This series of articles will be about the pilgrimage of several Muslims from Lithuania to the Sacred House (Ka’bah in Mecca, Saudi Arabia) in 1438/2017. It will be a story about going to the Hajj, the joys and difficulties of this special experience, which gives sense of the conditions of this fifth Islamic religious pillar – physical and financial preparedness.
Preparing for Hajj
I am a Muslim, raised in a religiously mixed family, where the father is a Muslim. While still a teenager, I saw how he was preparing for this pilgrimage and, after joining the Polish Muslim community, traveled to Mecca in 2001, and there was a desire of mine to save enough money and try to do pilgrimage in the name of Allah the Supreme. This desire has succeeded this year. With my spouse, who is a foreigner, we tried to prioritize ourselves so that when the opportunity comes, we could immediately carry out the hajj together, and by the end of August we had already started our journey.
I would like to mention that the visit from Lithuania for the Hajj still seems to be a very complicated process, filled with a lot of uncertainties. However, after some time living in Europe, and knowing more people, I’m realizing that everything is simple, and that complexity is in our heads alone. There is a lack of reliable information distribution in communities. For this reason, we want to encourage representatives or other responsible persons of communities to be more open to their members and to provide them with comprehensive information about the Hajj so that it does not become unavailable to those who may have the opportunity to do one of the five pillars of Islam, but because of lack of information, they do not know where to get started.
Let’s go back to our story. We made the decision to go to the Hajj this year and provided the documents for the visa and ordered travel a little too late, therefore, a little time was spent on practical preparation and this only increased the excitement of this trip. The most important thing was to buy the things necessary for this ritual.
Men must wear a special outfit during the hajj – seamless, white, two-piece outfit. In Lithuania, such clothes and other practical accessories cannot really be found, so the online store Hajj Safe helped us a lot.
We ordered what we considered to be necessary, and everything was delivered in a timely manner. Unfortunately, we are very spoiled European Muslims, so we did not think that it might be necessary to take either a pillow or a mattress. And unfortunately, as it turned out later, it would have been very helpful. But compared to some of the other impressions of travellers, our journey seemed to be quite good.
Flight via Istanbul
Flight route: Vilnius (Lithuania) – Istanbul (Turkey) – Jeddah (Saudi Arabia).
Airlines – Turkish Airlines
The service of these airlines is really good, but their flight delays and management are at odds with humanity. The flight to Jeddah was delayed for 6-7 hours without explaining the reason of delay to the passengers. It made us very tired during the trip, as we had to wait all night. In addition, it was really surprising that there was very little space at the Istanbul airport for both men’s and women’s prayer halls. But we were very pleased with the pilgrims, that surrounded the entire airport and were connected for the same destination, and could be immediately recognized from clothing and Hajj cards hanging on their necks. After all, we got on the plane and we were pleased to be in the business class lounge, but… when the time for Fajr prayer came it was not allowed to make the ablution so we had to do dry ablution and pray. Soon after, the mood was changed and replaced by a joyful concentration when all passengers entered the ihraam at the same time and began saying: “Labbayka Allaahumma labbayk!”
We are approaching Jeddah
Here we were met by an impolite Saudi policeman (I later realized that this impoliteness is not bad – this is the only way they are able to keep the order of a huge crowd of people of different nations) and immediately all new arrivals were lined up in the waiting room. We were waiting there for another 7 hours. It looked like a mini-incubator, which was flooded by a crowd of pilgrims from all over the world (Syria, Sudan, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Denmark, France, etc.). And here was a time when I thought how good it would be to have your own mattress – to lie down on the ground and sleep… After this long waiting we moved to the next floor and there we stayed for another hour as passport control took place. However, to our surprise, Indonesians stood up in the choir and started to chant a salutation to our Prophet, peace be upon him. The mood went up, it was good to be at this moment here and now. It is an indescribable feeling.
We are already outside where the heat of +43 degrees warms you up to the bones and all the joint pains are left behind. Time to get on the bus and go to the hotel. Unfortunately, our agency, which had to take care of Sunni Muslims, for some unknown reason separated us from the group and, without knowing it yet, took us to the wrong bus to Mecca.
The address of the hotel was not accurate, so searching for it disappointed everyone. A husband who is fluent in Arabic, although not native to him, could not cope with all the fuss during the trip, and after a long flight, waiting and getting to the bus it was hard for him to find out something. I had to take the initiative. Thanks God in this country, a woman is not worse than a man and her statement is the same as a man’s, so we found out where the hotel was in a joint effort. And that was not a hotel at all, but rather a hostel or a guest house.
Then we really understood that our agency, through which the tickets and accommodation was booked, is not the real accredited agency that made visas for us. So, our challenges are just starting… It is a pity that during the whole trip, there were a lot of deceived people who believed in using the services of a reputable and accredited agency, but later it turned out that everything was very economically organized and these services were provided by middlemen, buying services from each other, and people were left cheated and did not receive the conditions that were promised to them.
So, finally arriving to the hotel, we fell asleep immediately from the tiredness, and only in the morning we went to the Sacred Mosque to carry out the tawaaf.
Tips for getting ready for Hajj or what we would do differently:
1. It is advisable to apply for a visa immediately after Ramadan in order to have enough time to collect the documents and to prepare for the journey.
2. Apply only to accredited agencies, after getting feedback about them and other people’s experiences. Avoid unknown, obscure agencies or, worse, their middlemen.
(To be continued…)