This article contains detailed
information about how to perform Hajj in a shorter time (8-12 days) on your
international passport without going through the government’s formal application
system. It does not touch upon religious and spiritual aspects of this great
event but limits itself to providing information that will make it an easy and a
memorable experience in contrast to what you commonly hear from returning
pilgrims. It guides you about what to expect and do once you are there.
Outline of the Article (Non-Pakistani
Hājīs can skip the first three sections)
Hajj Visas: Various kinds and their
Preparation: Stuff you need
Travel: Choosing an airline
Jaddah airport proceedings
Accommodation: Makkah, Minā and Madīnah
The main Hajj event: Minā-‘Arafāt-Minā
Rituals: Comfortable timings to perform
Ramī and Tawāf
To Madīnah: Transport, stay and ziyarāt
Back to Jaddah airport: Different
proceedings this time)
I had been planning to perform Hajj for
many years but was unable to do so for many reasons. Primarily, because I had
not been issued an 'invitation', but more worldly reasons included busy work
schedule that would not allow a 45 day absence, small children who did not want
to be left alone and who could not be taken along either, and minor deterrents
like horror stories from Hājī camps, Hajj flights and Mu`allims in Saudi Arabia
and whether to perform ‘Umrah before Hajj. (By the way I realised that
performing ‘Umrah before Hajj gives you no idea about the Hajj at all since
‘Umrah is purely an all Makkan affair whereas Hajj is entirely an out-of-Makkah
expedition). Another problem was the uncertainty about the kind and quality of
accommodation in the government sponsored scheme. If you happen to see a
government Hajj application form for the regular scheme you will find a specific
column that classifies accommodation into ordinary, good and very good and you
are supposed to choose one of them. But quite confusingly it mentions nothing
about their respective charges; all Hājīs pay the same amount whichever category
of accommodation they choose. To resolve this confusion, when I took up the
matter with Hajj counters of various banks in my area, I could only strengthen
my belief about the poor performance of these and other institutions associated
with this holy cause; nobody knew anything so I wanted to be in charge of my own
accommodation (and, as I later found out, it was the correct decision ).
With all this background I wanted to
perform Hajj in a way where:
i) The stay could be short (10-12
ii) Hajj flights and Hājī camps could
iii) I could choose my own
iv) I could avoid a Mu`allim’s
v) If possible, spend less money
The year 1997 was wasted in gathering
information and not getting the right links but in the last year 1998,
everything appeared to be falling in place. I performed Hajj (all gratitude to
Allah) and that too in a way I'll always remember. I am an experienced
globetrotter but honestly, nothing comes even close to this event when I take a
comparative look at all my past (and may be future) journeys.
When I came back, I discovered that
there was a large number of people who had similar limitations as mine and, when
I gave them the facts, they were immediately prompted for next year's Hajj. I
realised that I may not be able to reach all of them physically but still would
like them to know that their ambitions can take form of reality. Hence this
detailed description of what they need to know, expect and do. I would be
delighted to answer any questions that may arise from this article. You can find
my postal and email addresses at the end of this article.
Hajj, basically has two distinctly
separate experience domains, logistic and spiritual; this write-up, as stated
earlier, will only touch upon the former.
There are two kinds of Hajj visas; regular Hajj scheme
visa of the Pakistan government (which includes both self-supporting and
sponsored) and the NOC visa. This article focuses on performing Hajj through the
In the regular scheme, the government invites applications
approximately six months in advance (late Jamādī al-Awwal or early Jamādī al-Thānī)
and almost every applicant gets a visa through the Pakistan Hajj ministry on a
special passport (Hajj passport). Applications have to be supported by bank
drafts of the full fee (approx. Rs 85,000 per person). These Hājīs will have to
stay 40-45 days in Saudi Arabia, not because of any religious restriction but
purely because transporting 80,000-100,000 persons does require that time; so
the ones who go early, come back early and vice versa.
The NOC visa, on the other hand, is a category where Saudi
embassy directly issues Hajj visas without involving the Pakistan Hajj ministry;
apparently anybody with reasonable contacts should be able to get this kind of
visa. But lately some agencies have taken the responsibility of arranging this
visa for all those who wish to get it on a fixed fee basis. This visa is
endorsed on the international passport and gives the passenger the freedom to
choose his time of departure as well as his duration of stay in Saudi Arabia.
Virtually any route to Jaddah and back on any flight can be taken but with two
notable differences: Firstly, if any flight other than PIA is chosen the fare
has to be paid in foreign exchange earned abroad. A good way of doing this is to
buy a ticket on an account issued abroad and for this any Master/Visa or Amex
card issued abroad will serve the purpose. Secondly, this is going to be an
undiscounted fare of the economy class; so it is going to cost Rs.5000-7000 more
than a similar fare in non-Hajj season but then, don’t forget to get
Jaddah-Madīnah-Jaddah vouchers with it which makes its price worthwhile.
Now choosing to get a visa through the government scheme
i) Submitting applications with full fee (Rs.85,000
approx.) before the last date, usually the last week of Jamādī al-Thānī
(Sept./Oct. 1998 for Hajj 1999);
ii) Travelling according to the schedule provided by the
iii) Travelling on Hajj flights only;
iv) Staying in Hājī camps; it is usually mandatory to
report at the Hājī camp 24-36 hours before the flight departure time;
v) losing the opportunity to select or change
accommodation in Saudi Arabia
vi) Travelling to Madīnah and back by road.
On the other hand the NOC visa would allow:
i) More time for securing a visa (i.e. almost until two
weeks before Hajj).
ii) Having complete control of your entire Hajj schedule.
from selection of flights and dates of travel to selecting accommodation and
iii) By-passing the Hājī camp.
iv) Travel to Madīnah and back by air.
Going on an NOC visa however, will also mean that you will
have to find your own accommodation in Makkah (details follow) immediately upon
arrival; so choose a flight that arrives in Jaddah around midnight or early
morning and gives you the whole next day for this hunt.
Lately, the Saudi government has made it mandatory for all
kind of Hajj visa holders to pay the Mu‘allim’s fee which amounts to 770 riyals
and includes two services. First your registration with the Mu‘allim (which is
your booking of tent stay in Minā) and second the entire road travel while in
Saudia (which includes Jaddah airport to Makkah, Makkah to Minā, Minā to
‘Arafāt, ‘Arafāt to Muzdalifah, Muzdalifah to Makkah and finally to Madīnah and
back to Jaddah).
The one golden and ever applicable advice in the context
of preparation is that you ‘perform Hajj like a commoner; forget your status and
bring your expectations to their lowest’. This would mean that you are on
‘Jihād’ and not on picnic. Remind yourself: `I am going to accommodate everyone
and everything; I am going to be patient and kind and ... not lose temper at
all’. If you can achieve this, your Hajj will be the most pleasant and
unforgettable expedition (like mine).
Travel light is the one thing I could never do on my world
trips but on Hajj it was quite easily achievable, primarily because you don’t
carry 3-piece suits, jumpers and shoes etc. Two or three shalwār qamīz suits,
two sets of Ihrām, a pair of rubber slippers and a few other utilities are all
that are really needed and hardly make a suitcase. Do carry a Qur’ān preferably
with translation and other recommended books for the occasion. You will miss
them if you don’t. The list of articles provided by various sources and
departmental stores will be an extravagance for the NOC traveller; nobody irons
clothes, shaves or even combs hair during these days.
Hajj, for the next 5-6 years, is going to fall in
excellent weather conditions as it is receding from summer into winter.
Medicines are quite important; you will need them, without
exception. You must carry pain killers, anti diarrhoeals, anti biotics, and anti
allergics and be well familiar with their use. A small but useful list should
Ampiclox 500mg capsules
Ceporex 250mg capsules
Do carry some petty cash in the form of riyals or US
dollars besides your main reserve as you might encounter some unforeseen
expenses. Carry 5-6 photographs, as you will need them at the Mu‘allim's office.
Always keep a photocopy of your passport and air ticket in your wallet.
Your visa agent will get you an NOC visa after you have
paid him his fee plus mandatory Mu‘allim's fee. Then he will advise you to get
vaccinated against meningitis which you should; many will offer you a valid
vaccination card without getting the injection for Rs.200-300 but I won’t
After this, your travel agent (if different from visa
agent) will get you a flight schedule. It is generally advisable to book your
tentative roundtrip seats 3-4 months in advance; this will give you the
opportunity to select the best dates, route and flight. You are quite likely to
get seats later on as well but then you will have to make compromises.
Remember... there is always a last date of entry into
Saudi Arabia for Hajj every year which is usually around the 1st of Dhū al-Hajj.
This will also provide the opportunity of staying in Makkah for 6-7 days before
the regular Hajj proceedings -- an experience the memories of which you will
cherish for the rest of your life.
i) Catch a good sleep before you set out from home because
it is most likely that you won’t, for next 36 hours.
ii) It is best to wear the Ihrām before leaving for the
iii) Be at the airport at least three hours before the
flight departure time because all flights to Jaddah during these days will be
fully packed and you are quite likely to get stuck in long queues if you do not
reach the airport well before departure time. This will also give you time in
the waiting lounge to memorise verses necessary for Hajj which one may not be
able to do so earlier on for many reasons.
iv) Travel time is 5 hours (Lahore-Jaddah) and the travel
itself quite comfortable.
All Hājīs will be taken to the Hajj terminal at Jaddah
airport without any distinction between the regular scheme and the NOC visa
holders. This terminal is about 5 km from the International terminal and
visitors are not allowed here. So don’t plan to ask a friend or relative to pick
you up at the airport since he'll not be able to sneak in.
Jaddah airport is the place where you will find how well
you have prepared yourself for Hajj. It is usually a 3-4 hour long immigration
process and if at the end of it you are still smiling, hopefully you'll keep on,
for the rest of your trip.
There are about 8-10 levels of immigration process with
ample local staff taking care of arriving Hājīs. I found them very gentle and
patient, contrary to what I had been told and hence built up my expectations.
Most of these are temporary staff hired just for 2-3 months to tide over the
Hajj period. Because of their relative inexperience it takes longer than normal.
If you realise this you’ll understand the delays. So, relax and prepare yourself
for a long wait. But there is hardly ever an unpleasant incident and as a rule
of thumb: If you don’t create problems for yourself, it is sure they won’t.
One of these counters will give you a computer ID number
so that you can be traced through it if and when required. Another one will take
the 770- riyal bank draft that you got made in Pakistan and will replace it with
bus travel vouchers, which will be utilised step by step.
After the immigration formalities are complete, you will
be directed towards the Pakistani Hājī section of Hajj terminal. This is a
portion of a huge (approximately one square kilometer) area outside the airport
building and is covered by fibre glass canopies as ceiling; this area has
provision of food, toilets, phones, Saudi airline and bank offices and quite an
elaborate souvenir market. Prices here are almost the same as in the city; so
I’ll advise you not to waste time buying things in Jaddah, Makkah or Madīnah.
Perform your Hajj with full concentration and you will have ample time on your
way out to buy everything from here, be it a 15 riyal watch or a 4500 riyal big
screen TV. These shops are open round the clock.
In the Pakistani Hājī section, the entire flight is handed
over to a Saudi Mu‘allim who breaks it up into smaller groups (usually 50-55
persons in each group) to be transported to Makkah by coach. As you board the
bus one of the Mu‘allim’s representatives will take possession of your passport
and in return will give you a wristband that carries the name and address of the
Mu‘allim in Makkah. The passport will remain with the Mu‘allim as long as you
stay in Saudi Arabia and you won’t need it either. So don’t panic and don’t try
to get it back by various means. It will be here, at the airport, when you come
back to depart.
The buses are all air-conditioned and quite comfortable in
general; they take approx. 60-90 minutes to get to Makkah stopping on the way at
a couple of check posts for records and registration purposes.
You will be dropped close to the Mu‘allim’s office, en
bloc, usually next to a building where other Pakistani Hājīs are putting up;
from here you are on your own. If you arrive here in the morning, as I suggested
the best thing is to take your breakfast in a nearby Pakistani hotel and go for
‘Umrah straightaway. The best time to do it in peace is between 9.00am and 12.00
noon or between 1.00pm and 4.00pm since less people choose to perform ‘Umrah in
Accommodation in Makkah
After you are through with ‘Umrah you will need to look
for accommodation and you need to do this in a very organised manner. Don’t
panic; even if you don’t find one you will still have your host’s house to spend
the night. You can leave the luggage almost anywhere, in a shop or any hotel
nearby to claim it later; nobody will touch it. Now that you have been to the
Haram once, you know the geography of the area. Remember all accommodation in
Makkah in the Hajj season is on seasonal basis i.e. whether you stay for two
days or the whole Hajj season (45 days) you will be charged the same amount;
there are no daily or weekly rental plans available. All residential buildings
are located in a circle around the Haram but there is a discrete difference in
price structure if you divide this entire circle in two semicircles. If you
stand facing Bāb `Abdu’l Azīz of the Haram you will have al-Jiyād at your back
and right and Misfala on your left making one semicircle. This area is
relatively less dense in buildings and has many five star hotels including the
Hilton and hence a very high rate (usually between 1500-3000 riyals per person
for the season). All rooms are air-conditioned and most buildings on this side
The other semicircle extends on both sides of Bāb Safā on
the opposite side across the Haram. This area is much more thickly populated and
comprises usually smaller hotels and private houses that are let out to Hājīs.
The rate here is approximately 300-500 riyals per person for the season. These
rooms are also air-conditioned but you may be sent to the 5th floor without a
lift; but then you must realise that you have only to get down once and come up
once in 24 hours; all day you will be in and around the Haram. A standard
accommodation in either semicircle means one of the eight 3-4 inch thick
mattresses on floor in a 15x12ft carpeted, air-conditioned room; the number of
mattresses (or persons) in a room may vary depending upon the size of the room.
Bathrooms and toilets are communal. A place near the Haram and on ground floor
is almost three times as expensive as compared to a 3rd floor room 200 yards
from the Haram. Remember you only have to get down once and go back to your room
at night spending all day in and around the Haram; so the distance and the
number of stairs should not upset you. People looking for a place near the Haram
actually want to spend more time in the room and come out only for prayer.
I was disappointed to discover that regular scheme hājīs
had paid 1600 riyals per person for their Makkah accommodation whereas I could
find a similar accommodation for 500 riyals and a much superior one for 1000
riyals and that too at the last moment in peak Hajj season. (As I mentioned in
the beginning that accommodation was one of the factors that forced me to travel
on NOC visa and I was happy that I did).
You will find numerous Pakistani restaurants on all
streets around the Haram. The quality of food is usually good and a reasonable
variety is available. A meal costs 5-8 riyals per person including two large
size chapatis and is usually more than one person's requirement; along with a
can of coke or pepsi, which costs one riyal, one needs nothing else. Other food
shops include KFC, shawarma and local take aways but I would recommend you to
stay away from testing your gut on this trip since food poisoning is probably
the commonest complaint during Hajj and it can ruin the whole idea of being
there. Take simple, clean, wholesome diet and use mineral water or can drinks
with it. It is good to use salted yogurt (Labban) intermittently to avoid
getting heat exhaustion.
Your Mu‘allim is supposed to provide you with an ID card
for which I advised you to bring photos from Pakistan (just to save time); this
ID card is computerised and will be your legal document as long as the passport
remains with the Mu‘allim.
Remember you have to buy Qurbānī vouchers in Makkah which
are available at many places but some of these are unofficial and hence
unreliable; it will be best if you purchase one from al-Rhāji Bank counter
anywhere in the city; this is supervised by the government and hence, is quite
reliable. It costs 375 riyals per person and has the approximate time of
sacrifice written on it.
Do take some time out to visit historical places; the city
is full of them and it is an unbelievable experience standing in the ‘Hujrah’ of
`Aisha (rta) or at the front door of Abū Bakar’s (rta) house and if you happen
to know something about them you will realise how immortal these personalities
The main Hajj Event
Hajj is entirely an out of Makkah affair and involves a
roundtrip to ‘Arafāt from Minā and spans over three days.
Makkah - Minā - Muzdalifah - ‘Arafāt
Day-1 (8th Dhū al-Hajj)
You are required to leave Makkah after the Fajr prayer and
get to Minā, at the most by mid-day; this is usually possible in three ways:
i) Using the Mu‘allim's transport;
ii) Through private vehicles; or
iii) Through the ‘Tunnel’
Remember that you have paid for Hajj transport when you
had applied for visa and now have travel vouchers (already described), so you
can check with the Mu`allim about the departure time to Minā. The buses are
generally nice and comfortable but due to a mass movement after Fajr, logistic
problems do occur which result in long waits while in the bus. You'll still make
it to Minā in time in all probability, in spite of everything.
If you don’t want to use the Mu`allim's transport because
of rush and long waiting time, you can then opt for a private vehicle;
interestingly, a very large number of private car owners (from a junky Chevy to
the latest Landcruiser) turn to taxi business during Hajj season. They charge
10-100 riyals per person for Minā and similarly for ‘Arafāt and back depending
upon whether you want to travel during rush hours or otherwise. Don’t be fooled
by a courteous looking owner who invites you to get into his car and take you
wherever you want to go; you are going to pay for it.
Because of the ever-increasing number of pilgrims it is
virtually becoming impossible for all 2.5 million plus to be transported from
Makkah to Minā between 5.00 -11.00am. So quite a few decide to go there during
the night or even after `Ishā the night before. I must re-emphasise here that
Minā is only 5-6 km from Makkah and a very large number of Hājīs opt to walk to
Minā using the specially made 'Pedestrian Tunnel'. It is a wide (about 25ft
across) covered passage, well ventilated and illuminated. There are also gaps in
the tunnel where it becomes uncovered and remains open to sky for 20-30 meters
and then becomes covered again; this is most probably to help improve the
ventilation and give exits to people for various reasons. No vehicles are
allowed in the tunnel; so walking with the crowd chanting ‘Labbayk Allāhumma
Labbayk’ is quite an experience and the time passes very quickly. This route is
best used after the Fajr prayer on 8th Dhū al-Hajj and I'll strongly recommend
it for those who are physically fit and don’t mind walking; ladies and children
are no exception, if accompanying.
There are at least six roads leading into Minā valley
constructed at different heights from the ground level to allow unimpeded flow
of vehicles; they are all heavily guarded by local police who appear quite
helpful and agile and do their best to avoid jamming. Your driver may try to
drop you at the highest level road since this is least used and hence he can
take many roundtrips from Makkah to Minā on this to make as much money as he can
but this will make you walk over a kilometer to the residences. Therefore you’ll
have to tell him to drop you at the lowest of the roads that leads straight into
the mosque Khīf.
Minā is going to be your headquarters for the next four
days (or five, if you choose to stay on as the Prophet (sws) did) so you must
not underestimate the importance of your residence here. You have two main
purposes to stay here; one, say most or all of your prayers in the Khīf mosque
and two, get as much time in peace and comfort to pray, recite the Qur’ān and
offer nawāfil as you can in full concentration. You will have to go out to
‘Arafāt and come back here again the next day. For this you have two options:
You have already paid the Mu‘allim for the tent in Minā,
so you don’t have to pay anything else; when you use the Mu‘allim’s transport
he'll take you straight into the tents booked for his group of Hājīs. From 1998,
all hājīs from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will be accommodated in
fibre glass tents with air coolers installed in them. This is to avoid fire
accidents and provide lower temperatures to avoid heat stroke etc. but beyond
this the picture is not very attractive. The tents are spread over an area of
approx. 5.0-km and you'll only get to find out how far from the Khīf mosque you
are located when you get there.
Usually the distance is over a kilometer and this forces
most Hājīs to say their prayers in small groups inside or close to the tents.
Secondly, the food provided officially by the Mu‘allims is hardly ever
sufficient or decent; so one is always on the look out for food at various shops
between the camps or the ones which are located around the Khīf mosque. In spite
of the fact that facilities are ever enlarging, the number of Hājīs always
appears to outsource them. As a result, quite a large number of them do not get
a chance to get reasonable food. This causes frustration and depletion of energy
on the one hand, but more importantly, takes away concentration and hence spoils
the spirit of this event on the other. You can imagine walking for 20-30 minutes
around mid-day in the heat to get to the food shops, spend an hour or so getting
(or maybe not getting) it and then walking all the way back to take your lunch
around 4 o’clock, just to gear up for a similar exercise in the evening. One is
virtually restricted to this routine and allowed to have little time for the
main purpose that one came here for. But then this is my opinion and there will
be quite a few who settle down in the routine and get food in their tents on
more regular basis and are hence satisfied.
The other option in Minā is private hotels, of which there
are very few with a total capacity of under a hundred thousand people. They are
located right around the mosque and hence closest to the market and the Jamarāt.
Accommodation is similar to that in Makkah and all rooms are air-conditioned.
The rent however is quite exorbitant, approximately 3000 riyals per person for
4-5 days. This includes good quality, wholesome food, provided on time, in a
very congenial atmosphere. Toilets and bathrooms are communal but ok. This also
ensures good sleep and access to all the provisions round the clock and
virtually means that you have nothing else to do but concentrate on the “job”.
You can offer all prayers in congregation at Khīf even if you leave your room
when the mu`adhdhin is halfway through the call. Then you can come back and busy
yourself with the Qur’ān or read some other stuff that you may have. Best of
all, the Jamarāt are only 500 yards from the hotels so you can go there any time
you want. In other words, the money you pay will be fully rewarded and hence I
strongly recommend it for those who can afford it, but remember, these hotels
need advance booking which is done at Makkah by various hotels until a couple of
days before the actual take off to Minā.
The facilities in Minā are quite adequate but they are all
concentrated around Khīf with the exception of toilets which are scattered all
over the camp area. There is only one shopping area where you can find almost
every thing of daily use at a reasonable price. So if you have forgotten your
wrist watch or umbrella back in Makkah you’ll find plenty here.
Many take-away food shops are there to serve the Hājīs but
they do get overcrowded and finally exhausted by the mob at meal times. A
massive set up of public toilets and ablution taps is available adjacent to the
shopping area; these are quite clean in spite of excessive use, thanks primarily
to the high pressure flushing technique. Public phones have been placed in
groups of 10’s and 20’s at many sites but most of these use prepaid cards which
cost a minimum of 50 riyals and are easily available all over Saudi Arabia and
even Minā. It is best that you buy one at Jaddah airport and keep it handy for
the rest of your trip. A large telephone and telegraph office building also
overlooks the Khīf for those who want to send telegrams or faxes back home. In
addition to conventional shops, a very large number of footpath vendors occupy
the roads of Minā but mainly around Khīf and usually carry souvenirs of 1-10
riyal value. The prices are generally negotiable by 40-50%. One very unique
service that you will encounter all through the Hajj is supply of free foodstuff
by philanthropists (individuals and organisations both). Every now and then a
huge trailer would be noticed surrounded by a small crowd and a couple of men
from the back of the trailer throwing food items in the air allowing people to
test their catching abilities. Food items supplied by these include mineral
water, fruit juice, milk, yogurt and fresh fruit but there is usually one item
in one container. I realised that they somehow get to you precisely when you are
desperately looking for a drink, and in the bright sun there is hardly anything
superior to a bottle of chilled mineral water.
There are two other very elaborate systems of services
that require special mention. Firstly, the medical care which comprises a large
array of brand new ambulances, well equipped and staffed, to provide emergency
care to anyone in trouble and if necessary, shift him to Minā General Hospital
which faces the ladies entrance of the Khīf mosque. Secondly, a very extensive
and extremely energetic set up for garbage removal; about a third of 2.5 million
Hājīs are almost continuously eating or drinking and littering their
surroundings very casually. So even if left unattended for an hour the tarmac is
covered by many layers of empty juice packets, plastic bags, water bottles and
other kinds of wrappers. Numerous, completely automated dumper trucks are seen
constantly cleaning the area of such garbage to keep the area clean for Hājīs.
This is a facility the importance of which can only be underestimated if one has
not been there physically.
Day-2 (9th Dhū al-Hajj)
After having spent the first day ( 8th Dhū al-Hajj) in
Minā you will proceed to attend the main Hajj congregation in ‘Arafāt. Logistics
for this are just the same as those for coming to Minā, except that the distance
to ‘Arafāt is a little longer (25-30km approx.). You will have all three options
open to you for travel i.e. go walking, travel with the Mu‘allim on his bus or
use private transport and pay for it. Departure time is again after Fajr prayer
and one has to arrive in ‘Arafāt before Zuhr.
Remember this is the only day during the whole Hajj event
that the entire crowd (2.5 million plus) moves together; so your patience needs
to be at its best today. Like multiple roads into Minā, there are many ways out
of it but due to the mass movement of an unbelievably large crowd all roads are
packed with vehicles. This is the time when even local Saudis and hājīs from
neighbouring countries join in on private cars. It takes approximately an hour
to an hour and a half to cover these 25 kms to ‘Arafāt, and it is a good idea to
keep a few drinks and snacks handy.
On your way to ‘Arafāt you will pass through the
Muzdalifah valley; this is almost half way down and is the place where you will
spend this night on your way back from ‘Arafāt. Like Minā, ‘Arafāt is also a
valley and is sign posted by big yellow boards all along the periphery.
Remember, you have to be inside the ‘‘Arafāt begins here’ signboards whether you
have arrived here walking or have been off loaded by a vehicle. If you get to
‘Arafāt before Zuhr try to get to the mosque Namrah to say your prayer in
congregation and attend the ‘Khutbah of Hajj’.
As in Minā you’ll find everything of utility here; drinks,
fruits, take-away food and above all, free distribution. Some do get a chance to
get complementary food supplied on behalf of the king but I could not. Toilets
are quite a few and well scattered and you will not really be left looking for
‘This day is the Hajj ’. So be there early and well
prepared about what to do. You have to spend 6-8 hours there and if in the
middle of it you feel you have nothing to do and want to go to sleep for a while
(I saw many), it will be like sleeping on your long term future. You leave
‘Arafāt after sunset usually by the same transport that brought you here.
At dusk, mass departure from ‘Arafāt begins; for some it
is a departure from their previous lifestyle, while for others it is just a way
back home from a picnic. Logistics once again are no different; long vehicle
queues jamming all roads, bumper to bumper, inching their way forward. Almost
everybody is tired; so patience is much more in demand than ever before.
Eventually, you will get on to the main road and set out towards Muzdalifah,
which you passed by on the way while coming to ‘Arafāt.
In the Muzdalifah valley, you will have to spend the night
under clear sky on rocky, uneven ground. If you have a plastic prayer mat (which
you will definitely buy in Makkah for 8-10 riyals) it will suffice. If you
haven’t you can buy one here. Some people carry sleeping bags which I thought
were a little luxurious refuting the whole theme of this stay. Even here you
will find cold drinks, some food and fruit vendors and free distribution. Rest
assured that Allah Almighty will not let you go to sleep without food.
One thing that you may do in Muzdalifah is collect small,
peanut size stones, of which there are plenty for the whole crowd; you can do
this before going off to sleep or after Fajr next morning before you set out for
Day-3 (10th Dhū al-Hajj)
As you left for ‘Arafāt the previous day, you will have to
leave Muzdalifah after Fajr for Minā. It is the same exercise; get on the bus,
wait patiently and try to make yourself comfortable, at least as much as you
can. You will get to Minā by breakfast time. This completes your roundtrip to
‘Arafāt and practically the Hajj. From now on you will be performing certain
rituals for which you must know the philosophical background and the best time
to perform them. The rule is to learn and avoid the mob psychology; stay behind
by a couple of hours and you will stay out of trouble.
Remember that the vast majority of people avoid heat; so
you can either perform a ritual in heat in 20 minutes in full concentration or
in cooler time in two hours in a mess and that too with no idea of what you are
doing. If you choose to do anything between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, it is very
likely that you will be through quite easily. Avoid doing anything close to
prayer timings because the ‘mob thinking’ makes plans to do this/that when they
are out for prayer. Rush or overcrowding is only a relative term during Hajj and
hence no rush means only a few thousand people and not a few hundred thousand.
Having understood these rules you may follow the routine
People in general are in a haste to get out of Ihrām (for
no apparent reason; on the contrary, I wanted to continue with it) and for this
they have to get their heads shaved; there are three types of services available
i) Hājīs shaving each other’s head -- naturally free of
ii) Freelance, amateur style barbers who charge 5.0 riyals
but shave more skin than hair. I would strongly suggest staying away from them
as this is the most potential source of infection.
iii) Govt. authorised barbers who have two designated
sites close to the Jamarāts. These are primarily two huge pavilions covered by
steel shades and have approx. 500 chairs in each with a licensed barber standing
behind each. You have to buy a 10-riyal coupon at the main entrance and take it
to the barber of your choice; he will ask you to opt between a razor and machine
shave. If you want a razor shave I will advise you to carry or buy one good
quality disposable razor in Makkah for this occasion; or at least ask the barber
to use a new blade. A machine shave is safer and equally effective. This is the
only recommended place for the job; don’t try other alternatives.
If you wait only until lunchtime the place will be much
less busy and barbers in less hurry; so go there after lunch and get a shave of
The next ritual is the stoning the of Jamarāt. Again it is
best to go there between the Zuhr and ‘Asr prayers and you will find your way
through quite easily but remember that there are two levels at which stoning can
be performed: the traditional ground floor and a newly constructed overhead
bridge that serves as the first floor.
The Jamarāt are basically three, concrete pillars approx.
100 meters apart. They are roughly 6x6 ft in width and depth and stand more than
30 ft high; the top 8-10 ft of the pillar goes through a big hole in an overhead
bridge. Thus the people at ground floor aim at the base of pillars while those
on the bridge stone the top. The overhead bridge or the first floor has a one
way movement system i.e. on a U-shaped bridge people go up from one end and come
down from the other, thus avoiding a turn around and treading.
The ground floor has no such system; people are found
walking in all directions. In general, they prefer this route because they can
avoid the sun and this in turn leads to more rush here. They push through the
crowd up to the Jamarāt, stone it and then suddenly appear to lose control. They
turn around and run with their heads down against the flow of people basically
to avoid being hit by stones. (This is absolutely incomprehensible because the
stones are very small, aimed at a higher level and don’t normally hit you; but
even if they do they are too small to cause any injury). This is the commonest
place for accidents hence, and people once they panick are very difficult to
control; scores of lives are lost for no apparent reason. My recommendations for
you hence are:
Choose a time between Zuhr and ‘Asr prayers, so that you
should be at the Jamarāt around 3 o’clock.
Choose whichever floor you like but remember that at this
time it is not possible to stick to the teachings of guide books or Mu‘allims
(which means that you should stone the Jamarāt in such a way that the valley of
Minā is to your left and Makkah to your right. You will spend the whole day
trying to get into this position and are still not likely to succeed since
everybody is trying to do the same. Therefore, people form a circle around the
Jamarāt and stone it from all angles.)
The best approach under the circumstances is to go past
the Jamarāt, turn around and enter the crowd from the far end; the crowd is the
thinnest here and you will have little problem getting to the first row and
hence stone from a very convenient position. Always carry more stones than you
require because some may fall out of your grip in the rush and it will be
extremely unwise to bend down and gather them to complete the count.
After you have stoned, remember one very important thing:
Don’t panic and don’t run. Try to make your way out as patiently as you made it
in and in the process you may be caught by a ‘low flying missile’ but I assure
you this wont hurt at all. Keep your calm and you will come out safe every time
After stoning, the last part of the Hajj proceedings is
going to Makkah for Tawāf-i-Ziyārah. For this you will have to make your own
travel arrangements. As I mentioned earlier that if you are fit and don’t have
small children accompanying you, it is best to walk through the tunnel. This is
the easiest, most pleasant and a highly moving experience; it takes 30-40
minutes to get to the Haram which, while moving with the crowd, doesn’t even
appear that long. The timing is again important. Use the same guidelines that I
mentioned earlier on. Briefly again: try to make use of the time that others
tend to avoid; don’t go close to any prayer time (most people will try to
perform this Tawāf or other rituals like stoning when they go for e.g. `Asr
prayer, so there is unnecessary overcrowding close to prayer times) and avoid
cooler hours like 5-8 am and 6-10pm. The rest will be fine.
You will come back to Minā after this Tawāf; you may use
the tunnel, but if tired get on the public or private transport which is ample
and charges 5-10 riyals depending upon whether you choose a public or a private
vehicle. You may stay in Minā for two or three days as you might have already
planned and then pack up and go to Makkah. You have now completed your Hajj by
Allah’s grace, something that He does not offer everyone, in spite of their
willingness and resources.
You have two options in Makkah now; go to Madīnah or go
home. Remember; going to Madīnah is not a part of Hajj ; you may go there now or
some other time. But don’t go there with the understanding that your Hajj will
be incomplete without this visit. Also remember that your stay in Madīnah can be
as short as a day and as long as you want. The quotes referred to in this
context are quite baseless and the books provided by Saudi govt. clearly mention
that Hajj is complete without travel to Madīnah. Most people go there just
because they may not get a second chance to come.
If you have planned to go to Madīnah you can either go by
air for which you have vouchers in your air ticket; this is the best way to
travel since this saves time and energy. But remember, if you travel by air you
must carry the photo ID card given to you by the Mu‘allim when you arrived in
Makkah. You will not be able to board any plane or bus without this card. But if
somehow you were not able to get the air travel voucher you still have the coach
travel voucher for which you paid in Pakistan and received the vouchers at
Jaddah airport. Go to the Mu‘allim’s office and get the plan for this travel. He
has a program to transport all the Hājīs allocated to him; buses leave around
midnight and take approx. 6-8 hours to Madīnah and you will get there by
Remember that if your flight out of Saudi Arabia is from
Madīnah tell the Mu‘allim about this and make sure that he hands over your
passport to the bus driver who in turn will deliver it to the Mu‘allim’s agent
in Madīnah. This will ensure your trouble free journey back home. On the other
hand, if your departure is scheduled from Jaddah you can even leave your extra
luggage in your Makkah residence and collect it on return.
Accommodation in Madīnah is much easier to find and
cheaper as well; you may find a room here on daily/weekly or monthly basis or
get a package deal for the number of days that you want to stay. An
accommodation similar to that in Makkah will cost around 50-70 riyals per person
per day. One good thing about Madīnah is that at no time during the Hajj season
is it thronged by all Hājīs simultaneously; some go there before and some after
the Hajj and hence the city looks quieter, cleaner and more friendly.
The food, as usual is quite good, cheap and plenty and you
are probably going to remember it for a long time. Other than saying prayers in
the Masjid-i-Nabwī there is not much to do; so you can utilise this time to
visit historical places. The best way to do this is to form a small group and
find a cab driver to get you a roundtrip. It costs 10-15 riyals per person and
takes 2-3 hours but is really worthwhile. You can do this even if you are in
Madīnah for a day; leave after breakfast and you will be back by Zuhr.
The duration of stay in Madīnah is purely subjective so it
can span from a few hours to a few weeks; so plan it accordingly, but do get
confirmed air reservations of the roundtrip before embarking upon it.
If your flight to Pakistan is out of Madīnah do keep in
touch with the Mu‘allim’s man so that he is aware of your departure time and is
not found to be missing at the eleventh hour. He will not hand over the passport
to you at any cost so don’t belittle yourself trying to get it in orthodox
Pakistani ways (which I have seen many try but only to be disappointed). At the
scheduled time, he will accompany you to the airport and deposit you along with
your passport at the immigration counter (Maktab). The man at the desk will
issue him a receipt of successful completion of the job and hand your passport
over to you.
In contrast to Jaddah, Madīnah is not a busy airport, so
you can plan to be there only 3-4 hours before the flight time. But then all
flights to Pakistan from Madīnah only land at Karachi and if it suits you this
is probably the best route. On your way towards the plane you will be handed a
copy of the Qur’ān which is a gift from the King.
Back to the Jaddah Airport
If your flight to Pakistan is from Jaddah you will travel
back utilising your Madīnah-Jaddah voucher; if you are travelling by air you
will have to get to Makkah on your own as you did while going to Madīnah. When
in Makkah go to the airline office to reconfirm your flight. Offices are open
from 8.00am to 11.00pm but are extremely busy most of the time; here again our
policy of avoiding rush hours at the cost of a little inconvenience will prove
its worth. Go to the airline office at 8.00 am and I guarantee that you will be
through in 15 minutes; after 9.00am the wait is only going to be longer and
longer. If you are travelling on an airline other than the Saudia, insist on the
Mu‘allim to send one of his men with you carrying your passport to the airline
office; he can’t refuse; this is primarily to get a boarding pass issued right
there 24 hours prior to flight time.
If, however you are booked on a Saudia flight you can get
a boarding pass at the airport as well through one of the many counters of
Saudia airline established for this purpose. Get in touch with the Mu‘allim and
tell him your departure plan. Remember that you will be required to report at
Jaddah airport at least 10-12 hours before your flight departure time. The
Mu‘allim’s man will try to dispatch you 24 hours before time since the earlier
they see you off the better it is for them to be over with their responsibility.
Their buses leave once everyday for the airport and they carry all passengers
intending to travel in the next 24 hours. Try to negotiate your departure time
with him and he’ll finally agree on the condition that you will manage your own
transport. He will ask you to get hold of a Saudi taxi driver (not any taxi
driver) who will be handed over the passport. The taxi driver will charge you
anywhere between 100-250 riyals for the service depending upon your urgency and
time of departure (i.e. day or night); if you can’t get a taxi, the Mu‘allim
will get one for you. It should primarily be a man of his confidence. After
getting hold of your passport this taxi driver will take you straight to the
Jaddah airport. As I mentioned earlier, in case of the Madīnah airport, taxi
driver will deliver you at the immigration counter (same place in case of Hajj
terminal Jaddah where you arrived) and be issued an official receipt of
acknowledgement. Now the passports will be handed over to you, at last.
If you are travelling by a Saudia flight and have not
obtained a boarding pass, you can do this right away at the airline office which
is located in the middle of this terminal. Remember that no other airline has an
office here. Find the people travelling on the flight to your destination and
then make yourself comfortable, on the floor, amongst thousands of other Hājīs.
As I mentioned in an earlier section, there is an
elaborate market of merchandise at this terminal and you can buy anything your
pocket can afford. You may have checked the prices in city; they are not very
different here. This is the time to shop; it will pass time and you will be
happy that you did not indulge in this during Hajj. You will also see a couple
of Saudi bank counters, which can exchange foreign currency for you. You can buy
dates, tasbīh, cloth, audio-video cassettes of Tarāvīh in the Haram or the Hajj
itself, electronics and anything that you saw in town for general-purpose gifts.
Your luggage shall be checked-in by the airline approx.
5-6 hours before the flight time and surprisingly no baggage tags may be issued.
So mark your luggage boldly and keep it together; also try to get all your stuff
on one trolley, many of which come to collect the luggage from hājīs. Actual
check-in will start approx. 3 hours before the flight time and will take almost
the same time as it did when you arrived. The staff is quite helpful and as I
said ‘if you don’t create problems for yourself they wont’. In fact, I found
them quite contrary to what I had heard about them. Perhaps they are directed to
behave well during this period but I believe it is very difficult to be
artificially courteous for a very long time in a chaotic crowd. I have my hats
off to them considering the kind of their work and the kind of crowd they are
On your way towards the plane, you will be handed over a
copy of the Qur’ān as a gift from the king as I mentioned earlier. From 1998,
the government has decided to give each Hājī a Qur’ān that has the Arabic text
and its translation in the native language of that Hājī. For this purpose a
tremendous Shah Fahd Printing Complex has been set up which has gathered the
best Qur’ānic translations in scores of languages and printed them in excellent
quality. This is something that probably will be your best friend for the rest
of your life.
This brings the entire expedition to an end. I have tried
my best to give every possible aspect a place in this article, but if there is
something that demands clarification or further explanation I’ll only consider
that an opportunity to earn some more reward from the Almighty.
I have put pen to paper for the first time so all the
discrepancies in this regard may kindly be overlooked. I believe that even if
one of my readers travels for Hajj next year, as a result of this write up, my
effort is well rewarded.
Last but not at all the least is the fact that I have
intentionally not touched upon the subject of spiritual transformation that one
undergoes during this expedition, simply because it cannot be communicated, even
in its smallest fraction. The fact is someone who has not been there cannot even
come close to it in his imagination and just for this reason I suggest that:
i) Even if you are travelling in a group of friends go to
the Haram alone (or at most with your spouse), say your prayers in seclusion and
perform your rituals in solitude. This is one occasion where you need phenomenal
ii) You must be familiar with the exact background of each
ritual and the reason why you have to repeat it. This makes probably the most
vital difference to one’s attitude while performing the ritual. For example you
will raise your hand towards Hajr-i-Aswad to begin your Tawāf and you will see
everyone doing this in the most mechanical manner as if this was just another
count. But if one realises that raising the hand is a symbolic gesture of
extending one’s hand to hold that of the Almighty’s while making a commitment
that one is here to renew one’s forgotten contract and will never side track
again, it is impossible to remain unmoved. Just the thought ran shivers through
my spine; my hand in ‘His’ Hand! I don’t deserve this. Will I be able to keep my
promise? How hard will I have to strive to achieve this? There are quite a few
good books and audiocassettes on the subject, which one can read or listen to
even on the flight to Jaddah. A list can be made available if anyone so desires.
iii) Don’t take children along. At least on your first
Hajj. I say this for two reasons; one, they are too small to appreciate the
sensitivity of the trip and inadvertently, they turn the whole expedition into a
picnic; secondly, they will have to perform Hajj again when they are adults.
Hence, leave this for a later date.
iv) Don’t make friends on this trip, I mean the friends
who like gossiping and chatting to kill time. The less you mix up the better it
is going to be for your Hajj. This does not by any means imply that you should
not be courteous.
v) Remain on the look out for small good deeds; get a poor
looking fellow a cold drink or pay for someone’s lost slipper -- you may not get
a second chance.
vi) Remember the narrative in which the Prophet (sws) is
reported to have said that Allah says: If you go to Hajj for worldly reasons
I’ll give you the good things of this world but you’ll have no share in the life
Hereafter. And if you perform Hajj for the life Hereafter, I’ll give you the
bounties of both, this world as well as the Hereafter.
At the end of the Hajj, you will realise how limited our
basic needs are and how easy it is to live without, for example a 3-piece suit.
You will also come to appreciate the change one needs to make in one’s own
lifestyle and in one’s attitude towards others along with the glaring reality
one always tends to avoid:
And I have not created all the jinn and men, except that
they should worship me. (51:56)
May Allah give all of you the chance to be his guests.
Writer:Dr Muhammad Rizwan Haider
Address: 142-Z LCCHS Lahore Pakistan