As one of the five pillars of Islam incumbent upon every Muslim that is physically and financially able to perform it, many Muslims see Hajj pilgrimage as a lifetime goal. For Usman Sarki (surname changed), a young farmer from Niger State, his joy knew no bounds when it was confirmed that he would be participating in this year’s exercise. “We tried obtaining a seat last year through Kogi State, but we were not successful largely because the seats were still limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

But luck smiled on Usman this year as he and his uncle were able to secure a seat through the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). However, being the first time, he would be setting his foot outside the shores of Nigeria, he was ill-at-ease. It was also his first time to fly in an aeroplane.

“When people see how excited I was to be part of this year’s Hajj, they are simply astonished. Some wonder how I was able to afford it. Others see me as rich man because they have no idea how we were able to pay. It is just like seeing a porter with a load on his head; many will just assume that the porter is strong and powerful, not knowing that some people might have helped him to lift the load onto his head. It is the same thing with my case.

“My family has a tradition of saving money for this all-important spiritual journey. In our immediate household, my mother, father and two elder siblings have successfully performed the Hajj. So as the next on the list, I tried on my own to save as much as possible to complement what my family members will present. In the end, this journey would have been impossible without their contribution. The little left over has since been ploughed back to the till for future use.”

Visiting Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah

Usman and his co-travelers arrived in Madinah, Saudi Arabia around Subhi time on Tuesday. This was after seven hours plus journey that started Monday night in Abuja. “By the time we arrived in our hotel after all the necessary checks at the airport, I was too tired to do anything. So I slept off. Unknown to most of us, our hotel was just a stone-throw from the prophet’s mosque. It was surreal hearing the azhan (call to prayer) for Zuhr. I shed tears when I stepped into the mosque for the first time because what I felt is indescribable in words.

“Luckily for us, we said all our daily prayers, including Jumma’at for the six days we were in Madinah. We also got to visit historical and significant places such as Quba Mosque where a prayer earns reward equivalent to that of performing Umrah, Masjid Qiblatain where Prophet Muhammad SAW received the divine command to switch the Qibla from Jerusalem to Makkah, Baqi cemetery where a number of the prophet’s wives and companions were buried, among others.”

48 hours of confusion, uncertainty

As fate would have it, Usman had a nasty experience a day after. “As early as 5am on Wednesday, agents had stormed our hotel, looking for those interested in fixing silver or gold tooth. I followed the agents along with a friend. I was happy to have the silver tooth fixed.”

However, by the time he returned to his hotel room, Usman realised that the waist bag containing all his Basic Travel Allowance (BTA) which is USD700 was nowhere to be found. “I was dumbfounded. There was no place I did not search in the hope of finding it, I also kept asking anyone that crossed my path whether they have seen my bag. While some sympathised and prayed for me, others accused me of carelessness.

“But one particular pilgrim assured me that the money would be found. They were words I was glad to hear, even though I had no idea how. I however had to call home and informed them about my predicament and why they must send me money through the next flight from Abuja or my Hajj will simply be a disaster.”

Usman couldn’t eat for the remainder of the day. He also spent the next 24 hours in total confusion. The following morning, some 48 hours after, a friend asked him to accompany him to fix the silver tooth. “I agreed to escort him only because I wanted to use the opportunity and ask about my missing money. It was a decision I was happy to have made. When we arrived, I asked the lady at the front desk and just like a dream, she brought out my bag with all the contents intact. She told me that they couldn’t contact me because there was no contact details. I thanked her profusely. In fact, many might have felt embarrassed by my celebration but I didn’t case. I also remembered the words of that pilgrim that my money would be found. Indeed, Allah is Great.”

From one trouble to another

In another twist of fate, Usman’s joy at finding his missing money turned out to be short lived. “I returned to our hotel to learn that scammers had duped my uncle of his money. They found him walking back from the mosque to the hotel alone because the distance is quite short. They claimed to be officials and demanded for his documents to show that he was not an illegal pilgrim. He ended up handing over his visa and BTA to them. By the time they returned the documents, they had swapped his five $100 bills with five dollars. When he narrated his experience to his roommates, they tried tracing the scammers but they have since disappeared. The only thing he could say about the criminals was that were fair in complexion. In the end, the money sent to me from home was used for my uncle. But I kept the money in my possession asking him to inform me in case he needed anything.”

Ready for Makkah

After the Madinah experience, Usman had become more careful in his dealing with people. So he arrived in Makkah mentally prepared.

“I instantly noticed that the population in Makkah was two or three times that of Madinah. And somehow, our hotel was quite distant from the Grand mosque housing the Kaabah in Makkah, unlike in Madinah. So sometimes we say our prayers at our hotel. You have to plan if you intended to say your prayer at Haram because people were many and the entrances can be shut at short notice to control human flow. Unless you arrive in good time you may end up observing your prayers outside.”

He added that “Few days after arriving Makkah from Madinah, after the completion of our Umrah rites, we removed our ihrams in preparation for the Hajj proper. I did Tamattu’, which is a type of Hajj where the pligrim starts with Umrah. Upon reaching Makkah, we did the Tawaf (circumambulation of the Holy Kaabah) and Sa’yi (walking between Safa and Marwa) for Umrah. After that we cut our hair and removed the ihram. On the eighth of Dhul-Hijja, we put on our Ihram again for Hajj, which took us to the Masha’er, i.e. Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah for the Hajj rites. Most Nigerian pilgrims do the Tamattu’ as against Qiraan and Ifrad.

Thumbs up for NAHCON, other Hajj authorities

Asked to compare his stay in Madinah to that of Makkah, he said “My summation is that while Madinah is more welcoming and accommodating, Makkah is more bustling. But I later learnt that the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) was solely responsible for our stay in Madinah. Things were certainly better organised in Madinah than in Makkah, where the states took over most services. If I am to decide, NAHCON should get more involved in other things for the benefit of the pilgrims.”

He expressed appreciation for the good work that officials despite some noticeable challenges. For instance, according to Usman, what he experienced in Mina, Arafat, and Muzdalifah is a story he will live to remember, sadly not for the difficulties that made unforgettable. “I was counseled about patience, patience and patience. I was told about the long queues at the rest room and the crammed sleeping position in Mina. Indeed, it is better heard than experienced. But now that I have experienced it, I am a better person. I also understand why pilgrims are made to undergo series of sensitisation programmes.” Like many pilgrims, Usman stayed for only two days in Mina. Very few waited to complete the three days.

Waiting for the return trip

Back from the Masha’er, the thought of returning home dominated Usman’s mind. Any story that does not include information about likely day of departure to Nigeria is not one he wants to hear. It is made worse by the rising number of scammers posing in fine cars and claiming to be stranded pilgrims to get money from those they should be helping. Many fall for this. “Right now, I am homesick, always thinking about my little daughter. Many pilgrims are also on the edge. Nevertheless I look forward to visiting Saudi Arabia again and again. I pray that Almighty Allah will accept our Hajj and make us better human beings because of it.”

Source: Hajj Reporters

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