Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Diary of A Pilgrim - Counting The Days To Arafah

Our favourite eating place, the unimaginatively named Makkah Restaurant, about 200 metres from Qutubah Barakah Hotel. The mutton curry served here, eaten with 'roti arab', was to die for!

The bazaar-like atmosphere in the vicinity of the mosque. Although prices were already cheap, haggling was customary. A seasoned haggler's paradise, truly.

My bed in Qutubah. It faced the window from which I could see people praying on the upper floors of Masjidil Haram.

Our daily fare. Tabung Haji provided two meals a day - lunch and dinner - and they came packaged as above - rice with curry (meat or fish), a serving of vegetables and a fruit (either apple, orange, pear or banana) for dessert.

A well-known date shop situated beyond the traffic light intersection some 1000 metres down the road from Qutubah, run by a couple of Indian nationals.

A common enough street scene in Makkah - people 20 to 30 deep, returning from Subuh prayers, seeking breakfast at one of the many shops lining the narrow street.

View of the mosque courtyard from the 9th floor of Inter-Continental.

Another view of the mosque from the Inter-Continental.

Thirteen kilos (28lbs) lighter and feeling like a million dollars. Among the first things that I did upon reaching home was to weigh myself. I knew I had shed some pounds – my hefty middle had shrunk noticeably - but I didn’t realise it was that much.

A couple of favourite kurungs and beaded jubah (robes) that had been hanging dejectedly in the closet for the last two years are now seeing sunlight again. I wore one to a wedding reception last weekend, mighty pleased with the fact that I no longer needed to hold my breath and wriggle into it like I used to. And corset be gone!

“Enjoy it while it lasts”, said acerbic Pak Abu, seeing how smug I was. Yet to recover fully from his Hajj-acquired coughing fit, Pak Abu shed 10 kilos (22lbs) himself and had to punch additional holes in his belt.

It is an established fact that the Hajj, apart from being a soul-cleansing exercise, also provides exercise of the physical kind, making it a most effective weight-loss programme.

There are exceptions to the rule, however. The husband of one of Pak Abu’s cousins gained 5lbs while on pilgrimage two years ago; this despite all the walking and climbing. He ate like a horse while in the Holy Land, he admitted. He added that his appetite soared like never before.

The flu had, by now, reached epidemic proportions. People were sneezing and coughing and bringing up phlegm everywhere. We took to carrying wads of tissue paper at all times in our Tabung Haji-issued blue pouch bag, discreetly depositing the soiled ones in bins placed all over the city.

Much to Pak Abu’s disgust, many simply spat and regurgitated their phlegm wherever convenient. Fortunately, the streets were hosed down often in a day. Strangely enough, in Makkah, the usually finicky me wasn’t in the least bothered by the sight of phlegm and spit.

Divine reward and retribution are swift and instantaneous in the Holy Land and many pilgrims bear witness to this, especially those not short on complaints, comments and grouses.

In the case of Pak Abu, for example, his constant griping about phlegm saw people spitting directly into his path (narrowly missing his foot), and phlegm from nowhere sticking to his sarong, until I cautioned him not to voice it out anymore for fear of more 'phlegmatic' torment.

As for me, a fleeting yet uncharitable thought had me properly and promptly chastised. Once I was about to begin Subuh prayer on the top floor of Masjidil Haram when a woman joined our saf (row). Seeing that she didn't have a sejadah (prayer mat), I adjusted mine to share with her.

As I raised my hands for 'takbir', another woman, also sans sejadah, joined us. I quickly readjusted mine to include her as well. I began again, this time feeling a little peeved at the interruption and thinking crossly, "These women knew they were coming to the mosque. Why on earth didn't they bring their own sejadah?"

As soon as the thought crossed my mind however, a sudden gust of wind blew so hard that the sejadah lifted and rolled quite a distance away, leaving the three of us matless! Sufficiently chastened, I said a quick prayer, asking for forgiveness for my pettiness. (We ended up prostrating on the very cold, finely-veined marbled floor).

With the contagious flu infection now spreading rapidly, the Tabung Haji medical team had their hands full with sick pilgrims. To add to my misery, I was also down with fever and had to pay a visit to the clinic. Located on the first floor of the hotel, the clinic went full steam from eight in the morning until 10 at night.

I asked the doctor why, despite my hundred-ringgit jab, I was still affected by the flu. “It’s God’s work. You will only recover once you reach Malaysia,” he replied with a smile.

With days to go before leaving for wukuf in Arafah, there wasn’t much to do but to continue familiarising ourselves with the numerous prayers and supplications, absorbing as much as we could, and attending religious talks held at the hotel surau (prayer hall).

One morning we met up with Dato Zaki of Darul Fikir, a close friend and golfing buddy of Pak Abu, for a scrumptious breakfast at the opulent Dar Al Tawheed Inter-Continental directly across Masjidil Haram, after which we adjourned to the upper floors for an overview of the Grand Mosque.

The six-star Inter-Continental was a favourite of the rich and famous and this was where pilgrims of Tabung Haji’s lavish Al-Maas Package were put up. I gasped to learn the said package costs RM100,000 apiece. We were told a lot of wealthy Indonesians stayed at the hotel; in fact we saw a few during breakfast, the ladies sporting huge sparkling rocks.

Dato Zaki told us of a wealthy Malaysian he knew who spent RM2 million a year to send people from his kampung on the Al-Maas package. When asked why he chose the most expensive package when he could have sent more through Muasasah or the cheaper packages, his answer was very telling.

The man said he wanted the kampung folks, living a hardscrabble existence most of their lives, to experience the very best, at least in terms of physical comfort, in their once-in-a-lifetime journey. Put that way, I really couldn't argue with his reasoning.

The evening before we ran into another close acquaintance, Datuk Mohaiyani Shamsuddin (who founded stockbroking firm Mohaiyani Securities) and her entourage. She had heard of Qutubah Barakah’s famous crispy roti canai and had dropped by for a personal rating. The good-looking Datuk looked exceptionally comely in a tudung.

Makkah may be a holy city but there were creeps and cretins aplenty, waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting. A woman pilgrim walking alone got mugged at the darkened walkway just before the two escalators that led up to the hotel entrance. Luckily she wasn’t sexually molested.

A male pilgrim lost RM3,000 when he hung his pouch at the toilet door to relieve himself, only to find it gone in an instant. Another male pilgrim, lost in the mosque and seeking help, was manhandled by a rogue who relieved him of RM2,000 before dumping him in a secluded area.

Women were warned time and again by Tabung Haji officials not to walk alone, even to the mosque, not to enter public conveniences (like toilets) unaccompanied, and to avoid backstreets and alleys unless in groups. Personal safety should never be compromised.

The night before our departure for Arafah was a sobering one for us. After almost two weeks in Makkah, we were finally on the threshold of the ‘big ones’ – the Wukuf, Stoning, conclusion of our Ihram state and subsequently, Tawaf and Sa’ei Haji.

We packed our hand luggage in silence, contemplating the historic journey, well aware of the significance of the shift to Arafah, Muzdalifah and the Mina encampment the following day. We would be away from the safe cocoon of Qutubah for five days, joining three million others in the tent city of Mina.

Simply put, wukuf means “keeping still”. It is a key rukun in Hajj, a must, failing which one’s Hajj quest is rendered null and void. A pilgrim must be present on the plains of Arafah, even if for one second, between noon (selepas gelincir matahari) and before the sun sets on the 9th of Zulhijjah.

The standard practice (at least for pilgrims under Tabung Haji) however, is to spend one whole day in searing hot Arafah, in makeshift tents, praying and making doas. Prophet Muhammad (saw) had said that there is no doa like doas in Arafah, for Allah (swt) guarantees its deliverance.

I went to bed that night fearful and anxious, not knowing what awaited on the barren plains of Arafah....


D said...

Wah, wah!! 13kgs?? that's definitely a few sizes down!! Maintain, kak Puteri, maintain.

Often what we experience in the Holy land surprises us, kan? It's all worth pondering about... Again, it's gotta be maintaned.

Looking forward to the next episode!

sherry said...

Salam kak hajjah.

Tentunya kerinduan akak nak ke sana lagi tidak dapat digambarkan melalui kata2.

..Allah Maha Besar.

Kama At-Tarawis said...

D, to maintain is the 'seksa' part..hehehe..back home in Malaysia, with its abundance of good food.. (sigh..)

w'salaam, sherry - memang rindu tidak terkira. Sentiasa teringat those unforgettable moments masa tawaf, sa'ei and all..

kay_leeda said...

Kak Puteri,

Wahhh 13kgs!!! What an accomplishment, you hold the record, that I can assure you. I lost a bit, but the scale went up again upon the return home.

So true as you have put it about the thoughts that run through our minds when we are there. I had a tough time having to endure BOs of others. Each time after solat, I'd be the first one to run into the bathroom to throw up. Then one morning as I was walking towards the Haram, I saw an old man soundly sleeping on sheets of boxes, just outside the toilets near the mosque, a sudden rush of guilt came to me, and made me realize how lucky I was, to have proper bed and and sleeping in so much comfort.

God is Great, after that, my nose didn't behave as a hyper scent scanner as it used to be. Lepas tu jalan kat ceruk mana pun, steady je.

Pi Bani said...

I too lost weight when I went for Haj (tapi taklah sampai 13kgs... if I did, cekeding le jawabnya!!) but I tell you, balik Malaysia my appetite punyalah bertambah-tambah like never before!

mamasita said...

Lagi sekali Hajjah,
Thank you for the wonderful and very informative documentary.Ni dah kira your part 3 about your pilgrimage.
Maybe you should sent ke NST or Star for many others to read and learn through your Haj experiences.
Memang you're one of the best narrator ever!!
Otherwise you write a book about it?Compile semua yang you tulis pun dah ok..your writings are so easy to understand and lovely to read..

Waiting for part 4 pulak!Cepat sis!!

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Kay - I was so thankful to God, yang busuk2 semua tak berbau to me masa kat Makkah, walaupun masa tu belum kena flu lagi.

Pi - Kak Puteri pulak selera belum terbuka sejak balik ni. Makanan nampak sedap & bau sedap, tapi bab makan slow sikit..

Mamasita - you are far too kind. I wrote for posterity, biar anak2 (yg liat2 semua tu!) baca. mudah2an their hati tergerak kearah agama.

Zarina said...

Hjh Kama,

I'm a silent reader of your blog and I truly, madly enjoyed your postings! Best lah... mcm addicted to it sometimes.

And this real-life Hajj experiences and stories... gee... they're so beautifully written! Really made me want to go n visit Masjidil Haram the soonest possible! InsyaAllah...

Ever thot of writing a book?

GUiKP said...

Heard about opportunists in Makkah too, preying on the unsuspecting pilgrims. Those who depended on the wheelchair pushers to do the tawaf and saei might get less than 7 rounds. How sad ...

Kak Teh said...

Puteri, that's alot of weight that you've lost.
Yes, the thoughts-everytime something bad crosse dmy mind, I astaghfar cepat2. Banyaknya syaitan mengganggu.
one example: We checked in at the Inter-Continental that you mentioned. Indeed a beautiful place - and I was so in awe of the place, which I regretted almost immediately as we were not there for worldly things. As soon as we stepped in the inter-continental, we were told our rooms are not ready. So we sent off to another hotel. I think God wanted us to have a taste of different hotels. Only later at night we were taken back to the INter-continental. By then, even when my room wasnt quite facing the Haram, I didnt mind.

But because it was so close to the mosque, I did go to the mosque alone.
There were so many surprises and so many incidents that I have yet to talk about.

I do know of some friends who pay for rombongans for their friends to do the Haj and Umrah..and I am one of those who benefitted. Never in my wildest dreams..! Alhamdulillah.

Zawi said...

When I posted pictures and short stories of us performing the Haj on our Virtualtourist site, many non moslems read them and they were appreciative about the information. I guess they will be very happy to read your's as they are more detailed and well written. Hopefully our non moslem brethren will get to read these posts of yours. They will be definitely overwhelmed by your beautiful narration.

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Zarina - tq for the kind words. Am glad you enjoyed my ramblings...:)

GUiKP - it's so true, opportunists are everywhere. that was why pilgrims were advised to use agents authorised by Tabung Haji (usually our students in Saudi, Egypt or Jordan who wanted to earn some pocket money during the Hajj season). tapi our pilgrims kadang2 degil. they would rather take a chance on strangers who offer SR50 less than on TH agents.

Kak Teh - wah, kak teh duduk at the super-plush inter-continental! you step out the main entrance and terus langkah atas courtyard masjid.

Pak Zawi - that's my wish too Pak. If my ramblings could, in some small way, help explain a little about the Hajj, i would be very happy indeed.

MrsNordin said...

For the first time, I could read a pictorial account of someone performing the Haj, and it's nice. Thanks for sharing!

(you lost 13kg? must try not to gain it back!)

Desert Rose said...

Kak Puteri,

Way to go.....u must be so proud of urself, its not 'easy' i know to shed even 1/2 kg tau, well its a blessing in disguise la tu, rahmat Allah.

p/s : Antara doa I kat Mekah is pray for a svelte figure ha ha boleh ?????

Kama At-Tarawis said...

MrsN - I am glad you found my ramblings useful. tq.

DR - Actually I don't know whether to feel proud or to feel segan because I lost all those "excess baggage" without consciously trying. it must be all the walking and absence of snacking. Tau2 badan rasa ringan sikit. Syukur, anyway.

Rose, as far as I know, you doa apapun makbul kat Arafah. By that I mean if you ask for a svelte body boleh la kot..hehehe..'

SajaCariPasal said...

Time pi "matahari jatuh" dulu saya ikut nasihat sorang ustaz, "berdoa mintak lalu makan". JANGAN dok berdoa mintak svelte body laaa DR.. Ishkkkk!! Tau kan pasai apa kena berdoa "minta lalu makan"?
Masa pi dulu umur 35 tahun dan performed the umrah (sementara tunggu hari wukuf) sebanyak 35 kali. Makan lalu pun badan tak naik :-)

Pokku said...

On my visit to Makkah, we were housed at the Inter-Continental which is quite a distance away from the Grand Mosque. They did provide a minibus at every prayer time.
I remember wishing that we could afford the Hilton which, as I remember it, right in front of the mosque.

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Pok Ku, the Hilton is still right in front of the mosque and Dar Al Tawheed Inter-Continental right beside it. Maybe there is another hotel by the same name kot? Bas mini in Makkah? Wah, bestnya. Nowadays no more, Pok Ku. Ordinary stagebuses pun not allowed to masuk the mosque area.

Aida said...


Thank you for sharing the photos... lovely. I could just feel the ambiance...

And on top of it all, u have lost lots of kilos.... bestnyer... I need to lose double that!!!!

U know what I miss in Mekah?? Those mashed dhal or olives; instead of peanut butter. yummmmmmm I forgot what they are called... I gained weight during the duration of my umrah.

Zabs said...

Salam kenal Puan Hajjah,
Sampai ke sini dari blog PakPayne. Semoga telah mendapat Haji Yang Mabrur, InsyaAllah.
Cuma masih tidak boleh terfikirkan, di Mekah, semasa berbuat amal ibadah masih ada yang melakukan perkara2 yang tidak dijangkakan itu. MasyaAllah.

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Salaam Zabs. Terimakasih kerana sudi datang ke blog kama. tu la, manusia jahat ni dimana2, kat Makkah pun ada...