As thousands of Pakistani Hajjis have already landed at Jeddah airport to pursue their Holy Journey, and thousands more are in the queue, pre-Hajj parties, a centuries-old custom of South Asia to encourage and greet the would-be Hajjis, are on across Pakistan.
These parties organized by family members, friends and neighbors in all over the country, though in different ways, usually begin soon after the Federal Hajj Ministry announces the names of lucky applicants, who are selected to perform Hajj through balloting, about one and a half months before Hajj.
In rural Pakistan, these parties are held at courtyards or Hujra (meeting place in a village) for men and at homes for women. However, in big cities, Like Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and others, wedding lawns, and hotels are also used for pre-Hajj parties. But in these cities too, a majority of the people prefer to hold these parties at homes to observe simplicity.
Although, there is no specific sequence for these parties, there is an unwritten code, according to which, the closest family members will have the right to hold the pre-Hajj party in the honor of the would- be Hajjis following close friends and then neighbors.
This code is followed more strictly in small villages, and town, however in big cities, it is taken lightly.
Understandably, like any other party, food is the prime course of pre-Hajj parties too, however two other important features make these parties unique. Would-be Hajjis, of course, are the chief guests, but there are or at least there is another chief guest, who has already performed Hajj.
How the Celebration Goes
These parties begin with recitation from noble Qur’an followed by Na’at to praise Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon Him). After recitation, and Na’at, the Hajji (who has already performed Hajj) comes to the stage or dice to deliver a lecture about his experiences, and to apprise the would-be Hajjis about important features, locations, and legal requirements, which must be met by a Hajji during the Holy Journey.
The Hajji also informed the intended pilgrims about laws of Saudi government, and other sensitivities of the land, which need to be followed.
Another important feature of a pre-hajj party is to guide, and train the intended Hajjis. Religious scholars, in rural Pakistan verbally, while in urban Pakistan, with the help of projector and other devices, inform the intended pilgrims about procedure and mandatory requirements of Hajj. This training session usually lasts longer than any other session of a pre-Hajj party as intended Hajjis are interested to know as much as they can about their journey.
In case of less number of intended Hajjis in a party, the training lectures are kept short, and those hajjis cope with this shortcoming later by attending sessions at other places.
Food is served at the end of the training session.
In small towns, and villages, mostly, food comprises single course i.e. one-dish. While, in big cities, food is relatively lavish. In some cases, it even beats the number of courses offered at a wedding.
Though, there are no official statistics or survey, it can easily be said that a would-be Hajji averagely attend 5 to 10 pre-Hajj parties before departing for the Holy Land.
But, that is not it. Upon their return, the would-be hajjis, and now Hajjis will attend post-hajj parties, which are considered equally important in this South Asian nuclear country.
Post Hajj Parties
Post Hajj parties, which begin usually a week after the Hajjis return, are not as large and stretched as pre-Hajj parties are. Post-Hajj parties are usually organized by those family members, and friends who missed the chance to invite Hajjis before their departure for the Holy Land.
Hajjis briefly share their hajj experiences, accord greetings- sometimes in the form of simple garlands, and sometimes in the form of gifts, at post-Hajj parties.
The most important feature of post-Hajj parties is distribution of dates and Zam-Zam water, which Hajjis bring with them from Saudi Arabia. Hajjis also bring other small gifts like perfumes, beads, and prayer caps etc to distribute among their family members and friends as gift.
Millions of Muslims from around the world pour into Makkah every year to perform Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform Hajj at least once in a lifetime.
Red Carpet See Off
To see off a would-be Hajji is a unique feature in Pakistan in line with India, Bangladesh, and other South Asian countries.
In big cities, close friends and family members go with intended pilgrims to the airport to see him off. The aviation authorities usually allocate a terminal only for Hajj flights in order to avoid rush and disturbance for other flights. However, only those Hajjis who are selected under government Hajj scheme travel through Hajj terminals, whereas other intended pilgrims travel through normal airports. Huge rush is seen on the occasion of departure of hajj flights as rose petals thrown by family members and friends on would-be Hajjis, strewn the hajj terminal keeping sanitary workers busy to clean the floors.
In small villages, and towns, seeing-off a would-be hajji is a big event. Family members, friends, and neighbors ( at least one person from one house) gather hours before the departure of the intended pilgrims, Huge caches of flowers and rose petals are thrown on the intended Hajjis who usually wear Ahram ( two unstitched white sheets) either right from their departure or at the airport.
Hajjis are later are taken to the nearest railway or bus station in the form of a big crowd. The number of greeters reduce at railway or bus station, and only close family members and friends accompany the intended pilgrims on their way to the nearest big city to catch their Hajj flights.
Upon their return, the same exercise is repeated. They are received by their close family members, and friends at the airport, whereas, on the same railway or bus station, the same huge crowds are there to welcome them.
First published: September 2015