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Behind the Veil: A Diary Of The Haj

(Editor’s Note: The following is an account written by an Islamic woman of what it is like to participate in the annual Haj Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. This article is published as this year’s Haj is about to begin.)

DIARY OF THE HAJ


By AESHA LORENZ AL-SAEED

TUESDAY APRIL 15, 1997

We call the family to let them know we are on our way to Mecca. We make our ablution and intention prayer and then put on our ihram clothes. Males must wear a simple, unsewn white garment. This is usually of 2 towel-like cloths, so as not to be transparent or too thin. I have a simple white gown with a white headcover.

We have arrived in Mecca after driving from Jeddah. We packed everything we needed, as for camping. My husband looks just like one of the crowd from the back in his identical white two piece garment. Of course that is the aim- to have everyone look equal in the eyes of one another-irrespective of nationality, color and family standing. Only the goodness of the heart or the piousness sets one above another in real Islam.

Everyone around me looks alike and is a fellow brother or sister in Islam. It's really heartwarming to be surrounded only by Muslims everywhere we look. The women look fresh in their crisp white hijabs (headcovers) and loose flowing gowns that don't describe the shape of the body. How grateful I am to be one of those Allah chose to let be Muslim!

The Haram Mosque in Mecca is filled with worshippers. Its splendour is awesome. The pillars-white, majestic and artistically enchanting. It charms me so much that the tears flow from my eyes. "Labbaik Allah.Laka Labbaik." (We're here for You Allah, because of You, ready to serve You.) the prayer for Haj begins with. I can't even see the black & gold thread enshrouded ka'aba from where we are for all the people, but I know it's there. The thought of Prophet (our father) Abraham putting the stones with his son Ishmael for the first temple to the One God gives me gooseflesh thinking of it. Here we are standing next to historical footsteps.

As we make tawaf around the Ka'aba, we praised, prayed, and remembered all Allah's wonderful qualities and favours to us. He has 99 names that we lowly humans know of, and His magnificence is awe-inspiring.

Some vigorous people push and try to get between us, but it would be foolhardy to be separated in this crowd of more that 2 million. I plant my arms firmly around my husband's waist, and continue thinking of our submission to The One, The Almighty.

We make our sa'ie (walking) between the hills of Safa and Marwa upstairs where the kind Saudi King had made a second floor to the mosque to ease crowding.

It is easier to maneuver, and we complete the seven times in ease. I remember Hagar, Prophet Abraham's second wife, the mother of Ishmael as she and her son were first taken to the wasteland of this ancient desert by Abraham. I feel privileged to imitate her and follow the same path that she took running, desperately looking for water in this area which was once dry wasteland. Poor Hagar. How merciful Allah was and is. How grateful she must have been to Him when the water of Zamzam sprouted up under little Ishmael's kicking heels! How wonderful to quench one's thirst from this special water, with mineral's specially designed for dehydration.

EVENING

We've left Mecca after eating sandwiches of shawarma (meat or chicken pieces with garlic mayonnaise and pickles.) Now we are in Mina finally. The traffic is quite bad and held up in some places for hours. We read, chat, and make du'a (supplication) while we wait in the car. In Mina, we look for a place to park and "camp." It's really crowded. Everywhere we look there are tents. Many are companies that rent them.

Up and down the road we see grey smoke pouring from the sky. We hope and pray that it's not a big one. Tent fires can be so horrible, and usually start when one doesn't follow the proper regulations about not cooking in the tents. Traffic is routed away from the fire. Oh Allah! Please help those people so no one is injured!

WEDNESDAY MORNING, APRIL 16

My husband went to buy a block of ice for the thermal chest. I wonder how he will manage with carrying the ice block, but at least he will be cool!

When he returns we have cool drinks and head out towards Arafat. After awhile we discover a nice place to pull over. God is generous. We are next to some Philipine muslims who also speak English. We share some food with them. Our young son keeps them amused with his antics. We read Qur'an, our prayer book, and make du'a. On the day of Arafat the heavens are especially open to answer prayers due to many many people supplicating and fasting, begging and praising Allah. Group prayer is so important. How I wish all the world would feel the power of group prayer the One God of the universe!

I pray for my ancestors that Allah has mercy on them. I pray for my offspring to keep away from sins and bad companions, and for my parents to increase their inclination towards Islam. We also pray for the Palestinians, Bosnians, Kashmiris and Chechans. Anywhere there are oppressed Muslims. I even pray for the poor victim animals in the science laboratories that computers will take over more testing so they don't have to suffer so.

SUNSET WEDNESDAY

We leave Arafat to go to Muzdalifa. We are stuck in traffic for hours. We crawl along at a snail's pace read hadith out loud so we make use of the time.

By the time we arrive in Muzdalifa it is almost 10:00 at night. We pray, look for our pebbles to stone the "devils"( Jamarat pillars) and then return to the truck. Traffic isn't moving AT ALL. Tour buses fill almost every space. Finally about midnight the traffic starts moving.

By the time we are able to return to Mina and find a place to park it is almost 2 am. My poor husband is so exhausted he doesn't even get out from behind the wheel. He falls asleep right where he has been sitting! I throw a couple of sleeping bags over a carpet that we put next to the car, and the rest of us flop down.

THURSDAY APRIL 17

We set up camp with sheets attached to the truck and a couple of metal poles. We have a child's potty-chair that we set inside the truck so we don't have to make the long treck to the crowded public bathrooms. Yousef (Joseph in English) walks to buy another block of ice, and returns gallantly carrying it on his back, with juices in a bag, bless his heart.

He walked to the Jamarat pillars and threw for us also, so we wouldn't have to brave the huge crowds.

I could see from where we were parked that the place was packed with people. The crowds would have been unbearable.

I cooked on the little gas burner in the open air, NOT in the tent. Rice and stew from a can served over it. Fruit for desert. It's hot, but thank God He sent us a breeze which blows through the sheet tent. It's actually cooler than a real tent might have been.

Some "neighbors" come and park next to us. We find out that they are from Egypt. My children trade them some fresh fruit for some more bread for sandwiches. They are most polite and kind.

FRIDAY NOON APRIL 18

We all went today to throw at the Jamarat. It wasn't as crowded today, as some people already finished their throwing and returned back to Mecca. We see many thongs and rubber sandals that have dropped off people's feet in the crowds, or were broken and lost. I'm relieved we brought while umbrellas. The sun can be brutal sometimes. Wide straw hats would have been so nice, and no need to hold onto them.

We throw our seven pebbles at each pillar with vim and vigor, imagining we are hitting the devil each time. It feels good!

EVENING APRIL 18

After a dinner of halal (Islamically slaughtered) hotdogs and fruit, I read them Islamic stories and hadith.(tales of what the prophet Muhammed said and did.) Tomorrow we make the last Jumarat throwing and them return back to Mecca also.

SATURDAY EVENING APRIL 19

We're back in Mecca at last. The gigantic Haram Mosque is more crowded than before! It has piles of bags of clothing around the doorways as people go down to the showers to wash after sleeping outdoors for several nights. As we enter the Haram we stash our own bags with sandals and clothes in it near a certain door.

We make tawaf around the Ka'aba from upstairs. It takes twice as long, but we don't mind, as we are able to finish in an unhurried, relaxed manner. We read our prayers as we go around, and add our own, pouring our hearts to Allah, creator of heavens and earth. We have a break for the magrib (sunset) prayer. It is exciting and wonderful to pray with so many other Muslims.

We resume our tawaf again, and finish after isha (night) prayer. We are filled with a good, new, fresh feeling. I hope Allah has accepted our Haj and those of other sincere muslims, and may He increase us in good deeds and faith. We return to Jeddah feeling content and peaceful.

***********

Copyright Jan. 2003 by AESHA LORENZ AL-SAEED

MAY BE REPPRINTED WITH PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR

Write to eyes_lorenz@poetic.com


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