Our Haj Story : Arafah….where the haj begins

We left Makkah for wukuf in Arafah at around midnight. Being in Arafah on the ninth of Dzulhijjah is one of the haj pillars. No haj if one failed to be there before the sunset. Arrived in Arafah about half an hour later. We were not the first to be there as groups of people already had their tent up and ready. We were on our own so first thing first…..find a good place to settle down. We chose an area close to the toilets and a walking distance to the mosque. O yes, a big and beautiful Namira mosque. This mosque is very special as it opens for public only once a year on the Day of Arafah.The door will open at 4.30 am and I’ll be there by then to witness a frenzy ritual people do everytime they open the door. But the time now is half past 2 and our haj shack is almost ready. Our little place is far from that of Tabung Haji with nice carpet and all. I thinkMalaysian pilgrims with Tabung Haji have all the facilities and protections better than anybody else in this holy land. Earlier that day I came across a fleet of buses carrying the Tabung Haji logo ready to go to Arafah, neatly lined up in front of a hotel; but we prefer to ride on top of a jeep for 20 riyals one way. But alhamduliLlah ALlah had given us strength and will power to endure this journey. Namira mosque was ready to open; and so did thousands of people waiting outside. It’s almost 4.30 in the morning. They were so eager to get in to escape from the heat later on in the day. The mosque is fully air-conditioned. But there were a group of people that aiming for something else …..the qur’an. I heard that people will fight to get a copy of the qur’an. Those copies were donated by the king. The minute the door opened, everybody was rushing in and trying to get them. The frenzy ritual had just started. They were really fighting, grabbing and hustling to get to the shelf. I just could not get anywhere near it as the situation went out of control. They were really out of their mind like a bunch of hyenas trying to get to their food (as seen on TV). I just could not understand these people on why they are doing it and for what. Even with their ihram on they could be that nasty.

In the morning, more and more people were filling up the area; putting up tents and sun shades. I went for a cup of tea, sold by and Indon for one riyal. Hmmmm….what a good idea, I mean people would buy anything here especially drinks. I was offered one thousand riyal for my old camera (this item is ‘hot’ as taking picture is considered unlawful in Saudi Arabia, some thing like that). By midday, the place was really hot from above and beneath. They sprinkled water to the air through out the day to keep the temperature low. But the heat never seem to subside.

This is how Malaysian students(in this group there were mainly Malaysian students from UK plus a few from Egypt/Jordan and Syria ) would stay in Arafah, not in air-conditioned tents but make-shift shades around the mosque. It was very simple for us and for most of the people there. Only with TH you would stay comfortable away from the dead heat of the desert….but then it would not be much fun, would it !

The heat is getting too much and the dust is blowing everywhere. Here we were waiting for the Zohr trying to escape the sun as much as possible.

The khutbah has finished and we were about to perform Zohr prayer.

AlhamduliLlah everyone in our group tried to be calm, supportive and patient. We spent time reading qur’an, making doa and listening to ceramahs. When the azan was called, we all set foot to Muzdalifah. Instead of looking for the bus, we decided to walk.Joining us were thousands of other pilgrims. There was a special walking path for people who decided to walk from Arafah to Muzdalifah (around 9 km).

On the way to Muzdalifah, by foot, with thousands of other pilgrims.

The weather was good and people just strolled about making their own pace. At Muzdalifah we collected pebbles and prayed Maghrib and Isya. At around midnight we continued walking to Mina (another 5 km). The jamrat area was already packed with hujjaj doing the stoning ritual. After melontar the jamrat we cut the hair for early tahlul (from now on we are not required to wear the ihram anymore). After that we rushed to Makkah for tawaf. Again some of us rode on top of a four-wheeler but could not get to Makkah in time for Fajr. We got lost. Oh dear, apparently the driver was a foreigner and he just could get to our place. We almost missed the Fajr prayer and certainly missed the aidil adha prayer. We made to the mosque around 10 in the morning and join the crowd for the tawaf. The crowd was just unbelievably huge. After Asr later that day we were on the way to Mina again for mabit (spending the night) . Again there was a seat at the roof top but this time I was inside by the driver.

We arrived in Mina late in the afternoon nearly Maghrib time. Now we have to find a place to stay for the night. Those not going with Tabung haji (like us and the rest of the world) will be registered with muassasah under Haj ministery of Saudi Government. It is their duty to entertain people going for haj. Under no circumstances they will deny people who intend to perform haj. Actually it’s a previlige for them to serve and accommodate the hujjaj….a duty of a custodian of the two holy mosques (al haramain asy-syarifain). That night we were placed at muassasah Asia Tenggara. It’s right beside the three jamrats on the hill slope. Those who went with TH package will be placed here. A bit exclusive with clean toilets, nice air conditioned tents plus a clinic. But we got the spare tents way at the back; we had a full view of the jamrats. That night we decided to head back to Makkah early in the morning after we have met the requirement for mabit. Around 3 am we reached Makkah and started the sa’ie. The mosque was completely packed with hujjaj so we decided to do the sa’ie upstairs. By this time I was feeling unwell; hanging on to my wife I dragged myself until we completed the ritual. Do you know that there is a fully equipped clinic in the mosque ? I did not know myself until I was about to faint. We went to this clinic (which is on the 2nd floor of masjidil haram) and I was treated for hyperthermia. By 8 am I was released and prepared to go to Mina again for the 2nd mabit. The driver dropped us a bit far from our tent so we had to walk under the scorching heat. I just could not take anymore and by the time we reached the tent I collapsed. The next thing I remembered was being carried away on a stretcher. Somebody opened up my clothes and I was sprayed with water all over my body. Soaking wet. I did come around later and the doctor (apparently I was in TH clinic) warned of my fatal hyperthermia. AlhamduliLlah I survived but was too weak to perform the stoning (hantar wakil lah kali ni). That night we stayed in Mina.

Spending the night in Mina, in the background is the jamrah. We were right up the hill in front of the jamrah.

The next day in Mina would be very critical for us as we need to leave early ( so we have to complete the stoning early and leave Mina before sunset otherwise we have to spend another night there). Our group leader had decided to go on performing the stoning right after Zohr time. And the 1998 stampede took place right there and then leaving 118 dead. I didn’t go for the ritual and left alone in the tent when the sound of paramedic vans filled up the air and the panic alarm was set off. Oh my god ! my wife was in there and none of them have come back. I was too weak to go down and all I could do was pray for the safety of my wife and my friends. I could see down from our tent (it was located a bit on the hill slope) about 20 paramedic vans flashing around in the area and people were running in panic. The stampede occurred on the upper level of the jamrat. The situation seemed to calm down about an hour later. I sat there and watched and prayed over and over again. A few of us came back but not my wife. “The ladies had been separated from us and we just could not find them “, told one of them with a big sigh. I was devastated. I grabbed the qur’an and read it with doa, hope and tears. AlhamduliLlah half an hour later my wife showed up all red from the heat. We were ready to set off ( for nafar awal) by Asr and reached Makkah before Maghrib. Prayed Maghrib at the mosque and went back to pack. We left Makkah for Madinah the next day around noon. The journey by bus took 8 hours.

Next : Hello Madinah !

2 thoughts on “Our Haj Story : Arafah….where the haj begins

  1. Masya-Allah. Thank you for sharing your experience, Dr. Not many people have a rare experience like this (performing haj from overseas), and photos of Makkah from almost 20 years ago, and a well-written narrative.
    I’m glad you and your wife were safe during the stampede. Alhamdulillah.


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