It was the morning of 10th of Dhul Hajj which the Prophet (SAW) referred to as yaum un nahr, getting back to our air-conditioned camps in Mina after spending the night under open skies in Muzzdalifah was a solace. Although, in Muzdallifah we were provided with a comfortable bedding and a cozy meal but the July heat with humidity on top was there. After spending some time in our camps our operator called upon us to prepare ourselves for another journey, the journey to Jamarat. We knew that there is no excuse on being short on strength and energy, right away we put together ourselves for this journey, yet another journey which was a part of our hajj pilgrimage. Our campaign for hajj which had started with the travel from Riyadh to Taif on 6th of dhul hajj or let me take you back to how it all began for us.
A month back some social media messages started making rounds within our friends groups in Riyadh that Saudi govt will hold the hajj pilgrimage in a scaled-down form for citizens and residents of the Kingdom and the citizens and residents have been asked to apply through special platforms provided. Having spent more than five years in the Saudi capital we knew that the authorities here, unlike others, mean what they say. Although, all of us fitted in the criteria set forth by the authorities, our main worry was our children whom we were not allowed to be taken with us. We knew that this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a great privilege to be part of merely 60,000 people performing hajj. For the next ten days or so we closely followed the news for the announcement of dates of application and at the same time explored options how we could safely leave our children back home as we are not in Kashmir and thus do not have the luxury of sending children to matamaal or so for a break.
As the selection days neared the ambivalent feeling grew within us. What if we are not selected? what if we couldn't leave our children and so on. At times a bitter experience from the previous year when we didn't make it to the list of selected individuals who were allowed kept us down but we never let this feeling overcome our hope. Finally, the message we were avidly awaiting arrived and we were in a fortunate position this time being chosen for Hajj 2021. As the news spread among our circles here in Riyadh, lot of friends and relatives who were not going for hajj came forward and offered an option of keeping our children safely with them. Unlike other friends, I was in a comfortable position since the beginning as I counted on my sister who stays in Riyadh to take care of my children as she was not traveling with us.
Eventually, all of us managed to find a safe shelter for our children. Now came the day when slots were opened and it was out of pure enthusiasm that within the very first hour of opening of slots our fingers were already making movements on our smartphones overwhelmed with joy yet carefully enough fearing that a wrong click might put all our plans to a halt. Such was the ardor of the moment that we chose our tour operators and even packages randomly from different locations of Saudi Arabia without bothering about how we will reach those locations which might be hundreds of miles away and were going to be the starting points for our journey. We received the acceptance message after paying the required amount and thus qualifying for hajj 2021 Alhamdullilah.
The next two weeks were going to be very important in terms of educating ourselves about hajj. We sought access to authentic literature and at the same time arranged multiple sessions of online classes with religious scholars who guided us to the best of their knowledge. Out of our busy schedule, we had to spare time for shopping for necessary items, and thus with the blessings of Almighty found ourselves packed and prepared. Now and then new instructions emerged from the authorities be it vaccination or travel protocols and so we knew that this is going to be well controlled and well-managed affair. Finally, on 6th of dhul hijjah we started our journey early in the morning from Riyadh to Taif. Different gathering-points outside Macca had been assigned to the pilgrims. The pilgrims we divided into four groups color-coded as red, green, blue, and yellow. I and my wife were in the red group and our gathering point was going to be Sail al Kabeer, which is a Meeqat point near Taif. On the morning of 7th dul hijjah we arrived at the meeqat in our private cars. There were special busses queued up in wait for the pilgrims. The hujjaj put on their Ihram and prayed two rakaats of nafl in the mosque and soon afterward moved towards the busses reciting talbiah. Labaik allahuma labaik...( “I respond to Your call O Allah! I respond to Your call. You have no partner. I respond to Your call. All praise, thanks and blessings are for You. All sovereignty is for You. And You have no partners with You”). We got into the busses which were well equipped with sanitizers and to ensure social distancing only 20 pilgrims were accommodated per bus. There was the omnipresence of police and volunteers making sure that the hujjaj wear their masks correctly. After a while, we found ourselves moving towards Baitullah.
There was tranquility all over the place as we moved towards Macca to perform Umrah of Hajjul Tammatu. This is the type of hajj were hujjaj complete their Umrah before Hajj. Upon reaching the Haram Sharief lined up in queues we moved towards the Mataf to perform our tawaf and then Safa and Marwah for sa'ee of Umrah. Once again, it was so orderly and coherent. With trimming or shaving our head we completed our umrah Alhamdulillah. Precisely the same manner we were brought in, we were shifted back to our camps in Mina. Mina is also called the city of tents over an area covering 20 sq kms comprising of Jamarat and slaughterhouses. This year in particular the authorities had dispersed the tents close to Jamarat for all pilgrims due to the lesser occupants. According to an estimate the number of pilgrims this year was appx. 58.000 with 25000 foreign nationals which is so trivial compared to the normal.
Mina was going to be our base. We were to spend our next 5 to 6 days in Mina. Soon we were accommodated in tents, each tent is made up of white fireproof material, fully air-conditioned and having two rows of four comfortable beds each and, of course, equipped with varieties of sanitizers and antiseptics. There was a large praying area where we would gather for the prayers and sometimes listening to sermons. Each camp had a religious scholar who would guide us on rituals and answer any queries.
On 9th dhul hijjah after fajr salah, we went on to the busses and were taken to Arafat in groups. The day of Arafah or day of supplication is considered to be the most important day of Hajj according to scholars. Within an hour we were in our Arafat camps. Well before dhuhr prayer, we set up moving on foot towards Masjid e Nimrah. In a routine Hajj securing a place inside the mosque is very challenging but by the grace of Almighty this year we could easily find a place inside the mosque. There we listened to the most important sermon of Arafah and prayed dhuhr and asr prayers together. This is the place where according to scholars our beloved Prophet ( SAW) delivered his last sermon. After dhuhr we moved towards the mount Arafah or Jabal e Rahmah on foot. Upon reaching there, we found scores of people had well in advance climbed the mountain and it looked as if the mount was covered with a white blanket. We saw plenty of people had already occupied most of the open area at the base of the mountain and we too managed to find a relatively quiet place at the base in the open area. It is said to be the day of duas and supplications throughout the day until sunset (may Allah accept our duas). After sunset, the busses were ready outside our camps in Arafat and would take us to Muzdallifah where were would spend the night under open skies.
Muzdallifah is an open area between Arafat and Mina which unlike the other two has no tents. The next morning after fajr prayers we were guided towards Jamarat for stoning. Jamarat has a huge infrastructure with multiple towers and many interconnecting bridges. Inside the building, there are three pillars symbolizing Satan, Jamarat Al-Sugra (small pillar), then at Jamarat Al-Wusta (medium pillar) and lastly at Jamarat Al- Aqaba (largest pillar). On 10th of dhul hijja the pilgrims stone only the big Jamarat chanting Allahu Akbar. Unlike the past when stoning Jamarat was one of the most difficult parts due to large crowds that would sometimes, unfortunately, lead to stampedes, ours was a much easier task - Alhamdulillah.
After returning from Jamarat to our camps arrangements were already in place for cutting or trimming our hair. Another obligation on that day is qurbani or udhiya which the pilgrims pre-book online and the confirmation of execution is received through an SMS. Hereafter, we shaved or trimmed our hair and took a shower at our camps. Shortly afterward, tour operators arranged our visit to Haram Sharief for tawaf and sa'ee. We were taken in groups with our group leader carrying a flag at the forefront.
For the next three days, we were to stay at Mina and everyday visit Jamarat for stoning all three pillars of Jamaraat. Throughout our stay in Mina none of the pilgrims were allowed to stroll outside unnecessarily, pilgrims were not even allowed to visit other camps and besides small groups moving with their group leaders now and then towards jamarat the streets of mina most of the time wore a deserted look.
Upon successful completion of stoning of the jammarah during the days of ayyam u tashreeq the final obligation which remains is tawaf u wida or farewell tawaf. According to the scholars, it should be the final act before leaving Macca. We performed our farewell tawaf on 12th of dhul hijjah and hence accomplishing our first hajj of life - alhamdullilah. From Haram we were taken back to our gathering points and from there we embarked on our private cars and proceeded towards our destination Riyadh.
We could never thank Allah enough who made this campaign so easy for us which under normal circumstances is a physically demanding journey. Secondly, the authorities and tour operators did a commendable job thus making this Hajj of ours possible. With a very little crowd, plenty of food, and plenty of space this of course was one of the easiest hajj which I did not deserve but Allah blessed us with this. But the fact is, we would still carry this weight that despite the ease whether we carried out all the rituals with perfection. Of course Allah knows the best.
Finally, we pray to almighty that this spirit carries through our entire life. It is very important to remember that it was not just another journey but there is religious commitment associated. May Allah guide us and show us the right path. Aameen.
Dr. Ozair is a Kashmiri origin doctor working at King Faisal Hospital, Riyadh, KSA.