As a medical doctor working in the Holy city of Makkah, it was ironically more difficult to get a chance to perform Hajj. The only consolation was the fact that ‘Umrah was literally like a walk in the park.
Imagine spending two years as a bona fide resident of the city, but not getting a chance to observe hajj. The main reason being that we had to take turns, as healthcare plays a vital role in the successful hosting of pilgrims.
By the third year, I was certain that nothing was going to stop me. I was like, “Èmi lo kan” (it’s my turn).
Well, two things almost stopped me.
One, I was pregnant.
By the beginning of Dhul-Hijjahl, I was already 7 months into the pregnancy. But I didn’t let that stop me. It was a smooth pregnancy, except for some bouts of fatigue, which was still manageable. If I could spend 40 hours per week (plus 24-48 call hours) working at the hospital, why shouldn’t I be able to perform hajj?
Then, the hajj rota.
While preparing the rota, my boss called me and asked me to choose between working and not working during hajj.
Without any hesitation, I declared that I would be going for hajj.
“But you can work and save the money to buy things for your baby”, she urged.
Truly, the hajj bonus was a great temptation! If you work for the first 15 days of Dhul-Hijjah, 12 hours/day back-to-back, and stay on continuous standby in case of any disaster, your reward will be a whooping 150% bonus on top of Dhul-Hijjah salary! Mouth-watering right? 😋
So, my boss was still on the phone, trying to talk me into accepting the money.
“You can perform hajj next year in shaa Allaah”, she continued, “You know you’re also pregnant, it will be stressful for you. Hajj duty is actually very easy, unless there’s a disaster, which is rare…”.
Not to sound rude, I told her to give me time to think about it and discuss with my husband.
I actually didn’t think about anything. My mind was already made up. I knew I needed the money, but I needed the hajj more. I knew it would be stressful for me, but hajj is generally stressful for women, and its reward is comparable to that of fighting on a battlefield.
I asked myself… What if I don’t make it till next year? What if I leave Makkah and coming back becomes a big hassle?
My husband already knew my plans and he was OK with it.
And yes, we would have performed the hajj together but he couldn’t make it that year. Besides, a woman is not required to be accompanied by a mahram if she lives in Makkah, but it’s advisable for her to move with a group.
In case you’re wondering… There’s no such thing as free hajj, even if you’re an indigene of Makkah. There are strict boundaries heavily manned by policemen. You can’t move through some areas during hajj season, unless you’re carrying a hajj permit. If you try it and get caught, you will be in big tro.uble.
Stay with me as we dive into the crux of my story…
After exchanging hugs and kisses with my children and handing them over to the nanny, I assumed the state of ihram and left home just after magrib on the 8th night of Dhul-Hijjah 1439. A driver dropped me at the hajj agency’s office in Aziziyyah, where we moved to Mina in batches.
I made the intention for hajjul ifrad, the easiest of the three types of hajj. Then I started chanting the talbiyah:
Labbayka Allāhumma labbayk. Labbayk lā shareeka laka labbayk. Inna al-ḥamda, wa n‘imata, Laka wal mulk. Lā shareeka lak.
“Here I am, O Allaah, here I am, here I am. You have no partner, here I am. Verily all praise and blessings are Yours, and all sovereignty. You have no partner.”
Our group arrived at Mina that evening and I settled in the bed space assigned to me. More than 20 other ladies and some children occupied that same tent. It was crowded, but quite comfortable. Later that night, two ladies arrived and occupied the beds by my right. They came from Riyadh, accompanied by their elder brother.
These Syrian sisters became my helpers for the entire hajj period. They felt so sorry for me because I was pregnant and all by myself. I, on the other hand, loved that loneliness. It was just the perfect recipe for a soulful dialogue with my Lord. I had no regrets leaving everything behind – my home, family, and the juicy Hajj bonus. At that point, I was only interested in standing alone as a worshiper amidst hundreds of thousands of other worshippers. That kind of aloneness reminded me of the Day of Judgement, when it will be all man to himself. When siblings will run away from each other, parents will run away from their children, and husbands from their wives… Subhaanallaah!
The first day of hajj (8th day of Dhul-Hijjah) is known as the day of At-Tarwiyah. In the olden days, pilgrims used to collect water in preparation for the journey ahead. But life is much easier now. We had plenty of food and cold drinks to keep us nourished and hydrated. We also spent the day praising Allaah and asking for His Mercy.
My Syrian friends would help me get my meals from the dining area. I didn’t have to join the queue to use the bathroom. They would ask me to sit in the room until the crowd had cleared. When it was time to move to Arafah after fajr on the 9th, they walked with me, hand-in-hand. They held the umbrella above my head as the scorching sun melted the clouds. They slowed down for me, and stopped when I needed to rest. They asked me at intervals, if I was able to walk with my legs or if they should get me a wheel chair. These sisters literally treated me like their baby.
On getting to the plains of Arafah, I was clearly exhausted. As we entered the huge, air-conditioned tent, I didn’t know how I slept off! Sleep bawo?! Oorun wẹ̀, níwájú adájọ́ (how dare you sleep in front of the judge)? How will anyone fall asleep on this blessed day? The day the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم) described thus: “There is no day on which Allaah frees people from the Fire more so than on the day of ‘Arafah. He comes close to those (people standing on ‘Arafah), and then He reveals before His Angels saying, ‘What are these people seeking.” (Muslim)
I woke up from my slumber and started calling on Allaah with all His beautiful names I knew. I presented all my prayer points and those of people who asked me to pray for them. We observed Dhuhr and ‘Asr. Then, we listened to the khutbah from Masjidun Nimrah on Mount Arafah.
Again, the stay at Arafah wasn’t as difficult as it used to be in the past. Imagine me having to walk all the way without the aid of trains and buses. Imagine staying under the mid-day sun throughout Arafah. I’d probably miscarry that baby!
We watched the live stream on a big screen within our tent. The imaam prayed for the ummah as we said “Aameen”.
The stay at Arafah is the hallmark of hajj, but there’s more…
By sunset, we proceeded to Muzdalifah, halfway by train, and halfway by foot. The walks were a bit more difficult than I had imagined. I was tired, but I tried to stay strong. I got as much sleep as I could. After all, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) was also reported to have rested at Muzdalifah after the stressful day at Arafah.
We spent the night within open camps, laying on flat mattresses and gazing at the night sky. It was a cool night, but due to the crowd, it was quite suffocating. My Syrian friends did not leave me to myself. They made sure I didn’t miss them, even if I missed the rest of the group.
After praying salatul Ishaa, which was shortened and observed immediately after magrib, we started picking up pebbles to be thrown at the Jamaraat in the next 3 days. The night was quite short though. Fajr appeared around 3.30am and we set off to begin the Ram’y while the rest of the Muslim world celebrated Eidul Adhaa on the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah.
Unfortunately, I was unable to throw the stones. I couldn’t even dare to move closer to the Jamaratul Aqabah. As some people were rushing to “stone the devil”, the walkway became chaotic. I saw people throwing stones aggressively as though the devil himself was physically present! Calm down people! It’s not that serious!
I became very sick and spent the rest of that morning at the clinic while my Syrian friends helped me with the Ram’y. The doctors checked me and my baby, and AlhamduliLlaah, we were fine. The poor boy must have been wondering why his mother had been so active lately.
After they were done with the Ram’y, my friends and their brother went to sort out the sacrifice. I later left the clinic and followed other members of the group back to Mina, delaying my Tawaful Ifadah until the last day of hajj.
Everyone returned to Mina later that day and came out of the state of ihram. The ladies freshened up, applied sweet fragrances and trimmed their hair. I was still feeling quite weak and spent the most part of the day resting.
Allaah knows that I tried to gather enough strength to complete my Ram’y for the remainder of Ayaamut-Tashreeq. But it was tough. I handed the remaining 42 pebbles to my friends, and their brother helped me throw them on days 11 and 12.
I continued praising Allaah and supplicating to Him until the 12th day of Dhul-Hijjah, just after Dhuhr. I wish I had stayed one more night at Mina. But my heart was already longing to go home. My friends stayed until the 13th, the last day of At-Tashreeq.
I carried my knapsack and jumped on one of the buses going to masjidul haram. I performed my tawaaful ifaadah amidst a mammoth crowd. The ground and first floors were jam-packed; I had to move to the second floor, which meant that I’d have to cover a longer circumference. By the time I was done with the 7 circumambulations, I had run out of strength to perform the Sa’i, the walks between Mounts Safa and Marwa.
I hired a wheelchair at a ridiculously high rate. The pushers did not even pity me at all. I begged for a discount but they kept straight faces. I settled for one, because I had no choice. I performed the Sa’i while sipping Zamzam water intermittently.
Finally, I completed the essential pillars of hajj, even though it felt less-than-stellar. May Allaah accept it and bless my friends who assisted me. May He grant me the privilege to perform another one in my lifetime.
I got back to the hajj agency office where I collected my baggage and was picked up by the driver who took me home.
Hajj is no child’s play. It’s a whole lot of hard work. You will be stretched to your limits but you must endure till the end, while upholding the rules of ihram. Hajj teaches you patience and resilience.
As soon as you have the means and energy to perform hajj, please do not delay it. Don’t wait for a perfect timing or extra money. You are not promised an extra year, or an extra dollar. Prepare yourself, put your trust in Allaah and go for it!
“Call the people to the pilgrimage. They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel from every distant path…” (Qu’ran 22:27-30)
May Allaah make it easy for those who are going this year.
To those who wish to go next year and beyond, may Allaah grant you the opportunity too. Aameen.