My Hadjj Experience as a Latina Muslim
By Rocío Martínez-Mendoza
I am a Latina Muslim from Mexico City who now lives in west Texas. My husband is Moroccan, and, as a result, home is full of Latin and Arab culture alhamduliAllah. My husband and I have been planning our Hadjj trip but didn’t have the chance to do it either because of money, visa, or pregnancy reasons. When we finally thought we were able to do it and started the planning my husband told me that it is inshaAllah going to be a very different kind of trip; it is not a trip for vacation, for leisure, nor for resting. For this same reason we would travel very light, with one bag for both of us. I started preparing myself a couple of months before by reading and trying to memorize Arabic phrases, which I knew were important from the moment we do our intention for Umrah.
We started our trip on January 11th at 5:00 am from our city; we needed to stop in four different cities to make different connections. As I knew from previous readings, from the moment we do our intention in the plane and while already wearing the clothes for ihram, the feeling is different. I wondered several times what all the non-Muslims around us might be thinking – about this bunch of weird people with men wearing two huge towels and everybody is reciting out loud the same words over and over again. We arrived on Jan 13 at the airport of Jeddah around 11 pm. By this time, the long trip really convinced me that this was not a normal trip. Because of the amount of people in the airport and the short number of employees the immigration has, the process was very slow.
We arrived at our hotel in Mecca on Jan 14th at 7 am. AlhamduliAllah we traveled with two other couples, friends of ours. When we went to our hotel, we could see the door of Abdel-Aziz of the Al-Haram Mosque. It was no more than 150 feet from our hotel, which alhamduliAllah was such a big blessing. We were eager to go inside the mosque and perform our Umrah. I cannot explain my feeling while being inside the place where our Prophet and other Prophets prayed and more important to see in person the Kaba. I felt an enormous cold air and a feeling of content. I was for the first time in my life, and maybe the only time, in front of such a sanctified place and toward where all the Muslims pray and have prayed five times daily. I thanked Allah many times while being there for this opportunity and for the ease in which we reached our targeted place. The exhaustion and hunger disappeared, and the only thing I could think of doing was performing my Umrah the way the Prophet did and to make dua’ over and over again.
Between the day we perform Umrah and the day Hadj started was around five days. Five days, in which we prayed our five prayers at the mosque; five days, in which we tried to do tawaf (walking around the Kaba) daily or twice a day. We walked around and saw the city and the people. We made friends and shared experiences. It is such a wonderful and peaceful place because of its importance. The only thing a person thinks about doing is visiting the mosque and praying and praying. We performed alhamduliAllah our Hadjj with no major problems. We tried to be careful with ourselves and with others. Hadjj is a test of patience and kindness all along; from start to finish.
One can perceive the diversity in the Muslim community. There are people from every corner of the world. After listening to comments from people who have performed Hadjj, I can see that the Saudi authorities have made wonderful improvements in their planning and organization. I believe they could improve the whole process by adding more employees in order to make the whole process go faster. Saudi authorities should improve their way of moving people from place to place during hadjj. For example from Mecca to Minna, and then Musdalifa and then to Arafat, and then to Minna and so on. These are very short distances. However, because the majority of the people do it by vehicle, it takes hours and hours to get to each point, and people’s lives are put in danger. Sometimes, walking between the smoky, noisy buses and cars is faster. Improved means of transportation would certainly facilitate the hadjj experience. However, alhamduliAllah everybody finds his or her way to get from place to place.
I was surprised to see that the way of building in Saudi Arabia is very similar to that in Mexico and other Latin American countries as well as in Morocco. The houses are made of brick covered with stucco. The arrangement of streets, green areas, and public spaces within the cities are also similar to a Latin American country and in Morocco. Looking outside my hotel window and seeing the mosque, listening to the adan of the prayers and hearing the noise of people was an experience in itself. I cannot emphasize how important it is to stay close to the mosques rather than having a nice, farther hotel. We could concentrate on our prayers better than if we had stayed in a fancy hotel with fancy meals.
Street vendors are not allowed to sell on the streets. Security cars drive around looking for them and remove their merchandise. Vendors in the streets run to escape from the security and look for more hidden locations at times in the day where security does not show up. I noticed that they were all Saudi women wearing all black with niqab as well as their children. All their products were very inexpensive; such as hijabs, niqabs, toys, prayer rags, clothes, fabrics, miswak, and such. One thing that came to my attention is that there are not local craft items, at least not in the areas surrounding the mosques. All their products are from places like China, Turkey, and India. There are not products that are hand-made and made from the local people. Maybe in other parts of the country it is easier to find such products but not in the area of Mecca and Medina.
I couldn’t believe the number of children begging on the streets. Many of them did not have hands or arms. A sheik in our group told us that the children are from Sudan and other African Muslim countries whose hands or arms are removed. Then, the children are sold to become beggars of money from hadjjis as charity. I could not believe the amount of children and teenagers in this same condition. It is very disappointing and devastating. How could we Muslims do such a crime with our own people in order to get money? How can the authorities allow such crime? May Allah guide them.
I also noticed that the majority of the store vendors are Bangladesh Muslims. One of them explained to me that their country is in very bad condition and that moving to Saudi Arabia was a better choice, even if they do not pay them very well and do not treat them as the rest of the people. However, this is very obvious because they are in almost every single store and construction. Very few local people are seen working. Local Saudi people are seen in government positions or in public offices. Other men are seen resting and smoking on the street with no apparent job.
I also noticed the extremes between the wealth inside the mosques and the poverty outside the mosques. Both big mosques are covered with detail, either gold or other colors, or just detail in their walls, ceilings, and columns. I always thought that Saudi Arabia was a rich country where people live in good condition. I was disappointed to see how much poverty is seen on the streets. A couple of streets away from the main mosques, the streets are dirty, the houses are old and not maintained, old cars pollute the air with thick smoke, and beggars are found in every corner. In general, the people from the lower classes seem to be extremely poor and with no education. I could not understand how the mosques could be exaggeratedly decorated while local people live in extreme poverty. I understand that the mosques are very important and holy landmarks for the country but I think that if the Prophet (pbuh) were alive today, he would completely disagree of such contrast. A mosque is first and foremost a place to pray, and thus, mosques should limit distraction. However, the mosques are beautiful, clean, and well maintained. Saudi authorities have security in every door and inside the mosque. You can feel very secure visiting the mosques at any time of the day.
A storm hit the area on the last day of Hadjj while returning from Minna to Mecca. I don’t think that Saudi Arabia gets much rain, and thus, the city was not prepared for that amount of rain. The rain resulted in flooded streets. Traffic did not allow us to return by car. Instead, we returned to Mecca by walking. The streets were rivers. Water was up to people’s knees in certain areas. Trash was everywhere. All along the way to Mecca, we saw car accidents, destroyed streets, as well as ruined business. It was a tremendous disaster for some locals as well as for hadjjis.
I have heard that a person is never the same after returning from Hadjj. I did not pay enough attention to those words until I was there. I immediately felt like a different person, and I thought that I should make a difference with my life. I could not continue to ask forgiveness for the things I do intentionally wrong and then ask Allah swt to forgive me. He is allowing me to live and fulfill all my wishes, and I should not ignore His blessings.
Hadjj has been one of my strongest experiences as a Muslim. I did not realize until after returning from Hadjj that what I have accomplished represents a significant part of my life as a Muslim. I am very pleased with the opportunity Allah (swt) gave my husband and me. May Allah accept our Hadjj, inshaAllah. May Allah give us all Jennah, especially to those who died during Hadjj as a result of the difficulties such as crowdedness or weather conditions.
May Allah forgive me for anything that is included in this article that could offend anybody. My intention is not to offend or insult people, places, or the actions of anybody. My comments are personal, and I tried to express only my opinion. I believe in equality of all people. I pray to Allah that one day we will all live in peace and respect one another.