Click here to read my last hajj-related post [from the day after arriving home]. It also links to all my other hajj trip posts. Click here to read my next post, about our travel group– Dar el Salam.
It’s been ten days since we got back, at this point, and I can’t believe it’s already been ten days since we got back!
Now that I have [finally] finished chronicling my days while overseas, I thought I’d continue on my posts about hajj, by doing a separate post on common misconceptions [I was quite surprised at how much wrong information was given to me] or things that surprised me while I was in Saudi Arabia… along with some general thoughts to close things up that I didn’t mention yet in any of the previous posts. After this, *I think*, the only hajj-related post I have left to do is one about the program/group we traveled with– Dar el Salam.
FYI, in case you were wondering [I was], they drive on the right side of the road in Saudi Arabia just as we do. The driver sits on the left side of the vehicle, just as it is here. And seat belts are worn by the drivers [at least by our bus driver(s)]. They just drive absolutely insanely to go with it, which is probably why they use the seat belts in the first place…
Before leaving for the trip, from the [many] stories, I thought I would have to deal with very gross and dirty eastern style bathrooms a lot. While the bathrooms weren’t always clean, I didn’t have to even see an eastern style bathroom until our stopover on the way back in Dubai. Score! There were eastern style bathrooms, like in the “service area” [a term I use very loosely] we stopped at along the way from Madinah to Makkah, but there were also western style bathrooms available. I think Muzdalifah was the only place to only have eastern style bathrooms available but I was able to avoid going altogether.
In fact, to be honest, the only time I faced dirty bathrooms was in the service area, as that was the only truly “public” bathroom I faced. For all the other times that we were not in a private hotel room or the Aziziya apartment [5 days in Mena and Arafat], Dar el Salam had fortunately arranged for them to be continuously cleaned as they were exclusively being used by the Dar el Salam program.
Mena camps, in general, too were described to me as less than favorable… and in all honestly: it wasn’t that bad. At all. Going in, I didn’t even know what to expect based on what was described by others. Ultimately I figured that when the time came, I would just deal with it… what other choice would I have anyways? Once again, however, all my worries were proven to be over nothing. I will say, however, that I know we went with a very good and reputable group and others definitely didn’t have it so good.
I have said it many times: we have/had a very luxurious hajj compared to others [who come from other countries]. So the minimal pitfalls? Something has to make it feel like hajj, doesn’t it? I can’t count the times I wanted to remind people that this wasn’t a vacation they were on.
Before leaving, some of the reading I was doing to prepare [along with some people] told me to memorize this dua and that dua for this and that. You can imagine my relief when what I thought myself turned out to be true: it needs to come from you and your heart. Make duas in your own language and make the duas you want. Repeating a memorized dua [when you don’t know what it means]… is just that: meaningless. This misconception was cleared up way before I left as I did deeper research [and reiterated by the imams in our group as well]. One of the main disturbances I faced during tawafs and both of the Sa’ee, in fact, were groups of people following behind their leader and repeating/chanting duas very loudly. Not only were they not doing themselves a favor by just blindly repeating words, but it made it hard for others [me!] to concentrate.
Hajj is a very spiritual time between you and He above. And He knows and understands every language so speak from your heart and make it meaningful.
One more thing that everyone seems to make a big deal about: stitched items during the state of ihram for men [belts, certain sandals, etc.]. It is more about the fact that you cannot wear pieces of cloth that are sewn together to wrap your body, such as a shirt, pant or undergarments [things you would normally wear]. Just think about it: the cloth of the ihram itself is stitched… just not stitched to be a clothing item.
Another good point: during one of our lectures/Q+A sessions, someone asked a question about the validity of their tawaf or prayer without a verbal intention made. It’s a product of a desi mentality coming out again… as one of the imam’s reiterated, there is no reason for you to verbalize before each prayer that you are praying X amount of rakats for X namaz facing the kibla, etc. You don’t need to make a verbal intention– it’s again from your heart.
A couple of other nitpicks I don’t think I have discussed yet:
Independence. Prior to leaving, many [wrongly] told me that I would basically need to be around my dad to go anywhere or do anything there. Growing up in the west, we just aren’t accustomed to being dependent on men. While I did need a mehram to travel to the KSA for hajj [due to my age foremost], and numerous times at the airports it was confirmed that I had a mehram present with me [as I couldn’t go for hajj at my age without a mehram]… it was not as big of an issue once we were there as I had expected. While I certainly didn’t wander around too far without my dad [for safety reasons foremost], I easily explored the area on my own and went from point A to B [in close vicinity] by myself without it being an issue. Of course it helped that our hotel was less than a minute away [just around the corner] from the Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah and similarly in Makkah our hotel led directly to the courtyard of the Haram from an internal path that housed many shops [four stories of shops in fact].
Before leaving, I was also warned about not speaking to men there as it’s looked down upon and what not … and so I naturally would let Abu do most of the talking there. I was surprised to notice, however, that wasn’t the case most of the time. They were just [equally] rude to everyone! One would be asking them a question and they would just blatantly ignore it and continue doing whatever they were doing or talking amongst themselves.
What I did notice, however, was that [and I don’t remember if I mentioned this in one of the previous posts already] a lot of the stores/restaurants have separate lines for males and females. Never mind the fact that it isn’t followed very well and men frequently enter the women-only lines [but not vice versa! … yet again proves women are better at following directions!]. The benefit? The women lines tended to be shorter, which meant I usually stood in line for things [ironically enough]. The negative? Being squished like sardines and fighting for your life to get to the front and ordering [for example]. Let me tell you, it’s not for the weak. Attempting to get Al-Baik one day and I learned the hard way: these women are intense and shoving and pushing and whatnot is not atypical. Whatever happened to a single [and orderly] line?! Yeah, not here… there is no concept of a orderly waiting line here apparently.
They, again, had separate lines for men and women to pass through security at the Jeddah airport. Of course we were all using the same security screen to pass through and our possessions were going through the same belt… so it was a mixed thing anyways. I guess you can’t say they don’t try?… you know except that they don’t [or at least only half-way.]
Feeling of one. It was such a neat feeling to be constantly surrounded by Muslims. Everywhere you go, especially within our hotel, you were greeted with “assalam aleikum”. I have gotten so used to it, I feel like I’ll continue to do it here back at home by accident initially. This trip was my first experience, memory wise, in a predominantly Muslim country– I was a mere child when I moved Pakistan and have never gone back to visit… and it was something special for the soul indeed.
One of the things I will miss most about being in a predominantly Muslim country is the azaan (call for prayer) five times a day and the crowd from all directions rushing towards one direction– the masjid. It’s such a unique feeling and an uplifting one. Everything else just stops and just doesn’t matter the second the azaan starts. I hope to be able to continue to implement that in my life back at home. For most, the regular day-to-day life makes one barely squeeze in a quick/rushed prayer, so it’s amazing how different life is there.
Living in the west, where Muslims are constantly put in bad light and each wrong action of a SINGLE Muslim person is given so much emphasis… it was nice to see we are better than that. We, as an ummah, have so much potential… if only we would use it for more good to diminish the attention the bad among us receive un-deservingly. Is that a word?
Now to some other general thoughts and tips for future hajjis:
Do some research before you go. It’s just always better to be a little prepared and the little tidbits of information come in handy at the most unexpected times. Also, if you are a planner/worrier like me: it gives you a peace of mind for sure.
Choose a reputable hajj group. It makes all the difference having the peace of mind and having one less thing to worry about knowing all the logistics are well taken care of. A story to prove my point: while we were there, someone I know was donating money/food [I don’t remember which and it doesn’t matter] to the poor/less fortunate that were outside. Approaching one, amongst a group, she remembered thinking that they didn’t look they belonged there [based on what they were wearing]… and when they embarrassingly turned town the donation they told their story: they were from North America and apparently the “group” they traveled with was a fraud and just left them hanging without any accommodations or food… or anything else.
Let go and let God. Things [that are out of your control] happen. Just deal with it. Stressing out about it won’t resolving it. And oh yeah: have patience. Lots and lots of patience is needed. Patience may probably be the only thing you need to take with you: everything else [that is tangible] you can find easily once you are there.
While we [North Americans for example] definitely have quite a luxurious hajj when you compare to others: remember one thing [and remind yourself often]: hajj is not a vacation. I can’t tell you the number of times or the number of people I overheard complaining about frivolous things.
Lastly, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t pass this along: you really should fulfill this Pillar of Islam as early in your life as you possibly can. It’s physically challenging at times, and you don’t want ill health taking time away from such a tremendously blessed opportunity in your life. Make the most of this blessed invitation… who knows when [or even if] you will get to go back.
Click here to read my final hajj-related post — what you need to pack!