot fully describe the way I felt about my trip, what it’s like being there, what I saw, but if I had to choose a word, it would be “magnanimous”. Everything about it was magnanimous, in a way that could only be created by God. If anyone had any doubts before, they fell over backwards the minute they step foot into Makkah.

    Alhumdulilah, our flight there, Jeddah airport, luggage, all that went smoothly. All along, I had been mentally preparing myself for all the horror stories other people had told me about. We arrived safely at Jeddah, and while getting our luggage, one of the sisters tripped over a pole and fell down, landing on her outstretched arm. I scrambled to remember anything I had learned from my rotations, trying to help. But alas she had broken her arm. Her arm was casted and alhumdulilah, she remained in good spirits then and throughout the trip.

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  • From a Travel Agency Prespective

    Asalamu Aleekoum To All

    As a person who works with a travel agency that provides a Hajj package, and has been a Hajj guide, I would like to clarify a few things.

    First of all in regards to peoples complaints about why people in the office are not responsive to their clients is because until the last two weeks before travel we are still coordinating with the Saudi Government to organize our trip. Just as you are waiting for us we are waiting for Saudi Government to be responsive. We here in the US are use to one system and expect to have everything we want on time. Although that is a good quality you must understand we are dealing with people who run on their own time and since they have control over everything and they are trying to organize over 2 million Hajjies all over the world we must be PATIENT and CONSIDERATE! You know once a person decides that they are going to Hajj their Hajj journey beings at that time. You must be in Hajj mode until you complete it, and try to remain in it after Hajj.

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  • Freezing in Muzdalifa

    If there was one moment that stood out from Hajj, it was the night I spent freezing in the valley of Muzdalifa. We obviously weren’t prepared, but my family and I didn’t know what to expect. We were told to only bring a few blankets. Our bus reached Muzdalifa and I looked out the window to see hundreds of people lying on the bare floor. It took our bus several minutes to weave through the valley and reach our campsite, and once we got off, I was shocked. This is where we would be spending the night? All I saw was dirt with some grass on it!

    My family started walking through the sleeping pilgrims to reach the bottom of a large hill. We laid our blankets and I pulled a rock closer to me as a pillow. I looked around for miles and all I could see were pilgrims. Some had sleeping bags, normal blankets, and pillows (which I envied), but others only had themselves and huddled together. I knew sleeping under the stars was going to take on a whole different meaning. There was absolutely nothing between me and the sky.

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  • Days before my Hajj journey in 1996, I was warned about the dangers of the Stone Throwing, Rami Al-Jaamarat ritual. Told that it would be the most arduous and life-threatening experience of the rituals performed, I really hadn’t the faintest clue of what to expect. I was advised to pay off all of my debts and say goodbye to everyone, asking forgiveness from anyone whom I might have wronged in life. In a strange way it was a subtle reminder of death, of the possibility that I was giving my final goodbyes. I was on my way to be cleansed, or so I hoped that Allah the Almighty would accept my attempt. I was blessed to have an opportunity to make the pilgrimage and was pleased with an amazing trip! The House of Allah was an amazing Beauty. The cubic structure was much more massive than I expected and the pilgrims circumambulated around it while the structure stood absolutely still. It was a contrast that gave me a feeling of its greatness. Following instructions and going through the rites of circumambulation tawaf and sa’i were refreshing and though the area was densely populated, I felt a sort of ease and spiritual comfort getting through them.

    Jamarat at Mina - Hajj 2006

    Recently, the system for pebble throwing has become very organized, however, during the time I visited Makkah for Hajj, it was very dangerous. Many who entered the stone throwing area were never to return home. Over time, the pebble-throwing rite had gained the worst reputation. Out of fear, people hastily entered and attempted to complete the throwing of the stones, fearing for their lives. It was very cluttered and many visitors to the Holy area were not aware of how to keep themselves safe as well as others.

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  • A local Muslim makes a pilgrimage from Iowa to Mecca

    As someone born and raised in Iowa as a Muslim but who had never been to the Muslim world, I visited Mecca for the first time in August and September. I went to study with the scholars and, more importantly, to perform the minor pilgrimage in Islam known as “umrah.” The umrah is like the Hajj — the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and one of the five pillars of Islam — but is shorter in rites duration and can be done any time of the year.

    For Muslims, Mecca is the most revered and holy city in the world. The city is mentioned in the Bible as “Becca.” It is the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad (d. 632 C.E.), peace be upon him, who Muslims believe was the last messenger of God for all time and humanity. Muslims do not believe the message he came with was new but was the same basic message revealed to previous prophets such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Moses and Jesus, son of Mary, may peace be upon them all. The basic message being that there is nothing worthy of worship except God alone, without partners or associates.

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