Sunday, October 27, 2013


Alhumdulillah, with the grace of God, my parents and I returned from hajj Saturday [yesterday] morning.

It was, indeed, an experience/opportunity of a lifetime and I am so fortunate/thankful for the chance. And to do it with my parents was the icing on the cake.

I also want to make note of how thankful I am for the group [group 19] I was part of and I am especially thankful for a handful of people in it that became like family. I felt like I have known some of these people my whole life. Speaking of family, I can't forget my actual family that was there. Would you believe besides my parents and I, five more extended family members were also part of our 2MB program? Including my dad's sister. Plus 2 more part of our broader program. AND 2 more family members that went for hajj not in our program. Alhumdulillah.

I tried my best to write up the day's worth each night while I was away so I would have it for my record. I want to remember as much of the 21 days as I possibly can. This blog, is after all, my [very public] journal. The next few many posts will be them. As I recuperate and start feeling better, over the next few days I'll post them to be published on the actual day they correspond to, so they will be post-dated. At the end, I'll try and post all the links on one page, perhaps on this post, for convenience.

Going in, I did [a lot] of research, but no amount of research is enough-- it's the actual hands on experience that is the best teacher. And quite honestly, there is no way to describe it all and give it true justice-- you truly have to experience it.

I also want to take some time down the road and discuss the misconceptions, the lessons I learned, and just some general thoughts. I can't forget the "what you really need to pack" post I mentioned even before I left.

I can't believe we made niyat [intention] for hajj 11 months {December 2012} before leaving, and the amount of time that went into everything... and it came and went in the blink of an eye.

Updated - Post-Hajj Trip Notes:
[October 6] - Before leaving for Hajj
October 8 - Arriving in Madinah.
October 9
October 10 - Ziyarat/Mazarat tour around Madinah.
October 11 - Jummah in Madinah/Leaving for Makkah/Umrah
October 12 - Arriving in Makkah/Umrah
October 13 - First day of Hajj
October 14 - Day of Arafat
October 15
October 17
October 19
October 20
October 21
October 22 - Ziyarat/Mazarat tour around the city of Makkah
October 23
October 24 - Last full day in Makkah/Jummah at the Haram
October 25 - Leaving Makkah/Traveling [back home]
October 26 - Arriving home!
Misconceptions and General Thoughts [Hajj]
Dar el Salam [our travel group/program]
Hajj Packing List

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hajj Trip: October 26

Posted on a later day, 11.04.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day's post and then click here to see my next post on misconceptions and some general thoughts.
Saturday October 26.

We're home. Home sweet home.

Oh, how I missed my bed.

We left Dubai about an half hour late, landed at JFK around 9:10 am (45 minutes late). All the logistics didn't take too long at the airport, but waiting for some of our luggage took forever. I was thinking it would be the customs that would be the time consuming portion. 

Side note: many people who didn't box their zam zam water at the Jeddah airport like they were advised to received the unpleasant surprise of the water leaking [through the bottle and at times even through the sealed plastic bag]. As you can imagine, the workers at the airport weren't thrilled. So all of you future hajjis' [inshallah]: have it boxed even though it's already sealed in the plastic bag!

Greeting us at the airport? My brothers, Chotti Anna, and Anjum Khala!

FYI, long flights aren't for everybody. Definitely not me. I cannot for the life of me just sit there for so long. Neither can I just fall asleep instantly like my brother Faraz. The long plane rides, both ways, were uncomfortable to say the least. Even more so on the way back since I wasn't feeling well either. It was like a coughing competition on the flight back. I may, or may not, have been one of the top contenders. Making the long plane ride back home a little more bearable: I bought wifi to keep me entertained!

By the way: my mom and I both wore a mask throughout our three weeks overseas. My dad didn't. Guess which two came back sick?!

Anyhow, before driving back home, we made a [very quick] pit-stop at my aunt's in NY to visit my maternal grandfather, Papa. I can't even describe how happy I was to see him. Just being in his presence makes me smile and make the most of every moment together. To see him this day, and to see him so well alhumdulillah was the icing on the cake. Before I left for hajj, I was upset FOR him. Praying to God for Papa from THE house of God, I can honestly say I feel more at peace than I did before I left. Like He heard me.

Everything will be okay. Everything, indeed, happens for a reason. You just have to keep faith.

New York wouldn't be New York if it didn't greet us with [a lot] of traffic. Typically I would have been very annoyed very easily, especially since I wasn't feeling well. Except I just got back from a place where a 10-15 minute bus ride often took us 4-5+ hours. For once, New York traffic didn't even phase me.

We finally got home around 12:30 PM where we were greeted to a decorated house by my brothers, Chotti Anna and Imran. How very sweet of them!

Saba chachijan made and brought lunch for us [and some food for later too!], which everyone enjoyed together. Anjum Khala sent some food home with us [when we stopped earlier to see Papa], and Chotti Anna made a lot of food too! Including fish for me! All day we had family visit before I knocked out for the night relatively early. I can't forget the flowers and mithai everyone brought!

There is no place like home... but can I go back already?

Click here to see my post-hajj post from the day after we got back home [it also includes a link to all my hajj days' posts at the bottom]. Also, click here to see my post on some misconceptions and some general thoughts.

Posted on 11.04.13

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hajj Trip: October 25

Posted on a later day, 11.03.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day's post and click here to see the next day's post.
Friday October 25.

I finally started antibiotics last night. I just couldn't tolerate it anymore. The fever, the intense coughing, whole body ache, runny nose, throwing up, and upset stomach... I am done. Right before a full day of traveling. As you can imagine, most of the last day has involved resting as much as possible.

There is no better place to be than here, but when you are sick: all you want is the comfort of your bed.

Bright and early our luggage was, once again, picked up/taken care of... we would get it at the airport later in the day. I don't know if I have mentioned it, but Dar el Salam took care of our luggage transport from point A to B throughout the three week stay.

I bid farewell to Anna, Arshad Chachoo and Dadda around 10:30 AM as they boarded their bus for the airport. Oh how the time has flown by!

As I was sitting in the masjid waiting for jummah prayers in the Haram, I couldn't help but ponder over how blessed of a chance we were getting. Looking around, there were very few recognizable people from our program still here. Most groups from our program had left already and some even had left just an hour or so before jummah. Who knows when, or even if, we will get this chance again? If I am remembering correctly, we also left Madinah on a jummah as well. To get to pray Jummah in Madinah and Makkah in this time frame within this trip... alhumdulillah!

What a better way to leave this holy land of Makkah than immediately after jummah prayers? I couldn't think of a more ideal way to complete this trip, especially because it came as an unexpected surprise! Our original itinerary indicated we would leave in the morning for the airport! Even though I didn't understand the khutbah at all since it was in Arabic [here in Makkah and Madinah both], I am so grateful that we got to pray jummah prayers both in Masjid Al-Nabawi [in Madinah] and the Haram in Makkah here today.

The plan for us was to leave our hotel immediately after jummah, and we ended up leaving our Fairmont hotel around 1:40 pm for Jeddah airport. We could have easily left by 1:10 at the latest if it weren't for three geniuses who stayed in their hotel rooms, for whatever reason, and held us up an extra half hour-- of course all three were from our group 19. We got our passports back as well on the bus (so we didn't have to make a pit-stop to pick that up) and finally got to the Jeddah airport at around 3:20 pm (at its hajj terminal). Lucky for us, we got no traffic [for once]-- they had warned us to expect a lot of traffic! Antsy about the expected traffic and whatever else the rest of the day would entail [remember: everything goes], we were probably a little more anxious about the three men who caused us to leave later from the hotel than needed given the fact that we got to the airport with no traffic.

When we got to the "hajj terminal" at the Jeddah airport, it was something. In no way did it seem to be an airport [there was no indication it was one... except for luggage we saw everywhere]. The majority of the waiting seats were outside (in the heat). The mere minutes we spent waiting there made me thing OMG, how am I supposed to spend the next almost five hours here?! Thankfully, the yellow-shirt Dar el Salam men that I have mentioned countless times came quick enough to guide us to the entrance.

Would you believe our luggage was again waiting for us in front of the entrance where we would check in our luggage, get our boarding pass, and whatnot? I don't know how they do it, but they do it: luggage is one thing we didn't have to worry about throughout the three week stay.

While we collected our luggage through the pile, Abu [and most of the other men] went to get the zam zam water sealed in box. Dar el Salam provided us each with a 10 L bottle of zam zam [also waiting for us at the airport] that was already sealed in a plastic bag... but we had been advised from day one to have it boxed.

Next, the yellow-shirt Dar el Salam men guided us inside to a set of check-in counters, indicating these were for our Emirates flights. He could have definitely been making it up for all I know because there are no signs and every worker just seems to be all over the place. Maybe if enough people for the same airline/flight crowd onto the same counter... it becomes one for that?! Whatever works.

When we went in, it didn't even seem like an airport. It was just one room with a lot of check in counters that worked sometimes and not others (and no one monitoring weight of luggage because they probably didn't have the means to do so... at least in the hajj terminal), no belt for luggage movement (so I guess/hope/pray some of the workers manually move luggage and we get all our luggage in one piece), and workers who just jumped around from one area to the next without any means of organization. I, for one, was worried whether we would get all our luggage once we arrived home. The next room over was security that led to one small terminal that was crowded beyond belief. Add oh so many sick people (with the infamous "hajji cough") and its like a petri dish of germs.

I was born in Pakistan, but moved from there [and have never gone back] when I was a young child and this was my first experience in an environment like this. We travel within the US and Canada mostly and my brother and I went to Norway once. I know for a fact I live a very sheltered life: living in the USA, we live a very luxurious life and take so much for granted. We are accustomed to so many luxuries and "ways of life" that is definitely not the norm for most of the people in the world. This trip was about so much more than the religious/hajj aspect of it, when I think about it, it was an eye opener for so many things.

I also have to mention that, ironically enough, this hajj terminal at Jeddah airport did not have a prayer room inside. I don't know how it's even possible -- in a Muslim country... let alone in a hajj terminal. There were open prayer rooms outside  but who would possibly consider leaving only to enter through security again with this crowd? For maghrib, people crammed to pray right by the security screens. As people were praying, more people were still entering with their possessions going through the security belt... and in the process being dropped on top of people praying.. again... you can't make this stuff up.

Then we got to wait there, in this small crowded [for now being considered as an Emirates'] "hajj terminal" for a good four hours I think before being the lucky ones to be on the first shuttle to take us from the terminal waiting area/gate 14 to the actual airplane waiting in the middle of nowhere at the airport. This hajj terminal is, of course, used but once a  year [obviously during hajj season] and doesn't have the means to connect directly to such huge planes.

First stop: Dubai before the longer leg of the plane trip a couple of hours later from Dubai back home. Three something hours of a layover/plane change in Dubai, and we were on our way home finally. At last. It's about half way into the flight from Dubai to JFK when I am writing this and so far all you hear is coughing. Everywhere. Here, there, everywhere. And crying kids.

Also, one of the things I was worried about most prior to leaving was having to use an eastern style bathroom. Would you believe, this day, was the first time I even saw one?! That at Dubai airport too. No way did I use it, merely glance it, freak out, and leave.

I can't believe how quickly the three weeks flew by! Prior to leaving, I had kept on thinking that three weeks was a long time and that we should have stuck to the two week package for numerous reasons... but the days just flew by. I wish I didn't fall ill right at the end and could use that time more efficiently.

I am so glad I got to come for hajj, especially at my age, alhumdulillah. Never in a million years did I imagine I would get this chance at this stage of my life. Like I mentioned earlier, we made niyat for it last December, and it's unreal how fast it approached... and now it's over just like that. I would absolutely love to come back for umrah, in an off-peak season, to thoroughly enjoy everything about being here without all the choas, running around, and logistics that need to be taken care of during hajj. It's physically exhausting, for sure, so every able body should attempt to fulfill this pillar as early as possible and not wait until they are older.

It's been an eye opening experience, for sure, in many ways... and inshallah I never lose sight of any of it.

Click here to read the next day's post, from October 26: getting home!

Posted on 11.03.13

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hajj Trip: October 24

Posted on a later day, 11.02.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day's post and click here to see the next day's post.
Thursday October 24.

This day, around 2:30 AM, my dad and I went to do a tawaf. The crowd doesn't seem to be dissipating at all (and seems to actually be more of a crowd), and we have found that around 2 AM seems to be the time where the crowd is somewhat manageable on the lower floor. While transport time and manageability dictates that it is best to go to Madinah before Makkah for ease and convenience, I think going to Makkah first would, in fact, allow one to make the most of their time in Makkah in the most beneficial way, crowd wise. International flights arriving at the Jeddah airport ahead of hajj take upwards of 8 hours... talk about a test of patience.

I finally got to see inside "maqam-e-Ibrahim" during this tawaf too! All I saw, and I think all that is visible, is a deep imprint of footsteps. Maqam-e-Ibrahim refers to the stone where Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) stood on while building the upper walls of the Ka'aba. As he stood on this rock, an impression of his foot was made on said rock. It's now located at the place where Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) offered two rakats of prayer after finishing the Ka'aba, which is why Muslims do the same at this spot after completing a tawaf.

Considering we are leaving tomorrow, I don't think I'll be able to see the black stone [Hajar al-Aswad].

Before I forget to note it down again, one of the most amazing [that you have to see to believe] that has been astonishing is that while there are birds flying all over [of course], they never seem to do their business over the area of the Ka'aba. Now that I think of it, I didn't notice any of it at Masjid al-Nabawi either... which is amazing to think considering both are open areas.

I think I have talked about how rude people can be here. It's a culture shock and such a contrast coming from Madinah especially. Oh, what I would do to go back to Madinah. In Madinah, there is just a sense of peace and belonging and... it just felt right... I can't explain it. I don't know how many times I have said "I can't explain it" or "it's indescribable" in these hajj posts... but it really is... wait until you get the opportunity, inshallah, to go and you'll know exactly what I mean.

Anyhow, I wouldn't be doing justice to this gentleman if I didn't mention him. Early this morning, after my dad and I did tawaf and prayed, we couldn't figure out how to get back to the gate (Abdul Aziz Gate 1) we habitually use to get back to our hotel as it was the closest and the most direct route back to Fairmont. We asked one of the workers, expecting a broad point in the right direction, and instead: he went out of his way to walk us to the gate a good distance away. It was like a sign from Him above to remind me not to forget that there are good people here too all the same, considering how regularly our group discusses the contrast in personalities of people in Madinah and Makkah.

This morning, before Zuhr, my dad, aunt, uncle, cousin, cousin's wife and I also went to this library at the back of the Haram where it is believed that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born. Whenwe got there, however, there were signs saying there is no such proof. Not to mention the fact that people aren't even allowed inside the library.

One of the things that has gotten to me the most throughout this trip is that they don't seem to be preserving any of the historical/religious points. Construction/lack of planning seems to be taking over. It's something that has bothered me about many things in Madinah and here in Makkah as well.

Between asr and maghrib, my dad and I again decided to physically feed people-- workers in the Haram today-- and it literally brought me to tears. Not for the reasons you would think of typically, but because of the reaction of one of the 20. He was worried about a co-worker/friend and wanted to make sure he got a share as well. Even in his state, he was worried about others. Talk about a lesson in humbleness and humility. Thankfully, we had approached his friend right before as well. Would you believe that in the equivalent of $40 US, you could feed 20 people a decent sized wrap? I keep saying this, but I really do mean it: this experience/opportunity has been an eye opener in countless ways.

Plan for tonight is to do our tawaf al-wida [farewell tawaf]. We also found out that we will, inshallah, be able to do jummah prayers here at the Haram before leaving for Jeddah for the first leg of the plane trip back immediately after Jummah prayers. The original itinerary indicated that would not be possible so it's a pleasant and welcome surprise indeed!

Slowly our group has been departing for their respective homes over the last few days. We said bye to a few more tonight and then we are next, tomorrow, inshallah. I have mentioned it in past posts as well, but some of the people in our group have become like family and I truly feel like I have known them forever. I am so thankful they were put in my life, especially through this blessed opportunity, and even more grateful that a handful of those I have become so close to are actually from New Jersey as well!

We have a busy month ahead with family events once we are home, but I can't wait to get our hajj group together, inshallah, soon after things settle down. Multiple events each weekend until December including a trip to Canada for a 50th Anniversary party (inshallah) and a road trip to South Carolina for my cousin's valima reception (inshallah)... and of course the wedding in between.

This day, so soon before departing for home, was also when I got most sick. Since yesterday it was a downward spiral, but right when I woke up around 2 AM Thursday morning to go do a tawaf with Abu, I knew immediately today would be a challenge. Quite unfortunate considering it's our last full day, but alhumdulillah at the same time: how fortunate I am that I didn't get sick until the end and was able to make the most of my days here!

Freshly homemade soup is definitely on the agenda as soon as we get home. And my normal food. I may or may not have ate my weight in fast food this week- halal Burger King one day, Hardees another and KFC three days. My fruit salad and fish sound absolutely perfect right about now...

Click here to read the post from the next day, October 25: leaving Makkah [after jummah at the Haram].

Posted on 11.02.13

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hajj Trip: October 23

Posted on a later day, 11.01.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day's post and click here to see the next day's post.
Wednesday October 23.

Poverty level is incredibly high here and it is quite devastating to see. For the most part, we have been sheltered from witnessing it because of the proximity. Our hotel has an internal path that leads directly to the courtyard of the Haram. When we do see it, however, it is incredible. It is something that doesn't leave you easily-- and it shouldn't.

When opportunities present themselves, we have been donating regularly. Today, however, we thought to do it a little differently and actually bought food and give fresh and warm food to people. One thing is for certain: their reaction is something that will be hard for me to lose sight of, that's for sure. It makes me wonder how often they are able to feed themselves and their family and how much they have to stretch their income to make ends meet. Oh the things we take for granted on a regular basis.

Tomorrow is our last full day here in Makkah. Our flight leaves Friday night from the airport in Jeddah, but because of the process it entails, we have to leave from Makkah at least eight hours before our flight departs for our stopover in Dubai [where we change planes for the remainder 13 something hours of flight time]. Blah. I think "hajj flights" require you to be at the airport five hours prior to your flight departure time. Oh, and I think it takes around two hours to get to the Jeddah airport from here in Makkah. I don't know if that two hours accounts for the inevitable traffic time or not.

After dinner, they had a celebratory cake for all of the Hajji's, which was a nice touch I thought. It was also when most of us started saying farewell to one another as the majority of people start leaving soon on various flights at various times. I have said it repeatedly, but I really and truly can't believe how quickly the time has flown by! It's an experience and time, undoubtedly, that I will cherish forever.

Click here to read the post from the next day, October 24: our last full day in Makkah.

Posted on 11.01.13

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hajj Trip: October 22

Posted on a later day, 10.31.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day's post and click here to see the next day's post.
Tuesday October 22.

Today, we went on a ziyarat tour (tour of holy places) around Makkah with our group. We did a similar one in Madinah as well.

The places we visited were:

1) Jabal Saur/Thawr- it's the mountain, located in the south of the city of Makkah, that has the cave where Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] and Hazarat Abu Bakr hid for three days and nights as they were migrating to Madinah [after an assassination threat]. It's mentioned in Surah Taubah.
    While the two men were hiding inside, Allah SWT sent a spider to form a web from a bush across the entrance to the cave and also had two doves make a nest and lay eggs [between the spider and the tree]. The Quraysh even approached the cave, and came very close to discovering the two men, but upon seeing the spider's web and the dove nest, they wrongly assumed that it would have been impossible for anyone to enter the cave and left without looking in.

    A little side note about Makkah: I mentioned in a past post that Dajjal can't enter either of the Haram [in Makkah or the one in Madinah]. Another tidbit: If one commits a crime outside of the Haram and enters the Haram, he can't be arrested while he is in the Haram (until they leave the Haram) because it's a place where you are one on one with Allah. This doesn't apply, however, if one was to commit a crime within the Haram.

    2) Arafat - it's where the fundamental of hajj is done [pilgrims come here on the 9th Dhul Hijjah (second day of Hajj)]. Jabel Rehmah [Mount of Mercy] is the infamous [and more commonly known as] Mount Arafat. [Mount] Arafat is actually considered to be outside the boundary of the Haram.

    I mentioned one hadith in an earlier post indicating the importance of the day of Arafat [and Mount Arafat itself]. Here's another: "Apart from the day of the Battle of Badr there is no day on which the Shaitan [devil] is seen to be more humiliated, more rejected, more depressed and more infuriated, than on the day of Arafat, and indeed all this is only because of beholding the abundance of descending mercy (on the day) and Allah’s forgiveness of the great sins of the servants."

    On the actual day of Arafat, I had asked a bunch of our group leaders whether we would be able to see Mount Arafat, and was disappointed to hear that from our camp site it would no be visible. To get to actually see it today was a great surprise and I am so glad I got the opportunity!

    While in Arafat, we also saw Masjid Nimrah from far- it's located on the plains of Arafat and is used only once a year-- on the day of Arafat. Part of the masjid is actually outside the boundary of Arafat.

    3) Masjid Mash'arul Haram - during hajj, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) prayed maghrib and isha prayers together at Muzdalifah, staying at the spot where this masjid currently is. He said, however, that although he was staying there, anywhere in Muzdalifah is a place for you stay at. Muzdalifah is mentioned in Surah Baqarah: "When you leave Arafat, then remember Allah at the Mash'arul Haram".

    4) We drove by Waadi Muhassar - it's a place between Mina and Muzdalifah. It's where Allah SWT destroyed Abraha and his army of elephants. This is mentioned in Surah Feel.

    5) Masjid al-Khayf- it's a masjid in Mina. Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) camped and prayed here during his stay in Mina. My notes from that day indicate that the last surah of the Qu'ran that was revealed was revealed here in the masjid in Mina where he camped... but I have to go and do research to confirm that as a fact.

    6) Jabal-e-Noor - it's the tallest mountain in Makkah. This mountain has the cave, Cave Hira, where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to seclude himself often for ibaadat. It's about 6-7 kilometers away from the Haram and the Prophet often walked the distance. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received his first revelation from Allah SWT here.

    7) Jannatul Maa'la - cemetery in Makkah. It's importance is similar to the one by masjid al nabawi in the sense that it is the resting place of several family members of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and many Sahabas.

    8) Masjid al-Jinn - built at the place where Prophet Muhammad used to read the Qu'ran to jinns.

    9) Masjid Shazarah/Shajarah - a miracle happened here. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) called a tree and the tree uplifted itself and came to the Prophet [and greeted with Salam]. The Prophet then instructed the tree to return to it's spot and it did so. The masjid was later built at the spot where the tree stood.

    FYI, you think driving through NYC is crazy? Its unimaginable here. I don't know how it works and how such big buses can possibly squeeze through such narrow roads and traffic from all directions. It is insane. I think I mentioned it in a past post too, but people will literally pick up and move cars like it is nothing in order to navigate traffic and make way. Whatever works, I suppose.

    One place we didn't get to see, that I really wish we had the opportunity to is Masjid Aisha.

    Anyways: as we were driving from one point of interest to the next, you couldn't miss it: we were in the middle of the dessert, yet there was greenery visible. Trees, brushes, you name it. One of the group leaders that was traveling on the bus this day, as our tour guide, mentioned a hadith [this time about one of the signs of the Day of Judgement]: "The Hour (of Resurrection) will not occur..... until the land of the Arabs returns to being pastures and rivers." Pasture is essentially grass, so for this hadith to imply that the dessert would turn into greenery... chilling.

    One more thing: it is remarkable that as we were getting this tour, our hotel, the Fairmont Clock Tower, is clearly visible from everywhere and anywhere. It's uncanny. You can't even see the Ka'aba from nearby when you are outside because of the construction and high-rise hotels and buildings that block the view, yet this clock tower is clearly visible no matter how far you are because of it's height. It's disappointing that this Clock Tower is what becomes the point of interest [and what many people continuously take photos of and focus on] instead of the Ka'aba.

    But that brings me to the bigger point. Another hadith [again on one of the signs of the Day of Judgement]: there is a hadith that basically says when the mountains of Makkah will be drilled through and it's buildings will reach the height of it's mountains, the hour would have cast it's shadow. So what you ask? There are tunnels everywhere through the mountains of Makkah [several right as we leave our Hotel] and our hotel -- the clock tower-- is definitely a high-rise that is as tall as a mountain in Makkah [if not taller]. Not to mention that the clock tower casts a shadow over the Ka'aba. Literally.

    Later that night, Abu and I did a tawaf around 10 pm and it was remarkable. It's just something every single time. I just can't explain it, but you just feel a sense of something greater inside.

    Click here to read the post from the next day, October 23.

    Posted on 10.31.13

    Monday, October 21, 2013

    Hajj Trip: October 21

    Posted on a later day, 10.31.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day's post and click here to see the next day's post.

    Monday October 21.

    Freezing. Its freezing cold here in the masjid! We have controlled the temperature somewhat in our hotel room (my mom is always hot and I am usually cold so it's a challenge), but it is SO VERY cold here in the masjid otherwise. I am literally getting the chills each time I enter. People have attempted to cover the vents with their belongings, chairs, etc. but it doesn't seem to be doing much. I don't know why they keep it so unbearably cold: I can barely concentrate. My cold has been self-limited to a sore throat and minimum coughing + runny nose and I hope the AC is not what makes it worse. Again, the mask has been of incredible help [I've been wearing it within the hotel too]. Although I don't know if my breathing is worse with or without the mask. With the mask, it's suffocating. Without the mask, I can't breathe.

    My parents and I went for tawaf this morning in the wheelchair zone, and alhumdulillah it only took 45 minutes from start to finish once we got there. Even at 8:15 am, however, it was hot and the sun was glaring. We got there at a good time because soon there was a wait line for the wheelchair lane as well. You can't even imagine the crowd in the other lower levels. The crowd does finally seem to be diminishing, however, considering the top row is now no longer fully full all the time. Just most of the time.

    On another side note, when did escalators become sensored? At least three times on an escalator in the hotel I have just gotten on thinking I will just climb them like steps (because the wait time for the elevator was too long/its proximity) and then they start moving and I almost trip. You would think I would learn my lesson after the first time...

    We have also been taking advantage of halal american chain restaurants. We had Burger King yesterday and KFC today-- neither one I would have back home because fast food is just not my thing (anymore). One of the things I miss most about home? My normal (light) food and my fruit salad. Oh, the simple things in life.

    For the first time so far throughout the trip, we finally did a little shopping today. There just seems to be no time here. Getting to the masjid for the jamaat for each prayer literally makes our schedule revolve around prayer times. It's amazing to think that for most on a regular basis, its the other way around-- they try to squeeze/fit praying into their otherwise busy and hectic schedule... here it is vice versa. I think I have mentioned it before, but one of the largest perks of living in a dominantly Islamic country? The way people stop whatever they are doing and head towards the Haram to pray at each azaan (call for prayer).

    While shopping earlier, I found "chilgosay" which are Pakistani pine nuts! Now if I could have gotten "falsay" (a fruit) I would have been set.

    Reading back on my thoughts today, it seems to be a jumble of [very] random thoughts... but it is what it is. Plan for tomorrow is ziyarat (to see/visit holy places) here in Makkah, inshallah, so tomorrow's thoughts should be more structured [hopefully].

    Click here to read the post from the next day, October 22, about the ziyarat/mazarat tour around Makkah.

    Posted on 10.31.13

    Sunday, October 20, 2013

    Hajj Trip: October 20

    Posted on a later day, 10.30.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day's post and click here to see the next day's post.
    Sunday October 20.

    We checked into Fairmont yesterday, and again its been chaotic to say the least. Getting room keys was pretty chaotic (although we got ours relatively easily) and many people had to wait quite a while for whatever reason. Navigating this hotel in the beginning (yesterday) was chaotic (and still is for most people). I feel like I am constantly going from one elevator to the next anytime I need to go anywhere.

    Its beautiful inside though. The best part? The hotel leads you directly to the courtyard of the Haram. The view from the dining hall of the Haram? Magnificent. Did I mention we hear the azaan (call for prayer) from the Haram in each of the rooms here through a speaker? Our hotel, and therefore the prayer room in this hotel, is actually considered to be part of the Haram so it has been nice to pray here when the crowd has been unmanageable. The view is of the Haram, so it couldn't be any better.

    This morning, I explored the mall on the ground floor a little while my parents tried to catch up on some sleep. I needed chocolate and was delighted to find Bin Dawood (I learned in Madinah relatively quickly that it is like the equivalent of a Walmart pretty much) within the compounds of the internal mall downstairs.

    For some reason it seems to be getting more and more crowded in the Haram, as opposed to the crowd easing up as we were expecting it to now that it's been a few days since the main days of hajj [since that is what everyone always says]. Hopefully, that is the case in the next day or so so we can make the most of this blessed opportunity. My parents did tawaf last night before tahajud and were able to do that relatively easily [in the wheelchair zone] at that time.

    Have I mentioned my super-dad, Abu? I don't know how, but starting this day, he pushed Ami for all of the tawafs [and the sa'ee this day too]. Mind you, he is a heart patient himself. Alhumdulillah, what an amazing role model he has been my whole life.

    Reflecting today, as we see our group 19 all together less and less (no more group activities left), I will truly miss some of these people a lot. A few have become like family and I am enjoying soaking in the experience with them in these last few days. I am so grateful they were put in my life, especially through this blessed opportunity.

    On another note, I don't think I have talked about this as of yet but its is incredible that there is a namaz-e-janaza [funeral prayer] (sometimes multiple deceased) EVERY prayer here without fail. I noticed it in masjid al-nabawi in Madinah and again here in Makkah. No better place to die than here, but subhanallah it still gets me each time. One of the tidbits I picked up on this trip is that apparently you are made out of the soil from the place you die. Can you imagine dying (and therefore being made out of the soil) from a place so holy?

    Only four full days remaining of our 21 day trip. May Allah SWT give us the opportunity to come again and again. I think I mentioned it in one of the days' posts from earlier in the trip but inshallah I really want to come back for umrah in a non-peak time and actually enjoy every opportunity instead of having to worry so much about the logistic portions of it.

    P.S. if I had a dollar for every time someone here thought I was in the 14-16 age range, I would be rich... I can't even count the amount of times/the number of people who thought/think so.

    Click here to read the post from the next day, October 21.

    Posted on 10.30.13

    Saturday, October 19, 2013

    Hajj Trip: October 19

    Posted on a later day, 10.30.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous post and click here to see the next day's post.
    Saturday October 19.

    Friday night, what I was dreading finally happened: I developed a sore throat. Until now, the coughing was minimal, but it seemed like everyone suddenly got sick on Friday. Throughout the day on Friday, and especially during prayers, it was as if every other person was suddenly coughing and sick. I knew then it was bound to happen sooner or later.

    I wore my mask consistently as soon as I step out to go anywhere, but still couldn't avoid falling ill from one of our own. Better now than before all the hajj aspects I suppose. I think, more than anything else, the exhaustion is finally setting in. As of yet, it was all adrenaline rush I was running on... it had to be: there is no other logical explanation. I normally get tired with just normal day to day things and here I just over did it on a daily basis.

    For lunch, they provided us with Al Baik which is apparently a must try when here. It's not greasy like fried chicken typically is, not dry like baked chicken, and the seasoning in the crust is pretty tasty. I'll admit, I liked the chicken nuggets more contrary to popular opinion here.

    We left Aziziya for our Fairmont hotel near the Haram close to 3:15 PM (surprisingly earlier than originally scheduled at 4) and got there at 4:45 pm. It should have taken us around 15 minutes. I suppose I should have gotten used to this adjusted traffic time by now, but I haven't. Add the honking (which takes me right back to NYC), the smog [I don't know if its harder to breathe with the mask on or off], the nonsense... and aaahh!

    I don't want to commute anywhere here in any way but walking, until it is time for our trip home Friday. Thank goodness our hotel's ground floor connects to an internal mall that leads directly into the courtyard of the haram in mere minutes. Honestly, getting from our hotel room to the ground floor probably takes longer because you have to switch elevators to get anywhere! Not even every elevator connects to S2 [prayer halls in the hotel that is considered to be part of the Haram].

    It's like a child's game anytime you want to get from point A to B [within the hotel]: GF leads to the Haram, but you need to get to M2 to connect to that elevator first. M3 leads you to the restaurant, but don't try going there directly from the GF elevator. or S2. Or your hotel room... but it does get you to B2 to get on the buses!

    Worst part? Apparently they doublebooked or something. After settling in this night, my dad and I went to explore the route to the Haram. When we got back and were getting off the elevator on our floor we saw my mom standing there (she was asleep when we left). Apparently some random couple walked in because they were also given the keys to our room and whatnot. Then when we tried to unlock our door, we were locked out. Needless to say, sorting all of this out when you are already exhausted isn't fun.

    Side note: I apparently have no idea how a wheelchair works. I couldn't figure out how to fold/unfold it, how to work the brakes, and I certainly don't gave the energy/strength to push it. While waiting for my dad to get our room keys earlier, when we initially got to Fairmont, I tried for a few seconds. Thank goodness our group leader, Qari Basit came to my rescue and pushed the wheelchair like a pro.

    Click here to read the post from the next day, October 20.

    Posted on 10.30.13

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

    Hajj Trip: October 17

    Posted on a later day, 10.30.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous post and click here to see the next post.
    Thursday October 17.

    Yesterday [the 16th] and today have been relatively slow for me since Abu and I finished our tawaf al-ifadah and hajj sa'ee early Tuesday [the 15th]. I, along with Abu, were among one of the first to complete it from our program and group. Yesterday and  today, the only two things I HAD to do for hajj requirements was rami (stoning the jamarat/devil) while others were still completing their tawafs and sa'ee, etc at various times.

    After literally eating barely anything but a pack of cookies and a (peel-yourself) banana daily, I ate a little shawarma meat Tuesday night. Because I figured the lack of food was what was making me feel so sick and crummy inside. Not to mention every part of me is sore. Of course, the meat gave me an upset stomach to add to everything else.

    Wednesday, we went to the jamarat around 4:30 PM (Wednesday was the first of two days we had to do all three), and I was surprised how not-chaotic it was. Yes, the crowd was intense... but it was orderly from one to the next and finally last. Once again, my worries were put to ease. I can't say alhumdulillah enough for how smoothly pretty much all of the hajj aspects have gone and my worries have been proven to be over nothing. It's things I didn't even think of beforehand that have become issues instead.

    I talked in an earlier post about the luxuries we have even in our hajj, and here's another insight: our walk from our Mena camp to the jamaraat is probably 10-15 minutes at the maximum. For others, it takes a few hours just to get there. Our program mangers and leaders continuously remind us to stay hydrated and keep water for the walk and keep an umbrella for the shade, etc. and that's just for the fifteen minutes. I got myself dehydrated in the minimum time I spent outdoors during these days... imagine those that have to walk for several hours one way.

    Our proximity to each location was unmatched. Not to mention that we had air-conditioned buses transporting us most places. Others probably walked from one hajj site to another. I know for a fact I saw many walking from Arafat to Muzdalifah, so I can imagine many doing it for other times as well. I have said it over and over again in person to fellow hajji's and my family: we had a luxurious hajj through and through. Which is probably why we were tested in ways we couldn't have imagined before. The modern luxuries and conveniences we had were embarrassing every time I step foot out of out Mena tents and observed others. Meanwhile inside, many from our program were busy complaining about the food -- the kind of food, what they would rather be eating, etc. Oh brother...

    I talked in an earlier post about barely being able to breathe outside [it was an issue for me throughout] because of the smog/dust/pollution. Yet, there were many people sitting outside our Mena camps in the heat eating, literally next to the garbage at times, and going on with their day with smiles on their faces. It didn't bother them one bit. Or it was no different than any other day for them. The smell of the garbage, for me even with the mask, was unbearable and nauseating at the very least... and I had to experience it for just mere minutes [on the walk back from the jamarat to our Mena camps].

    Another thing I have noticed here? Garbage everywhere. And I mean everywhere. There are visible and clearly marked garbage cans placed [not to mention there are cleaners everywhere walking around with garbage bags/cans], but for whatever reason they aren't used... people just throw garbage on the ground as if it's nothing. I just don't get it. I can't tell you the amount of times I saw people eat/drink and then just toss it right then and there.

    Thursday [our last day in Mena], our whole camp was wide awake since three AM. For the time frame between praying fajr and until the time we left for the jamarat after zuhr: we just hung out in groups. It was the last time all of us would together in one area all at once. Alhumdulillah, we had some really great people in our group and I had a blast with them.

    Thursday after rami, my dad and I got pretty much an unasked for walking tour of Mena because we got lost. Language barrier, I tell you is not fun. We asked for directions multiple times after we realized we were obviously not going the right way and were given wrong directions multiple times. Our landmark for getting back to our tent from day one was the infamous Al-Baik fried chicken chain... and of course there had to be two in the Mena region which didn't do us any favors either when we were lost...

    After rami was complete, on Thursday, we headed back to Aziziya for the transitional period before we go to our Makkah hotel [Fairmont Clock Tower Hotel] on Saturday for the remainder of the trip (until Friday). We left Mena for Aziziya via a bus around 3 PM, and didn't arrive until after 5:30 because of traffic (it's about a 5-15 minute drive otherwise). Of course, the bus dropped us off randomly in the middle of nowhere once again and we had to walk for 15-20 minutes with our luggage, in some uphill areas. Fun. You can imagine what that did to my asthmatic mom. Carrying an excessive amount of baggage for the duration of the walk did not go well for my weak self either [I took my mom's bag as well]. I had a heavy backpack on my back, one on my chest, my cross-body purse, and I was also pulling a carry-on behind me. We didn't even have the worst of it: my aunt's bus, which left before us,  took almost 4 hours to reach Aziziya. They didn't have very good luck with buses apparently either.

    Again, have to take a moment here to thank another person: during the walk, once again, a random couple in our broader program took another bag my mom was carrying while carrying their own luggage and backpacks until we got to Aziziya. The kindness of strangers, alhumdulillah, is something I tell you.

    I think I fell asleep around 9 pm this day and by that time, both my parents were asleep. Exhausted to say the least.

    In more ways than one, I feel like we are being tested/challenged more so in aspects not directly related to hajj. While I agree some aspects are not under the control of our program leaders/organizers, some are. Like if they know buses are going to take so much time, why not pile the luggage in them and advise people [who are able] to do the mere 10-15 minute walk from Mena to Aziziya if you know that is easier? We ended up walking more after getting off the bus than people who chose to walk directly [because of the direction/route we took]. I distinctively remembering one of the group leaders saying after the fact that he knew these buses were going to get stuck just by the direction they were heading towards and so I didn't let me group get on... well, why didn't you say something to the everyone else?!

    One week remains before we will be on our flight home, god willing.

    Click here to read the next post, from October 19.

    Posted on 10.30.13

    Tuesday, October 15, 2013

    Hajj Trip: October 15

    Posted on a later day, 10.30.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day's post and click here to see the next day's post.
    Tuesday October 15.

    This day is also when the rest of the practicing Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid-ul-Adha.

    We left from our carpeted resting area in Muzdalifah around midnight for its train station and it was probably at least half an hour later by the time we were finally on the train. We didn't finally get back to our Mena camp, however, until around 2:30 AM. You read that right.

    We took the train [10-15 minute ride once you are on], after not being able to find the bus, and let me tell you it was not fun. The trains are a great implementation but wasn't planned very well. The walking, the uphill ramps involved are not ideal for most. Definitely not for my mom who is asthmatic and has arthritis. You would think the security/police would allow such people, like Ami, to use the elevator... but no, of course not. You plead with them, but they are just rude and inconsiderate and make you question how some people can be so heartless. Why in the world are there elevators there in the first place?!

    When we finally got off at our Mena/jamaraat train station [the jamaraat is within the train station at Mena], apparently all the escalators only go upwards at that time. My guess is that its to accommodate all those coming for rami, but never mind the fact how they are supposed to go back afterwards... After trying to figure out what the security/policemen were saying in Arabic to no avail and seeing most escalators heading up [and no stairs unlocked] and elevators that we weren't allowed to use [because apparently they were being repaired even though we could see they were working just fine...] I called one of the Dar el Salam phone numbers and told them to speak to one of the workers in Arabic and have them help/guide us... which finally got us somewhere.

    There were also creepy crawly FLYING creatures that someone compared to cicadas but these were in varying [humongous] sizes, didn't make the noise cicadas are known for, were clay colored, and seemed to fall when under the light. Oh and absolutely gross.

    It had been relatively smooth sailing until this point so I guess He above decided to challenge us some more. I can honestly say that the hajj portions went great for us throughout, alhumdulillah, and the challenges/tests we faced were in other ways.

    Communicating here has been a challenge pretty much daily due to the language barrier and it gets frustrating at times. Not only during the whole train station debacle, but the 1.5 hours it took to finally get an extension cord for my mom's CPAP machine once we got back to our Mena camp. I was exhausted to say the least and not exactly what I wanted to be doing at the time. It was a tough and challenging day all around that's for sure.

    Today's agenda after yet another day of an hour of sleep (if that) was first day of rami (out of three) that we did on the way back from the train station, sacrifice, [we can be out of the state of ihram after this], tawaf al-ifadah, and sa'ee. I am so worried that I am running on a adrenaline rush and will make myself sick soon... hopefully that is not the case.

    By the time I got my mom's CPAP machine issue finally settled, and went to lay down... it was time to leave for the tawaf.

    So many funny/interesting from this trip. Today's favorite? The alive sheep in the back of a small truck while we were stuck in traffic heading for tawaf al-ifadah. Not so funny? That it took us over 4 hours to get to the destination (haram) which is about between 4-5 kilometers from Mena. It should have taken us 15-20 minutes. Blah. My mom wasn't feeling very well by this time, so she took our bus right back to Mena and just my dad and I did our tawaf and sa'ee at the time.

    We finally got on the bus, at our checkpoint Shohada hotel, to head back from the Haram following our tawaf al-ifadah and sa'ee to Mena around 2:55 pm. 15 minutes later we were on our way and thankfully it only took 25 minutes this time around and we got back to our Mena camp around 3:35 pm. What an extremely exhausting and trying day all around.

    At this point, the main parts of our hajj are over, although we still have day 2 and 3 of rami remaining before we leave Mena camp to head back to Aziziya for a day or two before heading to our Makkah hotel for about 5 "free" days (more like recuperating days) before our flight home Friday October 25th (we will be home, inshallah, [bright and early] the morning of October 26).

    We collected the pebbles for day one from Muzdalifah last night and then my dad and I went to collect the pebbles for day 2 and 3 for jamarat here in Mena, following sunnah.

    Oh how I miss my bed, my food, and the minimal sleep of 3-4 hours I typically get on a good night at home that will suddenly now seem more than enough. But will miss this experience a lot. Something just feels right.

    Except for the fact my dad and I witnessed two grown men break into a fight today during sa'ee and one even threw zam-zam at the other. Yes, a hajji throwing holy water at a fellow hajji. Mere hours after the day of Arafat was over. Hours after the fact all of your sins were washed away. Can. Not. Make. This. Stuff. Up.

    Click here to read the next post, from October 17.

    Posted on 10.30.13

    Monday, October 14, 2013

    Hajj Trip: October 14

    Posted on a later day, 10.29.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day's post and click here to see the next day's post.
    Monday October 14.

    Its the day of Arafat-- THE day of hajj. The most important day. The reason we are here. According to a hadith [saying of the Prophet]: "hajj is Arafat". Therefore, whoever misses standing on the grounds of Arafat has essentially an invalid hajj.

    Our day started bright and early as usual, but even earlier than usual this day. We were supposed to be up and ready to leave by 2 AM. We would get short notice of when to leave for Arafat by the Saudi government and would have to leave swiftly using the newly implemented train system. My mom and I were up way earlier than that-- before 12:30 am. The rest of our "camp" was up by 1:30 too, I would say.

    The rest of our program, everyone but most of our group 19 [some left in the confusion], left from our Mena tents around 2:30-3:00 AM. Our group leader Qari Basit, also an imam, decided to have our group wait until after fajr [as is sunnah], so our Mena camp felt completely deserted in the time between everyone else leaving and us leaving. The crew also starting cleaning and turned off the fans, air-conditioning, etc.

    A side note explanation: It's sunnah to pray zuhr, asr, maghrib, and isha on 8 zil-hijjah and fajr on 9 zil-hijjah in Mena. On the 9th, its sunnat to leave after fajr for Arafat and ... pray zuhr and asr combined (qasr) following a khutbah (sermon) then wait until sunset (but not pray maghrib) to leave for Muzdalifah where you read a combined maghrib and isha prayers (qasr). Except the crowd is so intense that the Saudi government dictates who leaves when for what and it's just not feasibly possible for everyone to follow sunnah for all of the aspects. While our whole program could not stay, Qari Basit did get permission for our group to stay-- I have to say Qari Basit pulled a lot of strings for us throughout.

    We finally left our Mena tent to walk to the the train station to head to Arafat right before fajr time, with the plan being to reach the train station right at fajr to pray there [as the train station is still considered to be a part of Mena]. We get to our allotted gates at the train station, and they are, of course, locked. Our allotted time was way past over and locked because obviously it wouldn't be used. We walk further, mind you with our bags in tow with the necessities for the stay in Arafat and Muzdalifah, until we get to an open gate. Not boding well already for my asthmatic mom, who also has arthritis.

    Many escalator sets up [I lost count at how many] later, there was still a long [and at times uphill] walk ahead of us before we finally get to the train station portion. By now, my mom is exhausted to say the least.

    I have to take a moment here and thank Aysha's husband from our group. I believe his name is Akram. Alhumdulillah, cannot say thanks enough to him for all of his help: at this point, he took my mom's bag and carried my mom's bag for her for the rest of the time, while carrying his own bag, and didn't give it back to me until we got to our Arafat camp entrance. Now how many people do that for complete strangers?! Alhumdulillah, what a blessing he was for us on this trip.

    For a [small] portion of the walk, Qari Basit convinced these workers there with golf-cart like vehicles to give us a ride, and boy did they give us a ride. As one of the other girls said, when did we sign up for a roller-coaster ride? After it feels like we have been walking for ages, we are finally there-- no, not Arafat-- just the train platform in Mena's train station to get to Arafat. Eventually. Also FYI, Station# 3 is what Dar el Salam uses exclusively for every stop/place as that is what is closest to our camps and whatnot. Our proximity, let me tell you, is again embarrassing in comparison to what others have to travel. By foot. The walk at the train stations alone is extensive at times.

    Smooth sailing from here? Of course not. The security/police guy wouldn't let us pray at the platform and wanted us to either a) leave the area for praying before returning to the train platform or b) pray when we reached Arafat. The problem with a) was that the train was going to arrive any minute and would be the last one departing for at least the next three hours. The problem with b) was that... well the last several hours would have been for nothing.

    A few more moments of conversation/argument [whichever way you choose to look at it] later [of neither side budging], and when it didn't seem to be getting anywhere: a few of us started to plead to just let it go, and wait for the train and let things be. That He knew our intention and we tried our best, but we could not get stuck here. Not now, not today. So what does our group leader decide? He tells us to hurriedly start praying right there and then anyways. Which we did quickly. Very quickly. A good thing too, because in the meanwhile: the train had pulled in. I wish I had remembered to see the reaction of the security/police officer before getting on the train, but oh well. Alhumdulillah for things working out in the end.

    Calamity restored soon enough as we started repeating the talbiyah again for the duration of the train ride. Soon after, we finally got to Arafat at around 5:50 am, and Qari Basit called someone from our program to come guide us to our camps in Arafat for the day. The questions from the rest about why we were just getting there started not too much later.

    Now would also be a good time to talk about the benefits of this new train system, I suppose, to be fair? Time efficiency: it takes about 15 minutes once you are on the train to get from Mena to Arafat, whereas bus rides easily took 4-5 hours in the past with traffic. In past years, many barely made it to Arafat in time for the mid-afternoon khutbah which is an essential part of the day, whereas we were there before 6 AM.

    Another benefit: crowd control. Trains can fit a lot more people than a bus can and it should ease the traffic too. Ultimately, the trains are a good way to move a large group of people from one site to another, but there are still some logistical aspects that need to be taken care of. Like letting the elderly/ill use the elevators. Implementing those golf-cart type of vehicles to move said ill/elderly so they don't have to walk as much... because the train station itself involves a whole lot of walking.

    Back to Arafat-- Signifiance of Arafat? It's on this day, at the base of Mount Arafat, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave his last sermon. There is also a hadith that says: "there is no day on which Allah frees people from the Fire more so than on the Day of Arafat". Subhanallah. Non-pilgrims around the world who fast on this day? their sins are expiated from the year before and the following year.

    It's a day spent in repentance, asking for forgiveness, making dua, etc. because the day of Arafat is one of the days when dua [supplications] are more likely to be accepted. It's a day that should remind you of the Day of Judgement as you will be back here. I remember thinking of the immense crowd with just the Dar el Salam program near me, and thought to myself: If you think it's crowded now, think how crowded it will be with the whole population here on the Day of Judgement...

    Our tent's khutbah was given by Imam Chebli [the imam from the route one masjid here in New Jersey]. It's absolutely amaizng to think that every pilgrim at the moment is in one spot-- in Arafat. At no other time during the manasik of hajj is that true otherwise. Sure, everyone is in Mina for several days, but some are at the Haram, some are at the jamarat, etc. Sure, everyone will go to Muzdalifah after Arafat, but not everyone will arrive right away and many will leave by midnight [and not everyone would have even arrived at Muzdalifah by then due to traffic]. But every pilgrim must be in Arafat for the mid-day khutbah.

    When it was time to prepare to leave Arafat for Muzdalifah, we were advised to take the bus [instead of the trains again] so my mom wouldn't have to walk too much. We got on the bus by around 6:40 pm, after waiting for the sunset, from Arafat to leave for Muzdalifah and got there around 7:30 pm after leaving around 7:05 pm.

    To say we made great timing would be a huge understatement. 10-15 minutes later would have resulted in being stuck in about a 3 hour traffic jam. On our way, we thought we would be arriving late, and in fact, we were actually among the first ones from Dar el Salam to arrive. We even beat most of the rest of our program that came by the trains. I don't even want to imagine traffic before this system considering I am writing this three hours after we got to Muzdalifah and not only are people still arriving via trains, but the huge traffic jam around us and on the upper ramp that I can see right above us is phenomenal. Scores of buses and people everywhere.

    I can't tell you how many times I've heard that the sky literally changes colors while you are resting in Muzdalifah, and I can honestly say: it does. Even glancing from left to right, you can see pops of varying colors... it's amazing.

    One last thing to do for the day? Pick out seven pebbles for the first day of rami [tomorrow]. It is sunnah to pick out the seven pebbles for the first day from Muzdalifah and the remaining pebbles for the rest of the days from Mina.

    I didn't notice it until the end of the night when we were leaving, since until that point we were just sitting in one area, but what I'll remember most from Muzdalifah? Seeing people from elsewhere literally sitting/sleeping in dirt/mud. Literally steps from us while we were sitting on top of rugs that Dar el Salam had arranged. Kids, females, and males alike. For all I know, they walked to that spot.

    Click here to read the post from the next day, October 15.

    Posted on 10.29.13

    Sunday, October 13, 2013

    Hajj Trip: October 13

    Posted on a later day, 10.29.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day's post and click here to see the next day's post.
    Sunday October 13.

    It's officially the first day of hajj (with tomorrow being THE day of hajj [day of Arafat]).

    The first bus/group (16) from our program left from the Aziziya apartment building for the Mena camp around 11:15 AM (give or take 15 minutes). By 12:40 PM, when bus 18 came... bus 16 hadn't reached our destination- about 2 km/1 mile from here. FYI, anytime someone said anything to me in km or degrees celcius, I had to Google it to convert.

    Before leaving, we entered the state of ihram once again. This time it would be for several days-- until Tuesday morning! Our bus, 19, finally came around 12:50 PM and left relatively quickly by 1 PM after a original departure time of 9:30 AM that was revised to 10:30 AM at breakfast time [around 6:30ish in the morning]. We got to our Mena camps in 45 minutes. 45 minutes for one mile's worth of travel? Sadly, this is nothing compared to what other travel times were like. The last bus (23) from our program got to Mena around 3:20 PM.

    Our "camp" held 22 women in very close quarters. As in you had absolutely no space between the foldable sleeping chair (no exaggeration whatsoever), 11 on one side and 11 on the other with barely space for one foot to fit in between. You can imagine the balancing act that took place. 

    Our "bed", pillow, and blanket [in an air-conditioned tent]? Luxurious. I'm not being sarcastic or funny... but honest. There were people outside with absolutely nothing, while we were in the AC with several coolers right at the doorstep of each door filled with ice cold drinks. Sodas, water, juices, you name it. Constant access to snacks, soup and tea. Buffet style meals. I kept my diet very simple from the start through the hajj days, but even so couldn't help but be embarrassed. 

    Throughout our hajj days, I said it over and over again in person to fellow hajji's and my family: we had a luxurious hajj. The modern luxuries and conveniences we had were embarrassing every time I stepped foot out of out Mena tents and observed others. Meanwhile inside, throughout our stay [whether it be in the hotels, in Aziziya, Mena, Arafat-- I heard it everywhere] many from our program were busy complaining about the food -- the kind of food, what they would rather be eating, etc. Oh brother...

    THE biggest thing I was worried about was definitely the bathroom situation-- the cleanliness factor and having to deal with eastern style bathrooms (google image at your convenience if you aren't familiar) once we were out of the hotel. Alhumdulillah, neither was a issue. Dar el Salam had arranged for the bathrooms to be continuously be cleaned which was such a huge relief during our stay in Mena [and Arafat]. And, of course, I can't even tell you how grateful/fortunate I was to have access to western style bathrooms.

    Anyhow, this day, right before the Day of Arafat, would also be the day my uncle [part of the broader program] was taken to the hospital. He had a stroke days before leaving for hajj that impacted his eyes, and was now having angina pain as well. Alhumdulillah, he is doing okay.

    Click here to read the next day's post, from October 14, about the Day of Arafat.

    Posted on 10.29.13

    Saturday, October 12, 2013

    Hajj Trip: October 12

    Posted on a later day, 10.29.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day's post and click here to see the next day's post.
    Saturday October 12.

    Apparently another one of our buses, bus 21, the one with my aunt and family and my cousin and his wife, broke down along the way from Madinah to Makkah. We found out through our bus driver initially, and didn't get the details from our family until much later.

    Saturday morning, still traveling by bus to Makkah from Madinah, we hit one of the checkpoints around 12:20 AM pretty much as soon as we entered the city of Makkah we were so warned about (the delays they cause, etc.). The person first asked our bus driver where we were from and when he said "America", the guy literally said "assalam aleikum America" and let us get on our way. Have I mentioned how easy we have it compared to others? We can see lines and lines of cars and buses and whatnot waiting for I don't even want to imagine how long. At this point we also started to notice people walking to their destination, the Haram.

    We reached, what I think is called the matawaf's office, around 12:32 AM. Here your passports are once again taken from your group for who knows what. While the driver and the imam were inside taking care of the official business [it took them about 20 minutes inside], someone came and gave us zam zam water (holy water).

    I have mentioned the language barrier before, but it was most intense as of yet at this point. When the driver and our imam was inside, apparently one of the guys that helped our people take care of things so quickly [again our wait time was minimal at best compared to most] for us inside wasn't satisfied with the "tip" he was given and so what did he do? Climb on our bus and refuse to get off and argued with our imam and bus driver... And just continued traveling with us on our way... stopped somewhere else... he went in with bus driver and imam... came back on with them again. I am a worrier, so you know Allah SWT is with you every step of this sacred journey when instead of freaking out, I found it more funny. This random guy, arguing along most of the way and refusing to get off, finally got off randomly in the middle of nowhere though.

    Patience. And everything goes. That's for sure. I think, by the end of this trip, nothing will surprise me.

    Around this time, I got my first glimpse ever of the Ka'aba. Just barely, and only the top of the Ka'aba... but it was indeed the Ka'aba nonetheless... and just something. I couldn't contain my excitement/surprise and pointed it out to my dad. I wasn't at all expecting to see it at the time, and was looking at that general direction only because someone from behind commented on how we could see our Makkah Hotel-- Fairmont Royal Clock Tower-- that we would be staying at for the last six days of the trip. Honestly, reflecting back, we must have been on some high ramp or something because you can't even see the Ka'aba from outside when you are right outside in the courtyard. In fact, I don't remember ever seeing it again for the rest of the trip from outside going or coming from anywhere [traveling by bus]. I would see it fully for the first time later this day, when we went to the Haram for umrah.

    We finally got to Aziziya around 2:15-2:30 AM. Of course, we can't just get there without a story to tell. We are finally pulling up and driving through narrow roads [which makes you think/hope/realize that you are almost there!] and roads are blocked everywhere and there is vehicle traffic coming from all sides. I don't even understand how buses navigate and go through just narrow roads, let alone traffic from both sides. Anyhow, we are stuck behind another one of the Dar el Salam buses [carrying a separate group from our program] who apparently is stuck and has no where to go. You'd think we'll just be here awhile, right? No. Our driver, somehow [who knows how] reverses our bus on said narrow road [there was barely any room to go forward on this road], makes a crazy right turn to another narrow road and two left turns... and we are now head to head with the stuck bus I just mentioned. Our bus driver gets off, along with the yellow shirt man [I mentioned in a previous post that traveled with us], to help the other bus driver. Our bus driver guides the other bus driver and the two yellow shirt men [one from our bus and one from the other]... what do they do? THEY PICK UP THE CAR THAT WAS BLOCKING THE WAY AND MOVE IT! Not kidding. At all. This would not be the only time I would see this happen on the trip, kid you not.

    Oh boy.

    Anyhow, after getting to Aziziya, and refreshing up a bit, first thing we did was head straight out to the Haram to do Umrah. Its like the unofficial start, with the hajj days officially starting Sunday morning when we head to Mena until Thursday.

    Even before we got to the Haram, when we initally got on the bus with our group 19 to head to the Haram for umrah, and started the talbiyah once again... that was it. Emotions started to get the better of me before we physically even did anything [besides be in the state of ihram, of course].

    This morning was when I got to see the Ka'aba fully for the first time in person, when we went for Umrah. Walking in from the Abdul Aziz Gate 1 for the first time, and walking straight ahead, there it is: in all of its greatness and beauty. You can't help but think: am I really here? Is this a dream?!  But you quickly realize it can't be just a dream... because this time it looks different than all the other times you have seen it in pictures or anywhere else. This time, it's real and you are admiring it in person. Alhumdulillah, what a blessed opportunity to be among the chosen ones this year to be invited to His house. I can't even tell you the feeling that overtakes you from within. It just isn't possible to describe and give it full justice. You have to be there. You have to feel it. It's a moment I'll remember for the rest of my life, I'm sure. There's absolutely nothing else like it in the entire world.

    Unreal. It still describes it best. Alhumdulillah, I can't say enough how thankful I am for the opportunity.

    Side note: tahiyat ul masjid [two rakats sunnat we pray upon entering a mosque] is not done in the Masjid ul Haralm: it is replaced by the tawaf.

    My parents and I finished Umrah at around 10 AM after leaving hotel at 7 AM. The tawaf, alhumdulillah, my parents and I were able to do on the main level with relative ease. As a matter of fact, this Umrah tawaf was probably the easiest one we did throughout our trip and we were expecting it to be the hardest because of the crowd. Indeed, He takes care of his people. In this tawaf, we could have easily touched the Ka'aba as we came very close to it-- only about three rows of people away-- but we kept thinking it would be easier to do it later when the crowd dissipated. If only we knew then how untrue that would be...

    The only remaining major part of Umrah left was the Sa'ee. The Sa'ee portion {seven rounds of walking between the hills of Safa and Marwah} was a little more physically exhausting by the end. We had had a long day of traveling by bus and no rest time before heading to umrah, so that too played a part. Not to mention the walk is about 2 miles in total between the 7 rounds.

    We stayed at the Haram to pray zuhr before heading back and walking to Shohada Hotel which was Dar el Salam's meeting point to get on buses back to Aziziya. We got back to aziziya at 2:50 pm, with nothing significant on the agenda for the remainder of the day. Once we got back, and cut our hair, we were out of the state of the ihram [for now].

    I cannot believe, tomorrow morning, we head to Mena, for the official start of the hajj days!

    Click here to read the post from the next day, October 13.

    Posted on 10.29.13

    Friday, October 11, 2013

    Hajj Trip: October 11

    Posted on a later day, 10.29.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day's post and click here to see the next day's post.
    Friday October 11.

    At this point, I'm trying to make the most of the last few hours we have remaining in Madinah of the trip. It went by way to quickly, yet at the same time, I feel like no matter how long of a trip one comes here for would not be enough. There's just something heartwarmingly magnificent about Madinah.

    We got to pray jummah in masjid al-Nabawi today. Slowly over the last day and a half, the crowd had dispersed as more and more people headed to Makkah. Today for jummah, however, it was incredibly crowded-- all the locals must have came. Although I understood no part of the khutbah [sermon], as it was in Arabic, it was still something to pray jummah here in masjid al-Nabawi. There has just been this sense of something greater than life that just encompasses you every time you set foot, or even see masjid al-Nabawi. A sense of peace. Of belonging.

    Before leaving Madinah for Makkah, we had to be in the state of ihram, as we were leaving with the intention of doing umrah and hajj. We were supposed to leave for Makkah after asr, with the target goal being around 4:15 pm at the latest, but we didn't leave until around 5:15 pm.

    As soon as the bus started moving, Qari Basit lead our group in a dua [which became customary every time] and led us in a repetition of talbiyah [pilgrims repeat this, almost like an intention, and it is repeatedly invoked during hajj, upon putting on the Ihram, etc.] which gave me yet another indescribable feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was becoming real. We were starting the part of the journey to complete the very reason we were all here. 

    Labbayk, Allahumma Labbayk. 
    Labbayk, La shareeka laka, Labbayk.
    Innal-hamda wan-n'imata laka wal-mulk.
    La shareeka lak.

    Qari Basit would lead our group in the talbiyah before we left for any part of the umrah/hajj destinations and we would continue it throughout the journey. Similarly, anytime during the duration of the trip, people seemed to be getting agitated, impatient, or even just randomly, some group leader would start the talbiyah. Loved every second of it. There is just something beautiful about it, and even more so when the whole group is in unison.

    Getting to miqat [where pilgrims must not cross before they are in a state of Ihram if they intend to enter Masjid al-Haram for Umrah or Hajj] took minimal time: we were there in 15-30 minutes to make niyat and pray. Which was something I tell you.

    For this masjid to be a miqat, it was very small [at least in the women section] and people were literally praying on top of others... there was just no room. Chaos, pandemonium, whatever. An experience is what it was. The number of buses outside [multiplied] by the n number of people per bus... it was just something. It was almost like a preview of the crowd we would face in the Haram. I don't know how everyone was able to get in there, pray, and make their way out and find their own bus in the chaos... but they did. Scores of people were lined up to pray outside, at every spot they could: grass, walkways, etc... absolutely amazing. I saw my dad's aunt sitting on a railing to pray because she couldn't find a chair to sit on in the mayhem. For my mom, we carried a collapsible chair everywhere with us.

    Side note: the bus driver gave us all a piece of paper with our bus number on it so it would help us find our way back on this stop and any other along the way. Too bad it was in Arabic and I don't know how one is even supposed to systematically do that in a sea of buses.

    We didn't end up leaving from the miqat until around 7:05 pm, and not very much later we approached what I thought was a check-point. Instead, when the driver opened the front door and the one in the middle, men from outside started throwing in boxes of meals for everyone on board and some books. Which is apparently not weird at all. Besides, I get they are in a hurry and whatnot, but why in the world are they throwing food?!

    We took a break around 10:15 pm to pray isha in a "service area" type of thing and got a reality check. To put it mildly. I was luckily able to avoid the eastern style bathroom again but it's condition was... bleh [at best] to put it nicely. Flushes don't work, smell out of the door. Reality check 101 that's for sure. Oh the things we take for granted [in the USA]. Hand sanitizer and hand sanitizer wipes just became my best friend instantly, so it is a good thing I packed lots and lots of it. Those that went to make wudu before praying, I don't know... I'm pretty sure they were in a more cleansed state beforehand...

    I can't believe the first leg of this trip is already over. May we get an opportunity to come back again and again. Madinah truly captivated me. Everyone says it, but you just don't understand until you are there and you feel/experience it. You can't describe it, you can't explain it, you just simply feel it. And you never want to lose sight of it.

    Click here to read the next day's post, from October 12, about arriving in Makkah.

    Posted on 10.29.13
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