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Chapter 14: MISSION BACK TO MINA

Alhamdu-lillah, all the brothers and sisters in our group had completed the stoning safely. Don't under estimate the enormity of the task we had completed. Many people are killed or injured during the stoning so there was always some fear and the task had initially seemed formidable. This fear may not necessarily be for our own wellbeing but for our companions which included youngsters and old people. All this fear is part of our human nature and it was just a matter of getting organized and being sensible that all the potential disasters were avoided.

After everyone had safely converged to the Scotland Banner, they were eager to move on. The next stage would be going back to Mina and performing the Qurbani. This Qurbani is the slaughtering or sacrifice of a lamb; just as Prophet Ibrahim had done many thousands of years earlier.

As you can see, we carry out this part of the Hajj in the footprints of Prophet Ibrahim, the father of Monotheism. Prophet Ibrahim was truly dedicated to Allah and living his life according to Allah's commands. Allah tested Ibrahim by commanding him to sacrificing his son. As Ibrahim made the journey to the place of sacrifice, the shaytan appeared before him three times. The Shaytan tried to discourage him from carrying out the command of Allah. Ibrahim chased him away on each occasion by throwing stones at him. Ibrahim finally reached the place of sacrifice and was ready to carry out the sacrifice. Allah loved Ibrahim's dedication and love for Allah that He accepted the sacrifice. A ram was sacrificed in place of his son which meant that Allah had accepted his sacrifice.

Similarly, we also threw small stones at three pillars that represent the shaytan as if chasing the shaytan from our lives. Even today, the shaytan still has the mission of misleading us from the commands of Allah and cause us to stray from the path of truth and piety. Then we sacrifice a lamb just as Ibrahim had done centuries earlier. The meat is distributed to people in the poorest parts of the world who may never see meat for another year.

The trip to Mina seemed to pass quickly because we felt so light; in a sense spiritually fulfilled and also very excited. It was as if we were on cloud nine. It's as if years of crippling debt had been removed from our shoulders and we could finally breathe freely. It was amazing and I'm sure all the Hajjis were feeling the same levels of elation and joy.

On this second day of Hajj, the rest of the world were celebrating Eid (subject to moon sighting!). This means that my family back in Stirling were performing the Eid and this was the first time I wasn't there by their side. At this moment in time, thoughts of my family passed gently through my mind and I acknowledged them with a passing smile. I was more engrossed in getting to Mina and also looking forward to getting out of the Ihram which I had been wearing for a couple of days now.

By the time was we got back to Mina, many of the millions of Muslims had already arrived before us. The whole place was buzzing, much in likeness to a busy market place. It seemed extremely busy and it was a feat getting back to our tents through this dense crowd. It reminded me of the mad last minute rushes we were accustomed to in Sauchihall Street just before Christmas. It seemed chaotic and mayhem seemed to reign supreme.

Some people already had their ihram off which means that they had completed the Qurbani and shaved their heads. When we got back to our tents I was ready to remove my Ihram and change my clothes. Brother Farage stopped me and said "First we need to find out if our Qurbani had been completed and then we have to get our hair cut before we can remove the Ihram." As much as I wanted to get moving, the brother was right and patience would be needed.

I waited patiently even though I had this urge to get out of the Ihram and was looked forward to a cold shower and some clean clothes. As much as I enjoy and consider myself to be a true Scotsman, I really wanted to remove my "Islamic Kilt and shawl" and get some underwear on. Looking on the lighter side of things, I suppose I should be grateful that the Saudi weather is much warmer than that in Scotland so wearing our 'Islamic kilt' wasn't so bad!

Just then I had a jaw dropping experience when brother Shakir and Bashir walked around the corner with freshly shaved heads. I think it was such a shock because I had never seen the brothers like this. They looked hilarious and this accompanied with their big cheesy grins made me laugh uncontrollably and they joined in the banter. This meant that the Qurbani was done, so once i composed myself, I joined the crew of baldies and I showered and donned my normal clothes. What a feeling of immense fulfillment, relief and joy.

The shaving itself was an experience, the barbers work at 100 miles an hour using the 'cut throat' razors. As soon as I saw that, I asked the barbers to use his trimmers and he proceeded to give me a number zero. I wish I had some machine oil with me because he clumsily 'trimmed' my hair to the wood in swift stokes with a mix between cutting and plucking. The pain was further excruciated by the fact I, unknowingly at the time, had got sun burn on my head. I fought to hold back the tears during the torture but never the less I was glad it was over.

I handed over my seven riyals which is roughly about a pound. Just as the exchange had taken place, the police came around the corner and the barbers legged it at the same speed they were cutting hair. They were not supposed to be cutting hair there, they must need a license or something. I, for one, was just glad they were there and before long i was going for a shower and a change of clothes.

The shower was the traditional hole in the ground, also known as a squatting toilet. You can imagine the average Scot going to Turkey for holidays. He goes to toilet and to his amazement there is a hole in the ground. The first thought that comes to his mind is “Right, this must be a shower” but there is no showerhead.

In Saudi, the opposite case is true. You go into the shower cubical and you see a hole in the ground. You think “Right, this must be the toilet.” You look up and see a showerhead. The second thought is great, two in one, a shower and toilet in one cubical. So to take full benefit of this, I used both the shower and the toilet in the same cubical.

After a long shower and change of clothes, I finally was able to relax and I chilled out. I was enjoying the well earned rest, even though my head was stinging. All the brothers were there and everyone was in the best of moods with cheery smiles on everyone's faces. The relaxation was short lived as we started packing for the big exodus to Makkah.

This time we never bothered with buses and mega bus queues. Instead, we walked to Makkah in the warm afternoon breeze in the company of millions of other Hajjis. We walked on the highway to Makkah which was experiencing 'rush hour' with a distinct lack of cars!

We were traveling to the center of our spiritual universe and we moved in harmony and unison with the other pilgrims. They were all drawn to this ancient house of worship. The crowds were thick and at points there were major bottlenecks but we patiently made progress.

Makkah was packed out, bursting at the seams. Every person who was performing the Hajj would be there on this day. This means that there would be at lest four million people there which is quite a staggering number of people in one place for a day!

To be honest with you, I am lost for words in describing how Makkah was. Anyone who knows me will be equally gob-smacked that I was lost for words. This shows you how busy the place was and also demonstrates that in such a huge number of people, you can see how insignificant a single person is in the grand scheme of things. I'm glad I didn't need the toilet but for someone who is claustrophobic I didn't feel uneasy.

When we approached Masjid al Haram, there were so many people and traveling a few yards became a formidable task. One good thing was that many people were leaving as we entered. Many people had already completed this part well before us and they were heading back to eat or to their hotels to relax briefly.

My stomach was telling me "hmmm... food" with the aroma coming from all the eating places which surrounded the Masjid. Its actually quite funny if you think about it. We are heading to the Masjid to perform the Tawaf around the holiest of holy places. Around us are all these distractions which take our focus away for short time. For example, one brother is thinking I need to get to an Internet cafe and email my wife that I am back in Makkah safely. Another brother is thinking I need to phone home and speak to the kids. I was thinking... food, hmmm...

I suppose this is the beauty of Islam that we don't deny our spiritual, physical or emotional needs. We have a balance where everything runs smoothly in perfect harmony just as the universe and its various components run in perfect harmony. It's only when we over indulge in any aspects of our spiritual, emotional or physical needs that the harmony is disrupted and peace diminishes. Islam is peace and this peace is the middle path.

As we finally got through the crowds of Hajjis we got into the court yard which houses the Ka'bah. It was like a beehive with bees going in and out as if in a random, chaotic order. Unknown to the observer, the bees are behaving in a precise and accurate manner. In the same way, the scene may look chaotic but all the Hajjis were carrying our Allah's commands in a precise and accurate order.

We joined the brothers and sister and worshiped with our hearts. This worship was physical, in the sense that we walked around the Kab'ah but, without telling a word of lies, it felt as if my feet never touched the ground during the whole tawaf. I was so absorbed in prayer and my heart was at complete peace and harmony that everything flowed freely just as Allah's mercy was flowing freely on this day.

After the tawaf we needed to perform the two rakah of salah near the Muqam-i-Ibrahim which is quite close to the Ka'bah. Unlike during the tawaf where I was over come with emotion and spiritual bliss; during the two rakah we were overwhelmed by the sheer physical force of the Hajjis preforming the tawaaf. We finally decided to pray a little distance from the Muqam-i-Ibrahim where it was still busy but we were able to perform the Salah safely without inconveniencing other people.

Once we drank some Zam Zam and made some final prayers whilst glancing at the Ka'bah, we were ready to do the Sai'. The Sai' is the moving between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa seven times, just as Hajra had done many centuries earlier. After completing all the rights of the Tawaf e Ziyara it was a matter of traveling back to Mina.

We were tired and hungry and people had different things to do. The group split up and we all went our own ways. Brother Farage and I went to get some food from one of the many eating places outside the Masjid. The queues were huge everywhere. The smallest queue was outside Burger King so we quickly dived into it and soon we were seating with a feast of junk food which tasted great! I didn't know that junk food could taste so good but I think this was because we were starving and anything would taste like a gourmay meal. After eating, we needed to start heading back to Mina because we had to spend the night there and not in Makkah.

The whole group had split up and had gone their own ways. We started to co-ordinate ourselves using mobile phones and began the journey back to Mina. It was pretty hilarious but we managed to keep track of each others location and progress through this modern wonder.

We managed to get a taxi which was a small Suzuki van with about 12 seats jammed inside it. However, half way though the journey out of Makkah, the taxi driver lost his patience and asked us to leave. He had been sitting in the static traffic jam for about half an hour. We made a half-hearted protest but we continued the rest of the journey by foot.

I actually felt sorry for the driver. In Britain, we have all been caught in a traffic Jam in rush hour. It is so frustrating but the car is still moving along, all be it at snails pace. This taxi had not moved a foot in over an hour and the poor driver was almost in tears. He said that he was going to go to sleep! There were stationery vehicles in front of him and for about two miles behind him. He was locked in by cars and buses on his left and right sides.

We keep in touch with the rest of the team who were also making slow progress. We simply walked along using the concise directions the driver had given... He had pointed forward and continued to repeat the phrase “Jus' 'trait”. When we tried to speak to him, he just continued to repeat the same phrase.

The air was cool and there was still an hour (or so I thought) before we had to be in Mina. We continued to walk along the line of the traffic jam until we reached the cause of this traffic chaos. The police had closed the tunnel and everyone had continued on foot through the mountain. Mina was on the other side of the this mountain.

Once through the tunnel we were in Mina. The scene here was completely different with people sleeping on the roadside, under bridges and behind walls. They were sound asleep as if they were sleeping on luxurious beds and many were snoring loudly. We still had a couple of miles to go and carefully made our way though the multitude of sleeping bodies.

We finally made it to our tent. My body at the start of the journey was zapped of all energy but once we had got through the mountain into Mina, I seemed to be 're-energised'... well actually supercharged. I put that down to a delayed reactions from the junk food I had eaten earlier!

Our small group of brothers quietly sneaked to our sleeping area, being careful not to wake anyone. The tent was full which meant that we were almost the last people to arrive. It must have been the taxi journey which held us back.

I sneaked into my sleeping bag and we had loads of time before Fajr which I had miscalculated by a few hours. My stomach was full and was I was actually bursting with energy. I laid down in my bag as a merry-go-round of thoughts passed through my brain. Before I knew it, I was fast asleep and what a sleep it was.