By the grace of Allah I have been able to perform Hajj 3 times and Umra an additional 2 times. It was always a great experience, so great in fact that it is difficult to describe. But let me try …
The last time I went for Hajj was 6 years ago. It is easy to remember, because during Tawaf my junior wife and myself prayed for a son and now he is 5 years old. Therefore that Hajj will always be my son’s age plus ten months ago.
Let me now not tell you about all the rituals of Hajj, which I am sure you know about (or can read in other articles). Let me just tell you a few personal experiences. May be of that time when we (my wife, my 8 year old daughter and myself) were having a nice roast chicken lunch in a restaurant in Makkah and when I wanted to go and pay I was told that ‘your meal has already been paid for by that Saudi man who just walked away’. Or the time we were stuck in traffic between Makkah and Mina and a young man came to distribute cold water and biscuits.
Among the nearly 3 million pilgrims from all over the world we heard ‘Labbaik Allah humma’ (here we are oh Allah!) but we did not hear any mention of militancy or terrorism.
All Hajjis tried their utmost to accommodate each other. When coming early to the Mosque and gaining a fairly good place when late-comers tried to advance to the front everyone tried to give place, rather than complain.
At the various stages of Hajj, in Arafat, in Mina, those Hajjis who had organized themselves better than others shared whatever they brought along. The best dish of ‘daal’ (lentils) I shared with some Hajjis from Peshawar in Mina! In Arafat we shared biscuits and honey with our Jordanian group members. Everyone guided each other and assisted each other.
It is amazing how during all days of Hajj and on all locations all necessities are taken care of. We never needed to go hungry nor thirsty. We always found something to eat, often free, always at reasonable prices. There was no ‘price inflation’ usual in other large gatherings when the ‘demand/supply’ is definitely one-sided.
During my various Hajj visits I had different kind of accomodation. The first time was in 1970. At that time I came with a Pakistani friend who managed to arrange accommodation in a Private apartment of a Pakistani working in Makkah. The second time I came with my family in 1977. I had not arranged anything before arriving in Makkah. While sitting in the office of the agent one flight engineer of Saudia airlines, a friend of the agent, was sitting there. When seeing us he said ‘let me ask my father-in-law, he does not usually take in Hajjis, but let me ask’ and we ended up having a nice room in a private Makkan house, definitely a wonderful experience. When returning ‘home’ we got nice Makkan food and did not need to cue up outside. This was the real Makkah experience. 6 years ago I performed Hajj with my younger family. We came with a Jordanian Hajj group. The accommodation was in an apartment building not very far from the Haram. The furniture was very basic, but who cares, the main thing was that it was easy to commute to the Great Mosque.
My additional Umrah visits were once in 1973 when my company had a contract to collect the excess luggage of Nigerian Hajjis and I was able to get a free seat in a Cargolux plane. Two weeks after Hajj already Hotel accommodation was easily available in Makkah. Six years ago, before I went to Hajj with my junior family I took my senior wife for Umrah. We stayed at Hilton Hotel. Well, the luxury did not really impress us, we missed out ‘real Makkan experience’ of many years ago when we had stayed with the Makkan family! Hilton Hotel looked the same as it would in New York and Paris or London. Anyway, why complain, of course it was very convenient to be just a few steps from the gate of the Haram.
We all know that the governments and leaders of Iran and Saudi Arabia do not exactly love each other. But the Saudis know that all pilgrims are the guests of Allah and they accommodate the Hajjis from Iran just like any other. The Iranis are well organized and their ‘team leaders’ help them recite their own prayers. In addition to all prayers of all pilgrims they would also recite prayers for their own past leaders such as Imam Ali. While of course all Sunnis respect Imam Ali also some Sunnis might not appreciate these ‘additional prayers’. Still, every one respects each other and accepts each other. It is nice to see.
Therefore where-ever we went we found Muslims devoting themselves to Allah, all reciting the same prayers. Every one was happy to be here and thankful to Allah for His mercy to make it possible for all of us.
Now all Hajjis coming back home just need to bring ‘the spirit of Hajj’ back home. Why cannot Iran and Saudi Arabia extend their respect for each other, which they show during Hajj, to the time ‘after Hajj’? Why can not all Muslims take home the unity which they were able to display during Hajj? All Muslim countries could truly be one – just continue what you did during Hajj!!!
May Allah accept the Hajj of all who attempt it! May Allah make Hajj possible for all those who have not come yet!!!
Alhamdolillah re rabbil alameen. All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all the worlds.