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Hajj Friends

Saturday night, several of the local NJ families from our hajj group finally got together. I say finally because we have been trying to make it happen since we got back from hajj six months ago but life kept getting in the way. Alhumdulillah for a huge and close-knit family, but sometimes that makes it nearly impossible to meet with other social circles. Not to mention, my life has been nothing but chaos this first quarter of the year.

Over the course of the past six months, I can’t tell you how many people have told me how nice it is how we have stayed in contact with people in our hajj group– that they don’t even remember most of who were in theirs, etc.

I have stayed in contact with several people over the phone, texting and of course Facebook… but to see them after so long? Joyous. Alhumdulillah, we picked up right where we left off. Reflecting, reminiscing… and recounting the many funny stories of course.

The friendship/bond I have with a select few of them is indescribable. It’s like we have known each other our whole lives, except for the fact that they were mere strangers six months ago who have become like family since then. No formality, no fuss: just plainly and simply a fun time with down to earth people.

I don’t know if our paths would have ever crossed, even though so many of us are from New Jersey, had we not been in the same hajj group. What I do know is this: they were [and are] a huge part of the “hajj experience” for me. I am thankful for their friendship and I am thankful we shared the experience(s) of hajj together. I hope no matter what the distance between us may be, that our friendship surpasses that.

We met and became friends in one of the greatest ways possible. Not to mention in the greatest place possible. The stories, memories and experiences we share are like no other.

And for that, they will always hold a special place in my heart. May our friendship grow even stronger over the years.

InshAllah, I can’t wait  to have the group gather again soon [and hopefully it won’t take another six months this time around]… you know, before I leave for the other end of the world… 🙂

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Hajj Packing List

Before I went, a lot of the reading I did [which was A LOT] told me that everything is readily accessible to purchase upon my arrival. That may have been true, but I wasn’t going there to shop and wanted to utilize my time as best as I could. With me, I took along things I foresaw a need for.

But I’ll be completely honest: packing was stressful. I had never been before and didn’t know exactly what I would need and kept a lot of things ‘I thought I may possibly need’ but didn’t actually need. I guess you can say I wanted to be prepared?

I didn’t end up finishing my packing until the morning of my flight, which is very unlike me. For days I kept putting things in only to take them right back out. SO not worth the trouble/headache it caused me. The end result was that I packed a suitcase comprising of some things I didn’t necessarily need to bring along. What I would have loved was to have someone who had gone for hajj before tell me exactly what I would need and what was unnecessary.

First and foremost, like I have mentioned several times thus far in my hajj posts, you need to have patience. And lots of it.

Tangible items wise, below is what I would recommend you keep:

Hajj Packing List:

  • Photocopies of travel documents. This goes without saying, but don’t forget your passports, etc. and I would suggest you keep photocopies of them in your luggage just as a precaution [considering your passports are taken from you for the duration of your trip].
  • Comfortable walking shoes [and socks].
    • Wearing socks, whenever possible, during tawaf and sa’ee helps in avoiding dry and patchy/blistering skin. Keep in mind that men can’t wear socks during the state of ihram [but women can].
  • Flip-flops: most convenient for the masjid. 
  • Vaseline. All the walking [barefoot for men during ihram] [in the tawaf and sa’ee especially] leads to patchy and dry feet.
  • A [drawstring] bag. If your group doesn’t provide it for you [ours did]. Convenient to hold your flip-flops inside the masjid so you can keep it with you at all times. 1] Storing it outside doesn’t guarantee you’ll find it afterwards with the enormous crowd you are dealing with. 2] You may not leave from the same gate/door you entered from.
  • Disposable gloves
    • for public bathrooms. You’ll thank me for it later.
    • they are also great for when you are picking up pebbles for rami/jamarat.
  • Prescribed medication that you take on a daily basis. Keep these on you at all times.
    • Also, keep a list of all the medicines you take [along with their doses] and any medical conditions you may have in case of any emergencies that may arise there.
  • Precautionary medicine. In case you fall ill. There are three million plus people there, mashallah, which means there are three million people’s worth of germs around… enough said.
    • Pain relievers, antibiotics, cough drops, etc.
  • Comfy and modest clothing. There are plenty of long days so you want to make sure your clothes are comfortable, but don’t forget the modesty part!
  • Abayas [women]. I originally wasn’t sure if I was going to keep any and I ended up wearing them the majority of the time. They really are the easiest thing to wear.
  • Bathroom slippers. These especially come in handy when taking a shower in Mena.
  • TSA approved locks that don’t require a key. The last thing you need is another thing (keys for the locks) to be carrying/keeping track of.
  • Snack bars. Our program, Dar el Salam, provided ample food but the snack bars I kept as a precaution came in very handy during the long bus rides when stuck in traffic.
  • Disposable underwear. Laundry isn’t readily available and I found it easiest to purchase ample underwear from home and dispose of them after use.
  • First aid kit essentials. Band-aids, anti-septic wipes, gauze, etc. just in case you need any of them.
  • Hand sanitizer and hand sanitizer wipes.
  • Travel converter/adapter [for your electronic devices].
  • Cross-body bag/purse. Keep this on you wherever you go to hold your essentials — medicines, dua books, etc.
  • [Concealable] money belt [men].
  • Face mask. It will help with the dust/smog/pollution/whatever you want to call it that you will inevitability face there outside.
  • Toiletries. Basic toiletries are provided in the hotels, but you will need them for the duration of your stay in Mena [see below].
  • Scissors [women]. To cut your hair in order to get out of the state of ihram.
  • 7-beaded string. This can potentially be helpful in keeping count during tawaf or sa’ee if you think you’ll have a hard time keeping track– we took one, but didn’t end up using it.
  • Eyeglass cords. If you wear glasses, it’s a good idea to attach one of these cords. There’s a large crowd and it becomes very congested during tawafs– this way, if your glasses are knocked down, they are still around your neck!

For the duration of Mena, space is very limited, so pack light! I definitely over-packed! You need:

  • unscented toiletry items since you will be in ihram for a part of it [so I would recommend just packing only unscented items to save space]. Shampoo, toothpaste, soap, lotion, deodorant, flushable wipes, etc.
  • 4 sets of clothes [one for each day]. Women may need more based on their discretion.
  • Bath towel.
  • Water-Proof bag to hold essenials/clothes during shower that has a handle that fits around shower handleA family friend suggested this for the duration of our stay in Mena and I can’t thank her enough for it! While our camp had hooks behind the bathroom doors, I am pretty sure most don’t. Since the shower and toilet are unimaginably close, your best option is to have a bag that fits over the shower handle.
Now for specifically for when you are in ihram [during umrah and hajj]: a whole lot of unscented/fragrance-free.

  • unscented deodorant.
    • for females: I was able to find a ‘Secret Outlast’ brand that was unscented [online].
    • for males: I found a ‘Dove Men+Care’ product that was unscented [online].
  • unscented hand sanitizing wipes
    • the brand ‘Wet Ones’ carries fragrance free [and alcohol free] hand wipes.
  • unscented soap/shampoo/body wash

Some other helpful tips:

  • Once you arrive, and you realize you forgot an essential or need something, chances are you can find it at a store called Bin-Dawood there. Someone called it the equivalent of Wal-mart… and I agree: just about everything can be found there!
  • Take a picture of all of your luggage and make a note of it’s color, size, company, etc. in case it gets lost. In hindsight, it’s almost impossible to remember the details and it is just helpful to have handy.
  • One last suggestion: keep your ihram [and items you need for Mena too I suppose] in your carry-on and don’t check-in these items on your flight. If, for whatever reason your luggage is misplaced, the last thing you want to lose is your ihram, etc.

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Dar el Salam [Hajj]

We came back late last night from our short weekend trip to Canada for Nanna and Nana’s 50th anniversary celebratory party, and I wanted to wrap up my hajj posts. I can’t complete my Hajj posts without talking about the group we went through: Dar el Salam.

I can’t even imagine the amount of planning and behind the scenes work that must happen yearly [or even how long it takes]… but I can assure you one thing: I would recommend Dar el Salam for anyone planning on going for hajj.

Logistics wise, we pretty much registered with one of their programs, paid… and showed up. They took care of everything else. Even during the trip, they would ask for our luggage [the night before traveling or the morning of depending on our travel times] and they took care of its transportation. They provided us with a carry-on for Mena, a backpack for Arafat and Muzdalifah, a drawstring bag [which made storing items at the masjid very easy], a prayer rug [for women], ihram [for men], dua pamphlets, etc. 

Their seminar before hajj? Informative. Their online forum to ask questions prior to leaving? Beyond helpful. I can’t forget the nightly seminars/lectures plus the Q+A sessions we had throughout our trip. And Sister Naz? I can’t even begin to tell you how helpful she was throughout the trip. And I absolutely loved the little tidbits of islamic knowledge she passed on to us throughout the trip at random times. 

Mid-trip, I was quite surprised to find out that a lot of the group leaders [including the imams] are, in fact, volunteers. Dar el Salam simply pays for the travel expenses [tickets, food, accommodations, etc.]

A few more specific people to mention? Qari Basit [also our group 19 leader], Shahid Uncle, and Basant.

The proximity of Dar el Salam’s camps/hotels, etc. can not be beat [for its convenience]. Many make smart remarks about the premium we supposedly pay for the “luxurious hajj”… but how many stop to think about how much more time we got for ibadaat because of said proximity? Not to mention that the price differences weren’t even that much in comparison.

One of the things I found most helpful, in hindsight, was the Dar el Salam staff in the yellow shirts I have mentioned a handful of times. They traveled with us by bus, helped with some of the logistics, and just guided us. They were so helpful in times where the crowd was intense– not only were they easy to spot in their yellow shirts with tall orange signs… but they were everywhere.

I have mentioned this before too, that one of my biggest worries were the bathroom situations [as many had scared me with their stories… I didn’t even know what to expect]. Dar el Salam exceeded my expectations as they had hired help around the clock to clean the bathrooms in Mena and throughout the day we spent in Arafat. I don’t ever remember not seeing the cleaners present.
Did everything go smoothly? Of course not. Did they try their best? Absolutely. And for that, I sincerely thank them. All of their help, especially for us, did not go unnoticed.
May Allah SWT reward them for all of their efforts.

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Misconceptions and General Thoughts [Hajj]

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!

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Post-Hajj

Alhumdulillah, with the grace of God, my parents and I returned from hajj Saturday [yesterday] morning.

It was, indeed, an experience/opportunity of a lifetime and I am so fortunate/thankful for the chance. And to do it with my parents was the icing on the cake.

I also want to make note of how thankful I am for the group [group 19] I was part of and I am especially thankful for a handful of people in it that became like family. I felt like I have known some of these people my whole life. Speaking of family, I can’t forget my actual family that was there. Would you believe besides my parents and I, five more extended family members were also part of our 2MB program? Including my dad’s sister. Plus 2 more part of our broader program. AND 2 more family members that went for hajj not in our program. Alhumdulillah.

I tried my best to write up the day’s worth each night while I was away so I would have it for my record. I want to remember as much of the 21 days as I possibly can. This blog, is after all, my [very public] journal. The next few many posts will be them. As I recuperate and start feeling better, over the next few days I’ll post them to be published on the actual day they correspond to, so they will be post-dated. At the end, I’ll try and post all the links on one page, perhaps on this post, for convenience.

Going in, I did [a lot] of research, but no amount of research is enough– it’s the actual hands on experience that is the best teacher. And quite honestly, there is no way to describe it all and give it true justice– you truly have to experience it.

I also want to take some time down the road and discuss the misconceptions, the lessons I learned, and just some general thoughts. I can’t forget the “what you really need to pack” post I mentioned even before I left.

I can’t believe we made niyat [intention] for hajj 11 months {December 2012} before leaving, and the amount of time that went into everything… and it came and went in the blink of an eye.

Updated – Post-Hajj Trip Notes:
[October 6] – Before leaving for Hajj
October 8 – Arriving in Madinah.
October 9
October 10 – Ziyarat/Mazarat tour around Madinah.
October 11 – Jummah in Madinah/Leaving for Makkah/Umrah
October 12 – Arriving in Makkah/Umrah
October 13 – First day of Hajj
October 14 – Day of Arafat
October 15
October 17
October 19
October 20
October 21
October 22 – Ziyarat/Mazarat tour around the city of Makkah
October 23
October 24 – Last full day in Makkah/Jummah at the Haram
October 25 – Leaving Makkah/Traveling [back home]
October 26 – Arriving home!
Misconceptions and General Thoughts [Hajj]
Dar el Salam [our travel group/program]
Hajj Packing List

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Hajj Trip: October 26

Posted on a later day, 11.04.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day’s post and then click here to see my next post on misconceptions and some general thoughts.

Saturday October 26.

We’re home. Home sweet home.

Oh, how I missed my bed.

We left Dubai about an half hour late, landed at JFK around 9:10 am (45 minutes late). All the logistics didn’t take too long at the airport, but waiting for some of our luggage took forever. I was thinking it would be the customs that would be the time consuming portion. 

Side note: many people who didn’t box their zam zam water at the Jeddah airport like they were advised to received the unpleasant surprise of the water leaking [through the bottle and at times even through the sealed plastic bag]. As you can imagine, the workers at the airport weren’t thrilled. So all of you future hajjis’ [inshallah]: have it boxed even though it’s already sealed in the plastic bag!

Greeting us at the airport? My brothers, Chotti Anna, and Anjum Khala!

FYI, long flights aren’t for everybody. Definitely not me. I cannot for the life of me just sit there for so long. Neither can I just fall asleep instantly like my brother Faraz. The long plane rides, both ways, were uncomfortable to say the least. Even more so on the way back since I wasn’t feeling well either. It was like a coughing competition on the flight back. I may, or may not, have been one of the top contenders. Making the long plane ride back home a little more bearable: I bought wifi to keep me entertained!

By the way: my mom and I both wore a mask throughout our three weeks overseas. My dad didn’t. Guess which two came back sick?!

Anyhow, before driving back home, we made a [very quick] pit-stop at my aunt’s in NY to visit my maternal grandfather, Papa. I can’t even describe how happy I was to see him. Just being in his presence makes me smile and make the most of every moment together. To see him this day, and to see him so well alhumdulillah was the icing on the cake. Before I left for hajj, I was upset FOR him. Praying to God for Papa from THE house of God, I can honestly say I feel more at peace than I did before I left. Like He heard me.

Everything will be okay. Everything, indeed, happens for a reason. You just have to keep faith.

New York wouldn’t be New York if it didn’t greet us with [a lot] of traffic. Typically I would have been very annoyed very easily, especially since I wasn’t feeling well. Except I just got back from a place where a 10-15 minute bus ride often took us 4-5+ hours. For once, New York traffic didn’t even phase me.

We finally got home around 12:30 PM where we were greeted to a decorated house by my brothers, Chotti Anna and Imran. How very sweet of them!

Saba chachijan made and brought lunch for us [and some food for later too!], which everyone enjoyed together. Anjum Khala sent some food home with us [when we stopped earlier to see Papa], and Chotti Anna made a lot of food too! Including fish for me! All day we had family visit before I knocked out for the night relatively early. I can’t forget the flowers and mithai everyone brought!

There is no place like home… but can I go back already?

Click here to see my post-hajj post from the day after we got back home [it also includes a link to all my hajj days’ posts at the bottom]. Also, click here to see my post on some misconceptions and some general thoughts.

Posted on 11.04.13

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Hajj Trip: October 25

Posted on a later day, 11.03.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day’s post and click here to see the next day’s post.

Friday October 25.

I finally started antibiotics last night. I just couldn’t tolerate it anymore. The fever, the intense coughing, whole body ache, runny nose, throwing up, and upset stomach… I am done. Right before a full day of traveling. As you can imagine, most of the last day has involved resting as much as possible.

There is no better place to be than here, but when you are sick: all you want is the comfort of your bed.

Bright and early our luggage was, once again, picked up/taken care of… we would get it at the airport later in the day. I don’t know if I have mentioned it, but Dar el Salam took care of our luggage transport from point A to B throughout the three week stay.

I bid farewell to Anna, Arshad Chachoo and Dadda around 10:30 AM as they boarded their bus for the airport. Oh how the time has flown by!

As I was sitting in the masjid waiting for jummah prayers in the Haram, I couldn’t help but ponder over how blessed of a chance we were getting. Looking around, there were very few recognizable people from our program still here. Most groups from our program had left already and some even had left just an hour or so before jummah. Who knows when, or even if, we will get this chance again? If I am remembering correctly, we also left Madinah on a jummah as well. To get to pray Jummah in Madinah and Makkah in this time frame within this trip… alhumdulillah!

What a better way to leave this holy land of Makkah than immediately after jummah prayers? I couldn’t think of a more ideal way to complete this trip, especially because it came as an unexpected surprise! Our original itinerary indicated we would leave in the morning for the airport! Even though I didn’t understand the khutbah at all since it was in Arabic [here in Makkah and Madinah both], I am so grateful that we got to pray jummah prayers both in Masjid Al-Nabawi [in Madinah] and the Haram in Makkah here today.

The plan for us was to leave our hotel immediately after jummah, and we ended up leaving our Fairmont hotel around 1:40 pm for Jeddah airport. We could have easily left by 1:10 at the latest if it weren’t for three geniuses who stayed in their hotel rooms, for whatever reason, and held us up an extra half hour– of course all three were from our group 19. We got our passports back as well on the bus (so we didn’t have to make a pit-stop to pick that up) and finally got to the Jeddah airport at around 3:20 pm (at its hajj terminal). Lucky for us, we got no traffic [for once]– they had warned us to expect a lot of traffic! Antsy about the expected traffic and whatever else the rest of the day would entail [remember: everything goes], we were probably a little more anxious about the three men who caused us to leave later from the hotel than needed given the fact that we got to the airport with no traffic.

When we got to the “hajj terminal” at the Jeddah airport, it was something. In no way did it seem to be an airport [there was no indication it was one… except for luggage we saw everywhere]. The majority of the waiting seats were outside (in the heat). The mere minutes we spent waiting there made me think OMG, how am I supposed to spend the next almost five hours here?! Thankfully, the yellow-shirt Dar el Salam men that I have mentioned countless times came quick enough to guide us to the entrance.

Would you believe our luggage was again waiting for us in front of the entrance where we would check in our luggage, get our boarding pass, and whatnot? I don’t know how they do it, but they do it: luggage is one thing we didn’t have to worry about throughout the three week stay.

While we collected our luggage through the pile, Abu [and most of the other men] went to get the zam zam water sealed in box. Dar el Salam provided us each with a 10 L bottle of zam zam [also waiting for us at the airport] that was already sealed in a plastic bag… but we had been advised from day one to have it boxed.

Next, the yellow-shirt Dar el Salam men guided us inside to a set of check-in counters, indicating these were for our Emirates flights. He could have definitely been making it up for all I know because there are no signs and every worker just seems to be all over the place. Maybe if enough people for the same airline/flight crowd onto the same counter… it becomes one for that?! Whatever works.

When we went in, it didn’t even seem like an airport. It was just one room with a lot of check in counters that worked sometimes and not others (and no one monitoring weight of luggage because they probably didn’t have the means to do so… at least in the hajj terminal), no belt for luggage movement (so I guess/hope/pray some of the workers manually move luggage and we get all our luggage in one piece), and workers who just jumped around from one area to the next without any means of organization. I, for one, was worried whether we would get all our luggage once we arrived home. The next room over was security that led to one small terminal that was crowded beyond belief. Add oh so many sick people (with the infamous “hajji cough”) and its like a petri dish of germs.

I was born in Pakistan, but moved from there [and have never gone back] when I was a young child and this was my first experience in an environment like this. We travel within the US and Canada mostly and my brother and I went to Norway once. I know for a fact I live a very sheltered life: living in the USA, we live a very luxurious life and take so much for granted. We are accustomed to so many luxuries and “ways of life” that is definitely not the norm for most of the people in the world. This trip was about so much more than the religious/hajj aspect of it, when I think about it, it was an eye opener for so many things.

I also have to mention that, ironically enough, this hajj terminal at Jeddah airport did not have a prayer room inside. I don’t know how it’s even possible — in a Muslim country… let alone in a hajj terminal. There were open prayer rooms outside  but who would possibly consider leaving only to enter through security again with this crowd? For maghrib, people crammed to pray right by the security screens. As people were praying, more people were still entering with their possessions going through the security belt… and in the process being dropped on top of people praying.. again… you can’t make this stuff up.

Then we got to wait there, in this small crowded [for now being considered as an Emirates’] “hajj terminal” for a good four hours I think before being the lucky ones to be on the first shuttle to take us from the terminal waiting area/gate 14 to the actual airplane waiting in the middle of nowhere at the airport. This hajj terminal is, of course, used but once a  year [obviously during hajj season] and doesn’t have the means to connect directly to such huge planes.

First stop: Dubai before the longer leg of the plane trip a couple of hours later from Dubai back home. Three something hours of a layover/plane change in Dubai, and we were on our way home finally. At last. It’s about half way into the flight from Dubai to JFK when I am writing this and so far all you hear is coughing. Everywhere. Here, there, everywhere. And crying kids.

Also, one of the things I was worried about most prior to leaving was having to use an eastern style bathroom. Would you believe, this day, was the first time I even saw one?! That at Dubai airport too. No way did I use it, merely glance it, freak out, and leave.

I can’t believe how quickly the three weeks flew by! Prior to leaving, I had kept on thinking that three weeks was a long time and that we should have stuck to the two week package for numerous reasons… but the days just flew by. I wish I didn’t fall ill right at the end and could use that time more efficiently.

I am so glad I got to come for hajj, especially at my age, alhumdulillah. Never in a million years did I imagine I would get this chance at this stage of my life. Like I mentioned earlier, we made niyat for it last December, and it’s unreal how fast it approached… and now it’s over just like that. I would absolutely love to come back for umrah, in an off-peak season, to thoroughly enjoy everything about being here without all the choas, running around, and logistics that need to be taken care of during hajj. It’s physically exhausting, for sure, so every able body should attempt to fulfill this pillar as early as possible and not wait until they are older.

It’s been an eye opening experience, for sure, in many ways… and inshallah I never lose sight of any of it.

Click here to read the next day’s post, from October 26: getting home!

Posted on 11.03.13

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Hajj Trip: October 24

Posted on a later day, 11.02.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day’s post and click here to see the next day’s post.

Thursday October 24.

This day, around 2:30 AM, my dad and I went to do a tawaf. The crowd doesn’t seem to be dissipating at all (and seems to actually be more of a crowd), and we have found that around 2 AM seems to be the time where the crowd is somewhat manageable on the lower floor. While transport time and manageability dictates that it is best to go to Madinah before Makkah for ease and convenience, I think going to Makkah first would, in fact, allow one to make the most of their time in Makkah in the most beneficial way, crowd wise. International flights arriving at the Jeddah airport ahead of hajj take upwards of 8 hours… talk about a test of patience.

I finally got to see inside “maqam-e-Ibrahim” during this tawaf too! All I saw, and I think all that is visible, is a deep imprint of footsteps. Maqam-e-Ibrahim refers to the stone where Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) stood on while building the upper walls of the Ka’aba. As he stood on this rock, an impression of his foot was made on said rock. It’s now located at the place where Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) offered two rakats of prayer after finishing the Ka’aba, which is why Muslims do the same at this spot after completing a tawaf.

Considering we are leaving tomorrow, I don’t think I’ll be able to see the black stone [Hajar al-Aswad].

Before I forget to note it down again, one of the most amazing [that you have to see to believe] that has been astonishing is that while there are birds flying all over [of course], they never seem to do their business over the area of the Ka’aba. Now that I think of it, I didn’t notice any of it at Masjid al-Nabawi either… which is amazing to think considering both are open areas.

I think I have talked about how rude people can be here. It’s a culture shock and such a contrast coming from Madinah especially. Oh, what I would do to go back to Madinah. In Madinah, there is just a sense of peace and belonging and… it just felt right… I can’t explain it. I don’t know how many times I have said “I can’t explain it” or “it’s indescribable” in these hajj posts… but it really is… wait until you get the opportunity, inshallah, to go and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Anyhow, I wouldn’t be doing justice to this gentleman if I didn’t mention him. Early this morning, after my dad and I did tawaf and prayed, we couldn’t figure out how to get back to the gate (Abdul Aziz Gate 1) we habitually use to get back to our hotel as it was the closest and the most direct route back to Fairmont. We asked one of the workers, expecting a broad point in the right direction, and instead: he went out of his way to walk us to the gate a good distance away. It was like a sign from Him above to remind me not to forget that there are good people here too all the same, considering how regularly our group discusses the contrast in personalities of people in Madinah and Makkah.

This morning, before Zuhr, my dad, aunt, uncle, cousin, cousin’s wife and I also went to this library at the back of the Haram where it is believed that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born. Whenwe got there, however, there were signs saying there is no such proof. Not to mention the fact that people aren’t even allowed inside the library.

One of the things that has gotten to me the most throughout this trip is that they don’t seem to be preserving any of the historical/religious points. Construction/lack of planning seems to be taking over. It’s something that has bothered me about many things in Madinah and here in Makkah as well.

Between asr and maghrib, my dad and I again decided to physically feed people– workers in the Haram today– and it literally brought me to tears. Not for the reasons you would think of typically, but because of the reaction of one of the 20. He was worried about a co-worker/friend and wanted to make sure he got a share as well. Even in his state, he was worried about others. Talk about a lesson in humbleness and humility. Thankfully, we had approached his friend right before as well. Would you believe that in the equivalent of $40 US, you could feed 20 people a decent sized wrap? I keep saying this, but I really do mean it: this experience/opportunity has been an eye opener in countless ways.

Plan for tonight is to do our tawaf al-wida [farewell tawaf]. We also found out that we will, inshallah, be able to do jummah prayers here at the Haram before leaving for Jeddah for the first leg of the plane trip back immediately after Jummah prayers. The original itinerary indicated that would not be possible so it’s a pleasant and welcome surprise indeed!

Slowly our group has been departing for their respective homes over the last few days. We said bye to a few more tonight and then we are next, tomorrow, inshallah. I have mentioned it in past posts as well, but some of the people in our group have become like family and I truly feel like I have known them forever. I am so thankful they were put in my life, especially through this blessed opportunity, and even more grateful that a handful of those I have become so close to are actually from New Jersey as well!

We have a busy month ahead with family events once we are home, but I can’t wait to get our hajj group together, inshallah, soon after things settle down. Multiple events each weekend until December including a trip to Canada for a 50th Anniversary party (inshallah) and a road trip to South Carolina for my cousin’s valima reception (inshallah)… and of course the wedding in between.

This day, so soon before departing for home, was also when I got most sick. Since yesterday it was a downward spiral, but right when I woke up around 2 AM Thursday morning to go do a tawaf with Abu, I knew immediately today would be a challenge. Quite unfortunate considering it’s our last full day, but alhumdulillah at the same time: how fortunate I am that I didn’t get sick until the end and was able to make the most of my days here!

Freshly homemade soup is definitely on the agenda as soon as we get home. And my normal food. I may or may not have ate my weight in fast food this week- halal Burger King one day, Hardees another and KFC three days. My fruit salad and fish sound absolutely perfect right about now…

Click here to read the post from the next day, October 25: leaving Makkah [after jummah at the Haram].

Posted on 11.02.13

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Hajj Trip: October 23

Posted on a later day, 11.01.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day’s post and click here to see the next day’s post.

Wednesday October 23.

Poverty level is incredibly high here and it is quite devastating to see. For the most part, we have been sheltered from witnessing it because of the proximity. Our hotel has an internal path that leads directly to the courtyard of the Haram. When we do see it, however, it is incredible. It is something that doesn’t leave you easily– and it shouldn’t.

When opportunities present themselves, we have been donating regularly. Today, however, we thought to do it a little differently and actually bought food and give fresh and warm food to people. One thing is for certain: their reaction is something that will be hard for me to lose sight of, that’s for sure. It makes me wonder how often they are able to feed themselves and their family and how much they have to stretch their income to make ends meet. Oh the things we take for granted on a regular basis.

Tomorrow is our last full day here in Makkah. Our flight leaves Friday night from the airport in Jeddah, but because of the process it entails, we have to leave from Makkah at least eight hours before our flight departs for our stopover in Dubai [where we change planes for the remainder 13 something hours of flight time]. Blah. I think “hajj flights” require you to be at the airport five hours prior to your flight departure time. Oh, and I think it takes around two hours to get to the Jeddah airport from here in Makkah. I don’t know if that two hours accounts for the inevitable traffic time or not.

After dinner, they had a celebratory cake for all of the Hajji’s, which was a nice touch I thought. It was also when most of us started saying farewell to one another as the majority of people start leaving soon on various flights at various times. I have said it repeatedly, but I really and truly can’t believe how quickly the time has flown by! It’s an experience and time, undoubtedly, that I will cherish forever.

Click here to read the post from the next day, October 24: our last full day in Makkah.

Posted on 11.01.13

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Hajj Trip: October 22

Posted on a later day, 10.31.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day’s post and click here to see the next day’s post.

Tuesday October 22.

Today, we went on a ziyarat tour (tour of holy places) around Makkah with our group. We did a similar one in Madinah as well.

The places we visited were:

1) Jabal Saur/Thawr- it’s the mountain, located in the south of the city of Makkah, that has the cave where Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] and Hazarat Abu Bakr hid for three days and nights as they were migrating to Madinah [after an assassination threat]. It’s mentioned in Surah Taubah.

While the two men were hiding inside, Allah SWT sent a spider to form a web from a bush across the entrance to the cave and also had two doves make a nest and lay eggs [between the spider and the tree]. The Quraysh even approached the cave, and came very close to discovering the two men, but upon seeing the spider’s web and the dove nest, they wrongly assumed that it would have been impossible for anyone to enter the cave and left without looking in.

A little side note about Makkah: I mentioned in a past post that Dajjal can’t enter either of the Haram [in Makkah or the one in Madinah]. Another tidbit: If one commits a crime outside of the Haram and enters the Haram, he can’t be arrested while he is in the Haram (until they leave the Haram) because it’s a place where you are one on one with Allah. This doesn’t apply, however, if one was to commit a crime within the Haram.

2) Arafat – it’s where the fundamental of hajj is done [pilgrims come here on the 9th Dhul Hijjah (second day of Hajj)]. Jabel Rehmah [Mount of Mercy] is the infamous [and more commonly known as] Mount Arafat. [Mount] Arafat is actually considered to be outside the boundary of the Haram.

I mentioned one hadith in an earlier post indicating the importance of the day of Arafat [and Mount Arafat itself]. Here’s another: “Apart from the day of the Battle of Badr there is no day on which the Shaitan [devil] is seen to be more humiliated, more rejected, more depressed and more infuriated, than on the day of Arafat, and indeed all this is only because of beholding the abundance of descending mercy (on the day) and Allah’s forgiveness of the great sins of the servants.”

On the actual day of Arafat, I had asked a bunch of our group leaders whether we would be able to see Mount Arafat, and was disappointed to hear that from our camp site it would no be visible. To get to actually see it today was a great surprise and I am so glad I got the opportunity!

While in Arafat, we also saw Masjid Nimrah from far- it’s located on the plains of Arafat and is used only once a year– on the day of Arafat. Part of the masjid is actually outside the boundary of Arafat.

3) Masjid Mash’arul Haram – during hajj, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) prayed maghrib and isha prayers together at Muzdalifah, staying at the spot where this masjid currently is. He said, however, that although he was staying there, anywhere in Muzdalifah is a place for you stay at. Muzdalifah is mentioned in Surah Baqarah: “When you leave Arafat, then remember Allah at the Mash’arul Haram”.

4) We drove by Waadi Muhassar – it’s a place between Mina and Muzdalifah. It’s where Allah SWT destroyed Abraha and his army of elephants. This is mentioned in Surah Feel.

5) Masjid al-Khayf- it’s a masjid in Mina. Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) camped and prayed here during his stay in Mina. My notes from that day indicate that the last surah of the Qu’ran that was revealed was revealed here in the masjid in Mina where he camped… but I have to go and do research to confirm that as a fact.

6) Jabal-e-Noor – it’s the tallest mountain in Makkah. This mountain has the cave, Cave Hira, where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to seclude himself often for ibaadat. It’s about 6-7 kilometers away from the Haram and the Prophet often walked the distance. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received his first revelation from Allah SWT here.

7) Jannatul Maa’la – cemetery in Makkah. It’s importance is similar to the one by masjid al nabawi in the sense that it is the resting place of several family members of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and many Sahabas.

8) Masjid al-Jinn – built at the place where Prophet Muhammad used to read the Qu’ran to jinns.

9) Masjid Shazarah/Shajarah – a miracle happened here. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) called a tree and the tree uplifted itself and came to the Prophet [and greeted with Salam]. The Prophet then instructed the tree to return to it’s spot and it did so. The masjid was later built at the spot where the tree stood.

FYI, you think driving through NYC is crazy? Its unimaginable here. I don’t know how it works and how such big buses can possibly squeeze through such narrow roads and traffic from all directions. It is insane. I think I mentioned it in a past post too, but people will literally pick up and move cars like it is nothing in order to navigate traffic and make way. Whatever works, I suppose.

One place we didn’t get to see, that I really wish we had the opportunity to is Masjid Aisha.

Anyways: as we were driving from one point of interest to the next, you couldn’t miss it: we were in the middle of the dessert, yet there was greenery visible. Trees, brushes, you name it. One of the group leaders that was traveling on the bus this day, as our tour guide, mentioned a hadith [this time about one of the signs of the Day of Judgement]: “The Hour (of Resurrection) will not occur….. until the land of the Arabs returns to being pastures and rivers.” Pasture is essentially grass, so for this hadith to imply that the dessert would turn into greenery… chilling.

One more thing: it is remarkable that as we were getting this tour, our hotel, the Fairmont Clock Tower, is clearly visible from everywhere and anywhere. It’s uncanny. You can’t even see the Ka’aba from nearby when you are outside because of the construction and high-rise hotels and buildings that block the view, yet this clock tower is clearly visible no matter how far you are because of it’s height. It’s disappointing that this Clock Tower is what becomes the point of interest [and what many people continuously take photos of and focus on] instead of the Ka’aba.

But that brings me to the bigger point. Another hadith [again on one of the signs of the Day of Judgement]: there is a hadith that basically says when the mountains of Makkah will be drilled through and it’s buildings will reach the height of it’s mountains, the hour would have cast it’s shadow. So what you ask? There are tunnels everywhere through the mountains of Makkah [several right as we leave our Hotel] and our hotel — the clock tower– is definitely a high-rise that is as tall as a mountain in Makkah [if not taller]. Not to mention that the clock tower casts a shadow over the Ka’aba. Literally.

Later that night, Abu and I did a tawaf around 10 pm and it was remarkable. It’s just something every single time. I just can’t explain it, but you just feel a sense of something greater inside.

Click here to read the post from the next day, October 23.

Posted on 10.31.13

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