Earlier this month, Altaf and Rashida went on Hajj.
Here, they recount some of the stages of Hajj.
Arafat is a flat valley surrounded by mountains of rocky terrain – a dry and barren the place where Muslim’s believe mankind will be gathered on the day of judgement. After our first failed attempt to see the Mount of Mercy where the Prophet Mohammed had given his last sermon, I left my wife in the tent and went out again. I walked for about a mile, climbed through a hole in a chain link fence, crossed a wide empty motorway and then climbed up a short steep hill not knowing where I was going…and there in front of me was the most beautiful site. I was looking down on the Mount of Mercy where millions of pilgrims were standing and praying. It was awe-inspiring.
Everybody was facing towards the ka’ba and standing with raised hands praying and crying, it was deeply moving. Even though three million people were with us, it felt like I was alone in worship. I felt good after shedding a few tears.
We arrived at Arafat on the morning of 5 November, it was very hot and no air conditioned tents this time. We had to pour chilled water on ourselves to keep cool. The whole afternoon was spent doing supplication and prayers. We went out to search for the Mount of Mercy but due to the heat had to turn back and take refuge in ‘The Tea Garden’ which was a large airy tent. Everyone was totally engrossed in prayer and oblivious to others around them. The focus was on prayer, a very spiritual afternoon which I enjoyed and felt benefited my soul with spiritual healing.
After Magrib prayers (sunset) we boarded the coaches once to go to Muzdalifah to spend the night out in the open. Twenty of us decided to walk the seven kilometres to Muzdalifah and meet up with our group in the open air camp, which turned out to be an adventure. The walk started of very pleasant along with hundreds of thousands of other people along pedestrian walkway No.15, which is as wide as the M25 motorway. After four hours of walking, just before we entered Muzdalifa, people started setting up camp on the walkway which caused a bottle neck and our group of 20 got dispersed into the crowd of millions. I tried in vain to look for the group and our organised camp but to no avail, so I spent the night with thousands of total strangers on the pavement. I found a small spot next to some railings, put my prayer mat down and went to sleep using my slippers as a pillow. Although there were millions of people, coaches and buses going past, I slept for a couple of hours. It was the sweetest sleep I have ever had, there was a tranquillity that blanketed all the chaos around me. It is hard to explain in words but it felt like I was by myself – lost but had inner peace and was at ease.
Muzdalifah was not what I expected. We slept on open ground in between the motorway and mountains. Coaches were arriving well into the night constantly bringing pilgrims. As the coaches arrived they would beep their horns to announce their arrival – thousands of coaches! It was a strange experience trying to sleep out in the open under these conditions. There were strangers sleeping next to us from all over the world. I managed to snatch a few hours of broken sleep whenever I could. Before long, the call to prayer was announced.Everybody woke up did ablution and stood for prayer in neat orderly rows facing the ka’ba. Which is amazing to see, the rows formed so swiftly and then total silence as the prayers started in Arabic. I don’t think you will see this anywhere else in the world. The supplication continued until sunrise about an hour later, Muslims deep in worship of one God. I walked back to Mina, our permanent camp, in the early morning sun which took about two hours. It was a calm atmosphere with pleasant weather and a gentle breeze, I really enjoyed it.
The next three nights were spent in Mina, a temporary tented city. On the first day when the rest of the Muslim world was celebrating Eid (I did think about our children spending Eid with their Grandma and Aunt in London), we had four religious rituals to carry out:
1. Stoning of Jamaraat (symbolic devil)
2. Shaving the head
3. Sacrifice of animal, usually a goat or a lamb
4. Tawaf – to circumambulate the ka’ba
In the afternoon, we left on foot to go to the Jamaraat with our group. Even though I had heard about this ritual many times, it was different to what I expected. I had heard that this place gets really busy, however I was amazed to see a modern building resembling a multi-storey car park with wide ramped access, traffic lights, one way systems and electronic signage which made it very easy for us to perform the stoning. The ancient symbolic stoning of the devil represents the moment when the Prophet Abraham was being distracted by the devil when commanded by Allah to sacrifice his most beloved possession; his only child. We threw seven small pebbles the size of chick peas – which are collected from Mina – at three walls, each one 30 metres long and 6 metres high.
After the stoning we walked back to Mina. I had to shave my hair, have a shower and change out of my ihram and into clean normal clothes. I felt pure and cleansed.
The sacrifice of a goat was carried out remotely in a modern abattoir which has the meat cut, packed and shipped to third world countries to help feed the poor.
I’ll talk about the tawaf in my next post…
Altaf and Rashida Abbas went on Hajj this year and have been blogging about the experience for the British Museum. Find out more about the exhibition Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam