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Wanderlust Muslim

My Journey To Discovering The World

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Saudi Arabia

Getting out of Ihram

The area around the Haram has changed so much since I had last been 10 years ago. The clock tower is pretty much hard to miss towering all the other many buildings close by. One of the signs of the last hour is tall buildings and it happening right in front the house of Allah. It reminded me of the Lord of the Rings tower!!! Brother M had done Umrah very recently and was very familiar with the area. He took us straight to the safwah towers where the men cut their hair and exchanged money. The rate is better in Mecca then Aziziyah, which is why we held off exchanging large amounts of cash. The Safwah towers is a large shopping centre with various hotels inside, like the clock tower, which is where we ended up eating.

We grabbed a taxi back to our hotel, getting back about 11pm and found our hotel was pretty much empty. Everyone had left a little while ago to do their Umrah. We cut our hair and jumped straight into the shower (it felt good washing my hair) and went straight to bed. We heard the other ladies in our room come in about 3-4 in the morning. I was so glad we left early to do our Umrah.

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Umrah

We were ready to begin our Tawaf for our Umrah, the ground floor was packed. I have seen tawaf during Hajj on T.V before but being there was something else, it was like there was more people then I see on T.V. We arranged with our Hajj buddies that we will meet them at our meeting point after we finished our Tawaf. With the amount of people doing Tawaf at the same time its hard staying in a group, it was even hard staying with Hubby. The easiest way we could do it was if I walked in front and Hubby held his arms out around me, sort of creating a barrier for me on both sides. I was scared to try and get close to the Ka’ba, seeing the people and the pushing and shoving. Plus my experience getting into the Mataf area kept playing in my head. We were half way through our first round when it started to get more congested. The crowd seemed to move slower meaning more pushing and shoving, we slowly realised what was going on. It was nearly time for Isha and people had just decided to stop where they were so they can pray in front of the Ka’ba. We were close to finishing our first round, I could see the green light, only a few more steps and we would have completed one round, and then the Adhaan goes. That’s when I felt it, I felt suffocated, squashed, scared. I kept thinking how are we going to get out, people were pushing to try and complete their Tawaf, people were not letting others get out. At one point I thought I was going to get pushed down, it truly left me shaken.

Of course once we got out of the Tawaf area people had sat down for Isha, trying to find a space was another mission. Men tend to pray right near the Ka’ba so the womens pray area is a little walk away. We managed to make our way through the little space we had, weaving through people, some just sat down others praying their Sunnah, I felt so bad we had no choice but to go in front of them. Once we found the ladies section, me and hubby went in different directions. I got a space next to a very kind lady who shared her musalla (prayer mat) with me then suddenly it hit me, where am I going to meet Hubby? Our group had provided us with sim cards but we hadn’t topped them up yet.

After I finished praying I made a quick dash to where me and Hubby has gone in different directions. To my relief he wasn’t too far away. So many people in ihram and with beards it would have been hard to find him in the crowd.

My heart sank a little when I realised it was time to go back to finish our Tawaf. The first round had scared me, I don’t deal well with small tight spaces. We slowly made our way and back and made sure we continued where we left off. The crowd seemed a little bit lighter, but I kept think it was only going to get busier, people were probably finishing off their prayers. I dared not get too close to the Ka’ba, I know it gets more congested the closer you get. My heart was racing, my eye were carefully watching making sure we would not get into any trouble like before and my mind was in constant dua. Before I knew it we had completed our 7 rounds (phew) it was only then I looked around and realised it was not that bad, the crowd didn’t seem that large. In my state of worry, I missed out enjoying my Umrah Tawaf, my first Tawaf.

We headed to pray our 2 rakahts of nafl prayer and then got ourselves some Zamzam whilst we waited on the steps for our Hajj buddies. Sitting from a far, I got to get a really good look at all the extension work. A lot had changed in the last 10 years, I could mentally picture what they were doing, and how it was all going to work.

Sai was a lot calmer and free flowing then Tawaf. We managed to make our dua on Mount Safa with a view of the Ka’ba, unfortunately there is no view from Mount Marwa. There is a small part which is lit in green lights. This is to indicate the section men are required to run, women are to continue walking at their normal pace.

As we walked from one mount to the other I couldn’t help but recall the purpose of Sai, the story of how it became. Hajar (R.A.) ran from one mount to the other 7 times in search for help in the blazing heat, no air-condition or tiled flooring. How easy it has become for us.

We managed to complete everything pretty early, the men were very eager to get out of their ihrams asap, I’m glad we didn’t plan on doing Hajj Al-Qiran!!!!

Ka’ba

My sister in-law told me how her father had felt when he was going for Hajj. He was so scared and nervous he apparently nearly had a heart attack. Of course Bengalis can over-exaggerate but I didn’t understand why he felt that way. My sister inlaw told me he was like that because he was going to be standing in front of Allah’s house a big achievement he was scared, all his lifes sins etc were playing on his mind. I know everyone reacts differently but I was eager to be there, my belief is that my Lord is Ar-Rahmaan and Ar Raheem (The Most Gracious and The Most Merciful)

With all the works happening at the mosque we found ourselves wondering around trying to get to the ground floor. As it was Hubbys first time seeing the Ka’ba he didn’t want to get glimpses of it whilst walking towards it, so he kept his head down whilst we tried to figure out how to get to the ground floor. Once we managed to get into a spot with a full view of the Ka’ba we stood and made dua.

I had done Umrah about 10 years ago, and even though this was my second time seeing the Ka’ba, the emotions I felt seeing it I cannot describe. It was like I was seeing it for the first time, it took my breath away. We all see pictures of the Ka’ba on T.V, facebook, Instagram etc. But seeing it with your own eyes, there is nothing as beautiful as the Ka’ba. This is the centre point of our religion, the direction we face towards five times a day, the image most of us have whilst praying. I broke down straight away.

I found myself starring at the beauty of the Ka’ba, tears rolling down my cheeks, hands raised asking Allah to forgive me. I had not planned what I would ask for when I was standing in front of the Ka’ba, I left that all to my heart. I stood there asking for forgiveness, apologising for my sin. I knew what my sister in-laws father was talking about. I promised I would not repeat any sins anymore. Many people say that when u first see the Ka’ba, make dua and it will come true. Now there is no Hadiths mentioning this but a dua is a dua. Being a Muslim is believing Allah will grant you your dua if not in this dunyah then in the ahkirah, unless it is sinful.tumblr_nzbe1iYMPr1ug61y2o1_500

 

 

Getting to Masjid al-Haram for Umrah

Our group had decided to go to Makkah for their Umrah after Isha, we couldn’t wait that long, we were eager to go see the Ka’ba. So me, Hubby and another couple from our home town decided to go after Asr. They became our Hajj buddies though out the journey, we were very lucky to have them on this journey with us. Brother M had been for Hajj 2 years ago and had done Umrah many times so we were in safe hands. We got a taxi to the mosque and got there an hour before Magrib.

We were walking up to the mosque and had gone round a corner, right in front of us stood the crane that had fallen down a week before. Surrounded by green barriers it stood out like a sore thumb. I remember us all just standing staring at it for a little while, reality hit. No matter where you are, even somewhere as holy as Masjid al-Haram, death will find you. But, oh what a place to die in the state of ihram. May Allah grant all those that lost their lives Jannath UL-Firdose.

Most entrances to the mosque had been closed, they kept saying the haram was full and made people stay outside. We managed to get into the new bit and found a place to pray right in front of the entrance which would lead to the Mataf area.

Before Magrib the guards had closed the entrance and told us it would be open after prayers. Once we finished praying, we patiently waiting in front of the entrance for the guards to move the barriers. We then get told they won’t open it till after Isha and that we should go find another entrance. This is common in Saudi, the guards will tell you one thing and then change their mind. More and more people started gathering to try and get in, people were arguing with the guards, other guards were even telling them to open it, but they wouldn’t. We were right in front of the barriers and looking back at the amount of people we had behind us, I knew if people start pushing we would be the first to go down. Of course once they started moving the barriers people decided to push, we would have fallen down if Brother M hadn’t shouted out “SAB’R SAB’R”. Even in the holy mosque people forget the etiquettes of being a Muslim brother and sister. We had managed to get through and I had thought the hardest part was over and done with, boy was I wrong.

Aziziyah

As we had a shifting package the first part of our journey began in Aziziyah. Aziziyah is a small town close to Makkah. On a normal day it would be a 10-15min car journey to the Mosque but during the busier times (Hajj & Ramadan) it can take up to 30-45mins. Nowadays it’s harder and more expensive to stay in Makkah from the beginning of your journey, which is why they have shifting packages. We had a look at a few non-shifting packages and they were asking for £1000 more for each person. Thinking about it logically you would pay £1000 more for a hotel in Makkah to only be staying in your room for a few nights, as majority of the Hajj rituals take place outside of Makkah.

We stayed in a small 9 floor, quad sharing room, hotel a few minutes away from the main road. The rooms were relatively clean, with 4 single beds a large sharing wardrobe and a bathroom. Men and women were split but we were on the same floor as our partners, which made life very easy. I was lucky enough to be sharing with a sister that I knew from before, and elderly Bengali aunt and a young Pakistani sister. I couldn’t have asked for a better group and our Mahrams (male chaperones) were all in one room too.

On the first day we were up before Zuhur and were slowly getting ready to go down and see what was on the menu for lunch. During our stay in Aziziyah the group provided breakfast, lunch and dinner for us at the hotel. Breakfast was served after Fajr, lunch at 12.30pm and dinner at 8pm. It was a Bengali hotel so the menu was pretty much rice and curry for lunch and dinner. We decided we weren’t too keen on the food and went out to eat. Not a lot of people attempted to eat out while we were staying in Aziziyah, either they were afraid of getting lost or couldn’t bare the heat. The main road was about a 5 minute walk away from our hotel and had many different food options. We tried the Kudu, McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Inn and Amigos Pizza, the best was probably Amigos. If you have tried Asian pizza, this is pretty much the same, thick crust packed with lots of toppings!

Jeddah (The Hajj Terminal)

We landed after Maghrib and knew beforehand the process at Jeddah airport would be a long one. I think it took us about 6-7 hours from when we landed to when we got on the coach. We went through many security checks and were moved from once place to another, this made it feel like the time was going quicker, and at least we went stuck in once place for 6 hours! From the airport it took us 4-5 hours to get to our hotel, we had to go through a few check stops and food stops. The government provide free food packs for Hajj pilgrims, which normally consists of water, biscuits, cake and nuts. We also had to stop to get our Hajj wristbands. The wristband were to help us in case we got lost or involved in an accident. As we got to our hotel a little before Fajr, our group decided that we would rest and go to do our Umrah later that night when it had cooled down. Everyone was shattered and had no energy to do it then. We prayed Fajr had breakfast and went straight to sleep.

In The Beginning

Me and Hubby had been planning to go Hajj for a while, we had even spoken about it before we got married. We both had intentions to go before we met and once our wedding was fixed we knew it was something we wanted to do as soon as possible. My mum has always taught me once you have the money for Hajj it’s your Fard (duty to Allah) to go.

After our wedding we slowly started getting ready, but unfortunately couldn’t go that year (2014). As we had taken a lot of time off work for the wedding, work wouldn’t allow any more for Hajj. I truly knew it wasn’t meant to be for us that year. We had both agreed with work to make sure next year would not be a problem for us to go. As that years Hajj came and went we felt sad that we weren’t there but we knew Allah had something even better planned for us.

Come January 2015 we started the process, we didn’t have all the money ready, but we made a payment plan to save a certain amount each month.  We knew we would have it all ready by the time Hajj came round. I had made the intention to use my Mahr money for part of my Hajj payment and then saving up for the rest using my own money. Our 3 week package cost us £4750 each and we saved another £1000 each for spending money! Each year the prices seem to increase and we opted for the shifting package which is cheaper.

My sister had been 2 years before us with a brilliant group who they highly recommended. The only issue was that they would go to Medina first and Mecca last, which isn’t something we wanted to do. Hubby and my brother in-law met with a group from London – Al Hijaz Tours & Travels Ltd , we had heard good reviews about them from friends and decided to check them out. They both came back and felt this was the right group to go with and we soon made a small deposit to secure a place with them. At the back of our minds we knew we were going on this journey but I don’t think it really felt real until after Ramadan.

After Ramadan we only had a few weeks before we left, we slowly started getting everything ready. Shopping and packing just seemed never ending, we kept buying things and re-packing. I couldn’t get my head around what I would need, I kept speaking to my sister and going through my list of stuff.

Our flight was one of the last flights for Hajj and depending on when Dhu Al-Hijjah would start we would have 1 or 2 days before Hajj started so I thought it would be better to pack my Mina bag so I wouldn’t have to rush around sorting it while I’m there. But that went down the drain, i ended up re-packing just before we left!

I started working on my dua list as well, something I recommend doing early. I had plenty of time preparing and my list was long! I had texted those close to me asking if there was any specific dua that they wanted me to make for them. I wrote them all out and made sure I took them with me.

The best gift you can give someone is the gift of dua
The best gift you can give someone is the gift of dua

We were lucky to get our Visa confirmations 2 weeks before we flew out. I have heard many horror stories of rejected visas, which was always playing at the back of my head. Once we got our Hajj visas I was just eager to get going, I didn’t want to wait, I just wanted to be there. It was the longest 2 weeks of my life!

Confirmation of our Hajj visa made it finally seem real
Confirmation of our Hajj visa made it finally seem real

We left our farewell visits and calls a little too late in my opinion. After we got our visas we started calling our relatives that lived far away. It just seemed never ending, the list just grew and grew, you’d think you were done and then you would remember someone else. The local visits were done in our last week, which was the hardest as we were still working so had to do them in the evening. We found ourselves out every night which meant no time to pack. The night before had to be the worst, we had everyone come round to see us off which meant cooking and cleaning until late at night and then sorting ourselves out for our 3 week journey. I hardly slept that night!

As typical bengalis do, we finished the last bit of packing a few minutes before we were due to leave the house and even made a few farewell calls whilst driving to the airport! We hadn’t made our intention for Umrah yet so Hubby was wearing his thobe at the airport. The funny stares we got, it took me a while to register why people kept looking at Hubby and then it hit me! Made me chuckle to myself, imagine if he was wearing his ihram!!

The plane journey went quick and majority of the people on had not had their ihram on, so the queue for the toilet was extremely long. What surprised me was the prayer area, it was very small and the men decided to get changed in there, leaving no room for the women to pray, we had to pray in our seats.

My Journey To Discovering Me

The journey I went through has been life changing. I keep saying words cannot describe it, so I thought I would give it a go. I thought I would write down my Hajj experience more for my own personal use, I’m hoping years down the line I read through this and re-live it all.

I found myself asking my grandma how her journey was, I wish I could have seen how they did it 30 years ago. Maybe my children and grandchildren would feel the same way about my journey. I hope they can read through this to see and understand for themselves how things were for us.

Before leaving for my journey I read many other blogs about Hajj, it was such a big help. So I thought I would share my experience with others who are planning on making the same journey.

“…and Hajj to the house (Ka’Ba) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who have the ability…”
QUR’AN 3:97
A old picture of the Ka’ba

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