“Hajj is a Pilgrimage of the Heart”.
Only once you begin to fully internalise this, can you prepare yourself physically for the pilgrimage that you are about to undertake. I find writing about a Hajj a very personal experience. For me, performing a Hajj meant having to focus on my own spiritual well-being before fulfilling what society expected of me. If you go on a Hajj and change one spiritual and one mental aspect of your life, the your Hajj, for you, will be accepted, Insha Allah.
Whilst a Hajj remains the obligatory right of any Muslim who is able to afford the means to do so, the most common question that I was asked was, “how do you know if you’re ready”.
I wasn’t ready. But when Prophet Ibrahim (A.S) calls out, you answer, “Here I am at your Service, O Allah, Here I am”.
“Labbayk Allahumma Labbaik, (Here I am at your Service, O Allah, Here I am)
Labbayk La Sharika Laka Labbayk, (Here I am, You have no partner, Here I am)
Innal Hamda Wan Ne’mata Laka Wal Mulk (Verily all praise & blessings are Yours & all Sovereignty)
La Sharika Lak”, (You have no partner)
I still get emotional reading those lines.
I think back to hearing the men reverberating those words on the plane, almost in unison their heart, mind & soul elevated through the beautiful glorifying words of “Talbiyah” that our beloved Prophet (S.A.W) taught us.
We had under 6 days to prepare to travel and plan for a Hajj, which people spend a lifetime preparing for. People attend Hajj classes, read through books describing the rituals and spend all their time gathering information, “things” and items which they think will complete a Hajj. What completes a Hajj is the heart.
Hajj for me, was a journey of great discovery and self-fulfillment. When you return, you feel as if you’ve returned with a indescribable amount of spiritual richness, and no amount of planning can ever give that to you.
The people of Mecca and Medina make it such that every item that you require for a Hajj can be bought off the streets from their local traders. You don’t need to spend months packing your bags, looking for items here or buying books that are meant to ‘aid’ the Hajj. If you go with the basics needed for your daily cleanliness, spiritual purification will follow.
I always though that I needed to read the literature, prepare myself physically and memorise as many duas as I was able to before leaving. Whilst there’s nothing wrong is doing so, and I likely would have done this should the time allowed for it, I went with one vision in my mind and that was to perform my Hajj to the best of my ability and let those duas come from my heart. I urge you, if you are performing your first Hajj to attend classes to build your spirituality. Once you feel something move inside of you, you will do everything it takes to perform your Hajj ‘by the book’.
My guide is to aid you for the time in Azizia and the 5 Days of Hajj. Our flight was into the Hajj terminal in Mecca and we proceeded directly to our accommodation in Azizia (we did not stay in Mecca as time was limited). We traveled with Ashraf from Travel and Tour World based in Durban. We received fantastic service from them and they were extremely honest and professional in their dealings. Because we were late in our arrival into the Hajj terminal, the SAHUC representatives were there to assist us with our luggage and in getting to the Hotel in Azizia. They were patient and accommodating with us through the wait.
Please consult with older members of your family on what to pack if this is your first Hajj. This is a guide to assist you based on my experiences for the 5 Days of Hajj. My guide is not intended to explain the Hajj Rites to you, there are numerous Kitaabs which will be able to assist you with that. Instead use it as a tool to aid your packing, and make your time on Hajj easy.
Choosing a Hajj operator often seems like a daunting task. I suggest seeking advice from friends or family who have the same interests as you so they are best able to advise you. We selected Travel & Tour World, a Durban-based Hajj and Umrah operator. Ashraf was professional and honest at all times and checked in on us throughout our journey. TTW as they are often known as has the best location in Mina. They are the 2nd closest hotel to the ‘stairs’ which lead u to the main tunnel. Their tent was also placed first at the entrance of the camps.
Depending on how many weeks you are intending on traveling, some flight options might or might not suit you. Because we were flying in at the last minute, we needed to get a direct flight into Mecca. We chose to fly with Saudia, which was a direct flight. The flight was comfortable. Other airlines had up to 17 hours transit, but connected into Mecca. The advantage with Saudia was that you could depart from Medina, with 1 stop-over (short) in Jeddah before departing to South Africa.
If there’s one thing that I feel imperative to mention is the Visa. If you are reading this post, you have either completed your Hajj, or intending to do so. Once you are able to afford to perform a Hajj, please complete the application form online (SAHUC website). You could get accepted in a year, or up to 5 years – it all depends on the quota system. Hajj is for the young, try not to leave it until you’re older, and ‘expecting to change’. Your time might not come as soon as you expect it to; don’t live with that deep regret.
Footwear, during the 5 Days of Hajj and throughout.
I cannot emphasise the importance of a good pair of shoes. I suggest getting a pair of Green Cross sandals which have a Velcro strap by the toe and ankle. It has back foot support and you can wear a pair of socks. I also bought a pair of slip on canvas pumps from Woolworths. I bought a size bigger so it could accommodate socks and swelling feet. Bringing a pair of flops is not necessary. You can buy a pair of the white hajj plastic slippers on the street and discard them before you leave. You need those for the toilets and wudhu. If you bring your own pair of slippers, rather bring a less expensive pair that you don’t mind leaving behind. The shoes take alot of strain and can get into a very bad condition after the 3 days. If you’re doing the walking hajj, look into purchasing a proper running takkie. I suggest getting in contact with someone who has done this so they are able to advise you on what would be your best option. Alot of the ladies had on a pair of Sketchers. They looked extremely comfortable and covered the entire foot. Pack a medium sized scrubbing brush for your shoes. You will need to wash them almost daily. I suggest leaving them directly under your air-conditioner to dry faster.
Take 2 pairs of socks (For the 5 Days of Hajj). Mufti stressed on the point that we need to cover our feet. Aside from that, your feet get so dirty so it’s best to have them covered where possible. You can remove it once you’re in the tent and when you’re asleep. Buy a good quality pair of ankle length socks. Anything higher tends to get too warm. If it’s slightly thick it’s able to cushion your feet. Pack an additional 4-5 during the rest of your time there and they can be washed as you go along.
For the Bathrooms in Mina.
Take those complimentary ‘shoe bags’ with as your toilet aid. You need 1 roll of toilet paper, a pack of unscented wet wipes (Huggies), your istinja bottle (the one with a spout from Bin Dawood works well), a length of elastic to keep your abaya rolled up, a small container of unscented hand washing liquid or unscented soap in a soap container and a small pack of disposable face cloths or tissues to dab onto your skin after wudhu and a small container of unscented cream. This should remain as is in your bag and taken out as you need it. The shoe bag can be hung over the toilet door, or hung onto the handle of the door. I wouldn’t suggest taking fancy toiletry bags as this bag should get discarded before you leave. If taking a proper toiletry bag, make sure it has some sort of string or handle that can attach somewhere whilst you are busy in the toilet. If you are able to ‘train’ your system for the 5 days of Hajj, I suggest minimising the foods you eat and the liquids that you consume.
Bin Dawood also stocks a 4 and 5 pack Non-Scented toiletry pack for Hajji’s by Beesline and Farmasi. It has the Hand sanitiser, Body cream, Shampoo, Shower Gel and Hand Soap. They retail for around 20 Riyal.
Medication during your trip.
Depending on your health requirements, remember to pack your daily medication. In addition, pack 3/4 anti-inflammatory tablets as you will need it on the bus trip or the sleep in Muzdalifa. Take Primulot if you’re female and need to delay your periods. Pack Immodium, pain killers (Panado or Nurofen) and sinus tablets or nasal spray. I found that my sinuses began to bother me in Arafat. Don’t take box-fulls. Just 2/4 of each is sufficient between a couple. Pharmacy’s are usually in the busier areas and can be found with ease. If you haven’t brought certain medication or body essentials, you’re likely to find them here. I wasn’t able to manipulate my cycle as I had very few days to prepare until we left. I had to take a tablet called Primulot for the entire duration of my trip which left me very ill towards the end. Please exercise caution and use this only if necessary and only during the 5 days of hajj. Please read on the side effects and don’t use if you have a history of clotting etc. Seek advice from a medical professional on how to use the pill. Primulot is also considerably cheaper here too; expect to pay 18 Riyals which is approximately R65. There is one directly outside the harem (at the foot of Zam Zam towers in Mecca and a few on the border of the Harem in Medinah). Remember to take a take of “Moove” which is a relief for muscular pain. You can rub this under your feet daily, I found this helped with all the walking.
Keeping cool during your time in Saudi.
Don’t worry to pack umbrellas from SA. They’re available on the street for 10 Riyals. Try to get a smaller one so it is able to fit into your bag. I suggest getting 2 although you might only land up using one. You can offer the other one to someone who might not have in your group. These are essential when walking from your camp in Mina to Mecca as the sun is quite intense after Zohr. Ensuring that the umbrella is small, it can be packed away into your bag with minimal fuss.
Take extra money bags aside from the ones you’ve taken for your pebbles. Fill them with ice (available from the freezers outside of your camp) and use that to cool off. Fill a few packets if possible and hand them out to the hujjaj. They will appreciate it.
I suggest that you make a trip to Bin Dawood for a spray bottle which you will need to use for wudhu, especially in Muzdalifa. Preferably purchase the smaller bottles (4 Riyal) which isn’t too large to fit into a backpack. Another nice-to-have is the fan-come-spray bottle. These sell for 24 Riyals but require batteries. They don’t always work efficiently but when they do, it’s fantastic! I suggest filling it with ice and water so the spray that comes out is cold on your face.
If you go to the Bin Dawood in Azizia, there’s a fresh juice stall at the tills. We would enjoy a drink before leaving.
In your tent in Mina
Get a pillow cover and sleeping bag-style sheet made before you leave SA. I used mine alot in Mina and it feels cleaner than sleeping on the sofa beds provided. You can leave it behind so someone else can benefit from it before you leave. Ours was a gift, but one can easily be made out of white cotton fabric. Ask your seamstress to make it in the length and size of a single sleeping bag. The pillowcase can be a standard cover. Because it is lightweight, it’s not a bother to take with on your 5 Days of Hajj.
Try to position yourself directly in front of a blower. It’s the chance you take between getting ill and staying cool. The blowers blow cool air and are not air conditioning. The quicker that you accept that, the easier the rest of your time will be. Generally the beds near the entrance of the tent is easier as it’s quick to get in and out without causing disturbance to others, but this will depend solely on how early or late you are to reserve your space.
Because the South African Special Service tents are situated very close to the Jamarah, it’s easy to gauge the busy and quiet times by simply looking out of your tent onto the walkway. We found that going immediately after Zohr salaah was the least busy and we would proceed directly to Mecca on the 4th and 5th Day. Remember to take your umbrella with, a few bottles of water that were in the freezer and your pebbles. Remember to always take extra in case yours fall or you need to help out someone who has lost theirs.
Clothing during the 5 Days of Hajj and time in Medinah.
Many people insist that you should pack ‘light’, use your abayas there and ‘give them away’ and only take 3 abayas with. I tend to disagree with this. I believe that you should pack according to your needs and how you feel about washing and wearing old clothes.
I packed 5 abayas (for 3 weeks), 3 of which were new. I had them laundered twice so I was able to bring them to Medinah clean and fresh to greet our Prophet (saw).
In the same instance, when visiting the Kabaa, we should dress our best; in the case of hajj, our attire should be simple yet clean. I didn’t bring old abayas, although there’s nothing wrong in doing so. You can bring them with and give them away without wearing them if you wish to do so. I just felt that it was inappropriate to wear heavily embellished abayas or very old/damaged abayas whilst on a hajj.
I packed 3 pairs of tights, 1 pair of stretch/bon-bon tights with an elastic at the ankle from Ahlan Wasalan (please avoid this as they’re very uncomfortable and tend to leave marks on your ankles due to them being so tight), 2 pairs of dryfit running shorts from Nike and 1 pair of running tights from Nike. I also bought 1 vest from Ahlan Wasalan with a sewn-in zip. This is especially helpful during the first 3 days of Hajj to keep your cash. Put it into a money packet to avoid it damaging from sweat. Another essential is a pair of leather slip-on’s from Ahlan Wasalan. You can buy a liner from Green Cross to add extra cushioning and use a pair of thicker socks too. The marble is very harsh for your feet and it places strain on your ankles during Tawaaf and Sa’ee. Keep them in your shoe bag.
I purchased my ‘Hajj Abayas’ from I Love Black in Mayfair. Ask the assistant to show you the abayas with the stretch sleeves and pockets with zips on the side. You can opt for the front down zip, or without and even ask him to put a simple embellishment on it. Although these feel thicker than normal abayas, you don’t smell in them during the first 3 days of hajj. They dry out quickly and do not crease. I would look into an option of making a pure cotton abaya in black and white to feel the difference, just based on it being light weight allowing for more ventilation. I used to change into a cotton ‘Sameera’ at night to feel more comfortable. If you’ve forgotten to pack one, the 10 Riyal store on the main road of Azizia has them in stock.
Under garments under your abaya aren’t really necessary. Our abayas are generally quite thick so it minimises them being see-through. Try to get abayas which are closed in the front so the press studs don’t pop open when you’re sitting. One lady wore a long slip inside her abaya. Some preferred tights and I felt most comfortable with my Nike running shorts, in which case you’d need slightly longer socks. If you’d prefer not to wear a bra (the heat gets so ridiculous that wearing one becomes very uncomfortable) purchase a few vests from WW with the built in support.
Depending on how long you’re planning to go away for, I suggest bringing extra short burqas instead of the longer ones. I used my shorter ones more due to the extreme temperatures. I kept the longer ones for salaah. Remember to bring a bar of Sunlight soap or washing powder to wash undies and smaller items. Our accommodation in Azizia offered a laundry service, so we used them for the larger items.
Try to use the branded merchandise from your hajj agent as this helps in easily identifying people from your group. The shoes bags come in handy especially if you’re walking together and lag behind. You can easily spot the other people in the group and catch up easier.
South African woman usually take pride in neatness and cleanliness. Let us not change when we travel. Remember to clean up after yourself so the space is neat for the next person, especially if using the bathroom facilities.
A few essential toiletries that one might tend to overlook:
1) A metal foot file from Clicks or any pharmacy. Your feet take quite a beating during a hajj. Remember to pack a foot file to scrub off any grime that might be under your feet. Lather on a combination of Zam Buk and Ingrams Cream after.
2) A pack of panty liners and additional undies for the first 3 days of hajj. A woman is allowed to change her underwear whilst in Ihraam.
3) A good facial and body exfoliator. Due to pollution and congestion, dust tends to settle on your skin. Give your body and face a proper Polish every few days just to revive your skin. It will also perk your mood. Try to empty it into a travel size container so there’s no need to lug around a large quantity of the stuff.
4) A body sponge and face sponge
5) Baby powder, antiperspirant roll-out and spray (Nivea has a 48-hour ‘stress’ antiperspirant). Layer on the 3 and finish with a final dusting of powder. I find that this keeps me dry and odour-free.
Food in Azizia.
If you’re going to be way for a while you might consider taking an electric pot with you. Be sure to change the plug before you leave. It takes up some space in your luggage but will come in very handy during your stay in Azizia where food isn’t easily accessible. Stock up on essentials from the many grocers on the main road and you can have simple meals during your stay. Our hotel in Azizia had a freezer so we were able to freeze some of our pre-prepared meat and simply had to warm it at dinner or lunch time if we weren’t in the mood for takeaways. When transporting meat from SA, cook it first, portion and allow to cool. Put into ziplock bags and pop into a deep freezer. Before leaving home, wrap it in newspaper and pop into a collapsible fabric cooler bag. This cooler bag will come in handy on your return to store your kajoor or zam zam containers. If you’re going later (We landed 6 days before the Hajj began), consider taking lots of snacks and biscuits to hand out to Hujjaj that have been there for a few weeks already. They really appreciate it as their stocks have already run out. Try to avoid any biscuits that tend to get squashed or damaged, unless they have been put into appropriate containers.
The hotel in Azizia had a delivery service for pizza. This was great when we got tired of our own food and the food supplied by our agent. Our agent was kind enough to cater for us during our stay in Azizia. We received lunch and dinner on most days which meant we didn’t need to go out and look for food.
Do not take any food with during the 5 Days of Hajj. To be totally honest, I don’t even think snacks are necessary. I took a few energy bars and didn’t eat a single one. If you feel like you might be peckish in the night, then take some Biltong (alot of the ladies brought this), or Chevro. Other than that, I don’t feel it’s completely necessary to lug around any additional weight.
Keeping in touch
Saudi Arabia is one country where I would recommend carrying 2 phones when you travel. One can have data loaded for your applications running on your South African number and the other loaded with a Saudi sim Card which is useful for getting in touch with your agent or spouse while around. I opted not to get data and relied solely on the wifi in the Hotel lobby in Azizia. i didn’t want to distract myself with anything ‘worldly’ during this time, so I minimized my contact with family and friends back home and restricted my usage to 10 minutes in the morning and 10-15 minutes in the evening to stay in touch.
One of the easiest ways to ensure that your device is always charged whilst abroad is with a Universal portable charger. Ours are from Autostyle Motorsport and retail at R140. They’re great for cell phone back-up batteries and emergencies; just plug it in for instant power. It provides cell phones up to 12 hours of extra power and up to 4 hours of extra power for smartphones. This is essential if you plan on staying connected during the 5 Days of Hajj as there is limited access to power supply. If you plan properly, I suggest taking an extension cord with a multi-plug adaptor to charge multiple devices. One lady was courteous enough to do that and assisted the other woman who had not thought about bringing Powerbanks or plugs with. She would charge a few phones at a time. The actual socket is high up on the roof of the tent, so you need an extension cord to get up there.
In Arafah, or 9th of Dhul-Hijjah
“This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favor upon you,
and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” (Al-Maidah :3)
The best preparation you can make for the Day of Arafah is to write a dua list. I printed a list as well as saved messages on my mobile to read out during those precious hours in Arafah. Remember to ask for as much as you want! Start off by writing your own duas the minute that you know that you have been accepted to go for Hajj. The first dua should be to thank Allah (swt) for affording you the privilege to be on his mubarak land! Remember to ask your parents, your family and your friends for all of their duas and ask for the same of yourself when reading theirs. This is the best gift that you can ever afford anyone so be generous and Allah will reward your intentions, Ameen! Please remember your parents.
We had chosen to take the coach instead of walk to Arafah. We (I was) were not physically ready to walk the distance in the heat. We were the second coach to arrive in the tent. Be courteous to keep a space for those in your group who have chosen to walk. Explain to the rest of the ladies that you have done this so no one gets offended that you have reserved spaces. The ladies doing the walking Hajj will appreciate this as they are exhausted by the time they arrive in Arafah. Try to position yourself in front of an conditioner if it is not infringing or upsetting anyone else in the group.
Try to minimise your liquid and food intake as it is preferred to remain in wudhu during the time in Arafah. Food is provided but be cautious in eating foods that cause gas. You really want to maximise this time and avoid having to spend it going to the bathroom or engaging in anything else except Ibadah. Because of the extreme heat during this Hajj, we were encouraged to remain in our tent and make our Ibadah from there. When it gets slightly cooler, it’s nice to talk a walk with your spouse, or parents, and find somewhere cool to make dua. Try to remain in contact with your group during the last hour of your time in Arafah. With each tent and group being different, I’m not sure what the arrangements are for the other groups. Our Mufti (Mufti AK) held a mass dua before we left which literally brought the entire congregation to tears. Engage in this dua and do not leave before having listened to a dua by one of the Mufti’s. It brings me to tears just remembering the emotions that we experienced on that Day so you can only but imagine the power of the Day of Arafah! Remember to check what time your coach or group is meant to leave. Getting out of Arafah is problematic so try to get onto your coach at the requested time. Use the time on the bus to continue making Dua, or rest if you have to. Do not drink any liquids hereon.
Remember to purchase a ‘Hajj mat’ while you’re in Azizia. You will need to use this in Muzdalifah.
Do not go with any expectation and you will be fine – I say this not to discourage anyone! I expected to find fields and plains where I would find settlers waving their lit torches in search of their pebbles. Instead, we had to sleep on tar, in a bus rank as that was the only available space for those traveling with the coach. Once you find a space, sit down and stay there! In the light of that night, you are at your most humble. There are millions of people around you, all in the same situation and neither of them are more privileged than you. It’s a place where you could have millions and not be able to spend a single cent as there are no provisions to do so.
If you find water, take it and keep it for later – even if it’s become warm. Remember to fill your wudhu/spray bottle in Arafah as this will come in handy for wudhu during the night and at Tahajjud/Fajr. If you have any muscular concerns, please take an anti-inflammatory with. You will need this to get through the night in Muzdalifa. The tar is very hot, and you can feel the heat through the mat – try to take your cotton sleeping bag that you used in Mina with and place that on top of your mat. Remember to also take socks or something to cover your feet during the night. Don’t forget to search for your pebbles. Remember to take bank packets with and fill the required amount. Remember to fill extra in case you loose a packet or drop some on your way to the Jamarah. There are no facilities for the bathrooms. Remember to rather minimise your liquid intake and only eat after Fajr when you’re back onto your coach. Remember to remain in your group as they will give direction on when they are leaving.
On the third Day of Hajj, or 10th of Dhul Hijjah
You will perform the stoning – remember the earlier tip of gauging what time would be best to go. Try to go in a group of 3 or 4 couples. Remember to use your complimentary shoe bags on your backs – this is a great identifier for the rest of your team. One couple should wait at a given point, and the other 2 or 3 couples go in. In this way, everyone is accounted for and safe. Try to move towards the outer point (remembering that you left shoulder should always face Mecca). Don’t forget to make Dua for as long as you are able to facing Mecca after the pelting.
Following this, proceed to Azizia.
This is a good opportunity to leave behind anything that you might no longer require in Mina. The men will have their hair shaved (remember to make certain that NO scented shaving creams are used) and you can cut your hair only AFTER your Dum e Shukar has been done. We had to sms our Hajji number to our agent after our pelting so he could make our Qurbaani for us. Each group is different so please check with your agent first. Ladies can cut their own hair, so remember to take a small pair of scissors with. You are now out of Ihram. You can rest in Azizia but should make your way back to Mina as soon as possible.
On the 4th and 5th Day of Hajj, the process remains the same.
After pelting, proceed to Mecca to perform your Haj al Ziyarah. Remember to keep your mataaf shoes in your bag, some water, your umbrella and enough cash to get a ride to the Haram and back. Depending on how many of you are traveling, you can arrange a minivan to take you there for a fee. Be aware though, the trip there is long, and tiring and sometimes costly. Be prepared with patience and cash. I suggest having a meal in Mecca before proceeding back to Azizia, or directly to Mina. There are plenty food outlets in Zam Zam Towers if you feel like you are in need of a good meal. If you are taking a napsack with, the guards will ask you to store it in the locker. So rather travel light and avoid having to do any of this.
The final Tawaf may be done at your discretion and can be on the final day of Hajj or the day after.
We stayed on an extra day in Azizia after our Hajj and our agent arranged for a taxi to take us to Medinah where we spent an additional 6 nights before returning to South Africa.