By Monty Siddique: A familiar sight that is flashed on the TV screens of the private satellite Bangladeshi TV channels in the United Kingdom (UK) – a month or so before Hajj starts – is the scene of hundreds and thousands of pilgrims gathering at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, destined for Hajj. The common denominator of the crowds seems to be their advanced age.
There is a particular mindset which prevails amongst the Muslims of the South Asian subcontinent and which sets off alarm bells as they drift into old age – that it is about time they performed Hajj.
Hajj becomes obligatory upon an individual, if they are of sound mind and health, are financially capable to complete the pilgrimage and have no family commitments. If these criteria are fulfilled at a relatively young age, then this spiritual journey to the holy sites of Makkah Mukarramah, Mina, Arafat and Muzdhalifa (as salient features of Hajj) and Madinah Munawwarah should, preferably, not be deferred.
Digressing slightly, according to accounts, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him; pbuh) performed Hajj only once in his lifetime. This is also known as the Prophet’s (pbuh) “Farewell Hajj”, in which the Prophet (pbuh) delivered a most brilliant sermon, which was far ahead of its time. Amongst other things, the Prophet (pbuh) stated that an Arab had no superiority over a non-Arab, nor the latter had superiority over the former and that no white had superiority over a black, nor the latter had superiority over the former except through piety and good deeds (complete version reference: Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal’s Masnud, Hadith no. 19774).
The methodology, process and/or significance behind the performance of the pilgrimage are prescribed and recited in substantial detail in verses 196 to 203 of Surat al-Baqarah (Chapter 2), in verses 27-37 of Surat al-Hajj (Chapter 22) and in verse 2 of Surat al-Ma’idah (Chapter 5) respectively of the Holy Qur’an. Other aspects of the pilgrimage include the undertaking of Sa’ee (compassing around Safa and Marwah: verse 158 of Surat al-Baqarah of the Holy Qur’an) and the significance of the Station of Ibrahim (Maqaame Ibrahim: verse 97 of Surat al-Imran – chapter 3 of the Holy Qur’an). Attention is also drawn to Bible Genesis 16:15 and Genesis 21:17-21 in relation to Bibi Hajar and the well (Zam Zam) etc.
Other than during Hajj, Muslims may visit the Sacred House Ka’bah, at other times of the year, to undertake a form of pilgrimage, known as Umrah. During Hajj, an Umrah may, additionally, be combined therewith, depending upon the type of Hajj performed.
Hajj, essentially, requires from a prospective pilgrim, to stay in Mina for a day and, at least, a greater part of the night. This is followed by a journey to Arafat by morning, where the pilgrim stays the entire day. By nightfall, the pilgrim moves to Muzdhalifah, where the Maghrib and Esha prayers are jointly performed. The pilgrim also collects pebbles from Muzdhalifa to go through the motion of aiming and throwing them at three different concrete structures (known as Jamarat), erected at different locations and symbolising Satan.
A VIEW OF A JAMARAT WHERE STONES ARE THROWN TO SYMBOLICALLY REJECT SATAN
There are three types of Hajj – Qiran, Tamattu’ and Ifraad. In the first two, Umrah is, additionally, combined with Hajj whereas, in the last, no Umrah is additionally performed. With Qiran, both Umrah and Hajj are undertaken with the same “state of Ihraam” (as hereinafter defined) whilst, with Tamattu, the pilgrim egresses from the “state of Ihraam”, after completion of the Umrah, whereby to enter a further “state of Ihraam” before the commencement of Hajj.
A prospective pilgrim assumes a “state of Ihraam” by (a) washing themselves from head to toe (as by way of a shower), (b) applying perfume (Itr) and, for males, (c) wearing two pieces of cloth – one to wrap the top half and the other to wrap the lower half of the body – and, for females, donning a loose robe covering the entire body except the face and the hands, (d) declaring an intention (Niyyah) to perform Umrah or Hajj or both, as the case may be, by offering two raka’ats of prayers, and (e) finally guarding themselves from all kinds of sinful acts or thoughts.
The “state of Ihraam” is entered into at or before reaching Meeqat, which is, notionally, defined as a station falling within the radius of Holy Ka’bah and its precincts for its rules and regulations to be applicable to a prospective pilgrim.
In the UK, there are numerous tour operators who offer a variety of Hajj and Umrah packages, which include accommodation, meals, guided tours to notable holy places and embedded scholars for guiding groups of pilgrims prosecuting the rites and rituals of Hajj and Umrah. The rites and rituals are intended to re-enact the religio-historical events forming the basis of Hajj.
On one cold morning – some years ago – my mother with her wheelchair, my wife and I and our young daughter found ourselves with a group of people on board a chartered flight, arranged by our tour operators, from Gatwick Airport in the UK, bound for Madinah Munawwarah – the city of Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wa sallam; peace be upon him; pbuh).
A package can encompass taking the pilgrims first to Madinah Munawwarah for a five day stay there, which may include guided tours to historical and heritage sites, followed by transporting them, via Meeqat, to Makkah Mukarramah for Umrah and Hajj.
In Madinah Munawwarah, pilgrims offer Salah (prayers) in Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) Mosque (known as Al-Masjid al-Nabawi) and offer respects at the Prophet’s (pbuh) resting place adjacent the original Mosque, as well as the resting places of the Prophet’s companions – namely Hadhrat Abu Baqr Siddique (ra) and Hadhrat Umar Bin Khattab (ra) – closely adjacent the same area. The Prophet’s (pbuh) actual Mosque, identifiable by a green dome, has been expanded into an integral complex spanning a vast area.
It is to be noted that “u” and “e” are silent in the pronunciation of the name “Siddique”; as in “antique”, “oblique”, and “unique” etc.
A VIEW FROM ONE OF THE GATES TO THE PROPHET’S (PBUH) MOSQUE IN MADINAH MUNAWWARAH
The immense Mosque complex comprises a modern and attractive concrete structure, which has incorporated automated moving roof-panels to protect the faithful from the sun. Zam Zam water (from Zamzam well in Makkah Mukarramah) is stored in large containers and next to them are stacks of nested unused plastic cups (at the time of our visit). The used cups are placed on the used stack. I would give full marks to the Saudis for being well aware of hygiene.
To the southeast of the Prophet’s (pbuh) Mosque and contiguous to the Mosque precinct, lies Al Baqee or Jannatul Baqee. It is a highly prominent cemetery where the Prophet’s (pbuh) daughters Fatimah (ra), Ruqayyah (ra), Zaynab (ra), Umme Kulthoom (ra), some of the Prophet’s (pbuh) wives (ra), the Prophet’s (pbuh) son Ibrahim (as), most of the Prophet’s (pbuh) relatives and the Prophet’s (pbuh) companions, namely Hadhrat Uthman (ra), are buried. The Prophet’s (pbuh) other wives Khadija (ra) and Maimoona (ra) are, however, buried in Makkah Mukarramah. Males are strongly recommended to undertake a Ziarat (visit) at Al Baqee.
Outside the Mosque precincts and some distance away therefrom, are rows of shops in large modern building edifices. The shops stock, inter alia, much of the outfit required to perform Hajj and/or Umrah in. Thus, as last minute preparations for those who didn’t have the time to bring the two-piece garments (constituting part of the Ihraam), footwear, fragrance and so on, they could purchase the same from the shops. Even wheelchairs for the disabled and the infirm are sold. Many of the shops are run by Bangladeshis. Money exchange bureau are also quite conspicuous.
The hotel where we were staying was only a 7 to 10 minutes walking distance from the Prophet’s (pbuh) Mosque. The pavements had user-friendly ramps, which facilitated our pushing mother along, in her wheelchair.
Females, going for Hajj, are required to be accompanied by a male (known as a Mahram), who can be their brother, son, father, husband etc. I was very fortunate to be the Mahram for my mother, my wife and our young daughter, in agreement with the rules.
In the morning of the next day of our arrival, we were driven by a coach to Masjide Qubaa – where it is said Archangel Jibrail came to show the Prophet (pbuh) the direction of the new Qiblah (direction of prayer) – and to Masjide Qiblatain, where Qiblah was, actually, changed from the direction of Jerusalem to Makkah Mukarramah. Masjide Qubaa is the first Mosque in Madinah Munawwarah and is the first in Islam. Qiblatain is known as the Mosque of two Qiblah (or two directions) because one Salah (prayer or worship) was performed in two directions.
It should be clear that Holy Ka’bah signifies the direction (Qiblah) in which a Muslim should point towards, to perform Salah. Also, there is no equivalent English word for Salah, which embodies not only prayers, worship and supplications but also prescribed set of bodily movements, recitation of Quranic verses, devotion etc.
A View of Masjid – E – Quba
We were, additionally, transported to the site where the historical Battle of U’hud was fought. A graveyard, where the martyrs of the battle, as well as, I believe, other notable figures are buried, is located nearby and, as is customary, respects were offered, by praying to Allah Almighty.
On our way back to the hotel, we noticed from a distance the location, up on the hills, of the historical “seven Mosques”, named after Hadhrat Abu Baqr Siddique (ra), Salmaan Farisi (ra), who gave the idea to the Muslims of digging a trench during the battle of the Trench, Hadhrat Umar (ra), Hadhrat Ali (ra), Fatimah (ra) etc.
We stayed in Madinah Munawwarah for four days and four nights. The Prophet’s (pbuh) city is modern and well lit and spiritually peaceful. At the same time, one must be exemplary in manner and behaviour. Incidentally, in the night sky, there were two vertically aligned lights, the source of which I have been unable to figure out as yet.
Because Jum’uah prayers are likely to attract a huge number of attendees, it is advisable to make your way to the Prophet’s (pbuh) Mosque at least an hour before the commencement of the prayers.
Before embarking on our journey to Makkah Mukarramah for Umrah – a prelude to Hajj Tamattu’ – we prepared ourselves to assume the “state of Ihraam”. On our coach, one of our guides verified our identities with our passports which had been held in the Madinah Passport Office, since our arrival, but which were now in possession of the guides. The guides prompted us to start reciting the Talbiyah, which proceeds as follows:
Labbayka Allahumma labbayk(a), labbayka la sharika laka labbayk(a), inna l-hamda wa n-ni’mata, laka wa l-mulk(a), la sharika lak.
At Your service, Allah, at Your service. At Your service. You have no partner, at Your service. Truly all praise, favour and sovereignty is Yours. You have no partner.
Our convoy of coaches then took us to Meeqat, where we offered, combined, Maghrib and Esha prayers. Thereafter, we were on our way to Makkah Mukarramah to complete our Umrah. During a stopover for about an hour, we were presented with packed meals, full of goodies as well as sealed bottles of Zam Zam water, supplied by an Agency of the Saudi Government.
It was in the early hours of the morning when we reached the Holy city of Makkah Mukarramah. We were taken to a hotel, which was our new station of abode in the Holy city and which was some twelve to fifteen minutes walk from the Holy Ka’bah.
After washing up and ablution, we started walking, pushing mother along in her wheelchair, towards Al-Masjid-al-Haram (the sacred Mosque) and Holy Ka’bah for the completion of Umrah as a part of Hajj Tamattu. A brother in an Arab robe (I believe his name was Sa’eed) approached us, started conversing in Urdu and offered to push mother along.
This was an absolute godsend as wheelchair users could only perform their Tawaaf (circumambulating the Ka’abah seven times) by being pushed along orbital pathways on upper levels relative to the sacred House. Moreover, when Sa’eed realised that we were conversing in Bengali amongst us, he switched to Bangla. A reasonable financial deal was struck and he took over. The brother appeared to be a perfect guide for mother as he was also au fait with all the rituals and prayers normally observed for performing Tawaaf and Sa’ee.
On completion of our Umrah, there was an interlude of about four days before our departure for the tents of Mina and the commencement of Hajj. Most guides would recommend a proper utilisation of free time by way of optional Tawaaf, Salah and supplications. The intermission also allows pilgrims to purchase anything that has been missed for the performance of Hajj.
There was one more Jumu’ah before Hajj. In spite of our late exit from the hotel, we were blessed with seating spaces outside the sacred Mosque’s precinct – Alhamdulillah. Perhaps, pilgrims should make their way to the Holy Ka’bah a couple of hours before the deliverance of the Jumu’ah Khutba (sermon).
It is advisable to disperse quickly, after the completion of the prayers, if you happen to be just outside the Mosque’s precinct, as large crowds of pilgrims egress the gates simultaneously, thereby creating bottle-necking.
As the day drew to a close and the night was still young and considering mother’s condition, we were asked to board an early coach, to take us to Mina. We complied with the request and shortly afterwards found ourselves accommodated in the tents (in the European section) of Mina.
The following day was spent entirely inside our tent, where breakfast and other meals were served and daily appointed prayers performed in congregation.
Then in the middle of the night (towards it’s latter half), I was gently awakened by a guide of our tour operators, advising us to board an early coach destined for Arafat. We responded positively and before long we were in the tents of Arafat in the early hours of the following day (the day of Arafat).
Arafat – the day of Arafat
The “Day of Arafat” (Yawme Arafah) is the heart of Hajj. Pilgrims are strongly advised to make as much supplications as possible throughout the day. It is an opportunity for one to pray to the Almighty with sincerity and devotion.
As the sun gradually approached the horizon, we queued up for the coaches to take us to the next port of call – Muzdhalifa. Here, Maghrib and Esha prayers were jointly performed in congregation. Thereafter, pebbles were collected from the ground of Muzdhalifa – where we had camped in our sleeping bags – for the purpose of performing the ritual of hurling the pebbles at the Jamarat on the following and subsequent days of Hajj.
By very early next morning (may be 0130 hours) we were beckoned to walk with the guides and a company of pilgrims towards the direction of the Mina camps. One of the guides kindly assisted me in pushing mother part of the way. May Allah Almighty Bless him.
We arrived in Mina at, perhaps, around 0240 am. The advice was to leave to perform the very first stone-throwing ritual immediately after Fajr prayers, to avoid the rush.
We offered Fajr prayers in the camp at around 0630 hours. Leaving our daughter to attend to her grandma, the wife and I joined a group to depart for the first Jamarat. This ritual was also performed on behalf of our daughter and my mother. However, later on, all four of us made our way to the Jamarat, as the daughter wished to perform the rite herself. Then, we commenced our walk, pushing mother along in her wheelchair, towards Makkah Mukarramah.
There was a bit of a panic as mother and I got separated from my wife and our daughter at the Jamarat for a while, due to the volume of crowd. Luckily, a young brother from our group got us back reunited.
Tunnel-like shades sprinkled water, in the form of mists, to cool us down as we walked through them on our way to Makkah Mukarramah. The handles of mother’s wheelchair provided a support for some of our belongings.
Alhamdulillah, we finally arrived, to perform Tawaf Al-Ifadah (also known as Tawaf Al Ziyarah because it is performed on the visit or ziyarah to the Ka’bah after leaving Mina).
There were visits to two other Jamarat, on separate days, to throw pebbles to symbolically reject Satan, Our friend Sa’eed was there to assist mother. And there was, also, a final and farewell Tawaaf (Tawaaf al Wada), before we departed for Jeddah airport for our journey back to London. Alhamdulillah!
This was a journey of a lifetime. Hajj provides a platform for Muslims of all races, nationalities and classes, donned in simple garments and representing humanity, to pray to Allah Almighty not only for themselves, their families and relatives, but also for the entire humankind and this beautiful planet.
This article is written by Monty Siddique BSc (Hons) in Industrial Chemistry from a UK University, who took early retirement from the United Kingdom Civil Service, after having served as a Senior Patent Examiner (above Principal Level) in the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office, which is the operating name of the United Kingdom Patent Office. He has also trained and managed UK patent examiners