Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Diary of A Pilgrim - Kaabah Conundrum

Feeling pensive at Jeddah Airport while waiting for the bus to take us to Makkah

New arrivals resting at the lobby of Qutubah Barakah, while waiting for their luggage

The young men manning the hotel reception desk

In all honesty, I was a tad apprehensive at the idea of performing the Hajj. Was I ready to face my moment of truth? And with my chequered past, would He welcome me into His Sacred House? Would He accept my repentance and forgive me? Or would I receive my comeuppance instead, in the Holy Land of all places, for my past sins?

Horror stories abound about pilgrims denied the sight of Kaabah despite standing right in front of it, or about those lost to wander for days in Masjidil Haram looking for an exit (this despite the Grand Mosque having nearly 100 doors).

And then there were those perfectly healthy pilgrims suddenly struck by mysterious, debilitating illnesses, some even lapsing into a coma, just before the all-important ‘wukuf’ in Arafah, only to miraculously recover the moment ‘wukuf’ was over, thus rendering their Hajj a non-event.

While I didn’t know what fate awaited me, deep in my heart I knew my time had come. I must answer this seruan (call) and make this trip, for it could very well be the only opportunity I ever had to shed my past, cleanse myself and start anew.

Pak Abu, himself no angel in his younger days, naturally shared my sentiment. To say he was nervous was putting it very mildly. In our hour of reckoning, the fear of Divine retribution became very real indeed. Be that as it may, we prayed hard for His mercy to allow us the privilege of performing the Hajj without much hindrance.

We bid Malaysia goodbye in the wee hours of Tuesday, 25th November 2008, and touched down at Jeddah International Airport at five in the morning, Saudi time. We performed our dawn prayers at the airport while waiting for customs & immigration clearance.

It was a two-hour wait, the first of many 'waiting games' that we played over and over again in the Holy Land. But we had been warned by Tabung Haji of the thoroughness of Saudi authorities, so we were prepared for it.

Our ‘miqat’ i.e. pilgrimage boundary and the starting point of our ‘ihram’ (state of purity preceding the Hajj) where we had to officially express our ‘niat’ (intention) to do the Hajj, was Qarnul-Manazil, about one hour before touchdown. So a special announcement was made by a flight stewardess, to remind us to 'niat', as soon as the aircraft flew over the area.

Because our flight was among the last from Malaysia to enter the Holy Land, our route took us direct to Makkah Al-Mukarramah from Jeddah. Pilgrims who arrived earlier usually disembarked in Madinah Al-Munawwarah, where they spent some 10 days of ibadah at Masjid Nabawi before journeying by bus to Makkah 447 kilometres away.

For us, Madinah would come after the Hajj. As such, Pak Abu and I opted for 'Haji Ifrad', which means our 'ihram' period was much longer than usual 'Haji Tamattu’' and 'Haji Qiran'. Doing Haji Ifrad would mean completing the obligatory Hajj rituals first, before doing the Umrah.

[Note: Pilgrims who arrive 'late' i.e. within days of the all-important 'wukuf', usually opt for Ifrad while those who arrive much earlier, via Madinah, would have ample time to do their Umrah first, thus opting for Tamattu'.

As for Qiran, this means pilgrims only perform the obligatory Hajj rituals sans umrah. Pilgrims whose continuous ill-health does not allow them to expose themselves to the full rigours of the Hajj, for example cancer sufferers or those recovering from surgery, are usually advised to opt for Haji Qiran].

The eight-hour flight was uneventful, apart from a slight glitch that saw Pak Abu and I sitting one row apart. It was no issue to us, anyway. My seatmates were a couple in their late fifties, from Tanjung Karang, Selangor. Both were first-time fliers and were understandably nervous.

The wife shyly asked if I had flown before. When I answered in the affirmative, her face broke into a smile and she asked me to teach her how to buckle the seatbelt. We introduced ourselves and made some small talk before sleep overtook us all. Pak Abu and I were pleasantly surprised later when the couple, Masnah and Arshad, ended up as our respective roommates in both Makkah and Madinah.

The two-hour bus journey from Jeddah Airport to the holy city of Makkah Al-Mukarramah resonated with the Talbiyah "Labbaikallah Hummalabbaikk. Labbaikallah La Syarie Kalakalabbaik. Innal-Hamdah, Wan-Nekmatah, Laka Wal Mulk, La Syarie Kalak" from fellow pilgrims, which brought tears to our eyes. Reality dawned. We were in the Holy Land as guests of Allah swt.

"Here I am at Thy service O Lord, here I am. Here I am at Thy service and Thou hast no partners. Thine alone is All Praise and All Bounty, and Thine alone is the Sovereignty. Thou hast no partners."

Hamba-Mu datang menyahut panggilan-Mu Ya Allah! Hamba-Mu datang menyahut panggilan-Mu Ya Allah! Sesunggunya segala puji-pujian dan nikmat dan kerajaan adalah kepunyaan-Mu dan tiada sekutu bagi-Mu."

Our bus journey ended at Cordoba Hotel (known in Arabic as Qutubah Barakah) which was to be our home for the next one month. As we entered Makkah, I had my first view of the sea of humanity associated with the Hajj. It was a frightening yet wondrous sight to behold.

We were fortunate to be housed in Qutubah (a three-star hotel in the same league with erstwhile Holiday Inn in Malaysia), simply because it was only 500 metres, or five minutes’ walk away, from Masjidil Haram. Its CEO was a Malay hotelier who used to run PJ Hilton and the all-male workforce was a combination of Indian, African and Indonesian personnel.

Qutubah’s Room 914 housed six women (four grandmothers among them) in their late 40s and mid-50s, who were to become firm friends in the days and weeks that followed.

There was Zabiah, a quiet and soft-spoken ustazah (religious teacher) who hailed from Lenggong, Perak. Diminutive Nor Aziah, my only other English-speaking roommate, was a diabetic who had undergone a heart bypass. Nor, who was on insulin jabs twice daily, hailed from Sungai Buloh, Selangor.

There was reed-thin Jaimah, chirpy and talkative, from Parit, Perak; ever-smiling and very helpful Norizan, wife of a school headmaster, from Klang, Selangor; and kindly and observant Masnah, from Tanjung Karang, Selangor.

And then there was me, sticking out like a sore thumb, self-conscious and feeling utterly inadequate amongst the good, Quran-reading ladies. They good-naturedly took my hands and guided me through throughout our stay together.

Pak Abu’s room was just down the aisle on the same floor. At 56, he was the youngest amongst his new room-mates Pak Arshad, Pak Baharin, Pak Ahmad, Pak Abu Bakar the imam and Pak Azmi, all of whom in their 60s or early 70s.

Living in such close proximity with total strangers was a humbling experience, as both Pak Abu and I eventually learned. If at all, living amongst these honest kampung folks - the salt of the earth kind - stripped us both of whatever bourgeois pretensions that remained within us.

Barely rested, we trooped to the Grand Mosque after dinner for the required 'Tawaf Qudum' i.e. the first of our Hajj obligations. Tawaf Qudum is basically the ‘Welcome Tawaf' and must be done soonest when a pilgrim arrives in Makkah for the Hajj.

While Pak Abu broke down and cried upon seeing the Kaabah for the first time, I found myself strangely bereft of tears. Instead my mind was inordinately preoccupied with the size of Baitullah – it loomed large in my thoughts but wasn’t such a big structure in reality.

I was to have this detached feeling towards the Kaabah for the next few days, resulting in me questioning myself why wasn’t I emotionally affected like the rest. It was much later that I realised I was so much in awe of the whole experience that I was struck dumb, unable to comprehend the magnitude of it all.

That first circumambulation experience was quite trying. We were reduced to shuffling our feet, one tiny step at a time, while trying to ward off marauding pilgrims who descended upon us like a runaway train – arms linked together in an unbroken chain, pushing, jostling and elbowing their way aggressively, loudly chanting prayers and supplications with nary a care for other pilgrims. It took all we had to preserve our patience and dignity while doing the 'Tawaf'.

Pak Abu and I decided to continue with 'Sa’ei Haji' immediately after the tawaf, permissible to us since we were doing Haji Ifrad. Those opting for Haji Tamattu’ and Haji Qiran would have to wait until after the completion of the main tawaf – Tawaf Haji – to do the Sa’ei.

Sa’ei was the shuttling between the two hills of Safa and Marwah, to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham’s wife, Siti Hajar, in seeking water for their infant son, Ishmael. Prophet Abraham was commanded by God to leave mother and child in the dry, arid valley of Makkah, surrounded by rocky outcrops. It was here that the Archangel Gabriel (Jibrail) dipped its wing into the ground at Ishmael’s feet, from where water - the Zamzam Spring - miraculously spouted forth.

Much to my surprise, I enjoyed the Sa’ei – walking back and forth seven times between the two hills – probably because it wasn’t much different from our usual morning walk, and also because the shuttling was done in the relative comfort of air-conditioned walkways!

Malaysian pilgrims were known in Saudi Arabia for their discipline and good behaviour, their politeness and considerable restraint in carrying out the Hajj obligations and rituals. Wherever we were, be it Jeddah, Makkah or Madinah, all we heard was “Malizia? Malizia baguus!” Was I proud of my countrymen, to carry the banner of Malaysia so commendably.

Thus ended our first day in Tanah Haram – a very long, tiring day indeed - but a very satisfying one, being unceremoniously elbowed in front of the Kaabah notwithstanding!


Queen Of The House said...

Once again, reading your writing about the holy land makes me want to step foot there soon. Insyaallah. Can't wait to read more of your experience.

You put it so succinctly .... I think many with "colourful" pasts would have some degree of apprehension, but Allah Maha Pengampun.

Pi Bani said...

My goodness Kak Puteri, you wrote it so beautifully, you actually brought me back to my Haj memories, step by step!!

Ni baru your first day account. Am looking forward to the rest. I always love listening to stories of those yang baru balik haji.

Aduuuh... teringinnya nak pergi lagi...

GUiKP said...

Respect your honesty and your candid portrayal, Puan Hajjah. Thanks for sharing your once in a lifetime experience.

Zawi said...

Hajjah Kama,
I have said in your previous post that your take will be something special which only you could do it. Next segment please :).

Naz said...

Kak Puteri,
Am looking forward to your next post :)

mamasita said...

Thank you Hajjah,
what a breathtaking narration that brought me brimming with a few tears even halfway through..I was feeling so scared when you were pensive and left in awe at your description of the Kaabah!
And very very scared to hear of those yang failed to carry out their Haj because of their sins.

D said...

Thank you, Kak Puteri, for sharing. the other day, I spent approximately 2 hours on the phone - absorbing the tales of my friend's journey as a guest of Allah.

This year I've taken an extra step at really understanding the significance of each symbolic action in the process of Hajj and shared it with my children and the other malay children in my area.

I have to go soon. May Allah make me His humble guest, just as He has made Pak Abu and you His... InsyaAllah, you are blessed!

kay_leeda said...

This is so beautiful Kak Puteri. I read line after line, visualizing your pace around the holy mosque as you tawaf and perform your sa'ei, and the other ibadahs, and feel so spiritually entranced all the way till the end.

Thanks for sharing, am looking forward to your other dairy entries :)

Aida said...

Beautiful Hajjah.

Am in tears now.. nothing else to say. I must collect myself now.

Thank you and I anxiously wait for more.

Al-Manar said...

I am returning your visit. It is timely to come and read something that takes me back in time. Indeed it is true that something out of ordinry can happen to a guest in ‘baitullah’. Sometimes it is too personal that one just cannot share it with others. It makes one reflect and wonder ‘where do I go from here?’ Thank you for the visit.
Pak Cik

Raden Galoh said...

Salam Kak Hajjah Puteri...

SubhanaAllah...you are such a wonderful writer...you put your experience into words - so vividly and beautifully described. I can't wait to read more of your experience there kak!

This syahdu feeling suddenly strikes me, I longed that placeto be closer to Him in His House...the Baitullah.

Bila kita nak jumpa nih? Nak peluk akak, supaya dpt berkat org balik haji...insyaAllah.

Lve and hugs.

Anonymous said...

Salam kak hajjah puteri,

Wishing u "Selamat pulang ke Malaysia" albeit a little late!

I always look forward to your writings which are so mesmeric and captivating.

Your honest and forthright account makes it more appealing. More, please!!

a reader in ghana

MrsNordin said...

Nice posting on your Haj experience. I was in tears when I read that part "Labbaikallah...". So sayu!

I look forward to more! Thanks for sharing.

Kak Teh said...

Salam Puteri and welcome back. Am sorry I have not been able to come and comment as I usually do with your postings.
Its such a beautiful account - reminds me of the day I saw the Kaabah.

I will be back to read again and again. But I have missed you - a lot.

Anonymous said...

Salam Kak,

Sorry, why I am so scared to even open up your blog.

God knows.

But, welcome back.

More..I want more..I want to have my heart bleed too..

Anonymous said...

well done and well written puan hajjah.
,,,,,very true, my mother-in-law became a Zombi in Mecca,,,,sad to say but true. guess we have to bring her there again cas. i don't think she qualified due to her strange behaviour then.
,,,,,Ya Allah ampun lah my mother-in-law !.


Kama At-Tarawis said...

QOTH - Allah swt listens, tak lama lagi sampailah tu ke Tanah Suci.. Insyaallah..

Pi - Rindu kan? I think sesapa yg dah pi mesti teringin nak pi lagi..

GuikP, Pak Zawi, Naz - tq for the kind words

Mamasita - Alhamdulillah kami diberi kelegaan dalam membuat ibadah.. Syukur sungguh rasanya.

D, Kay, Aida - Pak Abu pun berlinang air mata masa baca the blog. sayu katanya..

Al-Manar - indeed, Pak.. where do we go from here?

Raden - Kak Puteri sentiasa doakan kesejahteraan Raden; di depan Kaabah, di Raudah, even di masjid Quba. Raden tak lekang dari ingatan. Insyaallah, nanti kita jumpa soon.

Anon 3.35 & - tq for the kind words.

Kak Teh - Rindunya pada kak teh..

Anon 8.12 - Kak Puteri pun doakan agar Anon dpt ke Tanah Suci secepat mungkin.

Anon 9.43 - Ya Allah, kesiannya your mother-in-law. Kami memang tau akan kes dimana one woman tak semena2 hilang ingatan dan meracau tak tentu hala semasa di Tanah Suci. Langsung tak boleh sempurnakan Haji. kesian sungguh..

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Mrs N - bila kita dengar Labbaikallah bersahut-sahutan, especially semasa the pilgrims berjalan menuju masjid nak buat tawaf, bergegar hati.. sedih dan sayu.. rasa kecik aja kita..

Ida Hariati Hashim said...


Bestnya g Haji..bilalah rasanya i dapat merasa g Mekah ye. Welcome home..

Pak Tuo said...

Barakallah Hajah.

Mat Cendana said...

"while trying to ward off marauding pilgrims who descended upon us like a runaway train"

I keep hearing about these people from various "Stories from Mekah" relatives over the years. They are Africans, right? I wonder how and why they've become like this?

It's very easy for us Malays to get offended with this abrasive manner. But what about them? What would happen should they meet their come-uppance with others/bigger locomotives??

CT said...

Salam hajah,
Dah beberapa kali saya menjenguk kemari setelah melihat tajuk cerita di blog Kak Teh, tapi hati masih berat nak comment. Hari ini saya memberanikan diri. When I read your story…terkenang kembali semasa di sana. Terasa betapa kerdilnya saya didalam jutaan lautan manusia. Betapa saya bersyukur kerana Allah masih mengizinkan saya manusia yang penuh dengan dosa untuk menjejakkan kaki ke Tanah Suci…beberapa kali saya mencubit diri sendiri kerana takut saya hanya cuma bermimpi. Terima kasih kerana mengembalikan seribu kenangan manis buat saya!

Anonymous said...

The only way to stop future genocide is to fight back our way. The cowards use drones and missiles. No suicide bombs. Use snipers and hitmans. Pay them to kill their ambassadors and their families, their company ceos and their families. They kill our children. List down the numbers they have kill and we try to reach that number. An eye to an eye. Hit them anywhere in this world, from Brazil to Mongolia.
Distribute this comment to as many people as possible all over the world.

Anonymous said...

Salams & selamat pulang dari mengerjakan haji.

saya selalu seronok baca tulisan Kak Puteri. ini kes enjoying intering experiences vicariously lah ni.

terima kasih banyak.

jasmani jalil, singapura

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Ida - bagus kalau hati dah tergerak. Tak lama sampai la tu, Kak Puteri doakan..

Pak Tuo - tenggelam timbul aja Pak Tuo. tq kerana bertandang :)

Mat C - actually, this kind of insensitivity towards fellow pilgrims was not limited to our African brethren saja but by virtue of their size, they were very noticeable. Yang kecik2 cili padi dari negara jiran pun ramai buat style runaway train ni..hehehe.. I guess itu dugaaan Allah swt, nak tengok sejauh mana kesabaran kita..

CT - once dah pergi, rasa nak ulangi pengalaman tu kan? our Tabung Haji ustaz nasihat kami to relate our experience warts and all...

Anon 1.19 - tq for visiting. once saya solat di masjid nabawi duduk disebelah orang singapura, very nice lady... there were 3,000 pilgrims from spore musim haji yg lalu..

CT said...

Salam hajah,

Betul kata hajah tuuu...sekali pergi memang tak akan puas. Bila dah dekat masa nak tawaf wada' dalam hati berkata2 "kalau boleh extend lagi kan best!" sekarang nii dah jadi 'addictions'. Baru CT tahu kenapa orang2 yang dah pergi selalu nak pergi lagi...hajah pun sekarang pasti sedang sakit dilamun rindu kan?