Pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca

by Bushra Ahmed

The Light (UK), February 2007 Issue (pp. 4–5)

It was early in February in 2003 that we made plans to do Hajj. That’s my Father, mother and I. I would like to mention my personal experience of Hajj and some major historical facts about it.

A point to note here is that women cannot go alone to Mecca; they must travel with Mahram (a male: husband, father or brother). This condition applies to both Hajj and Umrah.

Let me explain the difference between Hajj and Umrah. Umrah consists of certain rituals carried out that allow one to remember parts of historical and religious events. But hajj consists of extra activities which mark Eid-Al-Adha. Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam, performed annually and is compulsory if affordable. Umrah can be done anytime of the year and is optional.

A few weeks before we proceeded to Hajj, my mother had dreamt of the Kabah. And coincidentally at meetings with other acquaintances during the same trip, some said they also had similar dreams. No such experiences for me; however, going to hajj was a dream come true!

The night before our departure, I remember thinking to myself how can one carry out procedures so challenging physically and mentally and simultaneously think of Allah at the same time. Will you not forget the presence of Allah while being caught up in the midst of the procedures of the rituals of Hajj. But it is true Allah is the All-Knowing, for once you get there only a hajji can tell you how you look on in awe at the first sight of the Kabah. The Kabah alone evokes feelings of such depth that it is indescribable, let alone the rest of it.

Early morning we arrived at the airport. Here we met up with some of our group members and ascended the plane altogether. As we descended on our flight stop-over we wore our Ihram (specially prescribed hajj attire). Ihram is adopted at Miqat. This means a certain radius around the Kabah inside which we should be appropriately dressed. Also two Rakat nafal [two cycles of extra prayer] was offered immediately on wearing Ihram. Then the talbiyah is recited several times:

لَبَّيْكَ اَللّٰهُمَّ لَبَّيْكَ، لَبَّيْكَ لَا شَرِيْكَ لَكَ لَبَّيْكَ، اِنَّ الْحَمْدَ وَالنِّعْمَةَ لَكَ وَالْمُلْكَ لَا شَرِيْكَ لَكَ

“Labaik Allahuma laibaik. Labaik la sharika laka. Labiak. Innal hamda wannimata laka wal mulk. La sharika lak.”

“Here I am, O Allah! Here I come. Here I am. Thou art without Partner. Here I am, Praise and Blessings are Thine, and the Kingdom (of heaven and earth). Thou art without Partner.”

This is recited after Miqat, as also continuing to travel to the city of Mecca and finally entering the Sacred City.

On arrival at Mecca we freshened up in the hotel and proceeded to Haram Shareef which is the mosque at which the Hajj and Umrah is performed. This consists of the Tawaaf meaning circumambulating the Kabah 7 times, each time reciting a prayer. This can be in any language; this is at your discretion. As you start your Tawaaf there is a green neon light fixed at a corner of the Kabah clearly visible from the walking area of Tawaf. This indicates where to start and where to finish marking one completion of the Tawaf. In the olden days they would try to remember which gate they started as landmark to complete a Tawaf  (all the doors or gates are named).

The next step of the Umrah is the walk between Safa and Marwa. These are two hills between which Lady Hagar [Hazrat Hajira] ran to find water for her thirsty child Ishmael [Hazrat Ismail]. As Lady Hagar ran between the two hills she recited prayers and as she smacked the floor, a spring of water gushed forth so much so that she exclaimed for it to stop: “Zam Zam”.  With the passage of time this is where Mecca came to be established. Nomads began to slowly settle by this water. This is the origin of zam zam and drinking zam zam is part of the formality of the Umrah.

After that two nafal is offered by the golden door of Maqam-i Ibrahim (or the door of Ibrahim). However, due to difficulty in cramped space due to performance of Tawaf it is permissible to offer it while the door is in sight at a distance.

On the 8th day of Dhul-Hajj after Fajr prayer one needs to perform what is known as Tawaf-e-Qadum. This is in preparation for proceeding to Mina. To take this journey on foot is more rewarding, although it is not a necessity.

Arriving at Mina, Zuhr and Asr prayers are combined. Immediately after, all have to leave for Arafat, a place between Mina and Mudzalfah. The legend elaborates that here on a Hill in the Valley of Arafat that after separation Prophet Adam and Eve were reunited. It is believed that here we all will rise up on the Day of Judgment which will then be extremely hot and suffocating. Fountains overhead spraying cool water evaporates in a matter of seconds due to the humid conditions. A place especially known for the acceptance of supplication, we prayed there to our hearts’ content all the way up until sunset. It was a spiritually uplifting experience.

After sunset we travelled to Mudzalafah to arrive nearer Maghrib time and in this time we are supposed to read Maghrib and Isha combined. This is where Prophet Adam and Eve spent their night of Remembrance. But it is commanded to sleep here on the grass in the open. We lay there under the cover of a starry and moonlit night with a gentle cool breeze blowing on our bare faces. This nocturnal event was serene and peaceful. It satisfied our souls.

After fajr prayers, we must prepare to travel back to Mina to perform the rite called Rami. This involves stoning the devil symbolically represented by three pillars erected adjacent to one another. It is those three places where the devil stood and tempted Prophet Abraham. It is a symbol of fighting the devil residing within us. Rami brings out excess energy. And people often return quite energetic and refreshed. It brings out the good side with vigor in every pilgrim. It is permissible to have somebody else throw your stones for you, especially if the area is overcrowded. At our time there was an influx of participants and fellow hajj travelers from our group kindly complied to this.

On the 10th Dhul Hajj, Eid-al-Adha is celebrated. This marks the end of Hajj itself. To celebrate one must bathe early in the morning and offer an animal for sacrifice. After that we travelled back to Mecca to perform Tawaf-al-Widah (Farewell Hajj). Then finally, the icing on the cake, you travel to Medina and it is a relief from the busy hustle and bustle of Mecca. Even the Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] stated that he loved the tranquility of Medina. We stayed in Medina for three days and tried to offer most of our prayers in Masjid-e-Nabwi. Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam and if one can afford it one must perform it once in a lifetime. The sigh of relief on its completion is not that the exhausting burden is over but the achievement of something so deeply religious has been accomplished. This is as close as one can get to sharing the history of religious figures and treading the same ground as they once did and to feel respect for them by learning more about them and adopt their inner goodness.