The face of a weary pilgrim..
Frankly, leaving the Holy Land upset my emotional equilibrium terribly. In days leading to our departure, I suffered deep conflicting emotions. The pain was palpable, leading to torrents of tears and feelings of helplessness.
Half of me wanted desperately to come home, to all that was familiar. After 41 days in a sea of black (women clad head-to-toe in black jubbahs) and white (men togged in white ihram and light-coloured abayas), and shuffling my feet in tiny steps like a geisha in the midst of some three million pilgrims, I was ready for home.
I needed space. Lots of space. And I needed colour. Any colour except black and white. I missed my long strides. I missed the children, the house, the greenery, the bookstores, the food, the general abundance of things.
Yet, the other half of me yearned to stay, to be close to all that was good and holy. In fact, in the last few days of my stay in Makkah, each visit to Masjidil Haram would culminate in a tearful gaze at the Kaabah.
Likewise, my heart was torn asunder in Madinah each time I entered The Prophet’s mosque, Masjid Nabawi. Each word of greeting, each ‘salam’ to Rasulullah and the two Sahabah (Companions), Abu Bakar and Umar who were buried alongside him, would inevitably be accompanied by a deep sense of sadness and strange longings.
Tears came easy in the Holy Land. Tears of regret for the sins of yesteryears. Tears as we pitifully begged for Divine forgiveness. Like many others, we arrived burdened with every conceivable sin. We laid bare our heart and soul in the hope of salvation.
Nowhere was this felt the most than on the barren plains of Arafah under the scorching sun, where sitting in the open was a better option than staying under a steaming tent, or in equally barren Muzdalifah (thankfully in the late evening) under a most beautiful moon as we picked pebbles for the ‘stoning of the Devil’ ritual.
And then there was jam-packed Mina, where claustrophobic me had to endure three nights in a tent shared with hundreds of women, where one had to queue for nearly a hour just to relieve oneself, where taking a bath was a luxury one could ill-afford, where taking ablution was sometimes reduced to washing oneself from a bottle or a cup of water....
‘Azab’ (suffering) was the byword of the Haj; so said the good ustaz from Tabung Haji, Hj Helmi Akhtar, who couldn't have been more eloquent when he cautioned us not to make light of the experience by saying the Haj was a-okay. It wasn’t.
But it was an 'azab' that I would gladly endure time and again. My heart bled the moment I stepped foot on ‘Haram’ soil. The bleeding hasn’t stopped. Baitullah, how I miss you...