26 Jan 2006

Makkah, al Mukarammah

We've all heard stories of the haj pilgrimage throughout our lives. From young, we have been brought to believe that making the Haj is the pinnacle of our life's dreams. Now that I'm here and about to finish my own haj I find the whole experience beyond belief. Its like a dream and yet I know I have undergone it. The depth of experience physically, mentally and spiritually is awesome and mind boggling. When one has gone though this deeply spiritual journey then only does one realise what truly being a "haj" or "hajah" means.
The haj is a must in Islam, one of the five pillars; though it is compulsory only for those who can afford it. So here I am in the holy city, in one of the oldest places of worship in the world, the Baitul Haraam. Baitullah or Baitul Haraam is one of the greatest symbols of Allah. It is here that we face when we pray our daily prayers or indeed any prayer at all.

We landed in Jeddah almost a month ago - on 18th December 2006. We have completed most of the rituals of the haj - the circumbulating of the Baitullah, the walk between Safar and Marwah and also the stay at both Arafah and Mina as well as stoning of the devil.
Our camp in Mina was 3 km away from the Jamratul so every night for 3 days we walked there - almost 400 of us from Zahafiz - all dressed in white, armed with our stones to do the ritual throwing. It was so surreal, the whole act. Now that its over I cannot believe that I actually walked 6 km in one night and did not feel much pain or tiredness. It was cold at first but the long walk soon warmed us up and chanting prayers as we walked, it really felt like going into battle, as indeed we were - a symbolic battle against the devil.

On the way we could see groups of Afghans perching on the rocky outcrops on both sides of the path - some so high up we wonder how they climbed. It looked so steep and so high. But I guess being Afghans they are so used to climbing it was no big deal for them. Just imagine, if my grandfather had not gone to Malaysia, I would have been born there and been an Afghan too.

We spent Idil Adha or Qurbani in Mina. I didnt realise it at first but when the others started reciting the normal prayers for Idil Adha I remembered that it was the day of sacrifice back in Malaysia. The weather in Mina was so cold and a number of us fell ill. Conditions are also pretty rough - poor toilets and over crowded tents. The food was ok though. After the third day we were given the option to stay one more night or go back to Makkah. We all decided to go back because the toilet problem was really very bad. No matter what time we woke up to go to toilet it was crowded and we still had to queue up for at least one hour.
So we went back to Makkah earlier than some others. I was quite sick and my cough had become worse. Back in Makkah even our crowded room was a welcome sight. But my cough was so bad, it kept me up half the night. I even started having incontinence because of the cough nd could not go and pray at the great mosque because of this.
I had to see the doctor the next day so could not go for my tawaf. Repin went though with Jemi and the others. Arah, Bu and me stayed back and waited until we were better. I managed to do it only on the third or 4th day after I came back from Mina. By this time most of the people had also come back. Sadly one of our group, an older man, passed away. He had developed chest pains and had trouble breathing. They took him to the hospital but he passed away late in the evening. He was about 64 years old and had a son with him. The son (about Rizal's age maybe) looked so sad I really sympathised. Imagine being on your own without your family when a parent passes away. As I write this I think of Sharifah and Kamaruddin who also passed away when he was doing his haj. He too passed away after Mina. How did she cope I wonder. It must have been a really terrible time because she also had her mother with her.
One week after Mina, people are starting to move away to Madinah, the next stop for those of us who came here directly. Our group will only go to Madinah on the 21st January so we have plenty of time to do our sunat prayers at the Masjidil Haraam. Repin and I go together now. I no longer go with the other women from my room, mainly because now that we have finished our ihram its ok for us to be together. Arah too went out more often with Jemi. Since Bu is single, she went out with some of the other ladies. Repin and I always have breakfast together too , usually at the same shop just behind gate no 50. I did some extra tawaf, whenever I could. Repin did the umrah for Ojek, my brother who passed away in 2001.
Finally Makkah slowly empties. Every day we can see bus loads of people leaving - some to go to Madinah for the next part of the Haj, the visit to other Holy mosques, some to go home. Our group is one of the very last people to leave and on the second last day we met Datuk Wira from OUM and his wife. They would leave the day after.
Makkah at the end of the season is very desolate and quiet. No crowds and no rushing for prayers, which makes it feel a bit weird. On the 21 we move off for Madinah by bus - 5 buses in all. Most of my room mates got the same bus as myself and Repin so at least we're together for a short while. In Madinah Repin and I would share a room. Arah and Bu would be in the same room but I heard that Sal and Gee are in different rooms.

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