As I circled around inside the mosque one day, I came across Bab raqm tis'wa thamanin, "door number 89," literally, the door with no name. Facing the mosque at door number one, bab maalik 'abd-al-'Aziz, this door is off to the left. Looking at the mosque floor plan, this is where the building structure of the mosque is deepest. This is "the women's section." I noticed as I was walking through the first floor toward door number one, the kings' door, on my way out after zuhr prayer one day. There it was: a whole section with all women in it.
Not wanting to get my hopes up too high and then be disappointed (because this was at least 45 minutes after the prayer had ended), I ask the female guard, "al-Nisaa yajuz tusalli hinna?"-are women allowed to pray here? And she said, "yes, this is the women's section." Cool. I mean, literally. This was the coolest temperature of all the sections of the mosque that I had been in.
I changed my plans and decided I would have a quick lunch at the mall, and then return and get the opportunity to pray on the first floor and not be hassled. Yay! Clearly, I was celebrating prematurely. In all my attention to seeing women un-hassled in this section, I failed to notice that from this section, the Ka'abah is not visible.
Now the words of my friend Zainah came back to me, "All our lives we pray, oriented towards the Ka'abah. We even have prayer rugs with it designed upon them. So of course when you are there you want to be able to see the real thing as you pray." It seem par for the course in finding markers to make my way back that this section would be by the door with no name. Are you getting the metaphors here?
December 12, 2010—M & M (Makkah, Madinah, Mina & Muzdalifah)
One week after my rapid completion of umrah, getting out of ihram, and exploring the grand mosque inside and out, upstairs and into the basement, it was time for hajj. By this time the number of persons who had flooded the city was astronomical. The roommate and I often opted for joining prayer lines out on the street, rather than to fight with the crowds for the Haram mosque at this point. That is, unless we planned ahead by at least an hour. They said the Saudi government had allowed five million this year. I don't know where the information comes from and besides, can one individual actually tell the difference between the three million norm and a five million tops? All of the next few days were meant to be completed in concert with millions of people at this juncture. Yet, somehow, it is also supposed to remain intensely personal.
I call this M & M, because afterwards it may not be possible to keep up with all the names of places that start with an M: Makkah, Madinah, Muzdalifah, and Mina. But besides that, I'll give some of the day-by-day expectations, and experiences. Hopefully, the place names themselves will get sorted out. This is hajj. Some people, including locals who live in Saudi, come here only for these days; so whatever madness of number is simply multiplied.
Okay, so on Sunday night, Mr. Mansour said, we should sleep in ihram. I first took this to mean, sleep in my day clothes, but actually, it just meant that I should take the full ritual bath with the unscented soaps, make my intentions, niyyah and pray two rakaats, before going to bed. Tentatively, he said, there would be two busloads (full to standing-room only) that would leave for the camps at Mina. The first bus was scheduled for midnight. Mina is only about five miles from Makkah. Give or take two hours for complication, I thought this meant that bus number two would be leaving around 2 a.m. He arbitrarily divided the group by floors: floors 6 and below would go at midnight and the rest of us would go sometime later, on the second bus.
Because this is what I came for, the hajj that is, I was way off in the "on pins and needles" camp. I lay in bed sometime around ten, after the bath and packing a backpack and deciding what I would actually wear. Again this is where solid advice is really, really helpful. I took a little from a friend who had made hajj previously, and a little from Mr. Mansour. (Later I'll assess this advice because it really is important here, how you plan.)
Mina is a tent city. For four or five days pilgrims will camp here. It is pretty close to what I imagine a refugee camp would be like, except we are housed in homo-social settings. Our group had more men than women, but most of the women were in some way attached to one or more of the men. This was comical because all though this, the men would hover around the tent entries, send notes, make phone calls, actually get their phone cords recharged, and send food and drink through every possible opening in the tent. As far as I could tell, it was always the men hanging around our tent and not the women hanging around the men's tent. Pretty funny if you think about it. They were like lost puppies without their women. Yet patriarchy would have us think they are the masters.