This is the final installment of the journal I kept during Hajj, from Oct. 30 – Nov. 20th. I’ve transcribed it almost exactly as written, any recent thoughts are in parentheses.

Nov. 18th cont’d

There’s nothing like the feeling of throwing the last stone.

I hefted it in my fingers, said, “Allahu Akbar” God is Great! and let loose with my best overhand curve.

I watched it bounce off the even bigger stones that comprise Jamarat Aqaba. And with that last stone my Hajj is complete.

I hope it is accepted.

I’m writing this even as I sit on a bench off the main corridor waiting for our bus to pull up to take us back to our hotel in Aziziah.

Back to ‘civilization’.

I have such a feeling of lightness in me.

I feel like I could just float away. (Ironic given what would happen next!!!)

And yet overhead clouds are gathering and it looks like rain again, twice in two days, three times in two weeks!

Very very unusual!

Last night lightning flashed and the thunder rumbled.

I really felt for those people we’d seen camped out on the roads of Mina. With many children.

The groups gathered up all the umbrellas and gave them out to them. Umbrellas and sleeping bags. (We could have used those umbrellas later!)

Even us in our comfy tent didn’t completely escape.

The tent leaked along the metal struts and some of the sisters beds got wet…

Nov. 19th

Nothing I have up to now endured prepared me for last night!

I just reread my entry and I can’t believe how happy I sounded.

I am still happy I completed Hajj of course but what happened afterwards was quite a nightmare.

What do you do when your bus doesn’t show up and you don’t want to spend another night in Mina–because if you don’t leave before sunset that’s precisely what you’ll have to do.

So of course there’s a mass exodus of Mina and yet somehow our bus didn’t show up. And it was probably because of the storm.

I heard there was hail. And there was definitely some flooding.

At one point while we were taking shelter in one of the tents (not our own but one of the abandoned ones) our group leader asked if any of our flip flops were outside the tent we were sitting in, because if they were, we’d best fetch them because they were floating away.

The tents in Mina are definitely designed to keep the sun off with little regard for rain, because in our tent, the water didn’t just trickle in like it had the night before, it gushed.

We sat and waited and waited for the promised bus that never came, till finally it was too close to sunset and there was nothing for it, we’d have to walk.

That didn’ t pose such of a problem for me, despite the grumbling over the 10 k we’d walked a day earlier. But when you’re with a group you can’t just think about yourself!

You have to consider the weaker members. There were two ladies I was particularly worried about.

They were both 80 years old.

I grabbed the arm of one of them and checked my pace to match hers.

She was plump and had various medical problems but still it was alarming the way she was gasping after having walked just halfway to the tunnel that marked the boundary between Mina and Aziziah.

I had asked for a wheelchair from the group leader but there was none to be found. “There’s nothing for it, aunty.” I told her. “We’ll just have to walk.”

I kept telling her it’s just a little further, she’d be all right, but honestly I was scared she’d have a heart attack right there. She was obviously not used to walking.

First we were told to just go midway. Then at midway our people weren’t there so we had to go further.

I saw a guy with a wheelchair and I called him over. It cost 40 riyals to get her to the end of the tunnel even though he wanted 50.

There we met up with our group again, but still no bus.

At least on this side of the mountain it had stopped raining and the sun was peeking through clouds in the west.

I could finally wipe the raindrops off my glasses.

Then we saw why there were no buses. The roads were closed. Because of the storm? I don’t know.

No buses would come.

How would we get to the hotel in Aziziah?


But no way could this older sister do it.

And then the group started moving and we had no choice but to follow.

Through the muddiest filthiest water that splashed against our lower calves, we walked.

Water that you tried not to wonder what kind of contamination and bacteria it contained.

At one point the aunty at my arm exclaimed, “Oh! My shoes are getting wet!”

And I said, “It’s okay. Nothing we can do about it. Let’s just keep going.”

But it was clear she couldn’t go much further.

One of the young guys saw a bus that belonged to our group, stuck in traffic–basically parked with its engine running, on the other side of the street. They went over and got some of the young men to give up their seats and I was able to see this old aunty board the bus.

It was such a relief to know she was okay. Even if the bus took a long time to get there, she’d be in more comfort than out here in the chaos.

Oh wouldn’t it have been tempting to just grab a taxi and forget about the rest of the group! But it felt wrong.

Now that the old people were stowed on the buses, I could turn my attention to how I was going to get to the hotel.

There were some empty wheelchairs now and we were invited to put our carry 0n luggage on top of the wheelchair so they could wheel it, but I felt reluctant to part with my backpack. It contained two abayas, 2 underwear, 2 pairs of socks and one pair of pants–basically all the clothes that I had left, and I’m not of a size that I can just easily walk into a shop and find clothes to fit me.

I put my backpack on top and for the first time I felt desperate. I had tears in my eyes when I told the employee of the Hajj group, “Don’t you lose that! It’s all I have!”

He just smiled and said, “Don’t worry, I won’t.”

I told him again, “You already have lost both my luggages. I can’t afford you losing that too!”

He said, “It wasn’t me.”

And that was true.

We probably walked about another mile but it was hard to guage, we were weaving through traffic, around parked cars and stinking alleyways till finally we got to what looked like a terminal with lots of public transit buses.

Long story short, one of the employees was able to procure a bus for us–a different bus–just the women, the men would still have to walk the 1.4 miles to the hotel. But a lot of men got to come on board too, once the women were on.

(With the traffic jam I heard that the men who walked ended up getting to the hotel before us anyway.)

While on the bus, I overheard a conversation between two men in the aisle talking adamantly about American economics. I don’t know what came over me but I ended up joining in and actually holding my own in the conversation.

It was funny. I met the wife of one of the men (he turned out to be the CEO of a bank in California) I was talking with the next day and she said how she’d overhead the whole conversation and she said how surprised she’d been to hear the things I’d added to the conversation, like the fact that the South American countries were developing their own consortium and bypassing the IMF all together, all under the leadership of Evo Morales, the Bolivian president. And there was other stuff we talked about. At one point the lady’s husband turned to me and asked what my profession was. He was obviously trying to guage my credentials.

I just blushed and said, “I’m a children’s author.”

His wife said to me while we were sitting in the lobby that it was good for these men to hear a woman talking econimics.

LOL. It sure beat the stereotype of Muslim women being clueless.

Because of the traffic it took quite a while to get to the hotel but by this time I was having so much fun in the conversation, it went by fast for me.

We were at the hotel before I knew it. But the bus driver parked in the middle of the road and traffic honked at the disruption.

They told us to just grab any bag from the luggage bay and take it inside but no way was I leaving till I saw my backpack with what was left of my wardrobe.

Finally I saw it, and with my running shoes still squishing full of filthy water and my damp stinking pant legs flapping against my ankles, I trudged into the hotel.

First thing I did was wash my shoes in detergent.

They’re the only pair I have.

Then I washed my clothes and then I washed my stinky self.

What a relief!

But then I found out later that the other lady I’d been worried about hadn’t been properly tended to.

Another lady had escorted her down that long tunnel but she’d been no match for this brute who bumped into her and pushed the old lady down with his luggage.

Apparently he ploughed into her, she fell (she’s quite unsteady) and then the lady who was escorting her, fell too.

Luckily they didn’t break any bones.

I know it sounds weird but I felt extremely guilty when I heard about this.

I’d made a choice of which old lady to help. If I’d been there I don’t think that guy would have gotten away with such a thing!

But then that’s the way many of these men treat women over here.

Nov. 19th (cont’d)

I’m writing this on the bus to Jeddah, the port city, gateway to Mecca.

I’m already missing Mecca. While we were driving out of Aziziah turning left onto the road that would take us to Jeddah, I saw the clock tower, a landmark, that stands as the tallest building I can tell, in Mecca. It’s right outside the first door of the haram, but we couldn’t see the haram.

It was hidden by buildings but we could see its glow lighting up the sky. And just seeing that sent a pang of homesickness through me.

Like I’ve said before last time I came for umrah in 2008, I knew I’d be back one day for Hajj, if God willed.

This time I have no idea when God will let me come back.

I leave behind a lot of bittersweet memories.

So many of the ladies I met were fabulous. I felt instantly that we were kindred spirits and yet so many of the women were also frustrating.

If Muslim women have the stereotype of being meek and timid it’s because so many of them are. The worst was when it came time for prayer.

Prayer is supposed to be a time of discipline. I’ve heard there is a saying that if the leader of the prayer, the imam’s, concentration is not acceptable, then God looks at the concentration of the people in the first row of the gathering. If their concentration is not acceptable then God looks at the concentration of the people in the second row, and so on and so on and if all the rows in a jamat (gathering of prayer) have no good concentrating worshippers then God looks at how straight and perfect the lines for prayer are, and if they’re good, He accepts the prayer.

So you really want the prayer lines to be straight, with no gaps. Also in terms of efficiency, of getting as many people into a space as possible you want people to be standing shoulder to shoulder, toe to toe. There is also a saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that the prayer lines should have no gaps as that leads to disunity.

I know people like to have their own personal space, but that’s something that needs to be suspended during prayer times.

It’s a blessing when there is such a crowd of people praying that space issues arise.

The imam always reminds the followers to straighten their lines. The men tend to be pretty good at it, oh but the women!

(It’s like herding cats!)

After the first day I couldn’t take it any more so in the middle of the prayer hall, with the men on the other side where they could hear me yell, I called out, “Sisters, move to the right. Fill in the gaps. Leave an aisle on the side so that later sisters can get through to the front.”

That’s all it took. They listened.

And yet again at the next prayer I had to call out the same instructions.

They’ve been told this all their lives for crying out loud! It’s NOT something new!

I hate putting myself forward like that. There are some women who take it the wrong way and start getting hostile and resentful when you lay down the law like that.

Like I’ve said before, maybe they’re wondering, “Who died and left you in charge?”

Whatever the case, I hate having to step forward like that. It’s also hard when doing so, not to feel a little pleased with yourself that you’re taking matters into hand and wouldn’t the Prophet (peace be upon him) approve, etc. And that can lead to feelings of self-righteousness. So you have to be careful to keep ego and pride out of it when you’re doing this. Just stick to the task at hand.

As a result, this time was a little bit better than last time I did this kind of thing. I was young then and quite stupid and naive when it came to social negotiation.

And it was good that this was for a very limited time.

Today, alas, I was menstruating and so wasn’t praying, but it was Jumah (Friday prayer) and I wanted to hear the khutba/sermon.

Practically every prayer before we left for Mina, I’d done the whole, “Sisters, fill in the gaps, move to the right…” spiel.

Now we were back from Hajj and wouldn’t  you know it, they were back to the herding cats thing again.

I didn’t want to say anything. Not praying made me feel that I wasn’t qualified under the circumstances.

Then a lady came up to me and said, “Tell them to fix the lines. They’ll listen to you!”

I had to laugh. But I obeyed her and sure enough, the women straightened up.


There is a very good reason that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) only said that you have to perform Hajj once in your lifetime, if you have the means. Even once is hard.

I feel as though I had a difficult Hajj, but now I’m not sure. Except for the last day, the day of the flood, it was actually not too bad. What made mine hard was losing the luggage, I suspect.

When I boarded the plane to come home, I thought, nope, never again, but now I’m not so sure.

All the difficulties are quickly fading, and instead the spiritual moments are dominating my memories. 

Moments that were a little too private to mention in this blog.

Yesterday there was a tiny reunion with all the Hajj members of our group, and even though my head was stuffy and I have a cold, and it was bitter cold, I went!

The ladies in my Hajj group feel like family to me. We bonded in a special way and I love them all dearly.

I heard that old sister that I escorted on that last day, isn’t doing too well. Apparently she can’t keep anything down, and is extremely weak. I pray that she’s okay and I can’t help but wonder if she wasn’t infected by something in that flood water!

I also heard a story about another brother who’d done something quite wrong.

After almost every prayer in both harams, there would often be a janaza (funeral prayer). He’d followed the corpse procession out of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) mosque and into Janatul Baqee, the graveyard that contains the remains of many of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) companions. (There’s one section where they bury modern people. The bodies decay quite quickly and every so often they bulldoze it and bury more there.)  He took lots of pictures of the corpse being lowered into the grave, and all kinds of stuff that you’re not supposed to take pictures of. They were on his phone. When he got back he asked his employees to download those particular photos onto his desktop, but they started screaming at one point. Something very strange was happening, and when he picked up his phone he saw the word ‘erasing’. All those pictures were gone!

It wasn’t the first time his employees had downloaded photos from his phone! But he admitted right then that he shouldn’t have taken those photos.

Another odd thing happened with photos, and it was at Muzdalifa.

My brother took two photos of people sleeping on the ground in Muzdalifa. It was a clear night, there was no reason for what showed up, hundreds of those little light orbs that sometimes show up in photos, as anomalies. Some people insist that the camera is capturing a bit of the presence of spirits. In these two photos they were covered in the orbs, like snow. It was very odd!

The only explanation I can think of is maybe there were a lot of jinns making Hajj too. We do believe that of the jinns there are believers and the non-believers.

I don’t know. I just wonder.

We were fortunate to hear some excellent lectures from various scholars and sheikhs who had come along with us. One of the best lectures was by Sheikh Abdool Hamid from the Islamic Institute of Toronto. He talked about ‘Why Hajj?’ He began by asking us why God might have required this of us. Some said that it connected Muslims as an ummah, a brotherhood, from all over the world. Another reason somebody gave was that it’s basically a dress rehearsal for the day of judgment. Others said that we were coming to ask forgiveness.

Sheikh Abdool Hamid said, “Yes, but you can ask forgiveness from the comfort of your own home? So why come here? Why not take that money you were going to spend and give it in charity?”

And that’s true.

But in the end he quoted the Quran and said that the reason we come is that we might learn something that will be of benefit to us.

Things we couldn’t have learned while in the comfort of our own homes. He talked about getting us out of our comfort zones.

And I began to see the whole experience in a different light.

So what did I learn from my Hajj?

I think the biggest lesson was that I went, hoping to make a ‘perfect’ Hajj, so that on the day of judgment I could face God and say, “See? I did it perfectly, now you gotta let me in to heaven.”


I forgot that it’s not by ritual that we get to heaven.  It’s by God’s mercy.

We do the ritual because we are committed to trying to please God by following the practices of his Prophet (peace be upon him) as precisely as possible. And doing so, is an act of worship.

I think I learned humility. At least I hope so.

One thing for sure.

I’d love to go back and do a better Hajj. (See how I didn’t say perfect? *g*)