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Let’s Plan Hajj this Year
Dr Rizwan Haider


This article contains detailed information about how to perform Hajj in a shorter time (8-12 days) on your international passport without going through the government’s formal application system. It does not touch upon religious and spiritual aspects of this great event but limits itself to providing information that will make it an easy and a memorable experience in contrast to what you commonly hear from returning pilgrims. It guides you about what to expect and do once you are there.


Outline of the Article (Non-Pakistani Hājīs can skip the first three sections)


Hajj Visas: Various kinds and their availability

Preparation: Stuff you need

Travel: Choosing an airline

Jaddah airport proceedings

Accommodation: Makkah, Minā and Madīnah

The main Hajj event: Minā-‘Arafāt-Minā

Rituals: Comfortable timings to perform Ramī and Tawāf

To Madīnah: Transport, stay and ziyarāt

Back to Jaddah airport: Different proceedings this time)





I had been planning to perform Hajj for many years but was unable to do so for many reasons. Primarily, because I had not been issued an 'invitation', but more worldly reasons included busy work schedule that would not allow a 45 day absence, small children who did not want to be left alone and who could not be taken along either, and minor deterrents like horror stories from Hājī camps, Hajj flights and Mu`allims in Saudi Arabia and whether to perform ‘Umrah before Hajj. (By the way I realised that performing ‘Umrah before Hajj gives you no idea about the Hajj at all since ‘Umrah is purely an all Makkan affair whereas Hajj is entirely an out-of-Makkah expedition). Another problem was the uncertainty about the kind and quality of accommodation in the government sponsored scheme. If you happen to see a government Hajj application form for the regular scheme you will find a specific column that classifies accommodation into ordinary, good and very good and you are supposed to choose one of them. But quite confusingly it mentions nothing about their respective charges; all Hājīs pay the same amount whichever category of accommodation they choose. To resolve this confusion, when I took up the matter with Hajj counters of various banks in my area, I could only strengthen my belief about the poor performance of these and other institutions associated with this holy cause; nobody knew anything so I wanted to be in charge of my own accommodation (and, as I later found out, it was the correct decision ).

With all this background I wanted to perform Hajj in a way where:

i)    The stay could be short   (10-12 days);

ii)   Hajj flights and Hājī camps could be avoided;

iii)  I could choose my own accommodation;

iv)  I could avoid a Mu`allim’s dictation; and

v)   If possible, spend less money


The year 1997 was wasted in gathering information and not getting the right links but in the last year 1998, everything appeared to be falling in place. I performed Hajj (all gratitude to Allah) and that too in a way I'll always remember. I am an experienced globetrotter but honestly, nothing comes even close to this event when I take a comparative look at all my past (and may be future) journeys.

When I came back, I discovered that there was a large number of people who had similar limitations as mine and, when I gave them the facts, they were immediately prompted for next year's Hajj. I realised that I may not be able to reach all of them physically but still would like them to know that their ambitions can take form of reality. Hence this detailed description of what they need to know, expect and do. I would be delighted to answer any questions that may arise from this article. You can find my postal and email addresses at the end of this article.

Hajj, basically has two distinctly separate experience domains, logistic and spiritual; this write-up, as stated earlier, will only touch upon the former.



There are two kinds of Hajj visas; regular Hajj scheme visa of the Pakistan government (which includes both self-supporting and sponsored) and the NOC visa. This article focuses on performing Hajj through the latter.

In the regular scheme, the government invites applications approximately six months in advance (late Jamādī al-Awwal or early Jamādī al-Thānī) and almost every applicant gets a visa through the Pakistan Hajj ministry on a special passport (Hajj passport). Applications have to be supported by bank drafts of the full fee (approx. Rs 85,000 per person). These Hājīs will have to stay 40-45 days in Saudi Arabia, not because of any religious restriction but purely because transporting 80,000-100,000 persons does require that time; so the ones who go early, come back early and vice versa.

The NOC visa, on the other hand, is a category where Saudi embassy directly issues Hajj visas without involving the Pakistan Hajj ministry; apparently anybody with reasonable contacts should be able to get this kind of visa. But lately some agencies have taken the responsibility of arranging this visa for all those who wish to get it on a fixed fee basis. This visa is endorsed on the international passport and gives the passenger the freedom to choose his time of departure as well as his duration of stay in Saudi Arabia. Virtually any route to Jaddah and back on any flight can be taken but with two notable differences: Firstly, if any flight other than PIA is chosen the fare has to be paid in foreign exchange earned abroad. A good way of doing this is to buy a ticket on an account issued abroad and for this any Master/Visa or Amex card issued abroad will serve the purpose. Secondly, this is going to be an undiscounted fare of the economy class; so it is going to cost Rs.5000-7000 more than a similar fare in non-Hajj season but then, don’t forget to get Jaddah-Madīnah-Jaddah vouchers with it which makes its price worthwhile.

Now choosing to get a visa through the government scheme would mean:

i) Submitting applications with full fee (Rs.85,000 approx.) before the last date, usually the last week of Jamādī al-Thānī (Sept./Oct. 1998 for Hajj 1999);

ii) Travelling according to the schedule provided by the government;

iii) Travelling on Hajj flights only;

iv) Staying in Hājī camps; it is usually mandatory to report at the Hājī camp 24-36 hours before the flight departure time;

v) losing the opportunity to select or change accommodation in Saudi Arabia

vi) Travelling to Madīnah and back by road.


On the other hand the NOC visa would allow:

i) More time for securing a visa (i.e. almost until two weeks before Hajj).

ii) Having complete control of your entire Hajj schedule. from selection of flights and dates of travel to selecting accommodation and food.

iii) By-passing the Hājī camp.

iv) Travel to Madīnah and back by air.


Going on an NOC visa however, will also mean that you will have to find your own accommodation in Makkah (details follow) immediately upon arrival; so choose a flight that arrives in Jaddah around midnight or early morning and gives you the whole next day for this hunt.

Lately, the Saudi government has made it mandatory for all kind of Hajj visa holders to pay the Mu‘allim’s fee which amounts to 770 riyals and includes two services. First your registration with the Mu‘allim (which is your booking of tent stay in Minā) and second the entire road travel while in Saudia (which includes Jaddah airport to Makkah, Makkah to Minā, Minā to ‘Arafāt, ‘Arafāt to Muzdalifah, Muzdalifah to Makkah and finally to Madīnah and back to Jaddah).



The one golden and ever applicable advice in the context of preparation is that you ‘perform Hajj like a commoner; forget your status and bring your expectations to their lowest’. This would mean that you are on ‘Jihād’ and not on picnic. Remind yourself: `I am going to accommodate everyone and everything; I am going to be patient and kind and ... not lose temper at all’. If you can achieve this, your Hajj will be the most pleasant and unforgettable expedition (like mine).

Travel light is the one thing I could never do on my world trips but on Hajj it was quite easily achievable, primarily because you don’t carry 3-piece suits, jumpers and shoes etc. Two or three shalwār qamīz suits, two sets of Ihrām, a pair of rubber slippers and a few other utilities are all that are really needed and hardly make a suitcase. Do carry a Qur’ān preferably with translation and other recommended books for the occasion. You will miss them if you don’t. The list of articles provided by various sources and departmental stores will be an extravagance for the NOC traveller; nobody irons clothes, shaves or even combs hair during these days. 

Hajj, for the next 5-6 years, is going to fall in excellent weather conditions as it is receding from summer into winter.

Medicines are quite important; you will need them, without exception. You must carry pain killers, anti diarrhoeals, anti biotics, and anti allergics and be well familiar with their use. A small but useful list should include:


Disprin/Panadol tablets

Buscopan tablets

Dependal-M tablets

Avil tablets

Actifed-DM tablets

Dramamine tablets

Marzine tablets

Ampiclox 500mg capsules

Ceporex 250mg capsules


Do carry some petty cash in the form of riyals or US dollars besides your main reserve as you might encounter some unforeseen expenses. Carry 5-6 photographs, as you will need them at the Mu‘allim's office. Always keep a photocopy of your passport and air ticket in your wallet.



Your visa agent will get you an NOC visa after you have paid him his fee plus mandatory Mu‘allim's fee. Then he will advise you to get vaccinated against meningitis which you should; many will offer you a valid vaccination card without getting the injection for Rs.200-300 but I won’t recommend this.

After this, your travel agent (if different from visa agent) will get you a flight schedule. It is generally advisable to book your tentative roundtrip seats 3-4 months in advance; this will give you the opportunity to select the best dates, route and flight. You are quite likely to get seats later on as well but then you will have to make compromises.

Remember... there is always a last date of entry into Saudi Arabia for Hajj every year which is usually around the 1st of Dhū al-Hajj. This will also provide the opportunity of staying in Makkah for 6-7 days before the regular Hajj proceedings -- an experience the memories of which you will cherish for the rest of your life.

i) Catch a good sleep before you set out from home because it is most likely that you won’t, for next 36 hours.

ii) It is best to wear the Ihrām before leaving for the airport.

iii) Be at the airport at least three hours before the flight departure time because all flights to Jaddah during these days will be fully packed and you are quite likely to get stuck in long queues if you do not reach the airport well before departure time. This will also give you time in the waiting lounge to memorise verses necessary for Hajj which one may not be able to do so earlier on for many reasons.

iv) Travel time is 5 hours (Lahore-Jaddah) and the travel itself quite comfortable.

Jaddah Airport

All Hājīs will be taken to the Hajj terminal at Jaddah airport without any distinction between the regular scheme and the NOC visa holders. This terminal is about 5 km from the International terminal and visitors are not allowed here. So don’t plan to ask a friend or relative to pick you up at the airport since he'll not be able to sneak in.

Jaddah airport is the place where you will find how well you have prepared yourself for Hajj. It is usually a 3-4 hour long immigration process and if at the end of it you are still smiling, hopefully you'll keep on, for the rest of your trip.

There are about 8-10 levels of immigration process with ample local staff taking care of arriving Hājīs. I found them very gentle and patient, contrary to what I had been told and hence built up my expectations. Most of these are temporary staff hired just for 2-3 months to tide over the Hajj period. Because of their relative inexperience it takes longer than normal. If you realise this you’ll understand the delays. So, relax and prepare yourself for a long wait. But there is hardly ever an unpleasant incident and as a rule of thumb: If you don’t create problems for yourself, it is sure they won’t.

One of these counters will give you a computer ID number so that you can be traced through it if and when required. Another one will take the 770- riyal bank draft that you got made in Pakistan and will replace it with bus travel vouchers, which will be utilised step by step.

After the immigration formalities are complete, you will be directed towards the Pakistani Hājī section of Hajj terminal. This is a portion of a huge (approximately one square kilometer) area outside the airport building and is covered by fibre glass canopies as ceiling; this area has provision of food, toilets, phones, Saudi airline and bank offices and quite an elaborate souvenir market. Prices here are almost the same as in the city; so I’ll advise you not to waste time buying things in Jaddah, Makkah or Madīnah. Perform your Hajj with full concentration and you will have ample time on your way out to buy everything from here, be it a 15 riyal watch or a 4500 riyal big screen TV. These shops are open round the clock.

In the Pakistani Hājī section, the entire flight is handed over to a Saudi Mu‘allim who breaks it up into smaller groups (usually 50-55 persons in each group) to be transported to Makkah by coach. As you board the bus one of the Mu‘allim’s representatives will take possession of your passport and in return will give you a wristband that carries the name and address of the Mu‘allim in Makkah. The passport will remain with the Mu‘allim as long as you stay in Saudi Arabia and you won’t need it either. So don’t panic and don’t try to get it back by various means. It will be here, at the airport, when you come back to depart.

The buses are all air-conditioned and quite comfortable in general; they take approx. 60-90 minutes to get to Makkah stopping on the way at a couple of check posts for records and registration purposes.

You will be dropped close to the Mu‘allim’s office, en bloc, usually next to a building where other Pakistani Hājīs are putting up; from here you are on your own. If you arrive here in the morning, as I suggested the best thing is to take your breakfast in a nearby Pakistani hotel and go for ‘Umrah straightaway. The best time to do it in peace is between 9.00am and 12.00 noon or between 1.00pm and 4.00pm since less people choose to perform ‘Umrah in rising temperatures.

Accommodation in Makkah

After you are through with ‘Umrah you will need to look for accommodation and you need to do this in a very organised manner. Don’t panic; even if you don’t find one you will still have your host’s house to spend the night. You can leave the luggage almost anywhere, in a shop or any hotel nearby to claim it later; nobody will touch it. Now that you have been to the Haram once, you know the geography of the area. Remember all accommodation in Makkah in the Hajj season is on seasonal basis i.e. whether you stay for two days or the whole Hajj season (45 days) you will be charged the same amount; there are no daily or weekly rental plans available. All residential buildings are located in a circle around the Haram but there is a discrete difference in price structure if you divide this entire circle in two semicircles. If you stand facing Bāb `Abdu’l Azīz of the Haram you will have al-Jiyād at your back and right and Misfala on your left making one semicircle. This area is relatively less dense in buildings and has many five star hotels including the Hilton and hence a very high rate (usually between 1500-3000 riyals per person for the season). All rooms are air-conditioned and most buildings on this side have lifts.

The other semicircle extends on both sides of Bāb Safā on the opposite side across the Haram. This area is much more thickly populated and comprises usually smaller hotels and private houses that are let out to Hājīs. The rate here is approximately 300-500 riyals per person for the season. These rooms are also air-conditioned but you may be sent to the 5th floor without a lift; but then you must realise that you have only to get down once and come up once in 24 hours; all day you will be in and around the Haram. A standard accommodation in either semicircle means one of the eight 3-4 inch thick mattresses on floor in a 15x12ft carpeted, air-conditioned room; the number of mattresses (or persons) in a room may vary depending upon the size of the room. Bathrooms and toilets are communal. A place near the Haram and on ground floor is almost three times as expensive as compared to a 3rd floor room 200 yards from the Haram. Remember you only have to get down once and go back to your room at night spending all day in and around the Haram; so the distance and the number of stairs should not upset you. People looking for a place near the Haram actually want to spend more time in the room and come out only for prayer.

I was disappointed to discover that regular scheme hājīs had paid 1600 riyals per person for their Makkah accommodation whereas I could find a similar accommodation for 500 riyals and a much superior one for 1000 riyals and that too at the last moment in peak Hajj season. (As I mentioned in the beginning that accommodation was one of the factors that forced me to travel on NOC visa and I was happy that I did).

You will find numerous Pakistani restaurants on all streets around the Haram. The quality of food is usually good and a reasonable variety is available. A meal costs 5-8 riyals per person including two large size chapatis and is usually more than one person's requirement; along with a can of coke or pepsi, which costs one riyal, one needs nothing else. Other food shops include KFC, shawarma and local take aways but I would recommend you to stay away from testing your gut on this trip since food poisoning is probably the commonest complaint during Hajj and it can ruin the whole idea of being there. Take simple, clean, wholesome diet and use mineral water or can drinks with it. It is good to use salted yogurt (Labban) intermittently to avoid getting heat exhaustion.

Your Mu‘allim is supposed to provide you with an ID card for which I advised you to bring photos from Pakistan (just to save time); this ID card is computerised and will be your legal document as long as the passport remains with the Mu‘allim.

Remember you have to buy Qurbānī vouchers in Makkah which are available at many places but some of these are unofficial and hence unreliable; it will be best if you purchase one from al-Rhāji Bank counter anywhere in the city; this is supervised by the government and hence, is quite reliable. It costs 375 riyals per person and has the approximate time of sacrifice written on it.

Do take some time out to visit historical places; the city is full of them and it is an unbelievable experience standing in the ‘Hujrah’ of `Aisha (rta) or at the front door of Abū Bakar’s (rta) house and if you happen to know something about them you will realise how immortal these personalities are.

The main Hajj Event

Hajj is entirely an out of Makkah affair and involves a roundtrip to ‘Arafāt from Minā and spans over three days.

Makkah - Minā - Muzdalifah - ‘Arafāt

Day-1 (8th Dhū al-Hajj)

You are required to leave Makkah after the Fajr prayer and get to Minā, at the most by mid-day; this is usually possible in three ways:


i)   Using the Mu‘allim's transport;

ii)  Through private vehicles; or

iii) Through the ‘Tunnel’


Remember that you have paid for Hajj transport when you had applied for visa and now have travel vouchers (already described), so you can check with the Mu`allim about the departure time to Minā. The buses are generally nice and comfortable but due to a mass movement after Fajr, logistic problems do occur which result in long waits while in the bus. You'll still make it to Minā in time in all probability, in spite of everything.

If you don’t want to use the Mu`allim's transport because of rush and long waiting time, you can then opt for a private vehicle; interestingly, a very large number of private car owners (from a junky Chevy to the latest Landcruiser) turn to taxi business during Hajj season. They charge 10-100 riyals per person for Minā and similarly for ‘Arafāt and back depending upon whether you want to travel during rush hours or otherwise. Don’t be fooled by a courteous looking owner who invites you to get into his car and take you wherever you want to go; you are going to pay for it.

Because of the ever-increasing number of pilgrims it is virtually becoming impossible for all 2.5 million plus to be transported from Makkah to Minā between 5.00 -11.00am. So quite a few decide to go there during the night or even after `Ishā the night before. I must re-emphasise here that Minā is only 5-6 km from Makkah and a very large number of Hājīs opt to walk to Minā using the specially made 'Pedestrian Tunnel'. It is a wide (about 25ft across) covered passage, well ventilated and illuminated. There are also gaps in the tunnel where it becomes uncovered and remains open to sky for 20-30 meters and then becomes covered again; this is most probably to help improve the ventilation and give exits to people for various reasons. No vehicles are allowed in the tunnel; so walking with the crowd chanting ‘Labbayk Allāhumma Labbayk’ is quite an experience and the time passes very quickly. This route is best used after the Fajr prayer on 8th Dhū al-Hajj and I'll strongly recommend it for those who are physically fit and don’t mind walking; ladies and children are no exception, if accompanying.

There are at least six roads leading into Minā valley constructed at different heights from the ground level to allow unimpeded flow of vehicles; they are all heavily guarded by local police who appear quite helpful and agile and do their best to avoid jamming. Your driver may try to drop you at the highest level road since this is least used and hence he can take many roundtrips from Makkah to Minā on this to make as much money as he can but this will make you walk over a kilometer to the residences. Therefore you’ll have to tell him to drop you at the lowest of the roads that leads straight into the mosque Khīf.

Minā is going to be your headquarters for the next four days (or five, if you choose to stay on as the Prophet (sws) did) so you must not underestimate the importance of your residence here. You have two main purposes to stay here; one, say most or all of your prayers in the Khīf mosque and two, get as much time in peace and comfort to pray, recite the Qur’ān and offer nawāfil as you can in full concentration. You will have to go out to ‘Arafāt and come back here again the next day. For this you have two options:

You have already paid the Mu‘allim for the tent in Minā, so you don’t have to pay anything else; when you use the Mu‘allim’s transport he'll take you straight into the tents booked for his group of Hājīs. From 1998, all hājīs from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will be accommodated in fibre glass tents with air coolers installed in them. This is to avoid fire accidents and provide lower temperatures to avoid heat stroke etc. but beyond this the picture is not very attractive. The tents are spread over an area of approx. 5.0-km and you'll only get to find out how far from the Khīf mosque you are located when you get there.

Usually the distance is over a kilometer and this forces most Hājīs to say their prayers in small groups inside or close to the tents. Secondly, the food provided officially by the Mu‘allims is hardly ever sufficient or decent; so one is always on the look out for food at various shops between the camps or the ones which are located around the Khīf mosque. In spite of the fact that facilities are ever enlarging, the number of Hājīs always appears to outsource them. As a result, quite a large number of them do not get a chance to get reasonable food. This causes frustration and depletion of energy on the one hand, but more importantly, takes away concentration and hence spoils the spirit of this event on the other. You can imagine walking for 20-30 minutes around mid-day in the heat to get to the food shops, spend an hour or so getting (or maybe not getting) it and then walking all the way back to take your lunch around 4 o’clock, just to gear up for a similar exercise in the evening. One is virtually restricted to this routine and allowed to have little time for the main purpose that one came here for. But then this is my opinion and there will be quite a few who settle down in the routine and get food in their tents on more regular basis and are hence satisfied.

The other option in Minā is private hotels, of which there are very few with a total capacity of under a hundred thousand people. They are located right around the mosque and hence closest to the market and the Jamarāt. Accommodation is similar to that in Makkah and all rooms are air-conditioned. The rent however is quite exorbitant, approximately 3000 riyals per person for 4-5 days. This includes good quality, wholesome food, provided on time, in a very congenial atmosphere. Toilets and bathrooms are communal but ok. This also ensures good sleep and access to all the provisions round the clock and virtually means that you have nothing else to do but concentrate on the “job”. You can offer all prayers in congregation at Khīf even if you leave your room when the mu`adhdhin is halfway through the call. Then you can come back and busy yourself with the Qur’ān or read some other stuff that you may have. Best of all, the Jamarāt are only 500 yards from the hotels so you can go there any time you want. In other words, the money you pay will be fully rewarded and hence I strongly recommend it for those who can afford it, but remember, these hotels need advance booking which is done at Makkah by various hotels until a couple of days before the actual take off to Minā.

The facilities in Minā are quite adequate but they are all concentrated around Khīf with the exception of toilets which are scattered all over the camp area. There is only one shopping area where you can find almost every thing of daily use at a reasonable price. So if you have forgotten your wrist watch or umbrella back in Makkah you’ll find plenty here.

Many take-away food shops are there to serve the Hājīs but they do get overcrowded and finally exhausted by the mob at meal times. A massive set up of public toilets and ablution taps is available adjacent to the shopping area; these are quite clean in spite of excessive use, thanks primarily to the high pressure flushing technique. Public phones have been placed in groups of 10’s and 20’s at many sites but most of these use prepaid cards which cost a minimum of 50 riyals and are easily available all over Saudi Arabia and even Minā. It is best that you buy one at Jaddah airport and keep it handy for the rest of your trip. A large telephone and telegraph office building also overlooks the Khīf for those who want to send telegrams or faxes back home. In addition to conventional shops, a very large number of footpath vendors occupy the roads of Minā but mainly around Khīf and usually carry souvenirs of 1-10 riyal value. The prices are generally negotiable by 40-50%. One very unique service that you will encounter all through the Hajj is supply of free foodstuff by philanthropists (individuals and organisations both). Every now and then a huge trailer would be noticed surrounded by a small crowd and a couple of men from the back of the trailer throwing food items in the air allowing people to test their catching abilities. Food items supplied by these include mineral water, fruit juice, milk, yogurt and fresh fruit but there is usually one item in one container. I realised that they somehow get to you precisely when you are desperately looking for a drink, and in the bright sun there is hardly anything superior to a bottle of chilled mineral water.

There are two other very elaborate systems of services that require special mention. Firstly, the medical care which comprises a large array of brand new ambulances, well equipped and staffed, to provide emergency care to anyone in trouble and if necessary, shift him to Minā General Hospital which faces the ladies entrance of the Khīf mosque. Secondly, a very extensive and extremely energetic set up for garbage removal; about a third of 2.5 million Hājīs are almost continuously eating or drinking and littering their surroundings very casually. So even if left unattended for an hour the tarmac is covered by many layers of empty juice packets, plastic bags, water bottles and other kinds of wrappers. Numerous, completely automated dumper trucks are seen constantly cleaning the area of such garbage to keep the area clean for Hājīs. This is a facility the importance of which can only be underestimated if one has not been there physically.

Day-2  (9th Dhū al-Hajj)

After having spent the first day ( 8th Dhū al-Hajj) in Minā you will proceed to attend the main Hajj congregation in ‘Arafāt. Logistics for this are just the same as those for coming to Minā, except that the distance to ‘Arafāt is a little longer (25-30km approx.). You will have all three options open to you for travel i.e. go walking, travel with the Mu‘allim on his bus or use private transport and pay for it. Departure time is again after Fajr prayer and one has to arrive in ‘Arafāt before Zuhr.

Remember this is the only day during the whole Hajj event that the entire crowd (2.5 million plus) moves together; so your patience needs to be at its best today. Like multiple roads into Minā, there are many ways out of it but due to the mass movement of an unbelievably large crowd all roads are packed with vehicles. This is the time when even local Saudis and hājīs from neighbouring countries join in on private cars. It takes approximately an hour to an hour and a half to cover these 25 kms to ‘Arafāt, and it is a good idea to keep a few drinks and snacks handy.

On your way to ‘Arafāt you will pass through the Muzdalifah valley; this is almost half way down and is the place where you will spend this night on your way back from ‘Arafāt. Like Minā, ‘Arafāt is also a valley and is sign posted by big yellow boards all along the periphery. Remember, you have to be inside the ‘‘Arafāt begins here’ signboards whether you have arrived here walking or have been off loaded by a vehicle. If you get to ‘Arafāt before Zuhr try to get to the mosque Namrah to say your prayer in congregation and attend the ‘Khutbah of Hajj’.

As in Minā you’ll find everything of utility here; drinks, fruits, take-away food and above all, free distribution. Some do get a chance to get complementary food supplied on behalf of the king but I could not. Toilets are quite a few and well scattered and you will not really be left looking for anything.

‘This day is the Hajj ’. So be there early and well prepared about what to do. You have to spend 6-8 hours there and if in the middle of it you feel you have nothing to do and want to go to sleep for a while (I saw many), it will be like sleeping on your long term future. You leave ‘Arafāt after sunset usually by the same transport that brought you here.

At dusk, mass departure from ‘Arafāt begins; for some it is a departure from their previous lifestyle, while for others it is just a way back home from a picnic. Logistics once again are no different; long vehicle queues jamming all roads, bumper to bumper, inching their way forward. Almost everybody is tired; so patience is much more in demand than ever before. Eventually, you will get on to the main road and set out towards Muzdalifah, which you passed by on the way while coming to ‘Arafāt.

In the Muzdalifah valley, you will have to spend the night under clear sky on rocky, uneven ground. If you have a plastic prayer mat (which you will definitely buy in Makkah for 8-10 riyals) it will suffice. If you haven’t you can buy one here. Some people carry sleeping bags which I thought were a little luxurious refuting the whole theme of this stay. Even here you will find cold drinks, some food and fruit vendors and free distribution. Rest assured that Allah Almighty will not let you go to sleep without food.

One thing that you may do in Muzdalifah is collect small, peanut size stones, of which there are plenty for the whole crowd; you can do this before going off to sleep or after Fajr next morning before you set out for Minā.

Day-3 (10th Dhū al-Hajj)

As you left for ‘Arafāt the previous day, you will have to leave Muzdalifah after Fajr for Minā. It is the same exercise; get on the bus, wait patiently and try to make yourself comfortable, at least as much as you can. You will get to Minā by breakfast time. This completes your roundtrip to ‘Arafāt and practically the Hajj. From now on you will be performing certain rituals for which you must know the philosophical background and the best time to perform them. The rule is to learn and avoid the mob psychology; stay behind by a couple of hours and you will stay out of trouble.

The Rituals

Remember that the vast majority of people avoid heat; so you can either perform a ritual in heat in 20 minutes in full concentration or in cooler time in two hours in a mess and that too with no idea of what you are doing. If you choose to do anything between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, it is very likely that you will be through quite easily. Avoid doing anything close to prayer timings because the ‘mob thinking’ makes plans to do this/that when they are out for prayer. Rush or overcrowding is only a relative term during Hajj and hence no rush means only a few thousand people and not a few hundred thousand.

Having understood these rules you may follow the routine below:

People in general are in a haste to get out of Ihrām (for no apparent reason; on the contrary, I wanted to continue with it) and for this they have to get their heads shaved; there are three types of services available for this.

i) Hājīs shaving each other’s head -- naturally free of charge.

ii) Freelance, amateur style barbers who charge 5.0 riyals but shave more skin than hair. I would strongly suggest staying away from them as this is the most potential source of infection.

iii) Govt. authorised barbers who have two designated sites close to the Jamarāts. These are primarily two huge pavilions covered by steel shades and have approx. 500 chairs in each with a licensed barber standing behind each. You have to buy a 10-riyal coupon at the main entrance and take it to the barber of your choice; he will ask you to opt between a razor and machine shave. If you want a razor shave I will advise you to carry or buy one good quality disposable razor in Makkah for this occasion; or at least ask the barber to use a new blade. A machine shave is safer and equally effective. This is the only recommended place for the job; don’t try other alternatives.

If you wait only until lunchtime the place will be much less busy and barbers in less hurry; so go there after lunch and get a shave of your choice.

The next ritual is the stoning the of Jamarāt. Again it is best to go there between the Zuhr and ‘Asr prayers and you will find your way through quite easily but remember that there are two levels at which stoning can be performed: the traditional ground floor and a newly constructed overhead bridge that serves as the first floor.

The Jamarāt are basically three, concrete pillars approx. 100 meters apart. They are roughly 6x6 ft in width and depth and stand more than 30 ft high; the top 8-10 ft of the pillar goes through a big hole in an overhead bridge. Thus the people at ground floor aim at the base of pillars while those on the bridge stone the top. The overhead bridge or the first floor has a one way movement system i.e. on a U-shaped bridge people go up from one end and come down from the other, thus avoiding a turn around and treading.

The ground floor has no such system; people are found walking in all directions. In general, they prefer this route because they can avoid the sun and this in turn leads to more rush here. They push through the crowd up to the Jamarāt, stone it and then suddenly appear to lose control. They turn around and run with their heads down against the flow of people basically to avoid being hit by stones. (This is absolutely incomprehensible because the stones are very small, aimed at a higher level and don’t normally hit you; but even if they do they are too small to cause any injury). This is the commonest place for accidents hence, and people once they panick are very difficult to control; scores of lives are lost for no apparent reason. My recommendations for you hence are:

Choose a time between Zuhr and ‘Asr prayers, so that you should be at the Jamarāt around 3 o’clock.

Choose whichever floor you like but remember that at this time it is not possible to stick to the teachings of guide books or Mu‘allims (which means that you should stone the Jamarāt in such a way that the valley of Minā is to your left and Makkah to your right. You will spend the whole day trying to get into this position and are still not likely to succeed since everybody is trying to do the same. Therefore, people form a circle around the Jamarāt and stone it from all angles.)

The best approach under the circumstances is to go past the Jamarāt, turn around and enter the crowd from the far end; the crowd is the thinnest here and you will have little problem getting to the first row and hence stone from a very convenient position. Always carry more stones than you require because some may fall out of your grip in the rush and it will be extremely unwise to bend down and gather them to complete the count.

After you have stoned, remember one very important thing: Don’t panic and don’t run. Try to make your way out as patiently as you made it in and in the process you may be caught by a ‘low flying missile’ but I assure you this wont hurt at all. Keep your calm and you will come out safe every time inshā Allāh.

After stoning, the last part of the Hajj proceedings is going to Makkah for Tawāf-i-Ziyārah. For this you will have to make your own travel arrangements. As I mentioned earlier that if you are fit and don’t have small children accompanying you, it is best to walk through the tunnel. This is the easiest, most pleasant and a highly moving experience; it takes 30-40 minutes to get to the Haram which, while moving with the crowd, doesn’t even appear that long. The timing is again important. Use the same guidelines that I mentioned earlier on. Briefly again: try to make use of the time that others tend to avoid; don’t go close to any prayer time (most people will try to perform this Tawāf or other rituals like stoning when they go for e.g. `Asr prayer, so there is unnecessary overcrowding close to prayer times) and avoid cooler hours like 5-8 am and 6-10pm. The rest will be fine.

You will come back to Minā after this Tawāf; you may use the tunnel, but if tired get on the public or private transport which is ample and charges 5-10 riyals depending upon whether you choose a public or a private vehicle. You may stay in Minā for two or three days as you might have already planned and then pack up and go to Makkah. You have now completed your Hajj by Allah’s grace, something that He does not offer everyone, in spite of their willingness and resources.

You have two options in Makkah now; go to Madīnah or go home. Remember; going to Madīnah is not a part of Hajj ; you may go there now or some other time. But don’t go there with the understanding that your Hajj will be incomplete without this visit. Also remember that your stay in Madīnah can be as short as a day and as long as you want. The quotes referred to in this context are quite baseless and the books provided by Saudi govt. clearly mention that Hajj is complete without travel to Madīnah. Most people go there just because they may not get a second chance to come.

If you have planned to go to Madīnah you can either go by air for which you have vouchers in your air ticket; this is the best way to travel since this saves time and energy. But remember, if you travel by air you must carry the photo ID card given to you by the Mu‘allim when you arrived in Makkah. You will not be able to board any plane or bus without this card. But if somehow you were not able to get the air travel voucher you still have the coach travel voucher for which you paid in Pakistan and received the vouchers at Jaddah airport. Go to the Mu‘allim’s office and get the plan for this travel. He has a program to transport all the Hājīs allocated to him; buses leave around midnight and take approx. 6-8 hours to Madīnah and you will get there by breakfast time.

Remember that if your flight out of Saudi Arabia is from Madīnah tell the Mu‘allim about this and make sure that he hands over your passport to the bus driver who in turn will deliver it to the Mu‘allim’s agent in Madīnah. This will ensure your trouble free journey back home. On the other hand, if your departure is scheduled from Jaddah you can even leave your extra luggage in your Makkah residence and collect it on return.

In Madīnah

Accommodation in Madīnah is much easier to find and cheaper as well; you may find a room here on daily/weekly or monthly basis or get a package deal for the number of days that you want to stay. An accommodation similar to that in Makkah will cost around 50-70 riyals per person per day. One good thing about Madīnah is that at no time during the Hajj season is it thronged by all Hājīs simultaneously; some go there before and some after the Hajj and hence the city looks quieter, cleaner and more friendly.

The food, as usual is quite good, cheap and plenty and you are probably going to remember it for a long time. Other than saying prayers in the Masjid-i-Nabwī there is not much to do; so you can utilise this time to visit historical places. The best way to do this is to form a small group and find a cab driver to get you a roundtrip. It costs 10-15 riyals per person and takes 2-3 hours but is really worthwhile. You can do this even if you are in Madīnah for a day; leave after breakfast and you will be back by Zuhr.

The duration of stay in Madīnah is purely subjective so it can span from a few hours to a few weeks; so plan it accordingly, but do get confirmed air reservations of the roundtrip before embarking upon it.

If your flight to Pakistan is out of Madīnah do keep in touch with the Mu‘allim’s man so that he is aware of your departure time and is not found to be missing at the eleventh hour. He will not hand over the passport to you at any cost so don’t belittle yourself trying to get it in orthodox Pakistani ways (which I have seen many try but only to be disappointed). At the scheduled time, he will accompany you to the airport and deposit you along with your passport at the immigration counter (Maktab). The man at the desk will issue him a receipt of successful completion of the job and hand your passport over to you.

In contrast to Jaddah, Madīnah is not a busy airport, so you can plan to be there only 3-4 hours before the flight time. But then all flights to Pakistan from Madīnah only land at Karachi and if it suits you this is probably the best route. On your way towards the plane you will be handed a copy of the Qur’ān which is a gift from the King.

Back to the Jaddah Airport

If your flight to Pakistan is from Jaddah you will travel back utilising your Madīnah-Jaddah voucher; if you are travelling by air you will have to get to Makkah on your own as you did while going to Madīnah. When in Makkah go to the airline office to reconfirm your flight. Offices are open from 8.00am to 11.00pm but are extremely busy most of the time; here again our policy of avoiding rush hours at the cost of a little inconvenience will prove its worth. Go to the airline office at 8.00 am and I guarantee that you will be through in 15 minutes; after 9.00am the wait is only going to be longer and longer. If you are travelling on an airline other than the Saudia, insist on the Mu‘allim to send one of his men with you carrying your passport to the airline office; he can’t refuse; this is primarily to get a boarding pass issued right there 24 hours prior to flight time.

If, however you are booked on a Saudia flight you can get a boarding pass at the airport as well through one of the many counters of Saudia airline established for this purpose. Get in touch with the Mu‘allim and tell him your departure plan. Remember that you will be required to report at Jaddah airport at least 10-12 hours before your flight departure time. The Mu‘allim’s man will try to dispatch you 24 hours before time since the earlier they see you off the better it is for them to be over with their responsibility. Their buses leave once everyday for the airport and they carry all passengers intending to travel in the next 24 hours. Try to negotiate your departure time with him and he’ll finally agree on the condition that you will manage your own transport. He will ask you to get hold of a Saudi taxi driver (not any taxi driver) who will be handed over the passport. The taxi driver will charge you anywhere between 100-250 riyals for the service depending upon your urgency and time of departure (i.e. day or night); if you can’t get a taxi, the Mu‘allim will get one for you. It should primarily be a man of his confidence. After getting hold of your passport this taxi driver will take you straight to the Jaddah airport. As I mentioned earlier, in case of the Madīnah airport, taxi driver will deliver you at the immigration counter (same place in case of Hajj terminal Jaddah where you arrived) and be issued an official receipt of acknowledgement. Now the passports will be handed over to you, at last.

If you are travelling by a Saudia flight and have not obtained a boarding pass, you can do this right away at the airline office which is located in the middle of this terminal. Remember that no other airline has an office here. Find the people travelling on the flight to your destination and then make yourself comfortable, on the floor, amongst thousands of other Hājīs.

As I mentioned in an earlier section, there is an elaborate market of merchandise at this terminal and you can buy anything your pocket can afford. You may have checked the prices in city; they are not very different here. This is the time to shop; it will pass time and you will be happy that you did not indulge in this during Hajj. You will also see a couple of Saudi bank counters, which can exchange foreign currency for you. You can buy dates, tasbīh, cloth, audio-video cassettes of Tarāvīh in  the Haram or the Hajj itself, electronics and anything that you saw in town for general-purpose gifts.

Your luggage shall be checked-in by the airline approx. 5-6 hours before the flight time and surprisingly no baggage tags may be issued. So mark your luggage boldly and keep it together; also try to get all your stuff on one trolley, many of which come to collect the luggage from hājīs. Actual check-in will start approx. 3 hours before the flight time and will take almost the same time as it did when you arrived. The staff is quite helpful and as I said ‘if you don’t create problems for yourself they wont’. In fact, I found them quite contrary to what I had heard about them. Perhaps they are directed to behave well during this period but I believe it is very difficult to be artificially courteous for a very long time in a chaotic crowd. I have my hats off to them considering the kind of their work and the kind of crowd they are dealing with.

On your way towards the plane, you will be handed over a copy of the Qur’ān as a gift from the king as I mentioned earlier. From 1998, the government has decided to give each Hājī a Qur’ān that has the Arabic text and its translation in the native language of that Hājī. For this purpose a tremendous Shah Fahd Printing Complex has been set up which has gathered the best Qur’ānic translations in scores of languages and printed them in excellent quality. This is something that probably will be your best friend for the rest of your life.

This brings the entire expedition to an end. I have tried my best to give every possible aspect a place in this article, but if there is something that demands clarification or further explanation I’ll only consider that an opportunity to earn some more reward from the Almighty.

I have put pen to paper for the first time so all the discrepancies in this regard may kindly be overlooked. I believe that even if one of my readers travels for Hajj next year, as a result of this write up, my effort is well rewarded.

Last but not at all the least is the fact that I have intentionally not touched upon the subject of spiritual transformation that one undergoes during this expedition, simply because it cannot be communicated, even in its smallest fraction. The fact is someone who has not been there cannot even come close to it in his imagination and just for this reason I suggest that:

i) Even if you are travelling in a group of friends go to the Haram alone (or at most with your spouse), say your prayers in seclusion and perform your rituals in solitude. This is one occasion where you need phenomenal concentration.

ii) You must be familiar with the exact background of each ritual and the reason why you have to repeat it. This makes probably the most vital difference to one’s attitude while performing the ritual. For example you will raise your hand towards Hajr-i-Aswad to begin your Tawāf and you will see everyone doing this in the most mechanical manner as if this was just another count. But if one realises that raising the hand is a symbolic gesture of extending one’s hand to hold that of the Almighty’s while making a commitment that one is here to renew one’s forgotten contract and will never side track again, it is impossible to remain unmoved. Just the thought ran shivers through my spine; my hand in ‘His’ Hand! I don’t deserve this. Will I be able to keep my promise? How hard will I have to strive to achieve this? There are quite a few good books and audiocassettes on the subject, which one can read or listen to even on the flight to Jaddah. A list can be made available if anyone so desires.

iii) Don’t take children along. At least on your first Hajj. I say this for two reasons; one, they are too small to appreciate the sensitivity of the trip and inadvertently, they turn the whole expedition into a picnic; secondly, they will have to perform Hajj again when they are adults. Hence, leave this for a later date.

iv) Don’t make friends on this trip, I mean the friends who like gossiping and chatting to kill time. The less you mix up the better it is going to be for your Hajj. This does not by any means imply that you should not be courteous.

v) Remain on the look out for small good deeds; get a poor looking fellow a cold drink or pay for someone’s lost slipper -- you may not get a second chance.

vi) Remember the narrative in which the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said that Allah says: If you go to Hajj for worldly reasons I’ll give you the good things of this world but you’ll have no share in the life Hereafter. And if you perform Hajj for the life Hereafter, I’ll give you the bounties of both, this world  as well as the Hereafter.

At the end of the Hajj, you will realise how limited our basic needs are and how easy it is to live without, for example a 3-piece suit. You will also come to appreciate the change one needs to make in one’s own lifestyle and in one’s attitude towards others along with the glaring reality one always tends to avoid:

And I have not created all the jinn and men, except that they should worship me. (51:56)

May Allah give all of you the chance to be his guests.



Writer:Dr Muhammad Rizwan Haider

Address: 142-Z LCCHS Lahore Pakistan

Phone: 572-5246



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