Memories of my first Haj – I

This year marks my tenth anniversary of going to Haj. Haj is the fifth pillar of Islam and something that you have to do at least once in a life time (if you could afford it financially and health wise). Forget about smiling Hajis that you see on TV, wearing the ihram (men’s white garment) and waving their hand to the cameras in hope that their families catch a glimpse of
them; Haj is a real test of your endurance (both physical and emotional).
The verse in Holy Quran asks the performers not to lose their temper or argue in Haj, which is almost impossible given the fact that you are surrounded by millions coming from different cultures and backgrounds (and the religious police too!). 2008 was a miserable year. By November I decided that I had enough and announced my plan of going to Haj the following month.
Mom had performed it two years back and jumped to the opportunity of doing it again. My brother was reluctant but then with a bit of emotional black mailing he decided to join in. At that time, it was allowed to join other groups from GCC countries. We decided to book the Haj package with the same group that mom had joined before, which was based in Sharjah. First, we needed to get the permits from the Ministry of Endowments and Religious
Affairs here in Muscat and then get the flu jabs from the nearest health centre.
Getting the permits was a funny experience as the old man in charge kept insisting that I should go back to my country’s embassy. This of course confused me as I wasn’t sure that a person would have an embassy in their own country. After around ten minutes of going in circles with pointless questions like: “What embassy? I never knew that we had one here! Where is it exactly?” The man finally shouted: “I don’t know where the Iraqi Embassy is!” That’s when it dawned on me that due to my mixed dialect (thanks to my mom’s side of the family!) the man didn’t think that I was an Omani. I had to show him our IDs before he gave me the permits.
Getting the jabs was another painful experience. I’d never thought that such tiny injections would really burn as they travelled through my veins. Then came the part of asking for people’s forgiveness before going. In the old days, people would either visit or call everyone they knew. Not having the time for that (because of teaching evening classes), I sent SMSs to all the people I know. My friends and family were happy to know that I was going to Haj and wished me luck.
We travelled then to Dubai to join our group that was a mixture of Emaratis and other Arab nationalities (mainly Egyptians). We were the only Omanis in the group. The Emarati ladies were veiled and weren’t the chatty type, so the conversation died at the first hello. When reaching Jeddah’s airport, we were surprised to see two buses waiting for our group: a bus for the locals (Emaratis) and a bus for the expats (other Arabs).
Ironically it contradicted with the essence of equality that the prophet called for in his final Haj. Mom grumbled before grabbing our arms and shoving us to the locals’ bus, giving whoever dared to question killer looks (no one was brave enough to do so). There were still a few days left for Haj, so we headed to Al Madina Al Munawara: the city where the prophet’s mosque and tomb are (to be continued…).
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of:
The World According to Bahja. rashabooks@yahoo.com