Photo: MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA - AUGUST 5, 2017: Muslim pilgrims from all over the world performing tawaf at holy Kaabah in the morning. Muslims face the direction of Kaaba when performing prayer. / Fitria Ramli / Shutterstock.com
From the immigration process to the elbowing endured during the tawaf, the haj experience will try the most pious of human beings, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that patience is at the top of this list. It’s not really a secret, but of all the things to keep in mind, it is quite possibly the most difficult. Some of the ways your patience will be tested include the heat, the impatience of others, the lack of politeness, the sheer number of people trying to do the same thing at once, the failing manners of certain officials … we could go on, but you get the picture. Arrive expecting to lose it, but don’t: try to let it all wash over you as you remind yourself why you are really there.
2. GET FIT FOR HAJ
Now for some practical advice, especially for older would-be hajis. The combination of heat, human density and distance covered over the course of the haj makes the event very physically demanding, and one you should prepare your body for. The pilgrims we spoke to advise sticking to a regular exercise routine in the days and weeks leading up to your haj.
3. SORE FEET
You will be performing an awful lot of tawaf, and it will be done with no footwear. With the volume of people trying to do the same, the radius will seem like it’s growing with each round, and that means very, very sore feet. This is why you’re going to love this next tip: pack a pair of leather socks and stuff them with gel insoles; that way you are guaranteed to soften the impact on your poor feet. “I spent the whole time wincing and cursing [that] I didn’t think of it before I went,” 41-year-old haji Farid Ahmed remarked. Ouch.
4. THE APP-Y HAJI
That's what you'll be if you take advantage of the growing number of mobile apps designed to help you during the haj. The better ones come complete with offline maps, step-by-step guides, information on all amenities and services, relevant recitals, and even features to help locate other members of your group. Some can also be combined with advanced e-bracelets. Do your research, find a good app, and you're guaranteed to come away an app-y haji!
5. THE RUB OF IHRAM
All that walking whilst hoisting up your ihram will inevitably lead to a lot of cloth-on-skin action, and that means one thing: chafing. Leave it untreated, and the combination of humidity and heat will see your body develop a lovely set of red and very sore patches, or worse still, broken skin. “Petroleum jelly or unperfumed chafing cream is a must,” UK-based haj and umrah agent Shelim Khan told us. We agree: don’t leave home without some, otherwise yours will be a painful pilgrimage.
6. HYDRATION, HYDRATION, HYDRATION
The average daily temperature in Makkah during August will be around 106 degrees Fahrenheit, and therefore hydration during the haj is a real and serious issue. One of the ways to optimise your water intake is to drop hydration tablets into it. These will help your body quickly regain the electrolytes you will lose when you sweat in the merciless desert heat. “We sometimes forget that Makkah is in the desert, and water alone just isn’t enough in those conditions,” said hajah Sukhi Hasan, who performed the haj in 2014.
7. POWER BARS
Given the increasing reliance on your mobile phone and the fact that you will often be on the move with nowhere to charge it, investing in a decent power bar (a portable phone charger) is a no-brainer. Keep it in your backpack and it’ll be there for you in an emergency. Just make sure you charge it before you set off!
8. A GOOD DAY BAG
Have you ever lugged around a (loaded) gym bag with those thin drawstrings for any length of time wearing normal clothes? Now try it with one arm potentially bare (in the case of men). It’s really nice that many haj packages offer these simple bags as part of their essentials kit, but don’t use this as your haj day bag. Satisfied pilgrims say that one of the best investments they made was a good, light day bag with padded shoulder straps. Trust them; your shoulders will thank you for it.
(This article is written by Tharik Hussain. Tharik is a freelance British Muslim travel writer, journalist, broadcaster and photographer specialising in the Muslim stories of Europe. Hussain’s first ever radio documentary, America’s Mosques; A Story of Integration, has been declared one of the world’s best radio documentaries for 2016. All his work can be viewed at www.tharikhussain.co.uk)
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