Not everyone has a tent. I’m not sure why, but I found many pilgrims taking any slight shade they can find around #Mina. #hajj #hajjDiary. Makes me appreciate so much the tent I’m staying at.

If you want to make it to any of the 5 daily prayers in the haram close to the kaaba. You have to make your way there at least an hour before. Otherwise you’ll have to pray your jama3a outside. This is the view of those praying outside from a Window inside the haram. #hajjDiary #hajj #Mecca

Memorable Moments

The #hajj, as a social phenomena, represents the most accurate sample data of the state of the global Muslim community.  During this hajj trip we saw and heard of a number funny incidents, sad incidents or just very strange incidents. I thought I’d share some stories here. 

A friend in my hajj group mentioned that he saw a person pull down his pants in the middle of the street, squat, and calmly proceeded to defecate.  Then when he'she’d finished. he pulled up his pants and walked away.  My friend is still scarred by this incident. 

When traveling from my motel to jamarat. I tried to catch one of the scheduled frequent busses that drive up the mountain where I needed to go.  Unfortunately there were too many people and not enough buses, out of the 4 times I was going up and down the mountain,  3 times I ended up walking the 40 minute steep Hill incline rather that fight my way through the hundreds of other pilgrims attacking the bus like a scene from World War Z.
It was drilled into us from early on that the journey of hajj was going to be very tough, not just because of the physical, hygienic and weather challenges,  but also as pilgrims we were not allowed  to argue, to get into trouble or any form of corruption.  So as hard as it got, many of us bit our tongues, kept our heads down, and moved on. The best way to deal with being pushed and shoved during the busy rituals, or with being made to wait for 5 to 12 hours in the saudi sun, or  any other issue was to view the whole thing from a bird’s eye view, as if you’re watching a documentary. It actually works if you focus hard enough
Another friend had the ultimate chain of challenges happen to him all at once.  When he’d arrived to mecca for the first time and was doing his umra tawaf.
During the heat of the day, the great crush of people and the fatigue of travel, he felt a sharp pain in his back, he turned around to find another pilgrim trying to cut (and steal) his money belt. Once their eyes met, the thief apologized and just moved on to try and steal from another pilgrim!
By cutting the belt, the bottom cloth bit (usually worn like a sarong) came untied, so my friend couldn’t move anywhere because he was wearing nothing underneath!  So had to to shuffle his way most awkwardly out of the scrum of people.
And of course to complete the trifecta, a bird pooped on his shoulder,  so the poor guy had to go back to his hotel, wash (with water only, since he was in ihram he could not use soap) and come back to make tawaf all over again. It was a good day for him all up.

Another interesting phenomenon about the hajj was the number of beggars.  Most  notably the Kashmiris; Indians claiming to be from Kashmir who go from tent to tent, from hotel to hotel, either asking donations for schools or orphanages, OR just cry on cue and hope for some cash thusly. Everybody knows it’s a sham so nobody (from our group at least) gives them any money.
There are also the African beggars on the streets, from old niqabi ladies to 7 year old boys or girls.  They are everywhere, it seems to be a hajj season thing because they don’t seem to appear otherwise. 
There were several more similar stories that are funny, sad, disgusting and sometimes plain weird.  They point to the clear variance in the levels of education, wealth,  and  allowed dignity. 

Spending the night at #Muzdalifah

After sunset we waited for our bus to take us to our next destination. The tradition of the prophet was to travel from Arafah after sunset towards Muzdalifah. Once there he would spend the night out in the open.
Our wait for the bus was from 730pm to 11pm. Though we were quite buzzed from the events of day so we did not mind or even take much notice of the wait.
the hour long bus ride was incredible, we drove past thousands upon thousands of pilgrims also walking towards muzdalifa. There was a sense of controlled chaos as a sea of white walked into the night and the dust,  while bathed in a yellow hue from the lights installed around muzdalifa for this purpose.  Frequently we’d see a group of 100 or so pilgrims stop to perform the night isha prayer where they stood, the pilgrims behind them circumnavigating them like white ants going around a pebble. Eventually we reached our alloted space. As far as my eyes could see there were Turkish pilgrims sleeping on the sand and the dirt ground, Egyptians, iraqis, even some pakistani britishers.

We decided (since we found no place to sleep) to climb the hill ahead of us, there we found a few hundred pilgrims also sleeping on the gravelly road, and plenty of space for us to sleep.
By that stage I had become sick (I attribute it pouring cold water on my head while in arafah) so I was grabbing at any opporunity to rest, I laid out my sleeping mat, used my top ihram cloth as cover, and fell into the deepest most comfortable sleep throughout this journey.


Pilgrims performing the final rites of #hajj. The symbolic stoning of the devil. #hajjDiary #Mecca #Sydney #jamarat

#Mecca: Traditionalism, modernity and capitlaism.

I first visited mecca 11 years ago. I remember it as being an older trationally set city with little of the extravagance I saw in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. The restaurants,  shops and buldings were small, old and a bit forgotten maybe. The jewel of Mecca was the Kaaba and its vicinity, beautifully developed amd expanded with the best marble and the most ornate architecture.  It felt like an appropriate arrangement.
Arriving at Mecca this week, I immediately noticed the difference. The first indication was the newly built Zamzam tower hotels which towered above all of Mecca. As our bus navigated around Mecca’s traffic, closed tunnels and under construction signs. It was clear now there was a push for Mecca to catch up to the rest of Saudi Arabia’s push for capitalist modernity.
The Zamzam hotel tower (where we stayed our first 4 days in Mecca) was a scary sign of things to come.
The hotel was literally at the vicinity of the haram, a few times the rows of haram worshippers extended until they reached deep inside the ground floor of the tower, which happened to be part of the first 3 shopping center floors plus 2 food court floors. When I would pray at the ground floor (to be able to pray closer to the kaaba you’d have to leave the hotel about an hour early) I would focus on the prayer,  but every time I get up my eyes would rest on either the Mango store or the Giordano store.
There is something very wrong about attaching a 5 star hotel and shopping center to the vicinity of the house of God. The nature of the hajj is about enduring hardship and letting go of our material desires. So the plush beds, feather pillows and buffet breakfasts and dinners rubbed many of us the wrong way.
I’m not against building comfortable accommodation or even somewhat easing the facilities of the rituals of hajj. I do however question the widsom of building 5 star hotels at the foot of the haram, mind you, the cost of those hotels and shops can only be afforded by the minority wealtheir muslims, or muslims coming from western countries. Again how are you going to remember that you are part of humanity if you’re staying at this hotel and other muslims (the majority of the pilgrims) have to sleep at the base of the haram because their 2 star hotels are too far to walk to or from more than once a day.
A recent article on Muslim Village also questioned the wisdom behind so called 5 star hajj packages,  where you pay exorbitant amounts of money for incredibly plush services and facilities that can easily make you forget the physical challenges of hajj.
Mecca’s harsh rocky environment is being broken down graually to make space for more development. When we visited Ghar Thawr (where the prophet pbuh and Abu Bakr) visited. We were distracted by the great many trucks and machinery breaking and digging out parts of the mountain.
And as I stood there sweating in the late morning sun, avoiding the dust and sand umsettled by the construction,  and ignoring assaults of the beggars and little kids selling calendars and mementos,  I though to myself, what does the future hold for mecca? What is it going to look like in 5 years? Or 10 or even 50 years? Will we live to see a megapolis of sky scrapers and megamalls towering over the haram? Will the hajj be reduced to a symbolic ritual and stripped of its essence?