'The Way back' by Ahmad Thomson. This is the second in the series and is a wonderful, entertaining and reflective read.
My wife and I nearly died twice on hajj. The first time was on the first day of stoning at Mina. Why? Because if you leave Muzdalifa too late and arrive at the Jamarat at rush hour you are liable to get crushed in the stampedes. I urge everyone to find out when the quietest times are and go then. To do this you need to know your fiqh. Shafi'is for example should take advantage of the fact that they can leave Muzdalifa as early as midnight and thus perform the stoning at Mina in ease and safety thus avoiding the rush hours later. Also, whilst stoning the jamarat (stones representing Shaytan) do not feel that you must get so close in order to pelt the stones so that you do not miss the jamarat. Hanafis can stand from a safe distance, aim and throw to the best of their ability. The Saudis are building a third bridge and so security should be better - but take no chances. As I said earlier, find out where and when potential stampedes could occur and avoid them. By the way, the second time we nearly died was on the sa'ee on the 10th day - an incredible crush… Hanafis should do this wajib sa'ee before they leave for Mina at the beginning, to avoid this fate.
It is very easy to get lost anywhere. Before splitting up have a plan in place in case you can't find each other later. Make sure everyone has mobile phones on them. Stick to your group at all times.
I heard a Sheikh advise: Take it easy in the day and make your movements in night. Sound advice as the heat in the day is draining. Rest - even sleep - in the day and then go the Mosque at night for 'ibada. If you travel to places in the cool periods you are less likely to get caught up in extreme crowds.
Learn some Arabic before you go (actually Urdu is almost as good).
Set aside specific days for shopping (if relatives and friends expect presents) but do not be burdened. If people complain on your return remind them that you have not been on holiday but have made a sacred pilgrimage.
Climb to the summits of the Cave of Hira and Thor - a truly enjoyable and great day out to 2 incredibly sacred monuments of history.
If you want to kiss the Hajar Aswad despite the crowds then go at early Tahajjud time and queue on the ropes of the Kabah face. The key is to patiently queue and you'll eventually get there.
Do not walk to Arafat from Mina. We did and, although had a great time, arrived much later than the coaches and were stuck in human traffic for so long that we had little time to make du'a before having to leave! So go by coach with the group (many writers advise that walking is quicker than the coaches. However, probably because of the Saudis sorting out the roads, coach journeys were never a problem and always faster). Where there is no fear of missing deadlines seize the opportunity to walk because that is where you really feel the spirit of Hajj. Sheikh Nuh recommends walking from Arafat to Muzdalifa as this is where you can feel the baraka of all yours sins being forgiven (you've just completed the fardh of hajj).
Be prepared with soft, warm bedding, food and thick prayer mats for Muzdalifa. Everywhere else you can buy merchandise from countless street stalls and salesman. However, in Muzdalifa you are left entirely to your own devices on a stony, barren plain. I was freezing and found it difficult to pray or sleep with only the pathetic 'hajji mat' acting as a barrier between me and the skin cutting floor. Again, I was not warned about this and so I am warning you - it is adventurous but unproductive unless you are well prepared for the worse.
England groups are probably the only ones without a kind of Hajji uniform. One thing I noticed about all the other nations is that they wore really practical bags around them in which they could keep their sandals with them all the time.
This is not a travel piece. I am sorry for being so negative but I assume you all know the greatness of hajj and a few dangers are not going to put you off - and it shouldn't. Ahmad Thomson translates hajj as 'difficult journey' and boy it is! Undoubtedly, the hardest aspect is the crowds. It is incomprehensible how crowded and claustrophobic it can become. Indeed, I felt much of my time was spent protecting my mother and wife from being pushed around. So I felt that I could not achieve the spiritual concentration desired during much of my hajj. I complained to Sheikh Faraz Rabbani, my dear friend and great scholar, about this and he left me with the following pearls of wisdom (to the nearest effect and in my own words) which I wish I heard before going:
"In the old days the veil between one's hajj and Allah was on the journey to Mecca; highway robbers, bandits, disease, death en-route, etc. Nowadays these problems are non-existent but the problems start once you get there. The modern 'veils' are the crowds. Past and present there was, is and always will be, different types of hardships. But the hardships, in whatever form they take, are a veil between the servant and his Lord. In hajj the best means to pierce this veil is to go with a spiritually focussed group."
Hajj, in my experience, helps immerse you in three states: patience (with people, systems, and our times); du'a (you are constantly, constantly doing du'a as you are constantly around mubarak places for du'a - tawaf, sa'ee, zam-zam, Arafat, etc.) and love of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) [as this is the very lesson of Medina - all you want to do is durood!].
Please forgive me for the many shortcomings in this brief letter. I have no doubt missed out many important things and could only recall what came to mind when writing.
Whilst on Hajj remember me in your du'as and convey my salams to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).
Imdad-ul-Haque and Family
to Travelogues page