21 Apr 2014

Makkah Al mukaramah

For This year's umrah Repin and I managed to get a Hilton package. In Madinah we stayed at the Mubarak Silver Hotel but in Makkah we stayed at the Hilton Towers, and it was the nearest hotel to the mosque. We didn't have to rush to get to the Masjid Al Haram every prayer time. Our travel agent was Andalusia and the mutawif or Guide who took us was a very young man by the name of Amirul. He was very knowledgeable and a pleasant as well as sweet natured guy. In fact he was one of the best uztaz that we've had so far. So we managed to do 3 umrahs or circumbulating around the Kaabah while reciting certain prayers, with our Uztaz Amirul guiding us the whole way.

On the 3 rd day we were given a short tour of the various holy sites. I had been to these places before but it was more interesting with our mutawif because he told us stories related to the site's history. For example Jabal Rahmah which is a small hill outside of Makkah was the place where Prophet Adam and Hawa ( Eve) his wife met after almost a decade of not seeing each other. The story is that after Adam and Hawa were sent out of Paradise for disobeying Allah they were sent to Earth. But an Earth which had no humans on it. They were the first humans. But they were not sent together - one fell somewhere on Mount Arafat and the other fell somewhere near Yemen or even further. For years they both prayed to God to ask for forgiveness and finally God forgave them and let them be together again and Jabal Rahmah or the Mount of Mercy was where they met. So it is believed that whoever asks God for a partner or a child here that prayer would be answered. I don't know whether this is true or not but my brother in law did pray that his son gets a child here and that son has now 4 children, after 8 years of childlessness previously. 

        At Jabal Rahmah 

Our young Uztaz Amirul and us after performing our tawaf. 

People of all races doing the tawaf around the Kaabah 

17 Apr 2014

A pilgrimage to the holy cities

  Inside the Prophet's mosque. The prophet's final resting place is beneath the green dome. 

On 5th April Repin and I flew to Madinah for our umrah or pilgrimage to the holy cities. It's been awhile since we last visited the two holy cities and I'm sure things have changed a lot. We arrived in Jeddah airport around 9.30 pm and after customs and immigration clearance we were transported by bus to Madinah, another 5-6 hours away by road. 

The journey was long and tedious, and most of us were already tired after our 8 hour flight. Luckily the night air was cool and I drifted in and out of sleep. We stopped for a break at a rest area, and was given a simple meal of rice and chicken. After a half hour break we were back on the move, arriving in Madinah around 1 am in the morning.   

Early the next morning we were up again to pray at the Masjid Al Nabawi, also called the Prophet's  pbuh) Mosque because this was where he died and was buried. It is one of the holy mosques in Islam and prayers here are supposed to give a person 1000 times the reward of prayers in an ordinary mosque. 

                          Women coming out of the Masjid Al Nabawi after  the early morning prayers. 

Days in Madinah consists mainly of going to the mosque to pray five times a day, back to the hotel to rest and sometimes in the evening, walking around some of the shops. The city has Notchanged much - there are of course a lot more hotels than 5 years ago when I was here last.Basically though a lot of it is still the same. We stayed at the Mubarak Silver hotel which wasabout 500m from the mosque so it was easy for us. 
On the second day we were taken to view some historic sites - Mount Uhud where one of theworst battles between the Quraish and the Muslims took place. The mountains are barren andvery very rocky. This was the place where the Muslims took one of their worst defeats and theProphet' s ( SaW) uncle Hamzah was killed trying to protect their hill. It was said that after he was killed the Quraish mutilated his body and even carved out his heart and that Hindon, a woman who's husband had been killed by Saidinah Hamzah RA in an earlier battle, ate his heart.Urrhggg... Sounds gross! But the early Arabs were a rather terrible people - cruel in the extreme, vengeful and ferocious. My late father used to say that was the reason why Islam was sent to Arabia. Allah Subhannallah Taala wanted to change them and make them a better people. 

26 Mar 2014

The worst air tragedy in the history of Malaysia

It's been a heart breaking two weeks for Malaysians in general- our national carrier MH370 - on a routine flight to Beijing in China,suddenly lost contact with the control tower. There were 239 passengers on board, 152 of them Chinese nationals going home to China. At first everyone thought the plane had crashed in the South China Sea because that's where we last had radar communication with the plane. It was supposed to have arrived in Beijing at 6.30am. 

After almost 24 hours of searching, the military finally admitted they had a blip on their primary radar around 2.45 am 8 March and it was flying west towards the Straits of Malacca. Even then they were not sure whether it was MH 370 - it could be any commercial plane since all the primary radar recorded was a commercial plane flying through its airspace. 

Today is the 18th day. 26 countries are involved in the search and rescue effort. However until today all we know is that it veered west towards the Indian Ocean and then down towards the southern corridor where all you can sea is large tracts of ocean- an immense body of water, unbroken by land. The sea here is harsh and uncompromising and searching for the plane is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. 

There are satellite images of what seemed like debris spread around a certain area but so far nothing has been found. For one thing the weather is not being agreeable - rough waves of up to 10 feet or more with strong winds prevent the search ships to stay too long. If the plane had indeed crashed here, there would be no survivors. Apart from the cold the ocean here is just too remote, too deep to even send divers down. The depth of the ocean in this part is at least 2 miles or 4km. 

The question that is on everyone's mind is - what happened to the plane? Why did it divert from its route? Was it a failed hijacking? Sabotage? An act of terrorism? Or simply an electrical failure that led to a fire in the cockpit, thus putting the two pilots unconscious ? In spite of help from the world's best aviation experts, satellites from so many countries, nobody knows what actually happened. We are as perplexed as the US, China and Britain . 

Meanwhile families are waiting in vain. The Families of the Chinese passengers react violently and angrily, accusing our government of hiding the facts/ truth or not being open enough. Some are seen crying loudly , shouting at the MAS personnel sent to look after them and even throwing water bottles at them. Emotions run high. It is understandable in a way. They are frustrated, after waiting for weeks to find an answer, yet there is none. One man just said, " We want to know where they are. If they are dead, we want to see the bodies." But what can we say? I put myself in our government's shoes and see there really is nothing they can do except go on searching, spending hundreds of thousands and maybe later, millions to look for this plane that has gone missing. Speculations abound. So many theories fly all over the social media, even some saying that it is pilot suicide. That was a suggestion from a most unlikely source- the US no less. But to me it is too far fetched and it looks like the investigators are grasping at straws! 

Here in Malaysia, in the social media, words of condolences pour in. Finally on 24th March, Datok Seri Najib the PM announced that the plane ended it's journey somewhere in the South Indian Ocean, and that most probably there were no survivors. 

Today's press conference just confirms that the satellite images showing hundreds of debris is the most likely area where the plane crashed . But even then not one debris has been identified properly. My heart aches every time I see the images of the passengers and crew. It is not a story one reads about in the news anymore. It is closer to home than I'd like. There are people my neighbours know and loved. A friend's daughter just confirmed that her best friend Dina and her mother was on that plane. They were going shopping in Beijing. She and Dina had met for a dinner date just hours before they went to Beijing and had talked about children. 
My neighbour of two years, who lives opposite me at the corner house, lost her nephew and his wife. Their two children are now orphans. There are so many similar stories. One stewardess had a husband, also a steward on that plane. She is expecting her second child. Her first is 3 plus and she asked her mummy ,"Where is papa?" The mother answers with tears in her eyes that Papa went to work but Papa's plane rosak (  had trouble) and now Papa has gone to Heaven. The little girl asks again, " But I want to see Papa.." " Well, we have to pray hard so that one day we too can go to Heaven and meet Papa." 

Watching this scene on the news I cry silently. 
" Cry not for them...
They have gone away to a far away land
Where flowers bloom all day long
And the Sun and Moon are one. 
Cry not for them...
They are lying at peace
Deep in the waves
And the cascading falls
Gently keep them in thrall. "

Kat 24/3/14