By Dr Salim Parker
‘Doc, we need some water,’ he pleaded. He was on a spiritual high, but his eyes looked sunken, a sure sign of the dehydration that was slowly but surely setting in. I looked around but saw not a drop in sight. I did see hundreds of thousands of profusely perspiring Hujjaaj on one of the hottest and most humid days I have ever encountered. All of us were in Ihram. After all, we had starting ‘pressing on, or surging from, Arafat’ as different translations of the Holy Quran suggest, a mere two hours earlier. Two hours after the most important time in a Muslim’s life does not seem like a long time.
Two hours walking from Arafat to Musdalifah, remembering you Creator all the time, and walking as group of able bodied souls is awe inspiring. Rubbing shoulders with brothers and sisters from all corners of the globe, from all walks of life and all strata of society is the most humbling reminder of how our Ihram elevates all of us to the most favoured state by our Lord.
We should have left Arafat with an adequate supply of water. I was the doctor in the South African camp where people paid an obscene amount for so called special services. There was initially adequate supplies of food and beverages but, as the day wore on, especially after the standing of Wuqoof started, supplies started to dwindle. First the cold juices and drinks dried up. Then even the stores in the backup area were finished and I could see many of the Hujjaaj sipping on juices that was warmer than the hot tea served earlier.
A few hours before sunset there was no bottled water around. The only taps in the area were at the ablution facilities and the water from there was not deemed fit for human consumption. I have an absolute rule when I am in Ihram: I only eat when I am really hungry and only drink when I am thirsty. I try to eat and drink what I envisaged my beloved Prophet (SAW) consumed. It is my humble belief that, as with our basic Ihram, we should adjust our cuisine to the essentials.
We were a relatively large group of close to a hundred who left Arafat just after sunset. Most of us were not too bothered about the water issue as we had enough during the day. We initially weaved our way through a few camps, waded through numerous piles of rubble at the foot of Jabal Raghmah, the Mount of Mercy, and then joined the hundreds of thousands thronging the pedestrian paths to Musdalifah.
Everyone was on a spiritual high and the camaraderie was heart-warming. The younger pilgrims offered to carry the bags of the physically less endowed, and those at the back of the group kept a watchful eye on their fellow walkers. There was a relatively carefree mood as far as water consumption was concerned and within the first hour virtually all the supplies that we were carrying was used up. The relative lack of water during the latter part of the day was only now catching up with us.
The physical effort of the walk in the extremely humid conditions led to accelerated sweating and water loss. I normally drink minimally during the six hour walk but I had over a litre of fluids within the first hour. There is a stretch between Arafat and Musdalifah where there is no drinking water for about an hour whilst walking. By this time virtually no one had any liquids left. I had two small bottles that I normally keep for medical usage. Two small bottles. I knew no one else would have water. Two small bottles and about a hundred Hujjaaj. The crowds were becoming more and more dense, with a lot of pushing shoving occurring.
I looked at my thirsty pilgrim. We had about thirty minutes to go before we reached Musdalifah. ‘Yes Doc, we also need some water,’ someone else said with some degree of desperation. I knew we would get enough fluids on Musdalifah itself. There I knew would be vendors selling food and drinks as well as numerous trucks distributing free beverages. We only needed to get there. We were now literally walking one step at a time due to the crowd congestion as the road narrowed.
The oppressive heat was accentuated by sweaty souls all trying to move forward. It is one of the strange observations on Hajj that even the sweatiest person has no unpleasant odour. All that is present is the pervasive sense of effort, acceptance and endurance. ‘I have some water,’ I said and starting to scratch in my backpack. ‘May I have a pain tablet please?’ someone suddenly asked. We could all see that she was in considerable pain and that deflected a bit of attention from the thirst. We were moving forward all the time, albeit at a snail’s pace. Some eyes were clearly very dreary now and receding increasingly into the orbits as the supporting fluids were drying up.
Then suddenly the crowd suddenly thinned out. The road widened and we could move at ease. Just the fact that we could walk freely propelled even the weariest forward with renewed purpose just like a trapped bird freed from its cage. We saw people crowding towards trucks that were clearly distributing juices.
However we did not even have to go to the trucks. Right in the middle of the road, as we were walking, someone was handing out bottles of water. It was not just mere water; it was ice cold absolutely heaven sent water. True, it was not Zam-Zam, but it very welcoming. We did not even have to crowd for it as it was handed out freely. We all smiled and a few of us distributed it amongst our group.
I was immensely relieved and a few of us tried to ensure that we all stocked up for the road ahead. ‘you can drink Doc, there is more than enough,’ someone said, whilst pouring some very welcoming ice cold water over my head.
‘First drink this,’ a fellow pilgrim offered. He somehow got hold of a small box of ordinary orange juice. It also was chilled to nearly freezing point, and he had opened it a minute earlier and literally only took a sip.
We had chatted for a part of the walk and we learnt quite a bit about each other during that time. Some of my fondest memories of the more than sixteen years that I have walked this path are of the friendships forged whilst walking. ‘I kept it especially for you, and I know you had nothing to drink yet’ he smiled. It may be the cheapest juice sold on the market but it was the sweetest, most welcoming drink that I can remember drinking.
I followed this by having some of the water that was now in abundance.
Musdailfah was the oasis of our journey where we could replenish not only our water but also our sagging spirits. We moved closer to the border to Mina and made our combined Maghrib and Eshai prayers and sat down to rest. We still had to collect pebbles but at that moment we merely thanked our Creator for his infinite blessings.
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