September 24, 2015
After Arafat, pilgrims spend the night in a place called Muzdalifah, which is just south of Arafat. We spend the night on bare ground, without a tent, under the open sky. It’s kind of funny when I look at it this way. We started our journey in 2 high-end hotels. Then we went to the dorms in Aziziya, which made me miss the hotel. Then the tent camp in Mina, which made me miss Aziziya. Then the bare ground of Muzdalifah, which made me miss Mina.
If I could summarize Muzdalifah in one word: raw. It’s a night spent in the barest of conditions. I had packed a makeshift pillow, which consisted of a drawstring bag with a rolled up blanket. We arrived there, and it was exactly as described: a flat, open space. Our site was in a small valley between the hills. Mercifully, my friend Salih was able to get a mat to sleep on (which was just a thin fiber mat, kind of like what you’d find on a placemat at the dinner table). Some people packed sleeping bags, but I figured it was only one night—and the nights here are warm and thick—so I could survive with what I had. One thing I didn’t pack, though: water.
One thing this journey has taught me is just how precious water is. I wondered why the Prophet (p) would say to drink with three breaths, but now I understand. In the blazing heat, a single sip of water is far more satisfying if it stays in your mouth for a while.
However, I only packed a bottle and a quarter of water. I had to ration how much I drank, and prevent myself from drinking too much. I also had a plum, dates, and a banana that Salih gave me. But in the hot night, I lost most of my water through sweat. I didn’t think that through. I managed to sleep for an hour or so, but woke up with a severe craving for water. I only had half a bottle of water left. I ate half the banana, but the starches left my mouth sticky. I ate the plum, but the sourness left my mouth bitter. I needed to drink, but the night had only just began—it was around midnight when I woke up. Now, everywhere we’ve been has supplied us with water. Even the Haram has drink stations. But Muzdalifah is the one place where water isn’t provided (there’s washrooms and wudhu stations, but no water stations). From a logistics point of view, this makes sense: the place is literally only used for a few hours once per year. But that doesn’t stop independent sellers from setting up shop and selling their own bottled water. But I didn’t pack money with me – I didn’t think I’d need it, after all.
So I drank my mouthful of water to quench the bitterness in my mouth, and I had a little over a quarter left. I tried to ignore it, but it kept gnawing at my stomach and my mind. I began to experience a minor delirium as I staved off the beginnings of a panic attack. My mind became more and more blank. I laid back down on my pillow and tried to sleep. Thank God I was able to; in fact, it’s a straight mercy from Him I was able to. I usually can only sleep in pitch dark [and] silence.
Living this reality every night
Muzdalifah is like sleeping on a gravel road in the middle of a city at rush hour. People talking, yelling, street lights glaring overhead, people walking around you, almost on you, while thirst and the urge to go to the bathroom eat away at your focus.
Sounds a bit like being homeless, doesn’t it?
One thing I took away from Muzdalifah is the fact that I only had to suffer these discomforts for a night. There are people out there that have to live this reality every night. The washrooms were crowded, people slept on cardboard, children were crying, we were all confined to a fenced-off area. This was only a taste of what a refugee camp must be like. I was able to sleep a second time, until about 3:30. It turns out counting sheep jumping over a fence is surprisingly effective at putting me to sleep… SubhanAllah, when I woke up I was no longer thirsty.
I was with 4 other brothers from our group. One of them, an older Somalian man named Abdulrashid, had fallen sick so he was able to leave early. We prayed Fajr and tried to find the rest of our group, but couldn’t find them. I was with Abu Bakr (also an older Somalian man) and we decided to wait in one of the other groups looking to get on the bus. It arrived, we got on, and returned to camp—though the bus was packed and crowded. We got back, but didn’t have time to rest: ahead of us was one of—if not the—longest days in my life.
There are moments in your life that are transformative, events that make you into a new person. To me, Muzdalifah was that moment. It was the single most difficult moment of Hajj for me.
It started as the day of Arafat came to a close. We were led by our guides to a large, gated area where we had to wait for the buses to come and take our group. Here, in the overhead lights and dark of night, it felt as though we were in a post-apocalyptic movie. A huge throng of people waited for their turn to go into the holding pen, a separate area gated off for the next group who would catch the bus. People were getting separated, some were trying to sneak into the holding pen. And there we waited. And waited.
The best advice I was given is not to bother wearing a watch during Hajj. You become distant from the need for time, because looking at your watch won’t make things go faster. And so we waited. Finally, the bus came, and we all filed onto the bus to take us north to Muzdalifah.
Exposed like a raw nerve
In the long, hot night of Muzdalifah, your entire being is stripped back and exposed like a raw nerve. There is very little in the way of material comfort. You spend the night on bare, rocky ground, surrounded by chattering voices and streetlamp-style lights and people stepping around (or on) you. Here, for one night, you live the reality of those who have to live like this every day—the homeless, the refugee, the destitute.
In my own foolishness, I didn’t pack enough water. I stared at the independent water sellers, wavering between contempt for their charging for water, and my own self chastisement for not packing enough.
I remember in the midst of my delirium the need for survival and self-preservation began to outweigh any form of altruism. At the brink of thirst, I coveted my water and fruit as though they were the only things that would keep me alive. It was a grapple with my own nature. When the pangs of desperation hit, it becomes a battle to fight your inner self. The will to survive begins to outweigh altruism. I witnessed firsthand how the fear of survival makes men greedy, and can overpower their innate human kindness. I struggled with that, recognizing the greed buried within myself, but not caring because I felt I would die without these things. Eventually, though, I offered my fruit to my friend Saleh—but I was grateful when he declined.
The night crawled slowly. We passed time collecting pebbles, which we would need to throw at the Jamarat pillars in the days that followed. Some stayed up into the night, talking in their groups. Others managed to sleep. By the Grace of God I was able to get a few hours of sleep, as broken as it was. It was hot; it was harsh; and it brought me face-to-face with myself. I wasn’t entirely pleased with what I saw.
Facing your inner self
So why all the hardship?
Why can’t we sleep under a nice tent with air conditioning? In the days of the Prophet (p), there surely were many who slept under the canopy of night regularly. But today, we’re used to having a roof over our heads and a mattress under our backs. Muzdalifah strips you of your material comforts. You lay outside in the simplest of garments—ihram—and live for a few hours at the most basic existence. The ground is your bed, the sky is your roof and nothing distinguishes you from the person next to you, except your heart. Here, you are whittled down to your core. For these few hours, you are with your true self, and here is where you can face it and adjust it. Your patience is tested—in fact, Hajj is one long test of patience that continues to increase in intensity.
Sheikh Munir said that we all have our own customized Hajj package. Though the acts of worship are the same, we all experience it differently, and take away lessons that are meaningful to ourselves. So while there were many around me who were able to sleep well on the bare ground, and others who were fine with passing the time by talking with others, this night, to me, was one of the most significant nights of my life. In a way, it was a small victory: I was able to overcome my greed, no matter how reluctantly, simply because I felt it was the right thing to do.