My Haj Experience: Missing The Mark

When we left Arafa that night, it was a continuous action till the next morning (Eid day). First, we headed to Muzdalifa to collect the stones for the pelting ritual that would take three days, starting from Eid day (7 stones each day).
Muzdalifa looked like a typical wadi in Oman, rocky and vast. We barely saw the stones under the neon lights. We stayed there till Fajir prayers and left to Mecca to perform the Tawaf Al Ifadha and the Sa’ai. It was early morning when we reached our flat in Mecca, had a quick shower, slept for a few hours, had breakfast and headed to Mina once again.
Back in the women’s tent, the argument started again about the most auspicious time to do the pelting ritual. Everyone agreed that it could be done at any time of the day and there was no rush. The three sisters (as usual!) kept pointing out that it was best to stick to the timings when our prophet (PBUH) performed it. Of course, nobody listened to them and they left alone. They came back six hours later.
Apparently, almost all Hajis shared their same thought and the Jamarat was fully packed. They barely got in and out before losing their way to the campus. Now, it was our turn to perform the pelting ritual and our group (men and women) left together. It was a walking distance and wasn’t busy. But by the time we entered the premises of Jamarat, we were welcomed by a wave of people coming from all directions.
Africans were walking in a chain like formation and crushing whoever came in their way. Asian grannies clawed their way in, separating whoever dared to walk close or hold hands (where did that strength come from?). By the time we reached Jamrat Al Aa’qaba (a big wall surrounded by a cement fence), our group formation had changed drastically with women being in the middle surrounded by men.
Luckily, the man in front of me was my brother. I raised my hand to throw the first stone crying: “Allah Akbar!”. Being a lousy aimer, the stone landed on the head of an African man who stood right in front of the fence- and was praying and pelting zealously. The man turned his head irritably and I hid behind my brother. Unfortunately, the stones continued falling on his head until I got the hang of it (by the fifth one!).
By the time we left the Jamarat, the place was so busy that we got stuck getting back to the campus. A man of our group volunteered to hold up a flag that had the Haj company’s logo. He kept calling out: “Haj ya Haj!” which didn’t make sense but made us chuckle and kept us entertained on our long journey back. While passing by a Saudi policeman, the flag bearer was smacked hard at the back of his head for no reason. The women gasped in horror and the men urged him to move on and not spoil his Haj. Feeling a mixture of humiliation and pain, silence accompanied us till our tents.
The pelting ritual continued for the next two days. We didn’t do much for the rest of the day. Mom and I befriended a three-year-old Egyptian boy called Hamada. Being teachers (and bored), we worked on teaching him a few intelligible words. His mother was the silent type — who’d only call him to sit on her lap and practice their favourite hobby: staring at others. We were coming to the end of our Haj journey (to be continued…)
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja. rashabooks@yahoo.com