MAKKAH: Day 1 of the Journey/8th of Dhul-Haj of the Islamic calendar:
After disembarking from the bus, we reached the bus stand, where there was a bus that was loading passengers. We all failed to reach the doors and, presently, it departed. We waited in the heat for another ten minutes, and a second bus came by. In the mad rush for seats, a few among us got in, while the rest, especially those with families, got left behind. After a long journey that went through almost half of the city of Makkah, the bus unloaded all its passengers, including yours truly, at the last stop, which was about half to one kilometer from the Holy Mosque. My friends moved away … one of them was with his parents and went off directly to the Holy Mosque; the other was with his friend, and ran off to the same place. I was all alone. I had no idea how long I would have to wait before the others arrived, and I was getting frantic when no one had come after a two hour wait by the road-side.
I was in regular touch with the other doctors whom I had left behind, and at about half past twelve, one of them informed me that Sk. Jamal, the tour operator, had finally sorted out the problem with the police, and that they would all be proceeding shortly directly to the hotel where we were to be lodged for the next few days.
I then caught a cab and went to the hotel, where everyone else was just arriving/settling down. This hotel, grandiosely called the Salman Plaza Hotel, was just a building with sub-standard rooms … the kind that you saw in your salad days! They had allocated one room of about 220 sq. ft. for 11 males! Each of us would get to sleep on a half-width Chinese mattress, with the rest of the space being used to keep our bags and shoes/slippers. The A/C worked okay, as did the fan. The room had a small (read cramped) toilet-cum-bath. I chose my “bed” and lay down almost immediately.
My co-passengers were all as tired as I was; one of my friends brought some food, and invited me to share it with him, which I did. We prayed the Dhuhr prayers, and then went to the Holy Mosque to perform the ARRIVAL circumambulation (7 rounds around the Holy Kaa’ba). I continued after this to also complete 7 lengthwise walks between Safaa and Marwah. This perambulation is about 3/4ths of a km each direction, so we walk about 5.2 km during this ritual of 7-lengths, praying all the time. The word for this is “saai“. Performing the saai is one of the most necessary tasks during the Hajj. One can either do it on the first day of arrival, as I did it, or later, when we would return to Makkah to perform the FAREWELL circumambulation.
Late in the evening, I returned to the room, and packed my bags for the next step of our journey: this part of the journey would take us to a place known as Arafah. As per the ritual, we would need to spend the entire next day at this place.
Hajj consists of several rituals; some of these are compulsary and CANNOT be skipped at any cost; some are mandatory, but may be skipped under extremely extenuating circumstances; however, one has to perform an animal sacrifice to propitiate Allah for this; and finally, some rituals are neither compulsary nor mandatory and may be skipped.
As per the original sheet of itinerary issued to us, we were to spend the night at a place called MINA and go to Arafah early the next morning; however, our delayed arrival in Makkah yesterday put paid to the original plan, and we decided to proceed forthwith to Arafah. This was possible only because the ritualistic night at Mina was neither compulsary nor mandatory.
Thus, we arrived, tired and harried, at Arafah on the first night itself. It took our driver over an hour to reach the parking area. We disembarked with our luggage, and, almost immediately, my friend Dr. Measser, with his wife and mother, and I, all alone, went off to search for an appropriate place to pitch our tents for the night. The spot we located was on the edge of a large open space laid with medium-to-large sized pebbles; at the edge, the surfaces were cemented nicely, and there was no cobbliness of the ground. I had purchased a foldable tent last week from Ta’if. (I hadn’t gone personally, but had ordered it through a colleague who had gone to Ta’if for a visit.) I have never, ever used a plastic tent before, and it was with the help of my friend Dr. Measser that I learned to, and managed to pitch my tent in the proper way.
Our tents were pitched next to each other, and it was quite late at night that we settled in to take a much needed nap.
The problem with Arafah is that everyone, including all the legal people, sleep in tents. so that all the people need to use public toilets periodically. The best advice I could offer here is one that my advisors gave me: eat as little food and drink as little water as possible so that you DON’T have to go to the loo! This is what I did, and I am glad for this, as it would have taken me over an hour awaiting my turn to visit the loo.
Thus, night ended, and a new day began at Arafah.
ARAFAH: Day 2 of the journey/9th Dhul-Haj of the Islamic calendar:
There is a requirement to stay and pray in Arafah till the sun sets on the 9th day of the month of Dhul-Hajj, so everyone must come to spend his/her day here. Prayers recited here are believed to be “always” heard by Allah, so people pray very fervently at this location. I discovered, during the morning, that although we were in the shade of a tree, it gets very hot indeed, and it is almost impossible to stay within the tent!
I therefore meandered about, here and there, trying to locate any of our other doctor colleagues, from whom Dr. Measser and I had parted the previous night. I finally found them all under a communal shade proffered by a large, billowing plastic sheet, sitting on rather comfortable carpets amidst the buses parked around them exactly where we had got off the bus yesterday night. It transpired that Sk. Jamal and his men had actually organized this way of spending the day! Most of the entourage were lazing under the shade, and some were actually sleeping!
At that moment, a thought went through my mind: had I NOT brought my own little tent, I would have stuck around with these people rather than follow my friend and his family … and what a nice thing that might have been. In the event, I decided to stay with the others for the rest of the afternoon, and even enjoyed a small nap. At half-past four, I woke up, went to where my tent lay, and with a little help from Dr, Measser, I disassembled my tent, folded it into its cover, and took his leave to join with the rest of my co-passengers. Dr. Measser, too, came within the next half an hour. We prayed the Asr’ prayers, and then, the “camp” was broken, and we gradually returned to the confines of our bus for the next phase of the journey.
Like it or not, the general exodus of thousands of vehicles meant only one thing: although we were ready to leave at half past five, our bus started its journey only after half past seven! We covered the short 5-6 km distance from Arafah to the next place on our itinerary, MUZDALIFAH in about six hours.
MUZDALIFAH: Day 2 of the journey/9th of Dhul-Hajj month of the Islamic Calendar:
It is at Muzdalifah, among the sands of the desert, that we have to spend the night of this particular day, praying and sleeping. Also, it is from here that one needs to collect, rather carefully, about 49 stones for a future ritual of Hajj, the traditional stoning of the three Satans at Mina (read about this later). The stones must be collected at Muzdalifah; one may collect either 49 stones, or 70 stones – and one may collect a few more in case one loses some during the next few days. The stones must not be very big and not very small either. The first restriction is imposed to prevent injuring others who are also present at the stoning; the next one is imposed to enable one to throw the stone properly from a distance of between 3-10 meters. Hence, the size must be about half a cm in diameter. No more, and no less.
We reached Muzdalifah at about mid-night, and as at Arafah, I found myself a place amongst the thousands of other people to lie down for the night. I decided against using the tent, but slept on my sleeping bag that I had also carried with me.
It was at about half past three that our group decided to start the return journey from here to the next phase of our journey, viz. going to MINA. This – our early departure – was a bit unusual, since books mention that one must stay at Muzdalifah till the dawn, pray the morning prayers and then proceed to Mina. However, the Islamic scholars among us opined that it was okay to proceed after a few hours’ stay.
Hence, we moved on.