This is the final installment in the #Hajj2015 Recap series. You can check out the previous installments here:
What It's Really Like
Here's the funny thing about hajj. Everyone who has been there before talks nonstop about Madinah and Makkah. No one really tells you about your days in Mina, even though these are the actual days of hajj.
While I was there I took copious notes about my experiences. Things like getting stuck on the bus for 8 hours and having to make tayammum and pray 'Asr. Things like waking up bleary eyed and making a 15 minute walk down a tunnel with fans blaring and people speeding through dangerously on motorcycles while texting. After getting back though I realized why no one emphasizes those things. Everyone has a hundred stories just like it or even crazier.
And that's the thing - going through stuff and having your patience tested is the name of the game at hajj. If it's not one thing, it will be another. To focus on that almost seems to serve as a discouragement or even complaining about what you went through.
A different way of looking at it is this. Imagine the stories you'll tell when you get back. It is inevitable. Everyone will ask how it was and what you experienced. When you encounter difficulty, frame yourself as a character in the narrative. What does this character do when things get crazy and how does he/she react?
This is not to discount the difficulty. Hajj is definitely tough. But here's the thing. Once you're done, the reward insha'Allah is forgiveness for all your sins and entrance into Paradise. From that perspective, it almost seems too good to be true. Put up with whatever comes your way patiently for a couple of days, and your entire lifetime's worth of bad deeds gets wiped away?
The pilgrimage takes place during the prescribed months. There should be no indecent speech, misbehaviour, or quarrelling for anyone undertaking the pilgrimage—whatever good you do, God is well aware of it. Provide well for yourselves: the best provision is to be mindful of God—always be mindful of Me, you who have understanding— [M.A.S. Haleem Translation].
It's that simple. Just don't fight with anyone or misbehave. Unfortunately, you will see people lose their hajj over the craziest things. I didn't think you would see people lose it over hajj amenities, but then I witnessed someone flip their lid about not having accommodations at Arafat that were VIP enough. It happens. Go in with a mindset of bearing whatever comes your way for a few days. The reward for doing so is immense.
One of our group leaders gave us salient advice. Do what you need to do, and it get it done without harming anyone.
Arafat is one of those things that no one really tells you about how it will actually be. In my mind I envisioned everyone being out on a mountain from Dhuhr until Maghrib in their Ihrams. People would be standing and making dua all day fighting the heat. Snacks and water would be whatever you kept on yourself, and your goal was to avoid having to use the bathroom - which I imagined was just a line of Port-a-Potties like at a fair (alhamdulillah, we had real bathrooms). I was expecting this otherworldly spiritual experience where everyone would be teary-eyed crying in dua all day.
Here's how Arafat actually went (at least for us). Get there after fajr and settle into a huge air conditioned tent with rugs spread everywhere. Every couple of feet was a small cushion to denote that this was a place for someone to sit or lie down. We came in,grabbed our spots, and went to sleep. We woke up for Dhuhr, listened to a khutbah in our tent, and then we were on our own.
The most shocking thing for me was that the vast majority of people went back to sleep. Some people were socializing. There was a catered lunch. But for the most part everyone sat quietly in their spot either sleeping or in their personal worship. As it got closer to Maghrib people began going outside and standing to make dua, and that was it.
Everyone's experience, logistics, and so on will be different. I'm pointing this out because there are many times in hajj where you expect things to be a certain way, and they are totally not that way. It's not inherently good or bad either way - it is just understanding that every experience is different. The important thing is to adapt to your circumstances and make the most out of all situations.
One reason you find people in the tents instead of outside is because of this:
Before coming on Hajj, one of the best pieces of advice I received was to invest tons of time into a dua list. Most people want to focus on learning the rites of hajj and the fiqh rulings and so on. It is great to learn that. The reality is, once you are there you follow the lead of your hajj group. You may have a certain fiqh opinion on something that you learned in a seminar, but when "stuff happens" you'll need to trust the scholars there.
Invest your time in the dua list. This is advice I got from Farhan Abdul-Azeez in his class Sweetness of Hajj. If you're going on hajj and you have no idea what to do to prepare, just take that class (it is free and online). It will cover everything you need to know. Another friend of mine gave me some more hard-hitting advice. Hajj, as we know from the hadith, is Arafat. This stretch of time that you are there making dua is the core essence of hajj. He said take the amount of money you're spending - let's assume its $10k. Split that up over the few hours you have from Dhuhr to Maghrib (about 5-6). Now divide the cost by those hours. He said to think of it as if your entire hajj journey boils down to paying $2,000/hour for Arafat. This is time you do not want to waste.
I would recommend you get a dua book, or print out duas from the Quran and Sunnah to keep with you. Aside from that, take out time (at least 2 weeks before hajj) and start jotting down duas that are important to you. Everything you can think of for yourself, your family, your friends, the ummah in general, and so on. And try to use the formula given in the ayah, "Our Lord, give us in this world [that which is] good and in the Hereafter [that which is] good and protect us from the punishment of the Fire (2:201)," - one-third for dunya, two-thirds for akhirah.
The more time you give to making your dua list, the more things you will think of, and the more that requests will flow in. As people find out you are going, they will automatically start making dua requests. Treat these as an amanah (trust). Do your best to make each requested dua as heartfelt as you can with full confidence that insha'Allah it will be answered - and the angels will supplicate the same for you as well.
It cannot be emphasized how serious dua is on this journey. It really hit me as we were leaving Madinah for Makkah and performing 'Umrah. I was waiting for the elevator in ihram when a random brother came up to me and asked me to make dua for him. He specified since I was in ihram and about to go perform umrah to please make dua for him because he was having health issues and wanted to be well enough to perform his own umrah in a couple of days.
The Real Problem With Hajj
One of my friends who has been helping out with hajj groups for the past few years told me that if you boil it down to it's core essence, this is the problem most people have when it comes to performing hajj:
We are simply not accustomed to long and sustained periods of being in ibaadah (worship).
Think about making dua for 5 hours without stopping. Most of us have never done that. Even on the 27th night in Ramadan, if the imam stretches out the witr dua for 15-20 minutes, we start getting antsy and fidgety.
This is one of the consequences of the fast-paced lives we lead. I wrote about this previously in two articles that are relevant to this and go into further detail:
- Engineering Patience in an Age of Instant Gratification
- Dua: The Greatest Casualty in a Socially Networked Life
The ultimate test of hajj is patience. How long and how far out of your comfort zone can you go? How much are you willing to actually surrender control over your situation and have pure tawakkul?
Sights and Sounds of Mina
Tents and the Jamarat.
It is hot. Alhamdulillah for air conditioning in the tents - especially when it is a luxury many people do not get.
Mist sprayers are incredible in the heat.
The inside of our mina tent.
This wouldn't be the Fiqh of Social Media website without a good shot of the charging station inside the tent. Stacks on stacks.
Mina A/V system
And the outside of the tent
For the Moslims
Mina night life is next-level. You'll see all kinds of things. Like a doorknob tied to a lamppost with a hanger - and tied up high on the post. Someone went out of their way to do this.
The key to Mina is to strictly control your diet and stay hydrated. Don't eat any junk. Eat a little. Drink tons of water. Make sure you come packings lots of EmergenC and powdered Gatorade.
Once the main parts are done and you are nearing the end of your stay in Mina, you can relax a little.
We had some street food (egg paratha) - see it being made:
Dessert at Baskin-Robbins after finishing Jamarat.
Didn't even attempt to try this in Mina. Crazy.
Mina nightlife pano.
This is how it sounds.
You never really get used to it.
Use your hand to clasp the back and front of the towel between your legs before sitting.
Practice tying the ihram before you have to do it for real.
The bathroom stalls are really, really small. Your ihram is white. Proceed accordingly.
Don't trust that the soap dispensers in the bathroom have unscented soap.
Don't put your foot in the sink to make wudu if you aren't an experienced ihram-wearer.
When I was a kid we used to make jokes about the futility of a solar-powered flashlight or a helicopter ejection seat. There is something far more futile than those. It is called unscented deodorant. Once you are out of ihram, putting on scented deodorant feels like the equivalent of showering.
Imagine after a long day at Arafat, you proceed on to rest for the night and maybe collect some stones for the jamarat. Imagine that after the most important day of hajj you get to go out to enjoy a beautiful desert night. Imagine lying down on the ground, looking up at a starlit sky and having the most peaceful night of sleep you have ever enjoyed in your life.
This is what everyone told me to imagine.
I'll tell you to imagine millions of people camped out in one area. Imagine laying out prayer rugs for salah and sleep and then having to protect them from other people trying to take them. Instead of a starlit sky, imagine sleeping between a public restroom and charter buses - enjoying all the smells and noise and light pollution.
Muzdalifa was the night I was probably most pushed out of my comfort zone. One of our group members had an astute observation. He mentioned that we should really reflect on what life is like for the alarmingly increasing number of refugees around the world. What is a refugee camp really like? This might be the closest some of us get to even a small insight into that experience. Maybe we have one really crazy and uncomfortable night - but it carries with it the promise of a comfortable night of sleep in less than 24 hours. What about those stuck in limbo not knowing if there is ever a return to "normal"?
Actual text message I received from a friend:
Made it through Arafat and Muzdalifa without needing the bathroom. Karamat al-Awliyaa. ✊
Given the tragedy that occurred, the jamarat was more a source of anxiety for me than anything else. I just wanted to get it done without any problems.
The best part was walking in. The guards all had water bottles with holes poked in them to spray people as they were walking by. It may seem like a trivial detail if you are just reading this, but it was actually one of the most enjoyable things I experienced.
Before going on jamarat, I was envisioning having to duck and weave to avoid getting hit by slippers or a water bottle full of rocks. It was not like that at all. It is definitely hectic, but manageable. The good thing about doing it 3 times is you're able to focus more and more on the spirituality of it. It goes from being simply a ritual to a moment of reflection about battling your inner demons.
Once we finished the days of hajj and our farewell tawaf, we were off to Jeddah for a night.
It's like Jeddah has been engineered to make you feel like you're at home after being out of your comfort zone.
Can't leave out the halal PF Chang's.
The single most interesting moment of Jeddah (aside from seeing that crazy fountain thing) was this.
Everyone tells you about it, no one prepares you for it. When you land and get off the plane, you hand over your passport to some random dude in a thobe. Then you never see it again. That is, until they get delivered to you in a Ziploc bag. Literally.
There's a lot that can be said here and the usual advices are readily available. I wanted to focus instead on one specific part of the hajj preparation process - picking a hajj group.
Simply put -
Choose your hajj package based on who is leading it, not on the amenities provided.
This is not to say you should ignore the amenities all together, but give it proper priority. The best advice I heard in this regard was to take a package that is in accordance with your standard of living. If you're a college student who lives in a dorm and eats Ramen noodles - then a backpack/walking hajj would be great for you. If you are a hotshot consultant who flies first class and sleeps in upgraded hotel suites 4 nights a week, you probably want a more executive style package.
Once you've done that, I would ignore the amenities promised. It is not possible to perform hajj without some kind of test. Something you were promised will inevitably not be there. It's ok.
It is far easier to deal with that when you have strong group leaders. The company you are in at hajj can make or break the experience. Remember, it usually takes only one guy to ruin it for everyone.
Don't forget istikharah in the process either. Yes, I know you don't need to make istikharah about whether or not you should go on hajj (that's like making istikharah about whether you should pay zakat or not), but you can make istikharah about going with a specific group.
Alhamdulillah I went with the IOK (Institute of Knowledge) Hajj Group. They actually had 2 groups that were together through the days in Mina and the groups were led by Shaykhs: Nomaan Baig, Furhan Zubairi, Omar Husain, and Wisam Sharieff.
Keep an eye on the IOK Hajj and Umrah packages by clicking here.
P.S. Take all the patience of hajj, and multiply it by 5. That's what you need to get through Jeddah airport :)