After many, many conversations with friends seeking to embark on their own Journeys to Hajj, I decided to dedicate a section on the site to posting answers to some of the basic, more specific questions I get asked. I sincerely hope that everyone can experience this journey in the best way possible, and that it’s transformative and deeply beneficial, so I want to try and help others prepare however I can inshaAllah. I’m also adding brief bits of advice to consider during your trip, which you may not have thought of otherwise.
For those who have also shared in this journey, I welcome your comments and suggestions to add to the page. If you have questions not covered by the posts, which is very likely, feel free to ask :)
1. Can I bring a cell phone?
Yes. I’d recommend not taking one and just buying one there with a local number, it’s super cheap. In general though, I recommend you avoid cell phones, Internet, computers, tablets, etc. during the time you’re there. Disconnect!
2. What kind of shoes do I bring?
This is crucial. Go to the store, find some sandals or flip flops that are comfortable, and buy at least 2 pairs of them. It may be harder to find comfortable shoes when you’re there, so go equipped. Multiple pairs are good, you may have your shoes stolen or just plain misplaced, so it’s good to have a backup pair. For when you’re not in ihram, bring some sneakers or whatever you’d be comfortable walking in (for miles and miles!)
3. How do I carry things when I’m in ihram?
Bring a tote bag, or some sort of small, light bag you can easily and comfortably carry at all times. You can keep your shoes in it when you go to the masjid, to keep them with you. Carry a few of your essentials with you this way, sometimes it can be a while before you can get back to your room. Maybe pack a light snack, a journal, a pocket Qur’an, etc. When you pray, just keep it on the ground in front of you. When you make tawaf, wear it on your chest instead of your back. Pretty easy.
You won’t have to worry about passports. The Hajj Ministry collects those when you arrive in the country (yes, that’s right). They return them to you, miraculously, before you leave to return home. For your cash, it’d be safer to carry it on you, you can get like a money belt to wear around your waist. I used to also keep essential Hajj guide printouts and du’a lists, along with my Hajj IDs in there, so it can be really handy.
4. They take my passport..? What?!
Yep. One of the marvels of the Hajj Ministry is how they’re able to collect everyone’s passports and safely return them at the end of your trip without any issues. Giving it up goes against everything you’re taught in basic travel guidelines and you feel so vulnerable, but it works out somehow, Alhamdulillah.
You get issued a Hajj ID card, with your picture, from your Hajj group. They also give you a wristband with information about your group, their office number and other Arabic information I couldn’t make out. Don’t lose either of these. If you ever get lost or separated from your group, show an official your wristband to get help finding your way back to your group.
5. What should I wear?
Dress light, it’s really hot in Mecca. Try to blend in and wear cultural clothing too. If you don’t have any, just buy some thobes/abbayas when you get there, they’re super cheap. You’ll be really comfortable and you won’t stand out in a crowd, which is actually much better than being obviously American and potentially catching the wrong kind of attention. Hey, it happens, just be safe. Plus, desert gear is actually perfect for…well, the desert. You’ll never be more comfortable then you will be in the local dress.
When you’re in ihram, men can only wear 2 white, un-stitched sheets…nothing else. Men can’t cover their heads, some opinions also say you’re shoes can’t have stitching either. Others say they just need to be open-toed, so it depends on who you follow. Women can wear whatever they want, but they can’t cover their faces or hands.
6. What should I pack?
Muhammad Al-Shareef does a great job on his website, HajjCoach.com, of providing some brief, informative guides for Hajj prep. He has a packing list in his 4th session that can serve as a good starting point. I’d put emphasis on a few of the things he mentions:
– Vaseline! This may sound really awkward, but it really is helpful. Slather some on your thighs when you’re in ihram before heading out into the heat. It’ll save you from painful chafing/rashes later on.
– Powerbars – or any other type of healthy, packaged snacks. Granola/Fruit/Nut bars are also great. Bring at least like a dozen with you and keep one or two on you at all times, just in case. The food situation in Mecca is really weak and most options are really unhealthy, so it’s nice to have a backup option. Also, sometimes you really won’t be able to access food for hours at a time, so it’s essential to have some food with you. I was stuck on a bus for 12 hours at one point. Trust me, this will save you.
–Ear Plugs/Eye Shade – these are amazing for when you’re in the tents in Mina, and for when you’re in Muzdalifah. You probably won’t have much use for them any other time, but be sure to bring them during those days. Everyone sleeps in the same general area and it’s pretty open, so noise and light can be a real problem when you’re exhausted and trying to desperately catch just a few hours of rest.
– Ihram towels – Of course. And bring a second pair! It’s going to be hot, you’re gonna be sweaty and nasty, I guarantee it. If you can manage it, bring another ihram just in case. You’re allowed to shower and change your ihram, so it’s nice to have a fresh, clean pair to put on. Make sure you get the towel kind too, not just regular sheets. You’re going to be sweating! It’s going to be something like 90+ degrees during the day.
– Unscented soap – this is essential since you can’t use any scents/fragrances when you’re in ihram. You can use scents before you put on your ihram and keep it on, so be sure to do that. Also pick up other unscented products to use while you’re in ihram – lotion, shampoo, deodorant, etc.
– Comfortable sandals! I can’t stress this one enough. Hajj is very physical. You will be walking for miles and miles, often being yelled at by Police for even stopping to rest in many places. It’s so critical to have comfortable shoes, also buy backup pairs that are just as comfortable. I lost my main pair of sandals and had to make due with a backup pair that wasn’t very good. I had to walk like 3 miles in them and got horrible blisters, with 3 more days still left to go. Not a fun place to be.
7. What about deodorant?
Thank the Lord Almighty for people like you. Yes, please wear deodorant. When you’re in ihram, you can’t wear scented products, but anything you already have on before you enter the state of ihram is fine. So, the trick is to wear deodorant before you put on your ihram, so get some kind that’ll last and keep you good for a while. Or, pick up some unscented deodorant and do your part to relieve the world of body odor, one armpit at a time.
8. Where will I keep my stuff?
Surprisingly, I didn’t have to worry about my luggage as much as I thought I would. For the typical Hajj package, you’re in hotels when you first arrive, so just keep your bags in your room, they’ll be safe there. Just before the days of Hajj, your group may place you in a hostel, my group put us up in Aziziah. Our group had the whole floor of the building and we had shared rooms you could lock and keep the keys with you. Before you head to Mina to stay in the tents for 5 days, you can leave your luggage in those rooms and just pack a smaller bag with essentials for those few days.
Some women in my group did have some valuables stolen towards the end of their trip, so security won’t always be 100%. Just be smart, don’t keep things in your bag that are valuable, better yet, don’t bring things with you that are valuable. Keep your money and IDs with you at all times – Travel 101.
9. What should I bring with me to Mina?
You’ll embark to Mina in ihram, but still pack 1-2 changes of regular clothing. You have to stay in Mina for 5 days, but you can take off ihram starting on the 3rd day. You’ll be so filthy and gross by then that you’ll desperately want to change into some fresh clothes. Bring your comfortable sneakers/regular walking shoes along too, for when you’re done with ihram.
Pack your backup flipflops/sandals. I lost mine in Mina, someone walked off with them, probably by accident. You’re going to be walking at least 2-3 miles a day during the time you’re staying in Mina, so it’s crucial to have some comfortable shoes you can walk in. Bring those ear plugs and eye shades too, they’ll come in handy. Also, if you can find a small, compact sleeping bag or sleeping mat, it’s useful to have as well. One of the nights of Hajj will be spent sleeping in Muzdalifah, which is essentially a giant, parking lot. You’ll have to sleep out in the open, on the pavement, so it’s good to pack something to sleep on so you’re not just lying on rocks and gravel.
Empty out a little water bottle for when you’re in Muzdalifah and collect your small pebbles. Count out the full amount that you’ll need for the whole 3 days of stoning at the Jamarat and just keep them with you, it makes things easier later on.
Mina can be rough, so be ready for it. Food and water should be provided for you, as well as basic bedding, or at least carpeting in your tent. All of that does depend on your package and on your upgrades though. Again, it wouldn’t hurt to pack some snacks and mats/pillows just in case things go awry and your group leader gets boycotted and none of your people can get any service (this happened to me).
10. What do I do during Hajj?
Please ask if you don’t know, or do some research before you go. I had no idea about any of the rituals and had to do some last-minute googling. Thankfully, HajjCoach.com has 2 really, really great handouts (Umrah & Hajj) that I’d highly recommend you print out and keep with you. Read them again and again – on the flight, when you’re stuck waiting for a bus, when you’re stuck on a bus, waiting for it to move, and so on – there’s lots of opportunity to read, so take advantage of it!
Some groups will have an Imam or spiritual guide that has knowledge of the rituals. If your group has one, they should be able to help you. It’s still best to familiarize yourself with the rituals as best you can on your own. Other groups, like mine, had no Imam, just a bunch of guys that argued for days about how to do things correctly. Thank God for these handouts, seriously.
You may find yourself in situations where you do something you aren’t supposed to, and may need to make some expiation. It’s not realistic to learn the in’s & out’s of all these situations before you go for Hajj, but try to attend some Hajj workshops or sit with your local scholars/imams to learn what you can about what may be relevant to you. Try to find out who in your group can answer some basic questions and consult them in situations when you’re unsure.
11. Can you actually touch the Ka’aba?
Yes! It’s not easy though, but you can if you want it bad enough. Alhamdulillah, I was able to touch the Ka’aba almost everytime I set out to perform tawaf. The trick is to go with the flow, don’t force your way towards the center. Let the crowd take you, and slowly sneak to your left as space opens up next to you. Hold the intention and desire in your heart to reach the Ka’aba and Allah will make it easy.
Tawaf continues 24/7. I found the time when there’s the least amount of people to be in the middle of the night – between midnight and like 3am. The weather is nice and cool then too, it’s actually really, really nice and calming. Make sure you spend time on the roof of the Masjid Al-Haram and look out into the crowd circling the Ka’aba. Napping on the roof is pretty amazing also :)
12. Where should I make Tawaf and Sa’iy?
I’m biased on this one. I made Tawaf (circumambulation of the Ka’aba) on the ground floor everytime. It’s much more packed, but it’s a tremendous experience. It’s also a far shorter distance. So, it’s way more intense, but you finish sooner. Doing 7 rounds of Tawaf on the ground, closer to the Ka’aba, would take me about 30-45 mins. Doing 7 rounds on the roof would take something like 2 hours. It’s usually wide open up there, so you’ll be comfortable, but you have to walk much, much more.
For Sa’iy (the running between Safa & Marwa), I actually prefer doing it upstairs, on the roof if possible. The distance is the same for all levels, and it’s much less packed upstairs, so I would always try to go up and be more comfortable there.
13. Should I take my camera?
As you can see, I took many pictures, so I would say yes. Bring something small and light, preferably not a really expensive camera. Avoid the big, bulky DSLR’s, I’ve seen those attract alot of attention actually. People start getting suspicious/curious and I’ve seen crowds start to form. Just bring a simple point-n-shoot camera and respect peoples’ space, use your best judgement.
Officially, when you’re in the masjids the police don’t like you taking pictures, especially of them. They may even try to confiscate your cameras. So, just be smart. There’s generally very little they can actually do, because there’s millions of Hajji’s and only a handful of them, so they’re not hardcore about enforcing the no photography thing, but be careful still. When you’re not in the masjid, you can of course take as many pictures as you want, and you’ll want to remember much of what you experience there, so a camera would be great thing to have.
1. Evaluate yourself frequently and try to take as many lessons as possible from the experience. Write them down clearly! You will forget them and need a reminder later.
2. Don’t be too high brow or culturally handicapped to engage fully in the most blessed worships – for example, make tawaf in the thick of the funk and stink of others from around the world. Immerse yourself completely and submit. It is worth it. This will purify your heart. You can always take a shower later. You will see things and be surrounded by situations that may shock you. Take it all in and learn from it.
4. Bring antibiotics, probiotics, vitamins, supplements…I don’t know…something. You’re gonna pick up a vicious cough when you’re there (the Hajj cough!). You will get sick. It’s unavoidable, so try to pack something that can help you recover easier.
5. Get as many du’as for other people as you can. Send out messages to your contacts before you leave – ask for forgiveness, clear your debts, ask others to pray for you, and collect du’as from them to recite on their behalf. Easiest way is to just copy and paste it all into a word document and just print it out. The best time to recite their du’as is on the Day of Arafah, when all prayers are answered.
6. Memorize this du’a: “Allahuma ja’alni mustajaab ad-da’wa” (O Allah, make me among those whose du’as are answered) It’s wonderful, Alhamdulillah :)
7. Don’t eat a lot. Stay away from unhealthy/fried foods too. Diet plays a huge role here in spiritual clarity. There isn’t a lot of healthy options in street foods so this can be very difficult. Try nonetheless. Even if you’re getting food from your group, you still shouldn’t eat too much. Trust me, this will make an immense difference in your experience.
8. Drink lots of Zamzam. It’s delicious and very nourishing, Especially when cold and fresh. Get a big, cheap water bottle from there and keep it full of Zamzam. Don’t worry about bringing your own bottle, they could get lost or misplaced very easily. For my first week in Mecca, I basically survived off of Zamzam and laban (an Arab yogurt drink), and I felt amazing.
9. Spend as much time in the Haram as possible. Don’t waste time doing things that you can easily do anywhere else. You’re not on vacation. This is a spiritual retreat. So, retreat! The thing I miss most is seeing the Ka’aba and being in that place. Don’t take it for granted and savor every second of it.
10. Read about the history of the Prophet and life in Mecca. Try to get as familiar as possible with major events/sites. Pick up a book on landmarks if you can.
11. When you’re there, visit sites important to the history of early Islam. Try to contextualize everything and visualize those early times in the places you stand. You can easily find drivers that will give you tours and show you around the major spots. I was reading Tariq Ramadan’s In The Footsteps of The Prophet during my trip, and it proved to be the perfect text to accompany me on my journey.
12. Give charity while you’re there! There are very poor people that give a lot to make it to Mecca for Hajj. Sit with them. You may leave dustier, but at least with a heart more pure iA. Open your heart to them and give to them out of love and sincerity. Another thing I regret is not giving more to people that truly needed it. Avoid the beggars and professional panhandlers – I’m talking about Hajji’s that sleep in the streets because they could barely afford to make it to Mecca, having only the clothes on their backs. Yes, they’re there. Look for them and give to them.
13. Interact with others as much as posible, when appropriate. Everyone has a story. My biggest regret is not doing this more, I focused mostly on myself and on my experience and not on engaging others.
14. Don’t listen to music. Recite all the Quran you know. Memorize as many du’as as you can. Do as much dhikr as possible, especially salawat. Busy your tongue and your thoughts with the remembrance of Allah in those days.
15. Be patient. Don’t complain. Don’t ever lose your temper. The tests start long before you even leave your home. Don’t expect to wait for the right time to be tested and think you’ll show patience then, while losing your cool along the way. It’s all part of your test. Everything bad that happens to you is actually meant for you specifically. Recognize it and accept it. Submit. Through this process you will be able to find profound spiritual growth iA.
16. The experience overall should teach you submission in all aspects of your life. That is the essential lesson of Hajj. All tests, all rituals, all scenarios lead to this. If you miss this, you’ve missed the heart of what you set out for.
17. When there comes hardship, there also comes with it, ease. Don’t worry. It’s coming. That’s a guarantee. Just keep cool until it comes. It really won’t take long, trust me. Tests are easy during Hajj, everything gets resolved while you’re there. It’s real life where things get difficult. People struggle with hardships for centuries out here. In the Hajj microcosm, everything works itself out sooner or later. Use this opportunity as a crash-course on understanding how Allah tests you and how you should react. Apply those lessons to your life when you return to the real world. Write down all of your reflections, and you got yourself a little cheat-sheet to get you through the tests of life.