It’s hard to believe that the blessed season of Hajj is nearly upon us, insha’Allah (if God wills). This time last year, we were still unsure if we would attend the Hajj and, thankfully, we did.
A few people have been asking me about Hajj advice or tips. When I returned to Yemen from Hajj, I really wanted to devise a list of Hajj tips based on our past experiences. So, please take benefit from the following, if you are able to, and feel free to add other tips in the comments.
1. Prepare your spirit for the journey. The Hajj is an amazingly beautiful and trying experience. Constantly revisit your purpose and renew your intention for making the Hajj journey. Make high and lofty intentions for what you hope to gain or obtain throughout the journey. The challenges of Hajj can be a purification for your soul- it can teach you unique lessons and grow your spiritual maturity significantly.
Before you go, clear some of your spiritual baggage. Ask those around you to forgive for your shortcomings or any harms inflicted. Return anything that you borrowed. Clear your debts. Settle your affairs and responsibilities. Historically, the Hajj was a very difficult journey to make, so people bid farewell in the event that they would not return. Even though technology and “development” has made the Hajj easier in many regards, don’t assume that they are a security for you. Each day, Hajj or no Hajj, should be regarded in light of life’s transient nature.
2. Stay focused. Keep your eyes on the prize, as they say. Don’t let a disorganized travel group, cold food, shoving crowds, or bad attitudes keep you from a greater goal. If you feel yourself beginning to lose your cool, step away, take a deep breath, and remember what’s at stake. Remember for whose sake you are performing the Hajj and whose footsteps you are following in every step of the way.
3. Pack practically and light. Don’t weigh yourself down with too much stuff. Remember- you are a traveler! A few layered outfits that are easy to wash and hang dry will do you well.
In Mecca, many people sent their clothes to a laundry service, waiting several days for the clothes to be washed and sometimes all of their clothes were not returned. Do yourself a favor: buy a small pack of detergent soap, hand wash your clothes in the tub or sink, and hang them to dry. Pack lightweight fleece and thermal socks for cool nights.
A lightweight, foldable sleeping bag will do you well in Mina and Muzdalifah. The night at Muzdalifah is not comfy but the night is short, so a super-duper sleeping bag is not worth the weight it amounts to.
As for shoes, pack just a few pairs. A simple pair of flip-flops that you don’t mind getting wet will be useful for light walking, using the bathroom, and tossing into a small shoulder bag that you can carry around with you. A good pair of walking shoes or rugged sandals that will dry easily in the event of rain will do you well too. Note: It would be wise to keep your shoes with you at all times. To find your flip-flops in a pile of flip-flops that all look the same is no fun. You can carry a small plastic grocery bag into the mosques with you or a small over the shoulder bag. Your bag will be searched but at least you’ll have your shoes with you. Generally speaking, cameras are not allowed into the holy sanctuaries.
The Hajj can be really difficult for your feet, so you may want to pack some foot repair cream or some foot treatment. Many people had cracked heels and swollen feet from walking barefoot on hard-surfaced floors.
As for the bathroom, if you have public restroom issues, start getting over them! All restrooms are very public and widely shared. You’ll have the privacy of your own stall, in most places, at least but there will be a long line of people outside waiting for their turn. You must go to the bathroom! Some people told me that they couldn’t eliminate in public restrooms and I told them “Look, you’re going to be here for another two weeks and become seriously ill”. Take a deep breath, center your “chi”, imagine that you are weightless, floating in an ocean surrounded by seahorses- whatever it takes to get the job done. There’s too many people and too much commotion going on for people to listen to you cleanse your colon. Sorry to be frank but I’m just trying to be practical.
Keep in mind that toilets commonly found in the Middle East are traditionally a porcelain hole in the ground, with or without a flushing mechanism. A water hose is functional in most bathrooms and there’s no toilet paper. Practice squatting because that’s how you’ll have to use the bathroom. For women, I’d recommend wearing comfortable, light-weight skirts or dresses. They’re much easier to maneuver in a squatting restroom and I’ll leave you to figure out the rest. Be sure to rinse your shoes off before leaving the restroom.
I saw the worst bathroom in my life at a restroom on the journey between Medinah to Mecca. It was tempting to turn back and hold the urge but that would’ve created further problems. The available stalls had broken floor toilets, no running water, no electricity, and (to add insult to injury) they smelled horrible. That’s when I kicked into “problem-solving” mode. I grabbed an empty water bottle from my shoulder bag (always good to keep with you), filled it with running water from another source, asked my friend to hold the door because the lock was broken, ignored the awful odors and did what needed to be done. ‘Mind over matter’ will serve you well during the Hajj.
4. Watch what you eat. Drink bottled water, hot tea, bottled fruit juices, etc. The local water may not work well with your system. Of course, drink Zam Zam water as much and as often as possible. Be wary of coolers filled with water that are not clearly labeled as Zam Zam water.
Eating vegan kept our tummies happy. Meat and dairy can be iffy for others when they’re in a new country, so keep that in mind.
5. Devise a plan to keep your immunity. Some people who were immuno-suppressed, ill, elderly or paranoid wore face masks during the Hajj. For most others, I think a daily regimen of immune building foods, supplements or essential-oils will do you well. If we were traveling from the US, I would have considered packing echinacea, elderberry, vitamin C, etc. to take on a daily basis. Don’t wait until you’re sick! Take the offense, not the defense.
Also, be sure to follow the prophetic practice of hand-washing before and after eating and after using the restroom. I’m not a fan of hand sanitizers but it comes in handy when you want to eat on a cramped bus, stuck in traffic.
6. Be vigilant. Be mindful of how you spend your time in such a holy place, at such a holy time. Attend as many visitations as possible to sites of historical and spiritual significance. Be mindful of people taking advantage of your Hajj-generosity- there are some straight hustlers out there so be wary. There are alot of people asking for money and food and I’m sure that many are very much in need, so feel free to give but be wise in your giving. There are opportunists lurking. The Saudi government gives away alot of food during Hajj, so I would save the packaged foods to give to mothers and youth begging around us. Some may refuse the offers of food, so be prepared for that too.
On a brighter side, be aware of those around you. You’ll have the unique opportunity to be with brothers and sisters from all over the world, so soak it up! Be warm and embrace what you can learn and share despite potential language barriers and cultural differences. A little of Arabic can go far too- I was able to commune with sisters from Bangladesh, Mali, and Sudan with a few words of Arabic. Of course, some English goes far too.
7. Be a servant. Serve, serve, serve! Don’t miss the opportunity to serve those around you. Be aware of the elderly, disabled, and youth among you. Serve those who are making this journey with you, referred to in the Qur’an as guests of the Most-Merciful. Insha’Allah, you will benefit immensely from such service. I know that I did.
For those intending to make Hajj, don’t forget to keep us in your prayers. Please remember us in the holy times and in the holy places you experience, wherever you find them.