writes from Makkah, sharing her experiences and expectations of Hajj this year. 1) As someone undertaking the blessed pilgrimage of Hajj this year, In Sha Allah, what are your expectations? Ans 1. Our dreams to perform Hajj were shattered twice when the Saudi Government denied permission to foreign pilgrims, due to the prevailing pandemic situation. So, we were overwhelmed with joy when the news came that we are among the 1 million pilgrims around the world chosen by Allah to perform this year’s Hajj. When we think about the unpredictable fate of the future Hajj pilgrims’ application, we feel Allah has blessed us immensely. We are indeed thankful to Allah Almighty for His mercy upon us. Alhamdulillah, when we finally touched down at the holy lands of Madina and Makkah, we feel elated and thankful to Allah. We spent our first 8 days in Madinah, paid a visit to Rawdhah, said Salam to the beloved Prophet, and offered salah. Masha Allah, we perfomed Umrah. Our initial days in Madinah were of some hardships due to the scorching heat, and some of us fell sick due to the drastic change in weather conditions. However, Alhamdulillah, we felt much better in Makkah’s weather conditions.
2) Have you heard about the new developments regarding the changes in the mahram rules, the new age limits due to health reasons and the transition to a lottery system for some countries? If yes, what are your opinions? Ans 2. Our expectations about this year’s Hajj is that pilgrims might find it easy to perform the rituals of Hajj, due to the significant reduction in the number of pilgrims, which is merely 1 million, only one-third of the pre-pandemic period. The Hajj cost for each pilgrim has gone very high, even those under the government scheme had to pay over 4 lakh rupees. Indian pilgrims have been allotted accommodation in Azizia and they have had to change two buses to the destination. Though the onward journey is relatively easy, the return journey from Haram is quite troublesome as there is a heavy rush of pilgrims on the bus. Sometimes pilgrims have had minor injuries due to the overcrowding on the bus. Although it was painful to reject the application of pilgrims above 65 years, from our own experience, were they allowed, they would have found it very challenging to travel from Azizia. We are a team of 5 ladies who are all teachers in different nearby schools in Kerala. But women coming without Mahram should be bold enough to face any challenges. But we have found it advantageous for women coming without Mahram as they would get more time to engage in prayers. We carried enough provisions to last us for a minimum of 25 days and together we cook our meals hurriedly and rush to Haram for utilising the maximum time in worship.
3) Tell us about your plans for Hajj – how long have you been thinking of going, whether this is your first Hajj, and how the current trip materialized. Ans 3. I have been longing to perform Hajj for a very long time. First, I filed my application with Mahram along with my husband and mother’s sister. Later on, the Govt. repealed the rule that said that applicants will automatically get a chance to perform Hajj in the fifth year of their application. The demise of my husband made it difficult for me to perform Hajj without a Mahram. Later on, the Saudi Government’s new initiative of granting permission to ladies in groups without Mahram was a big relief for a person like me. This is what has brought me here. Indeed, I am thankful to Allah Almighty.
4) What do you think is the greatest lesson or message of Hajj? Ans 4. The greatest message or lesson we get from Hajj is that Allah has not made any form of worship including Hajj & Umrah merely for the sake of worshipping God. So, after immersing ourselves in the spiritual glory through His worship, we ought to march into the field and work for bringing positive changes to society. It is a symbol of this lesson from Hajj that a believer, after putting himself or herself in a state of Ihram, instead of walking directly into Masjidul Haram, heads to Mina, the place where the pilgrims are wholly transformed and thereafter to Arafah, the place where the pilgrims truly learn to recognize who they are. They become capable enough to leave aside all selfish interests, reject all the strategies of Iblis and submit themselves to the full will of God, by symbolically stoning Shaytaan. One’s readiness to sacrifice everything and be ready to part with anything dear is portrayed through the Qurbani and the shaving off of hair. Reaching back home, a believer gathers enough energy and spiritual strength to work for one’s land, people and society and for the spread of Islam.
5) Finally, what can be done by the government or the community leadership to make the pilgrimage possible for more people – particularly the poor, and women who might not have family members to take them along on the pilgrimage? Ans 5. It is the life dream of every Muslim to perform Hajj at least once. But the recent repealing of subsidies provided by the Govt. has been a big blow to many aspirants as they have to meet exorbitant costs. If our Government could reinstate the subsidy, many more could fulfil their dream of performing Hajj. Our Govt. also could have understood the logistical challenges faced by Indian pilgrims, that they have to cover long distances to reach Haram as they are accommodated far away whereas, we find other nationalities’ accommodations arranged in the proximity. If it goes unattended by our Government, pilgrims, especially those above 65 years of age or those suffering from various illnesses will struggle. It is unfortunate that the area around the Kaaba was barricaded to prevent believers from kissing the Hajarul Aswad touching Rukunil Jamani, and offering salah in Hijr Ismail as part of COVID protocol. The ceremony of raising the Khilla of Khaba to 2-4 meters was done this year too, even though pilgrims were not allowed to touch it. The second request we put before the Government is that when appointing Hadimul Hujjajis (volunteers) they ought to appoint them in adequate numbers to serve a large number of pilgrims. They should be knowledgeable and able volunteers, who are fit enough to serve and deal with pilgrims and keep up with the psychology of pilgrims as they are from different walks of life. They should be knowledgeable, especially in terms of the rituals of Hajj and other historical significance of historical places.