Tag Archives: pilgrimage

Hajj Tips

Primarily for those who are going for the first time based on my first and thus far only time! Feel free to add your tips in the comments.

Drink lots of water

I found that whenever I got the start of a headache it was due to the lack of water, this is a warning sign that you are starting to dehydrate so drink plenty of water and drink it immediately, always keep a bottle with you and always top up at every opportunity. The Saudi government water fountains are good, we drank lots from them with no ill effects.

Wet toilet seat?

OK, so you are not going to see many toilet seats in the wudu areas for the Haramain, however there are some western-style toilets and more often than not they are soaking wet. What I tended to do was to hose down the seat with the istanja device, and gave the seat a really good wash. You can then be safe in the knowledge that the wetness is as a result of the water rather than that other stuff. If I had to use the squat toilet then I would also do the same. Be aware that, usually, there is no toilet paper, this means either carrying some with you or just get used to doing istanja properly with water and water only. Whilst the facilities at both the Harams are quite good and well maintained, you’ll find that the port-a-loos in Mina are stomach churningly nasty, there is really not much you can do about them, you just have to block your nose somehow or just get used to it, remember you’ll be in Ihram at Mina so you can’t perfume yourself either. Same rule applies prior to using the facilities, hose before you goes!

Wudu

Keep at least a 0.5 litre bottle of water with you, this is your portable wudu device. If you use the water frugally you can complete your wudu with this amount of water. This comes in handy in places where there is a queue for the wudu facilities (Mina) or if you are on the road. Usually helps if someone can pour the water for you.

Feet

Your poor feet will take a real beating and you will be in discomfort. Us poor Western Muslims, with our soft, pampered and dainty feet are just not used to it. It is a good idea to take Vaseline to give your feet a good coating when they get dry. It’s a good idea to paste them with it at night, take some athlete’s foot cream or spray and some blister plasters which you can get from Boots the Chemist, you may want to check the fiqh position on using these as they have to stay on for a few days. Rest the poor things at every opportunity and invest in a good pair of sandals, you won’t regret it. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your feet will adjust but it is very painful. Just as well it is all expiation for one’s sins!

Toiletries

When in the state of ihram it is forbidden to wear fragrances or even wash with toiletries that are fragranced. Therefore, you should take with you fragrance-free toiletries such as the range made by Simple.

Also be advised that when you are in ihram NOT to use the soap in the soap dispensers that are there in the Haram’s wudu area, these were fragranced when I was there.

Medicine

Aside from any prescription medication you may have, I found it useful to keep the following: paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets, Zantac (for heartburn and other mild digestive ailments), some diarrhoea tablets (I didn’t need to take these when I was there), Chloraseptic throat spary and Vicks mentholated. Lemsip or Beechams cold and flu remedy should be in your kit as well. You can get most of this stuff out there but it is handy to have it on you when you go. It is always prudent to keep a small first aid kit as well.

Expect to get a sore throat and a cold or flu, there is no escape!

Communication

Mobile phone coverage is generally very good and it would be best if you obtained a Saudi SIM card before you went and gave your number out to near and dear ones. SaudiSim is one such company that you can get a SIM from now, I am not sure how they compare with any others providers. You can top up credit in most shops and places in Saudi.

If you have a flashy phone with all the bells and whistles leave it behind, you don’t need it! Get yourself a simple Nokia such as a 1112 it has 380 hours standby and 5 hours talk time or what I took with me the 3310 which has similar talk and standby times. Make sure you get the phone UNLOCKED before you go otherwise it will not take the Saudi Sim! The appeal of these phones is that you don’t have to worry about charging them up every day, you get about 2 weeks of standy time. This is very important if you are going with family or in a group, you always need to be contactable. Another thing you should invest in for your mobile is a good neckband. It is convenient and ideal in the melee of the Haram.

We were thinking of taking a set of walkie talkies that have a 6km range but not sure how the Saudi Authorities would deal with them.

You can forget about the Internet, there are places where you can hook up to the net but really, you can live without it, I didn’t access or miss it at all in the time I was there.

Food

Most places serve good food and we did not suffer any ill affects, even the “grubby” roadside cafés were good. There is a range of food from the aforementioned cafés to your more recognisable fast-food chains. McDonald’s is strangely missing from the haram but there is Burger King, Pizza Hut and KFC. Hardees is a good alternative to Burger King, in fact I thought Hardees was far more tasty. Expect to pay the prices for these that you would back home so these are not really an everyday option unless you can really afford it (aside from the health implications), I recommend some Baskin & Robbins milk-shake too, hmmmm sooo gooood. The Middle East’s premier fried chicken outlet al-Baik is a worth a visit, it’s not located in the immediate vicinity of the Haram and you’ll find it near Jamraat, be warned it is crammed and very busy. There are plenty of other good options in the shopping centres so there is not much to worry about when it comes to your daily victuals. Mina is an exception, there are a couple of roadside “shops” and some nice African ladies boil eggs and cook chips on the side of the roads. You can get tea, drinks, fruit, bread, tinned fish, processed cheese etc so you can make do and will have to exist on very little.

Bag

Carry a compact bag such as a rucksack or an over the shoulder one where you can keep a small Qur’an, Hajj notes etc. Keep a pen and a small notepad and a bottle of water. Get yourself a compact prayer mat as well. The bag will be subject to search in and out of the Grand Mosques so needs to be easily openable. Try not to carry what you don’t need.

Can’t think of anything else at the moment.

Hajj: The Yearning Made Clear

Before I performed the Hajj in 2007, I used to be very critical of those who would go every year, I thought that this was very selfish since the numbers of hujjaj increase year upon year and that if you have completed this sacred duty once and fulfilled your obligation you should go for umrah instead to lessen the human load and burden on this momentous occasion.

I now understand why those whom Allah has given the tawfiq financially go and want to go every year. There is an even deeper yearning in my heart to go again, to experience this amazing event another time. Even the physical hardship has a sweetness to it that is hard to describe, I wish to stand before the Ka’aba, at Maqam al-Ibrahim, to perform the Sa’iy and once again feel that pain and anguish of Hagar and then to drink deep from the well of Zam Zam. I wish to visit The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and to give him my Salams and to soak up the ambience and atmosphere of the holy places.

So now I know why, may Allah bless those who will be going this year and may He accept their ibadat and may He answer their prayers. Amin.

Hajj: Hajj Tour Operators

Many of you have read about my Hajj experience and without a doubt it was amazing and I have no complaints about Hajj, how can you have a complaint about the Hajj itself when you are the guest of Allah? Having said that, when you pay for a service you have to demand what you pay for and you expect that those from whom you have purchased the service from give you what you have paid for. This is true in secular law and it is equally true in the fiqh (jurisprudence) of trade. People invest a substantial amount of money and an immense amount of emotion to make this trip and those providing the service should not take this lightly.

People are correct when they say that Hajj is not a holiday and people should not consider it as such and people are correct to say that as a hajji you have to put up with hardship and discomfort for Hajj is difficult and physically demanding and things don’t always go to plan. However, this should not be seen as a license for Hajj Tour Operators (HTOs) to take advantage of the situation in order to maximise their profits. Let’s face it, most HTOs are in it to earn money and to make a profit, they are businesses not charities. This is a lucrative business, my guess is that most HTOs earn upwards of £500 per hajji in most cases, if you have 200 hajjis in your group that is a cool £100,000 on a turnover of about £400,000 (if the average is £2000 per haji). Now, no one begrudges a businessman his fair dues, I don’t care if they earn £500 per hajji or £1000 per hajji, what I do have a problem with is cutting corners to maximise profits and this is an activity most HTOs indulge in. The biggest cost for the Hajj is the accommodation since you need between two and four if not five weeks of accommodation depending on which package you take and this is where HTOs can manipulate the situation to their advantage. The trick here is that when they block book a hotel the HTO pays a flat rate but the more people the HTO can squeeze in the more money he makes, the maths is simple. A room costs £50 per night (and I seriously doubt it is that much) and £600 for 14 days. If the HTO can get 5 hajjis in there the affective cost is £10 per hajji per day and £140 for the 14 days. Flight cost is no more than £600 probably cheaper since these are chartered flights and accommodation in Madina is probably no more than £300 at the most for a week. Most HTOs don’t include food or Qurbani.

I knocked up a little spreadsheet to give me an idea of how they save money, this is based on an “economy” package as HTOs like to call it but with some of them you get the same package no matter how much you paid (as was the case in our group).

My spreadsheet is based on 1 to 5 people sharing a room, that’s right 5 people sharing a room, sometimes you get 6 sharing a room. The way it works is that a room that is normally a single occupancy they will get three people in and try and squeeze in a fourth, in a double room they will squeeze from 4 up to 6 people and these rooms are not big by any stretch of the imagination:

Economies of scale
Item £ per person 2 people 4 people 5 people
Flight 600 1200 2400 3000
Accommodation Madina (7 days) 280 140 70 56
Accommodation Makkah (14 days) 350 140 87.5 70
Excursions 60 60 60 60
Costs Totals 1290 1575 2617.50 3186
Price of Trip to hajji 2000 4000 8000 10000
Gross Profit 710 2425 5382.50 6814

Ok, I know it is over simplified, I know it is probably inaccurate and I know there are other expenses HTOs have but it is just to give you an idea of the economies of scale these guys are working with. I am overestimating some of the figures particularly the accommodation, since based on my experience the accommodation that my family got (in Makkah) was barely even third world standards and there is no way that it would cost anything more than £15 per night at best (and I am being really generous).

I know that a good deal of effort goes into organising the Hajj trips and there are good HTOs out there but this whole industry needs a good shake up and regulation. There should be some kind of accreditation scheme and some auditing and review of services every few years. Like with most things the bad ones always give the good ones a bad name.

As I said before, so much emotion is invested in Hajj and the HTOs will use emotional blackmail to keep you quiet saying things like “Hajji sabr”, “Hajj is supposed to be difficult”, “Don’t spoil your Hajj by complaining”, “you are not on holiday what do you expect?” and other choice phrases that is designed deflect any challenge to them.

There are two issues here and don’t be fooled by a HTO trying to blur them. Firstly there is the Hajj itself and secondly there is the service you purchase to get you there, the two are not the same, you do not buy a Hajj and the HTO does not sell you a Hajj. The HTO wants you to believe that it is one and the same so they can shirk their duties and obligations towards you under the “Hajj is difficult/these things happen in Hajj” catch all phrase. Don’t be fooled. If they run a business then they should be responsible for the service they provide or fail to provide. Under UK law they are no different to a holiday package tour operator, the service expectation is the same.

If you have been to Hajj whether it is this year or in previous years and you feel you have been dealt a poor service or didn’t get what you paid for, or were placed in accommodation that put your health, well being and safety at risk, then you should make a report to your local trading standards authority.

We spoke to a representative of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who was in Makkah about our predicament and he told us that every year they get 100s of complaints from Hajjis in Saudi but when they return to the UK hardly anyone pursues the matter further and this makes matters worse for future Hajjis because nothing gets done and standards don’t improve.

Interestingly there was a programme aired today on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours Programme about this very issue, they had Gareth Thomas Consumer Minister on who was discuss, ing the problems with rogue operators, you can here today’s programme on the You and Yours micro site on the BBC website.