Monday, 9 November 2009

A Journey of the Hearts...A Journey of a Lifetime...

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم


In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful...

In my last post, I mentioned that there were a few things on my mind. One of the things that has been on my mind since Ramadan is Hajj. Alhumdulillah, Allah(swt) has blessed me with the opportunity to go for Hajj this year.

Since the month of Ramadan ended, Hajj is all I have been thinking about. I have been confused about the ins and outs, the flight details, acquiring a Hajj visa, and just the Hajj rites in itself.

First and foremost, Hajj is one of the 5 pillars of Islam as is mentioned in the following hadith:

The Prophet ﷺ said,

"Islam has been built upon five [pillars]:

1. Testifying that there is no deity worthy of worship besides Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah;

2. Performing the prayers;

3. Paying the zakat;

4. Making the pilgrimage to the House [i.e. the Ka'ba]

5. And fasting in Ramadan"

(Bukhari and Muslim)

With Hajj being one of the five pillars of Islam, it is incredibly important that it is fulfilled within a person's lifetime if they have the financial and physical capability. As a youngster, I always believed that my first Umrah at the age of 10 years constituted as me having had completed that one pillar of Islam...the childish dreams I used to have!

As life progressed, I was disappointed when I grew to realise that I had not, in fact, fulfilled pilgrimage to the House of Allah, but funnily enough, I didn't feel the need to dwell on it as I always thought that I would perform Hajj after I got married, when I hit 40-50 years. But after attending a Hajj seminar a few weeks ago that I feel has thoroughly prepared me for the basics of Hajj, I feel tired just thinking about it all!!

With new Saudi legislations coming out nearly every year, it is now compulsory that one must travel with a Hajj group. You cannot even obtain a Hajj visa unless you go with a group. It is only when you have booked and paid for your Hajj that you realise the complexities of organising it all in the first place. Before I proceed, I must tell you that choosing your Hajj group is one of the biggest decisions that you can ever make. In fact, it could possibly be the difference between an accepted Hajj or a Hajj that is not accepted!
Whilst many Muslims look at whether they are staying in the Intercontinental or the Hilton, whether they will be flying with British Airways or Turkish Airlines or whether they will be staying in the VIP tents close to Jamaraat, one of the MOST important things to look at is the credentials of the religious scholar going with the group, for they will be giving the religious guidance on the intricacies of Umrah and Hajj. Their job is incredibly important, because if a certain aspect of Hajj is not fulfilled, then it can result in the pilgrim having committed a sin, as well as having to fork out money to pay to sacrifice a goat. For example, some Hajj groups tell their pilgrims that it is not necessary for them to spend the night in Muzdalifah, that only passing through it will suffice. However, it is compulsory to spend the night in Muzdalifah and those that don't will accrue sin and will have to pay a sacrifice. The biggest sin is on the religious guide for leading people incorrectly. Sadly, not enough importance is given to such a fundamental aspect of choosing a Hajj company and few people realise that their thousands of precious pounds (or dollars) have just been flushed down the toilet.

The organisation behind Operation Hajj is so complex that it must be a real headache for the organisers of Hajj companies. Booking hotels, flights, being flexible with new Saudi rules, booking the provision of food, tents in Mina and Arafat; it requires hundreds of people to work incredibly hard to ensure things work like clockwork. The reality is incredibly different from clockwork.
With an average of 2-3 million people from all over the world in one place, all performing the same rites and trying to get from A to B within a specific amount of time, one can imagine that things are destined to go wrong! It's a year round project for the Saudi government, as it is for the Hajj companies around the world. Credit should be given to those who can get their pilgrims on the plane back to their destinations on time!

With so much going on, it is imperative that everyone keeps their patience, because nothing ever runs to time and neither is it as one might expect. One of the most disappointing things that happens during Hajj is when people lose their patience with each other, either during the days of Hajj or immediately after. Keeping your cool is the biggest test during Hajj, literally and not-so-literally. The weather can cause tempers to get a little heated (pun intended!) and that is when it is really important that everyone stays calm and collected.

During the seminar with my Hajj group, we were told that the biggest lesson we will learn is that
Hajj = Patience. Why? Because you are out of your comfort zone sharing a room or tent with 20-30 other people all of whom have different toilet hygiene (I shudder at strands of hair in the sink!), not to mention the difference between Western and Eastern toilets (of the squatting variety) and then having to sleep on the floor and walking a lot. And the most testing aspect of Hajj? Waiting. For hours and hours. From the moment a person touches down in Saudi Arabia, they must be mentally, physically and spiritually prepared to wait wherever they go for whatever it is they want. Whether it is just to use the bathroom or they want to buy an ice cream from Bin Dawood, they will be tested.

One of the signs of an accepted Hajj or a Hajj Mabroor is that the Muslim comes back a better person, a better Muslim. For myself, I feel that being more patient with myself, with those around me, with decision-making and with the occurrence of adverse events, I need to be more patient and say "Alhumdulillah" for those that do will be rewarded as promised by Allah(swt):

"Only those who are patient shall receive their reward in full, without reckoning." [Surah Az-Zumar; v.10]

Insha'Allah, I hope to be of those mentioned above.

So as the days of Hajj approach and I begin my packing after weeks of preparation, I would like to say a few things...

If I have ever offended anyone, be it knowingly or unknowingly, then please forgive me. I would like you to keep me in your du'as and pray that we come back safe and sound as better people and better Muslims, insha'Allah.

I will be making du'a for you all on the Day of Arafat. Insha'Allah, upon my return, the next post will be on my lessons learnt during Hajj.

May Allah(swt) keep us guided on Islam, give us good health, safety, security, protection from the Hellfire and a place in Jannatul-Firdaus...Ameen.

1 comment:

  1. Think it's better to post here rather than clog up the MM blog. You seem to be countering arguments I've not made and have made a number of incorrect assumptions without the benefit of information that by not being in the industry, you quite naturally aren't privvy to. Having been immersed in this business to a greater extent, only one of the three firms you've identified (al Hidaayah) is a market leader in terms of size, and you've missed out the even larger one (Haj & Umra). The fact that I'm based in London does not define which operators I am/am not aware of. I know of all other operators that target the same segment of the market as me, and a good few others besides.

    I didn't question the ethics of any operator in particular, of the operators I know to be questionable the two others you've mentioned are not amongst them, not that I would name those that I believe fall short of the mark, it would not be in the right spirit of things. Almost all of the operators that get it badly wrong do not have the wrong niyah, they merely get in over their head and lack the resources and network to overcome difficulties that come their way. I believe that the percentage of dishonourable operators is almost negligible so there is no need to defend the honour of a random few you've chosen to name, to me.

    I am well aware of the 'going rates' for hajj, my business plan is built on knowing the ‘going rates’, and I know the costs of hajj to operators and Makkah first hajj is MUCH more expensive to put together, not just a little more, MUCH more. I accept that because of your travel sickness, you might have a preference for going to Madinah first, as well as Americans in general, after all it is known by the great majority of the UK operators as the 'American Way' (hence the Davids’ endorsement) because they come from further afield and find it impractical to change into ihram at a transit airport or the plane.

    The majority of those coming from a mere 6hr flight like UK hajjis do make a preference for going to Makkah first, especially those who've actually been through the hell of the Madinah-Umrah-Mina transfer on 7 & 8 DH. While Aziziyyah is not ideal, it's certainly a better bet than the previous option. Your salah equations are reminiscent of the ones Davids mentions in his very good book, but I’d draw greater attention to the fact the prophet Muhammad (saw) recommended pilgrims perform hajj tamattu, something that keeping hujjaj in Madinah until 7 DH made almost impossible.

    As for being OK with operators make a profit, of course they should make a decent level of income commensurate with their efforts, I too, expect to generate a decent level of income for my family too.

    In reality, I guess my frustration should be better directed at the fact that there is a lack of accurate information in the market. While it's up to the market to define value, when such a lack of information is apparent in any market, it ends up distorting the market, which is why operators are able to charge the same price for a far cheaper product.

    I truly hope you have an incredible and peaceful hajj that exceeds way beyond your hopes, even thinking about the times I've stood on Arafat gives me goosebumps, I hope your hajj is just as evocative for you.

    A hajj mabroor to you