Category Archives: Hajj & Umrah

Umrah and Holy Break 2012 – Part 3 Jeddah

On the way back home to Doha from umrah, we decided to take one night stay in Jeddah. Curious how the second largest city in Saudi Arabia looks like.

From our hotel we booked a shuttle transfer to Jeddah. We booked through an agent which office located just outside Al Marwa Hotel lobby. The cost is 250QR. The same arrangement can be made through hotel concierge as well for the same cost.

The agent sent us a driver who later turned out to be so annoying (I don’t want to elaborate more, but the agent up there is not recommended!)

With service from an Indonesian working as a travel agent staff in Jeddah, also a long time Jeddah resident, we were taken for city tour to different parts of the city and famous tourist sights.

We went to IKEA (yes, we are big fans of it! …and its meat balls) in the evening, then to King Fahd Fountain (unfortunately did not operate). The fountain is said to be the biggest salt water fountain of the world; it jets the water about 312 meters above the Red Sea. The fountain has been given as a present by King Fahd to the city Jeddah. At dawn or during nighttime is the best time to visit the fountain as it is lighted with 500 spotlights. We were also taken into driving along Tahlia Street, an important fashion and shopping street in the mid-town of Jeddah housing many upscale department shops and boutiques.

IKEA Jeddah
 
One spot at Tahlia Street

The following morning, we went to Floating Mosque, or White Mosque, or formal name Ar Rahmah Mosque, located just west of airport on the Red Sea Coast. It is called the floating mosque because when the tide is high it is surrounded by water giving the impression that the mosque is floating looked at from the Corniche.

Jeddah's street on one weekend morning
 
A unique house in Jeddah
 
On the Red Sea shore, near Floating Mosque, Jeddah
 
At Floating Mosque
 
We then drove along 20km+ beautifully landscaped, open air art ornamented corniche road to go to Al Balad, old town near city port (Jeddah Islamic Port). Al Balad is the historic center of the City of Jeddah; traces its history 2,500 years back as a fishing village when the fishermen tribe settled there. When Jeddah began to become wealthier due to the oil boom, many Jeddawis moved north, away from Al-Balad. In order to preserve the old structures within the Balad the Historical Area Preservation Department was established and restoration project commenced to restore Al-Balad.
 
Driving along corniche road was a pleasant experience; this shown here is near Boat Square
 
Entering Al Balad
 
A mosque in Al Balad
 
Old traditional houses in Al Balad
 
Some of the old houses in Historical District Al Balad still dwelled
 
The first hotel in Jeddah

You may notice that Hilton Hotel Mecca’s window is inspired by traditional ornament of the houses in Al Balad.

We were also taken to visit Tomb of Eve, execution yard, Bab Shareef, and Bab Al Makkah. Bab Al Makkah (Mecca Gate) is used to be one of the main entrances for Hajj pilgrims (through Old Mecca Road) before construction of Jeddah – Mecca Highway.

Tomb of Eve
 
Bab Al Makkah

The cosmopolitan city of Jeddah is in fact a home for hundreds thousands Indonesian citizen, constitute one of the major expatriate community in Jeddah. We were taken to see specific areas in Jeddah (Al Sharafiya) where large concentrations of Indonesians are living. No wonder I saw so many Indonesian restaurant or specialty stores dotted the areas. How unfortunate we were that none of them ready to serve lunch!

A building in Jeddah
 
Madinah Road - one of the busiest road in Jeddah (though looks not busy here)

A quick tour of Jeddah gives us a brief introduction to Jeddah’s life.

Umrah and Holy Break 2012 – Part 2 Jabal Al Nour

One fine morning on our third day in Mecca, we went to Jabal an-Nour (also Jabal an-Nur or Jabal Nur). Jabal Al Nour meaning “The Mountain of Light” has been so called because the first “light” of Muhammad’s message, Islam, was here.  It houses the Hira cave where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is said to have received his first revelation from Allah through the angel Gabriel. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to climb it a lot before getting his first revelation and loved to stay in the cave for long.

Hiring a taxi from near Abraj Al Bait Complex for 30 SAR we were driven to the mountain, located about 5.3km straight line northeast of Masjid Al Haram (coordinate: 21° 27′ 27.2″ N, 39° 51′ 33.9″ E – start of Hira Cave trail)

Our taxi driver dropped us at roadside at the mouth of small road leading to start of Hira cave trail. Cars can actually be driven up to this start but with steep inclining road at the end and narrow U-turn space, many don’t give a chance to drive up to here.

Jabal Al Nour

When we arrived there, many, mainly from Turkey, have started their hiking. From our drop off point to the start of Hira cave trail is about 400m. Though it seems a short distance – (think about width of Doha’s Landmark Mall – it gives a shock warm up to our rarely-exercising body from its 45-degree inclining asphalted road). Meanwhile as we climbed up, brown-orangish standalone giant rock, Jabal Al Nour, gives us a blocking view of challenging trail in advance. Can we?

To reach Hira Cave, climber actually only needs to take 600 steps. But with the cave is at a height of 270 m  this is a test of determination. During our hiking, we were accompanied by many old Turkish women and men. While we frequently needs to make a brief stop …age doesn’t lie J….they were so determined to reach the peak and gave their support to us. I must admit their determination to go up to the peak. As my friend puts it, it’s because of here (he signals his hand to his heart), not age or strength.

600 steps to go!
 
It's because of determination

Hira cave trail has been facilitated with wide cemented steps and several rest areas along its 1.2km (perhaps) long trails only. Some rest areas (with simple shade or roof, and seating) are even big enough for more than tens of climbers. Don’t worry much about water as these rest areas sell drinks and light snacks! (bring yours as required though, just in case)

Half-way the trail we were greeted by a group of monkeys making some noises and eagerly expect something from climbers. Also, don’t be surprised with some people make a living by as if he made a repair on cemented steps or just simply lying on the ground asking for people generosity. One thing that disappointing me is trashes scattered around many places.

Long time residents of Jabal Nour
 
I don't know what it means; graffiti is unfortunately every where on Jabal Al Nour
 
115 meters more....
 
Pilgrims, Clock Tower, and Rock

As we climb up trail become less steep and even flat, giving us a quite pleasure walk. When you reach a big rest area with its small cafeteria then you are almost there. Hira Cave is concealed on the other side of the hill, about 5 meters from the peak and behind two big and deep rocks. Measuring only 3.7m in length and 1.6m in width, the cavity is formed by stacking of three big rock plates. Access to cave can be either from very narrow passage shortcut to the cave entrance (that only thin person can pass through) or from edges of big rock to the top of cave.

Hira Cave from above
 
One of the accesses to Hira cave is through this very narrow rock gap
 
In front of Hira cave
 
With strong old women from Turkey

Hira cave should be able to reach within 30-60 minutes.

Unlike climbing up, the walk down the hill is an enjoyable one. We jokingly gave ascending climber a warm support  ‘Keep it up! Keep it up!

On the way down; that big white stuff is a large rest area
 

Visiting Hira cave indeed a unique experience. Muslim can reflect how Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s seeking of Allah, how great is support from Prophet’s wife Khadija and all hardships they faced.

Umrah and Holy Break 2012 – Part 1

We’ve just finished performing umrah. Unlike last year, we now opted to use air plane to get into Mecca. As no direct flight to Mecca, pilgrims should go via city port Jeddah or The Prophet’s City Madinah.

Doha – Jeddah
A two-hour-ten-minute direct flight took us from Doha to Jeddah. This is to cover about 1519km route distance (or approximately 1326km straight line). I noticed that the plane flew northwardly past Ras Laffan, Bahrain then turn left past  Dammam, north of Riyadh and finally Jeddah at its North Terminal of King Abdul Aziz Airport.

One may question how to wear ihram if travelling through air, specifically for Doha-Jeddah-Mecca bound pilgrim since the flight will fly over Taif, a miqat (stated place (for assuming ihram) on the way to Jeddah. I and my sons wore ihram from home but we covered ourselves with  thobes (a Qatari long dress garment). Some chose to wear ihram only as I noticed few pilgrims at the airport.

Already wearing ihram in the airplane

During the flight, Captain would announce a preliminary notice, 30 minutes, before reaching miqat and again 5 minutes before to give sufficient time for pilgrims to change their clothes to ihram. This was when we removed our thobes and were ready to enter the state of ihram.

Stewardess would also distribute an Umrah Arrival Card. This card is like a departure/arrival card with more information required on umrah visa.  Just make sure that you know which is visa no and which is entry no. The former is on the top right side of visa and the latter is on the below part of visa.

Jeddah Airport
Qatar Airways (and I guess all other foreign airlines) will land at North Terminal of King Abdul Aziz Airport while Saudi Airlines at South Terminal. No special features of the airport in regard to umrah except that there is a special lane for umrah at immigration gates. I had mixed feeling before my departure about immigration and landing experience in Jeddah Airport. Some have told me their terrible experience with airport staff. I had prepared the worst but what I had was alhamdulillah far from terrible. It was in fact very nice and smooth.

Benefiting from sitting at the front rows in the airplane and disembarking earlier, we avoided a long queue at immigration gates. No direct access from plane to airport so passengers must be conveyed through shuttle busses.

In front of us at one of two immigration gates was a group of pilgrims from Asian countries. Immigration staff looked furious as he shouted at them quite frequently. Hmm…. it’s probably a start of terrible experience. When the group passed, the staff suddenly changed his mood. He was totally nice! “Welcome to Saudi”, he said smiling at us.
We handed over our passport, arrival card and boarding passes.

After immigration gates but before baggage claim area (separated by waist high transparent barriers) we were checked by another staff who took our arrival cards. “Indonesia?” “Terima kasih!” (Ind. thank you), he said. Again, a nice welcome.

Jeddah – Mecca
Mecca is about 85km from Jeddah (about Doha – Dukhan distance). Public bus is available but most pilgrims travel by pre-arranged transportation or by taking an airport taxi (available just after exiting arrival hall), at least until construction of Haramain Highspeed Rail Project completed. I was told that airport taxi would charge about 200SAR for Jeddah – Haram (Mecca). Unfortunately even after haggling 250SAR was the best I could get. Note that taxi meter would never be used! Also make sure you agree the price before boarding the taxi.

You may also be approached or touted by informal (private) taxi driver as you exit baggage claim area.

Jeddah is connected to Mecca via an excellent road and highway connection, thanks to its 3-4 lane 120kph speed limit highway. Cameras were installed at rare intervals.  Don’t be surprised to see how drivers in Saudi manage their drive. Lane discipline is minimal, driving on leftmost road shoulder is not uncommon, signal is not required, and abrupt lane changing and risky overtaking is what you should be aware of. Alhamdulillah, after 1 hour 20 minutes we arrived safely at our hotel, Al Marwah Rayhaan by Rotana.

Road from Jeddah to Mecca

Part Kaaba View

We booked our hotel, Al Marwah Rayhaan by Rotana, through booking.com. The hotel is situated at clock tower complex, or to be precise Abraj Al Bait complex. The driver dropped us at hotel drop-off point accessed through underground road. From here we should take a lift from P-2 level to P11 level which is where hotel lobby is located. Sharing the same floor is Raffles Makkah Palace Hotel and Movenpick Hotel lobby. Check-in experience was easy, and quick. Check-in staff has good English proficiency (rare in Mecca) and he gave us exactly the same room type as we booked. I read many reviews that hotel may not give travellers the same room. Taking hotel own lift (different than we used from drop-off point) we headed to our room at Mezzaine 1.We open our room and rushed to a small window at the end of room. Masya Allah… Kaaba can be seen from our room. Though a quarter of Kaaba is obstructed by one of the minarets, it is still a stunning view of Haram, Kaaba and whatever around it.

Hilton Hotel (middle) and Intercontinental Hotel (next right) as seen from our room
 
Masjif Al Haram, after Fajr prayer, before sunrise

It’s almost Magrib praying time (dusk); thousands of people flocking masjidil haram like ants back to their nest as seen from above. We’re ready to start our umrah

Umrah

Umrah started with tawaf, circumambulation of Kaaba 7 times in anticlock wise direction. Men are encouraged to do this three times at a hurried pace, followed by four times, more closely, at a leisurely pace. The circling is believed to demonstrate the unity of the believers in the worship of the One God, as they move in harmony together around the Kaaba, while supplicating to Allah. Tawaf starts  from Hajar Aswad (black stone) corner. Pilgrims are to touch or kiss if possible, otherwise (due to large crowds) it is acceptable to simply point or hold up their hand to the Stone on each circuit. The circling continues passing Maqam Ibrahim (the station of Ibrahim the stone rock on which our Master Ibrahim, peace be upon him, stood when building the Holly Kabaa), passing Hijr Ismail (where Prophet Ismail and his mother Hazrat Hajira are buried) then Rukun Yamanii the fourth corner of the Kaaba and back to Hjar Aswad, during which prayer is chanted, raised to Allah The Almighty. Although tawaf never gets quiet, periods after Maghrib prayer and after Fajr prayer are two busiest and crowded time.

Finished  with circumambulation, we performed two rakaat shalat at/behind Maqam Ibrahim, then drink zamzam water. That completed a tawaf process.

What follows is sa’I, means rapidly walking seven times back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah. This is a re-enactment of Hajar’s frantic search for water. The baby Ishmael cried and hit the ground with his foot (some versions of the story say that an angel scraped his foot or the tip of his wing along the ground), and water miraculously sprang forth. This source of water is today called the Well of Zamzam.

Fathan was carried during Sa'i, fortunately, only for two rounds

We have just completed 2 walks when Ishaa prayer come so we paused our walk an performed prayer. Afterwards, we continued the remaining walks for another 5 times . The whole umrah rituals completed with cutting and shaving our hair.

 

End of umrah rituals by cutting hair
 
after completion of umrah (near salam gate)

 

Holy Break

The whole 4 nights in Mecca was like a holy break. Our day-to-day activities were spent mainly for religious activities and centered around Masjidi Al Haram. We didn’t miss any single 5 times a day praying together in a congregation, for we believe the reward of praying in Masjid Al Haram is 100,000 times fold than praying in any where else.

A close encouter with House of Allah is always a great one

For that, staying closer to Haram is really a major advantage. The hotel we stayed is just a 3-minute walk and at the doorstep of King Abdul Aziz Gate reducing travelling time while getting easy access to Haram. One time we woke up late in the morning, Second Prayer Call has been sounded as we heard from our room sound system that is connected to Haram. Imam has started the prayer, yet we managed to catch up. No wonder hotels  in this particular area (south of Haram) are pricey. In addition to hotels in Clock Tower Complex such as Movenpick, Rotana, Royal Makkah Palace, and Pullman Zamzam,  Hilton and Intercontinental Hotel (the two are standing buildings in themselves) are always in demand.

Masjid Al Haram as seen from Al Marwa Rayhaan Hotel

Our daily schedule normally starts with morning prayer, then have a quick nap before having a breakfast at hotel restaurant that overlooking Haram and Kaaba. Our favorite break time at hotel is usually occupied with enjoying stunning view of haram ad Kabaa.

From our window, we can see Haram and Kabaa, and many granite hills that make up geography of Mecca city. At northern side of Haram another expansion project can also be seen. Northern expansion of the mosque began in August 2011 and is expected to be completed in 1.5 years. So by the time we have another visit next year Insha Allah the expansion will have been completed.

Favorite spot in our room to enjoy stunning view of Masjid Al Haram

The area of the mosque will be expanded from the current 356,000 m2 to 400,000 m2. A new gate named after King Abdullah will be built together with two new minarets, bringing their total to 11. The cost of the project is $10.6-billion and after completion the mosque will house over 2.5 million worshipers. The mataf (the circumambulation areas around the Kaaba) will also see expansion and all closed spaces will be air-conditioned

A closer look of north expansion project of Masjid Al Haram

Go back to daily schedule, at noon we perform Zuhr prayer then have lunch in one of the many food courts in clock tower complex. We particularly like Malaysian cuisine restaurant in Al Safwa Tower. A simple lunch meal costs us about SAR15 per person.

After a brief break we return to Haram for Ashr prayer.  When we finish with all religious duty and supplication we normally do brief walk and  people watching on the way home, stock some supplies from Bin Dawood Supermarket, or just simply get back to hotel before return back for Maghrib prayer. Pilgrims from Turkey and Indonesia are the most recognizable ones for they are travelling with groups in easily identified markers. Meanwhile pilgrims from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh normally occupy area in mosque plaza with their groups.

In front of Abraj Al Bait Tower, the tallest clock tower in the world

As time between Maghrib and Isha prayer is short we sometimes stay in Haram instead of get back to hotel. Finish with Isha prayer we always have another food hunt for our dinner. With that we conclude our day. This is going for 4 days except for third day when I and my wife went to Jabal Nur in the morning. Oh…. did I mention that our hotel TV did not work (except for one single channel) ad we decided not to turn on the TV for almost entire stay. Good support for holy break!

This holy break looks like simple and easy rituals yet it requires a lot of stamina. Faiq – my older son – got dropped at second day, fortunately recovered the following day, while my wife dropped at last day. Don’t forget your medicine and health supplement supplies and always maintain a good balance of rest and activities.

(Continue Part 2 – Jabal Nur and Jeddah)

Suddenly 4

Suddenly I have 4 boys at home. How come?

Two are my sons, and another two are just coming in to our home two days ago. Adoption? New born twin babies? Wrooooong!

They are my friend’s sons. As their parents are going for Hajj, they are mandated to us during their parents 17-day long Hajj pilgrimage. For many in Qatar, mandating their kids to friends is one of the options. Other options include sending their kids back to Indonesia under parent’s or parent-in-law custody, or have parents/parents-in-law come to Qatar.

When I and my wife were on Hajj pilgrimage in 2009, we sent our sons back to Indonesia. Unfortunately, the kids would miss almost a month of school period for which I sought permission from their school and arranged homework for their away from school period. In 2010, we were also mandated with taking care our friend’s mother who was coming to Qatar to look after his kids. Though his mother and sons didn’t live in with us, we made sure they were well catered should the need arose for transportation, going to doctor, to supermarket or simply going for day out.

Approaching the day my friend’s sons would come to my home, my sons was excited. They kept asking when their friends would come. They have been friends for a year now, living in the same compound and go to the same school. So mingling is not an issue. They are now sharing the same room, working their homework together, competing in games, and sharing the laugh.

Meanwhile, as the guardian, we learn our special guest’s traits and habits before they join, and keep in touch with their parents constantly.

Don’t worry our friends! Just keep focus on your pilgrimage. Insha Allah your sons are on the safe hand.

May Allah accept your hajj

26 October 2011 marks a significant day for aspiring pilgrims from Qatar when a pilgrimage journey to Mecca by bus begins. I can only pray for all of you, my friends, May Allah accept your hajj, grant you forgiveness, and reward you for your efforts, and keep you safe during the hajj rituals and journey back to Qatar.

Contemplative pray in Arafat - part of the Hajj ritual
 

Haj pilgrimage package rates for 2011

Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs yesterday announced Haj pilgrimage tariffs for 2011.

Category C (by road)

Category C (by road) – Makkah and Madina – QR12,000 (against QR9,200 last year)

Category C (by road) – Makkah only – QR10,000 (against QR8,120 last year)

The package includes accommodation, services at the holy sites, Mina camping, food and transportation and accommodation in a hotel with a minimum three star facility for three nights. The amount also includes charges of the unified agents office.

Details for category (C) are as follows: QR 4,200 For accommodation in Makkah, QR 2,000 for accommodation in Madina, QR800 for shrines services, QR2,200 for camping in Mina, QR800 for food and QR2,000 for transportation.

Category A (by air)

Category A (by Air) – Makkah and Madina QR16,000 (from last year’s QR15,100)

Category A (by Air) – Makkah only , QR12,800 (against QR12,460 charged last year).

The package does not include air tickets but cover all other services available to Class C plus accommodation in a hotel with a minimum four star facility for three nights.

A third category (Category B) for pilgrims travelling by air that offered lower fares compared to Category A has been abolished this year. Fares for Category C has now become almost similar to that existed in Category B (QR12,400) last year.

Details of the tariffs for category (A) are as follows: QR 5,100 for accommodation in Makkah, QR 3,200 for accommodation in Madina, QR1,200 for shrines services, QR 2,900 for Mina camping, QR1,800 for food and QR1,800 for transportation.

The Haj and Umrah Department at the Ministry has urged all aspiring pilgrims to register online between July 2 and September 13.

Source:

http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/qatar/157129-haj-to-cost-up-to-30pc-more-this-season.html
http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=443457&version=1&template_id=36&parent_id=16

Umrah 2011

Labbaikallahuma Umratan (“Oh Allah. Here I am answering Your call and intending to perform Umrah”)

From 9 April to 16 April we went for Umrah by bus. What a mind enlightening religious trip.

The Umrah or (Arabic: عمرة‎) is a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, performed by Muslims that can be undertaken at any time of the year. In Arabic, Umrah means “to visit a populated place”. As a technical term used in the Sharia, Umrah means to perform Tawaf round the Kaaba and Sa’i between Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, after assuming Ihram (a sacred state). It is sometimes called the ‘minor pilgrimage’ or ‘lesser pilgrimage’, the Hajj being the ‘major’ pilgrimage and which is compulsory for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. The Umrah is not compulsory but highly recommended.

The pilgrim performs a series of ritual acts symbolic of the lives of Ibrahim (Abraham) and his second wife Hajar, and of solidarity with Muslims worldwide. These acts of faith are:

Perform a tawaf, which consists of circling the Kaaba seven times in a counter-clockwise direction. Men are encouraged to do this three times at a hurried pace, followed by four times, more closely, at a leisurely pace.[1]

Perform a sa’i, which means rapidly walking seven times back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah. This is a re-enactment of Hagar’s frantic search for water. The baby Ishmael cried and hit the ground with his foot (some versions of the story say that an angel scraped his foot or the tip of his wing along the ground), and water miraculously sprang forth. This source of water is today called the Well of Zamzam.

Perform a halq or taqsir, meaning a cutting of the hair. A taqsir is a partial shortening of the hair, whereas a halq is a complete shave of the head, except for women, as they cut a little amount of hair instead.

These rituals complete the Umrah, and the pilgrim can choose to go out of ihram. Although not a part of the ritual, most pilgrims drink water from the Well of Zamzam. (Wikipedia)

Through Hamlah Al Haramain, we paid QR1700 per person for Umrah trip that included visa, transport (Doha-Mekkah-Madinah-Doha), 3-night stay in Mekkah, 2-night stay in Madinah, and ziarah(devotional visit to sacred places) in Mekkah and Madinah.

One of the advantages of taking a bus trip for umrah is we can sleep and relax and don’t bother with a long 1440-km driving (Qatar-Mekkah). Unfortunately, it can be tiring due to its non-stop driving and longer trip owing to longer border process and lower speed.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed the trip and met new people in the bus. But most importantly to pay a visit to places where every muslim want to.

This is our bus ready to enter Qatar border. It took us about 5 hours in the Qatar-Saudi border!

Our bus ready to hit the asphalt of 1440-km road to Mekkah

 20 hours later, we arrived at Miqat (lit. a stated place), a station at which pligrims put on Ihram. For those coming from Qatar the Miqat is situated at Taif (Miqat Qarn Al-Manazil (Alsail Al Kabir)), about 90km from Mekkah. We took a bath, changed the normal clothes to two pieces of white unstitched fabrics, then we paid a two rakaat prayer. From now on we entered a state of ihram (a sacred state) when there are restrictions to comply with.

Wearing Ihram at Miqat

Arriving in Masjidil Haram, we performed the umrah rituals: thawaf (circumambulation), sa’i, and taqsir (shortening the hair).

Performing Sai

 After completion of umrah, we then spent every possible opportunities to have a prayer in Masjidil Haram. Prayers in Al-Masjid Al-Haram are equivalent to 100000 Prayers in any other mosque. In addition we also paid a visit to some sacred places and important Hajj places.