While we are deep in sleep, the sun would have risen over Muzdalifa and you would have rolled up your sleeping bag and boarded the bus (or train) to head back to your tent in Mina. How was the night under the stars? Was the ride back uneventful or did you hit a lot of traffic? And how are you doing in your ihram? You have been in the two pieces of white sheets for over a day now, in the scorching heat.
You have a busy day ahead of you. Prophet Abraham left a lot of work for you to emulate: the stoning, the sacrifice, the tawaaf, but look at the bright side, you get to take a shower and change into regular clean clothes. And then a spiritual Ahhhh!!!!
Here is what it was like for Dad and I, when we did the Hajj years ago. How about I start with what I love best: telling a story.
Once upon a time, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. Abraham agreed. As he embarked on his mission, Satan intercepted him and tried to talk him out of it. Abraham hit stones at Satan. He intercepted him a second time, he hurled stones at him; a third time, stones again. The devil gave up. Pleased with Abraham’s resolve and willingness to obey Him, God rescinded His command and asked Abraham to sacrifice a lamb instead. The End.
But not quite. Pilgrims will do what Abraham did, year after year, centuries after centuries. Prophet Muhammad left us with those instructions. It’s the ritual of Hajj.
When Dad and I arrived in Mina, we went directly to the three pillars signifying the devil, and stoned the pillars, a symbolic gesture of repelling the devil in our hearts. Be careful when you head that way. It gets very crowded and people sometimes get trampled. Last year, thousands perished in a crowd crush. What aggravates an already risky endeavor is the mood of the crowd. Something comes over them as they hit the stones, a feeling of anger against the devil, and the hitting gets harder. People will shout at the devil, and then hit harder. I saw a man so overcome by emotion that he took off his shoe and flung it at the stone, and then hobbled back with one shoe.
With the devil out of the way, we sacrificed a lamb. Well not exactly. For practical purposes, we had deposited the money with the authorities, who handle the slaughter and distribute the meat to the poor around the world. Now we could change out of the ihram. What a relief to put on a fresh pair of clothing. We cut a lock of our hair, and some men opted to shave their heads—a symbolic cleansing of sorts. Shaving is not a requirement, but Prophet Muhammad did it when he performed the Hajj, so men want to emulate him. Dad opted for the lock of hair. What about you? A clean shave? I am trying to picture how you look. Handsome for sure. Men in white were now seen in their regular attire—pants, thobes, shalwar kameez, jalabeeya. The barbers do good business that day, as they post themselves outside the tents and men line up to have their heads shaved. When your brother did the Hajj, he had a battery-operated shaver on him. After shaving his and his companion’s head, he found himself surrounded by pilgrims asking if he could oblige. He did, until his battery ran out—halfway through a man’s head. He tried to explain to him why he couldn’t continue, and the poor pilgrim walked away with half-a-head of hair, right through the middle.
Now you are ready to receive my greetings: Eid Mubarak. Today, Muslims around the world are celebrating the festival of sacrifice—Eid ul Adha. We will be headed for Eid prayers and thinking of you.
That was the hardest part—the Hajj tawaaf at the Kaaba. Picture this: two million pilgrims, all converged at the Kaaba, trying to circle it seven times. As soon as we entered the courtyard, I knew that we wouldn’t fit it, as in physically. “Lets go to the second level. It will be a wider circle, will take longer, but it will be safer,” Dad said. We took the escalator to the second floor and made our way to the balcony, overlooking the Kaaba. From above, we had a birds-eye view of the Kaaba, the pilgrims smaller, shaved heads visible, circles moving, in a perfect rows. I almost got crushed in the crowd. “I think we have to go to the rooftop,” Dad said. Up again. The rooftop was clear, no crowds. But the mid-day sun was intense, and the length of the circle was so much wider. It took us one and a half hour to make the seven rounds, but what a view. You can see the rooftop of the Kaaba, and the tight circles of the devoted, packed row to row, from the middle to the edges of the courtyard. Beyond, the bare hills rise cradling the city. We performed the Sai from the rooftop as well, walking between Safa and Marwah, and then we were done, for the day.
I am wondering what your Hajj tawaaf will be like. The mosque has expanded to twice its size, but so have the crowds. Better that you take the longer route for the tawaaf with less overcrowding.
Take it easy for the rest of the day, drink fluids, and try to get some sleep. Tomorrow will be less hectic and you will have time for meditation and reflection.
With all my love,
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