I Prostrated at Arafat: A Muslima’s Hajj Story (1)
This is my Hajj experience.
Every time Dhulhijjah month comes, I always long to perform Hajj all over again. As an expat Muslim woman living in Saudi Arabia, we do not have to register for several months or even years in advance the way for most people living in their home country do. As a resident, Hajj registration usually starts about 2-3 months before the day of departure to Arafat and closes at about a week or so before that. However, some hajj travel agents are still receiving hajj registration a few days before departure.
In 2006 my family and I performed the pilgrimage (the hajj ritual), along with other expat residents living in Jeddah. We brought along our children, since there was nobody we could ask to baby-sit our children during our pilgrimage. It would be a bit of a handful since one of our children was still a toddler (2 ½ years old) and the other one was kindergarten age. Thankfully, the whole hajj ritual takes only five days. So, hopefully everything would run smoothly.
8 Dhulhijjah: Departing to Arafah
Our group consisted of about eighty persons and we would be travelling in two large buses. Based on the itinerary, we had to assemble on the 8 of Dhulhijjah at the location mentioned at 5 pm. And if everything went according to plan we would arrive in Arafah before sunset or nearing the time for Maghrib prayer.
The sun had set and Adhan Maghrib was recited from nearby mosque, we were still at our meeting point and to make things exciting, the buses that were supposed to take us there had not arrived at the pre arrange time as well. Then, Isya the evening prayer came and went. At 8 pm the buses arrived but we were still unable to go. One of the organiser said that there was a heavy traffic jam on the road leading to Makkah, we had to wait some more.
During the wait we tried as best as we could to keep our daughters entertained. Luckily, there were other children about their ages in the group so, they could play together. Finally at 9 pm we boarded the bus and off we went toward Makkah.
The organiser had arranged our seating. My children and I sat at the front and my husband sat in the same row as us only separated by the aisle. Also in the bus the ustadz who was assigned to be our group guide led us to say our niyah (intention) of pilgrimage and reminded us on why we did the hajj. While talbiyah and prayer were recited, the organiser distributed snacks and mineral water bottles to sustain our empty stomach from growling.
The journey to Makkah took about an hour, but prior to entering the city we had to go through a check point at the city limit. Things became a little tense as the police boarded the bus and began inspecting our iqama (residence permit). They checked our photograph on our iqama against our faces thoroughly. I could sense that our children were tensed up a bit, I whispered that this inspection is just part of their job. Toward the back of the bus an argument broke out between one of the pilgrims and the police. The officer found discrepancies between the photograph and the actual person. When this kind of thing happened the pilgrim had to get off the bus and return to Jiddah for they could not continue their journey on invalid iqama. During all this the organiser tried to reason with the police, but it was to no avail. Persons who do not have valid iqama must get off the bus and return to wherever they came from, full stop! That must have been devastating for them. We could only imagine on how they must have felt, for most of these people they worked hard, scrimping and saving to be able to go on this pilgrimage. Only to be turned back by the police at Makkah city limit. As the result of this, our party was cut down from two buses to one bus only.
We then proceeded to Makkah. However, still furious with the bus owners the bus driver then left us in one of many Makkah bus terminals, which we have no idea where. We needed to change bus in order to reach Arafah. We were all confused, angry, and tired all at the same time, especially the young children and friends who were pregnant at that time. Our luggage had to be taken down from the top of the bus, tents, blankets, mats, clothing, and food. Our stroller for our toddler was proven useful in carrying not only the child herself but also some of our luggage.
After waiting for about an hour, we were able to continue our journey by public bus, and we had to split into smaller groups. The ustadz who guided us, calming us by saying that this was part of the test from Allah. Later on I heard that there were two women in our group who escaped from the inspection by hiding in the bus toilet. The toilet space probably only fit for one person, but they remained very silent until the police got off the bus and left.
9 Dhulhijjah : Wukuf in Arafah
We arrived at Arafah around dawn and there was an empty tent, we just went in and took short rest before we performed the Fajr prayer. Around 7 am, the organiser came and told us to move to another tent on the other side of the road. It turned out despite its convenient location, close to the bathroom and ablution spaces, the previous tent was not allocated for us.
About two hours later, we had to move again to another tent. Apparently the tents that were originally assigned to us by the organiser were filled by another group of pilgrims because of our late arrival, so the organiser assigned us to a new location.
It is now 10 am, not one of the organiser came, we had not had our breakfast. We only had biscuits, cereals, milk, and bottled water for our children. We started to think bad thoughts about them. It was not an unheard of occurrence that during the hajj season some irresponsible travel agents and organisers often left the pilgrims stranded. Some of us, mostly the men, were looking for food vendors but none to be found. Our tent location was just too far from such things as restaurants. We could only pray to Allah Almighty to be eased from all this.
At 11 am cold meatballs soup and chicken porridge appeared. We were thankful that the organiser did not just disappear as we had assumed. They had difficulties preparing and getting the food for us because the chef who supposed to cook for us was one of the passenger that was sent back to Jiddah at the check point.
Wukuf in Arafat is a time for us to worship and beg forgiveness from Allah as much as possible. It starts after Dhuhur prayer and ends at Maghrib. Asr prayers performed in congregation and in the jama ‘ takdim.
In between those times, lectures from our ustadz soothed our hearts, some cried, many grown men shed tears. I felt guilty for so many mistakes and past sins that I had done, how we often preferred world matters first over what is most important. Everything must be accounted for on Judgment Day. I believe Allah is Oft-Forgiving and Repentance it is the promise of Allah SWT, tears rolling down my cheeks as I prayed for my mother who always prays for our happiness, for my late father, and for my family.
Toward sunset we packed our bags for our next destination, Muzdhalifah. After performing jama’ Maghrib and Isya prayers, we boarded the bus that would take us there. Our bus moved slowly because of the heavy traffic toward Muzdhalifah. On the way, the bus stopped in a field to allow us to collect pebbles to be used in performing jumrah. Because the children were asleep, only few people got off the bus and they were collecting those pebbles for all of us. Some groups stayed in their parked buses and waited until the time of mabid (stay) in Muzdalifah completed. As a Muslim, this is the last pillar of Islam that, if able, should be completed. And I, a Muslim woman completed my Deen. Takbir!