My Lowest Point

The day after I ended my ihram, I headed to Makkah with a South Asian family: a woman nearly my age, her two brothers, and her nephew. She and I had shared a mat at Muzdhalifah. Also, the time I led the salah for a jama’at in our Mina tent she had come to tell me how much she liked that salah jamaat. NO transportation was provided by our tour group for these possible trips to Mina Makkah for people to perform the tawaf ifadah. That is tawaf plus sa’iy after Arafat. I was happy they had found a rickety old bus for 50 riyal. Normally, even a taxi costs no more than 10 riyal. But this is a moneymaking time for many working-class people in Makkah and Madinah, most of whom are not Saudis themselves. So shops, taxis, buses, hotel staff, and restaurant staff all have a lot at stake in the event of the hajj for their profits.

I guess the choices are: find a reduced option, pay as much as you can personally, ignore the cost altogether, or walk. The 50 Riyal bus dropped us off at the opposite end of the Haram Mosque from our hotel and we walked the rest of the way to shower and change before heading to the Mosque. My roommate was in the room. She had returned the previous night with a Bangladeshi family whose daughter was not feeling well. According to her school of Islamic law, it is not mandatory to stay more than one night in Mina. See, how useful it is to be better informed about the options?

We went to the second floor of the mosque to make tawaf and then sa’iy. We chose it 1) because the lower courtyard with the Kaabah was really crowded, and exposed to the sun, and 2) the third floor was exposed to the sun. I held onto the woman, she held onto the three men. The worst part was at the place where the black stone is, the marker for the beginning of each circumference. People would slow up to give salaams, which made a bottleneck every time. Any group had to make a real effort to stay together. The larger the group the more the difficulty of this effort. Being the fifth person in this group was further complicated because they were younger and more able-bodied. They walked very fast. I let go because they were walking too fast for me to keep pace. We’d made plans to meet up in case we got separated and had exchanged phone numbers.

In the middle of the tawaf, the call to prayer came. The guards stopped the tawaf. Some people complied and started to form lines. I found a spot between two women, each with their husbands, and sat down on the line. This seemed an ideal spot until a woman in black niqab squeezed in on my left just as we started the prayer. Okay then. Before we had completed silent rakaat, a call came in on my cell, and Rihanna started singing from my bag in front of me on the floor. Ms. Niqabi nudges me and signals my bag. I wait until we prostrate then switch it off while still in the bag. Phew! Minimal damage, I hope.

No chance. Ms. Niqabi asks me first do I speak Arabic. Then, noticing my nametag, she asks do I speak English. No friendly greeting seems eminent. I said, “Yes, I speak English.” She asks if my cell phone ring has music on it, then she informs me that it is haram to bring music into the mosque! I told her, “Well, that may be so, but I don’t think that’s the problem here. The problem is that you are pushy, and rude, and bossy. But, anyway, Shukran, thanks.” Before she could respond, I turned and got lost in the crowd. One thing a bossy person can’t stand is not being able to have the last word.

But for me the whole thing was blown: my heart cannot hear what my ears refuse to. I tried to resume my tawaf, but lost my state of ablution. I just could not see making my way to the ladies room and then back to the second floor to walk a longer distance for tawaf and not even be able to see the Kaabah. So, I headed back to the hotel. I had three more days to complete that tawaf. When my previous group called me, we met in the lobby of the hotel and they rushed off again with me as the fifth wheel. We went about a kilometer to a public bus stop. We are confronted with a mob scene: People were trying to squeeze into an already overfull bus. They refused to let the door close. It didn’t look hopeful. Soon this family walked off and entered into one of the tunnels that lead back to Mina.

I told the woman, “I can’t walk to Mina.” I let go and they all walked off again. I turned to walk back alone.

I did see them eventually turn back from the tunnel and negotiate a ride, I presume back to Mina, but I was no longer a part of that group. I had nothing to show for my trip back to Makkah and I was alone. I still needed to get back to Mina before sunset to complete the second ramy Jamarat. I was really sad and could only think of one thing: I prayed, “Oh Allah did You bring me here just so I could fail just because I am a woman alone? Please, please, please make a way for me…”

When I told my roommate my story, she assured me I could become a part of her group, taking a bus back to Mina, and doing the ramy Jamarat after maghrib, which is permitted for women and the disabled. We ended up on the most modern bus of all the bus rides until then, or later. It cost only 20 riyal. I was so happy I paid for all five of us. My roommate tried to get me to take her money, but I started crying, this time from joy, “I was afraid I would not be able to complete my hajj!”

Things turned around from that point, and this party of five would see me through until my entire visit to Saudi Arabia was completed. It is not true that my only contribution was 100 riyal. When we left the Ramy Jamarat, I was the only one who knew the way back to our tents in Mina because I had carefully plotted the course from the first time I made Ramy with our tour leader. We rejoined our camp around 11 p.m.—then, my last night in Mina was over. One last Ramy Jamarat and I could leave it behind me and make my last tawaf.

Getting back to Makkah would be the next challenge I faced with this new group of five.