The performance of Hajj is obligatory on all adult Muslims who have the means to make the trip to the Holy City of Makkah. Umrah is regarded as a minor pilgrimage with only part of the required rituals performed. Whosoever enters the Mi'qaat (boundary of the Holy Land) has to perform Umrah, which includes Tawaaf (seven circuits around the Holy Kabah) and Sa'i (seven times between Mount Safa and Mount Murwa).
Health plays a major role in fulfilling the requirements of Hajj and Umrah as Hajj and Umrah can be physically demanding depending on circumstances prevailing at the time. The following is a guideline and must be accompanied by your own doctor's advice pertaining to your own health needs.
The more physically fit you are, the easier it would become to perform the many rituals associated with a complete Hajj. If you have decided to perform a Muassasah Hajj and a walking Hajj, then it would be very important for you to be as fit as possible. This will require walking as much as possible, starting about 6 to 8 weeks before departure, walking greater and greater distances as the time of departure arrives. The distance between the Haram in Makkah and Arafat is approximately 20 kilometers.
A brisk walk for about an hour three times a week would be sufficient to prepare for a walking Hajj. During Hajj and Umrah, the footwear for men is specified in that the high arch on the top of the foot needs to be exposed. The sandals or slippers that are used need to be broken in well before Hajj and Umrah. These can be quite uncomfortable. For this reason, using this type of footwear well before departure helps to make the feet accustomed to the footwear. Women may wear any comfortable footwear.
Men are not allowed to cover their heads during Hajj and Umrah. Furthermore, in the case of Hajj, men may have shaven their heads recently from the performance of Umrah. It would therefore be advisable to expose the head to the sun whilst exercising before departure so that the head (scalp and face) and neck can become accustomed to the sun
Good care must be taken of the skin, especially the skin on the feet
As men are not allowed to wear underwear, scafing of the skin on the inner side of the thigh can occur especially if the person is over-weight. The sweat and the rubbing of the thighs and scrotum during walking can cause a very painful rash and excoriation of the skin in this area. To prevent this condition, men are advised to use vaseline or any other non-perfumed moisturizer liberally to the inner side of the thighs frequently throughout the state of Ihraam. If this problem does occur, a mild steroid cream will help in soothing the area until healing takes place, Insha-Allah.
Due to the intense heat, it is not uncommon for the feet to swell. In healthy people, this is transient. As the body acclimatizes to the hot conditions, the swelling should subside. If one suffers from any illness, especially heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure, then one should seek the advise of a doctor. Acclimatization usually takes about 5 to 7 days. Those that spend a short time in Saudi Arabia before Hajj may find their feet swollen during Hajj. Not much can be done about this as the body needs time to adjust. It would help to elevate the legs at every opportunity so that the dependent fluid in the feet can go back into the circulation.
Climate in Saudi Arabia
Jeddah is on the coast of the Red Sea and therefore enjoys a slightly humid climate in summer. It becomes less humid in winter.
Makkah is about 70 kilometers inland. It has an escarpment around it. The only natural source of drinking water is from the well of Zam Zam. Most of the water from bore holes and wells is brackish, unfit for human consumption. Because of the escarpment, the climate is dry and harsh. There is very little vegetation in and around Makkah due to the low rainfall. The Great Arabian Desert is all around Makkah. The climate is dry. Temperatures are extremely high, usually in the forty degree Celsius range and sometimes going into the fifties in summer. Even in winter, it is hot! It is sometimes referred to as the hottest place on earth!
Medinah is situated about 500 kilometers north and is about 150 kilometers from the coast. It is a large oasis with the Great Arabian Desert all around it. Because of the numerous wells providing excellent drinking water, it has date orchards spreading out on to the outskirts of the city. The climate is dry and hot, the temperatures not reaching as high as in Makkah. In winter, it can become cool to cold especially around Tahadjud and Fajr times. Since the climate of Medinah is less hot and dry than that of Makkah, spending 8-10 days in Medinah before coming to Makkah helps to allow our bodies to acclimatize.
The five days of Hajj
We must not lose sight of the primary aim of our journey and that is to perform Hajj. We can become engrossed in daily activities in Makkah and Medinah without realising the closeness of Hajj. When the first day of Dhul Hujah is known, it is time to prepare for Hajj - not on the seventh of Dhul Hujah. The whole purpose of our journey is to perform Hajj. We must therefore be physically and spiritually ready to undertake the pilgrimage.
On the first day of Dhul Hujah, look at your state of health very carefully. If you are ill, get adequate treatment so that you can recover well before Hajj actually starts. If you are not ill, make sure that you look after yourself so that you do not become ill, for example avoid coming too close to people who are ill, dress adequately so that you do not get cold or wet if it rains. Rest your body as well as exercise your body to keep in peak condition. Take special care of your skin and your feet. Try out your footwear to make sure they fit. Walk with them for a few days or all the time to "break" them in and allow your feet to become accustomed to the footwear.
Have a positive attitude during this time. You are a guest of Allah Ta'ala. Look forward to going out of Makkah to show Allah Ta'ala that you would prove to Him that you are worthy of returning to Makkah for Tawaful Ziyarah, that you reject Shaitaan with enthusiasm and contempt and not return to the ways of Shaitaan. It would be more productive to go out there and perform the rituals with enthusiasm. A positive attitude towards helping other pilgrims in whatever way can help you to have a very fulfilling Hajj, Insha-Allah.
Having taken special care of yourself, you should be fit and ready for Hajj on the seventh of Dhul Hujah. Have a good sleep on the sixth day of Dhul Hujah so that your body is well rested. You may not have time to sleep well on the night of the seventh of Dhul Hujah due to the preparations required. Once Hajj starts, you may not be able to sleep well for a few days.
During Hajj spend all your time in Ibadaat. The time in Mina is mainly for reflection, on your life so far and on Allah Ta'ala, on Zikr and reading appropriate parts of the Quran. Not much physical effort is required except in getting to Mina. You will, Insha-Allah have enough time to rest.
The Day of Arafat is the most important day of Hajj. Use it to the maximum. You may not get another chance. Take full advantage of standing outside during Waquf to tell Allah Ta'ala how great He is and to thank Him for all that He has done for you and your family and friends. Ask Him for whatever your needs are with humility and confidence. If you have prepared well, standing in the hot sun for two hours would not be a difficult task Insha-Allah.
The return to Mina from Muzdalifa and the day in Mina can be the most difficult of the whole Hajj. This is the day when Shaitaan is rejected by all the Hajees in a short space of time. Do not rush to stone the Shaitaan. This must be done deliberately with a lot of emotion. Wait for a suitable opportunity. Stand at a safe spot and observe the scene. Do not rush into the crowd. Insha-Allah, a suitable opportunity will present itself. Women should be protected from the pushing. There will be a lot of pushing and shoving. Your strength will be required here to keep people off yourself and your partner while concentrating on your task. Be careful other people do not trample on your toes or your feet. If you lose your footwear and if it is very crowded with people pushing and shoving, leave your footwear. Do not try looking for your footwear in the crowd. A little push can throw you to the ground. People can get trampled in this rush.
If an injury is sustained on the feet, treat it well with an antiseptic such as savlon regularly and apply mercurochrome or a suitable antiseptic cream if the wound is deeper until medical help is available. Do not ignore it as Hajj is yet incomplete. There is still Tawaful Ziyarah to be done sometimes under very trying conditions. There is no need to rush. Insha-Allah, there will be plenty of time to complete Hajj.
Adequate preparations will, Insha-Allah make the performance of Hajj a spiritually uplifting and memorable experience. It may bring the intention of performing the perfect Hajj that much closer. Invoking Allah Ta'ala's help, in duas, in keeping illness away and in protection from ill-health cannot be over-emphasized.
Run The Planet thanks the Jamiatul Ulama (Council of Muslim Theologians) website (www.jamiat.org.za) for the permission to reprint part of the article "Health guidelines for Haji and Umrah" by Dr. Farouk Haffejee. The Jamiatul Ulama is involved in various activities in the service of Islam and Muslims in South Africa, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal region.