If you are swayed by the mass media, you may get the impression that Muslims are stuck in the backward past. Of course, there are no generalisations that could ever really be true, given the infinite variation among humans and that all essential free will. We do believe in a Qur’an that has not changed in over 1400 years but we also live in the present. And in the present there are these marvelous advancements in technology which can make anyone’s life easier – and it is no different for Muslims. And for Muslims preparing for Hajj, some of these trappings of “modernity” can be a real help.
I was particularly worried as the time for the Hajj grew closer, because I was not with my parents who had the experience of performing Hajj before. I spend a lot of my time alone, traveling on planes, in hotel rooms etc, or in Guyana where I am based. Additionally, I was only going to be in Trinidad a few days before we left for Makkah. How was I going to learn the du’a, internalise the various steps, feel really prepared without that communal preparation. Many Hajj groups or jamaat have Hajj classes to prepare people for this major undertaking. Although I could learn these things on my own, for me (and many of you) that communal learning, particularly with others also making the trip, really helps. This is where the world of computers, internet, handheld devices and media players, is a boon.
A really good start is to get yourself a copy of the Simple Hajj Guide from fatwa-online.com – it’s a “Handy foldable A4-sheet pocket” Guide that has all you need to know in a single document. The steps, the du’a and portions of the Qur’an as and when needed. You can get a version with or without the Qur’anic translation. We had them in the foldable pocket size, but Lilandra also printed them out a little bigger (one section to a half-letter size), laminated them, punched a hole in the corner of each page and loosely tied them together with yarn. Easy-to-read and protected from the elements.
Find relevant Hajj maps to get an idea of where you’ll be going for the Hajj – the routes, the places you’ll be staying etc. You don’t have to memorise these things – you’ll be following a massive group most of the time so it’s not likely you’ll get lost – but if you’re like me, this is essential to visualise the process and make you feel like you know what you will be doing. You can visit the Ministry of Hajj or Ummah.net or google for maps that seem to be your liking.
The joys of Skype.
This tip is obviously for people who are not in the same place… We gathered together as a family with our Simple Hajj Guides, books our Hajj leader may have given us, the maps and then conference-called on Skype. Free (once you’ve paid for the internet) and pretty decent connection. We went through the whole process as guided by the parents who had done this before, reciting the elements, finding places on the map. See if you can Skype someone who can guide you like this – or Skype (or Google Talk or however you want to communicate) with other members of your family or group to have a community study session. Video and or tele-conferencing works in our jobs – it can work for the Hajj as well.
In addition to a couple Skype sessions, Lilandra also had Dad record the steps and the required recitations from the Simple Hajj Guide. She used Audacity and a nice USB Headset with Microphones. Originally saved as Wav files and then converted to MP3s – a series of files so they could be easily emailed and downloaded. These were one of the most brilliant things ever. Seriously. I put them on my phone (which doubled as my MP3 player) and on flights or in airports I just played them together with the Simple Hajj Guide and got myself ready. You could also connect your MP3 player to your car, or burn the files to a CD to play in your car and home stereo system (depending on the equipment available to you).
If you haven’t already, there are several audio recordings of the Qur’an available online that you should download and keep on your phone/MP3 player/iPod etc.
Since we’re on the topic of phones…before the Hajj, I was due to get a new cellphone and I got one that served me as my phone, mp3 player and camera. These are everywhere these days. So, we’ve covered why you need the mp3 player for Hajj (Simple Hajj Guide audio and the Qur’an), but the other elements are essential too.
Lilandra: I bought my new phone in Makkah. The *nice* thing about buying it there is that it came preloaded with neat things like Qur’an software (µQuran), an arabic-english dictionary and…that app for prayer times (can’t recall the name…the joys of being a klutz), the world over FREE!
GSM Phones – in order to use your phone in Saudi Arabia, you need to have a phone that works on the 900 band. We don’t use this band in Trinidad and Tobago, so check your phone before you go. Check your provider to see if you can roam in Saudi Arabia using your plan. Note that neither Digicel nor Bmobile in T&T prepaid plans allow you to roam in Saudi Arabia (*then* at least). Bmobile postpaid should roam, however.
However, if you have an unlocked quad-band GSM phone, you can buy a special Hajj SIM card on arrival in Saudi Arabia (in the airport) and there are top-ups available all over in the usual little shops and bigger supermarkets etc. We made sure all 4 of us had a unlocked quad-band phone each, and we each bought a Hajj SIM (these SIMs are active only for the period of the usual Hajj visit). This way we could communicate during the mass events (text or voice) with each other, with our Hajj leader, other members of the group and perhaps most importantly, communicate from a women’s tent to a men’s tent or vice versa, without disturbing any rules of purdah. During the tents in Mina, you will often find men waiting outside the women’s tents, waiting for someone to come out so they can ask for their wife, mother, sister, daughter etc. This way, the relatives know when to step outside We were also able to send texts and make calls back home (to Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, wherever) using these SIMs. It also made communicating with our “not-sheikh” very easy. He was just a text/phone call away once we left Aziziah!
Technically, photography is not allowed in the Haram. Or in the Prophet’s Masjid in Madinah. Although they are much stricter in the latter. However, you would never guess that by the number of photos you will see of all these places. The guards know about cameraphones too, so don’t think that saying it’s your phone will let you in. That being said, we did take photos during the Hajj, including of the Kaabah etc. Phones with cameras are small and can be slipped in. I have no idea how people slipped in regular camcorders and larger cameras…but they do and did… I saw people posing in front of the Kaabah as if they were at some kind of concert posing with the band. Strange. A little decorum and discretion would be great if you are planning to record some of these moments. And there are locations, moments and items you are allowed to photograph for which you may wish to have a camera. Camera on your phone means one less item to pack.
Saudi Arabia uses 110 V 220 V 60 Hz…there may be a variety of outlet types used (American 2-prong or 3-prong, the European 2-prong or the British 3-prong) but generally we found the European rounded 2-prong might be in hotels, but the tents in Mina seemed to use the British 3-prong. Walk with a universal adapter set and maybe some spares (these are cheap, it’s not that hard to obtain). There will be electrical outlets even in the tents in Mina and Arafat – try to be polite and generous in sharing the available outlets. Note that you may have to climb up to reach these outlets in the overhead duct systems. Ask before borrowing someone’s Hajj stool or luggage to climb up. Seriously. And no outlets are in Muzdalifa where you’re out in the open ground.
We didn’t walk with our laptops. In our hotel in Makkah, they might have given us a wireless password if we had. In the hotel in Madinah, the guy there said Internet Cafés. – And I’m not sure about those being available for women.
But, if you have a smart phone/good browser, and you’re already splurging on your jewellery and clothes on top of your hajj cost, then well, feel free to use the prepaid GPRS/EDGE/data plan.
I think I did get some free Wifi hot spots in the airport at least.
The Hajj is itself loaded with rewards for the believing Muslim. But within the Hajj there are countless opportunities to make supplication or du’a to Allah (swt), or make dhikr (remembrance). If you haven’t memorised sufficient du’a etc then you should try to get some of those handy little publications like Forty Rabbana (a collection of authentic du’a found in the Qur’an) or Hisnul Muslim (Fortress of the Muslim) (available electronically from fatwa-online.com). Search for electronic versions suitable for handheld devices to keep with you or get the printed versions which are small and pocket sized. If you search online, you should also be able to find audio recordings of Hisnul Muslim. Actually, incorporating the du’as (prayers) and dhikr (rememberance) in Hisnul Muslim right away is a good start. There are so many nice du’as there. Flip through the table of contents!