Pilgrims’ Grouping Centre
At the Pilgrims’ Grouping Centre (also known as the "Hijri"), make a written note of which bay your bus/taxi has been allocated and its plate number. This is because all the bays look alike and all the Muassassas buses/taxis are similar in colour and shape (!).
Also, send two of your reps. with the bus driver to finish off all the necessary formalities. This can take anything up to 3 hours!! There are many eating facilities here, cold drinking water, (Zam Zam), an ablution block and a Masjid.
At this centre, one of the officers of the Muassassas will board your bus with the passports, and you will now be driven first to the Muassassas city office in Makkah. If your bus has people of different nationalities, (which is usually the case), then make a note of which number your Muassassas office is. (This number has been stuck on your passport at the United Agents’ desk at the Hajj Terminal). At your Muassassas office, your passports will be handed over to the officer-in-charge. (Please ensure that your reps. accompany the driver). The officer will demand two passport-size photos of each and every one of the Hujjaajj. Thus, from Madinah, ensure that your passport photos are kept handy i.e. in your hand purse and not in your luggage, (which will have been securely tied up on the top of the bus). This officer will tell the reps. to return to his office a couple of days later to collect all your I.D.’s which look something like our NRC, only larger. When you receive this card you will officially become a Hajji. This card will gain you legal access to the tents in Mina/ Arafaat. It also has details of your tent location in Mina and Arafaat.
All of you will also be issued with a colour-coded wristband depicting the office number and its physical address. This wristband you will wear all the time till your departure from the kingdom.
Next, the Muassassas office will allocate an official to you and transport you in their vehicle to your prepaid lodging. This same office is now at your disposal till your departure from the kingdom. (It is supposed to assist you in your Tawaaf, Sa'ee, etc., but we have yet to encounter such services!).
On arrival at your pre-booked hotel, you will be met by your travel agent’s representative who will give written details explaining times for Umrah, Ziyyaarat, meals etc. Those wishing do perform Umrah on their own can do so at their convenience or wait for the agent’s appointed time. A few days after your arrival in Makkah, the travel agent’s representative will present you with a photographic Muassassah’s ID card, if you had not received one earlier. This will now be your most important form of ID while in the kingdom.
Functions of the Muassassas (Mutawwifs)
These people are appointed by the Saudi Arabian government and are responsible for the needs of the Hujjaajj such as transportation between the Holy Sites, accommodation in the tents at Mina and Arafat, etc. Their office is also named the Experimental National Establishment for Pilgrims of ... (name of country or area e.g. African, European, and Asian). Hence the Hujjaajj are grouped according to their nationality. These are the same people who keep your passport till your departure. These are the same people to whom you pay a fixed amount through the Saudi Arabian Embassy in your country via the bank draft system. They have offices in Mina and Arafat and all are open 24 hours. These offices are normally staffed by individuals who speak the appropriate language of the countries they represent.
Some of the services they provide are as follows:
Doors of the Haram
There are over a hundred doors to enter the Haram from. All of them look very similar but fortunately, are numbered both on the inside and outside, with most having a name also, the names and numbers being both in Arabic and English. These doors are numbered in an ascending order following an anticlockwise with fashion with Bab Malik Abdul Aziz being Gate no. 1.
Bab-us-Salaam is Door No. 24 and on many an occasion is closed because of people performing Sa’ee very near this door.
Near Door No. 13 is a “Lost and Found Centre”, both for lost articles and lost people on the ground floor and Door 65 on the first floor!
Ladies' area is generally to the left hand side of the entrance to the Masjid of most of the main entrances.
Be warned that Door No. 1 is usually used for the Janaazaa being carried out after the Fardh Salaat. Thus be co-operative by not blocking this doorway.
Wheelchairs & Other Services for the Disabled
Certain doors in the Sacred Mosque have been assigned for wheelchair-bound pilgrims including King Abdul Aziz Gate, (Door No. 1), Al-Safa Gate, Hunain Gate, Al-Marwah Gate, Othman Gate, Al-Fath Gate, Al-Madinah Gate, Al-Nadwa Bridge, Al-Madinah Bridge, Al-Umrah Gate, Gate No. 64, King Fahd Gate, Gate No. 94, Al-Raguba Bridge, the New Gate of Ajyad.
Door No. 11 is the main area for entering the Haram with a wheelchair.
Other doors providing wheelchair ramps are Doors No. 10 & 43.
Wheelchairs are available from inside the Haram near Safa Gate, Door No. 11. To the right of this door are elevators going to the first floor where you will also find wheelchairs directly in front of you. All these wheelchairs are free but some form of ID has to be deposited as security. There is no one to push these chairs.
If you need someone to push then such wheelchairs are available from outside Door No. 13 area and cost about 50 Riyals. However, these are not recommended as the person doing the pushing does not stop at Safa or Marwa for you to perform the Sunnat Du'aa. In addition, he may not have the necessary permit, hence if he sees an official after him, he will tip you out of the wheelchair midway between either your Tawaaf or Sa’ee and you will have lost that money. Note that if you are going to make use of these wheelchairs then you will complete your Sa'ee much earlier than those doing it on foot, hence pre-arrange a meeting place.
You need to obtain a permit from the office near Door No. 12 if you have your own wheelchair in order to enter the Haram with your own make and model!
If you have your own wheelchair, you will not be allowed entry into the ground floor; you will have to go to the first floor or above. The access to the first floor is via the ramps between Babul Umrah & Babul Fatah and from the Marwa end from Gaza and via a ramp next to the Royal Palace between Bab Malik Abdul Aziz & Safa. There is also a lift access outside Babus Safa.
Outside Door No. 1 a new outlet has been opened for free usage of wheelchairs.
Ensure that the wheelchairs have a plastic band as a footrest, (as opposed to a metal pedal), since the latter can cause a painful injury to the person in front of you in the crowds.
A specific track has now been assigned for the wheelchairs on the first floor of the Haram overlooking the Mataaf.
A site on the 2nd floor has been assigned for translating the Friday and Eid Khutbah into sign language.
A number of copies of the Holy Qur'aan in Braille have been put at different places in the Masjid to help the blind.
Nine escalators and a number of emergency gates are operational in the Sacred Mosque in case of an emergency.
Some of the toilets in the surrounding courtyard have been designed to meet the needs of people with a disability.
Do not worry about carrying your luggage, (albeit heavy luggage because of your Madinah shopping!), with you to your accommodation in Makkah because there are a lot of private porters roaming around, with large trolleys, only too eager to assist you at a nominal charge.
It does not matter what time of the day it is, do not commence your Umrah now. Understandably, you are all too eager to come out of your Ihraam, but be patient, and wait until after Esha. After Esha, refreshen yourself with a good meal, visit the toilet and renew your Wudhu. You will need all the energy to complete your Umrah in a serene and calm manner. It may take as long as 3-4 hours, or as short as 1 hour, depending on the crowds and on whether you are performing everything on the rooftop, 1st. floor, or ground floor.
Ensure that you have effected the Idjtibaa, (men only), in your hotel room before commencing your Umrah Tawaaf, as to do Idjtibaa in the Haram, although allowed, is awkward.
Also ensure that your womenfolk have sewn a ribbon/bow of a distinct colour on the back of the headpiece of their “burkha/burkhee” for easy identification from the rear in the crowds!
Before commencing Tawaaf, get a bearing of your surroundings inside the Haram and identify landmarks which each one of you can easily spot, (e.g. three vertical green lights on the Masjid wall in line with Hajr-e-Aswad - this is a very common identifiable landmark - or neon lights indicating various gate numbers, etc.). The selected point should be the designated meeting place for all, in case you get lost or split up during Tawaaf, the latter being the more likely.
Avoid doing a Sunnat, (e.g. kissing the Hajr-e-Aswad or praying immediately behind Maqam-e-Ibrahim), if it would mean harming others in the process, as harming others is Haraam.
It is difficult to read and recite from Kitaabs or the Qur’aan without bumping into others, (males and females alike!), especially during Tawaaf; thus it is better to recite shorter Duas and/or verses from memory.
Ensure that you, as a male, do not perform a Salaat near, (or behind), a female for whatever reason. Women should pray behind men in areas that are specifically designated for them by distinct barriers. However, it is highly advisable that your womenfolk pray all their Fardh Salaat in their respective hotel/apartment rooms.
During Tawaaf, try and stay on the periphery of the Mataaf in order to avoid congestion, jostling and treading of toes. However, by doing this, your circuit will be longer, (but you will obtain more Thawaab.)
Usually the best time for Tawaaf in the early days is between 23.00hrs and 02.00hrs. The closer you get to Hajj, the more difficult it becomes to make Tawaaf as there is no "off-peak" period.
Distance between Safa and Marwa is about 450 metres hence the total distance covered in Sa'ee will be just over 3 kilometres! The fast walking between the green lights for the males is nearer to Safa than Marwa.
Shaving of Head (Halq/Qasr)
AFTER Sa'ee, make Marwa gate on the outside of the Haram your meeting place, before going to the barbers. In the meantime, the womenfolk can wait in the open plaza just outside the Safa-Marwa area. Do not allow them to return to the hotel on their own, as they are likely to get disorientated.
Alternatively, instead of having your head shaven by the barbers near Marwa, you and your womenfolk could all return to your hotel and the men folk could then have their head shaven by barbers in the hotel’s vicinity.
Confirm the price that the barber is going to charge for shaving your head before sitting on his chair. Generally they trick you by showing 3 fingers but end up, quarrelling, demanding 5 Riyals and they will tell you that 3 Riyals was for “Qasr” (trimming) and 5 Riyals for "Halq" (complete shaving).
Toilet and Wudhu complex is also very near the Safa-Marwa area and cold Zam-Zam drinking water fountain taps are also found in close proximity.
Lately, large, open-air Wudhu facilities have been constructed in the courtyard. These are very convenient as they are nearer than the large ablution block near Marwa or the underground ones.
Ensure you have Wudhu all the time in the Haram Shareef or else you may miss out on the Salaat with Jamaat even if you get to the nearest Wudhu facility. This is because of difficulties in coming out of the Haram due to the crowds.
Levels For Salaat in the Grand Mosque
The Makkah Haram consists of four floors but “5” levels for Salaat. These are as follows:
Close to Babul Umrah, this level can be accessed directly from the street using pedestrian bridges/fly-overs as the street here is at the same level as this floor.
Aluminium stairs found near the Sa’ee area are used for crossing the Masaa, (Sa’ee area), using the pedestrian flyovers, either into or out of the Haram. These stairs do not lead to the first floor.
The Direction of the Qiblah in the Haram
The prayer mat-sized, prayer mat-shaped marble tiles in the new extension and in the Mataaf are all facing the Kaabaah. This is also true for the courtyard on the outside.
At some places, especially in the Turkish extension, these marble tiles are not laid in a circular fashion, hence are not facing the Kaabaah at any given point. However, if you look carefully on the floor, you will notice two parallel lines, blue in colour, etched in the marble floor right round this extension. These two lines, sometimes only visible in between adjacent carpets, are in a circular fashion, indicating the direction of the Qiblah. By following these blue lines you will be facing the Kaabaah even if this area is covered with rectangular carpets.
There is also a strip of dark-coloured tiles at various intervals which represents the direction of the Qiblah.
Avoid joining a row of prayers without ensuring the Qiblah direction as that row may not be facing the Qiblah at all. This is especially true in situations where the Kaabaah is not visible at all, and also for the ladies' section situated on the ground level & the first floor level.
It is advisable to have your own pocket Qur’aan with you from your home country as it will be of the “print” you are used to. In addition, you tend to lose your place of Salaat by getting up either to get a Qur’aan or to replace it on the shelf.
Qur’aans in the text we are used to, (i.e. “Pakistani” version), are available in the Haram but are placed haphazardly in the shelves, (unlike Madinah), and are difficult to identify from the bound edge.
Ensure that each one of you has a “Theli” made of white calico to hang around your neck. This bag should have two vertical compartments - one for your slippers, (pata-patas), and the other for your collapsible umbrella or for a small plastic bottle of mineral, (or Zam Zam), water. This bag will ensure that both your arms remain free.
While in Makkah, try and reverse the day for the night and vice-versa, getting up only for Zuhr and Asr. Try and begin your day of intense Ibaadaat from Maghrib till Fajr/Ishraaq, only breaking for supper and snacks. Sleep during the daytime.
Zam Zam Water
Buy, or fill, a 10-litre can of Zam Zam water regularly to keep in your room for drinking purposes. However, ideally it is the responsibility of the Muassassas office to ensure that you are constantly supplied with Zam Zam water (!)
Zam Zam water coolers, (iced and non-iced), are dotted all over the Haram. Non-iced water coolers are marked with green Arabic writing. During busy periods, these coolers are removed in order to create more space for Salaat.
These containers have cup holders both on the right and left when facing them. The unused cups are supposed to be on the right and on the left, used cups. Be wary of the cups you use!
The Zam Zam well entrance which used to be located diagonally behind Maqam-e-Ibrahim towards Safa has been closed and the area flattened since 2004 in order to make more space for Tawaaf and Salaat. These Zam Zam taps have now been relocated in the same area against the wall separating the Mataaf level from the "ground level". The taps at the Mataaf level are for the males whereas those on the "ground" level are for the females. Hence the females will have to climb a few steps to access these taps.
If you wish to fill large containers with Zam Zam water then such taps are outside Door No. 45 which is located under the ramp leading to the street. Alternatively, you may be allowed to fill a 500-750 ml bottle from the coolers inside the Haram.
Ensure that you arrange and pack your Zam Zam water before Hajj as it is very difficult to get it soon after Hajj especially for those who are returning home soon after Hajj.
Dotted all around the inside of the Haram Shareef are square-faced clocks suspended from the ceiling. These clocks have two opposing faces, depicting Arabic/Islamic time, (which is 00:00hrs. at Maghrib time and 01:30hrs. at Esha Azaan time), and the other two opposing faces depicting the dial you are used to. Above these clocks is a continuous digital display of the various Azaan times for the day. Note that the Tahajjud Azaan is one hour earlier than Fajr Azaan.
All Azaans are at Awwal times, hence Sehri ends with the onset of Fajr Azaan. Jamaat times are not fixed, (unlike in our hometowns), and they tend to vary on a daily basis. As Hajj draws nearer, the time between Azaan and Jamaat gets shorter and shorter, sometimes Iqaamat being called more or less immediately after Azaan(!).
Ishraaq time is not indicated on these clocks. However, sunrise time is indicated and exactly twelve minutes later the rooftop spotlights and minaret lights go off indicating that Ishraaq time has now set in!
About fifteen minutes before each Azaan time, the Muezzin blows into the public address system which alerts the female security officials to place themselves in such a position in the Haram so as to prevent the womenfolk from going down into the Mataaf area. The womenfolk will instead be directed towards their designated prayer area.
This blowing also serves as a warning to women still performing Tawaaf to hurry up or to stop doing so and proceed to the prayer area designated for them.
Invariably, after a Farz Salaat, an announcement in Arabic is made, and this is the call for a Janaazaa Salaat which will ensue a few minutes later. Note that in this Janaazaa Salaat, the Imam says “Assalamoalaikum Warahmatullahe Wabarakaatooh” once only but you should turn your head to either side. In the announcement, "Rajul" means man, "Amwaat" means many and "Tifil" means child.
Juma Zuhr Salaat
On any given Juma, the time between Zuhr Azaan and Khutba is extremely short, so much so that you may still be praying your Sunnats and the Khutba may have already started(!).
No matter how early you go and secure a good place for Juma Zuhr Salaat, you will invariably be “squeezed” from all sides in due course. We personally would recommend that you join the Safs outside the Haram just before Azaan time, pray your four Sunnats, listen to the Khutba, (under a collapsible umbrella!), finish your Jamaat, and then return to your room to complete the rest of your Salaat. If you are going early then take a prayer mat with you in order to "book" your place! Your neighbour might just respect your domain as represented by the prayer mat!
In case you do happen to pray Juma Zuhr inside the Haram, then do not venture to exit once you complete your Salaat as there is a lot of congestion at the exits and it may take you anything up to forty-five minutes to come out! A plausible alternative would be either to make a Tawaaf or to pray the Qur’aan and then make for the exits about thirty to forty-five minutes later.
If you do get lost anywhere in the city or its environs, locate the “Pilgrims Assistance Booths” which are set up all over to help the Hujjaajj locate their hotels, tents, Jamaraat, Masjids, etc. Alternatively, all of you could designate a noticeable landmark to meet at in case of getting lost.
Baggage into the Haram
You are not allowed to carry boxes, shopping bags, strollers, etc. into the Haram Shareef. Sometimes even Mussallahs and drinking water bottles are not allowed. These will have to be left outside the Masjid entrances from where they have a tendency to “disappear” as their safety is not guaranteed.
Valuables into the Haram
Be careful with your wallets/purses/money-belts, as these have been reported to have been snatched away or ripped open, even during Tawaaf/Sa'ee.
Unfortunately, there are people who may try to con you with heartbreaking stories, especially in the Holy Places. Be wary of whom you may wish to give Lillah, or indeed, Zakaat.
Footwear into the Haram
It is advisable that you keep your footwear by you, (so as not to lose sight of them), either in a plastic bag, or better still, in the "theli" you have brought from home.
Physical Security Check
Be prepared to be physically searched by security personnel when entering the Haram. Females are searched by women and the males by men. Avoid any arguments, as the officials are only doing their assigned duties. It is actually more convenient to show them voluntarily what you are carrying on entering the Haram.
As Hajj approaches, the rooftop of the Haram in Makkah is opened and here it is very pleasant to pray Tahajjud/Fajr/Maghrib/Esha.
These are emergency facilities and are situated near Doors No. 5, 64 and 94.
There is also an emergency clinic outside Door No. 45 (=Babul Fatha).
Office Hours and Weekends
All facilities, (i.e. shops, banks, petrol stations, etc), are closed during the times of Salaat.
The weekend commences on Thursday afternoon and ends on Friday night, normal week commencing on Saturday morning.
Generally, shops are shut between Zuhr and Asr Salaat.
There are virtually no price tags displayed on goods. Bargaining is the norm. The closer Hajj gets, the less the bargaining power you will have. Shops/stalls can be very busy so it is wise to give the exact amount or else you will have to wait for a long time for change or the attendant might even forget to give you change!
Expect change to be “thrown” at you. The shop owner means no disrespect as this “throwing” is “the norm”.
Prices are generally the same both in Makkah and Madinah although Jeddah seems to be a bit more expensive.
Do not take small children's clothes or shoe sizes; instead measure them and draw the size of their feet on a piece of paper. This makes it easier to buy using a measurement rather than a size. Do not forget to take a measuring tape with you. Similarly, for rings, measure their finger size with a piece of cotton or string.
Ensure that branded goods are the original version e.g. Panasonic, (not Pensonic); Citizen, (not Citezen); Bata, (not Rata); etc.
When buying electrical items, check the voltage, whether 110V or 220V.
Visit to Jeddah
Generally, the agent charges a nominal fee and arranges a day trip to Jeddah via the Muassassas office. This includes a visit to various Masaajid, some graves, lunch and shopping. On the road to Jeddah, both outbound and inbound, there will be checkpoints to verify your ID's.
Fully automatic and one can dial almost anywhere in the world without the assistance of an operator.
Telephone calls from your hotel are free of charge within the city; however, the lines can be quite busy.
Avoid using the hotel’s telephone for international calls as these can be very expensive. Rather rely on the International Call Cabins which are all air-conditioned with privacy ensured, and are conveniently located.
Cell phone sim card most convenient and easily available in the street. Since 2004, a special Hajj sim card, with special numbers, valid for the Hajj period only, was introduced at a cost of 100 Riyals. Although very convenient, mobile phones are a nuisance as they can be very disturbing during Salaat, more so during Fardh Salaat.
These are available all over the place while some upmarket hotels also provide this service.
In Jeddah it is mainly 110V while in Makkah and Madinah it is mainly 220V.
Wall sockets are of the small, two-point, rounded variety. Buy an international plug adapter if you want to use any electrical item, especially to charge your cell phone.
Shop around at the various banks and money exchangers for the best rates for your forex. It is often advantageous to have US$ rather than British Sterling.
All your transportation would have been paid for in advance and arranged by your agent as per the new visa regulations.
Should the need arise, you can arrange for your own transportation, either private air-conditioned coaches/buses/taxis/limousines or the buses operated by the Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company, (SAPTCO).
The arrival and departure of SAPTCO buses is directly in front of Door No. 79, (King Fahd Door), or if you are facing the Hilton Makkah Towers, then this station is to your right.
The “yellow cabs” have Saudi Arabian drivers who do not speak anything but Arabic. Their cabs are slightly cheaper than the white limousines and may not be air-conditioned or as new as the limousines.
If you are travelling from one place to another by taxi then agree on a price beforehand and do not pay the driver until he has reached the agreed destination. If he insists on being paid first then get another taxi.
Fares are usually negotiable except for those departing from the airports.
In Ramadhaan routine changes for almost everyone and everything as outlined below.
General Working Hours
These differ from the rest of the year, opening later in the morning and closing after Zuhr Salaat only to reopen after Esha till about 02.00hrs.
Food outlets are closed the whole day only to open about thirty minutes before Maghrib and close about thirty minutes before Fajr.
From the last five days of Ramadhaan till about a week after Eid is usually a public holiday during which government offices/banks etc. are closed. However, most shops are open although shops in Jeddah are usually closed for two days following Eid Day.
Zam Zam Containers
These containers are turned around from just before Fajr Adhaan till just before Maghrib Adhaan so that the tap outlet is hidden from view.
If these are not placed in designated places, (i.e. shoe racks/boxes), then they will be swept and dumped in a heap outside the Haram.
Sometimes a cannon being fired can be heard. This is usually heard at Suhour starting time, Iftar time and to announce Eid if Ramadhaan is 29 days.
Salaat Times and Types
Esha Adhaan is two hours after Maghrib Adhaan while during other months this difference is one and a half hours.
Taraaweeh Salaat commences about five minutes after Esha Fardh is over.
The time between Adhaan and Iqaamat is fifteen minutes for Zuhr and Asr and ten minutes for Fajr, Maghrib and Esha. On the night before Eid, this time is adjusted to fifteen minutes. This also holds true for Fajr on Eid morning.
The total time for the whole Esha Salaat is two hours. Witr Salaat in congregation is performed in a manner which is alien to many so be wary.
A special Salaat called Qiyamul-Layl commences on the 21st night till the end of Ramadhaan at about 01.00hrs and lasts for one and a half to two hours. It consists of ten Rakaats; every two Rakaats lasting about fifteen minutes as all the pauses in this Salaat are quite lengthy.
The 27th and 29th nights are extremely crowded in the Haram. It is advisable to be in the Haram by Asr and only leave after Taraaweeh for a decent meal, relying on dates, water, coffee, tea, cakes, etc., (which you will have to “smuggle” into the Haram), for Iftar.
No announcement of any sort is made in the Haram as to whether the following day is Eid or not. However, this is done on radio and TV.
On the 29th of Ramadhaan, the clock display in the Haram will indicate Esha to be one and a half hours after Maghrib, instead of the allowable of two hours in Ramadhaan. Usually this is seen as an indication that the following day will be Eid. However, this is not so, as Esha will still be two hours after Maghrib if Ramadhaan is thirty days, (despite the clocks indicating otherwise).
Eid Salaat is about twenty minutes after sunrise, the latter time being indicated as Al-Shurook on the digital clocks.
Most shops are closed on Eid Day and the rest of the day is comparatively quieter than the last ten days of Ramadhaan.
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copyright February 2006 (Muharram 1427)
(updated December 2013 - Safar 1435)