A quick guide to staying healthy in Haj
Haj, the world’s largest gathering, the ultimate journey, is a trip of a lifetime and one that will surely be memorable for its uniqueness. As able bodied Muslims, we are only required to perform it once in our lives; it’s a hard and difficult couple of days with many ups and downs but all for the purpose of pleasing the Almighty. For the past couple of years, Haj fell around the summer and warm autumn months with high temperatures that without proper preparations, many suffered. Proper preparations as well as regulations and helpful tips have been put in place by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Haj and Umrah all for the sake of the safety of our guest pilgrims.
As recommended, pilgrims are required to have had their vaccines before they start their journey by at least a month. Immunizations from typhoid fever, yellow fever, polio, meningitis, hepatitis A and flu vaccine are required by the Saudi government for both visiting pilgrims as well as locals. Situations during Haj are very unique, with millions of people flocking into Makkah and its surrounding locations (Mina, Mt. Arafat and Muzdalifah) and as pilgrims, everyone must abide by the rules for their own safety and safety of others alike.
The effort to prevent the occurrences of injuries is important while performing Haj. For diabetic pilgrims, sticking to a diet fit for their needs and making sure they stay on track with the medication and insulin is dire to ensure that no accidents happen. Diabetics should stick to a three meal per day diet whilst snacking on healthy food in between to ensure blood sugar levels are stable. Wearing proper footwear can prevent any injuries that would be difficult to treat quickly. The safety of diabetics and special needs pilgrims as well as that of the elderly are important and you can find medical stations spread about throughout Mina, Muzdalifah and Mt. Arafat.
Some important health tips:
- It’s important to keep hydrated at all times, either by drinking a 1-2 liter bottle of water every few hours or one glass every hour.
- Stay under the shade of an umbrella during the daytime hours and keep skin hydrated by spraying water every once in a while, temperatures can rise to 50°C.
- Eat foods that can be washed and peeled properly.
- Avoid cooked meals that have been exposed for too long.
- Use face-masks in crowded and congested places if you are sick with a cold or cough to avoid spreading infection.
- For women, it’s recommended to wear white and loose fitting clothing to ease off the sun’s hot rays.
- To avoid sun strokes, stay away from direct sun exposure and use an umbrella.
Food poisoning and GI digestive infections are most common when food isn’t properly stored after cooking. Wash your hands before and after eating every time to make sure infection isn’t spread, as with fruits and vegetables. Keep an eye out for food that is exposed to the elements for too long, heating food again doesn’t protect you from poisoning, it’s best to stay away from food that’s been out for too long. Eat food that has been prepared fresh right away instead. Toilets should be cleaned before and after use, wash and clean with disinfectant and make sure personal hygiene is also in tip top shape. If infected with a GI infection, visit your nearest medical station or health center, drink lots of water, and stay away from sugary fluids and junk food.
After the first two days, male pilgrims are required to shave or cut their hair and finding licensed barbers is important to protect you from hepatitis B and C as well as (God forbid) AIDS. The Ministry of Health recommends pilgrims to stay away from street barbers where tools aren’t properly sanitized or cleaned.
It’s very important for pilgrims to consult with their physicians before embarking on the Haj pilgrimage for an assessment of their health, refill of medications and needed tips. Keeping your fellow pilgrims informed of any medical conditions is important if God forbid anything would happen. Pilgrims need to follow the instructions recommended by their Haj campaign hosts at all times, they are equipped with proper instructions handed down by both the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Haj and Umrah. To avoid crowding, each campaign has organized times for the Ramy Al-Jamarat (stoning of the Devil) to prevent overcrowding and stampedes. Each year both ministries arrange plans to properly ensure the safety of all visitors throughout the whole duration of the Haj ritual as well as their stay after. Staying safe and listening to proper instructions is very important, many volunteers are spread about the Haj grounds to safely guide pilgrims and help those in need. Haj is a once in a lifetime journey for millions, make it a memorable one.