Hajj, Jan - Mar 2004

My Hajj Journals

By Shinoa

Day 1: January 18, 2004
Sunday 5:30am

We’re here at the Novotel Hotel in Cairo where we spent three hours sleeping. Originally, we meant to go straight to Jeddah but our entire group missed our flights. Needless to say, this is my first opportunity to write down a few thoughts. It’s about 5:30am, and I’m waiting for Brenda to finish getting ready. We just washed and entered into the state of Ihram for Umrah. The rest of the group should be already downstairs eating breakfast. My own flight to London the previous night was calm and without much turbulence, Thank God.

I was seated in an exit seat so my legs feel great. And six hours to London is nothing. Got to Heathrow Airport around 11am and had to wait till 3:15pm for Brenda’s plane to get in from LAX. So I basically copped a spot by a terminal and slept on/off. I was waiting by our gate when I saw her hurrying to make our second plane flying to Cairo. I hadn’t eaten since that morning so on this next flight, Brenda and I looked like crack heads waiting for the food to be served.

I don’t think I’ve ever eaten airline food with as much gusto as I did that day. Brenda’s doing her Rakkats now so I gotta run!

6:30am

We ate breakfast and just boarded the bus; we’re on our way to catch a flight to Jeddah. We’re dressed, me in white pants and blue jelbab, Brenda in white pants and beige jelbab. Matching hijabs of course. I met a few of the men and women from our group. Particularly friendly is this couple from California. She’s white; and he’s an Arab, Palestinian, I think. They used to live in Kuwait but recently moved back to the states. First time doing hajj for both. Karen and Rayad (not sure the spelling). Brenda and I seem to be the only Latinas in our group. There’s African, all sorts of Arabs, white, Pakistani, you name it, and no one seems to question anyone being Muslim. We’re all interested in each other’s conversion stories, but I didn’t feel like the woman in the “Inside Mecca” video felt. How she became tired of people questioning her conversion. Despite sleeping only three hours, we’re all very alert. We’ve yet to meet Dr. Omar Khattab, our group leader and organizer, and our guides are trying their best to get us to and from. Nonetheless, I feel a bit lost. Not sure how the others are taking it all. Even our luggage seems to be in limbo.

Alhamdulillah, Brenda and I decided prior to the trip that we’d bring only one piece of luggage and that it would be a carry-on. That way, we could breeze through customs and have our belongings with us.

10:30am

Detained in Cairo. Brenda and I are stuck at the Cairo Airport along with two other Arab women from another tour group. On our first time out applying for visas, the Saudi government deemed that we were too young to be traveling to their country alone, lest we should stir the desires of the other Hajji men. The tour director resubmitted our applications and assigned us a Mahram from the group itself. Brother Ahmed Rahman, a convert from Thailand, whom Brenda chanced to meet at the groups pre-trip gathering in California. Our Mahram along with a few others from the group landed in Saudi a few days prior to our departure. Egypt could not allow us to fly to Jeddah alone because the Saudi Government would impose a fine on them if they found out that the Egyptian government allowed us to fly to Jeddah unchaperoned. So our group left on the original flight around 8:30am, and Brenda and I were left behind.

The guide assigned to us has been trying fervently to get us through. I suggested he call Omar Khattab, our tour organizer in Saudi, but he said he didn’t know who he was. No one has called to inquire about us nor noticed that there are two women missing from the group. We just hope that Imanni, one of the sisters from the group, was able to relay what’s going on. Funny thing is, they’re holding our passports so we can’t walk into the newer part of the airport, nor can we exchange money because we need the passports to do so. Also, we are not allowed to leave the airport. It’s a no win situation. I’m trying not to become frustrated because I’m in the state of Ihram. Boy, didn’t think I was going to be tested this soon. Alhamdulillah, the other Arab girls in our situation are friendly. Tamara and Maison. Poor Maison. Her elderly mother was already checked in, and their luggage was checked onto the plane when she was told she couldn’t go. Regardless, her group along with her mother had to go without her, and she was worried about who would care for her mother.

Here’s a funny story for you. One of the Egyptian customs agents saw me and inquired with Tamara about wanting to marry me. I told her to tell him I was in the state of Ihram and couldn’t discuss marriage with anyone. Can you believe that? I told the girls jokingly that I’d consider the proposal if he could get us out of here. Lolol. Here we are sitting and waiting for our Mahram to fax over a copy of his passport and airline ticket to prove that he was in the country. Why their computers can’t detect that, I have no clue. But whatever.

3:00pm

Hurray!!!!!!!! We just received our fax from the Mahram, Alhamdulillah. The two sisters, however, had to be left behind unfortunately. Their Mahram hadn’t faxed over his paperwork. We took down their info, so we can call their travel director as soon as we arrive in Jeddah. But even worse, I think I broke my Ihram. I got into a tiny argument with Brenda, and I guess I’m still learning to holding my tongue. Perhaps it’s the pressure of being detained and thinking we weren’t going to ever get there. Who knows, but inshallah, Allah (swt) knows what is in our hearts. I showered again and made a new intention.

January 20, 2004
Tuesday
9am

I didn’t get a chance to write yesterday because the incredible delay we witnessed. I think the last time I left off we were flying from Cairo to Jeddah after our Mahram’s fax came through. The flight was great, and when we landed, amazingly enough, we only spent about forty minutes in customs. Gracias a Dios. We had been told to prepare to spend hours there. Because we were the only two Americans among a group of Egyptians bound for Hajj, they processed us through. One agent singled us out and spoke with the others to get us through. We explained that our own group in Cairo left us behind because of our Mahram situation. Prior to processing, we were all herded into a room that reminded me of a concentration camp. I know that’s so bad of me to say, but that’s the feeling I got while in there. Brenda and I received many stares. We looked different, and I guess when we pulled out our passports, the others were wondering what we were doing in their midst. After we were moved to another room that contained customs booths, the young man who checked out passports made sure that Brenda and I sat first. When the processing began, they had no choice but to begin with us. Once processed, we went to another counter to pay the Saudi fees with checks. Those agents were very nice to us. They were genuinely happy to see two American converts embarking on Hajj.

They graced us with smiles and warm wishes for our accepted Hajj. The Saudis in the luggage department were quite surprised to find that we had no luggage other than our carry-on. But hey, we know where our stuff is, thank God. Outside the gates, another customs agent named Mohammad greets us, and we explain our story to him. He was very understanding and pleasant to speak with. He’d even been in the US recently. Mohammad guided us outside to the stadium-like area. Giant canopies or tents cover the outside shop area and gates. He solicits a young boy to guide us to an office where they will provide transportation to the visa agency and to our hotel. I guess we weren’t allowed to wonder around by ourselves. Lol. But here’s where the nightmare begins.

After what seemed like a two-hour wait, we are directed over to a bus where we sit and wait for what seemed like another two hours while they load our bus with luggage. The bus is filled with Afghanis, and we’re the only two American’s amongst them. The drive to Makkah took over two hours because our bus was old and wasn’t able to accelerate to a higher speed. Cars and other buses kept passing us by! Finally, we reach the visa stop, but Brenda and I begin to get anxious and angry because no one is listening to us. We continuously said that we weren’t with this group to which the reply was always “okay.”

Alhamdulillah, we were taken to the American visa stop. Getting out luggage down from the bus was another story. Because the entire luggage was lumped together, a team of youths was told to look for our two pieces of luggage amongst the many. Around 3:40am, we were escorted to the office. The Saudi officials inside were very kind. They offered us water and tea, gifted us with books and treated us very well. Finally, a guide was sent to escort us to our hotel in Makkah. We reached our room at about 5:00am, just in time for Fajr. Most of our roommates were sleeping. Brenda knows two of them from the California Hajj meeting. We carted ourselves off to breakfast and came back to the room for some major sleeping. We were very exhausted from our “trip”; and we slept straight through to Asr prayer. We were dying to see Masjid Al-Haram, but Brenda and decided to wait till we were ready to do our Umrah. That night at dinner, a brother was kind enough to offer to take us to perform Umrah as the rest of the group had already performed theirs the previous day.

At 10pm, we headed over there that evening and even then, the Masjid was packed. We entered and kept our eyes down because we were told you shouldn’t look at the Kabbah till you make a dua. We come upon it, and I feel nothing. It doesn’t resonate with me at all. Brenda begins to cry, and I’m more in awe of the masses of white clothes circling. Hoards of people are pushing you, and I wonder how Allah judges that person. I’m fully aware of their attempts to remain linked in order to keep groups together, but at times, it seems they push on purpose.

Brenda and I also linked arms and tried to focus on our dua’s and brother Ferris. We didn’t want to lose him in the crowd. Prior to going, a sister told us many dead crickets and bugs were on the floor, and so we made a point to walk with socks. At many points during our Tawaf, empty pockets allowed us to walk with relative calm. I tried my best to keep my eyes cast down on the white marble floor because anything can easily divert your attention from your dua’s: a pretty hijab, the color-coordinated groups, the Kabbah itself. It wasn’t until the third or fourth tawaf, after much supplication, that I began to feel anything at all. My eyes watered as I begged the Almighty for his Mercy and thanked him for his invitation. I begged for any hypocrisy to be removed from my heart and that I my iman increase more and more. I realized at that moment that I shouldn’t feel ashamed of my lack of emotion upon seeing the Kabbah. Similarly as Allah (swt) revealed Islam to me slowly and progressively, my Umrah and Hajj might also work the same way.

For the rest of the Tawaf and Sa’I, I supplicated much and through Allah’s grace, I was able to remain focused. My main problem has always been my dua’s. At times, I don’t even make dua’ because I’m too ashamed of having committed sin that I feel he won’t forgive me. And, that is actually doubting the Almighty’s mercy and forgiveness. Once done with Tawaf, we prayed our two Rakat, drank sweet zamzam water, and completed our Sa’i. Again, Allah blessed me with patience and concentration, and I supplicated the entire time I was walking between the two hills. We finished Umrah around 2am and decided to eat some Shwarma. I’m not sure what country this comes from but I think its Pakistani. But it consists of meat that is sort of roasted and then shredded away, mixed with onions and peppers and then put into pita bread. Because our shop ran out of pita bread, they put it in a hot dog bun. The place was grungy and filled with flies but we didn’t care. Back at the hotel, I couldn’t close my eyes and remained awake until Fajr.

January 20, 2004
11:55pm

We finally made fajr prayer at the Masjid Al-Haram today. We arrived almost an hour and a half early and barely found spots at the entrance. Brenda and I sat and read the Qur’an, tried to make conversation with what seemed like Indian and Malaysian women. Not much was understood except they realized we were converts and so were trying to find out if we’d made our two initial rakats. Perhaps they assumed we were beginners and to tell you the truth, I know after all this, I truly am just beginning, Alhamdulillah. After Fajr, we made Janazah prayer for someone who had died, which I’ve never done before. I couldn’t see far enough to see where the body was held. I wonder whom the person was and how lucky they were to have millions of Muslims praying for their pardon.

After breakfast, we took a short excursion with the group to the mountain of Uhud, Mount Arafat, and drove by the Jamarat. We were blessed to meet a Palestinian who had met and married a Puerto Rican woman. He had lived in Puerto Rico for over 15 years and spoke Spanish just like a Puerto Rican. It was amazing. Back at our hotel room, my roommates and I prayed Zuhr together. It was the first time I heard a woman calling the Iqama and a female voice leading the prayer. At that very moment, those women were my flesh and blood sisters. We were together attempting to fulfill our prayer obligations united in one direction, worshipping the same God. Our racial and social status meant nothing as we prostrated shoulder-to-shoulder, foot-to-foot. It was very empowering as a Muslim, alhamdulillah, and I pray for another such opportunity again.

Of course, we shopped at the mall below our hotel, and then we returned to our room for a huge discussion on hijab. We discussed the exact wording and meaning in the Qur’an and the Haddith in reference to the covering of women. In one haddith, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) points to his hands and face after being asked about the required covering for women who have reached the age of puberty. In the end, some of us agreed about the requirement of hijab, and some of us did not. We all agreed that the hijab couldn’t harm us. After sleeping for three hours, we had dinner. I’ve never been big on catnaps, but boy, I tell you, the flight, being in Makkah, and staying awake after Fajr really does take a toll on you.

January 21, 2004
Wednesday
3pm

We headed to the Masjid Al-Haram for Fajr today. Brenda and I found spots but we lost the others. Upon sitting, she reveals that the pregnancy test she took that morning came out positive. A Hajji baby. How ’bout that??? After breakfast, Lynn and I headed back to the masjid to make Tawaf. After we were done, it felt like someone had poured cool water all over me. That’s how refreshing and invigorated I felt. By the time we were on our seventh circuit, the sun was peaking through.

10pm

Imanni, Lynn, and I headed over to the Tameen Masjid, otherwise known as Aisha’s Masjid, but Aisha is not buried there. The masjid is white with many windows. Because the women’s section is closed off, we couldn’t really see the inside to the main hall. Once we prayed our two Rakat, we stopped by the men’s section and sneaked a peak inside. The masjid itself is a Meeqat point for Ihram.

January 22, 2004
Thursday
1pm

We woke up extra early for Fajr, and we copped a much closer spot in view of the Kabbah. Afterward, we had breakfast back at the Sofitel Hotel. Imanni, Lynn, and I headed out again to the Prophet’s (PBUH) house where he was born. Unfortunately, it was closed off, and we weren’t allowed to go near it. Although we were extremely far from it, this man began yelling at us, shooing us away. At one point, we just stopped to look at it from afar, but he continued to yell at us, even as we looked back while walking away. We think it was closed off because some Saudi official was in the area. While praying on the roof of the Masjid today at Fajr time, Rohanna saw police making room through the crowd for a man near the Kabbah. After the bodyguards moved people out of the way, the official was able to pray right in front of the Kabbah. I guess we are not as equal during the Hajj as the experience means for us to be.

January 24, 2004
Saturday
12:15am

I have just settled into bed in our new hotel room at the Movenbeck in Medina. We spent the entire afternoon trying to get here. I was able to make a third Tawaf before I left Makkah. We were able to make Jummah prayer at the Masjid before leaving for Medina. It was my first experience with the pushing and shoving that I’ve seen on television. Many hajjis were trying to push their way into the Masjid while the majority of the crowd was trying to exit. The crushing of the crowd felt like a sporting event. By the time we got outside, rain began to fall, Subhanna Allah. Many people ran back into the Masjid to make another Tawaf in the rain for maximum blessings, although I’ve never heard of that, and some people were quoting ahaddith. After waiting for who knows how many hours in the hotel lobby, we boarded our buses for the airport, and our luggage was soaked from the rain. The airport was total confusion, and we had no clue where to put our luggage.

January 25, 2004
Sunday
11:30am

Yesterday was our first day in the Movenbeck Hotel, a recently constructed hotel with two towers housing hundreds of guests. Apparently, because the hotel is only two weeks old, they are working out a few kinks. We had no towels. The phone didn’t work. No one could call in. All the lanterns did not have actual bulbs. Although there are four of us, we were only given two room keys. To top it all off, our keys don’t work! We have to continuously go to the lobby to have our keys reprogrammed. Brenda, Imanni, Karen, and I are sharing this room. Lynn and Rohanna were placed in two other separate rooms with non-English speaking women. The tour director doesn’t seem to be aware of who is missing and who is here.

Medina seems more modern and cleaner than Makkah. Whereas Makkah has mostly small authentic looking shops and apartments built on hills, Medina has high-rise hotels and Westernized looking shops. Regardless, Masjid E-Nabwi is a sight too incredible to describe. Almost instantly upon entering, I was overcome with a feeling of emotion. The blue stripping on the ceiling reminded me of the Al-Hambra in Spain. Gold plate decorations and pillars as far as your eye can go. The Masjid contains retractable domes and retractable shades that cover the top of the pillars in the main area where the Prophet’s body is located. His burial area is closed off by partitions and the crowd of women was a mob scene. Women have designated times when they can enter that area. Imanni and I didn’t even attempt to go near the Prophet’s area. People were crying, pushing, and shoving. We both greeted the Prophet (saws) and his companions (ra) from afar and prayed. At that point in the Masjid, Islam seemed much more real to me, much more concrete. Knowing the Prophet’s body was near added to the reality of Al-Islam.

Brenda and I in front of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina on the morning of the first day of Hajj.

January 26, 2004
Monday
11:40am

I am sitting here in the Prophet’s Masjid awaiting zhuhr. It’s pretty early, but I sit here alone with the desire to be just that, alone. Sometimes the presence of others can have a negative effect on you although it may not seem that way. So today I ventured to the local neighborhood where more of the poorer people live. The flats and stores look more like those of Makkah and the contrast between that area and the surrounding area of the great Masjid contrast greatly. At first glance, I thought Medina looked much more polished and modern than Makkah, but the reality is both of the masjid are rich within their small boundaries. But outside that, the neighborhoods are filled with Souks and dingy buildings. Frankly to be honest, I find that to be more charming and comfortable. Posh hotels and stores that resemble the Las Vegas strip surround the Prophet’s Masjid. The Masjid Al-Haram’s grandeur, however, ends within its walls.

The day is glorious. Gracias A Dios. Where Makkah was constantly warm, Medina is cool. The mornings are very chilly. You need socks and a nice wrap to keep you warm. The afternoons give off a pleasant breeze in the midst of the glaring sun. And, surrounding marble floor outside the Prophet’s Masjid is always cold. Some type of cooling system must be underneath it.

The marble floor outside the Prophet’s Mosque is very beautiful. He’s buried under the green dome. Lynn is with me in this picture.

2:00pm

I stayed at the Masjid past zhuhr. While exiting, I came across a beautiful site, mashallah. Many African women were sitting or lying down outside the Masjid. I remember speaking with the others about how some Muslims during their entire lives save to come to Hajj. Although they can afford the journey, they cannot afford the lodging, and yet here they are. Who knows how they arrive. Whereas we complain on our cushy planes about late flights, they walk miles to get to their modes of transportation.

The women gather around one of the many lamps outside the masjid. They lay down place mats then eat and talk. Many are wearing colorful clothing and headscarves. And one of them smiles at me during prayers; their beautiful smiles seem to be a Salaam straight from Allah. Most read Arabic, and I feel a little left behind in my Islamic progress. But inshallah, Allah quells those feelings. I know that I go through Islam at my own pace. So I sit outside the Masjid now, capturing this picture with words.

While I’m at it, I am reminded of two instances in the past two days that are noteworthy. On our first day at Fajr in Medina, Imanni, and I were walking into the Prophet’s Masjid. The crowd of women was thick. Because we were late, there was no space inside for us. As we walked through rows of women to get outside, one African sister was arguing with security women who wore niqab. The security women stand guard at the women’s entrances and check bags for cameras and what not. They argued back and forth about the African women blocking a walking area. I’m unsure who started it, but they began hitting each other, right at the doors of Masjid E-Nabawi. Yesterday for Fajr prayer, Brenda and I sat in front of this much older woman who handed me a brochure that was lying on the floor. Apparently, she assumed it belonged to me. I motioned that the brochure wasn’t mine. She realized I wasn’t Arabic speaking, and she continued to stare at me. After a small nudge on my shoulder, she hands me some nuts and dried fruit as a present to eat. I thank her adamantly and show Brenda what she gave me. Upon realizing that Brenda was with me, she nudges me again and hands me some more nuts to give to Brenda. Lol.

I am sitting alongside a rail outside Masjid E-Nabawi with my feet sticking out in the sun. A cool breeze combined with the warmth of the sun makes this a wonderful day. Who wants to be inside a stuffy hotel with such beautiful sisters around me enjoying the blessings of Allah. The Masjid itself is a grandiose monument. Not one light bulb is blown out, and I saw a man earlier polishing the gigantic outdoor lamps surrounding it. The lamps are over fifty feet high, and there must be at least fifty or more. Now the rugs are being taken outside, I assume to be cleaned. The women guards are constantly sweeping and mopping. I wonder if they get paid to be there or if they are volunteers.

January 28, 2004
Wednesday
9am

We went to the mountain where the Battle of Uhud took place today. We were told a fascinating story about how the battle wasn’t a defeat as some like to think because the enemy retreated after wounding the Prophet (PBUH). After a few hours later, the Prophet assembled an army to follow them. We prayed Surah Al-Fatiha and made du’a for the companions of the Prophets who are buried there. A small one-level building covers their burial area. While the battle was taking place, Tahud would continuously placed himself in front of the Prophet to protect him. At one point, the enemy shot a spear at the Prophet, but Tahud placed his hand in front of the Prophet, and the spear went through his hand. From there, we headed over to the Quba Mosque. I might be confusing it with another masjid. It is here that the Prophet received revelation to change the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Makkah. The frustrating part about these historical places is that because the women’s sections are completely closed off, women can’t see the original domes or areas where the Prophet once stood. We all pay the same price for this journey, but women seem to get cheated out of the full experience. Thank God we prayed there.

Much later, Lynn, Rohanna, Imanni, Brenda, and I hit a local Shwarma spot. I think we might have been the only women in there. They all kept staring at us, probably realizing we must be from another country to have such gall to eat where the boys hang out. Lol. At dinnertime, our tour director informs all the single women or those traveling without their husbands that we will need to find a man to throw stones for us if we cannot throw the stones at the Jammart for ourselves. I was amazed to hear this, because when we signed up, we were told someone would be available to help us throw the stones. So far, we have been pretty much on our own, and now, what are we supposed to do if we can’t get inside the crowds to throw? Most of the men were already throwing for other people. Alhamdulillah, along with some other men, our Mahram has offered to help us throw the stones, inshallah.

January 29, 2004
Thursday
9:38am

We are onboard a bus heading to Mina. We’re donned in our white Ihram outfits that we bought for 10 bucks in a local shop a block away from our hotel. Our first stop was Ali’s well where we made Wudu and our intention for Hajj. The route to the house in Azizaih truly takes us through the desert. Rolling hills made of pure rock. As far as you can see, one small mountain is after another, surrounded by sand, palm trees, and sun-withered shrubs. I imagine our Prophet (pbuh) riding a camel or horse through these very mountains with his caravan of Muslims following. I imagine the mountains probably crying out to have his feet grace their faces. I still don’t love him as much as I wished I would love him, and I still don’t know him as much as I wished I would know him, but imagining him through this area actually made me cry. I’m sooo confused. Lol. I kick myself for not having spent every single prayer time at his Masjid. May Allah (swt) forgive my laziness and may he liberate me from it.

6:30pm

Our driver is lost in Makkah, and he can’t seem to find the visa office. The other buses must have already reached our private house in Aziza’ah. It’s difficult not to lose one’s temper at the disorganization. I mean, we are all aware that things happen and especially during Hajj. However, being assigned a driver who does not know his way around Makkah is the consequence of our tour director. If we can’t stone the Jamarat because of stampedes and the lack of brothers to help us as promise is also not the result of Hajj but that of our tour company. The fact that two women were detained for over ten hours in Cairo because our Mahram was in Saudi is the result of an unreachable, unsympathetic, and unorganized tour company. But I am reminded that this could be a trial from Allah and that I must stick to my Ihram, inshallah. I just thought I would vent my frustrations out on paper. I wonder if that’s breaking my Ihram.

January 30, 2004
Friday
5:18am

Good news! Alhamdulillah, our group is bunking together again. Our accommodations at Aziza’ah are strange. It’s a privately owned house with many rooms. The house has about four or five rooms on each floor and about five floors. Each room contains about eight to twelve beds covered by the harshest sheets and pillow that I have ever laid upon. The room is completely bare, and there are two bathrooms in our section. We ate downstairs and plopped into bed around 10pm last night. Today we are on our way to Mina.

1:05pm

All six of us along with a few other women we’ve never met have been assigned to tent 163 of camp 41, or the Pakistani camp, next to the King Khalid Bridge in the tent city. The tent city is actually pretty fabulous with the exception of the bathroom and wudu stations. Additional women consist of three Afghanis and two Pakistanis. Rohanna was talking to them. Our rollout cots are more like extremely thick quilts and are actually pretty comfy. Or perhaps we’re just too tired and can’t really tell the difference??? Lolol. The sun is beaming with no sign of a breeze. I sure miss Medina’s weather. We prayed Zuhr in the tent, and we’ll be here overnight. Because our tent is on the other side of a small market and restaurant, we can smell food and hear all the noise of the other Hajjis trying to buy food. This is really camping out. While walking around, all you see is a blanket of white that seems to drain into the horizon.

My roommates and I in our tent which was situated in the Pakistani section in Mina. I’m in the middle.

6:41pm

I forgot who told us about a secret wudu and bathroom area. Well not really secret, just in another tent area. Because the bathrooms are on the other side of the Wudu station and are sort of hidden, they’re not usually packed like our area is. As I was leaving to go wash, I bump right into Tamma, one of the two young women detained along with Brenda and me in Cairo. She was also searching for a place to make Wudu and looked sooo stressed. She goes into her story of her group’s journey to Aziza’ah. Their journey took over twenty hours when it should have only taken seven.

When they finally reached their tents, they were told other people had taken the tents. Apparently this is common, and so they were forced to camp in some of the other group’s tents. We only have about nine to eleven people in our tent. She has over twenty people in hers, and I can’t even imagine where they found the space because the tents aren’t that big. In Cairo, it was Tammara who held onto her cheerful disposition and refused to allow anyone to get her angry. But upon seeing her and making wudu with her, she finally broke down. Not only were they stuck in overcrowded tents, their tour organizer had taken another group back to Makkah to do Umrah and Tammara wasn’t sure whether they were going to reach Arafat with everyone else. She looked extremely tired, and I have to make sure to pray for her. Her kind face and sweet disposition comforted me greatly in Cairo, and I know she was sent as a blessing from Allah. It’s sooooo hard not to become angry. And though I think I’m succeeding at it, I have felt my right eye twitching for days. That means I’m really internalizing my anger. Take it easy sister! Lol.

January 31, 2004
Saturday
9:20am

The tent city is quieter now that most people have left for Arafat. From the beginning, we were all designated colored cloth bands to designate us to the buses. The blue team is still waiting for our bus. Brenda, Lynn, Rohanna, and I were given blue bands. Imanni and Karen were given pink. Last night after Isha, Imanni, Lynn, and I set out for the Jamarat. It took about thirty minutes to get there in the breezy clear night. What was even more spectacular was the sight of all the Hajjis who were setting up camp, walking about, praying, and eating. In one area, it looked as if a multitude of white ants were crawling in all directions.

2pm

We have just arrived late in Arafat because our bus was one of the last ones to leave the tent city. I think there were three tents; one for women and two for men. Needless to say, the women’s tent was packed like sardines, and so Omar finally gave us a portion of the men’s side. One of the sheiks making hajj with his wife gave a lecture. Many of the women were a bit rude especially when Imanni was handing out food. I am not sure why. The premise of Hajj is to be different: control your anger, be kind, generous, and seek refuge in Allah. May Allah forgive us all.

Imanni, Rohanna, and I headed out for a small hill in view of the Mount of Mercy, which was covered with moving white. I would have liked to climb it but just like that Jamarat, I refuse to put my life in danger. We all separated from each other. We pulled out our prayer rugs and climbed into our individual worlds with Allah. Amazing, how we as humans are very limited. Although we humans can only talk to one person at a time, Allah listens at once to us all who are supplicating to Him. I took out my list of people who asked me to make dua’ for them. Of course, Allah knows what I want to say, but I wanted to officially say to these people that I kept my word through the mercy of Allah.

Here I am at the Mount of Mercy at Arafat before Hajj began.

February 1, 2004
Sunday
1am

At Magreb, we boarded the bus from Arafat and attempted to go to Muzdalifah. We are still stuck in traffic. I’m not sure if it constitutes spending the night there, but I think we are within its boundaries. We performed our prayers on the bus, and then almost all of us began to venture onto the highway to collect pebbles. Because there was much traffic, we swerved in and out between the other buses to the side of the road to collect stones. Even after collecting all my stones, the buses still had not moved more than a few feet. I mean it sounds funny, but it was scary too.

As soon as we were trying to move in between buses to get to ours, the buses begin to move a little, and some came really close to us. Our boxed lunches were placed below the bus at Arafat hours ago and are being given out now. They were totally inedible. There were stale croissants, deli meats that obviously can’t be eaten now, a caramel dessert that requires refrigeration, warm soda, and bruised fruit. I ate chips and drank the soda, but you could probably hear my stomach from a mile away. Lol. Omar finally gave up on reaching Muzdalifah and directed the bus to go back to Aziza’ah.

5am

After resting for a tiny while in Aziza’ah, we are now on our way to stone the Jamarat, which represents the stoning of Shaytan and the fight against our temptations. Afterwards, we will return to Makkah and make Tawaf Ifada, or obligatory Tawaf and Sai’a. We reached the bottom section of the biggest Jamarat, and we could barely see anything. The hoards of people who were trying to push their way around the circle for an opportunity to throw stones was extremely frightening. Our small group attempted to get in, but we were almost toppled to the ground by the crowd that was pushing from many directions. It was a classic mob scene. We were so compacted in the crowd that it felt like my chest would cave in. There was no air, and the looks on people’s faces were maddening. Some groups linked arms and rammed their way into the area. Huge men would go in and return sweating, bruised, and quite scared.

After seeing a small pocket, Lynn and I took the chance to go in again. I held her while she threw and then she held me as I threw. I am not even sure if I actually hit the thing because my eyes were fluttering with anticipation of a rock crashing through it. Rocks were flying everywhere. Shoulders were pushing you down. People were screaming. It was complete pandemonium. And no one seemed to stop or think that it was wrong to inflict pain on another human being. The complete disregard for human life was in complete odds with what the hajj stands for. The stoning as a representation of Shaytan was not worth the life of a sister or brother.

We clipped a portion of our hair while on our way out of the Jamarat area. Then, we squeezed into a car where we were charged thirty Riyals, or about seven bucks, each to Makkah. Because the vehicle was a mini-truck type car, he got nine of us in the car and then boarded another five to seven people on the roof. Although traffic was a nightmare, we arrived in Makkah within an hour. Brenda, Lynn, and I completed our Tawaf together but we lost the others immediately after beginning the first circuit. We were not near the Kabbah this time because the area was jammed packed. This Tawaf and Sai’a seemed to last forever. Perhaps because we had been stuck for many hours on a bus the night before to Muzdalifah. Brenda who is pregnant opted out of doing the Sai’a, because she was feeling sick. She went back to the Sofitel Hotel to rest while Lynn and I finished our Sai’a.

This Sai’a was amazing because for almost the entire time, we were compressed between people. Lynn and I linked arms many times to avoid losing one another. I could barely make du’a because I was being crushed most of the time and pushed and shoved for the rest of it. At certain points, I am sure I could have lifted my feet and still been moving along with the crowd. Before entering the masjid, the female security guard found my disposable camera in my bag. I had completely forgotten that I had it. Of course, I just left it on the guard’s ledge and told him to throw it away because I had to complete my Tawaf Ifadah. After finishing and washing up at the Sofitel, I decided to return to the entrance. Sure enough, the camera was still there. Alhamdulillah. The roll of film contained my pictures of Masjid E-Nabawi.

We caught another small van back to Aziza’ah. It’s said that you must be in Mina by Magreb. Because we were closing in on Magreb, I didn’t shower or rest in the house. I just kept walking to the Mina tents alone because the rest of the ladies wanted to shower up. We’d been in our ihram clothes since Arafat, and so our clothes were dirty already. It felt wonderful to walk alone to the Mina tents amongst the crowd of people, all different nationalities, in such a strange land. The entire journey has been adventurous, dangerous, and my loneliness at that very moment was comforting. I almost felt that I was on some wild safari in a way. I repented so much on my way back to the Mina tents for having doubted Allah’s invitation. After first submitted our visa applications, Brenda and I were both rejected because apparently we were too young to be wandering around in Saudi. I was devastated and in my sadness, and I took it to be a rejection from Allah. When our applications were resubmitted, I got accepted first and then I was faced with the possibility of going alone without Brenda. Now I repented for thinking that I needed to go to Hajj with anyone. I was there for Allah alone, and He is my ultimate companion, Subhanna Allah. I plan to sleep part of the night in Mina and then go to Azizia’ah to finally shower and partially get out of Ihram.

Hajjis heading toward the tent city in Mina near the Jammart.

1:30am

I got to the house in Aziza’ah around 1am. It took me that long because I got stuck within groups of people. I felt as if I was at the Jamarat all over again. I assumed that the frenzy of the Hajj rituals would end with there. Apparently, I was wrong. May Allah forgive me but I started getting angry when I couldn’t move through the people and was being shoved in all directions. The word ‘animals’ came to mind but I quickly asked for forgiveness and for Allah to forgive them. The streets were littered with food, containers, dirty diapers, and razor blades that were used to shave men’s heads. I’m not sure whether I’m more perplexed by the people’s attitudes of me or how wild they were acting and how they could allow themselves to allow even a shred of paper to fall on these holy areas. But then again, how could the Saudi government not do more to contain the frenzy.

Although they have restrictions for many things, they have not implemented a system so that not every hajji acts like they have to kill another brother just to stone. And to the hajji’s defense, one must walk a way to find a trash disposal. Because trash bins do not seem to be near the bathrooms, some women are leaving their feminine napkins and other things inside the stalls. It is the one thing that broke my heart many times to witness. We are supposed to be the best nation and look at this. There hasn’t been a time that I felt more frightened then walking alone through that crowd. I felt like I could be trampled on at any moment. But Alhamdulillah, Allah alleviated my fears and allowed me to enjoy the walk when I was able to free myself from the clutches of the mob.

February 3, 2004
Tuesday
12:30pm

At 2am this morning, Imanni, Lynn, and I got up from the Mina tents to stone the Jamarat. We were told we could only stone after Fajr. However, because last night we attempted to stone again through that chaotic scene, we prayed that Allah would accept us to stone at an unusual hour. Imanni’s husband had to stone for himself as well as for the three of us the night before because it was too dangerous. The longer you stay within the crowd, the more dangerous it is for you. The next day, we decided to stone the Jamarat at 2am because we did not want to put our lives in danger. We were able to stone from the ledge surrounding the pillars, and we each did it ourselves! I even took a picture. Within twenty minutes, we were done, Alhamdulillah.

We returned to Makkah for our farewell Tawaf (Wada). We arrived at Masjid Al-Haram around 3:15am and were able to make Tawaf from the ground floor, a few feet away from the Kabbah. The Tawaf was calm and quick, a beautiful way to end the Hajj. We were able to pray our two rakka on ground level. We even stayed for Fajr prayer. The Imam’s voice was so melancholy that I couldn’t help from crying during prayer, Alhamdulillah. As we walked out, we saw the dead brother or sister whom we had prayed Janazah prayer for being carried out and covered in green. We said goodbye to the Kabbah, praying to return one day, inshallah.

Visit my website to see more pictures of my Hajj experience.