Tue 24 October 2017

Imdad and Family.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Islam, Assalaamu Alaikum

I went on hajj, by the grace of Allah, in January 2004 (1424AH). I have been asked to give some informal brotherly advice for the readers of this website based on my recent experience of this awesome pilgrimage. The way I'll do this is to focus on activities I found to be a success from experience and also to impart wise counsel from the 'ulema which I learnt after. The topics I want to share with you are: how to learn the rites of hajj; choice of one's group; recommended books to take with one; safety; top tips and a summary of the best advice I can think of. I have tried throughout to discuss things which you are unlikely to hear from a standard lecture or read from a typical hajj guidebook. I hope, above all, that my words do not put you off, but rather help equip you with essential knowledge needed for a mubarak journey.

Learning the Rites of Hajj

Before embarking on any act of worship it is absolutely essential to learn how to perform it in accordance with the Qur'an and Sunnah, as interpreted by one of the four schools (madhabs) of law. In other words, you have to study the fiqh of hajj, umra and ziyaara.

One easy way of doing this is to attend one of many Fiqh of Hajj courses that take place in the months preceding Dhul-Hijjah at many local masajid. I live in Preston, a small city in North West England, and I managed to attend a very detailed, interactive and useful course. These courses tend to be led by a team of 'ulema and seasoned hajjis reflecting that learning the practical application of rules is particularly important in this 'ibada - it is very hard to understand the theoretical rules of hajj unless someone knowledgeable and who has actually performed hajj demonstrates. Better still is to study one of the major texts of hajj (e.g. Hanafis can study the chapter on hajj in Nur al-Iddah) with an 'alim who has ijaaza to teach it.

Whether you have been on a course or not, you cannot dispense with a fiqh book to refer to once you are there. For the Hanafis, countless hajjis and 'alims have recommended the three pocket size booklets on Umra, Hajj and Ziyaara by Shaykh Saleem Dhorat of the Leicester Dawah Academy. I can testify that these 3 booklets were a constant aid for me throughout my journey. Shafi'is are fortunate to have an entire classical manual of sacred law in English - 'Reliance of the Traveller', by Sheikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller. Sheikh Nuh also has an excellent tape on his own personal experience of the hajj which I recommend for its invaluable practical wisdom.

If you are a man and are taking womenfolk or young family with you, it is essential that you teach what you know to them. I went with my wife, mother and teenage brother. We had daily ta'leems (study circles) in the weeks preceding our departure. We kept the sessions to less than an hour and I would teach what I learnt from attending courses and reading (a great way to learn it yourself!). To avoid dryness and boredom we would devote 15 minutes to take turns in reading about the virtues of hajj. For this I have not found any book superior to Maulana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi's 'Virtues of Hajj' which is replete with Quranic ayahs, ahadith and inspiring stories of the awliya.

The Group

The group, as I will re-emphasise later, is certainly one of the most important factors for a successful hajj. As I went with my in-laws, I consented to going with my father-in-law's close friend's hajj group. He was a great and caring leader and he ensured we had good accommodation and that the general administration would go smoothly. However, much of the group were elderly and all of them were Urdu speakers. Thus much of the amir's teaching was hard for me to benefit from and there was a large generation gap between the group and myself. Thus my advice would be to ensure that you go with a spiritually focussed group of people you can relate to and which is led by a righteous, experienced and knowledgeable 'alim - someone you would trust to give you correct fiqh rulings and whose character inspires.

Make sure that the amir has appointed a deputy to delegate responsibility to should he have to; on the journey back our amir could not come with us and, as there was no undisputed deputy, chaos and ugly argumentation arose when organising the coach home from Heathrow. Furthermore, the amir should be well aware of the tremendous dangers of stampedes - where and when they can likely occur and what strategy to avoid them. Our amir did not warn us and we could have lost our lives as I explain later.

When choosing a group you have to take into consideration who you are taking with you. If you are a single man going alone for example, then I would concentrate on the quality of the people in the group and not worry too much about accommodation etc. You can rough it if you have to! For you, much of your time will be out of the hotel and in the Haram Sharif. For married couples it is a different story altogether. Please, please do not bring young children! It is not the time and place for them. One of the most heart breaking moments for me was when squeezing through the human traffic in Arafat we heard the agonised cries of a lost child - and there are many of them. Couples must consider the quality of hotel, distance from the sacred mosque and food. If you are a young or fit couple/ family then walking to the masjid can be a joy - never will you see so many people walking to mosque for Fajr! Ask the tour guide if he can provide you with a couples room. My wife and I had a couples room for much of our time in Mecca and all of Medina. If sharing, make sure you agree who you are sharing with before you arrive and are shoved into a small room of strangers.

Your group is your suhba (company) and good suhba is no-where more important than on hajj. You will go through incredible stress, trials of patience and hardship - your family will feel like a burden and so your companions should be the ones who can lift you up and help you achieve your purpose - a sacred spiritual journey to Allah's house.


As you can imagine, you will have plenty of travel time and thus plenty of time to read and do zikr (remembrance of Allah). I would recommend the following for the journey to Mecca and beyond:

  • 'Virtues of Hajj' by Sheikh Zakariyya Kandahlawi
  • 'The Difficult Journey' by Ahmad Thomson - the ultimate hajj travel guide. Read the incredible story of how a young convert goes to hajj in the 70s with only a return ticket to Athens, a few pounds, and 1 change of clothes.
  • Fiqh books - constantly go over these and memorise all the relevant du'as
    For Medina:
  • A book on the life of the Beloved Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) - my favourite is undoubtedly the translation of Martin Lings. It reads as if you were actually there, is a thrilling, tear-jerking page turner and written in beautiful English.
  • A book on the life of the Sahaba (Allah be pleased with them) - AbdulWahid Hamid's 2 book series (The Companions of the Prophet)is excellent
  • A book of Durood - I read Imam Jazuli's, 'Dhalail Khayrat' which is one of the Umma's greatest. Just sit under the Green Dome and read a portion a day.
    For all times:
  • Qur'an - it goes without saying. You should plan your recitation and all 'ibadah for the entire duration. Make a programme and give yourself targets for your time there.
  • The Seerah books (mentioned under Medina) - Imagine, you will be walking on the same land that the greatest people in history walked. Thus there is nothing like reading about the history of the people and sacred cities you are in.
  • Zikr and Qaseedas (Islamic Songs) - don't go with a dry, rigid group. What joy there is in a bus full of hajjis singing songs of praise for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) or doing group zikr. I took the Qaseeda Burda Shareef and translations of famous English nasheeds '(Madinatu Nabi' is essential) On the way back:
  • '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.

    Top Tips

    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

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