Thursday, February 5, 2009

Diary of a Pilgrim - Kiswah & Camel

Entrance to the kiswah complex in Umm Al-Joud, Makkah Al-Mukarramah

He's spinning some silver threads

Ruins of the old Hudaibiyyah Mosque

Gee, Pak Abu in ihram garb can certainly pass off as a camel shepherd!
The naughty, playful (camel) youngster is the one on the left. In this picture he was trying to 'ngendeng' water from the guy.

View of Kaabah at 10.30pm after we completed our Tawaf Umrah.

Saturday, 20th December saw us up and early, as always. However, there was no time for Subuh prayers at the mosque for we had to prepare for umrah; our miqat being Ja'aranah, 24 kilometres away. By 7.30 am, the buses were ready and waiting.

Our first stop in the ‘ziarah & umrah’ morning tour was the sprawling 'kiswah' (Kaabah shroud) manufacturing complex located at Umm Al-Joud just outside the parameter of Makkah City.

The draping of the Kaabah with a kiswah is a pre-Islamic practice and scholars differ on who was the first to do it; some say it was Prophet Ishmael (as) while others attribute it to Adnan bin Ad, the great-great-grandfather of Prophet Muhammad (saw).

Whatever the case, Prophet Muhammad (saw) left the shroud as it was after the conquest of Makkah in 630 AD. Unfortunately, a woman lighting incense in the Kaabah accidentally set the shroud alight, totally ruining it. Following the incident, the Prophet replaced the shroud with a white Yemeni cloth.

In the early days, the kiswah were made in either Egypt or Yemen, but in 1977 a special facility was established in Saudi Arabia itself, to manufacture the shroud and other items for the draping of the Kaabah interior and the Prophet’s mausoleum in Madinah. The factory also produces kiswah-related gifts for visiting dignitaries.

Enroute to Umm Al-Joud, we caught sight of a few Bedouin settlements. We were told many of these desert dwellers still lived the old nomadic way; in tents, herding camels, sheep, goats and cattle, and migrating seasonally depending on grazing conditions. They were, however, very hospitable to strangers.

The beautifully manicured lawn and frontage of the kiswah complex caught my eyes as we disembarked from the bus. Date trees alternating with majestic flame of the forest and flower bushes lined the avenue leading to the main building.

Inside, we were taken to the main sections of the factory to observe two key processes - weaving of silk threads into the kiswah main piece and sewing of gold threads onto silk strips adorned with Quranic verses. Due to time constraint, we were unable to see the rest.

Because photography was allowed, I lost no time in snapping pictures. While weaving was mechanised, sewing of gold threads on the verses were done manually.

Each kiswah costs SR17 million to make. Measuring 14 metres in height, it is made of the finest silk weighing 670 kilograms, dyed deep black. For embroidery, 15 kilos of gold threads are used.

Every year, on the 9th of Zulhijjah, the Kaabah is draped with a new kiswah to welcome Eid-Adha. The old one is then cut into small pieces, to be given to visiting Muslim dignitaries as gifts. During the days of the Caliph, the strips were distributed to pilgrims.

After 45 minutes in Umm Al-Joud we boarded the bus once again, this time to visit a camel farm. It wasn’t really a ‘farm’ in the truest sense of the word; just an open enclosure full of camels.

We saw many such privately owned enclosures dotting the landscape, each with busloads of pilgrims paying homage to this truly remarkable animal. I read somewhere that there are over 160 words for “camel” in the Arabic language.

I had never been up close and personal with a camel before, so I didn’t know what to expect. This much I can tell you - they have the most gorgeous eyelashes! I certainly can wax lyrical about camels despite the fact that they look so ungainly and that they stink to high heaven.

One youngster nudged my bottle of mineral water; that was one modern kid who just knew he didn’t need a ‘wadi’ to quench his thirst, so I obliged. He suckled from the bottle like a child, and then nudged me for more.

He kept licking my palm and when I moved away, he dutifully followed me like a dog, probably thinking I was a portable oasis! He was so cute and adorable that I couldn't resist putting my arm around his neck despite the foul breath.

I also tried camel milk; it was delicious, so I bought some to take back to the hotel. Camel milk is highly nutritious; three times as rich in vitamin C as cow’s milk and lower in fat and lactose.

All too soon we had to move again, this time to Ja’aranah (previously known as Hudaibiyyah) in the area of Shumaysi, some 24 kilometres away from Masjidil Haram and just two kilometres outside the ‘Haram’ boundary.

This was the site of the Treaty of Hudaibiyyah forged between Prophet Muhammad (saw) and the Quraish of Makkah in 628 AD, a pact that resulted in a ten-year truce which eventually set the stage for the expansion of Islam to the Arabian peninsula.

We took our ablution and prayed at the Hudaibiyyah Mosque, after which we expressed our niat (intention) to perform the Umrah. There was nothing to see in this place, save for the ruins of an ancient mosque and an old man selling tasbih and rings with semi-precious stones.

The bus deposited us at the hotel around noon. That night, Pak Abu and I performed the required Tawaf and Sa’ei, thus completing our umrah.

The next few days passed quickly, and before we knew it, Friday, December 26th dawned and the time had come to bid Makkah goodbye.

My roommates and I decided to go on a walkabout that morning, just to savour the atmosphere for one last time. It was a time of sadness and heartache, of grief and sorrow. Words hung in the air, unspoken.

We were leaving this holy city, this birthplace of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw), this place we had grown to love so unconditionally in the one month that we were here. And we were leaving Baitullah.

The mere thought of saying goodbye to Baitullah brought tears to our eyes. Would we ever return? My heart ached; the pain refused to go away.

Silently we carried our luggage down to the lobby and waited for Friday prayers to be over, before walking to the Grand Mosque to meet up with our respective spouses for the Tawaf Wida’ (Farewell Tawaf).

It was two o’clock in the afternoon when we stepped onto the marbled courtyard of Baitullah to begin the tawaf. Allahu Akbar, it was a hot day, and the courtyard was packed with pilgrims.

As I began, I could feel my feet touching the floor ever so lightly. Soon I was lost to the world, reciting the various doas while slowly moving with the crowd. Pak Abu later said I looked like I was in a trance.

The heat was still bearable when I prayed: “Ya Allah Ya Tuhanku, please shield me from this heat so I can perform my tawaf comfortably.”

Subhanallah, a piece of cloud then moved under the sun, effectively blocking it, while at the same time a gust of wind so cool and refreshing blew across the Baitullah courtyard.

I heard a cry behind me; "Alhamdulillah! Alhamdulillah!" It was Pak Abu, he couldn't quite contain his emotion. As for me, tears welled.... Thank You Ya Allah....


Kak Teh said...

Puteri, such an emotional moment. I remember the visit to the Kiswah too an I do have loas of photographs. I have not quite written abt my umrah, i think words failed me and perhaps I am not meant to write abt it. I id get up close and personal with some camels too at Arafah.I too remember not wanting to take my eyes off the kaabah as i left. Too difficult to describe.

When my husband went, I remember that when it was all over, he phoned me and just cried. I felt the overwhelming emotions even from afar.

Pi Bani said...

Ohh yes, the toughest part was indeed after the tawaf wida'. Entah berapa kali menoleh balik ke kaabah as I was walking out of Masjidil Haram.

mamasita said...

You have done your Haj so smoothly and beautifully..Alhamdullillah
Even your doa nak teduh sikit under the strong dayheat came through..God granted your wish immediately..Allahhuakbar!

mamasita said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kama At-Tarawis said...

Kak Teh & Pi - until today, whenever I think of Makkah & Madinah, air mata masih bergenang. Pelik kan?

Mamasita - He gives some, He takes some. Syukur dpt selesaikan Hajj tanpa banyak halangan.

mama irma said...

Kak Kama,
The Du'a Tawaff Wida is so powerful that believe me you'd want to go back there every year after your Hajj!
As for me,I can still smell Masjid Nabawi even when I view the pics aired during azan on our TV.

your junior, STF74.

Naz said...

Masyaallah, Kak Puteri.
I baca pun rasa sayu. thanks for sharing, sis.

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Salam Mama irma - the strangest thing happened to me a week or so after balik dari Makkah. I didn't want to say it out loud until you mentioned about the Masjid Nabawi smell. I was sitting on the sofa next to Pak Abu, watching TV, when I caught a whiff of that peculiar sweet attar smell of Masjid Nabawi. Don't know where it came from. I mentioned this to Pak Abu; he didnt smell it. Terkedu sekejap saya.

Naz - TQ. Nanti I sambung with tales from and experiences in Madinah..

Hanna said...

MashaAllah nice posts