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Page last updated at 15:13 GMT, Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Hajj diary 2009
BBC West Yorkshire's Khush Sameja
By Khush Sameja
BBC West Yorkshire journalist


The Kaaba in Mecca
Millions of Muslim pilgrims from over all the world took part in Hajj

Week 1: In Mecca

We've been waiting at Jeddah Airport for nearly six hours now, waiting for our transportation to arrive and take us to Mecca.

A few hours later, our coach arrives. Finally we'll be in Mecca in no time.

After passing the pilgrim border control and getting our free Hajj gifts which contains a bottle of holy Zam Zam water, fruit juice, salt biscuits and some fruit jelly - provisions to help us stock up our energy for the five gruelling days of Hajj - we finally arrive in the holy city.

Our hotel is just a stone's throw from the Grand Mosque, Masjid al Haram, which is built around the Kaaba, the black cube which represents the house of Allah. Finally we're here, and after a quick dash to the loo and a wash I make it to the mosque just in time for the Friday prayer.

We've been told to make the most of the mosque. We are very lucky to be so close and the next time we come back to Mecca we won't be as close. Chances are we will hardly be able to pray inside, so for the next week, I plan to spend as much time inside as possible.

Seeing the Kaaba, is very surreal. Although it's not the first time I'm seeing it, I'm seeing it after a very long time, and it takes my breath away.

With each passing day the crowds grow bigger. Praying inside the Grand Mosque isn't as easy as it was before. A simple afternoon prayer needs to be planned meticulously, and hours in advance.

Both my husband and I have discovered that performing the Tawaf ritual, circling the Kaaba, is easy at 1am than during the day, so that's what we do, every night.

Week 2 - In Medina

We arrive in Medina, the home and resting place of the holy Prophet Muhammed, for our second week. The city is very different to Mecca, It's far removed from the hustle and bustle. It's a lot more relaxed and everything is at a snail's pace.

Now it's just time to rest before our group heads back to Mecca. Our group leader tells us this time the city will be very different. With more than two million people now already there preparing for their Hajj it will be very crowded.

Week 3 - Hajj begins

We've been in Mecca for a couple of days now. Our hotel is about a mile away from the Grand Mosque. Having spent the first day there, we've decided to reserve our energies and stay at the hotel.

So this is our camp for now. I've been given a book called Virtues of Hajj, which explains the reasons behind the pilgrimage. It's great at explaining the meaning behind Hajj and what's involved. So far I've been relying heavily on my "How to" guide but this provides a more spiritual meaning.

Hajj Day 1

Pilgrims travel to Mina on 8 Dhul Hijjah (a date in the Islamic calendar) and remain there until dawn the next morning. It's real mixture of emotions today. Everyone in the group, a mix of UK nationals with a few African, Middle Eastern and one American, all seem excited and nervous at the same time. We've been told to be in Mina for sunrise, which means leaving on a bus late at night. Mina is normally a twenty minute journey, but this is Hajj, and when millions of people are trying to get to where you want to be, it's not easy.

We were told our bus would leave at midnight with the first batch from our group. Families with children and the elderly are a priority, and then will return for the rest of us. It's now 2.30am and we're still waiting in the hotel lobby. Patience, patience, patience...

We finally arrived at the Europe camp at 3.30 am. Our segregated tents are a plush mix with air conditioning and sofa-beds. We all read our prayers and hit the sack.

Mina
The camps in Mina. The camps became a city in their own right

In the morning all we do is pray. It's also a chance to get to know some people from our group. When you are in such close proximity with each other, you can become life-long friends.

The Hajj requires me to enter into a state of Ihram, where a code of conduct must be followed.

Firstly dress: Women can wear any form of clothing in line with the rules of sharia but men must wear two pieces of unstitched white cloth. It is a symbol of equality - all men and women are equal in God's eyes.

The state of Ihram requires the pilgrim to abstain from talking ill of anyone, intentionally harming anyone and abstaining from sexual relations with their spouse.

From the moment you make the intention to enter into the state of Ihram, you must also spend your time in remembrance of God, focusing on why you are performing these rituals.

On leaving Mecca we were all in the state of Ihram and in Mina, everywhere I look, all I could see was a sea of white, people from all walks of life; young, old, black, white.

It's a truly incredible sight. Then the heavens opened and it rained and poured, with some light flooding in Mina.

Hajj Day 2

Today the day is spent in Arafat. Our group, along with two million other Muslims, have travelled to the valley of Arafat and stand in the open praising Allah and meditating.

It's here that Muslims believe mankind will gather on the Day of Judgement, where their fate will be decided on their actions and deeds. Today I felt very close to Allah.

At the end of the day, we travelled to Muzdalifa, to gather up stones to use the next day. Our group leader suggested that the strongest of those in our group would walk to the border of Mina and camp there, so we could be amongst the first to perform the rituals the next day. I eagerly put my hand up and nominated myself and my better half for the excursion. I got a look from him saying, 'What are you doing?'. Within an hour we were climbing mountains and avoiding being run over by a series of buses and an army of Turkish pilgrims.

Hajj Day 3

After sleeping for just three hours we woke up before sunrise to read our morning prayers and walk to the edge of the border in Mina, amidst tight security, as we headed towards the Jamarat Bridge in Mina to hurl stones at pillars representing the spot where the devil appeared to Abraham.

At the same time, Eid al-Adha, or the festival of sacrifice, is being celebrated across the world.

As we walk towards the bridge we pass pilgrims from all over the world. People from all different backgrounds, but here before Allah, everyone stands as an equal. It's an amazing experience.

I was actually quite surprised to see how easy this ritual was. I had been told this would be the most difficult part of the Hajj, but many health and safety changes have been introduced since the 2006 stampede that killed more than 350 pilgrims. Now the bridge has been expanded to three levels to accommodate the large number of pilgrims.

Jamaraat
Stoning the devil at Jamarat, one of the most important rituals during Hajj

Once this ritual was completed we walked to Mecca to perform our Tawaf, circling the Kaabah seven times and performing the Sa'ee, walking between the hills of Safa and Murwah seven times. These are situated within the mosque.

By the time we got to the Grand Mosque, we were both exhausted. Luckily I had packed a few energy bars in my bag, and after a quick snack and a brief stop we headed towards the Kaabah.

Entering the mosque this time felt very different because of the million or more people inside it. They had all congregated to perform one thing. It was an overwhelming moment for me, and despite all the pushing and shoving, something you are not supposed to do, it was an extraordinary experience.

We were able to complete all our rituals and by lunchtime we were done. After the afternoon prayers we headed to get some food. After a quick bite we went back to our hotels for a long awaited shower.

Then later at night we had to return to Mina. The trouble was all the roads had been closed off, so walking was the only alternative. Our taxi driver did his best to drop us as close as he could, but our camp was right on the other side. After walking for what seemed like an eternity - it was actually just four hours - we arrived at our camp, shattered, exhausted but relieved.

After an hour's sleep it was time to get up again for morning prayers, just before sunrise. It had been a tough day.

Hajj Day 4 & 5

With all the rituals nearly over, all that's left now is to pelt stones at Jamarat Bridge today and tomorrow. Apart from that praying, meditating and hoping that our Hajj will be accepted by Allah.

Today my tent of around 50 women has become a symphony of coughs and splutters. This is expected I'm told. Everyone gets ill at Hajj and so don't worry it will pass.

I'm just relieved that the pilgrimage is over and I start to relax now.

Returning home

It's been an extraordinary journey. I've met some fascinating people during the month, but everyone was similar in the sense that they were desperate for their Hajj to be accepted.

It was incredible to see so many people praying together at one time, all seeking for forgiveness and asking to become better people. I was told this would be the greatest trip on earth, and for me, it really was.




SEE ALSO
In Pictures: Hajj experience 2009
08 Dec 09 |  Religion & Ethics

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