I got back last week from Hajj. And let me tell you , it was a great trip! It’s the second time I go, and there was a significant difference compared to last time. This year I went on behalf of my late father.
For one, I went with a luxury hamla (Hajj tour operator) and we stayed at the Al-Tawheed Intercontinental Hotel, which is right next to the Holy Mosque. The place was very comfortable, and being so close to the Holy Mosque made all the difference.
The tour operator
The hamla is called Golden Tours, and their level of service was just phenomenal. They really went out of their way to make the trip as comfortable as possible. But what really impressed me was the Sheiks they brought along. The scholars were both Al-Azhar graduates. For your information, Al-Azhar based in Egypt, is the most prestigious Islamic university in the world, and one of the oldest (some say the oldest) in the world.
Whenever they lectured they did it with compassion and love, and from a true understanding of Islam. The hamla I went with back in 2005 were highly professional, organised and dedicated, but their religious views were very strict. I guess it’s no surprise as they were organised by a Salafi group. They were strict on segregating men and women (men sat in the front of the buses, and women in the back and I could not sit next to my wife), and the whole atmosphere had a spartan, disciplinary air to it.
The Egyptian group in contrast was relaxed and easy going. Though everyone was very religious, there did not seem to be any hint of a fundamentalist mentality. There were men and women’s tents (in Arafat and Mina), but women visited the men’s tent regularly, and there was a common area where people mixed and spoke freely.
I have to say the whole experience was great. Of course the hamla was extremely expensive, but to be honest it was worth every fils.
I want to commend the Saudi authorities for keeping the whole Hajj well organised and running smoothly. There were almost 3 million people this year, and as far as I know there wasn’t a single fatality. Of course with so many people there still is a lot of pushing and shoving, and lots and lots of garbage everywhere, but overall it went smoothly. Alhamduilah.
On the Saudi hospitality industry
One thing that takes me by surprise every time I stay in a hotel in Saudi is how poor the service is. It’s strange that such a country known for it’s hospitality has such a second rate hospitality industry. I’ve noticed many times in different Saudi cities that hotel and restaurant staff are generally poorly trained, demotivated and blunt – both Saudi and expats. It always takes me by surprise and makes me wonder why it’s like that.
But to be honest, that did not take away anything from the overall experience.
What I prayed for
I had a long list of things I prayed for. Predominantly, I prayed for my father. I also prayed for my family, my mother and other members. I also spent a lot of time praying for peace and prosperity to return to Bahrain. I prayed fervently that reconciliation would happen, and that Bahrain starts a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I prayed until I almost cried.
I also prayed for the following people:
– King Abdullah and King Hamad, and both the Saudi and Bahraini Leadership.
– I prayed for the people of Bahrain.
– I prayed for Bahrain’s opposition leader (yes I did, and I prayed for them, not against them) [لهم و ليس عليهم]
– I prayed for wise men to prevail, and for the madness to end.
I still pray for it.
PS Here are some photos, I hope you like them. Talk soon.