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CHAPTER 13: GETTING STONED

At Fajr time, there was a frantic rush as everyone around us was getting ready for salah. The queues to the toilets and ablution area were huge. Everyone was desperate to wash, perform salah and get moving. I lay there, still half a sleep, thinking Alhamdu-lillah knowing I was well-prepared. The voice of the brother saying “take plenty of water” was replaying in my mind over and over again. I had a bit of a sly grin as I got up and casually open a bottle of water and performed the Wudhu. A minute later I was ready for salah.

I had brought lots of water so there was plenty for the rest of the brothers in our group. They also quickly made wudhu with the remaining water. Within a few minutes we were standing before our creator, performing the Fajr salah.

After salah, every one was rushing around getting their belongings together. Everyone seemed very excited and eager to get going. The tiredness of the last few days had completely disappeared. There was, what seemed, a mass exodus from Muzdalifah and the millions of pilgrim would be going to Mina. We headed towards the awaiting endless queue of buses and passengers to make this short trip.

I remember sitting with all my stuff packed when the smiling face of brother Shakir, armed with his camcorder, greeted me. I think he wanting to hold onto this experience as long as possible and was documenting this trip. He began to quiz me like a roving reported about the day ahead of us and how I felt. I put on my best voice, which sounds like Billy Connelly, and giving a commentary of the days events so far. I finished with, “Ahmet Ozbey, reporting Hajj for Sky News, back to you in the studio!” We all had a good laugh at this and continued our trip to the bus.

We waiting in amongst the biggest bus queue in the world. There was a bit of overload of the senses caused by the Hajjis who were talking in their different languages. There was also the noise of the humming buses that were spewing out pollution around us. Most of all I never did get used to the huge number of people who participated in Hajj. Whether it was in Makkah, Mina or Arafat, many times I was genuinely awe struck on seeing the millions of Hajjis.

Waiting for our bus, I ran through what today would require of us. I tried to recall exactly what I had learned prior to coming to Hajj. To be honest, by now, my mind and sensors were numbed and overwhelmed and my mind was blank. It was quite a daunting and nerve racking experience. Imagine I got separated from my group, what would I do if and where would I go?

It's like when you are about to sit an important exam at college or university. You may have studied the subject inside out. However, standing outside the exam hall, you begin to try and recall things but your brain is blank. You begin to panic and begin to doubt yourself – your emotions and adrenalin does overtime - making things spiral from bad to ridiculous. After my mini panic attack I thought, well Allah has brought me here and I was blessed company of good friends. I was sure I would get through this difficult day.

Packed like sardines in the bus, we arrived at Mina. There was excitement in the air as we made our way to our tents in Mina. We quickly unloaded our baggage and were ready for the walk to the Jamraats – the three stone pillars that represent the shaytan.

To those brothers and sisters who have not seen the Jamraats, I apologize for disappointing you. These are actually just plain pillars which represent the Shaytan within us and not some fire breathing evil dude chained to a pillar, waiting for a beating by a few million Hajjis.

We prayed the Zuhr prayer and made preparation for this difficult mission. We had to be prepared because emotions can get carried away which sometimes leads to people being hurt, crushed and even killed by the masses of people moving to and from the pillars.

Our group was like a small platoon of people heading towards the Shaytan to make battle. The front had some of the stronger and more knowledgeable brothers. They carried the banner which had ‘Fae Scotland’ on it so that if we were separated we could identify where we need to rendezvous. The middle had the more venerable people, including the youngsters, sisters and elderly. At the back of the group were a few older teenagers who could keep an eye on things, just in case someone got left behind.

As we marched forward, more and more groups were converging along the journey with us. Soon it was like a raging river and 'our Nile' joined an even bigger moving mass of people. Soon the streets were overflowing with marching Hajjis and were resounding with the chants of 'lubaik'. Marching along we joined even more Hajjis what seemed a sea of people, flowing towards the shaytans. As we got closer to the shaytans, it was as if all the seas and oceans of the world were joined and mingles together into one body. It was genuinely humbling seeing so many people together.

In our normal lives, we are the centre of our universe - the big fish in the little pond. When we see so many people, who have same aspirations and feelings as we do in life; we realize that we are in actual fact a spec of sand in a humongous desert. Everyone is equally important and we are no greater or better than the next person, whether he or she be a street sweeper or a billionaire.

The Hajjis came from all corners of the world. Every colour, language, culture and creed was represented here. All the Hajjis were dressed similarly so that we could not be told apart, we were truly one nation - the real UN - where everyone stood before their creator as equals amongst equals. This is why Malcolm X accepted main stream Islam when he realized that all people are one and no one is superior than another.

As we moved forward, I was a little concerned for the few beggars who were peppered in amongst the crowd. They just stood or sat there waiting for generous Hajjis to give to their needy brothers and sisters. They actually impeded the free movement of the Hajjis and I'm sure they were of more risk from injury than the rest of the Hajjis. If there was a crush or stampedes, they would not stand much of a chance.

As we came into the vicinity of the small Shaytan (Jamarat al Aqaba), our group went to one side for last minute discussion on the operation before us. The idea that one large person and one small person should be grouped together and the stoning should be done in pairs was proposed. Our path would not be a full frontal assault on the shaytan but instead we would move in a spiral direction, similar to a whirlpool. We would be going in the direction of the flow and once we got close enough, we would throw the small stones at the shaytan and return to this place.

I was paired with the skinny brother Ahmed, you guessed it; I was the 'fatties' of the pair - much to my dismay. As I am write this, i have made a mental note to take more exercise and improve my diet! Soon brother Ahmed and I were moving amongst the other Hajjis heading towards the shaytan. As I got closer, the background noise was getting louder until it was a deafening din. The people were getting more emotional being tossed from side to side as people were pushing through from all side. Below my feet, i could feel stones people had dropped or thrown (and missed) and i knew instinctively the shaytan was close. As we moved even closer, my target was directly in front of me. It was almost like a movie scene, when the crowds seem to part and just before me i could see 'tango one' himself.

I reached into my pouch, knowing i had plenty of ammunition and made my way closer to the shaytan until it was in throwing distance. The hussle and bussle around me was intense but I was oblivious to this, totally focused on the mission. Standing before the shaytan, like David before Goliath, I stood there armed with only a small stone. I took aim and launched the stone with the loud takbeer emulating from my mouth. It was as if the frustration of my whole life was coming out as the stone whizzed by the shaytan and probably hit some innocent brother on the other side.

I quickly came to my senses and realized that this exercise is not to give the shaytan a good doing, but its a matter of gently throwing some stones at the shaytan. The pillar is not really the shaytan. I also began to notice the amount of emotion some people were expressing, an odd few where throwing slippers and other such objects! As I watched, one unfortunate brother threw a mobile phone. I didn't know if I should laugh or get my slipper off and launch it at the shaytan! I had calmed down after throwing the first stone. I quickly composed myself and went through this ritual of throwing the stones and returned back to the group.

I couldn't help thinking that the over-emotional brothers who were wanting to give the shaytan a real beating were actually playing into the hands of the shaytan. This stoning is actually an exercise of self-control and restrain. Its suppose to be carried out in a calm matter which represents us shunning the shaytan and its influence from our lives. It's the shaytan who seemed to be having the last laugh when people, who were supposed to be calm and level headed, were acting irrationally and their emotions were running the show.

The throwing of the stones at the pillars is like us removing the negative and bad influences from our lives. With each stone we are, in effect, saying no to lying and cheating: no to alcohol and drugs; no to injustices and denying people their rights; no to jealousy and envy; no to our nafs (desires) which causes us to deviate from the straight path.

I might have made it sound like a very physical or even military in nature but the reality is that there are many youngster and old people there and we have to behave with the utmost control and courtesy. We can't push and shove like bullies or 'big men' because we are not big men but are powerless individuals. Its only because of the grace of Allah that we have strength, youth, fitness etc and for this we have to be grateful and not abuse it.

After the Shaytans had been stoned, we turned towards Makkah and made a dua to the Almighty. We then turned towards the groups of people who were enjoying free drinks and ice cream courtesy of some generous Muslims. It's a part of Hajj that people look after the Hajjis and for them there is immense reward and blessing. This tradition of generosity has been going from the time of our Prophet Ibrahim (as) until present day.

After the stoning of the Shaytans we sat down and waited for the remainders of the group. I felt as if a burden had been removed from us as we sat in the hot city street, enjoying our ice cream.