Monday, November 22, 2010

The Haj - Mina's Environment Issues And Ka'abah's Pulling Force

Haj pilgrims had all symbolically stoned iblis in Mina, the barren valley that is surrounded by rocky hills.
The five-level car-park like structure around the three Jamrah sites had allowed for a smooth flow for the symbolic act of self-purification.
This year, forecasted rain had swept Mina.
It thus disrupted pilgrims' retreat for Mecca, Madinah and home as the Haj season drew to a close.
The final rituals of the Haj, Tawaf Wida' performed, then these pilgrims will leave Makkatul Mukarramah.

It was reported the downpour had resulted in an ankle-deep water.
It has flooded all streets from Mina to Mecca.
Pilgrims, especially those who squatted on pavements and in public spaces in Mina, were caught off guard.
The rain was never in one's mind.
City of tents, Mina Click to view high resolution version

The Prophet s.a.w., stayed in Mina area during His Haj.
The stay had been ritually followed.
And staying arrangements had since been made throughout the centuries, nearly filling up the entire Mina area with tents to fit up to three million people. 

Mina is with two faces: 
Outside the Haj season, it's a haunting zero occupant white tent city. 
But come Dzulhijjah, it's abuzz with human activities - rituals and business - that makes it almost impossible to walk in the streets.

During the Haj season, Mina Tent City is injected with bodies and souls of Haj pilgrims.
What is there to say about Haj as being an eye opener in Mina?
Three to four million people from all walks of life, all over the woid, occupied the city for an average of only three days in a year, all at the same time.

Organising such a amssive event is no mean feat. The organisers deserve en-mass praises for the continuous effort in making one's Haj a safe journey. More praises for themif it is eternally etched in a memorable, significant moment of being close to GOD.


But after deeply engrossed in prayers for HIS acceptance, making up any shortcomings of the past, praying like there is no tomorrow in 'Arafah, praying for all the very best, and We ask everything that We wanted more than needed, these people, Myself too, contributed environment issues where they, and Myself too, left Our footprints behind. 

Authorities face the daunting task of cleaning up, after pilgrims turned the tents and streets into garbage dump, that pervaded every open space.

Rain or sunshine, the streets of Mina were bound to be with patches of coloured water on the road surface, and littered with all kinds of trash.

Pilgrims and traders create rubbish mould pretty fast - faster than the place can be cleared of all trash.
Should simple and sensible "no littering everywhere classes", be conducted and included in the pre-Haj courses too?

The unsightly amount of garbage all around, makes one wonder, where's the saying that cleanliness is part of the believe.
These old habit of littering and leaving litters meant nothing to irresponsible pilgrims.

Even when we picked them up and cleared them in front of their very eyes, they bat no eyelid, or at their very best, they pretended not to see anything.
Purification, being part of Islamic faith is yet being ignored.


The first thing needs to be done before each prayer is in a state of ablution.
Being clean is always the demarcation of being into the religion and GOD's acceptance.
But in Mina, where's the religious value being placed? 
Is it left at home when old habit of littering around is in tow?

Binmen could be seen toiling and pushing overflowing bins, sweeping the streets and loading large garbage containers onto lorries.
The number of  7,000 workers to clean The Holy Cities round-the-clock, I doubt is sufficient to help clean the cities.


Some people were adamant of 'answering ALLAH's call. 
Unable or unwilling to bear the cost, they would find their own spiritual journey ways to sneak into Mecca, 'Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina. 
They armed themselves with carpets, straw mats, or simply discarded cardboard boxes for them to take a rest by the roadside, or any vacant place for that matter. 
They did not mind the unclean tarmac, walked on by millions sandals and shoes.

These adamant pilgrims sleep on pavements and under the bridges too.

Colourful blankets and carpets were spread in open spaces and some camped in the street

Pilgrims with young children had their meals at the place surrounded with trash flowed out. 
It can be scattered around bin amidst growing litters around them.
Rubbish grew faster than they could be collected.

Some were used to the surroundings, they did not mind dirt and rubbish as their situation back home was of no difference.

Cleanliness, the basic hygiene tenet, is obviously ignored.
Pray in such environment?
GOD answers them, not us.

Police turned a blind eye on them, thus walking around could cause chaos. 
Pilgrims could be found sleeping on th streets. 
they could be seen fighting for space too. ace too.
They were all over the streets, that led to slowed down moving vehicles and pedestrians' movements. 

Photos: Muslimmatters.

Unofficial tents perched on rocky terraces and hills too. 
Some pitched their tents at steep inclines on the mountainsides and on top of the mountains too.


I was in Mina in 2001 for Haji Ifrad flying from Singapore to Jeddah and 2005 for Haji Tamattu', flying from JB straight to Madinah Airport.
On both occasions, thank GOD, I was lucky for being with the right agency.

For the Ifrad, we flew from Singapore to Jeddah, left our luggage in Hilton and did our Tawaf Qudum before leaving for 'Arafah.

In Mina, we were given two places - the tents, which were very near to the Jamrah sites, or an apartment in Shisha, within Aziziyah which is in between Makkah and Mina.
For the elderlies and those who had no issue with public toilets and sharing with tens of others, the tents was  the answer but the majority of us, we chose Shisha, less than half an hour's walk to the Jamrahs.
After all, Shisha itself ends where Jamrah starts.

The three Jamrah sites, before my 2005 Haj, were only tall pillars with low circular walls which some enthusiastic pilgrims would accidentally threw pebbles at others, on the opposite side. 
No distance or toilet issues arise when I was in Shisha as we would walk to the tents after 'Asr, had the night prayers in the tents and left at midhight for Jamrah sites.
Our tents which were left almost empty, with only a few number of the agency's own pilgrims during daytime,  were usually occupied by pilgrims from another Singapore tour agency who did not book another accommodation in Aziziyah.

Even then, an elderly lady in her late 60s, lost her direction on our way to Jamrah sites, when our group of around 130 was intercepted midway, by one of the big number of few hundred Indonesian group.
For two days, there was a frantic search for her, although she was known to be always independent, always on her feet, raring to explore new places.
Thanks a million to Malaysian Tabung Haji as she was finally sent back to Hilton by its staff, dirty clothings, crying and shivering, traumatised by the temporary disappearance incident.

Although an unlikely story, but for that two days, she was not provided with any food or drinks as, according to her, some of the Indonesian pilgrims claimed Singaporeans, like her, are loaded with money, so there was no need of them to provide her with compassionate free meals.
Only GOD knows why.
Days followed in Mecca, Madinah and Jeddah, transformation to a mellowed person in her, followed too...


When I did my Haj 2005, for safety reason and as not to allow pebbles flying across, the relevant authority had erected a 26 m (85') long walls around the three Jamrahs.
A single tiered Jamrah bridge, meant for pedestrians, was built around them too, so pilgrims could cast their pebbles from either the ground level or from the bridge, if it was daytime.

There was once when we had to wait in the tents, as the scheduled after Zohor Jamrah time was postponed to after Magrib because of sudden crowd.
Despite the stern warning, few men defied the order and went ahead to perform the ritual after the Zohor prayers, as it was said they had to make several turns as they had to perform on behalf of their parents.

When one of the men did not came back with the group he went with, the search team was not even allowed to go out doing their duty as there was great sandstorm blowing.
It was only after two hours can the search be resumed, and he was found lifeless because of fatigue.

The sudden overcrowded one of the Jamrah's place was caused by luggage fell from a bus, thus causing a bottleneck.
Some pilgrims tripped on them and those who were tripped were then crushed by the wave of people behind them that led to a stampede causing 345 deaths.

Because of the postponement, we made do with the pavement to wait after midnight, for the the next day's pebble casting to save the three and a half kilometre walking journey back to the tents.
To reach Jamrahs, we had to pass through the three and a half kilometre Muassim tunnel which in 1990, 1,426 lives were snapped away just because of movement flows of pre and post Jamrahs were not in proper queue. 
The Muassim stampede led to the regulation of all Haj pilgrims needed to wear bracelets with self and country's identity, and blood group too, for instant identification in emergency cases.

Just a week earlier, four Malaysians were among 76 people killed when Al Ghaza hotel collapsed in Mecca.


Unlike the Haj 2001, this time in 2005, we stayed at Mina Tent City for a few days.
The three days in the big but crowded tent-stay, made me realise why the previous Haj agency did not mind to spend extra for the Shisha stay to avoid physical discomfort for many.

Although courses for processes and procedures, dos and don'ts were organised years ahead and prospective pilgrims' attendance reminders after reminders were mailed home, one is hard to leave home the signatured old habits, cultural and personal beliefs and to attach with them only the stamped real religious practice.

It could be a taxing period for some, creeping up their nerves with ceaseless coughings from one end of the tent to another.
Getting sick is one's health but to spread germs to others, its cruel.

Leaving spitted tissue lying around is disgusting.
It will expose germs and spreading it around in the air.
Personal hygiene lost in thin air, sure is the most unkindest act to other Haj  pilgrims.
The sacred Haj spirit is lost too.

If everybody acknowledge of not contributing to make matters worst, then in no time, hearing coughings and  seeing spittings is but a once upon a time story of a long, long time ago Haj.
Action taken there and then will shorten the Mina's living discomfort, no denials about that.
Let the Mina stay be a clean, healthy and sick free stay.

Sad to note when some pilgrims found Zamzam not drinkable, not even meant for health when the water had miraculously flowing from its source, underneath the Ka'abah, amidst the barren desert of Mecca for over 4,000 years.

It's best I think, to firstly prepare our veryselves, with correcting our very own innerselves and our daily habits before to psychologically preparing for any unbecoming disgusting inborn attitude of others, and the unbecoming health act of theirs.
Prepare ouselves for the worst, InsyaALLLAH, our minds are all prepared for the next unpredictable scene.
The shock of the least expected of others' daily lives may not be too shocking as to affect our psychology that played in our minds that may place doubts in us and our beliefs. 
Listen and learn not only to accept the rewards of Haj, but also the trying, negative aspects of the masses process, lest, it will come as a big shock.


For a peaceful shower in Mina, one needs to head the toilet at 3.00a.m.
Showering in the day time is a no, as we will invite bangings on toilet doors.
For just relieving oneself, be prepared to spent at least half an hour in the queue alone.
Ablution in Mina is done best with handy bottled water.

It's good to always having tissue, wet wipes and bottled water within our reach, and possibly, bring them to the toilet too.
No one knows when to open the tap with no running water.

Some toilets may come as a shock:
Either we get used to it - some people entering and walking out of the toilets without seeing anything or pretending nothing unpleasant is around - or, we shun them all, for days ahead.
But for some who lives and places toilet cleanliness and hygiene at the topmost of this Haj pilgrimage, toilet issues can go a long way.
The pilgrimage can be dreaded for life.

Hundreds of people share the units of toilets within the same tent area in Mina, thousands in 'Arafah and Muzdalifah, and millions in areas of Masjidil Haram and Masjidin Nabawi.
Pilgrims from the world over, bringing along with them good and evil hearts and habits, congregate into the Holy Cities to perform their rites and rituals, thus allowing toilet users to use and abuse it, all behind close doors.

Honestly, I've been to toilets in areas of Masjidil Haram for just a couple of times, and found many women with children, sleep and I think, stay there too.

I've never been to toilets nearby Masjidin Nabawi but looking back, the minor detail of toilet issues did not occupy My mind.
All these health and toilet issues will fade into insignificance, as Haj by itself, is such an amazing experience.

Haj experience is one undescribable beautiful memories that is hard to be pen even by best writers too. Suffice to say, the memory always bring out the best in each individual.

I've been to places in other countries, that fared much worse than the batnrooms and toilets in Mina

- An open air toilet in running river, men's section at the lowest end, where one has just to perch on the bridge across it, above women's section, to have the full bird's eye view.

- Toilets in remote forested boarding school, in mountainous area, were just big holes dug deep into the ground.
Stench emitted will get stuck to us,felt like vomiting it out from us. It upset our stomach.

- Mountain top home toilet with just a foot high bamboo partition sans its door, and

- Toilets in exclusive restaurants with the traditional doorless - no doors at all.
All activities inside the cubicles are for all the toilet users and passers' by eyes.

Just to name a few which I can think of, as now.

The toilets in The Holy Cities itself had to deal with thousands of people all over the world.
It is impossible to have its own time to clean itself unless, the users themselves clean it after each use - as how they want it to be sparkling clean all the time, for their own use.


This year,  Arab News  reported that over 1,500 Pakistani pilgrims shouted slogans against the Pakistani mission outside their 2 tents, at the edge of Muzdalifah.

Quoting Zulqarnain Ahmad,
“As per our package and arrangement with the mutawwif we were promised breakfast, lunch, dinner and even dry fruits, but we did not get anything. Furthermore there are neither bedsheets nor pillows in our camps. And above all there is no water, which has made the situation worse, compelling us to come out and protest.”

A similar situation occurred for some 800 Qatar pilgrims, including 250 women.
Although they were provided good hotels in Madinah, their tour operator did not make arrangement for their stay in Mina.
Only two tents were provided - all 250 women were accommodated in one tent, and around 200 elderly pilgrims in another - the rest had to make do with the pavements.
The tents were temporary ones erected using pipes and tarpaulin with no air conditioners or toilets.
They were agitated about the lack of of basic amenities in their tents in Mina on their first day in the valley.

In 1997, fire took 340 lives and injuring some 1,500 others.
Since then, steps were taken ensuring all 40,000 durable fireproof tents and cooling systems being placed.


These news sobers me enough but the urge to always be there is as great as ever.

The mention of Haj is enough to brim one's eyes with tears, chocked us with emotion.masjid-nabawi

It gives us another perspective of how much The Prophet s.a.w. and His Companions r.a. went through, in order to get the message of Haj directly passed to us, fourteen centuries later, in its originality, although the twenty first century's Haj has been made easiest for us, in a more bearable universality of the Haj atmosphere.

Haj, the perfection of faith, with its most basic meaning translates to an act of continuous strive in reaching one’s goal.
The rigourous rituals which had just been tasked to all recent pilgrims of diverse nationalities, as according to The Prophet s.a.w., in his last Haj sermon, is to convey the meaning and message of the rituals they had just performed, to those in their homelands irrespective of faith, who were not present during the world's greatest spiritual assembly.

Haj pilgrimage is best summarised as spiritual journey to reach HIM, taken by humans who are just mere physical creatures possessed by THE ONE beyond the material world.

'Whoever performs Haj and does not commit any wrongdoing, they'll be in the state of pure', as it's best said.

Ka'abah is gravititional.
Kaaba in the Grand Mosque
Ka'abah is very inviting, to lay bare our hearts and souls all for HIM to see.

Pilgrims from distant land come to Mecca or Baca as in the  bible
(Psalm 84:
5.Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them.
6.Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.
7.They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God),
to be part of the whirling scene, likened to orbiting planets, never strayed away from the designated path, until THE CREATOR call it the day.

The experiences and emotions to be put ito words???
The very inviting Ka'abah invites all sincere guests - Be truthful to ownself.
Its JUST OWNER selects HIS guests: So Be One Of Them.
People from all walks of life, bringing with them plentiful of requests and needs.
Bring more and more of ours, too.

The seeing is believing experiences had transformed many pilgrims, if not all, for the betterment in leading ones life.
It's all about amazement, from the niat to the tahallul, amazing and relieved for being able to complete the challenging journey of Haj.

Turning over a new leaf, a changed person, feeling physically, mentally and spiritually cleansed, it's all part of HIS acceptance.
A fresh, spotless new chapter in one's life journey continues...  


Uncle Lee said...

Hi Ummie, very interesting reading. I feel enlightened learning, knowing and understanding from an unbiased viewpoint....yours vs what we read in the papers.

Only other day heard the news on radio about muslims going to mecca and I wondered how all those thousands going to get accommodation, food etc.

You keep well, your eloquence. lee.

Anak Mak said...

Salam Ummie
Practice best possible behaviour always (not only when doing Hajj). Empathy, respect & regards for the helpless (& many more).
My cousin wondered in her heart - 'every jemaah prayers theres always jenazah prayers followed, and never did I sees any jenazah - true enough right after that thought, men carrying jenazahs passes next to her. She Istighfars & thankful that no malicious thought had crossed her mind.
Mum was 55 when she went to Hajj alone (25yrs ago). Suffice to say she was patient being ignored by a younger group of room mates. Mum being old & slow. Couple days b4 time to go back home, she fell sick & called out her grandson name, the mates asked whom did 'u called?' To cut the story short they found out that Mum is their cousin MIL. May Allah forgives Mum sins & all those involved. Mum told only me but I guess this is a good reminder for all.
Pls delete if u think its bad to highlight Hajj experiences.
Thanks for the N3, Ummie.

Ummie said...

Mr Lee,
Just sharing the pilgrims intimate moment with all.


Anak Mak,
On our recent trip, my friend who was curious & wanted to see & know where bodies being brought to after each prayers, did not see them, even until our last day, even after telling her where to station herself to get the best view.
Surprisingly, jenazah still past by me who sat at the most unlikely place in Masjidil Haram, even on our last day.

As it's being said, charity begins from home.
Your Mum's roommates' attitude towards others had been laid bare by HIM - Your Mum, unknowingly is their cousin's MIL.
GOD 'heard' the whisper in their hearts after HE exposed their family ties.
Your story is an eye opener for me: Treat others the same as how you want to be treated.
Thanks for sharing it here.

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