The Tent City
MINA, the tent city
On 16thDecember 07, we changed into Ihram and pronounced a second intention for actual Hajj. Taking only a shoulder bag filled with bare essentials plus a new packed dress, we boarded the bus.
Chanting “Lubaik Allahumma Lubaik” in unison, we moved towards Mina about 5 km away from Mecca. All roads were clogged and our bus moved at a snail pace. The wild hooting was incessant. Transporting two millions on the same day and the same place had to be a logistical nightmare. A large number security forces were deployed and helicopters were put in the sky to monitor and control movement of vehicles, estimated around 22,000.
Some pilgrims preferred to walk from Mecca to Mina through the air-cooled covered walkway.
At long last, the bus reached Mina. Without guide, it was not possible to find our tent though we had maps and identity tags showing our sector and tent number. But there were reportedly 40,000 tents of the same color and dimension, stretching in all directions. These were fire-proof, air-cooled with overhead lights and power outlet. The space per pilgrim in the tents in Mina was only 1.15 sq m and each tent accommodated 50 people. Separate arrangements were made for ladies.
The Mina is long and narrow valley girdled by granite hills and deserts dunes. From a complete emptiness, it had turned out into a bubbling city and was reverberating with verses from the Holy Qur’an.
Initially, we were happy but soon truth dawned at us. There were few food outlets and getting foods was an uphill task. I saluted the salesmen who were robotically taking cash and dispensing cooked rice, gravies, breads, salads, biscuits and “mutabak”, sweet pastry stuffed with cheese, banana or meat. Worst was bringing hot tea in the tent for wife. However, cold water and ice packs was easily available near the tent. I wished they had included hot tea in sealed cups.
Further, there were inadequate prefabricated toilets. The users were required to get in line and hold their bowel movements from 10 to 40 minutes.
The day was spent in prayers and meditation, looking for foods, lining outside the rest rooms. For the sake of convenience, the five-time prayers were performed outside the tent. At night, all slept shoulder-to-shoulder, mostly snorting and kicking thy neighbor while tossing and turning in sleep.
Towards Plains of Arafat
In the evening of 18th Dec 07, our guide asked us to pack up and leave the camp as buses would come on the main road any time after 8 pm. Accordingly, we came out of our camp and waited for buses. When the first bus was sighted, displaying our group flag, all scrambled towards it, trying to get in anyhow. Those who failed attempted on the second or subsequent bus. In the process, many family members were separated. It created a commotion inside each bus as many were shouting names of their dear ones. Having failed to get any response, some started weeping, some wailing and some sobbing. Meanwhile buses moved on as there was a constant honking by the next caravan.
We were slowly moving towards Arafat, about 14.5 km from Mina and it took us about six hours to cover that distance.
Arafat was a vast desert area now studded with a cluster of tents here and there. Unlike Mina, there were no marked directions for our camp. Even our driver got lost and it took him two hours to contact the leader as all mobile communication was chocked up due to heavy load and distortions caused by mass movement of vehicles. Another hour was consumed in reaching the open camp at the edge of the site. Once again, there was gender segregation and all went to sleep where ever they found empty mats.
In the morning, it was a pleasant surprise to find greenery all around us. Previously a sandy place, Arafat had turned into an oasis due to massive landscaping and tree plantation about 15 years ago.
For us, it was the most important day. (There is no Hajj without stay at Arafat. If this stay is missed, the whole Hajj is invalidated.) The boundaries, within which the pilgrims must stay at Arafat, were well defined with multi-language boards raised all along the periphery.
Plains of Arafat
At midday, there was intense heat which coincided with the Hajj sermon, Khutba-e-Hajj, delivered by Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Abdulla Al-Sheikh. This was followed by combining of two prayers (Zohr and Asr) with only one call. But alas, our camp was way off the place of the sermon, Masjid-e-Nimra, and we heard it only through a radio in our own tents.
The Saudi Government provided a free lunch which included steamed rice, mutton curries, fruits, ice cream, plenty of juices, packs of biscuits, wafers and crackers.
The afternoon was a pious time. We stood in devotion and earnest supplication asking God for mercy and forgiveness. All pilgrims prayed together, their hands raised, their tears flowing, their voices mixing up in a multitude of dialects but saying the same words in the same language. The scene was emotionally charged and left a lasting impression.
Soon after the sunset, we left for our next destination, the plains of Muzdalifah to spend the night.
Worst traffic jam
After sun sets, all pilgrims surged forth to Muzdalifah by buses, trucks, cars and on foot. With such a rush, it was one of the most chaotic and stressful exercise. After about 7 km, which took as many hours, the bus stopped. All were asked to get down, spend the night and have a long walk next morning to reach the previously allotted tent in Mina, some 5 km away.
Muzdalifah was just an open barren land with some illumination and a few restrooms. As a ritual, the pilgrims were required to stay for worship and rest. We spread our mats like others and squatted thereupon with a pride. A person on the roadside was selling hot tea. I grabbed two cups and fished out some saved biscuits and cookies. The night at Muzdalifah became an unforgettable event. We prayed, munched biscuit, sipped tea, collected over 49 pebbles, had a chit chat with the next mat-family and dozed off. Sleeping in the open on the rugged ground under the star was a thrilling experience.
Next morning saying early prayer (Fajr), we joined a stream of people going south. We kept on moving with brief rests till we reached a barrier. It was a covered walkway filled to the brim by the worshippers. Since our tent was on the other side, we moved along the steel barrier till we found an opening. Getting in, we continued moving with the flow and gradually shifted towards to the other side with pushes, requests or lucky jolts. Once out the walkway, we sat down on a raised structure and caught our breath. I straightened my back against the wall and went into a reverie. I thought of those things which I have done but shouldn’t have, things which I haven’t done but should have and of the things I would do after forgiveness of the past sins.
After a good rest, we reached our tent and shared stories with others.
Throwing pebbles at Satan
Throwing Pebbles at the devil.
By about 11 am, we formed a group and proceeded towards Jamarat for stoning the devils. The covered and air-cooled walkway was inaccessible due to huge rush. We had to move by the side road. By this time, there was an intense heat. Since men cannot cover their heads with caps or hats, I used an umbrella which of course was inconvenient for anyone behind me.
Prior to 2005, this used to be a dreadful day as with frequent stampedes many were crushed to death. The government had since solved the problem by constructing a multi-tiered Jamarat Bridge in the shape of an “X”. The pillars to be stoned were at the centre of the "X" with inflow and outflow ramps, emergency exits, and subway tunnels directing the flood of supplicants safely through the rocky landscape of Mina.
At the time of our visit, ground and upper levels were complete which eventually would be extended to four levels. The security men directed us to the ground level where pebble throwing was at its height. The din there sounded like waterfalls of Niagara. But there was no water, only the faithful pelting the “devil.” Since it was first ritual, each pelted seven stones on the pillar in the centre.
There were three oval-shaped pillars or symbols, 40 metres long and 16 metres wide enough for pelting of stones by 100,000 pilgrims per hour. The symbols were coated with rubber so the stones thrown didn't deflect and injure pilgrims. The stones dropped directly to the basement of the bridge and down a ramp where they were being removed pneumatically.
We returned to the tents and waited for a signal of sacrifice delegated to our leader. In order to reduce inconvenience to the devotees, sacrifice of animal, usually a sheep, was done centrally under the supervision of Islamic Bank, Jeddah. A huge abattoir had been constructed to preserve the meat, and distribute it to the poor Muslims in other countries. This day was celebrated not only at Hajj but also throughout the Islamic World where it was joyous time to visit family and friends.
On receipt of the report that sacrifice on our behalf has been done with, we rushed to washing area, had our head shaved followed by a bath and changing into brand new garments. By the time we returned, a bountiful plate of roasted mutton, from own sacrificial sheep, was waiting for us which we enjoyed fully.
Last day of Hajj
Peak attendence in the Grand Mosque
Next day we tried to hire a taxi or any vehicle for going to Mecca but all were fully engaged. We decided to walk which was about 5 km away. With utmost difficulty, we entered the mosque as it was jam-packed. We found some space on the roof top which increased the circumference geomaterically. With God blessing we completed the tawaaf and running between Safa Marwa, had the head shaved once again and completed the Umerah.
On return, we went to Jamarat and stoned the three pillars one after another. We had another round of Jamarat as we stayed for the night on a day after Hajj i.e. 23rd December 07.
We left Mecca on 29th of December 07 but a day before we went to Mecca to perform a farewell Umerah. Travelling by road, we reached Jeddah and had to wait for one day for the flight. Eventually, by 31st December, we flew to Karachi, Pakistan and were back to our sweet home with a lot of pleasant memories.