Getting ready for lifetime journey



Published — Friday 28 August 2015

Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam. All Muslims who fulfill certain conditions must perform Haj at least once in their lifetime. What are these conditions? Are there any prerequisites of Haj? The answers to these and many other similar questions can help you in making decisions, and in planning for Haj in a better and more efficient fashion.

Who must perform Haj
Every Muslim who fulfills the following conditions must perform Haj at least once in his lifetime:
a. He must be of sound mind, and in full control of his mental faculties.
b. He must be old enough, and mature enough to understand the full import, and significance of what he is setting out to do.
c. He must be financially sound enough to be able not only to bear all of his expenses for Haj but also to provide adequately for his dependents during his absence and until his return.

Prerequisites of Haj
Since Haj is an act of worship, it must be performed in peace, and with single-minded devotion. There are a number of simple, yet important, things you can do to get in the right frame of mind for this unique experience. All of these are self-evident and are based on common sense. They are reiterated below for completeness of the discussion and as a reminder:
a. Your intention must be to perform Haj solely for the sake of Allah. Considerations of pleasing or impressing others with your show of piety should never be a factor.
b. All Haj expenses must be paid out of money obtained through legitimate (Halal) means. Money obtained through illegitimate or doubtful means is not acceptable.
c. All of your debts and financial obligations must be fully discharged before you start your journey and, where necessary, a written acknowledgement of the transaction obtained for future use.
d. You must make an honest effort to resolve your outstanding differences with others and seek forgiveness from those you may have hurt in any way in the past. This is based on specific instructions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and must be followed for the Haj to be meaningful.

Preparations for Haj
Since Haj is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people, the importance of early and adequate preparation cannot be over-emphasized. There is a considerable investment of money, time, and physical effort required for the pilgrimage to be fulfilling and meaningful. Information has to be collected, itineraries must be worked out, and documents have to be readied. The purpose of these preparations is not only to minimize physical discomfort, emotional aggravation and monetary expenses, but also to enable you to perform Haj in relative peace of heart and mind. Therefore, it makes sense to be as ready as possible for this momentous journey of self-discovery, self-appraisal, and spiritual enlightenment.
Arrangements must be started early enough so that you are not rushed for time in the few days before your voyage commences. The paperwork, shopping, finalizing your travel and residential arrangements inside Saudi Arabia etc., consume a great deal of time. Three to four months ahead of your actual date of departure is a good estimate for starting your preparations. Your travel agent, or a knowledgeable friend who has performed Haj recently, can also guide you in your preparations. Be sure to apply a “factor of safety” to their recommendations and allow yourself a somewhat greater period of preparation than they advise!
The following guidelines are intended to get you started in the right direction. Since individual needs and preferences vary widely you will, in all probability, add to the list as you prepare for the journey:

Travel agent
Choose a travel agent who offers a wide selection of “packages” for Haj. You may find several travel agencies all over your country that offer Haj services, and not all of their products are of equal quality and value. Choosing the right agent is of crucial importance. Hopefully, a representative of your travel agent will be your constant guide and troubleshooter during Haj. Invest time and effort in this essential phase of your preparation.
Talk to friends and acquaintances who may have recently used the services of various companies and ask them for recommendations. The quality of service and commitment to the comfort and well being of the pilgrims vary significantly among travel agents. Whereas a good and responsible agent can “make” your Haj, a bad one can just as easily “break” it.
Be sure to ask the travel agent specific questions and have him give you specific answers:
a. What will be the duration of your stay in Makkah and Madinah? What dates? Is the program flexible or will it allow no changes once it is made? Is there any additional cost to such changes? If so, what is it?
b. How far away will you be staying from Haram Shareef, both in Makkah and in Madinah? If your place of residence is not within easy walking distance (10-15 minutes), what type of transportation to and from Haram Shareef will be made available? How often during the day will it be available?
c. Will a representative of the travel agent who is fully conversant with the rites of Haj, and Saudi rules and procedures for customs, immigration, and travel be with you at all times? Will he stay in Saudi Arabia for the duration of your visit? You do not want to be left in Saudi Arabia without adequate guidance and assistance. The laws and procedures there can be very difficult, frustrating, and time-consuming.
d. Will the representative of the agent be conversant with the Arabic language? If not, will an interpreter be provided in Saudi Arabia? Most Saudi authorities do not speak English, and your command of Arabic is likely to be limited.
e. Will you have the option of travelling within Saudi Arabia, (for example from Makkah to Madinah), in a taxi hired by you at your own expense instead of the prepaid bus provided by your muallim? How about possible return by air from Madinah to Jeddah on your way out of the country instead of the usual prepaid bus? Get a good idea of this additional expense. You may want to use the above options in view of the fact that the bus journeys during Haj season can be nerve-racking. For example, a bus journey from Makkah to Madinah (approximately 400 km or 250 miles) can take as long as 20-30 hours, whereas a taxi will cover the same distance in three to four hours. The small additional cost you will incur is well worth the money in terms of time saved and physical discomfort avoided. If you choose to use any of the alternate travel options (and it is highly recommend that you give them very serious consideration), be sure to redeem your unused bus coupons at Jeddah airport on your way out. Your travel agent should be able to help you in this.
f. What kind of arrangements will be made for your stay in Mina and Arafat? How about the food arrangements in Mina, Arafat, and Muzdalifah?
g. Does the price of your package include meals? See if the agents make an effort to vary the menu. You may have to supplement your meals with milk, fruits etc. Food supplied by the agents tends to be monotonous, and the lack of variety is likely to kill your appetite after a couple of days!
h. Will the agent arrange for a sacrifice on your behalf on the 10th of Dhul Hijjah? This is a common service agents often provide for a small fee. They will inform you of the time of the sacrifice so that you may perform other rites accordingly.

You will need certain vaccinations for the issuance of a Haj visa. The World Health Organization issues annual guidelines and requirements concerning vaccinations for travel to various countries including Saudi Arabia. In accordance with the International Health Regulations 2005, all travelers arriving from countries or areas at risk of yellow fever must present a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate showing that the person was vaccinated at least 10 days and at most 10 years before arrival at the border.
Check either with your travel agent or the Saudi Arabian Embassy for additional requirements.

To be continued next week

Courtesy: Islamic Foundation UK



Categories: Arab World, Asia, Islam, Saudi Arabia

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