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HAJ PREPARATION BEFORE YOU LEAVE


General

Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam. All Muslims who fulfill certain conditions must perform Haj at least once in their lifetime. What are these conditions? Are there any prerequisites of Haj? The answers to these and many other similar questions can help you in making decisions, and in planning for Haj in a better and more efficient fashion.

Who Must Perform Haj

Every Muslim who fulfills the following conditions must perform Haj at least once in his lifetime:

  1. He must be of sound mind, and in full control of his mental faculties.

  2. He must be old enough, and mature enough to understand the full import, and significance of what he is setting out to do.

  3. He must be financially sound enough to be able not only to bear all of his expenses for Haj but also to provide adequately for his dependents during his absence and until his return.

Prerequisites Of Haj

Since Haj is an act of worship, it must be performed in peace, and with single minded devotion. There are a number of simple, yet important, things you can do to get in the right frame of mind for this unique experience. All of these are self-evident and are based on common sense. They are reiterated below for completeness of the discussion and as a reminder:

  1. Your intention must be to perform Haj solely for the sake of Allah. Considerations of pleasing or impressing others with your show of piety should never be a factor.

  2. All Haj expenses must be paid out of money obtained through legitimate (Halal) means. Money obtained through illegitimate or doubtful means is not acceptable.

  3. All of your debts and financial obligations must be fully discharged before you start your journey and, where necessary, a written acknowledgement of the transaction obtained for future use.

  4. You must make an honest effort to resolve your outstanding differences with others and seek forgiveness from those you may have hurt in any way in the past. This is based on specific instructions of Rasool Allah (pbuh) and must be followed for the Haj to be meaningful.

Preparations For Haj

Since Haj is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people, the importance of early and adequate preparation cannot be over-emphasized. There is a considerable investment of money, time, and physical effort required for the Pilgrimage to be fulfilling and meaningful. Information has to be collected, itineraries must be worked out, and documents have to be readied. The purpose of these preparations is not only to minimize physical discomfort, emotional aggravation and monetary expenses, but also to enable you to perform Haj in relative peace of heart and mind. Therefore, it makes sense to be as ready as possible for this momentous journey of self-discovery, self-appraisal, and spiritual enlightenment.

Arrangements must be started early enough so that you are not rushed for time in the few days before your voyage commences. The paperwork, shopping, finalizing your travel and residential arrangements inside Saudi Arabia etc., consume a great deal of time. Three to four months ahead of your actual date of departure is a good estimate for starting your preparations. A knowledgeable friend who has performed Haj recently, can also guide you in your preparations. Be sure to apply a "factor of safety" to their recommendations and allow yourself a somewhat greater period of preparation than they advise!

The following guidelines are intended to get you started in the right direction. Since individual needs and preferences vary widely you will, in all probability, add to the list as you prepare for the journey:

  1. Vaccinations
  2. You will need certain vaccinations for the issuance of a Haj visa. The World Health Organization (WHO) issues annual guidelines and requirements concerning vaccinations for travel to various countries including Saudi Arabia.

    The Saudi Government requirements are usually stricter than the WHO recommendations. For instance, whereas the WHO recommended immunization against only meningococcal meningitis for travel to Saudi Arabia in 1997, the Saudi authorities required immunization against cholera also.

    Your doctor may recommend additional vaccinations in the light of his knowledge and experience. The writer's doctor (a specialist in infectious diseases) recommended and administered immunization against typhoid fever, polio, pneumonia, diphtheria/tetanus (D/T) and malaria.

    Be sure to obtain an official Vaccination Record Book from your Vaccination Physician. Have your physician fill it out, sign it, and stamp it. Anything less may be unacceptable to the Saudi visa authorities. Keep the vaccination record book with your other important documents and take it with you to Saudi Arabia. You never know when you may need it.

  3. Documents
    1. Saudi Government regulations require your passport to be valid for at least six months past the date of your departure. If it is not, have its validity extended or get a new passport well ahead of time. It takes several weeks for a passport to be issued or extended under normal circumstances.

    2. You will need a round-trip ticket to Saudi Arabia for a Haj visa to be issued.

    3. Have an additional four to five copies of the photos made and take them with you to Saudi Arabia. They may be needed for ID cards issued by your Muallim and other Saudi documents and procedures. Having spare pictures on hand will save you the time, aggravation, and expense involved in having them made in a foreign land.

    4. Prepare a Last Will and Testament and have it properly notarized. Consult an attorney if it is a complicated will, or if you have concerns about your assets and property in case of something untoward happening to you during Haj. Leave the original in a safety deposit box accessible to a member of your family. The executor/executrix of your will should also be given a copy, and your attorney should probably retain a copy also. Have him explain to you, and the immediate members of your family affected by the will, the probate laws of your country and advise them as to the best course of action in case of your death abroad.

  4. General
    1. You will be exerting considerable physical effort during Haj. All Haj rites (Tawaaf, Sai, Rummy etc.) require a great deal of strength and endurance. The constant crush of hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims, each trying to perform the same rites at the same time in limited spaces and very hot weather, compounds the demands on your physical conditioning and mental toughness.

    2. In order to be prepared for the rigors expected of you, you must be in good physical shape. To achieve this, start a program of brisk walking and jogging for twenty to thirty minutes a day about three to four months before your departure. Gradually increase this regimen to an hour every day or every other day.

      After a few days of walking/jogging start reciting audibly the Talbiyah and the prayers for Tawaf. This will keep your mind occupied during the monotony of the exercise, and will also help you get in a peaceful frame of mind. Concentrating on the meaning of the prayers will help you get ready for the actual Haj as well.

    3. Obtain and study books on Haj and its rites if you wish to know more about its history and traditions. Familiarize yourself with all aspects of the Haj process. Memorize the prayers you will be reciting and also learn their meaning. It requires very little effort to do so and it is so much more fulfilling and rewarding when you understand what you recite. It serves little purpose to recite prayers mindlessly with no comprehension of the words spoken.

    4. The more you know about Haj, its obligations, and prohibitions, the more comfortable and at peace you will feel during the whole process. You will be confident of what you are doing, and will also be independent of the advice and prompting of your friends or a mutawwif. Your prayers will bear the hallmark of the single-mindedness and devotion born of knowledge and confidence. You will also be able to help and guide your less knowledgeable companions, answer their questions, and allay their fears.

      Some people do not take the trouble of learning the rites and prayers of Haj themselves and, consequently, depend on professional mutawwifs for the performance of these rites. You will find such people performing the Tawaaf under the leadership of these professionals, trying to keep up with their "leader" in the milling throngs of pilgrims around the Qaaba, and at the same time, trying to repeat the prayers intoned by their mutawwif! With a little bit of effort, you can avoid the problems and frustrations of trying to follow someone else closely enough in a vast, moving crowd to listen to and parrot his intonations.

    5. A female pilgrim must travel in the company of her husband or a mahram i.e., a member of her immediate family with whom her marriage is expressly prohibited by the shariah e.g., father, brother, son, uncle, etc. A female pilgrim, who is forty five years of age or older, may be allowed to travel with a group of pilgrims without a mahram if a family in the group sponsors her.

  5. Things To Take With You
  6. The following is a fairly comprehensive list of things you will need to take with you to make your journey, and subsequent stay in Saudi Arabia safe, convenient, and relatively care-free. Since personal needs and preferences vary, you may want to make changes in this list to suit your own requirements.

    1. Ihram
    2. The Ihram consists of two pieces of white, unsewn and plain cloth, either 100% cotton or light terry-cloth. These are cool to wear and also provide for better absorption of the heavy perspiration you will inevitably experience during Haj. The sizes of the two pieces are as follows:

      Bottom Part : 45" (1 1/4 yd) x 120" (3 1/3 yd)

      Top Part : 45" (1 1/4 yd) x 72" (2 yd)

      1. Tear off two, two to three inch wide strips of a sufficient length from the same material. Use one as a belt to secure the bottom portion of the Ihram. Keep the other as a spare. An ordinary belt or fanny belt may also be used for the same purpose, but a strip of Ihram cloth is a lot more practical, and unobtrusive. It keeps the Ihram firmly in place and, unlike a fanny belt or pouch, does not have to be inspected by the police at the entrance to the Haram ash Shareef.
      2. Tear off an eight to ten inch wide strip of sufficient length from the same material. Use it to secure money, credit cards, airline ticket, etc. around your midriff under the Ihram. Use a plastic sandwich bag inside this make-shift pouch to keep these things dry, and secure. This is as pilfer-proof as possible and,unlike a belt or fanny pouch, does not attract the unwanted attention of pickpockets and thieves. You may still use a fanny pouch to carry other things such as medication, pen, a handkerchief, and a small amount of money for daily use. Your fanny pouch will be inspected by the police at the entrance to Haram ash Shareef in Makkah and Medinah. Be patient and understanding as the police are only doing their job.

    3. Medication

    4. Gastrointestinal and respiratory infections are very common during Haj . People from all over the world bring with them all kinds of infections, and the unavoidable closeness of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims facilitates easy spread of these illnesses. Fatigue, and lack of sleep from the physically demanding regimen of Haj rites as well as the over-enthusiastic exertions in prayers and devotions, lower one's immunity and resistance, thereby making one more vulnerable to disease. However, you can take elementary precautions to minimize your chances of becoming ill, and also to ensure that you will get back on your feet faster should you get sick. Getting and staying in good physical shape by regular exercise prior to your departure is a good first step. You can also carry certain medicines with you for use later.

      1. Ask your doctor to prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic to be taken prophylactically (i.e., as a preventive measure) throughout your stay in Saudi Arabia. The writer's doctor prescribed 250 mg of the antibiotic CIPRO to be taken daily. He found it to be very helpful and effective as he was about the only person in his group of approximately seventy five people who remained healthy and free of all infections during his stay. CIPRO is easily available in Saudi Arabia. Some people were prescribed AMOXICILLIN by Saudi doctors and pharmacists with good results. Most medicines are available over the counter in Saudi Arabia, and even pharmacists readily prescribe medication.
      2. Carry a reasonable supply of over-the-counter drugs such as :

    5. Waist Pouch (Fanny Pouch)

    6. Keep valuables (documents, money, travellers' checks, keys, credit cards, etc.) in the fanny pouch around your waist at all times. Do not ever leave your home without it. Be especially careful and wary in crowded places. Unfortunately, there are thieves and pickpockets even inside Haram ash Shareef! Hold on to the pouch with your hand in crowds e.g., while doing Tawaaf or when visiting Al Masjid un Nabawi in Medinah. Buy a good quality fanny belt or pouch. It is a small but a very good investment.
       

    7. Suitcase

    8. Hard-cased, high quality luggage with a built-in locking system is highly recommended. Do not use a soft, vinyl suitcase with outside hasps for locks. Both the suitcase as well as the locks can be easily cut and the contents stolen. Many people have the mistaken notion that every one in and around the holy cities of Makkah and Medinah and Al Haram ash Shareef is a God fearing, devoted Muslim. Therefore, they feel immune from criminal activity. Unfortunately, that is just not true. Inspite of the severe punishments awarded to convicted criminals by Saudi authorities, crime does exist. Pickpockets and crooks find it easy to prey on unsuspecting pilgrims whose guard is down because of their preoccupation with Haj activities.

      Always keep your suitcase locked and do not ever leave money, important papers or other valuables in it. Your residential room will be periodically cleaned by the cleaning staff, and the best way to keep every one honest is not to offer any temptation. Take two sets of keys for your suitcase. Keep one set in the fanny pouch, and the other in a separate, and safe location.
       

    9. Money

    10. Take a sufficient amount of currency to cover your projected expenses. It is difficult to recommend an amount since individual needs, travel and living arrangements, shopping plans etc. vary widely. Only you can decide on the amount to carry. In any event,do not advertise to others either the amount of money you possess or its place of safekeeping. You can never be too careful.The following are some useful guidelines in this area:

      1. Have most of your money in the form of travellers' cheques. They are safe to carry, can be cashed almost anywhere, and are easily replaced in case of theft or loss. Since your passport will have been taken from you for the duration of your stay by the Saudi authorities in Jeddah, the ID card issued by your Muallim will most probably be used for cheque cashing purposes. The importance of this card cannot be over-emphasized. Take good care of it!

      2. Besides the Saudi banks, the travellers' cheques can also be cashed at the numerous "sarrafs" (money changers) located in the market in Makkah and Medinah.

      3. Carry a small amount of Saudi Riyals with you. A minimum of one thousand riyals is recommended. You can purchase them at almost all currency exchanges located at airports. This Saudi currency will help you take care of your immediate expenses upon your arrival until you become familiar with the local system. You will also save time and aggravation associated with making trips to the banks to cash your cheques. All banks tend to be crowded during the Haj season and may also be closed at certain times of the day and certain days of the week.
      4. Take only one credit card with you to minimize problems in case of its loss. Make sure that you can use it to charge telephone calls also. Do not forget to carry the information required to contact the credit card issuing institution in case of its theft or misplacement.
      5. Take some Indian currency also with you. You can exchange it for Saudi currency everywhere in emergencies, and may need it immediately upon your return to India.

    11. Clothing

    12. Saudi Arabia is a very hot part of the world most of the year. The presence of two to three million pilgrims during Haj in rather congested spaces with the inevitable pushing and shoving adds to the discomfort. The Haj rites, ziyarat (i.e., visiting places of religious or historical interest), shopping, etc. require considerable walking and physical exertion. Consequently, light and airy clothes for street wear are the best.

      Take enough changes of clothes to make your stay comfortable, but be careful not to overburden yourself with unnecessary clothes. In the hot Saudi Arabian weather, one set of clothes lasts only a day. Professional laundry facilities are available in Saudi Arabia, though coin-operated laundries are a rarity. Getting your clothes cleaned professionally is quite expensive, particularly as the prices tend to sky-rocket during the Haj season.

      Some do-it-yourself light laundry may be necessary and is, indeed, highly recommended. It is a good idea to pack some laundry detergent, and wash your Ihram and other light items yourself. You will have a considerable amount of spare time before and after Haj. Use it for "housekeeping".

      For street wear, Indo-Pak shalwar-qamees, and kurta-pajama as well as the Saudi thoub (a one-piece head-to-toe garment) are ideal and are recommended. Thoubs are easily available everywhere in Saudi Arabia.

      Depending on the time of the year, you may want to pack a light sweater for early morning wear in Medinah, which tends to be cool at that time of day in November and December.
       

    13. Foods/Snacks/Water

    14. There is no real need for you to carry items of food with you. Everything is readily available in Saudi Arabia at a reasonable cost. Saudi authorities do not allow perishable food items to be brought into the country in significant quantities anyway. Packaged and canned products in limited quantities, however, may be brought in by tourists and pilgrims. For emergencies and during periods of long waiting (e.g., at Jeddah airport) carry-on food may come in useful and handy. All kinds of food are available at Jeddah airport also. Some people may, however, prefer to use their own food immediately upon arrival in a foreign land. Some general guidelines are given below:

      1. A couple of packs of cookies and crackers are helpful and provide a good snack. Remove them from their boxes; they occupy much less space as individual rolls. Granola bars, packaged dates, fig newtons and similar items are recommended also.
      2. All varieties of fruits are easily obtainable everywhere in Saudi Arabia and provide much needed flavor and nutrition. Peelable fruits (bananas, oranges etc.) are recommended to minimize exposure to infection from insanitary handling. Wash all fruits carefully before use, and avoid fruits and food exposed to the elements.
      3. Soft drinks of all kinds are obtainable in Saudi Arabia at all major and minor shopping establishments, and are entirely safe to drink. Bottled water is cheap, and should be the only water you drink.Tap water or water from any other source (except, of course, the Zam-Zam water) should not be used for drinking purposes.
      4. Milk, yogurt, buttermilk, ice cream, and other dairy products are widely available, and should be liberally used to supplement your diet.

    15. Miscellaneous

    16. The following is a list of items of daily use you should carry with you. They will make your life easier, and your stay in Saudi Arabia more comfortable.

      1. multi-blade pocket knife, can opener, nail clipper, small scissors.
      2. tooth brush, tooth paste, disposable razors, shaving cream, small mirror, comb, toilet paper (2 rolls), napkins, soap (2 cakes), plastic soap dish, small shampoo bottle, deodorant, chapstick, small vaseline, tooth picks.
      3. pocket Quran, tasbeeh, pen, pencil, notebook.
      4. slippers (flip-flops, thongs, chappals), sneakers, folding umbrella, sunglasses (or clip-on sunshades), small flash light with extra batteries, travel alarm clock, elastic eye-glass holder, baseball cap, 10 zippered sandwich bags, 4 garbage bags, plastic spoons, laundry detergent, 6 plastic grocery bags.
      5. towels (2 large, 2 small), musalla (i.e. prayer rug), one heavy sheet, inflatable pillow.


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