Performing the Hajj: A Personal Reflections (Part II)
In this second and final part of Mamadou Sellou Jallow's reflections on his 2009 pilgrimage to Mecca, we learn about the author's visits to the holy cities of Mina and Medina, his yearnings for access to the Black Stone and what the Hajj means to him and you.
Alh. Mamadou Sellou Jallow with his wife Ms Asmaw Jallow
Bound for Mina
When the day finally came for us to leave for Mina, it was like another mass exodus. Thus began one of the biggest tests of personal will. This time around, all the hajjis and hajjas would be at one place at the same time.
Pilgrims getting ready for the trip to Mina
I had to make another Ihram (intention for performing Hajj ). This time, we wore our Ihram in our hotel and performed all the necessary rites including the two raka’as one performs prior to departure. Our able guide did advise us not to take a lot of luggage with us because we wouldn't need it. I had packed my things in a handbag. For the unprepared, this could be an unpleasant experience. We had to wait for the buses assigned to us. So if you missed your bus, you were most likely to miss your people in Mina where endless tents stood erected. Our bus came just after Maghrib prayers. I was to go with another group, also from The Netherlands, but with a different guide.
We boarded the bus and headed to the city of Mina. To my shock, the driver did not know where we should be (European Tents). The driver was a guest worker in Mecca during the hajj; so he didn't know the place very well. He was a Syrian; and there was a young boy, perhaps eight or nine years-old, of Nigerian origin. I guess he was born in Saudi Arabia. He was supposed to guide the new driver to the tents assigned to him. When we could not get our tents, it started getting ugly between the duo. They blamed each other for not listening to directives. Many roads were closed; so it was difficult to get to the place we were supposed to be. It was getting late in the night and many people were already sleeping in their tents. As for us, we were yet to find ours. We all decided that it was better to get off the bus and ask the scout guides. Finally, the young boy was able to direct us to the European tents. And yes, there flew the Dutch flag!
Mina: the city of tents!
We made it around 2300 hrs. We prayed Isha prayers and found a place to sleep in. I was able to find a corner where I spread my linens, etc. I was glad that we made it there. The tents were all air-conditioned. The following day, we got what you don’t usually get in Saudi at that particular time: a heavy rainfall and thunders echoing in the valley and the mountains surrounding Mina. It rained cats and dogs. Usually, the authorities would sprinkle the area to cool off the day's heat. I thought the downpour was a great blessing from Allah.
During the Hajj period, I was totally out of touch with happenings around the world. I deliberately switched off my mobile phone so that I could fully concentrate on my Hajj. One of the challenges and "scary" moments of the Hajj process is going to the Jamaraat (stoning the pillar representing the devil). There are three pillars that have to be stoned in good order. I went with my roommates but there were too many people in all saying the Talbiya (labaik allahuma labaik); voices were echoing and some people were in frenzied moods during the stoning rite. There and then I understood why many people die during the Hajj. You could be crushed to death in minutes if you do not take great care of yourself, particularly if you are old and infirm.
In the past, people heading to the Jamaraat would come face to face with people returning after the stoning of the pillar. The result of such human collisions was usually catastrophic. Nowadays, the situation has improved. A lot of research has gone into reducing the fatalities during the Devil Stoning. I learned that some hired German expertise was able to bring this situation under control. Now, people from both directions never meet and this has reduced, if not eliminated, the stampedes. Still, the pillar stoning process can be quiet scary due to the sheer number of people hurrying about and the fact that there are no real emergency exits.
Pilgrims performing the Devil Stoning ritual
We spent the whole day in Mina getting prepared for the big occasion, Arafaat.
Sea of People
Without waiting for the buses, some people decided to walk up to the plains of Arafaat that early morning. Some of us waited patiently for our buses. Mine did finally arrive around 10:00 am. We boarded and headed for our tent by Arafaat. Again if you miss your folks here, you can be certain that you will not see them again until in Mina, and which could be the following day if you were that lucky.
We arrived few hours later at Arafaat where we stayed until sunset. For those less spiritually-prepared about the Hajj, the rewards of Arafaat can go unheeded to. They tend not to appreciate the value of this day. I am not going to mention it here but whoever intends to go for the Hajj, should read about the Arafaat. Think about the last sermon of the Prophet (PUB); think about the DAY of Standing, etc. We spent the day reciting the Quran and making Duas until sunset. Mindless to this day's holiness, some people could be seen chatting as if there were in the market. They could have been performing “TAWBAH” (seeking forgiveness from Allah s.w.t) instead. And if one thinks that one has given way too much charity already, you haven't given out anything yet. It is nothing compared to what others give out during Arafaat: people load truckloads of fruits and other vital foodstuffs for the pilgrims. Like many of my fellow pilgrims, this day was a special one for me because there I was --- where it all happened: the final sermon of the prophet (PUB ). Whenever I read it, it wakes me up from my slumber. This sermon touches on all aspects of life. (I urge every reader of this article to search for the LAST sermon if you haven't read it yet.) I do read it often just as a reminder and I can say with certainty that it has often helped me particularly when Satan is luring me into a trap.
At sunset, the repetition of the mass exodus started all over again, but some impatient folks rushed to leave before the appointed time. They just wanted to be in Muzdallifah. As usual with many trips during the Hajj, we arrived very late in the evening. We prayed both Maghrib and Isha. Then we spread out into the open, napping for a few hours. We performed the Fajr prayers and then left for Mina again.
Once in Mina, we waited for a while before we left for the Jamaraat (stoning of the Second Pillar). The final rite was about to be done: the offering of the Sacrifice (slaughtering of animals). Our guide had done all the slaughtering arrangements for us. He personally went to the abattoir to ensure that all went fine. We shaved/trimmed our heads and and dressed in our normal clothes. It was the day of EID. What a joyous feeling!
We later walked (roughly 10km) to Mecca to perform the final rites of the Hajj but this time in our normal clothes. Most of us did take along our belongings back to the hotel so that we wouldn't have to carry them along when we finally left Mina. After finishing the Tawaf Ifaddah, we walked back to Mina again. And we performed the final stoning of the last pillar at Jamaraat. Now the Hajj rites were over and it was time to go home.
Kissing the Black Stone
Climbing Mount Hira (Jabal Nur) was one of the most memorable episodes of my Hajj. Never in my life had I climbed so high and it was scary: the higher you went the further you saw the Haram. It took us 1.45 hours, with breaks in between, to reach the highest point. I could barely look down because of the dizzying height. We proceeded to the Cave where the Prophet received the first revelation. I stood for a while contemplating how on earth could the Prophet come regularly to this place for meditation and what was it like for him when he was ordered to “READ”(IQRA!). We rested for 45 minutes and then descended the mountain. This was much easier than climbing, but at the same time dangerous because if you slip off, there you go! We met many old folks who had wanted to venture up the mountain but were forced to abandon plans due to fatigue or other factors.
I had yet another pleasant experience but it almost cost me my life. The following day, I woke up around 02:00 am to go to the Haram because I wanted to kiss the Black Stone this time. It is Sunnah, so no obligation. Yet the frenzy around this place was unbelievable. When I arrived at night, many people were doing the Tawaf and I was hoping to do the same. I also joined the throng of people, intent on doing my Tawaf. I wanted to get closer to the Black Stone and was yearning to kiss it if an opportunity came. During the last round, I thought an opportunity had presented itself. I was wrong. The sheer number of people swept me off to another corner of the Kaaba. I was squeezed so hard that I could barely breathe. And then it was another wave of people. And another. I was gasping for breath. But I braved it out, hoping that an opportunity could still arrive for me to kiss the Stone.
I could not believe it when it happened. I just still don’t know what kind of a feeling went through me. When I finished, my legs were flailing in the air. So I was squeezed again and I almost had no strength to move about or free myself. I raised my hand and someone tried to help me by pulling my raised-hand until my feet were on the floor again. Exhaustion overcame me. Gradually, I was able to pull myself out but I looked like someone who had just risen up from a hypnosis. I sweated profusely and my clothes were soaked in the sweats. From here, I managed to get to the stairs of the Masjid and had some Zam-zam. I sat there until 04:20am trying to recuperate from the ordeal. So after the Fajr Salat, I went to the hotel and took a shower. I was very pleased although I was nearly crushed to death.
Arrival in Medina
We made a farewell Tawaf and left for Medina. Later, we packed our belongings and waited for the buses for the long journey through the cold Saudi desert. Apparently, the traveling was mostly done at night due to the heat of the day. I was getting used to the Haram. I had by now known all the places around the Haram. I prayed for all my loved ones and the entire Ummah. Then I made the last gaze at the Kaaba and there I disappeared into the tunnel to walk back to the hotel and join the rest of my fellow traveling pilgrims.
Next trip: Medina. It was cold at night yet the driver still had his air-condition on despite repeated requests by certain folks to turn it off. On the bus, I was reading guidelines on visiting the Prophet’s mosque. At this time, I didn't mind how long the journey took. Time wasn't vital anymore. I later felt asleep and woke up as we arrived in Medina around 03:00 am.
At the Masjid Nabi, we performed the Fajr Salat for the first time in Medina. Once you enter Medina, you will notice the difference instantly. The weather was pleasant; and there were no rushes. In the Masjid, there was total serenity. There was a strict separation of the sexes unlike in Mecca. After performing Salat, we went back to the hotel to sleep. I was just too tired and had no appetite for food.
The following day, we visited the graveyard (Baqi) just behind the Masjid Nabi, where some of the Sahabas (the Prophet's companions) and the prophet’s family are laid to rest. We later proceeded to Masjid QUBA, the first mosque in Medina and then to the Masjid Qiblatain (the mosque with two directions, one facing Jerusalem, the practice at the time before the revelation of the Ayah commanding the Muslim Ummah to face towards the Kaaba).
Lessons of Hajj
One of the most vivid incidents that still stays with me was my visit to the graveyard at UHUD. The battle of UHUD saw many Sahabas and the Prophet's own uncle Hamza, martyred. At the site, the mountains stood tall, and the trenches that were dug out revealed to the sightseer the painstaking efforts and hard labor that went into building up those defenses. One can understand this if one studies the Seerah (detailed biography of the Prophet in both Mecca and Medina periods). It was hard not to come away feeling that the Muslims of today have gotten it easy. Our predecessors took great pains in defending our religion and then handed it down to us on a silver platter. And yet we still complain! Those folks, who defended Islam in those battles and in those long summers of discontent, died for the cause. They were the true heroes unlike the so-called Jihadists of this era.
One people, one religion
Unlike Mecca, Medina offered a relaxed atmosphere. I had time to read and feel the tranquility Medina had in store for its visitors. From here we left for Amsterdam via Amman. I am grateful for the favors bestowed upon me by Allah and I pray that each brother and sister will one day be blessed to perform this once-in-a-lifetime journey. It will change you forever. I know the Hajj has changed me. My outlook on life as a Muslim has taken on a new light. My grounding in the religion has gotten stronger. And my Islamic temperament has undergone a new lease of life.
I hope this article and the one before it, and certainly through the help of Allah (s.w.t ), will encourage some of you to undertake this Great Journey. Remember that age is creeping up on you. And the rites of Hajj require a lot of personal energy and strength. So while you are still in bodily health and vigor, start planning on this glorious trip. The time is now. May Allahu Ta-alla guide us at all times and strengthen our Imaan and keep us steadfast in our Deen. Jazahukallahu Khairan Salam mu Alaikum.
Mamadou Sellou Jallow is the Vice-president of the Basse Association, Inc. He lives with his family in Deventer, The Netherlands.