Hajj Chronicles Part 24: Adventures in the desert

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 23

The road leaving Arafah

The road leaving Arafah

Catch us if you can

After leaving Arafah alone, I had some hope because – via mobile phone – I was in constant contact with my wife and the sheikh, who were trying to figure out how far behind I was. And as I walked, I remembered the verse in the Quran about how we “flow” from Arafah (Surah Al-Baqara, verse 198), imagining that we were supposed to be feeling all pure and liberated. But such sentiments were far from my heart and mind.

My focus was on catching up to my group – who were nowhere in sight. My hope was fading as I realised I was totally alone: in the middle of this desert, unfamiliar with the surroundings, knowing no one and not speaking Arabic (or any other language that most of the hujjaaj spoke – since fluent English-speakers are rare on Hajj). And while the common perception is that it’s impossible to get lost – because there’s just one road and everyone goes in the same direction (to Muzdalifah) – the reality was different. Early into the walk, there were quite few side roads, and people going off in different directions for their busses. I didn’t know who to follow and ended up taking numerous wrong turns – which set me further back from my group.

In that first hour of walking, the reality of the situation hit me, and I grew very angry at my wife for ‘abandoning’ me. I knew she hated waiting for me, so I blamed her impatience. I felt betrayed. She knew that for the Hajj walks, couples are advised to stick together – yet she couldn’t wait a few minutes. But I knew that shaytaan was trying to get to me – as he does on that road from Arafah. So I made dua asking Allah to take away such angry thoughts. Blame wouldn’t be constructive, so I needed to focus on correcting the situation by finding them.

Wandering soul

My feelings oscillated between adventurous curiosity, fear, and anxiety. How could this be happening? And why? Why me?

One possible answer popped into my head: our sheikh’s advice that unexpected events on Hajj are Allah’s way of trying to teach you lessons. So my mind settled a bit, confident that I’d catch up to my group, and I focused on enjoying the adventure.

On that walk, I spotted a multitude of very cute babies and toddlers – some in ihraam. But I also witnessed the not-so-cute garbage along the road – which many people complain about. It was totally understandable, though – because in my entire walk, I saw absolutely no bins. I saw just 2 garbage bags in that whole walk. For a route covered by something like 4 million hujjaaj, it was shocking that there were no bins. So if you want to know why Hajj is so dirty, look at the waste management situation. (Then again, there may be reasons. I’ve heard that there used to be bins but people didn’t use them – so the Saudis gave up and now just bulldoze the dirt afterwards.)

Most of my walk was along the side of the road, which gave me plenty of exposure to insane bus driving. One driver would be stuck, with no room to move forward, yet the driver behind him would hoot like a maniac. The front driver would then hoot back, so maybe this was actually a conversation between busses  :).

It was incredible to see and be among the millions heading to Muzdalifah – both by bus and walking. The busses held passengers inside, on the roofs, and in the luggage compartments underneath. Those busses sometimes ran so close together that it was hard for us pedestrians to cross the road at the off-ramps (as one lady in a wheelchair narrowly found out). And with traffic being so incredibly slow, it really was quicker to walk.

But the sidewalks weren’t that safe either. Men on bikes regularly drove on the pavement – giving people lifts (presumably for a large fee) and not seeming to care who they may knock over.

By this time, it was already dark and I’d given up hope of catching my group on the road – so I figured I’d meet them at Muzdalifah. My wife, who’d been panicking for several hours, eventually realised that she had to stop worrying and put her trust in Allah. As for me, I was physically uncomfortable as I had to carry a heavy backpack (with limited food and water). But that wasn’t as bad as the chafing that had begun on this walk.

(Ladies: please forgive me for the bit that follows. I’ve tried to word it subtly.)

Men: when people advise you to put Vaseline / lubricant on the insides of your thighs while you’re in ihraam, listen to them! If you start chafing, it’s not fun walking a long distance in ihraam with that kind of ‘disturbance’ down under. Putting aside how strange you’ll look trying to manoeuvre and hold your bits when in that state, just the physical pain of that experience will teach you the value of underwear!

As I approached Muzdalifah, I chose to follow a small group of hujaaj walking on the side of the road – thinking it was a more adventurous route. The detour took me into open desert – which I’m sure no one in my group experienced on that walk. In a way, it was closer to the Prophet s.a.w.’s Hajj, because I got to walk on the sand of this Makkan desert, and experienced the night sky from that viewpoint.

At one point, I started smelling animals. And then I saw them: a group of sheep in a pen, with no humans around. They were probably waiting for the morning’s Eid sacrifices. “B-a-a-a”, I said, greeting one of them. “B-a-a-a”, came a reply. Nice to know the sheep weren’t ignoring me :).

Strange as it sounds, the whole period of being lost was actually an enjoyable experience. Being a person who’s quite comfortable on his own, I didn’t really mind being away from everyone. It gave me time to think, feel, and just experience something that was completely out of the ordinary. It felt like Allah’s gift to me – initially seeming like a disaster, but turning out to be the highlight of my Hajj up to that point.

Related lessons:

  • A mobile phone is essential for the 5 days of Hajj. If possible, get a very basic model that has a long battery life, a torch, and minimal distractions (such as email and Internet access). You’ll appreciate that extended battery life once you leave Mina (on Day 2).
  • As far as possible, stick with your group when you leave Arafah. Don’t assume that you can’t get lost, because it can easily happen – especially if you’re leaving with large crowds around you. Husbands and wives should stick together, even if they get separated from the rest of the group.
  • Shaytaan is at his lowest, most embarrassed point after Arafah – because all his work of trying to mislead for so many years you is undone when Allah completely forgives you during wuqoof. Shaytaan will, therefore, be waiting for you on that road from Arafah – so be aware of this enemy, and try to keep your thoughts clean and fill your heart, mind, and tongue with remembrance of Allah.
  • If things go wrong, try not to panic, and don’t let hopelessness or desperation overcome you. Stay calm, turn to Allah for help, and recognise that this might be His way of trying to teach you important lessons.
  • If you’re walking, keep your garbage with you (in your bag or in a dirt packet). Don’t just throw it on the road, like so many other people. Just because the masses are doing it, doesn’t make it acceptable. You’ve just completed the highlight of Hajj, so don’t start your ‘new life’ being dirty.
  • Take in the sights and sounds (and smells!) of that journey to Muzdalifah. Unless you go on Hajj again, it’s not likely you’ll ever be in such a large and diverse gathering of people headed in a single direction. (But do be careful of those crazy men on bikes. You don’t want to get knocked or injured on the walk.)
  • Men: especially if you’ll be doing the walking Hajj, put (unscented) Vaseline / lubricant on the insides of your thighs while you’re in ihraam. Don’t just assume that you won’t chafe in that area, because if it happens, you’re in for a painful few hours.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: The search resumes at Muzdalifah

Update: The entire series (30 parts) is available at this link – post by post. Alternatively, you can download the complete series as an e-book in PDF format. Feel free to share with anyone you think may benefit.

Image source: Opening picture


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