Greetings boys and girls
We are feeling the chill in Riyadh. Of sorts. The scorching summer is no more and it won’t be long until we need jumpers and jackets. The rains are not far away and sand storms will soon blow. Nobody’s got heating in their houses, as you would almost never need it. A blanket instead of a sheet will normally suffice to get a good nights sleep. Young Saudi friend Mr Mo told MB few days back that he is freezing at night, now that the temps have dropped into the 20s from the previous 40s. Poor Mr Mo!
MB mentioned Mr Mo few weeks back in The Three Amigos post. And in same post MB also mentioned another amigo called U-No-Hu, or UNH for short. Mentioned at the time that UNH was full of the joys as he had just booked his trip to Mecca for the religious pilgrimage of Hajj. Muslim followers will know that the performance of Hajj is one of the 5 pillars of Islam that every Muslim must perform at least once in his lifetime, if he has the financial resources and good health to do so. Many Muslims perform Hajj more than once, but in the case of UNH this was not the case and this would be his first trip. UNH was escorted by his wife (UNHW), and was also her first trip.
UNH returned from his trip last week and MB sat with him for few hours to extract every morsel of news. Much khawah (coffee) was consumed as MB asked the most trivial of questions in attempt to get real feel for the occasion, which is attended by 2 to 3 million Muslims each year. MB & UNH continued to consume the khawah as the chat developed over a few hours, when MB & UNH should really have been working at real work, rather than shooting the breeze over khawah, chatting about Mecca & Hajj and all things Hajji. But there is more to life than work, and it’s good on occasion to let soul and spirits fly into the mystic – to borrow words from another wordsmith of renown!
First things first. The cost. It’s not cheap. You must book the trip through an official agent and select your package. The more fulouse (cash) you are willing to pay the better the accommodation and food will be, and the services generally such as toilet facilities. And for fifty-somethings UNH & UNHW, some creature comforts were considered a necessity and the package selected cost Euro 3,000 – each! So off they headed to Jeddah airport (1 hour flight from Riyadh) and the short trip to Mecca.
Must mention, for non-Muslim followers, that non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the Mecca area. MB is not sure how this came to be, as in the days before the Prophet Mohammad/Islam (7th century), Mecca was a place of pilgrimage for Christians and non Christians alike. But today non-Muslims can not enter at all. There are check-points on the roads in that region as far as MB is aware, and if you can not show some proof of being a member of ‘the club‘ then you must turn around and head back in the direction you came from. So sadly, there is absolutely no hope of MB heading there any time soon with his camera to capture the moments. Poor MB!
Day one involves trip to Islam’s most holy shrine, the Ka’aba at the mosque in Mecca, – the cube-shaped structure made from black granite from the nearby hills, which is the direction that all Muslims face when they perform the daily prayers, not the actual town itself. The Ka’aba was not built by the Prophet Mohammad, but approx 2,700 years before his time in 2,100 BC, by the Prophet Abraham (who is mentioned in the Jewish & Christian books).
UNH & UNHW performed their first task at the Kaaba when they walked around it in anti-clockwise direction seven times, as is the custom. The huge numbers present make this a difficult task and one is in the presence of hundreds of thousands of others who are from all corners of the planet, with different cultures, behaviours, and attitudes. So some of them will push and shove in the tight space available, which is literally shoulder to shoulder, with little regard for others. This portion of the action takes approx 1.5 to 2 hours to complete due to the huge crowds. From the Ka’aba pilgrims make the short walk to the two small hills called Safa & Marwah, when again the duty is to walk seven times between them. At this location also, pilgrims will drink water from the holy well call Zimzam.
Next up is the 11km trip to Mina which is the more fundamental part of the Hajj. After a night of prayer, day one is spent at the area of Mount Arafat when pilgrims spent their time asking God’s forgiveness for life’s sins. On this day of the Islamic lunar calendar, and only on this day, all sins are forgiven. This is the most important day in the entire Hajj trip, and the Hajj duty is not considered fulfilled if this day & location is missed. Leaving Arafat after sunset, pilgrims move on to the area of Muzdalefa where they stay overnight. This is followed by three-day stay in Mina itself where prayer and requests for forgiveness continue. At this location also, pilgrims throw seven stones at three different long stone walls which in years past were just stone columns, but for crowd safety reasons are now changed (since 2004) into long walls. These walls/columns signify the devil.
This Mina period coincides with the Islamic feast of Eid Al Adha, when Muslims are required to kill a sheep or goat (normally) but it can also be a cow or other animal. So hundreds of thousands of animals are slaughtered in the locality at this time, by halal (permitted) method – cutting the throats and bleeding to death. The men also get their heads shaved at this stage, although MB is not sure what the significance of the hair cutting actually is.
And that in essence is the Hajj. Obviously a deeply spiritual experience for most who partake. It was certainly that for UNH who came back like a new man, from a spiritual point of view. But it’s physically very demanding and tiring. Being in very close physical proximity to so many other people brings its own risks, and UNH & UNHW were both out of action with flu symptoms for best part of a week upon their return to Riyadh. UNH informed MB that the package booked was worth every penny/riyal. The accommodation was in tent structures, but of a very high quality, the toilets had a team of cleaners in constant attendance, and the food was in buffet format of very good standard.
MB is very grateful to UNH for taking the time to explain all to MB, and apologies if MB has made any mistakes in his report.
PS – Pics this week are from MB’s recent trip home, of a 3 hour charity horse ride around the local lake at HX when 100 generous riders took part. Pilgrims of a different sort!