A Hajj Journal-My First `Umrah

Figure 1A: People from the most populous Muslim country in the world: the Indonesian archipelago.

After the ghusl to refresh ourselves and some water, it was now time to make our way to Al-Masjid ul-Haram for the `Umrah. I had thought long and hard over the three types of hajj during the year of researching I had to do for the Hajj. I asked myself which of these I was going to do. Would I commit myself to Qiran, which is the putting on of the ihram and keeping it on the whole of the time I would be in the land of Arabia. All the rites of hajj and `umrah are combined into one whole and this incorporates them as one complete action.

The next option would be Ifrad, in which I would do Hajj alone without `Umrah. Once that was complete, I would do the `Umrah as the last action. If I did this action I would have to stay in Ihram until the completion of the rites of the Hajj. Then there was the final option, this being called Tamattu`. This is the travel to the location and I would make the `Umrah first, then take off the Ihram thereafter and put it back on for the Hajj period. It was on the plan ride over long before reaching miqat that I decided that I better commit myself to tamattu`. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “This is the best, and the thing that he, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, committed the most and what has been narrated from him about this is more plentiful.”

I therefore made this my personal mission. I had been in Ihram since the plane ride over after reaching the miqat and surprised myself with how much I was able to keep myself clean. I was known among colleagues for how conspicuously incompetent I was with protecting things that were white and large.

The walk up to Al-Masjid ul-Haram from the hotel was unforgettable, hearing the loud talbiyyah from our group and others coming with us. The crowds of people present there with us that day were not like those I had dealt with in the United States. There were no gun shot sounds echoing off the buildings and riot police in big vans keeping segments of the population apart for the whole of the time they were in the stadium or anything like that. There was most assuredly shoving, but not of the same type one would find on the subway in New York.

We reached the outside of Al-Masjid ul-Haram and it was time to pray. I combined and shortened the prayers of Zuhr and `Asr and eagerly awaited the final order to go into this sacred compound. Our Imam guided us over to what used to be known as Bab Bani Shaibah (now bizarrely renamed Bab `Abdul `Aziz), as it was the Sunnah to enter in through this gate.

What we saw was remarkable. Just inside of the door, as you come down one step, stood the Ka`bah in all of her immaculate beauty. She was larger than life and filled with dignity. I had now known that she was so large and my whole vision was taken up with looking forward at the Ka`bah.

I missed three steps but did not fall. We were told by our group to stay together and not get lost, a command which was quickly lost as the sheer total of people made it almost impossible for us to stay altogether for the duration of the visit. Three brothers quickly stood out as our leaders. They were the senior among us and two had been to hajj atleast twice before so I felt confidence in their knowledge. Reciting the du`aa for seeing the Ka`bah, I followed them down the steps and quickly merged with them into the crowd of people now making tawaf around the Ka`bah.

“Now listen carefully, brother,” one of the men, by the name of Muhammad, advised me. “Look for the green light in the corner of the Masjid. That is the starting point. We have to make seven shawt around the Ka`bah and that completes the tawaf. Try to stay together by holding shoulders. There are ladies with us, so they will be long the sides and they will do the same.

Try to protect them from being crushed as this can happen easily while making the turn around the corners of the Ka`bah.” I nodded in ascent and off we were, searching for the green light. We found it and knew this was the beginning of our first shawt, or circle. Just as the uncle had mentioned, the crushing started. Being in the middle of it, I can see that most of it was not intentional. There was limited space and unlimited people, so one could not take such things personal.

The one doing tawaf will quickly find that he will break a sweat almost immediately due to the high number of the people and physical exertion. I praised Allah that I had scented my Ihram and body before going into a state of Ihram so I would not offend anyone with bad scents.

Once the seven shawt were completed, the issue was now down to going behind the maqam of the Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, and making two raka`ah. There needs to be a point mentioned here. During `Umrah, it might be possible to get directly behind it and pray the two raka`ah; but in the Hajj Season, the writer must advice the reader not to attempt this as it could result in his injury or even death (this is not being said facetiously, as three people died in tawaf during the Hajj Season).

Looking up at the Ka`bah while making tawaf around it was one of the most amazing experiences in life I have ever had. Once again, the sheer size of the Ka`bah is understood. At the second tawaf, I was slammed against the walls of the Ka`bah (unintentionally) and able to look at the green brickwork, which was between 4-4,500 years old in some places, limestone and andesite in make up (for those geology minded people, this would confirm the Muslim statement that the Ka`bah is ancient and the lower portions date to the time of the Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him.

I would have loved to have been able to take a few samples and do some dating, but I was there for Hajj and not for archaeology and geology).

By far the most active people there were the Nigerians, Gambians and Mauritanians. I, at a height of 5’ll’’ was the median-short height, grouped in with all the Southeast Asian peoples like Chinese, Japanese, Cambodian, Vietnamese Muslims. I watched and remembered people from northwest Africa at a height of between 6’10’’ and 7’. As they came through making tawaf and moving with great speed, they were not shoving to be rude. It is my honest belief that they really did not see us from the high elevation they were at.

The military officials were generally decent and much better mannered than the Salafi religious police (I witnessed one of the Salafi Imams that lead prayer slap a Chinese Muslim man in the face who was not moving from the path quickly enough. I am unable to understand how yelling at someone in Arabic, whose native language is something else, will inspire him to listen. And obviously when they do not move, you increase the volume or strike them.

The Americans have taught the Saudi establishment well and these spiritual paedophiles prowl the sacred compound, grooming and molesting worshippers that have done nothing but glorify Allah) and most of them would come and give salam to us and ask if everything was okay. One of them I remember fondly. He asked us politely to move and said, “Is everything okay? How are all of you brother finding everything?” We traded pleasantries and said we were happy to meet him and soon we heard the loud commotion that came with every time Salafi people arrived. We watched him roll his eyes and then he said to us, “May Allah accept your Hajj. Pray for me, brother,” and he disappeared over in the sea of people near the religious police.

One thing must be said about the military and the religious police: Most of the military are decent and will be helpful. Of the contingent that are forceful and violent, this will mainly occur when the Salafi religious police arrive, whipping up fervour, shouting, punching and yelling at worshippers (for some reason they don’t do this in neighbourhood where I am from, where people are out of Ihram, can use their hands efficiently or access semi-automatic weapons when the need arises; to say I find the religious police cowardly would be using soft language), many of whom are oblivious to the chants, curses and racist abuse being hurled at them.

After our two raka`ah, we were soon at the Zamzam station, taking water and gazing at the Noble Ka`bah. I address the reader: you will truly understand how gazing at the Ka`bah can be worship and improve the eyesight when you are there witnessing the fact. I remember having no words, thoughts at that moment but thankfulness to the Lord for giving me the help that he did when I was young up until now.

Yes, in Makkah one will see the Holiness, Glory and Majesty of Allah. Safa and Marwah were the next place we needed to visit and we were pleased when we found the rest of the group there, stating, “Where have you guys been? We’ve been waiting for you all this time!” Brother Muhammad and I looked at eachother and grinned.

We made seven journeys from one mountain to the other, thus one journey from Safa to Marwah would count as one, then from Marwah to Safa would be two and so forth. At the end, a long supplication was made that stirred the spirits of the believers and reminded us to be truthful. We were enjoined to righteousness, good manners, fearlessness and love of Allah. I had never thought I would make it this far and was so pleased that Allah had brought me here with all of the different people.

I had no time where I felt out of place, weird or unwanted by the general masses of the believers. There was only one unfortunate incident in which Shi`ii congregants asked me what maslak I was, to which I replied, “There is but one maslak: that of Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Jama`ah.” He nodded and calmly moved away from me closer to the other 12ers. Although disappointed, I prayed that Allah would guide that poor creature to the truth that Allah had handed down for millennia.

One brother by the name of Uwais turned to me and said, “Now it’s time for us to shave our heads, Alhamdu lillah.” I was ready to go but was curious to know whether the cutting would be done there or at the barbers near the hotel. Some people had already began filing out to make their way to the barbers along Ibrahim Khalil street. I went with brother Uwais and others so we too could see how the barbers would be with our scalps.

Then a report came back that the barber near our hotel had cut a few heads. “Looks like the barbers are getting ready for `Eid al-Adha. Getting in the spirit of slaughtering,” Owais laughed while looking at me. “Yeah, I see. What if we cut our own and then look for another barber that we can use for our next `Umrah?” We agreed and headed back to the hotel and cut our own heads.

There were a handful of people that chose to do the same thing. We were now officially in a state of hall (outside of the state of ihram, so we could take the clothes off and live as we normally did), but the only thing I needed to do was have a ghusl and switch back into my non-Ihram clothes.

After completion of my ghusl, putting on my non-Ihram clothes and folding my Ihram and putting it away, I had completed the first part of my tamattu` Hajj. Now I was to wait for the Hajj Season to come, complete the rites of Hajj and then I would have done tamattu` as commanded. I smiled while sitting in the hotel on the bed in my room, talking and laughing with Khubaib and the others.

We were in a celebratory mood, just walking the streets of Makkah and looking at the sites, the people, buying jug after jug of water to nourish ourselves against the 90 degree heat and staring at the sacred compound from a distance. The Imam of our group came the following day and said, “Brothers, we are moving to the next hotel. Ready yourselves.” We looked up in query, “Moving to another hotel? Already?” And in a flash, the Imam was gone, organising and working to make sure our entire journey was as comfortable as possible.

And with Allah is every success,

brother in Islam,

al-Hajj Abu Ja`far al-Hanbali