Salaamz dear readers!
Hajj is a few weeks away!! How are you guys feeling? How’s your preparations coming along?
Though my following post is full of practical Hajj tips, I wanted to prepare you for something that I never read about during my research and wasn’t expecting. I’m going to assume we are kinda similar (there must be a reason you are reading my blog after all 🙂 ). Here goes:
Our Hajj trip was three weeks long, the first week was in Madinah, the second week was Hajj and the final week we spent in Mecca. From the moment I saw the aerial view of Madinah from the airplane (make sure you sit on the left side of the plane if you’re flying directly to Madinah; trust me its breathtaking!), I started crying. I would seriously walk around the streets of Madinah crying .The current Masjid Al-Nabawi is the size of the city of Madinah during the Prophet PBUH’s time! I would wonder if the Prophet PBUH ever stood where I was standing, did he PBUH see the same mountains I was looking at? I was just in awe of everything, being in the city of the Prophet PBUH, the history and significance that existed everywhere.
I just want you to be prepared for the fact that you might be as emotional as I was. Anyway, on to today’s post!
Today’s Hajj tips post is a fun one…it’s about shopping!!! In part one of a Billion or so Hajj tips and tricks I mainly covered packing tips, in the second part I covered the zombie stance , duas and the stinkies. As Hajj is drawing closer my posts are getting longer; I hope you don’t mind! There’s just so much I want to tell you, so much I want to share.
Depending on the size of your group, you will most likely have more than one shaikh/ group leader. Our group had many phenomenal Shuyukh. I can honestly say that one of the best and most assuring parts of my Hajj experience was going with these Shuyukh that I trusted and respected. I had attended many lectures and even classes with all three of the Shuyukh pictured above and I was ecstatic to go on the journey of a lifetime with them! May Allah SWT reward them and their families in this life and in the Hereafter. Ameen. Seriously they were like the Energizer bunny; they kept going and going! Always smiling, always patient and full of energy. There would be times when I was exhausted and slouching in my seat while on the bus to somewhere, then I would see Shaikh Alaa standing at the front of the bus (because he was always first to offer his seat to anyone who needed it), answering questions (because we never stopped picking his brain) and smiling. Where was all this energy coming from? Subhan Allah!
When I would see such examples of strength I would automatically sit up and start smiling. Research shows that just the very act of forming a smile on your face makes you happy! I know I’m going off on tangents but our body language changes our minds! If you hold a certain posture just for two minutes you will start feeling that way! Seriously, ‘fake it till you make it’ has strong science backing it. Fake energy, fake joy, fake strength and you will feel it.
Suddenly I was all “I’m at HAJJ!! OMG!! Why am I not jumping for joy?!!”. Think I’m full of halal baloney? Try it!
Anyway, back to the Shuyukh…I didn’t realize that we would have such close access to our Shuyukh, if I had known I would have prepared a rather large and never-ending list of questions I had in general.
An important thing we learned during our Hajj seminars was to choose one Shaikh to get answers from. They warned us not to go fatwa shopping from Shaikh to Shaikh until we got the answer we wanted to hear.
Everybody is a Shaikh!
Since Hajj is usually a once in a lifetime opportunity for most people, the fear of making mistakes is heightened. That fear usually seeps over into concern for fellow hajjis as well. You will often encounter people telling you that what you’re doing is haram or that you are nullifying your Hajj if you do X. Believe me,they are trying to help. Don’t get annoyed. Try not to get annoyed, the nosy, in-your-business people really don’t want you to compromise your Hajj in any way. While in Mina a few of us ladies were chatting in our tent when one woman noticed my hairless shin. She proceeded to tell me how it was haram to wax my legs. I couldn’t tell why I was
raging angry bothered by her saying that to me. Was it because she did it publicly ? Was it because as she spoke all I could focus on were her plucked to oblivion , barely there eyebrows? (regardless of how you choose to interpret it, there are actually hadiths about plucking eyebrows, but not about waxing your legs), or was this just shaytaan riling me up ? I kept telling myself that she seriously just wanted to save me from what she believed to be wrong. Allhumdullillah I was able to contain myself and smile and nod. As I write this I can imagine you on the other side of the screen wondering what the big deal was – maybe you just had to be there!
I want you to be prepared for all the Haram police/ self-proclaimed Shuyukhs you will encounter and I want you to refrain from being one.One of the biggest lessons I learned about Hajj was the enormous amount of exceptions that can be made during Hajj. Don’t assume someone is doing something wrong or is ‘bad’, they probably have a good reason.
When I went for Hajj there was a concern over MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). Though you’re not supposed to cover your face during Hajj rituals, there are obviously exceptions like in the case of outbreaks, weak immune system etc. Many people wore the surgical masks while others told them their Hajj wasn’t being accepted! It was a sad, sad situation.
I was really concerned about how much money I should take on our trip.Allhumdullillah there were many people who gave me general Hajj advice, but no one would give me even an inclination of how much they took with them. I wish someone had, even a rough ball park idea would help me. Understandably, people are sensitive when it comes to money and don’t want to share such personal details. I just wanted some direction! Should I take $500, $5000? I wanted to take enough for my needs but not so much that I would unnecessarily risk losing a large sum of money.
I don’t want you guys to be left wondering like I was, so I’m going to be very forth coming and transparent, you are including me in your dua list after all 😛
Obviously the amount of money you’re taking depends on what your Hajj group provides and how much you plan to shop.
What you might spend money on:
- gifts for co-workers, family and friends back home as well as gifts for yourself (70% of our money was spent here)
- transportation if you want to do anything extra (i.e take taxi to meeqat point for additional ummrahs, or to restaurants far from your hotel)
- charity (remember every good deed is multiplied by 100,000 in the haaram) – I highly recommend you bring money with you for the purpose of charity
- to put money in your phone for calling back home
- Food: depending on your Hajj package you might have to buy a meal everyday, or during Mina.
Our Hajj package included breakfast and dinner throughout the entire trip. Since both meals were extravagant buffet style meals there was never any need for lunch. BUT all the restaurants were halal! How could we not go out to eat?? Technically it was ridiculous that we would leave our 5 star food that we already paid for, and buy more food..but it made perfect sense at the same time.
We took $1000 US Dollars between the both of us and ended up bringing $200 back. I took a Credit Card with me just in case, but I never ended up using it ( I wish we had spent the last $200 in charity… it would have been multiplied by 100,000!)
We ate out a couple of times in Madinah but almost every single day in Makkah. We took a taxi once to a Mc Donalds in Madinah.
- Contrary to popular belief YOU DON’T HAVE TO BUY GOLD just because you’re in the Middle East!
- I may be the only one, but I am living proof that it’s possible!
- Most people buy gold while at Hajj because gold is a little bit cheaper due to cheap labour. Remember that when you re-enter your home, by law you are required to declare any valuables you bought and pay taxes/ custom on the item. Please don’t start lying and breaking the law soon after you are pure and sin free. Let’s assume you were honest and ended up paying taxes, more often than not you are not really getting a good deal.
Hajj tips for shopping;
- Hide your group ID badge. Especially if you’re from North America or Europe , the shop keepers will raise the prices astronomically.
- Make a list of all the people you want to shop for and categorize the type of gift you want to get them 1) trinket/souvenir, 2)medium caliber gift or 3)extravagant/ big gift. This will help you spend the least amount of time in the market place, prevent you from buying unnecessary items and not have any regrets about forgetting someone.
- Shopping centres are usually built under hotels. The higher end the hotel the more expensive the stores.
- The lower levels of the shopping centre are cheaper and the higher levels/ main floor are more expensive.
- NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE SHOP EMPLOYEES! Regardless of their race, these sales associates are pretty much fluent in over 12 languages! They are excellent at character profiling and can sniff how much money you have in your pocket. If you plan on discussing a bargaining strategy do it outside of the store- they hear, see and understand all!
- If you want the best deal ask to speak to the store owner
I’m the worst bargainer ever and by the end of my trip I was starting to get sick of being ripped off. Even though I hid my group ID and spoke in Urdu, they still knew to charge me extra. So one day I decided to dress more third world and speak only in a thick accent Urdu. I walked up to a shop that had this gorgeous Emerald Green Moroccan style abaya- I spoke purely Urdu when asking the price. I tried to be very stingy with my words, lest I make a mistake. The shop keeper responded ‘150’ in English! Seriously how did he know?! Dedicated to my charade I looked quizzical and asked him if he could tell me in Urdu – How was I supposed to know English numbers right?
He pretty much blasted me, ‘everyone knows what 150 means- even the lowliest schools in the village teach English! You’re trying to act like you don’t know what I’m saying?!’
Umm so yeah, I don’t own a gorgeous Emerald green Moroccan style Abaya- instead I have an utterly humiliating story to share.
Individually packed Zam Zam bottles
Ittar (gorgeous bottles shaped like Mikam-e-Ibrahim, Ka’bah etc)
Black seed infused creams
Mini models of Madinah and the Ka’bah
Tapestry with beaded writing
Prayer mats.Ultra chic Turkish prayer mats come in boxes
Travel prayer mats that come in a small cloth envelope
Ornaments that sit on your mantle
My favourite purchase:
A light gold rectangle hijab lined with gold Swarovski crystals on all four sides. I have worn that hijab about 200 times and I’ve lent it out to countless friends and family. Best $50 I ever spent. I got it at the Clock tower hotel. It’s a small shop located just before the hallway to the hotel lobby on the main floor. All of the hijabs in that store have an M printed on one corner of the hijab.
I’m sure you’ve heard of or been warned of the Hajj Cough that EVERYONE gets while at Hajj. Guess what? I never got the Hajj Cough!
(well technically not while at Hajj…it kinda manifested after I came back home!)
My secret was that I made lots of dua to not get sick and I took lots of the following precautions:
- constantly wash your hands
- don’t eat street food or salads. eat fruit that is peeled before ingesting (I barely ate out until Hajj was over just to be extra safe)
- take honey with you.Honey is shifaa
- take vitamin C tablets
- don’t drink cold Zam Zam! I know in the sweltering heat you want nothing more than to gulp refreshingly cold water. DON’T!!! There’s warm Zam Zam containers, usually in the centre of the cold ones. It will be marked ‘not cold’ or ‘no ice’
- wear surgical masks ( I found them to be annoying so I barely wore it but my husband kept it on most of the time)
- take your health seriously- it can make or break your Hajj. You may be the type of person to typically not make a big deal if you’re about to come down with something but that’s your everyday. During this trip of a lifetime, look out for shortness of breath, take an itchy throat seriously, don’t ignore signs of exhaustion.
Hajj Health Companion – it’s an app that provides pilgrims with real-time messages from the Ministry Of Health (MoH) in Saudi Arabia, helps locate nearest ambulance,police and hospital. Provides general tips.* I wasn’t aware of this app when I went- sounds so cool though!
- REST!!! You may want to join every lecture, discover the city, bond with your fellow Hajjis etc I recommend you do so AFTER Hajj. I actually developed a reputation for sleeping all the time while at Mina. People would comment when they would see me awake- which was usually just to eat and use the washroom. One time I woke up because one of the doctors in our group was checking my pulse because she thought I was dead! I must have been fighting off something so I was really pale and slept through a couple of meals. To be honest, sometimes I was just pretending to sleep. I had my eye mask and ear plugs and I would let my body rest. It helped me to preserve my energy and avoid useless talk (and the self-proclaimed Shaikhas). Allhumdullillah it was probably the reason I avoided the Hajj cough.
Before going for Hajj I was pretty naive about the consequences and likelihood of getting sick. I felt like avoiding the Hajj Cough was the most important issue. I was young and generally healthy, what was the big deal? Since we were the youngest people in our group we would often be the ones to stand if the bus got crowded. On our way to make Tawaf for the actual Hajj, the roads leading to Mecca were clogged with traffic so our bus kept halting and jerking. I got the worst case of motion sickness and threw up four to six times within the final hour of the bus ride.Green , yellow bile type throw up. If I had thrown up like that while at home I would probably rush to the hospital and be bed ridden for a day. But here I was on my way to perform one of the most important rituals of my entire life. One in which I had to walk over 13.5 km ( approx 10 km for tawaf and 3.5 km for sayy). I looked over at my husband who was already exhausted and frail from being sick for a few days; how was I going to do this? I could barely stand. I think I cried for a bit, a little bit out of fear of not being able to complete the tawaf and fear of the physical demands that I was about to endure. We were travelling early in the morning and it was still dark out. The entire atmosphere was bleak and gloomy. Once we reached the haaram, the sun started to rise and just like that so did our spirits. There’s this electric buzz or energy during tawaf that recharges you. I completed everything without any issues, no doubt a mercy from Allah. I felt like the lesson to be learned was that I shouldn’t assume that my health or abilities were what will determine the outcome of my Hajj- everything happens according to Allah’s will.
Stay tuned for more ginormous cups of Hajj chai!