LifeStyle & Health

Hajj diary: The difficult and exhausting Umrah due to Covid

Covid-19 is the most vile and merciless virus. Even after quarantine and treatment, it leaves some trace of itself behind.

I would not wish Covid on my worst enemy. As I mentioned in my previous post, Covid is a real b**** and a hypocrite or even a spy, because even after it leaves your body, its soldiers are there to fight you for the control of your body.

It is up to you to fight this dreaded virus and make sure you come out winning, otherwise it will consume you.

I contracted Covid in 2020 and I hated it because it left me with shortness of breath and weak eyesight.

When I got invited for Hajj by the Religious Attaché of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad Ashour, I was concerned that the side effects of Covid would affect my beautiful journey. But that worry turned to glee because I was going to be in the holy land and God will protect me.

My family was also concerned about whether I would manage, but I told them I won’t let this virus beat me. I had more resolve in me to say “to hell with Covid”.

The shortness of breath can be taxing. Walking short distances is a mission, coupled with excessive sweating. But I’ve been winning this war and I made a decision that it’s not going to stop me.

As I mentioned in the last entry, we got to our hotel very late and decided to perform our Umrah after we got some rest.

I slept in my Ihraam and got some rest, waking at about 11am after going to bed at about 6am after the early morning prayer.

I had initially decided to perform my Umrah at about 6pm, but one of my roommates decided to go after the afternoon prayer, so I joined him and his wife and another member of our group.

We summoned a taxi to take us to the Haram which was about 2.7km away from our hotel. The journey was pleasant amid heavy traffic congestion, buses, taxis, Ubers and buses all going to the same place.

The ride costs us about SR30, which is about R130. The one thing that you become aware of during Hajj is that taxi fares and haircuts become more expensive as the days of Hajj draw closer.

The taxi dropped us off about 300 metres from the Haram, opposite King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s palace in Makkah.

It was a very hot day, around 40 degrees Celcius and to perform Umrah in such scorching temperatures is really difficult. Many will be asking why did I go in the afternoon. Well it’s simple, I saw on TV that the Haram looked relatively empty and it was an opportune time to go, as I learnt from past experience.

I went onto the mataf or circumambulation area with my gaze lowered and then a slowly lifted my head… my eyes quickly fixed and focused on the holy Ka’ba.

ALSO READ: Hajj diary: Mad rush as Hajj 2022 pilgrimage begins

If you haven’t been on Hajj and Umrah, you’ll never understand how much you miss that stunning view.
The Ka’ba shimmered beautifully and magnificent in the midday sun, welcoming me with open arms. I took out my phone and snapped a quick photo before lifting my hands in prayer and praying for all those who asked me to do so.

I burst into tears when I gazed upon the holy Ka’ba and took the photo to share it with those who desire to be here, then also made dua or prayer for them to be where I was soon if God permits.

As I neared the Ka’ba I looked for the green lights which signals the starting point for my tawaaf, which is the first step of Umrah.

Ideally you will kiss the black stone before starting the tawaaf, but the Ka’ba has been enclosed with a barrier since Covid, so Muslims make Istilam. Istilām al-hajar (Touch of the Stone) is to touch and kiss the black stone (Hajar al-Aswad) with the intention of being blessed.

The Black Stone is a rock set into the eastern corner of the Ka’ba. It was set intact into the Ka’ba wall by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in 605 CE, five years before his first revelation at the Cave of Hira near Makkah.

Since then it has been broken into fragments and is now cemented into a silver frame in the side of the Ka’ba.

Moving on, a pilgrim is required to make tawaaf or circumambulate the holy Ka’ba seven times.
I started my tawaaf and the first few rounds went very well. But the Covid soldiers woke up from their slumber.

The shortness of breath started with excessive sweating. The next few rounds were hard as I stopped a few times to catch my breath and also using my inhaler to replenish my capacity.

It was hard, I struggled, but every time I stopped some pilgrim or even a Saudi official would ask me if I was okay. I was so honoured to be aware of the human compassion no matter who I was or where I was from.

Once I finished my tawaaf, I than made my way to the Saee area. But by that time I was exhausted and decided to sit down and rest a bit. To put it bluntly, I was finished.

As I sat down, an Indonesian couple were concerned about me and offered me some dates and Zam Zam water. The source of this water is the Zamzam well, situated within Haram – 20 metres east of the Ka’ba which is known as the holiest place in Islam.

History of the Zam Zam well

As narrated by Prophet Muhammad’s companion Ibn ‘Abbaas, Prophet Ibrahim was ordered by Allah to take away his wife, Hajar, and his son, Ismail, to Makkah.

During this time, Makkah was a barren land. Following the commands of Allah, the Prophet left his wife and son with some dates and water and returned home.

After spending some time on this barren land, the dates and water ran out. As young Ismail started crying with thirst, Hajar started looking for water.

She went running up and down seven times the hills of Safa and Marwa (that is why circumambulating the Ka’ba seven times is an important ritual of Umrah and Hajj).

In this fretful state, young Ismail began kicking the ground. Suddenly, Hajar noticed water flowing out from the spot that Ismail was kicking.

She carefully collected some water for herself and started feeding it to Ismail. The water that gushed out came to be known as the blessed water of Zamzam.

I relished the Zam Zam and dates as it invigorated me with zest and energy.

As I sat there, I became very emotional and lashed out at Covid. I asked why do I have to go through this pain of not enjoying something so beautiful like Umrah all because of Covid! At one point I was just heartbroken.

I received two awards reporting on the virus and now it was trying to show me who was boss and leaving its trash behind in my body.

With what was going on, I WhatsApped my wife Ammara and explained to her how I felt. She has been a pillar of strength for me and I am useless without her.

Ammara inspired and motivated me to keep going and not give up. I stood up with a struggle and made my way to the Saee. Also written as Sa’i, Saee is one of the integral rites of Hajj and Umrah.

The meaning of this word in Arabic is to strive, walk or pursue. Saee in Umrah refers to the ritual of walking back and forth seven times between two small hills of Safa and Marwa, which are located adjacent to the Ka’ba in the Haram.

I knew this was going to be difficult and exhausting. The length of one round is 700 metres and that has to be walked seven times while running for about 20 metres in an area signalled by green lights. This is where Hajar ran.

I strived and strived and don’t recall how I managed, but I completed the duty. It drained me off my strength as I drank copious amounts of Zam Zam to replenish my strength.

But it was not over yet. I still had to walk out of the Haram and with huge crowds, it was a rough walk. With people going in and coming out of the haram, a short walk can become very long.

Resting along the way, I made it to the barber at the shopping centre who then shaved my head.
You are not required to shave your head, but you’re allowed a brush cut or a trim. I however decided for a complete shave which Ammra terms as baldies while I chuckle at the thought of a Kojak on Hajj.

A complete shave of the head costs about SR23, which is about R109.

My Umrah was completed at about 5pm and I was completely fatigued by then.

Let me be very clear, Umrah is not difficult and this should in no way deter anybody from embarking on the journey including Hajj. I had challenges because of the after effects of Covid. As individuals we have to fight the inner deterrents, illnesses and other factors trying to keep us from completing this beautiful journey.

I’ve performed Umrah many times before, but this time it was the hardest for me.

After another long walk, I took a taxi back to the hotel where Haroon welcomed me saying “well done”.
We chatted for a while before I went to shower and finally got out of Ihraam.

My bed looked so inviting and put my head down on the pillow. It was the best sleep I’ve had on the trip so far and unlike Rip van Winkle who slept for years, I woke up at about 4am for the early morning prayer.

It was very satisfying knowing I’ve completed my Umrah, but now I needed to rest as the five days of Hajj approached. That’s what this journey was about and I need to conserve my energy.

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