My Hajj 2010

Bismillah Rahman aRahim

Preparations before I left Algeria

I can’t honestly say, with hand on heart, that I made going on Hajj a priority in my life – it was something that I knew I had to do, one day in the future when I was ready and had the money. By ‘ready’ I mean spoke Arabic fluently, had memorized large chunks of the Qur’an, had worked on my Iman (faith), had learnt a load of duas (supplications), and had read a lot of Islamic books.  What I learnt is that Allah decides when you’re ready, and it isn’t always when YOU think it will be.  It became a little more urgent when I realized that if my eldest child got married I would have nobody to mind my other children while my husband and I were gone, at least not without inconveniencing people and disrupting the children’s lives.  So 2 years ago I began to ask Allah to make it possible for us, but we had left it all a bit too late to organize that year.  Then a year ago I asked more earnestly and my husband broke his knee so that was most definitely the end of that.  So this year I prayed again and it was a case of trying our best and seeing how far we could get.  My husband went back to UK for Ramadan on the invitation of the Islamic community to which we had belonged, and with the intention of trying to apply to a Hajj agency there.  At the time I was under the misconception that, as I am not an Algerian citizen it was not possible for me to apply for a Hajj visa from here.  He had sought out several avenues and all to no avail.  After Ramadan, just before he returned home and when he had all but given up, a friend took him to a Somali run agency in the East of London and he applied and paid a deposit.  He had my passport with him, but took his own back to Algiers just in case he might need it on the journey.  So began the first of many hurdles along the way and the many ways that Allah helped us over them mashaAllah – he needed to get his passport back to UK within 10 days so I asked on Facebook and, mashaAllah, received several replies, and my husband was able to meet up with a friend’s brother-in-law who was returning to England and would bring it back for us, whereas another friend of my husband would collect it and bring it to the agency for us.  I really can’t count the number of people who, in so many ways, helped to make it possible for us to go on Hajj – may Allah reward each and every one of them.

So the next really big obstacle was getting our passports stamped with a Hajj visa from the Saudi embassy in London, in time for us to get our passports back here, in order to travel to the UK.  I knew that the embassy was notoriously slow in delivering visas sometimes, and had heard stories where people only received them a few days before traveling.  So we beseeched Allah in our prayers and, Subhanallah, we received news that the agency had received our passports with the visa stamped, on a Wednesday about 2 ½ weeks before the date of traveling, and a brother who was coming to Algeria on the following Friday, collected them and brought them with him.  So it looked as if, by the mercy of Allah, we were, at last going on Hajj!!!  It was only then that we started to tell people, and I wrote to just about everyone I could think of to ask them for their forgiveness for anything I might have said or done to upset or hurt them, knowingly or unknowingly.

At this point I was really happy that I was going, at last, to fulfill my last pillar of Islam, and to be a guest of Allah, a thought that always got me emotional as it reminded me that I got to go because Allah chose me, and not by anything I had done myself – a truly humbling thought.  But I had also, deep inside, if truth be told, a slight dread – of the unknown.  It is true that there are endless TV programmes about Hajj especially coming up to Hajj time, countless articles and websites online, not to mention books, some of which I had on my bookshelves but had never looked at, and then there were the experiences of those I knew who had already been, especially my husband and my eldest daughter.  So the ‘unknown’ I mean, is that of how I would be able to cope in such a totally different situation that was so completely out of my ‘comfort zone’.  Hajj is performed only once a year….. amongst millions of people who are all in the same place at the same time doing the same thing which can make for a fairly uncomfortable time physically and mentally.  But I was also worried about the spiritual side of things – would I be able to concentrate on what I was doing and why I was doing it, amongst a number of people, the amount of which my poor brain couldn’t even comprehend?   After all, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I really didn’t want to blow it, especially as it had repercussions in the next life. 

I read and re-read the books I had in my possession and asked countless questions (some of them repeatedly!) of my husband and daughter, trying to get the words like ‘Jamarat’ and ‘Muzdalifa’ to trip off my tongue easily and familiarize myself with what they meant.  There was so much to do in way of preparation – figuring out what to pack for 2 climates, UK in November and Saudi, what I needed to have and what was allowed, under the restrictions of Hajj, in my hotel room and then in Mina, and after that on Arafat and Muzdalifa.  Trying to get the house in order and put everything in its place so that the children would be able to find anything they needed.  Shopping for food and other essential items, especially buying a large quantity of heavy non-perishable goods, and filling up the freezer.  Getting the required vaccines.   Shopping for material for two hijabs and jilbab tops in the lightest material I could find and having them made up.  Not to mention reading up on Hajj, figuring out which duas to learn and learning them, asking as many people as possible about their experiences, writing to everyone and paying a farewell visit to my husband’s family.

A few days in England before traveling to Saudi Arabia

Finally on Tuesday, 2 November 2010 we left the security and comfort of our home and the company of our children for the first leg of our journey to Allah’s House, the Kaaba, in Mecca.  I had been dreading leaving the children, but again, Allah smoothed the way for me – it was 7.00 am and the children were off school due to a holiday, and were bleary-eyed and almost eager for us to go so they could go back to bed!!!!  We had left them to their own devices before for 2 weeks and this made it so much easier all round this time.  Except for my little 9 year old, whose sadness even cuddles couldn’t dissipate.  I forgot my overcoat and when I came rushing back to get it I was greeted with ‘aren’t you gone YET!!!!?’ from my ever-loving daughters, and so I left with a lot of laughter ringing in my ears!  I don’t know if I could have left them alone if we were still living in England.  In Algeria I had the support of all the neighbours, my husband’s family and my very good friends, all whom I knew would be there for my children in a flash if necessary and this really put my mind at rest and stopped me from worrying about them… at least not too much anyway!

I would have preferred not to go to the UK until just the day before we traveled to Saudi so that I would be away from the kids as little time as possible, but the agency said we had to travel at least 3 days beforehand.  This turned out to be another blessing from Allah as it gave me the opportunity to repack our bags for Saudi, buy things such as non-perfumed toiletries etc., finish a couple of the shorter booklets I had on Hajj, and I also got to see two other good friends who made up part of my Muslim family in London. My husband stayed with his niece and I stayed with a very good friend, S, who gave me one of the most invaluable pieces of advice based on her own Hajj journey – ask Allah to give you really good sisters with whom to share your room because you will spend a lot of time with them, and it will become really important that you get on with them inshallah.

Travelling to Jeddah

We were told to be at the airport at 3.00 pm on Saturday 6th November, for our flight at 8.40 pm but we decided not to leave my husband’s niece’s home until 2.30 pm which was just as well as the Etihad airline desk, with whom we were traveling, didn’t open until 4.30 pm!  When we finally got the gate number at which to wait, I made sure that I smiled at any sister that caught my eye – after all I didn’t know with which of these sisters I was going to be spending the best part of the next 3 weeks!  There was a mix-up during the booking in and we ended up on seats together but with an aisle between us!  As we got on the plane my husband spoke with the air stewardess about our seating problem.  She asked him if he spoke Arabic and, when he said he did she then explained that he could ask the stewardess near his seat number to see if she could change our seating, but that she, herself, would come by and ensure that the problem had been solved inshallah.  She turned out to be Algerian – I swear my husband could go up a mountain in Siberia and meet an Algerian!!!  The stewardess did change our seat for us and we ended up sitting together alhamdulilah.  Later the Algerian stewardess (who turned out to be the head of the cabin crew) came around to make sure we got our seats and then later again with 2 colouring sets for our children. It just goes to show that when you are Algerian you do manage to have friends in ‘high’ places!  The flight was about 7 hours long and was very comfortable – we were given snacks, a main meal and breakfast along with a pillow, blanket and earphones with which to watch a choice of the latest movies, TV programmes or documentaries.

We then had a stop-over in Abu Dhabi for about 5 hours and we waited in the large waiting lounge, prayed in the small prayer room and checked our emails on the free internet screens provided.  My husband and all the rest of the men changed into their white Ihram robes in preparation for Umrah.  A word of warning here – it’s best for the men to change into the bottom half and leave a t-shirt on with it until the cabin announcement is given that you are approaching the meeqat – one of the places around Mecca designated for getting into Ihram.  I say this because it is difficult to eat a meal in a confined space such as an airplane seat with the top of your Ihram flapping around!  AND red tomato sauce is difficult to get out of an Ihram in the confines of an airplane bathroom!  Take it from me… or rather my husband!  I can’t say that I really enjoyed this part of the journey which was relatively short at only 3 hours, even though we were given a delicious meal and the same choice of entertainment.  By this time we had been traveling all night, I was tired and my feet were still swollen from the previous flight, all of which was not very conducive to feeling very adventurous or excited about whatever lay ahead, especially as I had been warned that there was a lot of hanging about in Jeddah airport before you were able to leave to go on to Mecca. Here I would like to make a quick mention of time changes and how many we had – when we flew to London, the UK had just gone back to GMT and was one hour behind Algeria, and just as I was getting used to that time change we arrived in Abu Dhabi, to find them 4 hours ahead of UK. I had no sooner got that fact into my exhausted and drained brain when we arrived in Jeddah to find them 1 hour behind Abu Dhabi, 3 hours ahead of UK and 2 hours ahead of Algeria!! Are you still with me…because… I’m not!   I was feeling decidedly very nervous about the unknown ahead and whether I would ‘do’ Hajj properly and not make a total hash of it! We started chanting ‘Labaik Allahuma Labaik’ which nearly had me in floods of tears – the meaning is so significant – Ibrahim (AS) only made one call to prayer all those years ago when he rebuilt the Kaaba with his son Ismail (AS) – ‘O, Servants of Allah!  Come to the House of Allah.  Come from every corner of earth, either on foot or by transport.’  And in response all those centuries and millions of pilgrims later, was little old me chanting ‘Here, I am, O Allah! Here I am at Your service!......’  And again, I was reminded so forcefully of how I was here, not by any of my own doing, but by invitation of Allah – I was His guest.  Mind blowing!  No wonder I was an emotional and physical wreck by the time we arrived in Jeddah airport!  And again, Allah came to the rescue.  I felt emotional again on the bus from the airplane to the terminal when I heard all the pilgrims chanting, and could see bus load after bus load doing the same.  But I had got a grip of myself by the time I got to the Hajj terminal, and I ended up sitting separated from our group with a group of complete strangers.  While my husband ran around sorting out paperwork, I sat there calmly reading one of my Hajj books which I hadn’t finished, when I saw an official in a medical uniform coming around to check up on our vaccine information.  I showed him my small yellow book with the vaccines clearly stated and dated from the Algerian clinic, and have to admit to feeling a teensy weensy bit smug when he just handed it back to me and went on to the next person: Most people only seemed to have pieces of paper to which he looked quizzically and he handed out medication to quite a lot of people.  Obviously the Algerian clinic knew what it was doing!!!  I was dragged out of my comfortable smugness by my husband calling me urgently to go join the rest of our group who were going through the passport control.

It wasn’t that bad going through passport control – I’m sure they must have recruited the policemen from kindergarten they looked so young.  Depressing really when you realize you are old enough to have a policeman as a son!  The men had their pictures and fingerprints taken at the passport control desk and it was all done in a very calm and friendly manner alhamdulilah.

I then decided to venture into the world of Saudi Public Toilets – not bad actually as it happens.  They were all Arab style, but coming from Algeria was good preparation for that.  I really recommend that you ‘train’ yourself to use one – there are European ones in most places but usually about 2 to about 10 of the others and the queues are very long.  Many is the time I walked past the queue and went into the Arab-style type which had nobody waiting outside.  It’s not as difficult as it looks, and in my opinion is a lot healthier than using the European type one – at least everything is underneath your feet and you don’t have to twist yourself into a knot trying to avoid touching any part of it.  The main thing was that they were clean and there was somewhere to hang up your bag and any piece of clothing you might care to remove, in my case, it was my jilbab top.  Some toilets may not have hooks but you can usually hang your clothing over the door and your bag on the door latch, and I was so impressed with the toilets near the Haram in Madina – they had a little alcove within the cubicle with 2 hooks to hang whatever you wanted on it!  On the other hand the worst one was at a service stop on the road from Madina to Jeddah.  The toilet itself was clean, but there was absolutely nowhere to hang anything – not a hook, a screw or a knob, and the door lentil was too high and didn’t look too clean!  I did manage with some creative thinking with my jilbab top on and my bag around my neck!  But it wasn’t only me who remarked on how difficult it was – the friend I traveled with had the same problem!

Anyway….. back to the toilet in Jeddah airport:  I did wudu and then an Arab lady next to me corrected me - I normally wet my hands and wipe over my head, my ears AND my feet in one go – she told me to stop after I had done my ears, wet my hands and THEN wipe over my feet, which I obligingly did and thanked her with a ‘Barakallahufiki’ (with a mental note to check up on it at some future point, which I did and found that the way I had been doing it was correct).  I cannot remember if this ‘conversation’ was in Arabic (of which mine is not great, but I can manage to communicate if it’s in Fousha and on a topic I’m familiar with), English or ‘Gesture-ish’ the last of which I became really very fluent in, because it was the first of quite a few ‘conversations’ with sisters with whom I had no common language!

We retrieved our baggage and then went through a tent within the airport itself, with a desk running along either side, and it seems that this is where your passports are taken from you and you are assigned your ‘mutawaf’.  Saudi Arabia doesn’t like people to overstay their welcome and have measures in place to ensure this, during Hajj time.  Each group is assigned a Saudi official who takes control of your passports but is also available for any problems, such as getting lost.  Not long after you arrive in Jeddah you are given a wrist band with the name and phone number of your mutawaf, and if you get lost you can go to any policeman, show him your band and he should be able to contact the mutawaf on your behalf.  Your passport is returned to you just before you leave the country.

The first thing my husband did as soon as were through all the official paperwork, was to buy a sim card for each of our phones and then we swapped phone numbers.  This ability to keep in contact by phone became invaluable every time we were separated – while staying in the hotel, going into a mosque, praying in the Haram, or while we were in the tents in Mina and on Arafat. It also meant that I was able to keep in contact with my children on a daily basis which was a real comfort to me. There are two main companies – Mobily and Zain and we went with Mobily and were given a string-pull bag containing an umbrella – presumably for the sun!  The bags were very useful as they became our ‘shoe-bags’ and were light enough to be folded up and carried in my handbag when not in use.  When they contained my shoes they also made a very useful ‘sutra’.

And then we waited… and we waited… and we waited… and we dozed….. and waited.  Nobody knew for sure why, but we guessed it must have been for our bus to Mecca which finally arrived at 10.30 pm (bearing in mind we had arrived at the airport 03.35 pm local time).   A large part of the delay was because one of the senior women in our group who was partially blind and deaf and had traveled without a maharam, had lost her bag with all her money in it.  So there was a lot of going back and forth on that issue.  We then had to wait another half hour or so while they loaded our baggage on top of the bus.  Please be careful when you pack any breakables – make sure they’re well cushioned in the centre of the bag, because I saw them load another bus and bags fell on the ground…. from the top of the bus while they were loading them on.

And then we were on the road to Mecca!  The journey which normally takes only 45 minutes to an hour took 3 ½ hours.  Apart from normal traffic there were all the other buses carrying pilgrims and there were police checkpoints on the road – I think they were there to facilitate the progress of the pilgrims.  Then we came to a Pilgrim’s Welcome Centre where we were given a gift box of snacks – a small bottle of water, a carton of juice, packets of cheese biscuits, custard creams and another type of date biscuit, while the group organizer carried out more paperwork.  Then we were on the road again and stopped yet again at yet another Pilgrim’s Welcome Centre.  After this I fell asleep and woke up as we reached our hotel.

Mecca – the week before Hajj
Our apartment the top window on the left
It was now 2.30am; 5.30am English time and we were all totally drained.  I was the only European in the mostly Somali group, and knowing that men and women would be housed separately, my husband asked the organizer if I could be roomed with an English speaking sister.  He assured him and pointed to one sister who seemed friendly enough but she had spent the whole journey with much older Somali sisters, so I had my doubts.  Again, Allah answered my duas.  The building was separated into 4 floors with 2 apartments on each floor. My husband was on the 1st floor and I was on the 2nd.  As we entered the apartment most of the women went into the first bedroom on the left so I went on to the second bedroom along with a Somali sister, H, about my own age and a younger Somali sister, D, who turned out to be mother and daughter and a Pakistani sister, T.  There were 5 beds so there was one to spare.  There were at least 6 sisters in the first bedroom and immediately across a hall from our bedrooms were 2 more bedrooms which housed at least 8, maybe 10 more sisters, mostly Nigerian, but some Pakistani and 1 Emirate sister.  And all of us had to share 2 bathrooms!  The rooms were clean and carpeted and had AC alhamdulilah. 

The bathrooms were also very clean and were big enough to be like wash rooms.  Only one of them had an English toilet and that was the one on the other side of the apartment, the first one being right beside our bedroom.  So needless to say the other one became the most popular, which suited me fine!  The hall space between the two sides contained a fridge and a table with a microwave and a kettle – the last two came from UK as they had English plugs on them.  Don’t forget to bring an adaptor with you for your mobile chargers, unless you bring one from Algeria which has the same two pin sockets as Saudi.  Of course if, like me, you are going via UK then you need to account for both!
View from our apartment window (the 'mesh' effect wasn't on the window itself)
 D was about the same age as my eldest daughter and had come with her husband with whom she had been married a year, and her mother, H.  She spoke English like a native as she had been brought up in UK, her mother’s English was also very good, but what T lacked in English proficiency she more than made up for in enthusiasm!  She actually voiced what I felt when she sat on the bed, looked around her and said ‘I prayed that I would have you as my roommates!  I’m so happy to be sharing with you!”  And Allah answered my prayers too because we all got on really well mashallah.  S was so right – it makes such a huge difference to your Hajj when you have roommates with whom you get on.  The other Somali sisters in the other room were, truth to be told, also very nice, but some of them were older and didn’t speak English.  As time went on the four of us began to realize how fortunate we were to be roomed together – frequently a male relative of one of the women in the other rooms would knock on the front door of the apartment and then would go into the bedroom to chat.  Ours was the only bedroom that didn’t have a male visitor!  D’s husband and mine ‘beeped’ us on our phones whenever they wanted to talk to us, and we used to meet them on the stairs between the two floors, while T’s husband used to knock on the front door and she would go and talk to him outside.  It was awkward having the men coming in whenever they wanted as it meant we had to cover up just to go to the bathroom.  And I know that our husbands did speak to the men to ask them not to come up into the apartment… but all to no avail.  But it was ok as we at least had the privacy of our bedroom!

Umrah – the first one

So with yet another big hurdle over and sorted out by Allah -my roommates- we sat on our beds at 3.00am and tried to do justice to the Kentucky Fried Chicken-like takeaway of chicken and chips that was provided – the only food that was provided by the agency as it turns out.  I hardly ate any, as I was just too drained and also because I knew that the night wasn’t over yet – we still hadn’t done Umrah and so, my husband and 2 Algerian brothers and I went out into the early hours of the morning to find our way to the Haram.  Our hotel was a good half hour walk from it, so we flagged down a taxi, easily done at any time of the day or night during Hajj time.  Normally the price of a 5 min drive in Mecca would be 2 riyals, but it cost us 10 and that, we realized, was the norm during Hajj time……sometimes. We made our way to the Haram and into the mosque itself.  I always thought that I would get very emotional when I saw the Kaaba itself up close for the first time, but I have to be honest I felt nothing except the urge to do Umrah and go back to the hotel and collapse!  Please bear in mind that at this stage I had been traveling for 40 hours with little or no sleep and, towards the end, very little in the way of food, and with swollen legs and feet!  Much to our immense disappointment, the police wouldn’t let us do tawaf around the Kaaba, maybe because of the crowd, or maybe because it was close to Fajr prayer, so we split up with me going to sit in the women’s section and I spent the next hour and a quarter trying my best to keep awake while I alternated dihkr with nawafil prayers.  I could have just lain down on the floor which was spotless, and fallen asleep until Fajr, but then I would have had to go find the toilets, queue to do wudu and probably lose my place in the increasingly crowded mosque, AND miss the prayer.  A few minutes after Fajr prayer, there was an announcement for the funeral prayer – something I became familiar with as there wasn’t one prayer, either in the Haram in Mecca or the one in Madina, where there wasn’t a funeral prayer immediately after it.  A constant reminder to us of the transitory nature of this life, and of the number of people present. In Madina there was one funeral prayer for children.  Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) said : " Who ever attends the Janazah until it is finished, will earn a Qirat, and who ever stays until the burial, will earn two Qirats. Someone asked: What does Qirat mean ? , the Prophet answered :‘It means rewards as big as a great mountain" ( Bukhari & Muslim ).Considering the reward for praying the funeral prayer, it shocked me how many people ignored it in favour of performing nawafil prayers and I heard a camera clicking away during one of them! It really was a reminder to me to try to educate myself as much as possible in my deen so that I didn’t miss out, through ignorance, on the many blessings there are to be had in Islam!

After the funeral prayer we were finally able to make our way down the steps and around the Kaaba to where the black stone could be seen over the many heads of pilgrims, and start our Tawaf.  We made the mistake of going into the middle of the crowd instead of staying toward the outer circle and I have to be honest it was quite frightening at times.  There were people who were very determined to go across the circling crowd to touch the Kaaba and the black stone, and often, they would form a chain of people, one behind the other and act as a ramming rod through the crowd pushing anyone in their way.  Then you had those who had managed, with great difficulty to touch it, coming back out of it, sometimes looking quite traumatized, doing the same kind of ramming action to leave the crowd.  I couldn’t help but remember the saying of the Caliph and Companion of the Prophet (SAWS), Umar (RA) when he came to the Kaaba and kissed the Black Stone: ”I know you are merely a stone.  You cannot do harm or benefit.  If I had not seen the Prophet kissing you, I would have never kissed you.” (Bukhari and Muslim).  Kissing the stone or touching the Kaaba is not a requisite for Hajj – it is sufficient to point towards the Black Stone at the beginning of each round of the Tawaf.  The Haram, both in Mecca and Madina is so-called because it is haram to hurt anything or anyone in the proximity of it, and especially in Hajj.  I just couldn’t understand how people could risk invalidating their Hajj by endangering others, especially the elderly and the weak, to do something that was not even necessary.

Then there were the groups – this is where a group from one nationality or another would form a square where the men were on the outside and the women on the inside, and the men would put their hands on the shoulders of the men in front or otherwise link together and move through the crowd without mercy for anyone who stood in their way.  Sometimes you were pushed up against this group and they would get all protective of their women and I just wished I could ask them “And what do you think I am – chopped liver???”   Many people stopped dead at the Yemeni Corner and also at the Black Stone and faced the Kaaba to make dua, which also caused a lot of congestion problems. And THEN there were those who stopped dead in the middle of the packed Tawaf, behind the Makam Ibrahim to pray the 2 rakats after the completion of Tawaf, which can actually be prayed anywhere in the mosque.  There were also those who pushed and shoved to get at the glass structure, and my husband couldn’t stop himself laughing when he saw one man rubbing his back up and down against the structure!  And, as if all that wasn’t enough, just before sunrise there was a prayer for the rain, and many doing Tawaf stopped altogether to pray it so we couldn’t move until it was finished.  Talking about trial by fire!!!! Funny how you don’t see any of this kind of behaviour when you watch the seemingly serene crowd circumambulating the Kaaba on the TV! I remember saying to Allah “I wouldn’t be here, if it wasn’t to please you, and because it was something I had to do for You.”  I hadn’t learnt all the duas (there are only two really – the one said between the Yemeni Corner and the Black Stone, and the one said on Safa and Marwa after each sa’ee) and my husband would say them for me, but, to be honest, I think I would have difficulty trying to recite them anyway.  So I stuck with the one that Allah loves best anyway – “None has the right to be worshipped except Allah alone, without partner, to Him alone belongs all sovereignty and praise and He is, over all things, Omnipotent.” To be honest, Allah has made Hajj so easy that you can say any dua you like, in whatever language that’s easiest for you, and, inshallah it will be accepted.  The most important thing is sincerity and that it comes from your heart.

Then we made our way out of the scrum, sorry, the crowd and went off to pray our two rakats behind Makam Ibrahim.  With so many men and women milling around it was impossible to find a space where you weren’t in someone’s way or where you wouldn’t be trodden on.  I found a space beyond a barrier and prayed my two rakats while my husband ‘stood guard’ behind me.  To give you some idea of the state of my brain at that moment – I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember any but the first line of Surah Kafirun – a Surah I have said at least twice a day for most of the last 18 years and which I know as well as my own name! Then as my husband was going to pray, one of the security women shooed me away back behind the barrier, so instead I sat on the top step of a flight of steps to act as a sutra for my husband, avoiding the glare of a policeman who wanted me to move. After this we went to drink some Zam Zam water.  I had always been under the impression that you had to go down the steps underground to do this, but there are many areas within the mosque itself where there are taps and plastic cups to drink the water from, including near the steps up from the Kaaba, along the walkways between Safa and Marwa and up on the terraces.  We went to the nearest one, poured some over our heads and faces and drank some and said dua – mashallah it was so lovely and cold and refreshing.
We then went to Safa to start our Sa’y – the going back and forth between Safa and Marwa.  When you reach each mount you turn towards the Kaaba and say a dua – I just had to say ‘Ameen’ to my husband on this one.  After Tawaf, Sa’y was really nice – calmly walking back and forth on cool tiled floors with plenty of space, and a stop now and again to drink some Zam Zam water to refresh ourselves.  But by the time we had finished we were well and truly ‘done-in’ and went to get our shoes to go home.  This is the first and last time we left our shoes at the door of the mosque.  My husband’s sandals and my plimsolls were there but the sandals belonging to the other two brothers had disappeared, forcing them to take a pair of discarded ones to return once they had bought another pair.  We took a taxi home, had a shower and collapsed into bed, with me totally forgetting to cut a little of my hair to complete my Umrah – something I only remembered later in the day when I saw the scissors in my toilet bag! When I read my books on the subject of women cutting off their hair after Umrah and Hajj it said a ‘finger’s length’ and I frantically looked at my fingers trying to figure out which of my fingers was the smallest, as it seemed like an awful lot of hair to cut!  Alhamdulilah I finally discovered that it should have been a ‘finger’s width’ – a whole lot of difference! Especially considering that I ended up performing 2 Umrahs and 1 Hajj – I would have lost a lot of hair!

Looking back on hindsight of course it would have been better if, instead of performing Umrah on arrival, we had gone to sleep and done it later in the day, which would have meant after Isha that night as it’s too hot during the middle part of the day and too crowded during the early evening, especially considering that being in Ihram is not a difficult thing to do, and makes little or no difference to women in terms of dress etc.  I hadn’t coped with it as well as I could have, and I had some regrets that lingered long after the event. However what I didn’t realize, at the time, was how this Umrah made my Hajj a better one – I was so determined NOT to feel like this after my Hajj, and, to that end, I tried my best to concentrate on each ritual and the meaning behind it, even if it meant postponing the ritual to a quieter time, (again, something Allah allows you to do in many cases in order to make the Hajj easier for you mashallah!) so that I could give each one my best effort.

We usually prayed Duhr and Asr prayers in the mosque nearest to the hotel – Masjid Malik Ibn Abdel Azziz, a really lovely mosque located bang in the middle of a very busy intersection.  Most of the pilgrims in the area where our hotel was located were from Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Iran and Turkey with some Indonesian and Malaysian, and the mosque was always quite full for each prayer mashallah.  But it did surprise me to see that the sisters would fill up the mosque from front to back starting at the entrance, rather than along the front row and then the second and so on.  As the entrance was straight into the second last row, it made getting into the mosque a little awkward and impossible to do without walking in front of sisters who were praying.  But it also ensured that I could almost always find a place in the front or second row in which to pray which meant it was less likely for someone to walk in front of me when I was praying.  Most people just walk in front of others when they are praying without a care.  Sometimes it is unavoidable but I can’t count the number of times that someone walked between me and my sutra, even when there was plenty of space to walk around me.   I tried, as much as I could to always pray with an obvious sutra in front of me, and whenever I entered a mosque I would always go up to the front, as much as possible.  But there were times when people just whisked away my khusoo with their obvious rudeness and ignorance! Abu Juhaim reported, "Allah's Apostle said, 'If the person who passes in front of another person in prayer knew the magnitude of his sin he would prefer to wait for 40 (days, months or years) rather than to pass in front of him." Abu An-Nadr said, "I do not remember exactly whether he said 40 days, months or years." (Bukhari, book 9, No 489). The Imam in this mosque often gave a little lesson after the prayer which was probably lost on most of the pilgrims as so many of them didn’t speak Arabic.
 Masjid Malik Ibn Abdel Azziz
I loved this mosque as, after each prayer I had lots of time to myself to just pray and say dua, and I always came away with such a sense of peace.  One day after one of the prayers a sister next to me caught my eye and said ‘Arab’ meaning she thought I was one.  I told her that I wasn’t but that I was Inglezeeya, (I knew better than even to attempt Irlandia) but with no recognition on her face, I pushed on with Great Britian? No?  United Kingdom, No? UK? No?  At last in desperation I said ‘London’, and then she reacted really surprised and very happy and repeated ‘London!’  When I pointed to her she answered ‘Afghanistan’ and I was so happy to see her there after all that had happened in her country and I touched her arm in appreciation, although I did wonder to myself what she called the country that had bombed the living daylights out of hers!  Then she made a step motion with her hand that I knew instantly meant how many children I had.  When I answered 5 she answered back she had 1 and then put her hand up which meant he/she was big.  And that was it – I knew all there really was to know about this woman without one word in common, except for the names of the places we came from (ok so I don’t actually come from London, but to all intents and purposes as far as she was probably concerned Irish/English, what’s the difference!).  Another day another lady caught my eye and, again said the word ‘Arab’ in a question form to me.  I answered her negatively but this time I just said ‘London’ (having learnt my lesson by this time I dispensed with the litany of England, UK etc.  I found out much later that actually ‘Britania’ is the answer that most, if not all, people understood) and she smiled at me, and then said ‘Turkey’ pointing to herself.  Then she pointed to me and then herself after which she put her two fore-fingers together signaling to me that she and I were both the same.  I smiled and then she showed me her copy of the Qur’an, with Arabic on one side and Turkish on the other.  I then showed her my own copy with Arabic on one side and English on the other!  She rooted around in her bag until she found her glasses and then had to unwind the string from around them to look at my Qur’an and I realized with a shock – “Wow!  A Turkish version of ME!”  Another day as I was rushing up the stairs to the women’s section I saw a flash of a camera and noticed a man standing next to another flight of stairs that went further up.  When I looked I saw a couple, probably around the same age as my husband and I, sitting on the stairs, exchanging rings and smiling at the camera – they must have been getting married!

We usually had something to eat locally and went back to the hotel between the prayers.  There were some small supermarkets near the hotel where you could buy anything you needed – toiletries, food, paper cups etc and fruit.  I found some of the same labels as in UK and Algeria.  There were fast food outlets selling chicken in various forms, but we also found a lovely restaurant around the corner selling rice and kebabs.  My husband asked the owner where he was from and he replied that he didn’t think my husband would like him if he told him.  When pressed he said he was Egyptian to which my husband asked why would he have a problem with him, weren’t they all Muslim!  After that we always received a warm welcome from him and his staff and the food was delicious.  Sometimes on the road to the Haram and near the hotel men with cars would park and distribute plastic sealed cups of cool water to pilgrims with the aid of their children – these were the people who wanted to gain the blessings from Allah for treating His Guests with care, and this water was always so gratefully received in the heat mashallah.  Once we were given a bottle of laban and a chocolate milk drink – so appropriate for an Algerian and an Irish chocoholic!

After Asr prayer we made our way to the Haram where we took the escalators up to the top terrace where there was plenty of room. At the front of the terrace, immediately in front of the Kaaba there were rows upon rows of men.  At the back wall of the terrace there were rows and rows of women, and in the space in between, couples and families sat together.  We sat together and waited as dusk fell which was a beautiful sight to behold in the Arab sky mashallah, and then I got up to go and pray alongside the women.  I had heard some horror stories about praying in front of men, but found that, apart from the risk of it happening when praying the two rakats after Tawaf, I could totally avoid it. One of the first times that I prayed on the terrace the sister next to me shared her prayer mat with me and when we prayed we did so foot to foot – unfortunately a rare thing while I was on Hajj.  Most of the time the shaitaan could have danced a jig in the space between me and the sister on either side of me, no matter how close I tried to move to them both in the local mosque and in the Haram, and there were times when I felt like I was doing the splits.  I discovered through the sister’s excellent English that she was from Jordan.  Another time I sat next to a sister I thought might have been from Yemen.  My husband brought me a bottle of cool Zam Zam water and when I poured out a cup I offered her some, which she took and diluted some juice with it (with me thinking ‘what a waste!’).  She was with a few other sisters some of whom sat in front of me.  At one stage one of them sat facing me and asked me in Arabic what my country was – I said ‘London’ and immediately got a chorus of surprised “mashallah”s not only from her but from sisters sitting on either side of me.  I came to realize that, although we reverts think that we, as a group, are very numerous, and we ARE fairly big in number, we are just a teensy weensy minority of the huge world-wide population of Muslims across the globe – and there’s nowhere better than Hajj to illustrate that.
Making our way to the Haram, Mecca
My husband and I came together again after Maghrib prayer and waited until Isha prayer.  Some of the Algerian brothers left the mosque between the prayers and found they couldn’t get back in again for the Isha prayer as it was too full.   It was so wonderful and peaceful to be able to pray and say dua and read Qur’an and when you looked around everyone else was doing the same – we were all there for the same reason!  There were plastic covered bookshelves dotted around the tiled floors containing Qur’ans and these were in constant use.  After Isha prayer we made our way down and out of the mosque and, after exploring for a while, we took a taxi home.  This became our routine during the week leading up to Hajj – pray Fajr, Dhuhr and Asr locally, eat between the two afternoon prayers because the food nearer the Haram was more expensive and it was near nigh impossible to find somewhere to sit to eat, and then pray Maghrib and Isha in the Haram.  It was also extremely hot between 10am until after Asr when a lovely cool breeze accompanied us to the Haram.  We were still recovering from the journey and wanted to rest up before Hajj.  In addition people started coming down with what I came to know as The Hajj Flu. I, myself, had a sore throat and a cough but nothing serious, but some of the other sisters had it much worse. But we didn’t want to push it too much before Hajj as we wanted to be able to do all the rituals to the best of our ability.  Unfortunately some of the sisters were quite sick throughout the Hajj period.

Our second Umrah

We had been toying with the idea of doing another Umrah before Hajj.  My husband knew that there was no Umrah after Hajj (although The Prophet (SAWS) did give permission to Aisha (RA) to do so, but only because she was so disappointed about not being able to perform Hajj), and we were trying to figure out which day and time would be best.  On the Wednesday, 2 days after we arrived, my husband told me that he and the Algerian brothers had decided to perform Umrah later that night.  I was really happy at the thought of doing another Umrah and getting the chance to do it without it feeling more like an endurance test, but I was still drained from the journey and also rather apprehensive after my first Tawaf experience. In addition both my husband and I were feeling a bit headachy from the cold we had picked up.  I prayed for guidance and for courage and strength, and I knew that I had to do it with the others or it would be a huge regret for me for the rest of my life.  That day we went into the Haram after Dhuhr prayer and came back after Asr prayer to rest, praying the other prayers in the local masjid. 

We left the hotel at 11.45pm (we had planned to leave earlier but my husband’s Ihram was at the dry-cleaners around the corner and they hadn’t finished cleaning it.  In fact it was still damp when he picked it up!), and I thought that we would have great difficulty getting a taxi at that hour as we were going in the opposite direction to the Haram to leave Mecca in order to get into a state of Ihram, and I knew that was the time when all the pilgrims were leaving the Haram and the taxis would be fully occupied. Also there were 3 brothers along with my husband and I honestly didn’t think we had a hope of getting a taxi big enough for all of us.    But, Subhanallah, Allah made it so easy for us alhamdulilah.  A taxi big enough stopped not long after we came out on the road, and he agreed to bring us to the outskirts of Mecca, wait while the men had a quick shower, and then take us back to the Haram in the opposite direction, all for 14 Riyals each, all he asked was that we remember him in our duas!  We drove to Aisha’s Mosque in Tan’eem only 5 minutes away so called because it was where she (RA) had gone, along with her brother, Abdurahman ibn Abu Bakr (RA), to get into Ihram to perform Umrah.  Just before you get to the mosque is a sign saying “Haram ends here” – a reminder that wherever we were in Mecca, be it in the hotel room or the local mosque or in the Haram itself, we were in the boundaries of the Haram and our prayers and duas would be accepted as such – what a blessing!  The mosque itself is not that big and was lit up outside with a soft green light, and it wasn’t that busy that night.  The men had already had a wash at the hotel but wanted to do the ritual wash quickly in the showers provided in the mosque, so I went and prayed inside – such a peaceful feeling mashallah.  I think it really set me up for the rest of that wonderful night mashallah.
Aisha’s Mosque in Tan’eem
We made our niya to perform Umrah and then left the Mosque, and the taxi driver brought us right up to the gates of the Haram – the only time a taxi driver ever did so.  It was now 1.30am and Tawaf was quite busy, but not as packed as the first day, and so we began.  By this time I had learnt the relevant duas – the ones for entering and leaving the mosque, the dua said between the Yemeni Corner and the Black Stone, the dua said on Marwa and Safa etc.  I must stress that Allah has made Hajj easy and that you don’t have to know these duas in order for your Hajj to be valid.  But it adds so much to the spiritual dimension that I really urge people to learn them if they can, because they made a huge difference for me.  Two of them stood out as being particularly beautiful to me - The one for entering the mosque: “…….. O Allah! Open the doors of Your mercy for me.” And the one between the Yemeni Corner and the Black Stone: “O My Lord!  Give us goodness in this life, goodness in the hereafter, and save us from the punishment of the fire.”  I had also studied the rituals in detail and having performed them already, understood them much better. I was much more conscious of what I was doing and why I was doing it this time round and did feel very emotional at times… not because I was near the Kaaba but because I became so acutely conscious, even within that crowd of people circling it, that it was just Allah and me – that, in fact, that’s how life is… Allah and me, with people like my family, husband, children and friends on for the ride, but ultimately it’s just Him and me, as it will be on the Day of Judgement, and I felt extremely humbled at the thought.  I said every single dua I could ever remember in addition to the ones recommended and I also prayed fervently for everything I wanted and for everyone in my life.  I was concentrating so much on my communication with Allah that at times my husband would ask me in frustration “Why are you going out of the circle and making it so much longer????” Or why are you going straight into that group?”  In the end he put his hands on my shoulder and guided me around!  Poor man!  But he took it all in his stride and not for the first time did I realize that I would have been truly lost without him mashallah.
Inside the Haram in Mecca (before I promised not to take any photos!)
We then went to drink Zam Zam water and pray our two rakats.  This time my husband found a pillar behind which there weren’t any men praying and he prayed close to the pillar and I prayed as close as possible behind him, leaving no room for anyone to come between us.  Then we went to Mount Safa which you can see plainly just above the tiled floor as it gradually inclines – it’s just like a big rock.  At Mount Marwa you can’t see anything, and I never noticed until my husband said “Look down at what you are standing on.”  And there it was – I was actually standing on Mount Marwa which was a dark grey, uneven rock shining with the footprints of millions of pilgrims down the ages!  We stopped every now and again to drink some cool refreshing Zam Zam water.  There were attendants next to each water area, refilling the plastic cups, mopping up the spilt water and generally making it easier for us pilgrims mashallah.   People can be amazingly thoughtless though.  Some pilgrims took the water away to drink while they were walking and with the very smooth tiled floor, made it into a skating rink when they spilt it. We saw some men throwing water onto a group of women as they walked to cool them down, and then, moments later, on the other side, we saw one old man fall very hard on his back when he slipped on some water.  May Allah guide us all…. to use the brains He gave us! 

Even though I had thought of Haajar (RA) during the Sa’ee the first time I did Umrah, I was in a much more relaxed frame of mind to concentrate on her contribution to the whole experience of Hajj this time round.  I had been in Mecca long enough now to see that the town is in a valley surrounded by rocky mountains, the kind that are totally devoid of any kind of vegetation, and even the valley itself is quite harsh in terms of soil.  You could easily forget it with all the buildings that surround you but all you have to do is to look a little beyond them and you can see the rocky landscape.  I was quite surprised to see that once outside the Haram the town could be quite shabby in places, not what you expect after the glorious splendour of the Haram.  In fact just opposite the gates of the Haram is a rocky hill dotted with old, small buildings, in sharp contrast to the magnificent buildings cropping up around the Haram.   Quite often I was reminded of Algiers, which surprised me, but the view down some of the side streets reminded me of streets in Algiers, and in fact, the general overall feel of the area where our hotel was located reminded me of Algeria – comfortable but a little rough and ready!   So, having seen the landscape where Haajar found herself left alone with her baby son, Ismail, with very little to eat or drink, I was so in awe of her faith when, after asking Ibrahim (AS) several times where he was going as he walked away and left her and his little son alone, she asked him if Allah had commanded him to do it, and when he answered yes, she stopped asking him and quietly accepted her fate.  But, being a mother naturally concerned for her son’s welfare she frantically ran from Safa to Marwa in search of food, water or other human beings, and how many of us down through the years have made that same journey in her memory.  It’s strange how non Muslims consider Islam as being so anti women, and how much one of the pillars of Islam, Hajj, was so influenced by one woman in particular.  I was very conscious of her while I was making that same journey and how I yearned for just a little of the strength of her Iman mashallah.
The view opposite the gates of the Haram, Mecca
After we finished we got a taxi home and arrived back at 3.15am. I think this may have been the last time that we took a taxi home until after Hajj because the prices became extortionate – Taxis were usually driven by Meccan residents using their cars to make extra money during Hajj time, and with the throngs of people leaving the Masjid Al Haram at night, you could often see cars slowing down and cruising for customers, driving from one group to the next trying to get the best price, and charging anything from 50 to 100 riyals!  Quite a hike up from 2 don’t you think!  Their driving, also, left a lot to be desired and I found myself feeling homesick for the Algerian drivers who drove beautifully in comparison – yes, that BAD!  Alhamdulilah the ride into the Haram was quite quick so we didn’t feel the full force of the driving abilities of the driver, but the one who brought us to Aisha’s Mosque weaved in and out of traffic at a terrifically fast rate – I call it my ‘white knuckle ride’! One day we saw this poor old man trying his best to cross the busy Masjid Al Haram road which had 3 lanes of constant traffic going in the one direction.  Nobody would slow down and let him cross and he kept trying and then turning back while the traffic whizzed by.  My husband went out and put his hand up to stop the traffic and took the man to join his friends sitting on the grass under the shade of a tree on the other side.  My Hero!  But for all the faults of Algerian drivers any person crossing the road would never have been left in that position, especially if he was old.  And how the Meccan drivers LOVED their horns, and there was always a cacophony of beeps to accompany our walk all along the road to the Haram, all the time, day or night, for no obvious particular reason other than because…. they could. We considered ourselves very fortunate to be within waking distance of the Haram and also to be fit enough to walk the distance.  It was a really lovely walk and we both enjoyed it in the late hours of the night or the early hours of the morning.  They say that New York is a city that never sleeps, well during Hajj time, so too is Mecca!  It didn’t matter what time you were coming back from the Haram you could buy food as most food outlets were open as were chemists and fruit stalls.  This time I remembered to cut my hair before I had a wash, which I was able to have without anyone knocking on the door which was a welcome change!
The road between our apartment and the Haram, Mecca
The next day both my husband and I were on a high from the Umrah the previous night.  We followed our usual routine by praying Dhuhr and Asr locally and going into the Haram for Magrhib and Isha.  It appears that, although there are no signs anywhere either outside or inside the mosque to say that no cameras are allowed this is, in fact the case. The police had a really tough job dealing with pilgrims who totally ignored them and did the most stupid things which totally inconvenienced other pilgrims.  There were security women at the door of the mosque totally covered from head to toe in black, but because I hardly ever went in there (security at the escalators going up to the terrace was almost non existent and there was no security at all at the entrance onto the terrace itself) I never had any experience with them.  One night after Eid when we wanted to do the Tawaf for Hajj we went into the mosque on the ground floor.  I always wore my handbag around my neck and shoulder and under my jilbab top so you couldn’t always see it, but this time I lifted up the bottom of my jilbab top to remove my shoe bag from my handbag before entering the mosque.  The security woman, having seen my bag from the distance, asked to see in it and when she searched it she found my camera and immediately took it out and told me that it was forbidden to bring it into the mosque.  She was very calm and good mannered about it,  and my husband and I were trying to figure out what we could do with it, when she put it back in my bag as a favour to me and told me not to take any photos.  I was so grateful to her mashallah and I kept my word and didn’t take any photos.  In the mosque in Madina they were even stricter and you had to queue to get past security and they were looking in the main for mobile phones with cameras.  Only once did the woman spot my handbag and asked me for my mobile phone which I showed her as it didn’t have a camera.  What she didn’t know was that I also had a camera inside the bag.  After that I usually tried to leave the camera in the hotel or my friend’s car because it just wasn’t worth the hassle, or else we resigned ourselves to perhaps having to pray outside which was rather nice anyway.  My friend was visiting us while we were in Madina and needed her phone to contact her husband who was with mine and also her children, so she decided to put  it in the palm of her left hand under her glove (just in case the security woman decided to shake her right hand!).  We did have a bit of giggle one night on leaving the mosque when her left gloved hand lit up!
One of the side roads near our apartment
But I had nothing but sympathy for the security women when I saw how some pilgrims just walked past them and looked at them as if they were something they dragged in on their shoes.  At one door of the mosque in Madina there were two women checking bags and a third one trying to make the pilgrims form an orderly queue which was only fair.  But the number of pilgrims who just walked past the rest of us and totally ignored the security woman was unbelievable.  Some old ladies just argued and harangued the women to try to get inside with their phones.  To be honest, it was ridiculous to expect people not to try to get inside the mosque with their phones as there were no signs anywhere stating their forbiddance, or anything in the pre-Hajj literature either for that matter, and most of us needed our phones in order to keep in contact with our husbands or other mahrams when we were separated.  And then we often wanted to take photos of other places once we left the mosque so we wanted our cameras with us.  To give them their due, the security women were mannerly and patient but firm, and one was in a fit of giggles checking my bag as she listened to an old lady arguing with her fellow security woman.  One sister whom I asked about the opening times to visit the Rowda and the Prophet’s grave (more on that later!), told me that it would be opened after Taraweeh!!!  And then corrected herself and said after Isha prayer – she obviously was exhausted, and it was also during the hottest part of the day!   One day at the Madina mosque, I was outside the mosque waiting for my friend to finish praying Maghrib.  A lot of women prayed on the cool, clean tiles outside the mosque and the security women cordoned off areas so that there were walkways between the groups so that women could walk without getting in the way of those praying.  The number of women whom I saw just putting their prayer mats down in the middle of these walkways to pray was unbelievable and it was up to the poor security women to move them and sometimes extend the cordoned areas to accommodate them.  Their job and that of the policemen was mainly to ensure that pilgrims didn’t inconvenience other pilgrims, and to that end they worked really hard and got a lot of abuse in doing so.

To be honest some pilgrims acted badly not out of arrogance or rudeness but out of fear.  When you see some of them, and not just old people either, trying to negotiate the escalators and obviously absolutely petrified of getting on and off them, you realize how terrifying it must be for them to be in such strange surroundings and with so many people from such totally different backgrounds.  There were people there who came from poorer, less well developed countries, and probably from the countryside or desert, who hadn’t had much contact with the outside world, and for whom the whole experience must have been really difficult.  And often people can act aggressive when they feel threatened, as I was to find out for myself later on!  Some people clung on to each other for fear of losing each other, but I must admit it was rather nice to see so many people walking around hand in hand looking very relaxed mashallah, and not just young people either, but quite a lot of older couples too!  And it wasn’t always necessarily within the boundaries of the mosque, but most couples walked hand in hand all the time whether there were crowds or not.
Looking towards Mina
H and D were going to Jeddah that night to visit family, and T was staying with friends also that night so I had the whole room to myself which gave me a chance to wash some clothes and prepare a bag for our impending trip to Mina. Clothes washing facilities in the hotel were rather limited.  We used the dry cleaners for our clothes once and, although they smelt lovely and clean and fresh with the added bonus of having them returned pressed, there were stains which the steam obviously could not remove, so we only used them again for my husband’s Ihram after Eid.  I then washed our clothes as we used them, in the large sink in the bathroom, usually at the same time as I had a wash.  It was difficult trying to find a quiet time when the bathroom wasn’t in much demand but I found doing it in the early hours of the morning before collapsing into bed after coming in from the Haram, or the afternoon just after lunch especially on a Friday were the best times.  After letting the bigger garments to drip a while in the bathroom (there were no washing lines so we had to make do with taps and pipes), I then gave my husband his clothes to hang around in his bedroom and I hung my hijab and jilbab top over the room door, or on a hanger (received with the dry cleaning) on the handle of the window, while hanging my t-shirts, leggings, pyjamas and socks on the bars at both ends of my bed.  I brought enough underwear so as not to have to wash them there.  With the four of us washing clothes we always managed to share the door for hanging the big garments.  Alhamdulilah the weather was so warm and with the AC the clothes dried very quickly.  We discovered a washing machine in the basement after a few days, but this was in great demand and was the kind that you had to stay with it in order to change the water to rinse the clothes etc. so I never used it.  I had brought a couple of tubes of travel wash with me but, in fact, the local shops sold small boxes of washing powder which would have done the job also.  The women in the other rooms not only hung their own clothes up, underwear and all, but also those of their mahrams, (minus the underwear thankfully!) so there was a huge demand for hanging space with sisters using the bathroom doors, the door in the hall and even the front door for hanging up clothes.  Not to mention the demand for the bathroom while all this washing was going on.  I think this was the main problem with the accommodation… that there just wasn’t enough bathrooms for the women especially bearing in mind that we all had so much clothes washing to do, which the men didn’t have.  Alhamdulilah we four kept to our own bedroom and, mashallah, always managed to co-operate so that we all got our clothes washed and dried without much problem.  The night that I had the room all to myself I noticed a camis I didn’t recognize in a distinctive colour and design hanging over our bedroom door.  A few nights later it passed us as we walked home from the Haram… on the form of a Nigerian brother!

The days of Hajj -  8 Dhul Hijja,  Sunday, 14 November 2010,  Mina

On the 7th of Dhul Hijja we had been in Mecca for 5 days, and we decided to take it easy for the day in preparation for the 1st day of Hajj, and the early start for Mina the next morning.  It was difficult to get any sleep that night with the sisters coming and going and trying to get their stuff together, having showers in preparation for getting into Ihram etc.  One Somali sister I had not seen before joined us in the room and took the free bed. After some fitful dozing on my part, we finally made our way down to the waiting bus at 2.00am.  We had been told that the women would be going to the tents first and then the bus would return for the men.  I was feeling really nervous and very edgy at this stage – the days of Hajj had finally arrived.  All the previous days had been a build up for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform my last pillar of Islam and have all my sins forgiven.  The early hours of the morning and lack of sleep were not conducive to my emotional well-being and I was feeling uncomfortable about going to Mina (and the unknown) without the support of my husband at my side.  When I got on the bus I saw that there were, in fact, some men on there and I turned to my husband and asked him to hurry and have a wash, get into Ihram and come with me.  The poor man had only woken up from his sleep in order to see me off on the bus.  With all the going back and forth of people getting on and then getting off again, I saw my husband still wasn’t in Ihram and I panicked and begged him to go and get ready and come with me. A few days later D remarked that she couldn’t believe it was me shouting at my husband! Not my proudest moment I must admit!  But the experience gave me an insight as to why some pilgrims behaved badly out of fear and helped me to be more patient and understanding of them.  Meanwhile any men sitting on the bus were told to get up and let the sisters sit down and I could see that the bus was filling up with women.  The men were allowed to stand, but it was a difficult journey for them, as the driver didn’t know his way to Mina and we had to keep stopping to ask for directions, then when we reached Mina (much quicker than I expected, in about half an hour) we had to drive along a one-way system past all the tents and then back up again in the opposite direction.  Then there was the small matter of actually finding our tents in this huge city of tents and finally we got off the bus at around 5.00 am, Fajir time.  I must admit that my first sight of the tent city laid out before me for miles and miles under the Arab night sky was an amazing sight – the white tents all had domed tops that rose to a point and were softly lit by street lights.
The tent city of Mina
The tent I went into was already full of sisters and there was no space near H, D and T so I went into the next tent and found the last available space near the door-flap of the tent, and wearily put my sleeping bag down and waited for my husband so that we could go to the toilets together to do wudu and pray Fajr.  The tent was full of non-English speaking Somalis, and I felt so lost and lonely knowing that I would be spending the best part of Hajj with them. When I say ‘full’ that was exactly what it was – we were wall to wall bodies with women all around the edge of the tent AND down the middle.  This was a really low point for me.  I really felt disappointed in myself for lacking the courage to just come on the bus on my own and then I was feeling so exhausted and not really ready for the rudimentary accommodation of the tent.  It was made of heavy canvas and, in fact was a huge tent with the wall divisions, also made of canvas, rolled down to make smaller ‘rooms’ or tents.  There were thick carpets on the floor, edge to edge to cover the sand underneath, and, although not dirty they could have done with a good hoover!  (A hoover….. in a tent….. in Mina…. On Hajj – guess who’s not the camping type!).  They all had Air Conditioning alhamdulilah.

The toilets were grouped together and already there were huge queues.  The women’s toilets had an outside wall that ran along in front of the toilets so at least you had some extra privacy from the main walkway where both men and women passed by.  The wall extended around the corner to where the wudu area was but there was an entrance at both ends of the wall where anyone passing by could see into the wudu area and see the women making wudu.  I was quite shocked at this lack of privacy and only ever removed my hijab to do wudu when there was a big queue of women as they totally blocked the entrances and nobody could see in then.  There were about 10 toilets with an English toilet at either end, and the rest being the Arab style ones, with a shower head above as well as the shower hose below for the toilet. And there were 3 groups of these toilets in our section which had to cater to all the European camp.  I think I had been really dreading these but they weren’t as bad as I expected.  It was true that there were queues most of the time, especially coming up to the prayer times.  During the day it didn’t help that some people had showers which reduced the number of toilets available.  Then there were the women who washed clothes under the 5 taps available for wudu.  To be fair though, most of them were considerate enough to beckon me to come and do wudu while they washed their clothes underneath. I found that I had to get up at 3.00am in order to beat the queues (and even then there were queues), so that I could make wudu for the Fajr prayer at 5.00am. But they did move surprisingly quickly especially at that hour of the morning and, on the bright side, some of my most interesting chats took place in these queues!  Once I was waiting for H outside the toilets and a sister came up and asked me if I was Arab (again!).  When she realized I spoke English she started to talk to me in a mixture of English and French and she told me that she was of Moroccan descent but had been brought up in Paris and was on Hajj with her mother, brother and sister.  We talked for a little while and then she gave me a warm kiss on each cheek and we parted company.  Another time a sister in the queue beside me waiting for a toilet caught my eye and asked me if I was Arab, and when I replied I was actually Irish, she exclaimed that she had worked with a lot of lovely Irish nurses in London.  She, herself was a nurse, of Asian origin, born in Scotland, and brought up in Mombassa, Kenya.  I never ever saw any of these or any other sisters that I had made a brief connection with, ever again!
View from the tent city of Mina
After finally praying Fajir , I collapsed onto my sleeping bag and fell asleep, but not before I had given myself a bit of a pep talk (in my head of course!)and reminded myself why I was there in the first place.  The sister lying next to me didn’t speak any English but she was very kind and that made me feel a little more at home.  At 10.00am I was woken by D urging me to pick up my stuff quickly as they had found another tent that was empty where we could be together again.  Just as I was picking up my stuff, my husband came to say the same thing.  I entered the tent where only H and D had laid down their mattresses, then they went looking for T to ask her, and then she and another Pakistani friend of hers joined us.  Then the sister who had joined us in the hotel came in along with the sister who had been so kind to me in the tent previously. Later one of the older sisters came in and joined us, which made up to a comfortable number of 8.  It transpired that the Algerian brothers, including my husband, had spent the entire morning since Fajr rearranging the brothers’ tents, which meant moving brothers out of this tent and into another one, to make room for us mashallah.  Also, the men who had remained in the hotel had a far nicer and quicker ride to the tents than we did, being able to sleep for longer in the hotel, having seats on the bus and not taking so long.  But if my husband had waited to come with these brothers, we both know that he would not have been able to rearrange the tents and we women would have spent a very cramped time on Hajj.  So even here Allah helped in making my Hajj easier subhanallah.  I was with my friends from the hotel, sisters I had come to know and who spoke English, and, though the tent was no different to the first one I had spent the night in, suddenly it seemed like home!  We prayed the prayers of a traveler – 2 rakats for the 4-rakat prayers, but not together, with each prayer said at its prescribed time as indeed we had been praying in the hotel room since we arrived.  We dozed, trying to recover from the night’s adventures and in preparation for the next day on Arafat.  At one stage during the afternoon I woke up to find another 6 Somali sisters had moved into our tent – sisters I had never seen before.

It wasn’t until after hajj had finished that I realized who all these sisters were and where they had come from.  The sister who had joined us in our hotel room lived in Dammam, in Saudi, and had come on Hajj with her son who joined the men downstairs.  She only stayed with us for the Hajj nights and left the hotel soon after.  She slept beside me in the tent, and beside her was the kind sister from my first night in Mina who also lived in Saudi.  The 6 sisters who joined us were from Mecca and had been given another tent without any AC so they had asked to move into our tent.  Two of them left soon after and the other 4 were a mother and her 3 daughters and this was their 7th Hajj. Although they couldn’t speak English they were able to communicate with H and D in Somali, and I discovered that I did have a little Arabic – enough to get through the basics with them.  One of the daughters taught Islamic studies in a school in Mecca.  Although now the tent held 12 we all got on really well.  The older sister who had joined us from the other tent seemed a bit wary of me….. until I sussed her love of bananas and offered her one.  She was very warm and friendly towards me after that, although she didn’t speak English or Arabic and I didn’t speak Somali.  D did ask me after a few days if I had picked up any Somali and I told her the only thing I had learnt was “Ay-wah” something they said a lot when talking on the phone, usually in answer to something someone said on the other side.  I think this is probably something more the Saudi Somalis said as I think it may be a Saudi thing.  But I told D that, although I didn’t speak Somalian, I had been with them all so long now that I actually FELT Somali!  Although it was now a bit of a tight squeeze in the tent, we all got on so well and were so considerate of each other that it worked out well for us alhamdulilah.

I knew that the conditions in Mina would be basic and, after all, we were on Hajj which was all about my relationship with Allah and had little to do with the comforts of this life.  However the whole experience taught me that you can cope with any conditions as long as you have the company of good sisters mashallah.  There was room to stretch out and sleep when necessary, and the sisters were usually either sleeping also, or considerate enough to talk in low voices when others were sleeping.  We were all there for the same reason and, although we sometimes chatted, it was almost always about the Hajj itself - if we had been separated for a while we would catch up once we got together again, or else we would discuss the next step on our Hajj while referring to our books. (I had brought a wonderful Hajj guide in flip-book form but, as it was heavy I had left it in the hotel.  D had brought hers so I borrowed it and wrote out the duas recommended in it to say on Arafat the next day.)  But most of the time was spent in Dhikr or napping, with the occasional stop for a bite to eat.

Food was cooked in the camps and could be easily bought – it consisted mostly of rice and chicken, but you could buy flat bread also and there were small stalls selling small tins of tuna, soft cheese, biscuits etc.   There were also stalls selling fruit and tea.  I know that I am rather an anomaly in that I lose my appetite in the heat and find I can go long periods on very little to eat (not the same with sleep though!), much to H and D’s consternation – back in the hotel on the afternoon of Eid Day, T bought some chicken and rice and, as we were the only ones in the room, she insisted on waking me from a nap to share it with her, which I gladly and gratefully did.  D came in as we were eating and commented that it was the first time she had seen me eating!  She and her mother bought food to share in the hotel room and usually bought enough to share with anyone else in the room, along with teabags, milk, paper cups and plates, cold drinks etc. etc.  My only contributions were fresh Danish pastries, fruit and biscuits which I usually bought on the way back from the Haram. In the entrance to the hotel there was a huge urn full of hot water and teabags, milk, sugar and cups were always provided mashallah.  But as I usually ate outside with my husband they assumed I didn’t eat at all!!!  In the tent I was quite content with cups of tea provided by my husband (usually a call of “Umm Omar” from outside the tent then a hand with a cup of tea would appear in the flap!) and something light to eat – fruit or biscuits.  One night I offered my biscuits to the sister from Dammam who looked at it, then at me with pity and then offered me some ‘real’ food – some bread and some cheese, which I politely declined.  Then D started laughing and said that all the sisters in the tent had noticed that I never ate (biscuits and fruit don’t count!), and were concerned for me and they also thought I was very quiet!  Yes…. Me……. Quiet!  Just goes to show you CAN fool quite a lot of the people a lot of the time.  Of course it did help that I didn’t speak any common language with most of them.  But it goes to show that, contrary to public opinion, I can actually shut up and be quiet for long periods of time!!!!

One of the Pakistani sisters had done Hajj 25 years previously when she was pregnant with her first child and, once we all got over the shock of her being old enough to have a child that age as she looked much younger mashallah, we were interested in hearing how basic things were then, although, also a lot quieter as not as many people were able to go on Hajj in those days.  It’s strange how, when we think of Hajj we always think in terms of the Kaaba, and yet, we spend the vast majority of time of the Hajj in a tent in Mina.  Only a few hours out of the whole 5 or 6 days are spent near the Kaaba.   My main memories of the time spent in that tent were of the wonderful company of those lovely sisters, and the time I had, to spend in praying to Allah and asking Him for everything I ever wanted, both for myself and for others, and reading His Word.  It’s hard to believe but that tent became ‘home’ to me, and I remember remarking to myself how strange it was to feel so comfortable about sleeping nose-to-nose with someone I didn’t even know existed 10 days previously!  Each tent had it’s own water dispenser which contained Zam Zam water and it usually contained enough to last the day and was replenished daily. 

The first night on returning from the toilets I opened the flap of the tent and was about to enter when I noticed that, instead of there being a lot of black bodies (almost all of us sisters in our tent wore black hijabs) in the tent, they were all white……ihrams – yup, I had almost entered the men’s tent.  A brother did much the same thing in our tent a few days later much to all of our amusement, and my husband told me that one of the sisters had actually entered the tent and was looking around her before it dawned on her that she had entered the men’s tent!  My daughter had advised me to bring two things that proved very valuable in the tent – non-scented baby wipes which I used to freshen up but also to clean my fingers and save me having to traipse to the toilets every time I ate something, and a light scarf which I changed into that was cooler than my jilbab top and easier to manage with in the tent, and also for sleeping in.   The flaps of the tent were not very reliable and with sisters coming in and out there was very little privacy so you needed to be covered at all times.

The days of Hajj -  9th Dhul Hijja, Monday, 15 November 2010, Arafat

The first night in the tent we repacked our bags yet again.  My husband and I had agreed, along with the Algerian men in our group to walk to Arafat the next morning, on the 2nd day of Hajj, after sunrise, and we had planned to walk from there to Muzdalifa where we hoped to stay the night until sunrise.  Meanwhile the rest of the group were going to travel to Arafat by bus and then on to Muzdalifa by bus, staying for a while and then returning to Mina by bus. So I was bringing my sleeping bag but trying to travel as light as possible knowing I was going to have to carry it, while the sisters had little to bring as they were not going to be staying in Muzdalifa all night.   As we walked out of Mina we saw our bus – the groups all had a bus allocated to them and our number was 27.  It was already full of people I had never seen before.  As the men gathered around the door of the bus a man on the bus saw me, and I being the only woman, beckoned me onto the bus.  Of course my husband had to come with me being my mahram and the other Algerians had to come with him….. to keep HIM company!  I got the last seat on the bus and we arrived in Arafat at 7.00am, one of the first bus loads to arrive.
Pilgrims on Mount Arafat at 7.00am
It was already getting quite hot and there was a haze over the plains of Arafat, but you could see the mount of Rahmah in the distance already covered in white – how those pilgrims got there so fast I don’t know.  There were tents on different levels with stairs between the levels, and these tents were more like Bedouin tents with heavy material on the sides and on top, held up by bamboo canes, and thin rugs scattered here and there on the sand.  There was also a water container in the corner.  When we found our tent it was very big, but then they divided it down the middle with more heavy material to separate the men and the women in our group.  I was the first in the tent and, after finding where the nearest toilets were (much the same layout as in Mina) I sat down and spent the time saying dhikr.  Soon after the sisters in our group arrived and we sat together.  But then more and more sisters arrived until the women’s section of the tent was absolutely packed. There was a group of Somali sisters I had never seen before sitting near me and I heard them speaking in English to a sister whom I thought had a North African accent.  Of course I had to let my curiosity get the better of me and I finally asked her where she was from and she told me she was Libyan, and she thought I was Iranian!  Afterwards my husband told me that he had met her husband and he was just finishing up his contract with the Libyan Embassy in London and was due to return to Libya, and had thought that, as it was much easier to go on Hajj from England with so relatively few in number applying for visas in comparison to his native Libya, he and his wife had decided to do it before he returned to his native country.  By 10am it was very hot outside and I found that I needed to use an umbrella to go out to the toilets. I managed to have a doze before we prayed Dhuhr and Asr prayers together.  The sisters all prayed in separate groups and when we had prayed Dhuhr, our little group all got up until I asked them if they were going to pray Asr. There was some discussion and just as I was going to get out my trusty Shaikh Bin Baz book on ‘Hajj, Umrah and Ziyarah’ one of the women agreed and we all prayed Asr prayer immediately after Dhuhr.  I was very disappointed that the khutba from the Namirah mosque was not electronically piped into the tents so, while those of us actually on Arafat on the day were unable to listen to it, those thousands and thousands of miles away could listen to it on their televisions.
Our tent on Arafat
My husband and I had agreed that we would stay in the tent until after Asr time when it would become cooler, and then go nearer to the Mount of Rahmah, before heading towards the boundaries of Arafat nearer to Maghrib, in preparation for our walk to Muzdalifa.  He bought some rice and chicken which I shared with him outside in the heat as we watched bus load after bus load drive past with people sitting on top of the buses.  From our vantage point you could see for miles across the plains of Arafat, over tents and trees to the Mount of Rahmah and also to the spires of the Namirah mosque.  Dotted all around were the big yellow signs indicating that we were within the boundaries of Arafat. Knowing that ‘The best supplication is the one on the day of Arafat’ I spent my whole time in the tent making dhikr – I had my small dua book “The Fortress of the Muslim” and also the Bin Baz book I mentioned earlier which contained some beautiful duas, and as my Arabic reading is quite slow especially when I have to keep referring to the English translation so I know what I’m saying it took me a lot of my time and concentration -  and I took out the list I had made of all those people who had asked me to say duas for specific reasons, and I prayed for them all and also those who hadn’t asked me to pray for them at all.  I felt that this time was so precious that I needed to use it to the fullest to get maximum benefit from it.
The plains of Arafat with Namirah Mosque in the background
The days of Hajj - Muzdalifa

After Asr there was a lovely breeze and it was actually a lot cooler outside the tent than inside.  My husband called me to get ready to go and when I met up with him he was with the Algerian brothers.  They had increased by two as one of the brothers’ uncle was in the Algerian camp and had come to join his nephew and brought a friend along, both of whom were much older than the rest of us.  As we climbed down the stairs from the tent I realized that we were going in the opposite direction to the Mount of Rahmah and asked my husband why we weren’t going there.  He told me that the brothers wanted to be at the boundary of Arafat in time for Maghrib in order to be some of the first to leave Arafat and start on the journey to Muzdalifa.  I was SO disappointed as I really had wanted to stand closer to the Mount of Rahmah and experience the atmosphere along with the other pilgrims.  But as I walked away from it I thought of how good Allah had been to me, how much He had ‘looked after me’, how much I had to be so grateful for, and I felt churlish for being disappointed, especially when I realized that, if He willed I would have gone to the Mount of Rahmah.  So, clearly I had to accept His Will, not to mention appreciate His Mercy on allowing us to spend the heat of the day under cover.  As I looked back over the wide tarred road I could see the many pilgrims already getting ready to leave the plains of Arafat.
Leaving Arafat
We stood just behind and beneath one of the signs that stated ‘Arafat Ends Here’ – if we stepped beyond it before the sun set, our Hajj would become null and void and we would have to fast the rest of the time until Maghrib like those who voluntarily fasted in their homes.  That was another one of those special times for me as I stood, or sat on my rolled up sleeping bag, and prayed all the duas I knew, read the ones I didn’t know and also asked Allah for all the things I wanted and prayed for all those I knew, trying to make the most of those precious moments as I watched the sun slowly set over the hills beyond the plains of Arafat.
Waiting on Arafat for the sunset
Just after sunset they opened the barriers across the road and allowed us through and as we walked we were greeted with a lovely aroma of spiced rice which emanated from large tin foil containers set on the walls along the road.  Some pilgrims just stuck their hands in as they walked by and ate whatever handful they could manage, and I saw one man later carrying a whole container on his head.  We did not partake of this bounty but instead ploughed on to Muzdalifa.  As we walked with so many in front and behind us I looked on either side of me across the scrubland and saw two more roads of people snaking their way to Muzdalifa and I was very surprised to see so many people already on the march.  The road was wide and evenly tarred and it was easy to walk, especially with the beautiful cool breeze that accompanied us mashallah, which also made it easier to concentrate on saying dua as we walked.  I had been dreading Muzdalifa for one reason only – everyone told me that there were no toilets there and I was afraid to eat or drink too much for that very reason.  Also I heard that when others had been ‘caught short’ in the past (nobody I knew I hasten to add) they had to resort to relieving themselves around the outskirts of Muzdalifa… in the open.   As we walked we would come across some toilets and I would look at my watch to gauge how far I would have to walk to go to a toilet once we reached Muzdalifa!   All along the road were people selling fruit, tea, snacks etc.  I was the only woman in the group and, somehow got it into my head that maybe the other men in the group didn’t approve of me being there and walking with them, especially the older two from the Algerian camp.  I don’t know where I got this idea from as there was nothing in their actions to suggest it.  After leaving Arafat at 6.00pm we finally arrived in Muzdalifa at 9.00pm having stopped here and there for toilets and food.  There was one little kiosk just inside Muzdalifa where they were handing out these lovely dark blue velvet bags with a gold string-pull on it – my husband took two and much to our amusement we discovered that they contained STONES – to use at the Jamarat.  Some of the pilgrims passing by were disgusted when they saw my husband emptying the bags onto the ground, but part of the Ibadah of the stoning the Jamarat is to pick the stones yourself, and the first lot must come from Muzdalifa and we had no guarantee that these had come from there.  Much to my sheer delight I discovered that there are now toilets in Muzdalifa – another hurdle over, another sign of Allah’s Mercy.  They were much the same as in Mina and Arafat but THEY WERE TOILETS.  And during the night I even discovered that near the wudu area they had sockets where you could recharge your mobile phone!  If nothing else, Hajj helps you to appreciate the smaller things in life!

We met up with a friend of my husband (yup, you guessed it… another Algerian along with his friend) and we found a quiet corner in a car park beside a bus.  After confirming with the bus driver that he wasn’t going to be moving before Fajr, we laid out our sleeping bags on the ground with me safely ensconced between the ever-expanding group of Algerian men and the bus. We prayed Maghrib and Isha prayers together, and then I had a few biscuits and a small carton of juice and lay down and promptly fell asleep, only to be wakened at midnight with the call of “Haji, Haji” in the far off distance.  From the time you arrive in Mecca you become accustomed to hearing this call, from policemen, shop vendors, and anyone you have any dealings with.  After some time I realized that I wasn’t dreaming and that someone was actually calling us to move as the buses had finally arrived from Arafat and were queuing up to park.  I remember lying there feeling so tired and thinking “Oh let them park around me, I don’t mind.”  But we got up and moved our sleeping bags to a piece of waste land near the bus park and also near the toilets where I fell back to sleep after some time.  It transpired that the others in our group who waited on Arafat for the bus to take them to Muzdalifa didn’t arrive until midnight, and then had to wait out in the open for a few hours before the bus took them back to Mina, which was quite an ordeal for a lot of them especially as they hadn’t come prepared to stay any length of time there.  About 3 weeks after Hajj and about a week after we returned to Algeria my husband met someone else who had been on Hajj and who also had walked the distance to Muzdalifa, but who had to sleep on the road as it was so crowded and they couldn’t get into the area where we were, so again, with the Mercy of Allah we had it easier.  And who knows if I had gotten my way and gone onto the plains of Arafat and left the area later the same fate could have waited for me?  If only I could always be patient with what Allah decrees for me and realize that he ALWAYS knows what’s best for me.

The days of Hajj – 10th Dhul Hijja, Tuesday 16 November 2010,  Eid Al Adha

At 4.00am on Eid day my husband woke me to do wudu and to be ready for Fajr prayer which we prayed where we slept, along with the Algerian brothers.  Afterwards my husband got me a cup of tea and a Madeline cake, and then I started making my dua which I would have been quite happy to do until sunrise, except the brothers wanted to go to the boundary of Muzdalifa to be ready to move to on to Mina once the sun rose. After collecting our 7 stones each, we rushed between parked buses and buses moving off, between rough terrain and the road, not to mention wheelchairs and I found it very difficult to concentrate on saying any dua at all.  I must admit to feeling as if we were rushing through the rituals rather than making the very most of each one, but, again, had to accept the Qader of Allah.  The walk from Muzdalifa to Mina was relatively short having left the spot where we slept at around 5.30am and reaching our tent at 7.00am and, in fact one seemed to run into the other as the city of tents just seemed to go on and on for miles to see.

When we arrived back the brothers decided that they wanted to stay put and sleep and then stone the jamarat later in the day.  They had no intention of going back to their hotel.  But I, on the other hand, had been in the same clothes for 3 days and nights now and was absolutely itching (metaphorically speaking of course!) to shower and get out of Ihram partially at least.  It was easy for the men to go and have a shower but, for me, the thought of trying to undress and dress again in the tiny cubicle of a toilet with women banging on the door was too much of an ordeal, so my husband agreed that we would continue on to stone the Jamarat and then go on to our hotel in Mecca.  There are three things that partially release you from Ihram – stoning, sacrificing an animal and cutting your hair in the case of a woman, shaving it off in the case of a man.  We had already paid, as a group, for the sacrifice of the animal which was to be done that morning, so once we had stoned the Jamarat, which on the day of Eid was only the Big one, we could then walk back to the hotel and cut/shave our hair and be free from Ihram except for personal relations which couldn’t take place until after we had performed Tawaf and Sa’ee.  We had decided to postpone the Tawaf and Sa’ee until after our time in Mina was finished.  We were both so physically exhausted and knew that we couldn’t perform them to the best of our ability in our present condition, not to mention the fact that we soon received a text from the Hajj Ministry in both Arabic and English telling us not to go to the Haram as it was too packed.  As we walked with the throng of people making their way to the Jamarat I thought of Ibrahim when he took his son to sacrifice him in obedience to Allah’s request, and how he stoned shaitan, when he came to him to try and dissuade him from doing Allah’s will. There are huge tunnels through which you have to walk in order to get to the Jamarat and each one has massive fans in the ceiling that make a very loud racket as you’re walking.  I bumped into another sister who was walking with her husband and I put my hand up in a gesture to show I was sorry.  She smiled at me and then reached over and squeezed my hand and then she was gone! It’s funny how you can feel such a strong connection with someone you bump into and will never meet again!  At least….. not in this life. We got lost and did twice the amount of walking before we finally found our way up and around to the 3rd floor of the Jamarat, a walk we later found that could be totally by-passed by escalators.  The walkway up was very wide and led up and into what looked like an empty multistory carpark.  When I saw the big green sign that read “Small Jamarat” I thought to myself that we must be near it, not realizing that we were actually passing it!  It was the same grey colour as the rest of the space except that it was made of stone bricks and not cement, it went right up to the ceiling and there was a small low wall all the way around the width of it. To be honest it looked to me like a piece of modern art!  The fact that there was nobody around it also made it look more insignificant.  We walked past it and could see the next one not that far off and once we had passed that one we came to the Big one, where we calmly threw our 7 pebbles and then we walked past it, faced the Kaaba and said dua.  As I was throwing I thought why is it that we don’t put as much effort into actually fighting shaitan in our lives. 
The building that houses the Jamarat
Then we took the escalators down and started making our way to Mecca.  By this time we were so tired and hot and had just one energy drink (Bison) between us, but on the way we bumped into D and her husband.  I don’t know who was happier to see the other!  She gave me a bottle of juice which I gratefully accepted, and we showed them the way back to the hotel, which, alhamdulilah was on the road to the Haram.
On the road back to our apartment from Mina
The hotel itself was empty, and, in fact we had to wait until the man looking after the place, came and opened up the flat where our room was.  I got what I needed and just rushed into the bathroom to cut my hair, have a shower and wash my clothes. We had left our tent in Mina at 7.30 am and we arrived at the hotel at 10.00 am. I prayed Dhuhr and then collapsed into bed to sleep for a little while. When I looked out my window to the road beyond I could see people coming in droves in every kind of vehicle some on top and some hanging on for dear life, and a lot more walking, all making their way to the Haram.  T arrived back after doing Tawaf and went off to have her shower and then got something to eat which, as I stated before, she insisted on sharing with me mashallah.   After Asr my husband and I started the walk back to Mina arriving there just before Maghrib and joined the others in the tent where we had a good chat about all our various adventures and then I had a snack and went to sleep.  My daughter had warned me that Eid day on Hajj feels like the most un-Eid like day ever, and she was right – it was mostly hard slog, but all the same I really enjoyed it and, after all, everything we did on this day was a means to an end – in completing our Hajj.  I want to stress that Allah has made Hajj as easy as possible for us and you have plenty of time to perform all the rituals and you don’t have to do them when the vast majority of the people are doing them.  In some instances, e.g. stoning the jamarat, or peforming Tawaf and Sa’ee, you can go when it is a bit quieter.  I also found, to my immense surprise, that I became accustomed to the crowds and learnt that if you go slowly and are patient you can perform the rituals of Hajj with all your concentration and without detracting from anyone else’s Hajj experience. Many men had now completed their Hajj and wore the clothes native to their country, and all of a sudden you could see the differences between one nationality and another, while before when they were all in Ihram they all looked the same mashallah. One of my happy memories from that walk back from Mecca to Mina, was of the groups of pilgrims who stopped to pray Maghrib together out in the open, some still in Ihram, and more often than not there were a few policemen who would join them in the prayer – a real reminder of the fact that whether you wore the clothes of your country, Ihram or a uniform, when it came for the time to pray we were all the same and united before Allah.
Road into Mecca from Mina
The days of Hajj – 11th Dhul Hijjah, Wednesday 17 November 2010, Mina

On the 11th of Dhul Hijjah and the 4th day of Hajj I got up at 3.00am to do wudu for Fajr and had a really difficult time keeping my eyes open.  I said dhikr, prayed tahajud, and finally texted Eid Mubarak to all my children and everyone on my phone.  Once we prayed Fajr prayer (A Somali brother led the prayer and his recitation was so beautiful that it was easier to keep your khushoo mashallah), I said my dhikr and then collapsed onto my sleeping bag and slept until 10.00am when I finally woke up.  That day at lunch time H and D got a big plate of rice and chicken and H said to me “Wallahi you will eat with us today, and no argument!”  And she received none because actually I was starving and really enjoyed the meal, even if I was a little bemused by the fact that H put banana in with her rice!  We spent most of that day in the tent recuperating, sleeping, resting, reading Qur’an and saying dua. I hadn’t seen my husband since the previous day so, on my way back from one of my jaunts to the toilet I ‘beeped’ him and met him coming out of his tent as I came round the corner.  I greeted him and then asked ‘Remember me?  Just thought I’d remind you that I’m still here!’ and then we agreed on a time to go to the Jamarat that evening.  We went with the Algerian brothers and this time we stoned all three of the Jamarat, stopping to say dua after each one.  Allah finally answered the prayer for rain and it poured for a little while as we were making our way back to our tent, but as it was so warm we were dry by the time we reached it.

The days of Hajj – 12th Dhul Hijjah, Thursday 18 November 2010, Mina

On the 5th day of Dhul Hijjah I was woken by my nice friends with a cup of tea.  When I offered them a biscuit they said that it was not a proper breakfast but only a snack.  I told them my mother would so totally agree with them.  Most of the group had agreed to go back to Mecca on that day instead of staying a third night after Eid, and, as many of them had come down hard with the Hajj flu and felt awful, they found someone to throw stones for them at the Jamarat and opted to take the bus back to the hotel in Mecca at around noon.  My husband and I had planned on staying the last night in Mina but the Algerian brothers had other plans – they wanted to go back to the hotel in the bus, have a shower and change and then return in time to stone the Jamarat, but they had to be back before Maghrib.  We gave our sleeping bags to them to bring back to the hotel knowing that most people would be leaving and we would find a mattress or two to use for the last night.  I got H’s mattress and, after they all left, I joined my husband in the men’s L shaped tent which we now had all to ourselves.  We got some food and decided, like many others, to wait until the temperature of the day had cooled after Asr to go and stone the Jamarats.  It was lovely and quiet and we were able to say dua, when suddenly it started to pour out of the heavens.  Alhamdulilah the tents were very well water-proofed so we felt quite cosy, but this rain, although a bounty from Allah, meant that a lot of people who had intended to only wait until after Asr and then go stone the Jamarat and continue away from Mina after that, ended up staying the night in Mina.  If you want to leave you must do so before Maghrib, and, as the rain only stopped a little time before then, most people found themselves unexpectedly staying overnight.

We left the tent at 6.15pm, after Maghrib to go stone the Jamarat and just as we had left the camp where our tent was located, my husband got a call from the Algerian brothers saying that they intended to find an empty tent closer to the Jamarat in which to spend the night.  We had left our mattresses in the tent along with some personal items of my husband so we decided to go back and get them so that we wouldn’t have to return later that night.  We had only left the tent 5 minutes but already it had been completely cleared of all the mattresses and sleeping bags that had been abandoned there.  The only one left was my husband’s mattress along with his small bag of personal items, all of which were intact alhamdulilah.  Even while we were in the tent we could see young boys and older girls in hijabs hovering, waiting to see if we left anything behind.  Obviously they were looking for anything they could find that might provide some kind of an income to them.  This was one of the saddest things that I saw while I was on Hajj – the number of women and children, usually of African origin, selling small items on the pavement or begging.  In Mina they could often be seen cooking on small stoves on the ground – nothing elaborate, but simple things like chips and boiled eggs.  On the road to Muzdalifa I saw young girls, and women and children pushing along small trolleys with barrels on them containing all the items they needed to set up shop again.  They rushed past the pilgrims in an effort to get to Muzdalifa and cook before the pilgrims arrived weary and hungry.  To be fair they did provide a service as there wasn’t much else in the way of food there, but it was so sad to see what an effort they had to make to eke out a living.  Most of these vulnerable people had no status in Saudi, even if they were born there, unless their father was Saudi and they had obviously left their homelands because there was no future there for them or their children.  It begged the question was there any future for them in Saudi when they had no status there.  It made me appreciate the simple matter of having a passport, my children’s ability to own one, and our right to belong to a country, all of which we take so much for granted.  My husband talked to one boy near the hotel one day and asked him about his education – he said it wasn’t very good, that when they had finished one book they didn’t have any others so they had to do the book all over again.  I don’t think that this is the case for the mainstream Saudi education system, but, again, for all the faults I find with the Algerian education system, I began to appreciate it so much more.

We went on to stone the Jamarat which was busier this time.  It was awful to see the hysteria on some people’s faces as they actually raced to the Jamarat and fired stones at it, with some actually picking up any stones they could find and flinging them at them with a force as if to kill, totally disregarding any injury they might inflict on anyone around them.  It was very easy to walk around the hysterical crowd and find a quiet place in which to throw our stones alhamdulilah.  Again I bumped into a sister who smiled at me in answer to my ‘sorry’ and then reached over and squeezed my hand.  I can’t really put into words the feeling that simple gesture generated in me, but a bond of a kind was formed in my heart.   Then we walked back to meet the brothers in Al Khaef Mosque on the outskirts of Mina.  This mosque has the distinction of having 70 prophets who prayed in it.  It was quite a simple mosque with a large section for the women, in front of which there was a small white wall with a white wooden lattice fence above it where you could look into the men’s section but not actually be seen by them.  The floor had a green carpet and on that night looked more like a refuge centre from some kind of natural disaster with women sleeping here and there on the floor, obviously settled there for the night, and with clothes thrown over the lattice woodwork.  I prayed 2 rakats for the mosque and Isha prayer and then met my husband along with the brothers outside.
Al Khaef Mosque
We must have spent the next hour, to hour and a half, walking around the tents closest to the Jamarat trying to find an empty one to settle in for the night.  At one point my husband bought me a cup of tea and I saved it so that I could sit in a tent and drink it at leisure…I eventually gulped it down stone cold.  After the rain there were large pools everywhere, and what with trying not to get the end of my hijab and my plimsolls soaking wet (with no success whatsoever), walking up and down past piles of soggy rubbish looking for an empty tent and having had nothing to eat, I begged my husband to go back to our original tent and we would get up extra early in the morning.  After some time the brothers got the ‘bright’ idea that they would find somewhere in one of the Algerian camps, and after trying at least 2 to no avail they found one where the man in charge welcomed them and offered them accommodation.  My heart sank as I knew that I was going to be flung into a tent full of Algerian women who had probably gone to bed for the night, it now being 9.30pm, and I resisted as much as I could, but with one brother holding the tent flap open for me and my husband saying we had no choice I reluctantly entered the tent. I felt it was either enter with dignity or be unceremoniously thrown in!  It was one big tent with all the divisional flaps rolled up, and was in semi darkness and very quiet because, as I had so rightly suspected, the women had gone to bed for the night.  The mattresses were very thick, firm, chair-beds and when I went to move one to lay it out just inside the door, one sister lying close by said that it had gotten wet in the rain and pointed to where I could find some dry chair-beds.  After apologizing to, and thanking her, I laid out my chair-bed and collapsed onto it.  Soon after another sister quietly came up to me and offered me some pizza.  I must admit that I did begin to feel at home mashallah.  The sisters had made little alcoves with the unused chair-beds putting them on edge between them and the sister next to them and it actually all looked very cosy. I thought to myself, Wow, these Algerians got it much better than us Europeans who only had thin mattresses or sleeping bags which we had to provide ourselves, while they had these lovely comfortable chair-beds.  I only found out much later that we were, in fact, in the Algerian V.I.P tent which had been vacated by those Very Important People who had chosen to leave Mina early and left vacant for the rest of us more common garden mortals!

Tired though I was I just couldn’t sleep, and it didn’t help that the hem of my hijab was wet and felt cold against my skin. We had been walking for 3 hours since we left our tent to stone the Jamarat and I felt that the walk to Muzdalifa, having taken the same amount of time wasn’t nearly as exhausting as these 3 hours had felt. I had been told by many who had gone on Hajj that the last night in Mina, if you chose to stay was lovely as you had a tent to yourself with your husband and had plenty of peace and quiet to make dhikr and sleep.  But, again, Allah had other plans for me and I just had to rid myself of my false expectations and make the most of what He had given me alhamdulilah.  I made dhikr and then updated my diary in the dim light.  I finally lay down and dozed off when two other sisters came into the tent.  Then it was my turn to tell them where they could find dry chair-beds. These were a mother and daughter-in-law with whom I prayed Fajr later, one of those rare foot-to-foot occasions.  Some time after that yet another older sister came in with a more elderly companion and this time I got up and helped them to get the chair-beds and lay them out, and was rewarded with a ‘Saha Binti’ for my trouble mashallah.  I felt like I was back in Algeria!   The next morning the younger sister and her mother-in-law overheard me talking to my husband outside the tent in English and before they left, the younger sister came over and asked me where I was from.  I resisted the urge to be a smart-ass and say ‘Bordj El Bahri’, and instead gave her the longer version.  She knew “la Peruse” which is not far from where I live, and after a brief chat, we parted company.  Another sister with whom I made a brief connection and with whom I may never meet again.  Having said that, Algeria can be a tiny village when it comes to bumping into people you’ve met before, so who knows but we may meet up again in this life inshallah.  For all I know, she may be related to the far distant cousin twice removed of one of the neighbours of my husband’s sister-in-law’s, brother-in-law’s niece’s cousin…… or some such chain of connection.  I kid you not – that’s the way it is here in Algeria.

The days of Hajj – 13th Dhul Hijjah, Friday 19 November 2010, Mina to Mecca

At 12.15 pm we left the tents in Mina after having prayed Dhuhr prayer, and headed for the Jamarat. This time we ended up on the ground floor which worried me a little as I knew it would be much busier than the other floors, but it was easy to avoid the hysterical people in the crowd and go around them to a quieter part of the Jamarat.  We stoned, said our dua and walked back to Mecca having an ice-cream on the way.  Just as we were leaving Mina we saw camels with carpet-canopied seats, beautifully decorated, which were for hire for a ride, and I thought of how it must have been like this that the women traveled (those lucky enough not to have to walk) who accompanied the Prophet Muhammed (SAWS) and his entourage on his only Hajj pilgrimage.  And there wasn’t an awful lot of room on the back of a camel!  Another reminder to ‘yours truly’, to shut up and stop complaining because I had it SO easy alhamdulilah.
Enroute back to Mecca from Mina
We arrived back in the hotel at 2.15 pm and discovered that we had a much better time than those who took the bus the previous day.  They had left the tents in Mina at 12.00 noon the previous day, Thursday, and only arrived in the hotel at…… 12 midnight that night!  There was so much traffic on the road all going in the same direction that the police kept diverting their bus away from Mecca.  Those poor women had been stuck on that bus all day long, unable to get off as they weren’t physically able to walk the distance to the hotel…the distance it took us 2 hours to walk.  So most of them were now sleeping out of sheer exhaustion, and once again I got the bathroom to myself to have a shower and wash my clothes.  Our bags had gone on top of the bus and got soaked in the rain so my husband put our sleeping bags over the doors in his apartment to let them dry.  After Asr a brother sent up a huge circular plate of rice and meat from one of the sacrificial animals and we shared it with the sisters in the room next to us – I think he had given one to each apartment mashallah.  I then slept from 9.00 pm to 11.00p m and got up to get ready to leave at 12.30 am to go to the Haram to perform our Hajj Tawaf.  It was very busy but this was my third time and I wasn’t exhausted and physically at a low ebb like my first Umrah so I managed to concentrate on my dua while coping with the crowds.  Safa and Marwa was busier than I had ever seen it, but again nothing that we couldn’t cope with alhamdulilah.  We ate a take-away on the walk home noting that most of the shops had closed in contrast to before the Hajj. There were now taxi drivers standing on the pavement touting for business, a sharp contrast to when they could pick and chose before the Hajj.  We arrived back in the hotel at 4.20 am. I had a wash and washed my husband’s clothes, prayed Fajr prayer and then slept until 9.00 am.

My husband told me that the two older Algerian men who had joined their group had gone back to the Algerian camp and, before he left, one of them asked my husband to send his salams to me!  While I was picking my jaw up from the floor, my husband told me that he had said that I had inspired him – that every time he thought he couldn’t go on walking during the long walks we did together, he just looked at me and thought to himself that if I could do it then so could he.  He also said that he didn’t think there were many Algerian women who could have walked as much as I did!!!  Subhanallah!  What a lesson to learn – you just never really know what impact you have on someone unwittingly, either for good or for bad!

Our Final Tawaf

The next day was Saturday and everybody was packing and repacking, ironing clothes (yes, someone actually brought an iron and the sisters were making great use of it!), and generally getting ready to leave Mecca the following morning for the next leg of our journey, to Madina.  I was more or less ready and spent the day relaxing and making dhikr, and then decided to sleep in the afternoon before we made our final trip to the Haram to make our final Tawaf, a farewell to the Kaaba and to Mecca before we left the city.  Ideally we would make the Tawaf and then leave the city, but as we were with a group who had organized a bus to come and collect us to go to Madina, any time from 6.00 am to 10.00 am the next morning, we decided to do it late Saturday night, return to the hotel, sleep and then leave with the group.  It would have been so much better if the group had organized a bus to take us and our luggage to the Haram, waited while we made our final Tawaf and then taken us away straight to Madina, but this was a pipe-dream, at least where this group’s organization was concerned.

As I was dozing my husband rang me and told me that we had to leave the hotel there and then to go the Haram as friends of ours who live in Jeddah were coming there to meet us.  After we prayed Maghrib in the Haram, we waited for our friends to arrive. I didn’t bring my camera with me, and wished I had as I watched the sun set in the beautiful Arabian sky over the hills of Mecca.   After praying Isha prayer the sister, M and I chatted and caught up on old times, a little distance away from the men.  We had known each other for many years in England but had not seen each other in 6 years so we had a lot to catch up.  The Haram was emptying by now and we saw a small black scorpion approaching us over the white tiles which I shooed away with my shoe bag.  No matter which direction I pushed it away in, it kept coming back to us.  Suddenly a sister sitting at some distance raised her bag and ‘splat!’ the scorpion was no more.  She looked at us, shrugged her shoulders and said that, as we weren’t on Hajj it was ok to kill it.  Then M got a call from her husband more or less telling us, in polite terms of course, to… get lost!  So off we went to go and get something to eat.  She knew her way around the Haram and we went into one of shopping centers and upstairs to buy a take-away and to sit and eat it.  It was nice in that a lot of the take-away stalls had a sign up for women to make a separate queue, and, in fact, we didn’t realize until much later on, M’s husband had tried to ring her while we were queuing for our food, to ask us to order for them as our queue was much shorter!  Too bad!

Afterwards M treated me to a lovely ice-cream which I ate as we walked and laughed our way around the outside of the Haram.  I did some souvenir shopping and then we met up with the brothers and we said our good-byes to our friends and went to make our final Tawaf.  We could have combined this final, farewell Tawaf with the Hajj one we had made the previous night, but we didn’t mind doing another one.  Although it was 11.00 pm the area around the Kaaba was absolutely packed right up to the walls of the mosque, and for the first time ever my husband suggested doing the Tawaf upstairs.  But I said that we would manage to do it next to the Kaaba inshallah. And it was fine alhamdulilah. How I had changed my tune in less than a week since I had done my first Tawaf!  We got a taxi home where I found H getting ready to go to the Haram to perform her final Tawaf.

The journey to Madina

After Fajr I slept until 7.30 am but the bus did not arrive until 10.30 am and, while we were sitting on the bus waiting while they packed all the baggage on top of the bus, my husband disappeared and returned with a chicken fillet sandwich which I gratefully ate before we finally left Mecca at 12.15 pm.  The bus was air conditioned and was quite comfortable mashallah and we stopped at two service stops on the way.  Although they were quite basic I was surprised to find that they were clean and not the horror stories I had heard about.  As we drove along I discovered why – there were so many abandoned service stations along the route, while just a little way past them were brand new ones with better facilities mashallah. The ones we stopped at served rice with various toppings include whole fish, and plenty of tea.  They also had a mini-musala.  The other services I saw on the road had petrol stations and mini-supermarkets.  Although the journey was quite long it gave me a chance to make dhikr and to think about the Prophet Muhammed (SAWS) and his family and Companions and their families making this very same journey, in the opposite direction.  On Eid day as we were walking back to Mina from Mecca we saw people gathering around a very old building and somebody said that this was the spot where the Prophet (SAWS) had stopped and been told by the Quraish that he couldn’t enter Mecca to make Hajj, and where he had made the Treaty of  Hudaybiya.  Allahu Alim whether it was the actual spot or not, but I thought of how disappointed he (SAWS) and his Companions must have been after coming all that distance and then being turned away, and it made all my  disappointments seem so small in comparison.  He (SAWS) ordered that the animals be slaughtered and nobody did so, and he discussed this problem with one of his wives who suggested that if he himself slaughtered his animals then everyone else would follow suit, which, of course they did.
Service station on the road between Mecca and Medina
When you think of the Prophet (SAWS) making this journey you tend to think of lovely soft sand dunes as depicted in The Message, but as we drove along the road to Medina I was reminded of the fact that the film 'The Message' had been filmed in the Sahara desert of Morocco.  The landscape I saw was in sharp contrast – rocky mountains leading down to a stony valley devoid of all vegetation, relieved only here and there by a small oasis of green.  It can’t have been an easy journey to have made especially when he (SAWS) finally made his one and only Hajj pilgrimage accompanied by women, children and the elderly.
On the road to Medina
I read a lovely booklet entitled “The Prophet’s Conduct During Hajj” by Faisal Al-Baadani and in it he stressed how the Prophet (SAWS) wanted as many people to make the pilgrimage as possible, even waiting a whole day on the journey so that one of his companions could catch up with him.  Then he (SAWS) made himself available by walking around the camp so that people could get the opportunity to ask him any questions, and so many of them were so similar to the ones we have today – about the rituals and the order in which to make them etc. and his answer each time was “Do it; there is no harm in doing so.”

‘Upon seeing a man walking and leading his badana (sacrificial camel), the Prophet (SAWS) said to him, “Ride on it.”  The man replied, ‘But it is a badana.”  The Prophet again said to him, “Ride on it.”  When the man gave him the same answer, the Prophet (SAWS) said on the second or third time, “Ride on it, woe to you.”  I often thought of this while we were on Hajj – whenever my husband saw someone doing something wrong, e.g. men praying in their Ihram with one shoulder uncovered, he would try to correct them.  Sometimes they understood and thanked him, but more often than not they just ignored him.  And I thought of this particular hadith and wondered if anyone would have listened to the Prophet (SAWS) if he went on Hajj today and tried to correct people.  Allah knows they don’t listen to the scholars who are all in agreement on the rights and wrongs of the rituals of making the Hajj pilgrimage.

We finally arrived in Medina at around 7.00 pm but by the time we went through the Pilgrim’s Centre where they distributed English booklets and Zam Zam water plus another box of snacks, and then a second stop where our passports had to be handed over to the Hajj Ministry by the driver, it was 9.00 pm before we reached the hotel.  As soon as we stepped off the bus the contrast to claustrophobic Mecca became immediately apparent – Medina was so spacious and clean and so calm mashallah, you could feel yourself totally relaxing immediately.  Of course it helped that we had finished Hajj alhamdulilah.
Louloubek No 3
Louloubek No 3 was a lovely, clean and classy hotel and we had to wait in the hotel lobby for another 45 min while the rooms were allocated.  In Mecca the four of us in the room had agreed that we would all try our best to get a room together when we got to Medina, and H indicated to the organizer of the group, as he was sorting out the rooms that she wanted me in with her and her daughter and T.  But then he told her that he had allocated my husband and I a room on our own, and, as it turned out her daughter also got a room with her husband.  But I was so grateful to H for ‘looking out for me’ mashallah.  The room was lovely with ensuite bathroom, TV and fridge, and we felt like we were, at last having a holiday after the exhausting rituals of Hajj.  But, looking back, I was happy that we didn’t have this kind of accommodation in Mecca – being accommodated with the other sisters really helped me to prepare for our time together in the tents in Mina and we had gotten to know each other quite well by then.  Also, any hardship that we had to endure reminded us of why we were there in the first place and purified our intention.  I think that if we had the same kind of accommodation as we had in Madina it would have felt more like a holiday with a religious slant than the Hajj pilgrimage.  And the accommodation we were given, basic though it was, was clean (even the bathrooms, which were used by so many women, were clean all the time mashallah – I think that someone came to clean them at night and while we were away in Mina) and I had the best room-mates I could have hoped for.  Even the fact that no food was provided was a blessing as it would have meant that we would have been restricted to going out around the meal times.

The following morning was Monday, and we were now exactly 2 weeks in Saudi.  The Haram was only a 10 min walk away mashallah and was so different to the Haram in Mecca.  The Haram in Mecca had high walls and seemed like a fortress around the Kaaba, whereas the mosque in Medina, though also very big, was reached after walking over what seemed like miles and miles of tiled floor that ran all the way around the building under the shade of the most beautiful canopies in the shape of huge ornate umbrellas.  I felt such a sense of peace in Madina and especially in the Haram mashallah which was always packed during the prayers.  But it was always easy to find a quiet corner in which to sit and make dhikr and pray Nawafila prayers mashallah.
The Prophet's Mosque in Medina
One of the first things my husband decided to do was to go to pray in the Rowda – the only part of paradise on earth, and to visit the graves of the Prophet (SAWS) and his companions, Omar (RA) and Abu Bakr(RA) which lay side by side.  He went in a special door and I walked around the outside of the building which wasn’t that big and was a part of the mosque that jutted out a little, and waited for him on the other side. As I walked around I was aghast at seeing groups of people standing outside facing the mosque in the direction of the Prophet’s grave and saying dua to it!   I didn’t want to be standing too near the door and getting in the way of all the men coming out, so I stood at some distance and made dhikr.  Then one of the men who worked at the mosque, usually identified by their white camis and red and white check hamama (head covering), made a flicking gesture to me with his hand to move back, which I did.  Then a little while later another one did the same thing and motioned me to move back even further.  To be fair they were distant but polite and I was standing in a cordoned off area, albeit empty but probably due to fill up with male worshippers for Dhuhr prayer.  But I must admit to feeling a bit like a goat being herded away, and I had this ridiculous urge to go ‘baaaaa’….. which, you’ll be happy to know I resisted and continued on with my dhikr instead.  My husband didn’t take that long and we learnt that the women would be allowed in after dhuhr prayer, as they took it in turns to let the men and the women in mashallah.  As was usual with us whenever we went somewhere new, we took the long way round to find the women’s entrance, at the back of the mosque – surprise, surprise.  To be fair the mosque was so big that it was difficult, from the outside to see where the front and back were, and I don’t know why but I had an idea that the women’s entrances would be alongside the men’s ones, when in reality all the men’s entrances were on one side and the women’s were all together on another side and all the doors had numbers.  Here and there along the concourse of tiled floors outside the mosque were blocks of toilets both for men and for women and these were all numbered too so my husband and I picked one between the two lot of entrances to meet at when we had finished praying inside the mosque.  There were also water dispensers dotted here and there too with lovely cool water mashallah.  As was my usual custom I waited some time after dhuhr prayer, making dhikr and praying nawafila while waiting for the mosque to empty.  I have to admit to taking one very quick photo inside the mosque after it emptied. As I walked back through the mosque I noticed that in one section I was able to look up at the blue sky above, and found out later that parts of the mosque had retractable roofs mashallah.
Inside the Prophet's Mosque, Medina
After meeting up with my husband we went around to where the men had gone in to the Rowda and the graves, only to find that the women entered through the women’s section, so back we traipsed around the mosque to find the door no 25 to which I had been directed only to discover that it was the one I had just left after praying dhuhr.  I asked the security guard at the door where the Prophet’s grave was exactly and she told me it was closed – when I asked if it was open between 1.00pm and 3.00pm, she replied that it wasn’t open again until after Isha prayer, so away I went rather disappointed.

We met up with our friends who had driven all the way from Jeddah again, and with M, I decided to try getting into the Rowda and the graves after Isha prayer.  After the prayer the security women stood at different places in the mosque with a placard that read place names, the idea being to let sisters into the Rowda and the graves with other sisters who spoke the same language.  For some reason the Europeans were always lumped with the Africans, maybe because most spoke English as a common language.  There was a brown wooden lattice fence-like wall that went all the way across the women’s section and divided it from the men’s section and a door within this fence was opened to allow the women through to the Rowda.  The idea was that groups would go in one at a time, and then there were little alcoves where you could go and sit in your group while waiting to enter the Rowda.  The atmosphere was frenzied with a hysteria that permeated the mosque and a look of panic on a lot of the women’s faces as they barged past the poor security women who were trying their best to bring some kind of order to the whole proceedings and rushed into the Rowda area.  We were some of the first allowed in and when I looked behind me and saw what can only be described as a herd of hysterical women bounding towards me I thought to myself, get me out of here, this isn’t part of Hajj and it’s not worth being bowled over by someone.  I also thought that there would be no hope of praying 2 rakats in such a small space with so many women totally disregarding each other in a panic to pray.  So I pushed my way back and M suggested that I go to a completely empty alcove to one side and pray 2 rakats there and she would be a ‘look-out’ for me.  As I was praying my first rakat, suddenly from what seemed out of nowhere I found women rushing to me and all but sitting on top of me, while M frantically tried to shield me and shout in Arabic that I was praying, all to no avail.  I couldn’t even put my head down in sujood as there was someone sitting so close to me, so I got up and moved away, feeling as if I had made a lucky escape.  Then M suggested another part of the mosque which was behind where all the women were rampaging and offered to be a ‘look-out’ for me again, and I muttered in amusement to her, ‘where had I heard THAT before’.  She sat as my sutra and I had just said my final salam when, again, out of nowhere these women came straight at me and ran in front and behind me, over my kneeling legs, and I wondered what kind of invisible magnet I had that seemed to attract such a bunch of lunatics.  We got up and left the mosque with the idea of trying again the following day when perhaps daylight might attract a saner and more reasonable crowd of women.

M and her husband insisted on bringing us to a Chinese restaurant to eat. We entered a dark establishment with a deep dark red décor and large fish tanks displaying the most beautiful, tropical fish.  There were no tables and chairs visible as you would expect to see in a restaurant, but instead there were two sets of stairs leading up to 2 red doors behind which were very privately enclosed alcoves each with a glass circular table and 4 chairs. When you walked around this high walled alcove you found another 2 sets of stairs leading up to two more alcoves and so on throughout the restaurant.  Once you closed the door you could not be seen by any of the other customers or staff who knocked and waited discreetly to be allowed to open the door and then stood back to take the order and later serve the food.  M and her husband were determined that my husband and I had a romantic meal… even if it killed us!  So they ate at a different booth.  We did enjoy it and the food was beautiful, and we had quite a laugh at the texts M and her husband kept sending us throughout the meal.  My husband couldn’t finish his ice-cream so I, purely from altruistic motives I will have you know, finished it for him.  By the time we left the restaurant, I didn’t walk so much as waddled.  Where was that walk to Muzdalifa when you needed it!  M and her husband had booked accommodation in Madina for the night so we parted company agreeing to meet them the next morning.

It was now Tuesday morning of our last week in Saudi and we were due to leave on the following Friday. The group that we traveled with had organized a Ziyarah, or tour of the Islamic sites for 7.30am that morning but my husband and I had decided to give it a miss as our friends had kindly offered to bring us around instead.  We were having a leisurely breakfast in the lobby of the hotel waiting for them when the group returned from their trip. 

Our friends M and her husband had invited us to stay with them in their home in Jeddah for a couple of nights before we flew back to England.  We wanted to see their children and also to see another good friend, IS and her family.  We could have gone to Jeddah, stayed a couple of nights and then returned to join the group in time to….. drive back to Jeddah for the flight home.  Jeddah, Mecca and Madina are in a kind of a triangle with Jeddah being only 45mins/1hr from Mecca but 3-4 hours by car from Madina, or 5-6 by bus.  If our trip had been organized such that we went to Madina first and then on to Mecca for the Hajj and stayed in Mecca after the Hajj then it would be easier to commute back and forth from Jeddah.   Although our flight wasn’t until 4.50pm on Friday, the group had arranged for us to be booked out of the hotel on the previous day, Thursday for reasons known only to themselves.  This would mean that we were going to sleep Thursday night either in the bus or at the airport.  Not an attractive thought bearing in mind all the traveling back we had to do to return to England. Therefore the prospect of staying with our friends in Jeddah until Friday and then going to the airport which was only a short distance from M’s home to join the group, seemed a much nicer one.

As the husbands had some business to sort out, M and I parted company with them at 10.30 am and very happily wandered off to the Haram to enjoy just being there, and to pray Dhuhr and to try, once again to get into the Rowda and the Prophet’s graves afterwards.  There were stalls selling goods on the way to the Haram and I found the trinkets and books there far more interesting and easier to choose from than in Mecca, and I did do some shopping.  We went into the Haram early for Dhuhr and prayed and made dhikr and just enjoyed the peace that comes with being in the Prophet’s Mosque mashallah.  Immediately after Dhuhr prayer had finished the sisters with the placards took their places and the crowds began to form.  And, again, the atmosphere was one of panic and hysteria and I decided that, much as I wanted to go in, I really didn’t want any part of this uncomfortable atmosphere and I left.  With hindsight, I think that it might have been easier if I had tried after Fajr prayer, but Allahu Alim.  I had to accept it was the Qader of Allah that I didn’t get in, and I was quite happy to accept it especially as it wasn’t one of the rites of Hajj alhamdulilah. While I was in London, my friend S, told me that she had feared that shirk might sneak into her worship in some, small way unwittingly when she visited the graves and had prayed to Allah for guidance – and she was stopped from going in for one reason or another and accepted this as Allah’s answer to her.  I thought of this and felt comforted by it.

Quba Mosque and Uhud

The brothers contacted us as we were making our way back to the hotel and we met up with them and went to lunch, after which we set off to see some of the sights, the names of which were so familiar to me from reading and hearing about them so much.  We drove to a huge modern shopping mall out in the middle of nowhere.  It was glossy and shiny and I could have been in England with a lot of the same shop names on the store fronts, but it was almost totally empty.  We had the huge food court almost completely to ourselves.  M then told me that the Saudis usually went out at night when it was cooler and that this place would come alive then.  I wasn’t complaining as I enjoyed my taco in peace without anyone sitting near me.
View of the garden opposite the Quba Mosque
After lunch we drove to Quba Mosque which is the first mosque that the Prophet built in Medina. On the authority of Sahl bin Haneef it is reported that the Prophet (SAWS) said: ‘One who does Wudu at home, then offers prayers in Quba Mosque is entitled to the reward of ‘Umrah.’ (Ahmad, Nasa’I, Ibn Majah and Hakim).  It was so old and small and quaint mashallah.  The women’s section consisted of a small entrance hall surrounded on 3 sides with wooden walls of alcoves for shoes, and a small praying area to each side, forming a T shape, one side for women with children and one for those without.  The chandeliers were very simple and plain and the whole place had a unique character all of its own. 
Quba Mosque
We then drove to Uhud where the Muslims lost the battle to the Quraish who were led by Khalid Ibn Waleed.  This was the first and only place in all the places I had been, where I could actually visualize the Prophet (SAWS) and the first Muslims’ presence.  Both of the Harams in Mecca and Madina are absolutely beautiful and very peaceful but I know for a fact that the Prophet (SAWS) and his companions did not walk on beautiful Italian marble.  Very little, if anything, has been built in Uhud and it has such a historic beauty all of its own.
The hill around which Khalid Ibn Waleed rode his men to victory and defeated the Muslims is still there.

The ground has not been covered with beautiful tiles and instead, as I walked across the red earth, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for those Companions and how they must have felt going into battle, which, in those days was face-to-face and not the cowardly bomb dropping that seems to be the main method of modern warfare.  And these Companions had to fight face to face with their own family and friends.  This was the battle where Hamza (RA) the Prophet’s uncle was killed.  Uhud is in a very big valley surrounded by rocky mountains with the very small hill to one side.

Nearby was a walled structure with a wire fence above it, surrounding what looked, to all intents and purposes, like a large barren waste-ground with a very low wall, the height of a brick, in the middle.  This was the graveyard of those Muslims who had died in the battle and the low wall indicated where Hamza (RA) was buried.  
The graveyard at Uhud

M and I read a dua for visiting the graves and reminded ourselves that one day, Inshallah, we all will join them.

It was late afternoon by this time so the brothers dropped us off near the Haram and they continued on with their business.   M and I prayed Magrhib and Isha in the Haram and then wandered around the shops afterwards.  Near our hotel was a small kiosk which sold sandwiches and tea and coffee and which we frequented as it was the only one of its kind in that area.  We stopped this night and I decided to be brave and order the coffee myself.  The man told me how much it was and then promptly ignored me.  After trying again, M asked him why he was being so rude.  He was being deliberately annoying and said that I hadn’t told him how many I wanted (which, actually I had told him), and when she said I didn’t speak Arabic he said he didn’t speak French!!!!!  By this time I knew that if the window was any bigger she would have been in there and throttled him, but instead she gave him a good telling off and told him that was no way to treat anybody.  I did get my coffee… eventually.  He wasn’t Saudi and he wasn’t there any other time, and the other staff there were fine.  We went back to the hotel to wait for the men and eventually dozed off while we were waiting.  I got a call from my husband around 11.00pm telling me that they were almost finished and would be home soon.  So M and I decided to settle in to sleep for the night and, at 5.15 am my husband knocked on the room door to let me know he was back and then went off with M’s husband to collapse in another room in the hotel, having already prayed Fajr.  

The journey back to Jeddah

I had already packed our bags for the flight back to England, on Monday night and when I got up on Wednesday morning I packed the remaining toiletries etc.  My husband called me and we left the hotel that morning and headed off for breakfast in yet another deserted shopping center before our trip back to Jeddah.  A funny incident happened as we were parking the car.  M’s husband found a space very near the entrance but there was a small pick-up blocking the space with a young boy, who could not have been more than 13 in the driver’s seat.  When M’s husband asked him to move his truck so he could park, the boy told him no, that he could park further down.  After some more polite asking both on the behalf of my husband and M’s husband, with a flat out refusal from the boy, M’s husband started taking off his seat belt and opened the door to get out, at which the boy promptly moved his truck back out of the way.  I was quite bemused by the whole incident and it seemed, to me, in sharp contrast to the way the youth in Algeria behave towards the older generation, which is to say always with respect, at least in my personal experience.  After my breakfast of cheesecake and coffee we hit the road at midday for Jeddah only stopping once at the services to pray, and we reached Jeddah at 4.00 pm.  The first thing I noticed on opening the door of the car was the heat that hit me in the face immediately.  It’s amazing really how near Mecca Jeddah is but it never became cool in the evening in Jeddah the way it did in Mecca – which was such a Rahmah from Allah for our Hajj alhamdulilah.

After meeting M’s lovely children we ate and chatted.  Another brother joined our husbands, the brother with whom we had met in Muzdalifa, and he had very kindly brought us our Zam Zam water from Mecca.  We had put off getting our Zam Zam water until the last minute and then we decided to get it in Madina.  But then this brother had so kindly offered to bring it to us (all 20 litres) in Jeddah as M’s husband was bringing him to the airport that night for his flight back to England.  Before we went on Hajj some people came to the hotel and were selling 10 ltre bottles of water in a sealed and stamped bag for 25 riyals each and D had bought three, one each for her mum, herself and her husband.  We hadn’t even bought the containers so we had nothing to put the water in. I really would advise on getting containers early on and then bringing them to the Haram and filling them up, bearing in mind that you cannot bring them into the mosque, so be prepared to pray outside and then lug them home again.  It would have been easier before the taxis put up their prices.  If you have more than one container (We had been told we had a 10 litre allowance per person) then it might be better to make more than one journey depending on how near you are to the Haram and to the Hajj pilgrimage.

We then went to bed because the husbands were still recovering from their previous night’s labour.  M very kindly washed our clothes and hung them out for us and, needless to say they were dry and ready to wear first thing the next morning.  After a lovely leisurely breakfast we headed off to IS’s house as both families had been invited there for lunch.  On the way we were given the guided tour of the Corniche which was a water in-let by the coast of the Red Sea itself.  There was a tiled walkway all around the water with benches at intervals and then behind this were grassy parks with seats and children’s playgrounds all along.  We prayed Dhuhr in a small mosque beside the sea.  We had been aiming for one that stood on stilts on the sea, but it was packed with pilgrims so we gave it a miss.  Some of the seated areas had a shade and already some Saudi families had sat down and laid out picnics, and M told me that in the evening this place came alive with a lot of families making the most of the relative coolness of the evening.  As we drove around Jeddah I was amazed at where people stopped to have a picnic – on a pavement beside a busy road, or on a grassy verge, or in a car park - anywhere there was a space to park a car and lay a blanket on the ground!

We had a lovely lunch, followed by coffee and lovely cakes at IS’s home and after some time sitting around chatting and getting to see her lovely children, the three of us sisters headed out the door just before Isha prayer to go to a shopping mall near where IS lived.  We didn’t spend long there as the adhan went and all of the shop-keepers were closing until after the prayer, so we headed back to IS’s apartment.  The brothers agreed to bring us to another shopping mall but first they brought us a take-away from Al Baik – a very popular Saudi chain of take-aways, much on the lines of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and once everyone had eaten, all 6 adults left the children to go shopping, with M’s eldest girl very kindly agreeing to babysit mashallah.

While we were at IS’s house I received a text from D – she and I often texted each other when we were apart.  She told me that they had been told to vacate their rooms in Madina that afternoon at 2.30 pm but had refused to do so and were then given until 6.30 pm when the next lot of pilgrims arrived.  They then had to wait from 6.30 pm in the hotel lobby with their entire luggage until their bus for Jeddah finally arrived at 11.00 pm.   I felt so awful for them, especially for those of the group who weren’t feeling very well.

We went to a street in a rather smart shopping area of Jeddah and went in to “Red Tag” first… and never left it until I had spent all my money!  I bought something for all the children and some mementos and we came out of the shop with bags and bags and bags, and M said “just wait for the comments we’re going to receive from the brothers!”  And sure enough, not one to disappoint, as we got into the back of M’s husband’s very comfortable 9 seater, my husband exclaimed to the night air, ‘Men work and women spend’.  To which M whispered to me – ‘go on…… tell him he has to stop and pick up the rest of the bags.  And…. Oh one more thing….. he has to pay for them!  Oh ….and he owes each of one of us sisters, but we’re prepared to wait for payment!’  And on that note of smart comments we were in a fit of giggles all the way home.  Must be something in the Jeddah water – normally I’m the epitome of decorum!!!! Ahem!  Such an enjoyable end to our stay in Saudi mashallah.  We finally left poor IS and her family in peace (probably more correct to say ‘in pieces’) and arrived back to M’s home where, after a brief chat, we went to bed.  We had another lovely leisurely breakfast, after which the brothers went off for Jumuah prayer.  My husband had contacted the group to be told that they had just discovered that they had spent the night in the wrong terminal, the Hajj terminal, and were now waiting for a bus to take them to the International one.  They were all exhausted having waited around in the airport since their 4.00 am arrival.  

The journey back to England

After Jumuah I said goodbye to M and her lovely family and her husband drove us the short ride to the airport where we met up with the rest of our group who looked totally shattered.  We first brought our water containers to the wrapping kiosk where they put them into strong plastic bags and sealed them. The queues at the check-in were very long and, as we waited, M’s husband noticed that a business class check-in desk had opened and managed, somehow to get us checked in there without too much fuss.  There was a problem with luggage allowance especially as we had the Zam Zam water but some others in the group had a lot more baggage than we did and had a lot of arguments with the check-in desk.  We had been given to understand that we had a 30 kg allowance per person and that the water was separate.  Instead they told us we had a 25 kg allowance with the water included in that allowance.  We didn’t have much problem, in the end and all our luggage went through without any hassle and we brought the water over to the out-sized luggage department without paying anything extra for it alhamdulilah.  I then said a lot of dua for the others in the group – they looked as if they were at the end of their tether and were still trying to get their baggage accepted, which, eventually, alhamdulilah it all was.
Jeddah Hajj Terminal
When you arrive with your group in Jeddah a sticker is put in your passport with a number of removable barcodes.  Each of these represents a bus journey you make while you are there – from the airport to the hotel, to Mina, to Madina, etc.  As we hadn’t made the journey back to Jeddah from Madina with the rest of the group we still had a bar code each remaining in our passports, and my husband, being the Algerian he is went off to another part of the airport with M’s husband to get a refund.  And a refund he got! ‘Shatar’ as they say in Algeria, which means ‘astute’.

We didn’t have to wait long before we went through passport control and then while my luggage went through the detectors, I went into a small room on one side where a security woman frisked me with a hand held detector and then I went and waited for my husband – the women’s queue moved much faster.  As I was talking to D and H a woman sitting on a chair nearby asked me if I was American.  I felt, at this stage as if I had been called everything under the sun except Irish!  When I told her that I was Irish she told me that she was South African and wouldn’t arrive home until 5 the next morning – she was going a lot further than I was but she still was going to arrive an hour earlier!  I told her that sometimes the Irish accent has been confused with the American one (I was being polite but as impossible as it seems it has been known to happen!), and then D remarked that all throughout the time previously she hadn’t really noticed my accent before now, but that she now found it more pronounced –   I blame it all on M’s influence as she also is Irish and somehow, after a few days in her company, my Irish accent was stronger!
Salams, Jeddah
I found Jeddah Hajj Terminal to be much smaller than I expected but I loved their shop and wished I had more time to wander around it.  It was a pity that there weren’t more things home-made in Saudi rather than from India where all the produce seemed to have originated.  There was a small kiosk handing out free books so we got some A4 sized Qur’ans, some Arabic books and some books in English.  Then we got on the bus to get to the plane and we were on our way on the first leg of our journey home, back to Abu Dhabi, where we arrived at 8.25 pm local time with a stopover time of 6 ¼ hours.  During that time I managed to lose T, or rather she lost me – I went with her to the toilets where she had a quick shower to freshen up using the shower hose for the toilet.  We had been told, in no uncertain terms, by the cleaner that there weren’t facilities for showers, but we managed to get away from her eagle eye and T went into a cubicle to have a quick shower.  She asked me to wait for her, but, as there were some women undressing near the sinks I decided to go out and wait for her outside near the hall door by the internet screens.  I waited and waited and waited and went inside and waited some more… only to find someone totally different came out of the cubicle.  Where was she?  Somehow she managed to go in totally the opposite direction and got lost in the airport.  She had a knack for losing people – she lost her husband twice in Mecca.  But you could not be mad at her.  I spent most of that night with her and she has the most endearing personality with a real zest for life, and for making the most of the blessings to be had both in Mecca and Madina.  Her attitude to life was equally appealing – what’s done is done and no point in dwelling on the past and she had an energy for life that one could only envy mashallah.  I never saw her again once we got on the onward flight to London, and, although I looked for her while waiting for our baggage I didn’t find her to say good-bye.  It would have been very sad for me anyway – she didn’t use mobile phones or email so there was no way I could keep in contact with her, although she did ask me to come and visit her before I went back to Algeria.  When I exclaimed she had enough on her plate with all the visitors she was expecting once she landed back home, she pushed my protests aside and just told me that she loved guests –they were a blessing to a home.  H and D spent some of the time waiting for our connecting flight dozing trying to recover from their previous night’s ordeal.  D did ask me for my details to keep in touch and I really would like to do so.  She and her mother made my Hajj so much a nicer experience, and she and I had many an interesting chat on Islam and other topics such as the Somali culture which, surprise, surprise, was not all that much different to the Algerian one!

England after Hajj

We arrived in London at 6.10 am after a 7 hour flight to -3 degrees, quite a change from the 40 degree heat we had left in Jeddah.  But, alhamdulilah I didn’t find it so cold although I wasn’t dressed appropriately for it and we arrived to the comfort of my husband’s niece’s home at around 9.00 am safe and sound alhamdulilah.  After showering and repacking our bags I went to stay with a very good friend for the next couple of days.  It was a lovely time for me as we had plenty of time to catch up and spent evenings sitting around her gas fire drinking hot chocolate and stuffing our faces with chocolate and crisps.  Who could ask for more?  On the Tuesday after we arrived back in London, it started to snow, and snow and snow and snow.  And I marveled at the wonder of Allah – I had hoped to ‘hop over’ to Ireland to see my mum for a couple of days before returning to Algeria seeing as ‘we were so close’, in comparison to Algeria anyway. Just before we traveled to England before Hajj I prayed Istikhara and was just about to book the flight when I decided to ring my mum and confirm it with her.  I had already spoken to my sister and got the ok from her (she lived with my mum and would be responsible for feeding us).  But my mum was horrified at the thought of us making all that effort for only a couple of days, especially at that time of the year – “you’ll be miserable”, she said.  ‘You mean YOU’LL be miserable…… for the 3 of us!’ I replied!  So, although I was disappointed I thought there was no point in making all that effort to go and see her if it only caused her to worry.  And, again, Allah showed his Rahmah and His answer to my prayer – Cork, where my family lived, was snowed in and the local airport was closed during that week so even if we had got there we probably wouldn’t have been able to get back to London in time to get our flight back to Algeria!  But I did manage to talk to her and some of the rest of my family alhamdulilah by phone.

Back home to Algeria

We finally arrived back in Algiers 1 month and 2 days after we left and, needless to say, we were so happy to be back with the children again.  I felt so happy and relieved to be back home safe and sound and yet……. There was a small part of me that felt sad that all the opportunities of having duas more likely to be accepted through performing Hajj and also through all our travels away from home were now finished.  Yet here again Allah comforted me because 4 days later was the 1st day of Muharram, a month in which there are great blessings to be had and in which is the day of Ashoura where fasting the day before and the day itself can, inshallah, bring us Allah’s forgiveness for all the sins accumulated in the previous year.  And then there are the blessings on Friday, and with extra fasting Mondays and Thursdays and praying at night, etc. etc I realized that Allah, in His Mercy, gives us many opportunities in our daily lives to seek blessings from Him where our duas are more likely to be answered alhamdulilah.

In Algeria there is a tradition that when someone returns from Hajj they kill a sheep and feed all the neighbours and family and friends.  This is called a “Wa’da” which means ‘promise’, probably stemming from the promise some people make to Allah to make such a sacrifice if they should be granted the honour of going on Hajj.  However, here it has become the expected thing to do.  I wouldn’t go so far as saying that it is a biddah because I don’t think that people consider it necessary in order to have your Hajj accepted.  Perhaps for some people it is nice to have all your family, friends and neighbours around once you’ve arrived back and I believe it can go on for days.  However, my husband and I had been away for so long, from our children who had been ill and also had their end of term exams as well as spending Eid on their own without us, and all we wanted to do was close out the world and be with our children and catch up with them and their lives.  They had all worked really hard and done remarkably well in their studies while we were away alhamdulilah. We could not have gone on Hajj and made the most of the experience with a clear mind if it wasn’t for my eldest daughter, Sarah, who single-handedly took over the running of the home at a rather stressful time – the end of term with exams, and also Eid – as well as take care of sick children and sort out her own University studies.  May Allah reward her and my other children who all chipped in to help her mashallah. We hadn’t made a “wa’da” so we felt no obligation to sacrifice an animal and feed a lot of people.  My husband did have some remarks made in jest by some Algerians whom he had already spoken to about Hajj on the lines of “So when are you going to feed us then?”  Being rather mischievous and not one to pass up an opportunity for a laugh he answered them by telling them to come around on a certain day at a certain time in the evening.  It just happened to be the day and the time that our nextdoor neighbour was holding his wedding dinner…. to which these brothers had been invited anyway!  My sister-in-law did come to visit the morning after we arrived while I was having a shower and my husband was still in bed!  She brought enough dinner to last 2 days and only stayed long enough to make sure we were all ok and then went back home – taking 3 buses to get there.  May Allah reward her as she also made the same journey several times to bring food to the children while we were away mashallah.  And a lovely friend called a few days later with a huge tray of assortment of cakes… for all our guests!  They were very happily consumed by my family of gannets.

The hardest question to answer when I came back was “how was your Hajj?”  How do you answer that question in one simple sentence?  People have asked me if I have changed since I made the pilgrimage.  I think that every new venture in our lives change us – moving away from home, getting married, having children, moving countries, reverting to Islam etc. etc. and so too does Hajj. One very good friend of mine said that she didn’t think I would want to see her once I got back from Hajj, as I would have had all my sins forgiven and would not be interested in talking small talk with her.  I told her then, and this was before I left for Hajj, that I don’t consider Hajj like the New Year where you make all these resolutions to be and to do better and then within a day or two you are back to the way you were before, but more disillusioned.  Of course it’s important to always aim to improve and do better, but I am human and part of the human condition is to sin.  Allah’s Messenger (SAWS) said, ‘By the one in Whose hand is my soul, if you were not to commit sin, Allah would efface you and would replace [you by] such people that would commit sins and then seek forgiveness from Allah so that He would forgive them.’ So the important thing is to try not to sin, but when you do to ask Allah for His forgiveness with sincerity and to pick yourself up and try again inshallah.  And of course to keep very far away from the Major sins inshallah.

This is my own personal account of Hajj – everyone has their own story to tell and I know that even those with whom I shared the experience, my husband, the sisters in the hotel room and the others in the group will all tell their story very differently.  For me Hajj is like childbirth – it’s really difficult to describe to someone who has never had a baby what it’s really like, it has be experienced.  And everyone’s experience of childbirth is very different.  There is nothing dignified or clean or easy about childbirth and the same too goes for Hajj.  And yet, despite the hardships and the difficulties, we all want to go through it all again because the rewards are so wonderful.  Would I go back again? Absolutely!  In a flash!  Every year if I could!!!! But shhhhhhh!!! Don’t tell the kids! 

List of items I packed for Hajj

3 black hijabs and abayas as well as the cap to go under the abaya
1 black, very light, head scarf
3 pairs of leggings/jogging pants
5 sleeveless t-shirts
2 Pairs of Pyjamas
2 tops to wear over Pyjamas
1 very light dress
1 cardigan
20 pairs of underwear
Packet of Panty Liners
Packet of Sanitary Towels
6 Pairs of black socks
1 Pair of shoes
1 Pair of plimsolls
1 Pair of trainers
2 packs of non-perfumed wet wipes
1 non-perfumed deodorant
1 non-perfumed hand cleanser
Toothpaste, toothbrush
Comb, hair elastics and clips,
Small, sharp scissors and a razor
Facial cleanser (not used during Hajj)
Shampoo and Conditioner (not used during Hajj)
Shower gel (not used during Hajj)
Hand bag size Qur’an in English and Arabic
Dua book
Books on Hajj
Sleeping Bag
1 large towel and 1 hand towel
Black thread, needle and safety pins
Mobile phone, charger and adaptor
Viatmin E capsules
Crystallised ginger
Two tubes of travel wash
Two notebooks, pens and pencils
Two mobile phones plus chargers and adaptors

I regretted bringing the sleeping bag and my cardigan.  It was very easy to buy a thin mattress  which was just as comfortable, if not more so, than a sleeping bag, which folded up, was light and had handles for easy carrying, for something like 5 pounds sterling.  Instead we had lugged two sleeping bags all the way to England, to Jeddah, back to England and then back to Algeria when instead we could have used the baggage allowance to better effect!

I regretted not bringing a back supporter which comes flat packed and opens up to an L-shape where you sit on one side and the other supports your back.  I found sitting for long hours in the mosques without any support for my back very tiring.  I also regretted that I didn’t bring some kind of body belt.  I used a small handbag with a long strap which I wore over my head and across my body and it was no problem most of the time.  But there were times when I was praying and it fell across my body and I had to adjust it, or when I was using the bathroom and wished I could leave it in the tent, or when I slept with it in my arms or under my head, and I wished that I didn’t have any valuables in it.  If I had worn a body belt I could have kept our money and any other valuables strapped to my body and just kept my bag for my Qur’an, dua book, phone, diary, pen etc.

Something that my daughter did bring with her and which she found very useful was bug repellant – again non-perfumed.  But maybe it was because it was a different time of the year for her – she had gone in February and we were in November, but we didn’t have to contend with any bugs at all alhamdulilah.

List of Books on Hajj which I read

Handbook of Hajj, by Islamic Teaching Center, Indianapolis, Indiana
Important Fatwas regarding the rites of Hajj and Umrah, by Shaikh Abdul Azziz Bin                      Abdullah Bin Baz.
The Prophet’s Conduct During Hajj, by Faisal Al-Baadani,
How to perform Hajj and Umrah, by Dr Saleh Ibn Fouzan Al-Fouzan
Hajj, Umrah and Ziyarah (in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah), by Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah Bin Baz
Hajj & Umrah made easy, by Dr Taqi Hashmi and Adnan Malik

The last two books were the ones I most referred to while I was on Hajj.

I do feel that, if you have any health problems or have never been on Hajj or are going with someone else who has never been before and are feeling nervous about it, then it is a good idea to pay the extra money and go with a well organized agency who has years of experience on providing the Hajj service and who has good contacts in Mecca.  They will usually have good hotels closer to the Haram and will provide more buses to and from the Haramain and the sites.  And I would strongly urge people NOT to postpone the Hajj until they are much older – it makes such a difference to have the energy and good health to make the most of this amazing experience.  


  1. As-salaam 'alaykum wa rahmatAllah wa barakaatuh, jazaaki Allah khairan for your lovely blog and especially the part about hajj is very interesting and informative maa sha Allah. I really like the way you write and the humour, and it is nice to read a muslim blog which is done with good taste and without pictures of humans etc. May Allah bless you and keep us firm on the deen.
    From your sister in Islam umm khawla

  2. Walaykum asalaam wa rahmatulah wa barakatu, BarakAllahufiki for your lovely comments and for the encouragement which is always appreciated Alhamdulilah. It's been almost 4 years since I was blessed to be able to make this Hajj journey, and I think a lot of things have changed in Mecca since then....and more changes are planned, but I hope that some of the sentiments and experiences I shared will be of use to others inshallah.