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Thoughts on Haj

Published Nov 23, 2012 12:20am


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THE pilgrimage to Makkah, a much-desired goal in life for most Muslims, had always seemed a distant probability. It was surprising then that when a sudden decision was made to perform Haj this year, I agreed without any trepidation.

The first six days in Makkah were peaceful. The next few days spent in Madina, mostly at the Masjid-i-Nabavi, the initial structure of which was laid by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), are a treasured memory and showed Islam in all its diversity. People from literally every country in the world stood up for each of the five daily prayers, but several had different ways of performing these.

The Quran was available in several languages, including in Braille. Particularly visible were both young and old hajis from Central Asian countries. It was both touching and a lesson in humility to watch a young woman from Dagestan and an older one from Indonesia communicate using sign language.

People visit the holy places to find solace, seek absolution, peace and strength. Everyone finds something or the other, and returns with a passion for another trip.

We had our first exposure to the single-minded ferocity of crowds during the first tawaf. Televised pictures show a sea of humankind moving in almost rhythmic and circular waves. As you move towards the Maqam-i-Ibrahim or try to get a closer look at or touch the Hajr-i-Aswad, you will be pushed and pulled in all directions unless you can maintain your feet on the ground.

With bruised arms and an almost ruptured kidney, I was able to recognise groups from certain countries and steered away from them during later tawafs.

Perhaps the most painful experience was the failed trip to the Riaz-ul-Jannah in the Masjid-i-Nabavi, located next to the resting place of the Prophet. The graves of Hazrat Abu Bakr and Hazrat Umar are located next to that of the Prophet, while the Riaz-ul-Jannah, as its name suggests, is said to be one of the gardens in heaven.

I expected a quiet place of dignity, silence and contemplation, where people would stand in reverence, with bowed heads, recite the salaam and slowly walk away. What one found instead was mayhem, physical fights between overzealous pilgrims who wanted to get ahead and poorly equipped volunteers who beseeched the unruly crowd to remember where they were.

Women chanted loudly and pushed with all their might. Was this the behaviour of people who revered and loved their benefactor? Could the authorities not have helped by posting signs requesting silence, putting barriers for some sort of queues, or by posting more and better trained women instead of just two to manage hundreds of people?

Also, one had not realised how the sanitation system and lack of facilities would put pressure on our frail human physique. The Saudi government needs to be lauded for its monumental efforts each year to facilitate the increasing number of pilgrims. But it may be even more important to pay attention to the quality of facilities.

The camps at Mina were crowded, badly planned with inadequate sanitation services, made worse by extremely poor civic sense and lack of communal spirit among the pilgrims. For the three nights, we survived on sips of water and a few biscuits. People ate and threw garbage everywhere, and not even once were the toilets, the bins or the pathways cleaned.

We spent the compulsory few hours each day in Mina standing or sitting outside, or walking along the streets away from the camps. Outside, people sat, slept and ate alongside piles of rubbish.

South Asians in general and Pakistanis in particular demonstrated their worst attributes in two aspects. One was their almost total disregard for cleanliness of any sort. The other was complete lack of discipline in making lines and queuing up for food, tokens or getting on or down from a bus.

Haj, it seemed, has also become an accomplishment, to be attached to names, displayed in homes and bragged about in public. Many, if not all, were busy taking videos and photographs of each other in various poses, including in extending their hands for dua. It was a social and religious symbol of piety, and pictures had to be taken to prove this.

The books we were provided with before departure contained strictures for women not to mingle with groups of men and to keep to themselves. However, nowhere did we find any instructions telling men how to behave towards women. All training sessions were conducted by men, and issues related specifically to women were addressed in detail by them.

Despite the number of women exceeding that of men, the facilities for women were less adequate, poorer in quality, particularly in the way of toilets, washing and ablution places, prayer areas and arrangements to hear and participate in duas.

Makkah, Madina, but most of all the Kaaba are magical places. Haj itself is a magical experience. To gain from it as much as possible, one needs to be considerate, quiet, clean and have an environment that facilitates dignity.

Haj organisers and would-be hajis would do well to undertake training in communal living, proper behaviour in mosques and sacred places, cleanliness and waiting for their turns, and above all, consideration for others. Perhaps we can then hope for the spirit of Haj and Islam to be revived.

The writer is a freelance contributor.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (27) Closed

Syed Nov 23, 2012 05:49pm
I totally agree with writers point of view about Pakistanis behavior though I am also a Pakistani. Also now more and more young people are coming for Hajj every year who are more aggressive and less considerate. My advice would be if somebody is eligible for Hajj then they should perform in young age or otherwise its getting difficult everyday. Also time your visit to Jamaraat after Asar so that you can avoid a mad mob at Zawwal time. For Farewell Tawaf never go on 12th Zil Hajj as its exteremely busy and people actually died there. Go for Farewell plan on 13th in the morning or afternoon time.One thing more now a days in Saudia Scent free shampoos and soaps are especially available for only 25 Riyals at most of the pharmacies and that really helps
Life Nov 30, 2012 06:36am
Traveling is always tough even if u r going from Karachi to Lahore. One must be ready for everything. The hardships of Salat, Fasting, Zakah and Jihad are all accumulated in Haj. So i think that is the reason Haj is Obligatory (Farz) for once in a life even for a very rich muslim. Also we should remember a popular phrase which is on every administrator's (shurta) tongue "Sabr Haji Sabr".
Muhammad Furqan Nov 23, 2012 04:22pm
Saudi Arbian Govt. must make teaching classes about honour of such places to Pilgrims and make such a method that one by one will go to Riaz-ul-Jannah for a prescribed period to control such mishaps.
aliaqum Nov 23, 2012 06:32am
The Saudi Government cannot be blamed at all for any perceived lacking in arrangements for the Hajis. We must commend them for their arrangement and management of almost one fourth of Pakistan's entire population within a diameter of 10 KMs. Having heard from Haji's who performed the ritual with the Saudi locals I have very easily derived the conclusion that rather than the management of Saudi's the problem lies with the attitude of our people who remain in considerate towards one another in almost every possible way including cleaning their own mess in the toilet for the comfort of the brother Haji that follows.
Sue Sturgess Nov 23, 2012 02:17pm
I agree, public facilities are exactly that ... public. Be it at Haj, in Saudi, or be it at an American sporting event, the users of public facilities must accept some responsibility for their cleanliness. These are shared facilities.
S Usman Nov 23, 2012 06:53am
the writer rightly pointed out the issues; lack of cleanliness and lack of consideration for others, among others, definitely cause inconvenience and distract one from attaining the objective of Ibad'ah at these Great places. hope we learn the civic manners as we see in the West.
ITTT Nov 23, 2012 07:11am
Pls note Kaaba is not a magical place nor haj is magical experience. It is SPIRITUAL.
Dr Altaf Hussain Rahman Nov 23, 2012 07:12am
A very well researched and well observed frank article which reflects the behavior of Muslims in general. Haj now is a commercial venture. If you are able to pay 15000 US dollars then you will be picked up in a chartered jumbo 747 and without immigration you will be whisked away to your grand hotel. All the rituals will be exclusive with your own air conditioned tent and your exclusive toilets.At the end you will then be again whisked in your exclusive 747. NOW THIS IS CALLED EQUALITY.
Sumayyah Nov 23, 2012 11:59am
Assalam o alaikum I also performed Hajj this year and Alhamdulillah it was a great experience! I agree with what you have said about Pakistanis' behaviour, but we can't blame the Saudi government if the toilets aren't clean. When we reached Mina, the toilets were sparkling clean, and then only a few hours later they were really dirty. But there were sweepers who worked round the clock to keep them clean. We have to remember that these facilities are temporary, so we have to be careful while using them. I went to the Egyptian ladies' toilets and mashallah they were really clean and hygienic - looks like us Pakistanis don't know basic sanitation rules. Secondly, not everyone takes pictures to show-off. Like you've said, Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most Muslims and they take photos just so they can have something to show to their grandchildren back home, and as a token of remembrance :)
Mohammad Ali Khan Nov 23, 2012 12:01pm
The mullah wants the illusionary beliefs to remain unchallenged.Blind following the blind, and the continues to degenerate.
Ahmed Nov 23, 2012 10:32am
I agree with all that is written in the article. I experienced being manhandled and escaping serious injury due to crowd running into wild fervour. Alas, our great teachings have not taught us to practise good behaviour, patience and courtesy to others in all walks of life, let alone the Hajj. This is where others have forged ahead of us in discipline and cleanliness. I have been to the Basilica in Rome in almost similar large congregations amongst thousands and it is a revelation to see the orderly behaviour of the participants and their strict observance of controlling litter.
usman Nov 23, 2012 03:43pm
I liked the sumary on Haj.I was also there in 2010,my reaction to what the haji experienced are almost similar.The sub continents hajis and the African crowds are the worst examples.As for Mina living and toilets have to improve many times over. I am sure the Saudi govp can afford the best space and persnnel[crowd\ management consultants of the world to find a solution.Usman.
Sumayyah Nov 24, 2012 08:57am
The wash rooms are exactly the same everywhere, but yes groups from different countries are allocated specific camps. So depending on how you use the toilets, they can end up in a pretty different state compared to a toilet that is being used by a person of a different nationality.
Sumayyah Nov 24, 2012 09:00am
How can you judge another person's intention and say that they are taking pics to show off? Like I've said before, maybe they are just taking pics to remember a lovely occasion by. Kindly give proof and references whenever you make a statement using Shari'ah as an argument.
Muhammad Irfan Nov 23, 2012 05:00pm
True, but the Saudis can do much better with the 16.5 Billion USD they earn from pilgrims each year. For example, they absolutely need to increase the number of toilets and increase the number of cleaning staff in Arafat and Mina.
TruthBeTold Nov 23, 2012 08:58pm
Because you come from a life that has basic luxuries, doesn't mean all people do. You all appear to have went to Hajj but learned nothing. There's no Humility in your words, there's no new found love of God or the new found light in your eyes to see beyond what is right in front of you. Ignorance isn't on their part, it's on yours. Spend a day in rural Africa and tell me how many Toilets you find. To say they are ignorant or anything less than you is exactly the opposite of what you should've learned from Hajj. But then again God states that only the Pure of heart will come from Hajj truly changed, the others will just return to their arrogance.
G.A. Nov 23, 2012 10:04pm
It is a grueling experience yet I don't see people changing for the better when they return considering that haj is kind of a rebirth. If people are going there merely to get a 'haji' label then they might as well not go and let someone else go who actually desires it spiritually.
Huma Nov 23, 2012 10:24pm
There are 3 million ppl there Sue... and ppl usually go with special haj groups. All groups are designated specific areas etc, to keep it organized... otherwise everyone would get lost and no one would be able to complete all the necessary rights of haj. and the groups are usually grouped by the countries they come from.
Arif Nov 24, 2012 01:01am
Regarding Pakistanis using toilets... I think there are many people in Pakistan who still do not have a toilet at home... What do you expect from some who has never used it before.. I heard from many people that they even cannot get relaxed in those toilets... We need to work it out at out motherland - Pakistan,
Tahir Sandhu Nov 23, 2012 03:03pm
The Saudi government nets $16.6 billion annually from the hajj. This translates to abot $50 billion that Muslims worldwide spend on the hajj. If youb total all the money we spend on religious rituals then the amount is a colossal $150 billion plus per year. God does not need these rituals. god will be pleased if we spend this money to educate Muslim children. Begin with building good elementary schoold and then move on upwards.
Adam Nov 23, 2012 09:10pm
I was bleesed this year. Agree with 90% of the observations/ experience of the writer. I am a Pakistani American, therefore we were housed in the "Countries of the west" tents in Minna, not bad at all. As far as manpower is concerened (in other places) Saudis can certainly spend more monies on that, they hire more people (Kuth Mullahs)who are constantly harrassing people about "HARAAM and BIDAH" then to help them. Remember: Our direct deposits go to the Saudi govt - IN ADDITION - to the monies spent by Haajiis while there and paying for "AAB-e- ZAM ZAM" ??????? TAWAAF: Most aggressive groups: Pakistanis / Afro Americans / Iranians / Indonesians. May Allah (swt) forgive my naming the names, I just wanted people to stay away from these groups.
Sue Sturgess Nov 23, 2012 02:12pm
You went to the "Egytian Ladies Toilet"??? Are you suggesting that there are separate toilets for each nationality???
Huma Nov 23, 2012 10:25pm
rites... typo.
Niyaz Nov 23, 2012 06:22pm
it,s not some picnic or amusment to be showd and i think, grand childern ll also perform HAJ some time inshALLAH, I THINK ITS AGAINST THE SHARIYA to take pics for such purposes. base less logic
afrem Nov 23, 2012 08:33pm
totally agree with Ahmed. We must first start with ourselves to to make any changes that we desire. Religion is an individual matter and not that of the state. I being a a follower of JESUS CHRIST try to emulate his life and if every individual follows HIM, there will be peace and harmony throughout the world.
Huma Nov 23, 2012 10:26pm
actually its both. and magical here does not mean as in kala jadoo.
Sharif Nov 23, 2012 06:04pm
The Saudi facilities appear adequate. Unfortunately, majority of the users are not accustomed / familiar with the modern facilities and do misuse them quite indiscriminately. For example, at the bathing facilities provided at the Haj / Umra preparations, I notice the drainage systems get blocked because people dump plastic bags and litter in toilet pans thinking that merely using the flush will clear it away. This is pure laziness and ignorance. There are numerous such examples of the public choosing a lazy attitude and thinking the others owe them everything. We need to learn from others in terms of waqar-e-amal efforts.