Practical Tips for Pilgrims
by: Zara Syed | Islamic Insights

Hajj, Pillar of FaithHajj is one of the 10 branches of Islam, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca that most Muslims long to embark upon at least once in their lives if circumstances permit. For those of us who have already been, we always tell others who are about to depart for Hajj where to shop, which fast food outlets to dine at, and which hotels to stay or not stay in while in Mecca and Medina. But here we have complied for you a list of more pertinent and relevant tips for pilgrims-to-be.

Make a List of People to Pray For
When departing for Hajj, everyone from family to random strangers will ask you to pray for them. Of course at the time, we all say "of course I will pray for you!" Some of these people ask us to do specific Du'as for them, and indeed will ask us if we have prayed for them when we return from Hajj! It's a good idea to make a list of people to pray for in a small notebook, jotting down what it is they wanted you to pray for them. Sometimes at Hajj when looking at the divine beauty and magnificence of the Holy Ka'ba or Jannat al-Baqi, we become selfish in asking for only our own desires. As Lady Fatima (peace be upon her) taught Imam Hasan (peace be upon him), it is important to always pray for others before we pray for ourselves.

Hajj Hijab
Women should be extremely careful when selecting their Ihrams. Most single-layered white Hijabs and garments are often slightly transparent. Please ensure that your Ihram is not transparent - perhaps wear it at home in the sun and ask a family member if they can see the length of your ponytail, the shape of your ears, or the outline of your legs. Similarly, thin material white sock which even slightly reveal the toes should not be warn. If you don't have any other socks and you realize last minute that your socks are transparent - double up. Wear an extra layer on top and it should do the job.

After completing the seven rounds between the hills of Safa and Marwa, pilgrims usually cut or shave their hair. A little bit of hair is usually snipped for a woman, and this is often done in public around non-Mahrams. Ideally it should be cut in private, or if cut in public, it should be done carefully under the Hijab, ensuring that the Hijab isn't taken off or the hair accidently revealed to non-Mahrams.

Even though your Ihram is probably long sleeved and your Hijab comes down to your knees, invest in a few pairs of "sleeves". There are many times during Hajj when you will need to raise your hands,for example, when starting a new round of Tawaf, one many raise his/her hand towards a corner of the Ka'ba, when stoning the devil in Mina, when holding on to a taller person in front of you, or even when adjusting your own hijab - we see our shirt sleeves slipping down and our wrists revealed. Wearing "sleeves" will prevent the wrists being exposed, ensuring perfect Hijab during the entire pilgrimage!

While performing Tawaf, be sure to check your Fiqh regarding where Tawaf can be performed in order to be valid, for example, inside Maqam Ibrahim, outside Maqam Ibrahim, or on the roof of the Masjid. Take the time out to research the Ka'ba and what each side/corner of it represents, so when you go around it, you know the full significance of this Divine house - for example, the miraculous crack from where Imam Ali's (peace be upon him) mother entered the Ka'ba or the Black Stone. Also, there is a huge crowd around all sides of the Ka'ba, so one should be careful and go with a small group when going to touch the holy walls. However, it is extremely important that women be accompanied by their Mahram men while attempting to touch the holy stone or the door of the Ka'ba, as this is where the most rush is and there are mainly men surrounding these areas.

Know Your Fiqh!
During Hajj we often perform the rituals in a group without a religious leader at all times. In this case, one must be careful of relying on the advice of Islamic laws of other pilgrims who may be following a different Marja than us. For example, for some men, while in Ihram, they cannot be under shelter, i.e. in a bus. For men following another Islamic Marja, being under shelter is allowed. Followers of Ayatollah Sistani can watch the online Hajj lessons with Shaikh Safdar Razi.

Don't Let Exhaustion Overcome You
At some point during Hajj, you are bound to feel extremely exhausted. For most, this feeling comes during the middle of the Hajj trip, when you haven't slept a full eight hours for about 10 days now. When this happens, there may be times when you have a chance to go to the Ka'ba or do ziyarat of other places in Mecca and Medina, but you willingly refuse to go. It is good to rest for a little while, but don't let this overcome you. Remember, every time you offer your prayers in the Holy Mosques, the reward is thousands of more times than if you were to pray elsewhere. After Hajj, most people regret offering a single prayer in their hotel rooms when they could have prayed in such sacred places only minutes away.

Never Miss an Opportunity to Worship
In your spare time, go to the holy sites and offer any missed prayers you may have, offer extra prayers, or pray on behalf of a deceased relative or friend. An easy way to make time to engage in as much worship as possible is to leave home for the mosque half an hour or so earlier than usual and stay after prayers, when the crowd disappears. Doing this every day during your stay can get you anything, starting from 10 hours of extra worship time!

Remain Calm
To remain calm sounds so simple that before Hajj, most people don't even give "keeping their cool" a second thought. It sounds easy, so we think it is easy. However, when you're being pushed and shoved to the extent that breathing becomes difficult and your face is literally pressed against a stranger's back, we can't help but feel like expressing a little anger and being a tiny bit violent. However, if you ever find yourself in this situation, the best thing to do is remain quiet and not react at all. Force yourself to remain calm, and you will be thankful for your decision later on.

Paying Respects to Holy Personalities
It is common for many to arrive in Mecca and Medina completely unaware of the holy personalities who rest in these cities. Be sure to research where the family members and righteous companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) are buried, so you don't pass them without paying your respects. When offering salam to the Prophet in Masjid al-Nabi and the Imams in Baqi, try to concentrate and pay proper attention and respect, because for the first time in our lives, we are physically standing only a few feet away from our beloveds. Such opportunities do not come past us every day!

Visiting Graveyards and Remembering the Deceased
When Imam Ali al-Ridha (peace be upon him) was asked, "Does a believer who has passed away know those people who visit the grave?", the Imam replied, "Of course, he is acquainted with those who visit him as long as they are sitting beside the grave. As soon as they get up from his grave side and leave, the fear takes over the person in the grave because of his leaving." (Wasail al-Shia)

For most of us, during everyday life, we hardly have the time to visit all our friends, let alone those deceased friends among us. Amazingly during Hajj, most people will visit at least four or five graveyards several times throughout the weeks. Remember to recite Surah Qadr 10 times and Surah Yaseen for all the deceased in the graveyards, as narrations say that by doing so, we may just be rewarded with all the good deeds of every single person buried in that graveyard!

Dates and ZamZam
Everyone who goes to Hajj almost always comes back home with Holy ZamZam water and dates. Be sure to "seal" your ZamZam water in a plastic packet for around 10 Riyals to avoid any leakage by the time you reach home. (Cling-wrap can also be used; however, this does not protect a leaking bottle's water from eventually dripping on the floor.) Also, if you're able to, take extra water back home and be sure to share it with others.

Before buying bulk dates, especially those small packaged ones to distribute back home, buy only one packet, open it, and try it. Many times pilgrims buy dates and come home to find either sand or insects in the dates and are unable to give them to others. Also, when touring the outskirts of Medina, try to look for "Ajwa" dates. These are a little expensive, but the locals say that all Ajwa dates come from a date tree that was first planted by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) over 1400 years ago!

Reciting the Holy Qur'an
At Hajj, we may not find much time to recite the Holy Qur'an, but it is a good idea to set a goal of how much of the Qur'an you wish to recite within the Holy Masjids. The benefits of reciting the entire Qur'an on the hill of Safa are many! However, if it is impractical to sit on Safa because the crowd is huge, try to recite Surah Tawheed three times there, as we are told that doing so is just as though we have recited the entire Qur'an!

Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) said: "By Allah, he who withholds his wealth from helping a needy believer will never taste the food of heaven nor drink from the drink sealed there." (Bihar al-Anwar) During our stay in Mecca and Medina, we will most probably come across beggars. However, be careful of the (usually African) child beggars who have amputated body parts. Rumor has it that they are kidnapped orphans working as beggars, giving all the money to their "bosses". You may find it more worthy to distribute some food or new clothes/t-shirts to the children rather than giving them money. Perhaps remain equipped at all times by carrying a packet of candy to give to the beggar children. Others still may prefer to give them money. Either way, be sure to give charity in some form during the actual Hajj.

Fasting at Hajj
If you need to make up any missed fasts and you have the energy to do so at Hajj, try fasting for at least one day during you trip. We know that fasting itself is such a great act of worship, imagine the rewards in store for worshiping in the Holy Masjids or speaking to the Infallibles and offering your greetings to them while fasting!

Dua Kumayl on Thursdays
Around Maghrib time on Thursdays in Medina, Du'a Kumayl is recited by the crowd on loud speaker. This crowd mainly consists of the followers of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) and they sit between Jannat al-Baqi and Masjid al-Nabi. This time is also known as "government alert time", and many armed soldiers are also present to control the crowd. It is a great spiritual experience when you are in a crowd of thousands all reciting Du'a Kumayl, so do participate!

Imam Musa al-Kadhim (peace be upon him) said: "Among your most compulsory duties towards your Muslim brother is that you conceal nothing from him which profits him either in this life or in the Hereafter." (Bihar al-Anwar) We hope that these Hajj tips will benefit all pilgrims, so please share this with everyone you may know who may be departing for Hajj!