Before Hajj, I would have been glad to know a few things about the way it works over there. The following is a list of stuff that I wish I new before I started Hajj and that would’ve help me prepare better, or at least brace myself.
Free Food as You Arrive
Between Jeddah’s Airport and our arrival at the hotel, we received free food and/or beverages several times on the bus. Don’t store too much food from home in your bag if you want to keep what you don’t eat. Wasting good food is sinful, but it’s also hard to find someone willing to take it. The beggars on the street only want your money, not your food. In fact, I’ve seen what appeared to be perfectly fine food rotting in the streets of Mecca plenty of times. It’s really sad, but part of a larger global food waste problem.
Outlets Will Work With Your Electronics
Given everyone’s attachment to their phones these days, most people are concerned with how they’ll charge their devices in a foreign country. Thankfully, most places use power strips with adapters built in that will fit American plugs. I was able to successfully charge my iPhone and laptop, which had a three-pronged connector. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to bring a foreign travel adapter.
It’s Hot. Unbelievably hot.
As a New Yorker, I thought I knew what hot weather was like. After all I take the subway to work every weekday, including the summers, and get blasted with a face full of train exhaust every time one rolls into the station. The heat in Mecca is something else. On cooler days, it was only 100 degrees Fahrenheit with the temperature soaring up as high as 125. When I went out to pray in the street, I took off my sandals and immediately jumped back into them when my foot touched the asphalt. If I could, I’d like to crack an egg on the street and see how long it takes to fry. Bring a sweat towel, a portable fan and plenty of water when you head out. You’ll need them.
The Guards at the Grand Mosque are Agressive
The guards that control the flow of worshipers in to and out of the Grand Mosque are extremely aggressive, loud and sometimes rude. It’s just necessary considering the population of the city nearly doubles over the course of a couple of weeks, many of whom don’t understand a word of street Arabic. They’re not trying to be jerks (okay maybe they are), but it’s their job to make sure that people aren’t blocking entrances or creating hazards. If you know how to speak Arabic they’ll be a lot friendlier to you, but if not, just follow their hand directions. They call everyone “hajji” because that’s the only thing we’ll respond to.
People Just Keep Coming In
The longer you stay in the city and the more people arrive, the harder it will be to pray in the Grand Mosque, make Tawaf and Saa’ee. Having said that, do your Umrah as soon as possible. Praying in the Grand Mosque will eventually mean getting there hours before the start of the prayer time to find a spot. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself praying in the street.
The Floor is Hard. Everywhere.
With the possible exception of your hotel, you’ll rarely pray on carpet so be prepared to pray on hard (and sometimes very hot) surfaces. The stones used in the flooring of the Grand Mosque feel like they were cut from diamonds and even my feet hurt from walking around so much. Bring a mat that you are comfortable using on hard, hot and dirty surfaces (or buy one there). A pocket mat is super convenient but the light material might be difficult to pray on sometimes.
Zam Zam is Free
And practically, it is limitless. There are barrels and barrels of it at the Grand Mosque that you can drink from at any time and that are constantly being refilled. It even comes out of some of the fountains. This is likely the only time you’ll see this much Zam Zam water in your life so feel free to drink as much as you’d like. When going home, they’ve arranged for everyone to receive a free 5 liter container of Zam Zam water to take in addition to your luggage. I’m assuming the Saudi Government foots the bill on that one.
Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah are Hard to Live In
You’ll a couple of days and nights in Mina, a day in Arafat and night in Muzdalifah. As you go from one to the next, the accommodations become more and more difficult to work with, especially restrooms, which will usually have long lines.
Mina is a the city of white tents. The tents are large and easily hold 30 people. You’ll sleep on something that resembles couches. Food is brought in a various times through out the day. The weather of course is extremely hot, so the hot food might not seem all that appetizing. I know that it did not for me. The tents have some sort of ventilation system but they are not really air conditioned. That being said, you’ll still wake up feeling extremely clammy.
Arafat actually looked pretty nice, and again my group was in a large tent, but this time without couches. The idea here is that you should spend every moment in Arafat in ibadah (worship). Be extra careful of the plants and insects you encounter; you may not harm any living thing and if you do, you must pay a penalty, according the imam that led our group.
If you brought any breathing or surgical masks with you, you’ll definitely need them in Muzdalifah. The place is very dry, dusty and rocky; it is where you collect your pebbles for the Stoning of the Devil (Jamarat). The night you sleep there will probably your most uncomfortable ever, as you’ll be sleeping right on the dirt floor with rocks digging into your skin at all times. Since the lines to the bathroom and wudu area can be long and far from the location you decide to camp, bring extra water bottles when you come from Arafat to clean yourself up. Days after my stay in Muzdalifah, I still had coughing and a sore throat from all the dust in the air.
Tips for Stoning the Devil (Jamarat)
The easiest place to stone from is at the end of the pillar, since everyone crowds around the front of the pillar and isn’t smart enough to go to the end where there is plenty of space. You’ll most likely have to walk to and from the Jamarat, which is a very long walk. Bring extra water and pebbles just in case. Depending on the day, after stoning, you’ll either return to Mecca or Mina, and I recommend getting a taxi or bus if you can afford it. The cheapest price you’ll find this time of year is about 50 riyals, so just go for it.
Many older or uneducated Hajji’s get so passionate and emotional during this ritual because they think they are actually stoning the devil. First, use some common sense here: would Satan really stick around so that you could hurl rocks at him in an effort to strengthen your iman (faith)? I think not. Secondly, the ritual is a symbolic reminder of the time when prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) pelted Satan with stones to show rejection of his temptations. Instead of losing your mind thinking you’re actually hurting the devil, think about your own temptations in life and rejecting them as you hurl the stones. Whether it’s engaging in back-biting, eating haram food, or whatever, think about how you’ll be a better believer after this is over.
Sabr is in Short Supply
Despite repeated messages from your respective imams and admonitions in Hajj books, almost everyone on Hajj is on a short fuse. Have patience and remember to just let it go. If someone pushes you, steps on your toes or bumps into you, just forgive and forget it. It’s not worth holding a grudge or getting into an argument over something so minor. God loves those that have patience and are steadfast in their belief. God loves those with sabr.
So what do you guys think? What did you wish you knew when you first went performed Hajj?