In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful. I begin this journey of a lifetime or journey of spiritual ecstasy with God’s name because it’s only with His permission that I am in the holy lands.
With South Africans and the rest of the world not being allowed to perform Hajj in 2020 and 2021, the waiting lists for SA have ballooned to a backlog of about 16 years, when previously it was between five and eight years.
So, I was very fortunate to be considered for this beautiful journey. I’ve been on hajj before, my compulsory hajj, as a broadcaster and as a guest of the king.
People will ask, you’ve been on hajj before, why do you want to go again? The answer is simple, you make an intention to go, and God decides.
It was anxious waiting for the nod to go. I was asked to hand in a copy of my passport to the Religious Attache of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and hoped that my desire to embark on the journey of Hajj once again would be fulfilled.
It was a busy week at The Citizen when I got a call that the embassy now required my passport, two photos and my Covid-19 vaccination card. Covid is a real b****, but more on that later. So I went to Pretoria to drop off my documents.
I was informed that would know in about two days if I was successful or not. The wait was excruciating and after two days I decided to send a WhatsApp.
The Religious Attache called me and said that I had been successful. It was a mad rush getting ready for the flight which was only a day away and I still had to get some personal stuff, a PCR test and forex.
While Saudi Arabia does not require the test, South African immigration authorities want to see a test sheet.
I went back to Pretoria to pick up my passport and air ticket and then I saw it… the flight was 7am and I had to be at the airport at 4:30am.
I received a beautiful send off from my family with my kids pestering me for toys from the Kingdom.
The gifting has become a norm with those embarking on Hajj usually bringing something back for family and friends from the holy lands.
I got back late after the send off and then it was time for the final checks to see if anything was forgotten. Bags packed, I was ready.
The day of the flight
Do you remember that scene from Home Alone when the McAlister family gets up late for the airport.
Well I was close enough and my wife and kids decided to accompany me to the airport, so we only left home at 4am to be at the airport at 4:30am. I wasn’t driving fast, but the roads were quiet.
After saying my goodbyes it was time to say farewell to SA, for a short while anyway.
Islamic scholars say embarking on the journey of hajj resembles death in the same way that when a person dies he leaves everything behind and when he goes for hajj he leaves everyone behind.
The flight was good and comfortable even though it was economy class.
From what I understand, the flights were quite expensive and the group was very appreciative that they were accomodated for.
After an eight hour flight, I landed in Doha but had very little time for the connecting flight and I still had to change into my Ihraam and the state of Ihram.
Ihram is, in Islam, a sacred state which a Muslim must enter in order to perform the major pilgrimage or the minor pilgrimage.
A pilgrim must enter into this state before crossing the pilgrimage boundary, known as Mīqāt, by performing the cleansing rituals and wearing the prescribed attire.
While on the plane, the pilot announced we were crossing the boundary so I performed my two prayers in the plane.
I landed in Jeddah just after 9pm and I have to admit Saudi Arabia has really upped their game because passing through immigration was a breeze.
I got a SIM card from a company called STC with about 20GB of data and 200 minutes airtime.
In the Kingdom, I personally use more data because I like to share pictures, videos and this year will be filing reports about my journey for The Citizen.
The SIM card costs around SR100 which equates to about R435. The debate about mobile phone packages is for a another day, but for a quick comparison of a major network in South Africa, a 20GB in SA will cost you around R600.
After some challenges, we reached our hotel in Makkah just after 1am. Most of the group, including myself, were extremely tired having been up from around 3am the previous day and only catching a few winks on the plane and on the bus trip from Jeddah to Makkah.
Once in the hotel, we were checked into our rooms and got comfortable, albeit still in Ihram. A person is only allowed out of Ihram after he completes his Umrah.
I was also happy to note that I had wonderful roommates, who are kind respectable and just genuine good guys who were part of our group.
Rafique Bagus was from Cape Town, Aqueel Osmany from Lenasia, whose house is just opposite my late mom’s, and finally Haroon Pandor, the son of foreign affairs minister Naledi Pandor.
Others in our trip included Sheikh Irfaan from the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), Ismail and Hashim from the Religious Attache of Saudi Arabia in Pretoria, and three of the spouses of the men in our group.
Being a journalist, I didn’t come here to report on politics, but rather on the spiritual journey of hajj and my chats with Haroon were general like any two individuals would chat about the journey, where we from and our families, basically normal stuff…
I have to admit I am part of a wonderful group who accommodate and care for each other and on the journey of hajj that is very important.
Haroon mentioned a quote saying he was told that when you embark on the journey of Hajj, you must take one bag of clothes and five bags of patience.
That is so true, considering that there are a million pilgrims from across the globe, different nationalities, languages in Makkah all for the same purpose, to perform Hajj. The language can be a barrier, but if you know how to use Google translate, you just break that barrier down slowly and the brotherhood strengthens.
My next entry into this Hajj diary will be the Umrah, and boy do I have a story to tell and how much I hate Covid and why you should too because the dreaded virus is an immoral, sadistic slime ball.
We are beating it, but the pandemic doesn’t leave you alone… more in the next entry.