Last month, I got a request from another travel blogger to contribute in a list he compiled about sacred walks and pilgrimages around the world. The request was to write a little paragraph about my personal experience to the Islamic pilgrimage: Hajj. When I was writing it, it occurred to me that I have never actually shared this on the blog. My pilgrimage happened before my travel blogging days and I just never thought of sharing it before. After writing the 200 words I felt like I still had so much left I wanted to write about to give more details about my experience. I know other Muslim blogger have detailed Hajj and Ummrah guide like the Muslim Travel Girl, but I think Hajj first timers or people curious about this Islamic spiritual journey might find this post useful.
How I went to Hajj
I went to Hajj back in 2009. I was coming out of a rough patch in my life. My mom wanted to cheer me up and reward me, so she and my uncles decided to gift me with Hajj. Of course I would not have gone at 21 years of age otherwise. One of the main conditions for Hajj is for the cost to be from savings and not a debt. It's God's way of making sure that we do it when we are truly able financially and physically. Funnily, earlier that year, I did think to myself "it would be nice to go to Hajj since it was going to fall in the winter months" and by Gods grace everything aligned for it to happen. I was truly blessed. Most people have to save up and plan for years before they get this privilege. The weather was not as nice as I hoped for because Mecca is located in a valley and the weather is consistent year round. Sometimes it rains, but that is not the norm. It is usually hot year round, but when I went that winter there was some nice breeze.
Even with the heat, the mosquito bites and the crowd, my soul was content and filled with comfort.
Important Haj and Ummrah Arabic Terminology
Before I go into more details about my Hajj, I wanted to tell you a few basic terms that you might have heard of or read when reading about the subject. I will be using some of them through out this post too just because the English equivalent is usually an explanatory sentence rather than a word.
- Miqat ميقات is the geographical location where you make your intention to do the Hajj and where you start the journey.
-Ehram إحرام is used as a verb and as a noun in Arabic. The person who intend to do hajj is entering a state of Ehram. The clothing worn during Umrrah and Hajj is also refered to as Ehram.
- Tawaf طواف is one of the actions of Umrrah and Hajj, where a person circulate the Kabba seven times.
- Sa'e سعي is another action of Umrrah and Hajj and it is the walk between the two mountains, Mount Safa and Mount Marwa, seven times. (Only a tiny bit of the mountains remain now though)
- Taqseer تقصير is the last action of Umrrah and Hajj that indicate cutting the nails and the hair after everything is completed.
- Hajji حجي A man who has been to Hajj.
- Hajjiah or Hajjah حجية/حجة A lady who has been to Hajj! So, yours truly here is a Hajjiah.
My Hajj story
I headed to Hajj from East of Saudi with an organised group specialising in Hajj by Bus. The journey was almost two days of driving and stopping for food and bathrooms. The bathrooms on the roads were absolutely appalling. I tried to sleep most of the time even though the lady who sat beside was not pleased that I was not chatty. It was the first time I met the group of ladies, but in between the stops, I started getting to know them until we become friends by the time we arrived to Mecca.
Most people make their journey faster and more comfortable by flying directly to Jeddah Airport and taking a car to Mecca. Going by bus meant that we were going to stop at the Miqat in the city of Taif to make our intention for pilgrimage and to change from our black abayas into our white Ehram. In East of Saudi, the ladies usually get their Ehrams sewn especially for the journey. I got two made and switched between them. Although, I wished I had a third one with me!
We finally arrived to Mecca and I parted ways from the friends I made on the bus because we all had shared room previously assigned for us. There were three other ladies that I shared the room with. I felt a little awkward the first night, but then we all hit it off the next day and I am still in touch with those ladies. I call them my Hajj sisters.
The first task was to do the Ummrah, which is a ritual part of Hajj and can be done on its on year round. I was with a very big group, but we were split to smaller groups of less than 8 ladies and were accompanied by a male and a female helpers that guided us through it all and made sure we preform the tasks correctly and comfortably. Preforming Tawaf, Sa'e and the short prayer took us about three hours. Thankfully, we did it after midnight when the weather was cool. It really makes a difference when the sun is not blasting its heat fully. A lot of the Ummrah and Hajj tasks come from the story of Prophet Ibrahim, his wife Hajar and their son Ismail, which I find very fascinating. The Sa'e comes from the walk that Hajar did looking for water between the two mountains.
On the 9th day of the 12th Arabic month "Thu Al Hujah", the challenge started when we headed to Mount Arafat to spend the day in supplications and prayer. All I remember now is my feeling towards it all. The group organisers took care of all the logistics, which gave me and the ladies with me all the time to focus on getting closer to God.
After sunset, we all headed to Muzdalefah, which is another sight that pilgrims must stay in and spend the night there. The floor mattresses were set there and the time was spent between worship and socialising. There were a few fans in the tents, but it was really warm, so I started getting quickly agitated. One of the conditions of Ehram however is to stay as calm as possible because arguments can break the Ehram. It was a real test!
The next morning on the 10th, we walked to the Mina area to do more Hajj tasks such as throwing rocks at three columns. This is another action that we are reacting from the Prophet Ibrahim's story. The devil showed up three times to him at three different locations and the prophet threw rocks at him. This part was the hardest part for me hands down. I think I even cried a little. The area of each column is sort of small even with the new rebuilt area and the crowd was TOO MUCH, but by the grace of God and help from others I managed it. The following ritual was to do the sacrifice. Females give this responsibility to the group organisers and it's usually done for us. The sacrificed animal's meat is given to the poor. This also follows a story from prophet Ibrahim. He dreamt that God told him to sacrifice his son and although he was terrified he was willing to do it for the sake of God, but God sent a sheep to him to be sacrificed instead. There are so many donation programs to insure that the sacrificed animals go to people in need. There are also rules to ensure the well fair of the animal before this is done.
The last ritual is Taqseer, where we cut our nails and tiny bit of hair. Everything has to be done in that specific order. When all of this is done then that's it. The Ehram ends and Eid celebrations start.
It felt AMAZING! It went by really fast and although a little tiring, but I got a surge of spiritual energy that kept me going for months.
Sadly, the cost of Hajj has doubled since I have gone and I am not sure I will be able to afford another one any time soon, but I would love to go again especially that I am older and I have a stronger appreciations for many things. It's a once in a life obligation, but we are allowed to go again. The Saudi government is trying to make it fair for other nationalities as well and limiting Saudi nationals to go to Hajj every five years.
What to pack for Hajj?
When I was packing for Hajj, I had so much advice from relatives, who have been to hajj, but I still wish I packed a few more essentials, so here is a list that can help you plan your luggage better. Keep in mind that you would need two main, light, white outfits, good footwear, a water bottle and scent free toiletries and creams. Most importantly, you have to take some mosquito repellent, but please the Islamic ruling about this. It might not be allowed. All I remember is that the mosquitos really feasted on me when I was in Mena! You also need some seriously comfortable socks or stick on soles or something since you won't be able to wear your shoes inside the mosque and holy areas espically during Tawaf and Sae.
Where to Stay in Mecca?
If you are going to Hajj, chances are that you are going with a group or a caravan that would have arranged this for you and it's actually better to let them take care of accommodations and transportations. Even Saudis themselves go with a group that arranges it all.
If you are going to Ummrah however, this can be done on your own. My mother and I have done it multiple times and we just booked a hotel that is a walking distance from the "Haram" Kabaa court. It is easily done on Booking.com, but sadly like any other place, there are busy seasons such as Ramadan and the Hajj month. The off season is much cheaper, but you can only do that for the Ummrah.
Useful Resources for Hajj and Ummrah
Next Stop After Hajj: Medina
Coming all the way to Mecca usually means a quick visit to Madinah, the city where the prophet is buried. It is super crowded after Hajj because everyone has the same idea, but if you visit it outside of the Hajj and Ramadan times, it's a little quieter. It's never empty especially in the ladies section since they are usually given a smaller section than the men, but it always warms my soul going there. My mother and I usually stay in close proximity to the prophet's mosque and walk from the hotel to the mosque. You can watch the video below of the last time I went two years ago.