Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hajj live blog: Mecca days (Oct 30th 2011)

October 30th 2011: Days in Mecca

Our last days in Mecca before we move to Azizyah - we have a hotel there on the border of Mina just about 10 minutes away from our camp which is also on the other side of the border of Mina.

Mecca days were really rewarding. Praying any where in Mecca is of the same reward as praying inside the mosque of Kaaba. The city was buzzing with hajjis - it was packed but we had no bad experiences at all. Allah taala really helps if you stay positive and excited about the experiences. Us girls would pray together in groups and meet up at appointed times.

Our friends who stayed with us in the same hotel in Medina were now based in a different place. But we managed to meet them up, when our husbands went for tawaf, we hung out together praying and trying to motivate each other with discussions about what we would change on our return from hajj.

One of my husband's cousins was also visiting from Pakistan with her husband and daughter for Hajj. They stayed in our connecting hotel during Mecca which made it really easy to meet up with them. My husband has an uncle and aunt living in Jeddah for years now and we couldn't know any better hosts. They have always been known for their massive generosity but every time we experience it we are still in shock. They got us cartons of food and medicines of all sorts including biscuits, nuts, cheese, honey, vitamin C and Panadol, bread, milk, yoghurt, loads of mineral water bottles, tea, coffee, milk cans, sugar and you name it. To top it off they got some really delicious home cooked food with them with disposable plates, glasses and cutlery. They even got us a microwave!! 

We felt really bad as well because on the one hand we enjoyed all of that, on the other we felt like someone else probably needed this more. In the evening we were lucky our friends who were staying in the same hotel as us in Medina joined us in our hotel for dinner. They really enjoyed the food. But there was still so much left. We decided we would go out and give these to the needier pilgrims who had no place to live as well.   

This was one of the most defining moments for me during Hajj. As soon as we stepped out of our hotel and to its left there was a huge open space behind the building where there lay asleep many pilgrims, largely from Africa. These were families - men with their wives and children and even elderly parents only here in Mecca with a hand carry and their ehraam on. They had no place to stay and yet their faces were at peace and I thought we are doing nothing for this hajj - they were much closer to Allah. I couldn't stop crying so I moved away but my husband went and offered them food. He showed them the whole basket that we had and they calmly offered their hands to say "you give us however much and whatever you want." They were needy but had no greed. And here we were a day ago excited about all the treats our aunt had got us.

My brother had warned me of this before I left for Hajj. He said every time you feel tired or impatient, or feel like things are not going the way you expected them - go out for a walk and look at all those pilgrims who don't have the luxuries you do. They are still celebrating the Hajj spirit and look at them and learn how to embrace it too.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hajj live blog: Umrah (Oct 28th 2011)

October 28th 2011 - flight to Mecca and Umrah

We said our Jumuah prayers in Masjid-e-Nabwi Medina, put on our ehraam and left for Mecca. It was brilliant, we had no idea but the flight we got was a chartered flight and we were the only ones on board. It felt quite VIP and brought smiles on our faces.

We reached Mecca at about 9 at night or so and again were warned of being stuck for hours in the airport. I guess we were lucky we ended up at local airports and not Hajj terminals. It was like walking out of a lounge. Not a single security check, and no one to stop us. We literally just walked out of the airport - Alhamdulillah.

Next we had heard of being stopped at check points i.e our buses en route to hotel. We were rather lucky there too as not a single check point stopped us and we ended up in record time in our hotel. Our stay is at Fairmont hotel which was amazing! It's the clock tower right opposite the Haram Sharif.  We are lucky to have ended up here as this was not part of our original package.

Over the next few days our challenge became not to over-indulge in the VIPness of the hotel and lose focus from the real purpose. Umrah was in the middle of the night and really easy Alhamdulillah and we were able to come out of ehraam before breakfast the following day.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hajj live blog: The female experience at Riyad-ul-Jannah

Oct 27th: Visit to Riyad ul Jannah. 

This is one of the most memorable experiences of my life, although I am still not sure if what I did was correct or not. Riyad-ul-Jannah is the place where the Holy Prophet is buried in Medina mosque. There is a green carpet here showing exactly the spot where if you pray its like praying on a piece of Jannah (Paradise).

The slot for women is literally an hour, I believe after Zuhr prayers and 1 hour after Isha prayers. Here too they take women via the back entrance and the view is completely blocked , probably because women become extremely emotional there and it is to avoid them from clinging to the spot. However, as a result its the most manic crowd I have ever come across in my life. I can easily confess that out of all of Hajj experience, this was the toughest for me in terms of crowds and their orderliness.

It was also a very interesting experience. I was really wary of the crowds and the stories I had heard from women regarding getting to the Riyad-ul-Jannah. I had therefore not even attempted. In my mind, I was content with giving salaam to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) from any location of the mosque. However, we are leaving for Mecca tomorrow and people started telling me that I may regret not going to the Riyad-ul-Jannah at all and I should just be brave and attempt it.

It really made me wonder that losing your respect and acting crazy and screaming and running - is that what the Holy Prophet would have wanted us to do. I would rather the authorities either open the place for longer hours so women do not have to act this way or they should not allow women at all.

My friend had saved me a spot in the first row during Maghrib and Isha prayers. This is the closest location to the door which opens to allow women to go to Riyad-ul-Jannah where the Holy Prophet (pbuh) is buried. She was giving me tips on where to enter from etc and an Emirati girl from Dubai overheard us. She was going to attempt going there after Isha and offered that I could go along with her.

That was a blessing in itself because otherwise they put women according to countries and the worse the country in economic table, the worse the women are treated. I am not sure if I should blame the security women entirely because it is true women were acting quite mad here so perhaps it is a bigger task than imaginable managing them. What was crazier was that we were acting no better. I noticed first hand racism here when the Emirati girl was treated as royalty because she could communicate in Arabic. The security women came and whispered in her ears and smiled and treated her softly. This girl was quite sweet though, she told me to stay quiet and pretend I was with her so that they treat me well too. I am half-guilty of taking this to my advantage. They even let us sit near the air-conditioning of the pillars while others were huddled on the carpet in groups. 

It doesn't matter though, because when the doors fly open, no one can control anyone. The girl with me locked her arms in mine and we RAN! It was funny and rude at the same time but it was probably safer to get their early and get out of there early which could have only been possible had I run...and so I did! We literally got out of there in 20 mins to half an hour - everyone else I knew had been stuck for hours. So I guess it wasn't bad at all...and I'm glad I found that Emirati girl (and now I feel bad I dont remember her name).

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hajj live blog: Date farm (Oct 26th 2011)

Oct 26th: date farm

We visited the date farm today. A really peaceful spot where date is grown. Different types of dates are sold wholesale here so it was a perfect spot for all of us who were interested in buying dates for home and as giveaways on our return from Hajj inshAllah.

Quba mosque - Photograph courtesy Wikipedia
Ended up on the way going to masjid-e-Quba again for 2 nafl prayers which is always a treat. Remember this is the place where praying 2 nafl equals to the benefits (sawaab) of doing Umrah.

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Hajj live blog: ziyarah in Medina (Oct 25th 2011)

Oct 26th: ziyarah – really fun.

Our group, Afta Tours, had arranged for "Ziyarah" in Medina which is essentially a tour of the historical religious sites in the city. Afta Tours management was really kind to have allowed our friends and their dad to join us in our Ziyarah as their own group's Ziyarah was slightly different from their expectations. We were really impressed by how jovial our group leaders were, the sheikh emphasized on just the right things and told us what was essential to know without over-doing any thinga and the team was really well-managed. 

Uhud spot - The first spot we were taken to was the site of Battle of Uhud. We were told the story and the lesson to be learnt was how important it is to follow your leader and to follow what The Holy Prophet (May peace be upon him prescribed). The battle was lost by Muslims because they failed to follow the instructions of the leader.

Uhud mountain where The Prophet had asked the 40 or 50 of his men to guard

Another view of the Battle of Uhud spot

Masjid ul qiblatain - is the mosque where the announcement for Qibla changing from Jerusalem to Mecca happened. This is why it is called Qiblatain (i.e plural). This place was packed and there were women praying in the direction of Jerusalem, even though it is strictly forbidden to do that and the security women in the mosque were trying hard to keep things orderly. 

Quba Mosque - is the oldest mosque in the world. Its first stones were placed by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when he migrated from the city of Mecca to Medina. Prophet (pbuh) spent more than 20 nights in this mosque. According to Islamic tradition, offering two rakaʿāt of nafl prayers in the Quba Mosque is equal to performing one Umrah.

Tips for ziyarah
Especially if travelling in hot weather, remember to drink plenty of water throughout your trip. Finally, during Hajj season especially the sites of ziyarah are packed and since when entering the mosques, you will be separated from the men who are travelling with you, make sure you recognize the faces of the women in your group and stick out for each other.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Hajj live blog: first day in Medina (Oct 24, 2011)

Oct 24th 2011:

Everyone looked anxious today - smiling at each other but not mingling at airport, almost comfortable with their own spouses and families. Our group seems like a great mix of ages which is something we were looking forward to.

We boarded from Heathrow airport and flew straight into Medina on Saudi Airlines. It was packed! I was quite impressed with the organisation at Heathrow airport. All the personnel were aware of hajjis and systematically put stickers on their suitcases and extra tags so the luggages don't get lost. I had asked for some good seats (which I understood to mean with leg space and that's my standard line any way) but the guy at Saudi Airline responded and said you will be lucky if your husband and you are sitting together. He did manage to sit us together but what was even better was, he upgraded us to Business class on the way back. I thought not a bad start at all!! :)

We were all worried about Medina airport - had heard so many rumors about delays in Saudi and can wait for hours. Everyone probably packed food and drinks with them for then but it was shocking - we came out of the airport in 5 minutes hassle-free.

Medina was AMAZING. I had always heard my parents and other older people say how much they prefer Medina because of its peace and serenity. I always preferred Mecca because of the buzz and hub-gub. This was actually the first time it really hit me that this actually the land of the Prophet. Our hotel was right opposite Masjid-e-Nabwi, one minute walk for us ladies to the women's entrance and just seeing the mosque welled me up - I thought wow this is what the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) built himself.

Luckily we had our really close friends from London at Hajj too and were staying in the same hotel in Medina. This was the bestest deal I could have. My husband spent time with his friend while I hung out with his wife. She took me to the haram and our journey started

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