“I definitely carry the flag of South Africa in my heart and your heartful duas. For those who didn’t get to go on hajj due to the pandemic, I am your representative and I go as your daughter pleading to Allah to forgive our ummah In Shaa Allah.”
These were the powerful words of a tearful Naseem Khan, as she stood on the cusp of the pinnacle of hajj – the day of Wuqoof. Speaking to VOC a few hours before Arafat, Khan, a South African teacher working in Riyadh, said she was in deep state of gratitude for being one of the “chosen ones” for this year’s hajj.
Emotions were intensified on Thursday as hujjaj arrived on the plains of Arafat, in what were unprecedented scenes of emptiness at the sacred site.
Khan is one of five South African ex-pats teaching in the Saudi Kingdom who was selected as part of the 1000 hujjaj performing this year’s scaled down pilgrimage.
“The excitement has been so thrilling that we could not even eat. Everything is so overwhelming…the emotions are intense,” she told VOC News.
Khan said she was amazed at how easily preventative measures were implemented during the Tawaaf ul Qudoom at Masjidul Haram on the day of Tawariya on Wednesday. Saudi officials have been meticulous in their planning by placing markers to maintain social distancing during the tawaf, under the watchful eye of health workers and security, who ensure there is no congestion or pushing to get near the Ka’ba.
“When we started the tawaf, we could it was different. Everything went off with such smooth precision. One would have thought we had practised this. I had been for many umrahs and all the tawaafs were congested. Alhamdullilah, we could walk, pray and look up…without people pushing or arguing. It was really done with such care and perfection,” she related.
From the time the couple left their home in Jeddah, where they spent two weeks in isolation after their first coronavirus test, officials have carried out the COVID-19 protocols with detail. Tests were administered in the pilgrims’ homes and they were issued with a tracking bracelet to monitor their isolation.
“Its almost like the Saudi Kingdom wanted to show the world that no matter what, the Muslim community can pull together and during this one time, there is unity beyond measure.”
The Saudi government has covered the expenses for all the hujjaj, which includes flights, hotels, food and medical expenses.
Khan and her British husband Shamraiz Ahmed Najib had no idea they would be extended an invite to perform hajj so soon after making their niyyah. The couple performed their nikah in December 2019 and within a week, they had applied for hajj through the Saudi Hajj ministry. On the announcement that the Kingdom had cancelled hajj for international pilgrims, Khan said she strengthened her intention.
“My Laibaik was made every day. I told myself 2020 will be my haj year. When the applications opened in the beginning of July, we had hope. There was nothing better than seeing the news that we had been accredited. The feeling was so overwhelming. Allah sent my mahram in December last year and alhamduililah, I get to perform hajj with him.”
However, Khan admits that it wasn’t easy not being able to greet her family before her departure, as is traditional in the South African muslim community.
“I video-called my family and asked them forgiveness. I missed the lovely functions and send-offs we have when people go for hajj. Although the virtual hugs are not the same, we know its what Allah wants.”
This year’s hajj has compounded the feelings of loneliness that some hujjaj are experiencing. Many of them had to isolate separately from their spouses. However, Khan related a beautiful experience during her tawaf.
“When I looked in front of the Kaaba door, I could see my husband throughout my tawaf. I thought I wouldn’t see him but yet we kept the same pace. I didn’t notice it until I looked up and he waves his umbrella,” she laughed.
With hujjaj ready for the Day of Wuqoof, Khan said the magnitude of this opportunity was not lost on her, given the sadness many hujjaj who could not perform hajj, are feeling back home.
“My heart is pounding in my chest because I’m reading the duas I prepared for Arafat. I made a list of people (to mention), duas and things I want to say. I have so much to be grateful for. Everyone (hujaaj) is planning to give so much of thanks,” she said.