Haj diary: After hearing about pilgrims dying in stampedes during the tawaf, Haneen Dajani panicked at the thought of performing this ritual on her first Haj. But she discovered it was nothing like she feared.
Journey to Mecca turns fear to strength
MECCA // I had always heard tales about what it would feel like to see the Kaaba for the first time.
"There will be mixed feelings of greatness, fear, khushoo and happiness altogether, your tears will just go down," I heard people say. I didn't see how one could feel this way, but I understood why one would.
"Keep your eyes closed or stare at the floor until I give you the signal," advised one of two women who I went to perform umra with as soon as we reached Mecca.
The reason for saving my first glance at the Kaaba until the "signal" was that dua'a [prayers] made upon first glance are guaranteed to be granted. This is why people like to wait until they are in a spot where they can view the Kaaba clearly before pausing for dua'a.
Many gave me tips on what a dua'a are to be said. My mother also advised me on an ultimate dua'a, which would include my requests in one simple sentence. The list went on.
I bought a small notebook two weeks prior to my trip and asked almost everyone I knew, or met - including an Etisalat employee who helped pay my bill - if they had any requests for my dua'a at the Kaaba.
However, when the woman gave me the signal I lifted my gaze for the long-awaited first glance and all my words became mixed up. I started mixing phrases from the different dua'a I had listed.
I didn't exactly cry or feel a miracle but I felt glued in front of the Kaaba, saying as many prayers as I could in what seemed like one long breath.
After about 15 minutes of dua'a we started the tawaf (walking seven rounds around the Kaaba). I had heard endless horror stories about the tawaf.
"You are short - you won't be able to breathe," one of my taller, bigger friends said. And since I had given up all my heeled shoes before leaving Abu Dhabi, my height could hardly be amended.
As far back as I can remember I had heard stories about people dying in stampedes during the tawaf. Two days before leaving I had a panic attack and messaged everyone that I felt I would die during Haj - not a bad thing, but scary none-the-less.
Surprisingly, it was nothing like as horrific as people made it sound. We were able to do tawaf not so far from the Kaaba without getting crushed, or even seriously pushed.
Another ritual - the sa'ee between the Safa and the Marwa - had been described to me by some people as like an endless marathon.
"You can't imagine the length of the distance ... by the time you finish the seven laps you'll be wasted," my mother said.
Yet, if anything, the sa'ee was even more relaxing than the tawaf and even rather entertaining.
There are many more "missions impossible" to come on this Haj, but for them I feel nothing but excitement.