Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What's for Dinner: Homemade Oreo Truffles

Back at the end of August, when we had the party at our house, Nadia made and brought her homemade Oreo truffles [that she had mentioned to me in the past several times]. It was my first time trying them, and let me tell you: absolutely delicious. I may or may not have consumed most of them...

I asked her how she  made them, and for some reason or another didn't get around to making them until today.

Making Oreo truffles at home are incredibly easy [not good for someone like me who has a major sweet tooth], and take no time at all. Although there are a few steps involved.

Not only is it easy to make, but only requires three ingredients.

What you need is:
  • Oreos [or any cream filled chocolate cookies]
  • 1 [8 ounce] package of cream cheese, softened
  • 2 [7 ounce] containers of Bakers dipping chocolate [milk chocolate]
What I did was:
  1. Take about 4-5 Oreos and finely crush them [in a food processor]. Set aside for later: you will use these to sprinkle on top of the truffles.
  2. Finely crush the rest of the Oreos [in a food processor]. Add your cream cheese and mix the two ingredients until they are combined well.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
  4. Take about a teaspoon of the mixture, roll into a "ball" and lay on the baking sheet. I made 36 truffles, but quantity will vary and depend on the size you roll the truffles into. When the baking sheet[s] are full, set it in the refrigerator for about 10-15 minutes so they are easier to work with. Once you take them out of the fridge, they will be easier to roll them into balls if you couldn't before because of the gooey texture.
  5. Melt the dipping chocolate as per instructions. It took about 90  seconds to melt for me I'd say.
  6. Using two teaspoons [or a toothpick], dip each of the balls in the chocolate, and lay back on the lined baking sheet. 
  7. Immediately sprinkle them with the Oreo crumbs you set aside before. Tip: sprinkle the truffles right away because the dipping chocolate hardens fairly quickly. Don't wait to do this part at the end once all have been coated.
  8. The truffles can be eaten right away [which is  of course, what I did], but I'd set them back in the fridge to firm a little more.
I used a food processor for everything, but you could just as easily crush the cookies in a ziploc bag and then just mix the cream cheese and Oreos together.

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Monday, November 25, 2013

What's for Dinner: Frozen Oreo and Chocolate Pudding Pie

Early November, I made a frozen Oreos and Chocolate Pudding Pie... yum!

I made this one frozen, because without a second thought I put it to set in the freezer instead of the fridge in the chaos... but it would be just as good [and I plan to try it next time] cold, but not frozen.

You need:
  • Oreo pie crust [store-bought or homemade]
  • 2 [small] packages of instant choco­late pudding
  • 2 + 1/2 cups of milk
  • Oreos
  • Cool whip container [large container]
What I did was:
  1. Combine the milk and pudding mixes and mix well. Add about half of the cool whip and fold until the mixture is a smooth and consistent color.
  2. Pour about half of the pudding on top of the pie crust.
  3. Add a layer of Oreo cookies on top before adding the rest of the pudding.
  4. Freeze until set [or overnight] before decorating the top with the rest of the cool whip. And more Oreos.

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Thursday, November 21, 2013


See, it is the next task I took on... just six months later. And by accident.

Some a long time ago, like back at the end of August two days before a party at our house when I had a million other things to be doing, I decided that I needed to reorganize the way I organize my hijabs because they currently use up 4/6 of my dresser drawers. Not that I had other priorities at the moment or anything with 80+ people invited.

When that plan failed in under 60 seconds, this happened:
This door pocket organizer [that I've had at the bottom of my closet for the almost three years I've lived in the house] now houses some of my clutches, wristlets, small purses etc.

The main reason I didn't end up storing some of my hijabs in this pocket organizer? The pockets weren't opaque. I couldn't see them unless I pulled them out, and that defeated the purpose. I wasn't about to pull out each hijab trying to find which one I wanted to wear. I'm an out-of-sight, out-of-mind type of person for sure for things like this.

Any ideas for the larger purses and bags? I'm thinking of just throwing them in a basket like container and storing it inside my closet, but let's see.

...and while we are it, any ideas for organizing hijabs? I'd like my 4/6 dresser drawers back...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What's for Dinner: Blackberry Cobbler

I've done Blackberry Crumble Bars in the past, and early November I made something similar: a blackberry cobbler.

What you need is:

  • 1 stick of [unsalted] butter
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of self-rising flour
  • 1 cup of [1%] milk
  • 2 cups [fresh] blackberries
To make the Blackberry Cobbler, what I did was:
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together your sugar, flour and milk.
  3. Melt your butter in a microwavable dish. Combine your butter with the other ingredients and mix it well.
  4. Pour your batter into your baking dish. Sprinkle blackberries over the top of the batter. Sprinkle a little extra sugar over the top.
  5. Bake, in your preheated oven, for  about 50 minutes [or until golden brown].

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Monday, November 18, 2013

What's for Dinner: Kulfi

Very similar to the mango ice cream ingredients, and just as easy. Once again, you just pretty much combine the ingredients, and freeze!

You need:
  • 12 ounce whipped cream
  • 1 14 oz condensed milk
  • 1 evaporated milk
  • 1 bread, grinded
  • Almonds and Pistachios, to taste, grinded. 
For the almonds and pistachios, for the above quantities, I'd say I used about 3/4 cup of each.

Mix everything together and freeze. Either in Popsicle molds or something similar. 

Tip: if it's being made for a party, we divide them into small singled-serving-sized cups before freezing for convenience. It's easy to serve, and eat!

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What's for Dinner: Oreo Turtle Cheesecake

Cheesecakes. I love them. As it is isn't apparent by the number of different kind of cheesecakes I have made in the last several months. To think I always thought cheesecakes were so difficult to make makes me laugh now.

Anyhow, for Shazia's bridal shower yesterday, I made a Turtle Cheesecake with an Oreo based crust. Turtle? What's a turtle you ask? Not exactly sure why, but it's the combination of chocolate, caramel and pecans. And that's exactly what my cheesecake this day was. And the Oreos? Well, that was just for fun.

What you you need:
  • Cream-filled cookies [like Oreos]
  • 2 packages of [8-ounce] cream cheese, softened
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
  • Mini chocolate chip morsels
  • Chopped pecans
To make the cheesecake:
  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Crumble the [Oreo] cookies and press onto the bottom of your [springform] pan. This is your crust!
  3. Combine the other four ingredients [cream cheese, vanilla extract, eggs and sugar] until it is a smooth mixture. Then pour over your Oreo based crust.
  4. Sprinkle the top of your cheesecake batter with mini chocolate chips and pecans. Two out of three of the "turtle". The third, the caramel, will be drizzled on top right before serving.
  5. Bake, in your preheated oven, for 50 minutes. Let it cool completely before removing it from the [springform] pan and cutting into it [to give the cheesecake time to settle].
  6. Right before serving, drizzle the top of the cheesecake with caramel.

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What's for Dinner: Mango Ice Cream

I love mangoes, but ironically not anything made out of mangoes. This mango ice cream, however, is something the rest of my family loves [and everyone else]. Weird side note: my brother Ayaz won't eat mangoes but loves mango juice!

You need:
  • 1 can of Mango pulp
  • 12 ounces of whipped cream, softened
  • 1 [14 ounce] can of condensed milk
  • 1 can of evaporated milk
Mix everything together, and freeze. Can it be any easier?

Tip: if it's being made for a party, we divide them into small singled-serving-sized cups before freezing for convenience. It's easy to serve, and eat!

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Friday, November 15, 2013

What's for Dinner: Chocolate Chip Cheesecake

A few days before leaving for hajj back in the beginning of October, it became a "use everything up in the kitchen that could potentially go bad" night.

Which meant it was a seafood night. My mom made fried fish and I made my Bang Bang Shrimp.

Oh and I made cheesecake. What better way to use up cream cheese?! A chocolate chip cheesecake with a pistachio based crust to be exact.

I'm finally getting around to typing up the recipe, so here's how I made it:

For the crust, what I used:
  • 1 stick of [unsalted] butter, softened
  • 1 and 3/4 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of pistachios, roughly chopped
What I did:
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees for the crust.
  2. Roughly chop your pistachios, and set aside.
  3. Cream together your stick of butter and 1/4 cup of sugar.
  4. Add flour in small batches until it is just combined, with your mixer on the low speed [to avoid getting flour all over you].
  5. Mix in your chopped pistachios and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
  6. Press the crust, gently, into the bottom and along the sides somewhat [I'd say about 1/4 of the way up] of a greased/non-stick springform pan.
  7. Bake in your preheated oven, for around 10 minutes until the crust turns barely golden brown.
Next, for the cheesecake filling portion:
What I used:
  • 2 [8 ounce] packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 can of condensed milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of mini chocolate chip morsels
What I did:
  1. Lower heat to 300 and bake cheesecake for an hour. 
  2. Cream together your cream cheese and the condensed milk until it is smooth.
  3. Next, add in the eggs and vanilla extract. Do not over beat the mixture, just until it is all incorproated.
  4. Pour half of of your cheesecake batter on top of the crust.
  5. Sprinkle half of your chocolate chips on top of the cake batter before pouring the remainder of the cheesecake batter on top. Sprinkle the remainder of your chocolate chips on top.
  6. Bake [in your preheated 300 degree oven] for about 60 minutes.
  7. Let it cool [and completely set] for at least several hours [if you have the will power] before cutting into it. 

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What's for Dinner: Strawberry-Mango Fizz

A family favorite fizzy beverage is a strawberry and pina colada combination that we have done often. For our family party at the end of August, however, I wanted to make something different.
This time, I did a mango and strawberry combination. To sprite, add a splash each of mango and strawberry margarita mixers. Add ice. Mix well.

When I made the party size version [for the one at the end of August] in the dispenser, before mixing all the ingredients together, the combination of the strawberry and mango mixers looked like a sunset... so I decided to call it the "Sunset Fizz".

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hajj Packing List

Before I went, a lot of the reading I did [which was A LOT] told me that everything is readily accessible to purchase upon my arrival. That may have been true, but I wasn't going there to shop and wanted to utilize my time as best as I could. With me, I took along things I foresaw a need for.

But I'll be completely honest: packing was stressful. I had never been before and didn't know exactly what I would need and kept a lot of things 'I thought I may possibly need' but didn't actually need. I guess you can say I wanted to be prepared?

I didn't end up finishing my packing until the morning of my flight, which is very unlike me. For days I kept putting things in only to take them right back out. SO not worth the trouble/headache it caused me. The end result was that I packed a suitcase comprising of some things I didn't necessarily need to bring along. What I would have loved was to have someone who had gone for hajj before tell me exactly what I would need and what was unnecessary.

First and foremost, like I have mentioned several times thus far in my hajj posts, you need to have patience. And lots of it.

Tangible items wise, below is what I would recommend you keep:

Hajj Packing List:
  • Photocopies of travel documents. This goes without saying, but don't forget your passports, etc. and I would suggest you keep photocopies of them in your luggage just as a precaution [considering your passports are taken from you for the duration of your trip].
  • Comfortable walking shoes [and socks].
    • Wearing socks, whenever possible, during tawaf and sa'ee helps in avoiding dry and patchy/blistering skin. Keep in mind that men can't wear socks during the state of ihram [but women can].
  • Flip-flops: most convenient for the masjid. 
  • Vaseline. All the walking [barefoot for men during ihram] [in the tawaf and sa'ee especially] leads to patchy and dry feet.
  • A [drawstring] bag. If your group doesn't provide it for you [ours did]. Convenient to hold your flip-flops inside the masjid so you can keep it with you at all times. 1] Storing it outside doesn't guarantee you'll find it afterwards with the enormous crowd you are dealing with. 2] You may not leave from the same gate/door you entered from.
  • Disposable gloves
    • for public bathrooms. You'll thank me for it later.
    • they are also great for when you are picking up pebbles for rami/jamarat.
  • Prescribed medication that you take on a daily basis. Keep these on you at all times.
    • Also, keep a list of all the medicines you take [along with their doses] and any medical conditions you may have in case of any emergencies that may arise there.
  • Precautionary medicine. In case you fall ill. There are three million plus people there, mashallah, which means there are three million people's worth of germs around... enough said.
    • Pain relievers, antibiotics, cough drops, etc.
  • Comfy and modest clothing. There are plenty of long days so you want to make sure your clothes are comfortable, but don't forget the modesty part!
  • Abayas [women]. I originally wasn't sure if I was going to keep any and I ended up wearing them the majority of the time. They really are the easiest thing to wear.
  • Bathroom slippers. These especially come in handy when taking a shower in Mena.
  • TSA approved locks that don't require a key. The last thing you need is another thing (keys for the locks) to be carrying/keeping track of.
  • Snack bars. Our program, Dar el Salam, provided ample food but the snack bars I kept as a precaution came in very handy during the long bus rides when stuck in traffic.
  • Disposable underwear. Laundry isn't readily available and I found it easiest to purchase ample underwear from home and dispose of them after use.
  • First aid kit essentials. Band-aids, anti-septic wipes, gauze, etc. just in case you need any of them.
  • Hand sanitizer and hand sanitizer wipes.
  • Travel converter/adapter [for your electronic devices].
  • Cross-body bag/purse. Keep this on you wherever you go to hold your essentials -- medicines, dua books, etc.
  • [Concealable] money belt [men].
  • Face mask. It will help with the dust/smog/pollution/whatever you want to call it that you will inevitability face there outside.
  • Toiletries. Basic toiletries are provided in the hotels, but you will need them for the duration of your stay in Mena [see below].
  • Scissors [women]. To cut your hair in order to get out of the state of ihram.
  • 7-beaded string. This can potentially be helpful in keeping count during tawaf or sa'ee if you think you'll have a hard time keeping track-- we took one, but didn't end up using it.
  • Eyeglass cords. If you wear glasses, it's a good idea to attach one of these cords. There's a large crowd and it becomes very congested during tawafs-- this way, if your glasses are knocked down, they are still around your neck!
For the duration of Mena, space is very limited, so pack light! I definitely over-packed! You need:
  • unscented toiletry items since you will be in ihram for a part of it [so I would recommend just packing only unscented items to save space]. Shampoo, toothpaste, soap, lotion, deodorant, flushable wipes, etc.
  • 4 sets of clothes [one for each day]. Women may need more based on their discretion.
  • Bath towel.
  • Water-Proof bag to hold essenials/clothes during shower that has a handle that fits around shower handleA family friend suggested this for the duration of our stay in Mena and I can't thank her enough for it! While our camp had hooks behind the bathroom doors, I am pretty sure most don't. Since the shower and toilet are unimaginably close, your best option is to have a bag that fits over the shower handle.
Now for specifically for when you are in ihram [during umrah and hajj]: a whole lot of unscented/fragrance-free.
  • unscented deodorant.
    • for females: I was able to find a 'Secret Outlast' brand that was unscented [online].
    • for males: I found a 'Dove Men+Care' product that was unscented [online].
  • unscented hand sanitizing wipes
    • the brand 'Wet Ones' carries fragrance free [and alcohol free] hand wipes.
  • unscented soap/shampoo/body wash
Some other helpful tips:
  • Once you arrive, and you realize you forgot an essential or need something, chances are you can find it at a store called Bin-Dawood there. Someone called it the equivalent of Wal-mart... and I agree: just about everything can be found there!
  • Take a picture of all of your luggage and make a note of it's color, size, company, etc. in case it gets lost. In hindsight, it's almost impossible to remember the details and it is just helpful to have handy.
  • One last suggestion: keep your ihram [and items you need for Mena too I suppose] in your carry-on and don't check-in these items on your flight. If, for whatever reason your luggage is misplaced, the last thing you want to lose is your ihram, etc.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What's for Dinner: Strawberry and Pina Colada Punch

Today's date? 11.12.13! Yes, things like that amuse me! But that's besides the point...

I have SO many recipes to post, I don't even know what to type up first. Not to mention that this month is very hectic.

This one is definitely another one of my "I can't believe I haven't already posted this on the blog already recipes". It's something I've been making for several years and everyone always loves it.

Anyhow, I find that fun [non-alcoholic] beverages are one of the hardest things to come up with sometimes for parties. A family favorite fizzy beverage is this strawberry and pina colada combination that we do [very] often in our family. Too often.

What I do is: to sprite, add a splash each of pina colada and strawberry margarita mixers. Add ice. Mix well.

Quick, easy, refreshing and delicious... and a crowd pleaser for sure!

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dar el Salam [Hajj]

We came back late last night from our short weekend trip to Canada for Nanna and Nana's 50th anniversary celebratory party, and I wanted to wrap up my hajj posts. I can't complete my Hajj posts without talking about the group we went through: Dar el Salam.

I can't even imagine the amount of planning and behind the scenes work that must happen yearly [or even how long it takes]... but I can assure you one thing: I would recommend Dar el Salam for anyone planning on going for hajj.

Logistics wise, we pretty much registered with one of their programs, paid... and showed up. They took care of everything else. Even during the trip, they would ask for our luggage [the night before traveling or the morning of depending on our travel times] and they took care of its transportation. They provided us with a carry-on for Mena, a backpack for Arafat and Muzdalifah, a drawstring bag [which made storing items at the masjid very easy], a prayer rug [for women], ihram [for men], dua pamphlets, etc. 

Their seminar before hajj? Informative. Their online forum to ask questions prior to leaving? Beyond helpful. I can't forget the nightly seminars/lectures plus the Q+A sessions we had throughout our trip. And Sister Naz? I can't even begin to tell you how helpful she was throughout the trip. And I absolutely loved the little tidbits of islamic knowledge she passed on to us throughout the trip at random times. 

Mid-trip, I was quite surprised to find out that a lot of the group leaders [including the imams] are, in fact, volunteers. Dar el Salam simply pays for the travel expenses [tickets, food, accommodations, etc.]

A few more specific people to mention? Qari Basit [also our group 19 leader], Shahid Uncle, and Basant.

The proximity of Dar el Salam's camps/hotels, etc. can not be beat [for its convenience]. Many make smart remarks about the premium we supposedly pay for the "luxurious hajj"... but how many stop to think about how much more time we got for ibadaat because of said proximity? Not to mention that the price differences weren't even that much in comparison.

One of the things I found most helpful, in hindsight, was the Dar el Salam staff in the yellow shirts I have mentioned a handful of times. They traveled with us by bus, helped with some of the logistics, and just guided us. They were so helpful in times where the crowd was intense-- not only were they easy to spot in their yellow shirts with tall orange signs... but they were everywhere.

I have mentioned this before too, that one of my biggest worries were the bathroom situations [as many had scared me with their stories... I didn't even know what to expect]. Dar el Salam exceeded my expectations as they had hired help around the clock to clean the bathrooms in Mena and throughout the day we spent in Arafat. I don't ever remember not seeing the cleaners present.

Did everything go smoothly? Of course not. Did they try their best? Absolutely. And for that, I sincerely thank them. All of their help, especially for us, did not go unnoticed.

May Allah SWT reward them for all of their efforts.

Click here to read my final hajj-related post -- what you need to pack!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Misconceptions and General Thoughts [Hajj]

Click here to read my last hajj-related post [from the day after arriving home]. It also links to all my other hajj trip posts. Click here to read my next post, about our travel group-- Dar el Salam.

It's been ten days since we got back, at this point, and I can't believe it's already been ten days since we got back!

Now that I have [finally] finished chronicling my days while overseas, I thought I'd continue on my posts about hajj, by doing a separate post on common misconceptions [I was quite surprised at how much wrong information was given to me] or things that surprised me while I was in Saudi Arabia... along with some general thoughts to close things up that I didn't mention yet in any of the previous posts. After this, *I think*, the only hajj-related post I have left to do is one about the program/group we traveled with-- Dar el Salam.

FYI, in case you were wondering [I was], they drive on the right side of the road in Saudi Arabia just as we do. The driver sits on the left side of the vehicle, just as it is here. And seat belts are worn by the drivers [at least by our bus driver(s)]. They just drive absolutely insanely to go with it, which is probably why they use the seat belts in the first place...

Before leaving for the trip, from the [many] stories, I thought I would have to deal with very gross and dirty eastern style bathrooms a lot. While the bathrooms weren't always clean, I didn't have to even see an eastern style bathroom until our stopover on the way back in Dubai. Score! There were eastern style bathrooms, like in the "service area" [a term I use very loosely] we stopped at along the way from Madinah to Makkah, but there were also western style bathrooms available. I think Muzdalifah was the only place to only have eastern style bathrooms available but I was able to avoid going altogether.

In fact, to be honest, the only time I faced dirty bathrooms was in the service area, as that was the only truly "public" bathroom I faced. For all the other times that we were not in a private hotel room or the Aziziya apartment [5 days in Mena and Arafat], Dar el Salam had fortunately arranged for them to be continuously cleaned as they were exclusively being used by the Dar el Salam program.

Mena camps, in general, too were described to me as less than favorable... and in all honestly: it wasn't that bad. At all. Going in, I didn't even know what to expect based on what was described by others. Ultimately I figured that when the time came, I would just deal with it... what other choice would I have anyways? Once again, however, all my worries were proven to be over nothing. I will say, however, that I know we went with a very good and reputable group and others definitely didn't have it so good.

I have said it many times: we have/had a very luxurious hajj compared to others [who come from other countries]. So the minimal pitfalls? Something has to make it feel like hajj, doesn't it? I can't count the times I wanted to remind people that this wasn't a vacation they were on.

Before leaving, some of the reading I was doing to prepare [along with some people] told me to memorize this dua and that dua for this and that. You can imagine my relief when what I thought myself turned out to be true: it needs to come from you and your heart. Make duas in your own language and make the duas you want. Repeating  a memorized dua [when you don't know what it means]... is just that: meaningless. This misconception was cleared up way before I left as I did deeper research [and reiterated by the imams in our group as well]. One of the main disturbances I faced during tawafs and both of the Sa'ee, in fact, were groups of people following behind their leader and repeating/chanting duas very loudly. Not only were they not doing themselves a favor by just blindly repeating words, but it made it hard for others [me!] to concentrate. 

Hajj is a very spiritual time between you and He above. And He knows and understands every language so speak from your heart and make it meaningful.

One more thing that everyone seems to make a big deal about: stitched items during the state of ihram for men [belts, certain sandals, etc.]. It is more about the fact that you cannot wear pieces of cloth that are sewn together to wrap your body, such as a shirt, pant or undergarments [things you would normally wear]. Just think about it: the cloth of the ihram itself is stitched... just not stitched to be a clothing item.

Another good point: during one of our lectures/Q+A sessions, someone asked a question about the validity of their tawaf or prayer without a verbal intention made. It's a product of a desi mentality coming out again... as one of the imam's reiterated, there is no reason for you to verbalize before each prayer that you are praying X amount of rakats for X namaz facing the kibla, etc. You don't need to make a verbal intention-- it's again from your heart.

A couple of other nitpicks I don't think I have discussed yet:

Independence. Prior to leaving, many [wrongly] told me that I would basically need to be around my dad to go anywhere or do anything there. Growing up in the west, we just aren't accustomed to being dependent on men.  While I did need a mehram to travel to the KSA for hajj [due to my age foremost], and numerous times at the airports it was confirmed that I had a mehram present with me [as I couldn't go for hajj at my age without a mehram]... it was not as big of an issue once we were there as I had expected. While I certainly didn't wander around too far without my dad [for safety reasons foremost], I easily explored the area on my own and went from point A to B [in close vicinity] by myself without it being an issue. Of course it helped that our hotel was less than a minute away [just around the corner] from the Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah and similarly in Makkah our hotel led directly to the courtyard of the Haram from an internal path that housed many shops [four stories of shops in fact].

Before leaving, I was also warned about not speaking to men there as it's looked down upon and what not ... and so I naturally would let Abu do most of the talking there. I was surprised to notice, however, that wasn't the case most of the time. They were just [equally] rude to everyone! One would be asking them a question and they would just blatantly ignore it and continue doing whatever they were doing or talking amongst themselves.

What I did notice, however, was that [and I don't remember if I mentioned this in one of the previous posts already] a lot of the stores/restaurants have separate lines for males and females. Never mind the fact that it isn't followed very well and men frequently enter the women-only lines [but not vice versa! ... yet again proves women are better at following directions!]. The benefit? The women lines tended to be shorter, which meant I usually stood in line for things [ironically enough]. The negative? Being squished like sardines and fighting for your life to get to the front and ordering [for example]. Let me tell you, it's not for the weak. Attempting to get Al-Baik one day and I learned the hard way: these women are intense and shoving and pushing and whatnot is not atypical. Whatever happened to a single [and orderly] line?! Yeah, not here... there is no concept of a orderly waiting line here apparently.

They, again, had separate lines for men and women to pass through security at the Jeddah airport. Of course we were all using the same security screen to pass through and our possessions were going through the same belt... so it was a mixed thing anyways. I guess you can't say they don't try?... you know except that they don't [or at least only half-way.]

Feeling of one. It was such a neat feeling to be constantly surrounded by Muslims. Everywhere you go, especially within our hotel, you were greeted with "assalam aleikum". I have gotten so used to it, I feel like I'll continue to do it here back at home by accident initially. This trip was my first experience, memory wise, in a predominantly Muslim country-- I was a mere child when I moved Pakistan and have never gone back to visit... and it was something special for the soul indeed.

One of the things I will miss most about being in a predominantly Muslim country is the azaan (call for prayer) five times a day and the crowd from all directions rushing towards one direction-- the masjid. It's such a unique feeling and an uplifting one. Everything else just stops and just doesn't matter the second the azaan starts. I hope to be able to continue to implement that in my life back at home. For most, the regular day-to-day life makes one barely squeeze in a quick/rushed prayer, so it's amazing how different life is there.

Living in the west, where Muslims are constantly put in bad light and each wrong action of a SINGLE Muslim person is given so much emphasis... it was nice to see we are better than that. We, as an ummah, have so much potential... if only we would use it for more good to diminish the attention the bad among us receive un-deservingly. Is that a word?

Now to some other general thoughts and tips for future hajjis:

Do some research before you go. It's just always better to be a little prepared and the little tidbits of information come in handy at the most unexpected times. Also, if you are a planner/worrier like me: it gives you a peace of mind for sure.

Choose a reputable hajj group. It makes all the difference having the peace of mind and having one less thing to worry about knowing all the logistics are well taken care of. A story to prove my point: while we were there, someone I know was donating money/food [I don't remember which and it doesn't matter] to the poor/less fortunate that were outside. Approaching one, amongst a group, she remembered thinking that they didn't look they belonged there [based on what they were wearing]... and when they embarrassingly turned town the donation they told their story: they were from North America and apparently the "group" they traveled with was a fraud and just left them hanging without any accommodations or food... or anything else.

Let go and let God. Things [that are out of your control] happen. Just deal with it. Stressing out about it won't resolving it. And oh yeah: have patience. Lots and lots of patience is needed. Patience may probably be the only thing you need to take with you: everything else [that is tangible] you can find easily once you are there.

While we [North Americans for example] definitely have quite a luxurious hajj when you compare to others: remember one thing [and remind yourself often]: hajj is not a vacation. I can't tell you the number of times or the number of people I overheard complaining about frivolous things.

Lastly, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't pass this along: you really should fulfill this Pillar of Islam as early in your life as you possibly can. It's physically challenging at times, and you don't want ill health taking time away from such a tremendously blessed opportunity in your life. Make the most of this blessed invitation... who knows when [or even if] you will get to go back.

Click here to read my final hajj-related post -- what you need to pack!
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