Haj diary: Despite the long wait to enter the Haram, the mosque surrounding the Kaaba, people are inspiring and the experience blessed.
Lessons in patience and strength at the Haram
Planning alone for Haj is not enough. Wisdom and rational thinking are also needed, as I learnt the hard way.
"We will do voluntary tawaf and once they call for prayer we stop and pray, this way we'll be close to the Kaaba," I told my two Haram partners as we went to perform dawn prayers.
I grabbed their hands and walked through the crowds towards the circular area around the Kaaba.
A second later we realised the only outcome of our plan was getting squeezed and pulled from side to side by the flood of people, not to mention not being able to breathe.
After a struggle, we escaped and found ourselves on the doorstep of the mosque and found a spot to queue for entry.
Soon after, police at the Haram stopped people from entering because of a lack of space, but worshippers could still pray in the surrounding courtyard. Praying anywhere in the Haram site brings the same rewards.
Nevertheless, some persuasive women insisted on trying to get past the officers.
While two older, Egyptian women sweet-talked a policeman, another said: "We just arrived from Palestine, we have to do Umrah."
She kept repeating the word "Palestine" as if it were a magical password that should grant entry.
The guard explained that they would have to wait until prayers were finished, which would be more than an hour later.
"Even Jewish are allowed to pray inside Al Aqsa mosque in Ramadan, please let us in," the woman pleaded.
After a 30-minute debate, the policeman finally allowed her to cross the line - a rare victory in such a situation.
Her next mission was to convince my friend to surrender her spot so she could pray "mosque greeting".
Unlike the stubborn policeman, my friend immediately gave up her space for the woman, who must have suffered 10 times more than we had just to get out of Palestine and reach Mecca.
In fact, she had lost a son, which was why she was chosen to be one of 1,000 pilgrims offered Haj by the Saudi monarch, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, all of them families of Palestinian martyrs and prisoners.
Despite backache from more than an hour sitting on the hard, marble floor waiting for dawn, the experience was great fun.
There are long waiting hours at the Haram but you never get bored or irritated. It might be because of the people you meet or simply that Allah bestows his mercy upon us to be patient, or perhaps both.
Either way, reaching this blessed place in Mecca to perform the greatest worship of all was a win-win situation.