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CHAPTER 2: THE JOURNEY THERE

After we completed Fajr prayer in the Stirling Masjid, we started loading up for the first step of the journey - Edinburgh airport. We had to be at the airport for 7.00am to check in our luggage. Everyone was quiet on the journey to the Airport in brother Ghulam's car. People often think about their family and friends they are leaving behind or the life they once lived or their businesses and work they are leaving behind. Life after returning from Hajj is never the same again. Many millions of people make this journey; some of them may never return alive whilst many return home and completely change their lives. Everyone's life is changed in some way or other.

As I was sitting in the car I wasn'tthinking about the loved ones, or even my business or my lifestyle in Scotland; I was only anticipating reaching Makkah. Hadith after Hadith passed through my mind as I thought about this momentous journey. It was a trip to the land where the greatest human being was born and I was going to walk on the land that was blessed with the footprints of the most beloved of all creation.

Ever since I knew about Islam I had looked forward to this adventure. The dream of visiting Makkah, the place Islam originated from, was soon going to be a reality. The sight of baitullah, the House of Allah, was going to be before me. In reality, it had always been before me as I pray towards it everyday but now I was going to lay eyes on this holiest of Holy places. I had seen the Kabbah in pictures and on TV but now I was going to see it in real life with my own two eyes, I just didn't know what to expect or how I would react.

The excitement of completing one of the pillars of Islam, fulfilling a commandment of Allah would be of more satisfaction than becoming a father, or becoming a millionare - nothing could compare. I had a deep fear that I might make some mistakes or might do something wrong on the Hajj. I prayed to Allah that I could complete this Hajj without any mistakes and that Allah would accept this Hajj.

In my past life, I had done so much wrong and had gone against the commandments of Allah many times but this journey I was doing only for Allah and only to fulfil the command of Allah. This was a chance for me to put these wrongs right. To stand before Allah, in the holiest of cities and ask for forgiveness from all these sin. Most people go to Makkah to make ammends, motivated by the attributes of Allah - the most kind and most merciiful.

I was so determined to complete this adventure, it didn't matter what difficulties lay ahead or what trials I would go through to complete it, I was ready. Allah had already planned this for me, I was ready to accept these trials and I knew deep down that this would test my patients and in fact would probably re-define the word patience.

The whole car was silent and everyone sat in deep thought. Even brother Ghulam was silent as he navigated the frosted roads on this cold wintry morning. The Imam then started reciting 'labaik allahulma lubaik' breaking the silence. This was when I really felt the goose pimples all over my body and the whole car seemed to come to life, all the Hajjis reciting the lubaik in one voice. This is the age-old call every Hajji makes on this most important of life's journey until they reach Makkah. This is the dua on every Hajjis lips and indeed the first dua every Hajji learns.

It felt like only a few seconds and we were at the airport. When we arrived I could not believe that so many Muslims that were going to Hajj this year and I was still in Scotland. Even here the scene was awe inspring with so many Muslims, all gathered together, like a big family, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, cousins…. and I felt part of this family and every part of my soul told me that I belonged here.

I must have looked silly but I still find it hard to express my thoughts, even today. I was smiling, not just a smile more of a grin, an uncontrollable grin, from ear to ear. I was happy, no elated, it was overpowered. It's the kind of happiness and joy you experience when you first become a dad or on your wedding day. I just couldn't wait to get on that plane and be on my way.

The first hurdle was the queue at the check in desk. There were masses of brothers and sisters ahead of us in the queue. Some with carrying too much extra baggage and other problems were cropping up. We patiently waited and helped each other get through the checkout stages. Even I took one of the suitcases from a sister and put it through my baggage so that she could take all her belongings with her. It felt good watching Muslims working together and helping each other.

This was not the normal scene you would get on a to trip to Pakistan or some holiday resort nor were there people tourists or sightseers. This was a special trip to Makkah to perform the Hajj. We had concern for all our companions and all the Hajjis that were making this journey. We went out of our way to help each other and to make it as easy and comfortable as possible. It's an unbelievable phenomenon.

Once we got past checking in and customs, it was a matter of waiting for the plane to be ready and our flight to be called. Some of us quickly got some last minute things together, like sickness pills, so that the journey could begin. The gate was finally called and quickly we hurried onto the plane. It was like clockwork and before we knew were landing in London Heathrow. Again we swiftly went to the next terminal to get our connecting flight to Cairo. The flight was expected to leave at 2.00pm

This was the first test of patience; our flight departure time was delayed by two hour. We made good use of this time by praying our Zuhr and Asr Salah, sharing a meal together and reading our green Hajj books. Finally our flight was called and we rushed towards the gate. The mad rush was a bit chaotic, I think everyone was eager to get going and everyone's patience was wearing thin by this delay. After we got on the plane it was a further three hours before we lifted off.

I travel to Turkey every year and have never had any problems with my flight or have been affected by bad weather conditions. Usually you can expect turbulence to shake you about a little but we were tossed from side to side up and down like a salad. It was pretty rough in Egypt and in the middle of this, it was time for Magrib Salah. Imagine the scene, brothers were trying to pray Magrib, fulfilling the command of Allah since they were on this journey to Hajj; the turbulence was tossing the plane about and the pilot was shouting on the speakers for everyone to sit down and buckle up. It was quite an experience especially when we tried to land in Cairo, in the middle of a sand storm.

Usually I would have been glad to land in one piece and feel the solid ground below my feet. I would have been ever so grateful to Allah for this. But I was on a holy mission, to fulfil Allah's command - the fifth pillar of Islam. During this flight, I was in a win or win situation. If I passed away, I died trying to complete Allah's command and if I lived I became a Hajji!

The next stage was most daunting of all for me. Throughout my preparation for Hajj, I had been more worried about this than anything else. This is when the last stages of the journey begins. It's the stage when we truly are different from all other traveller and we literally strip away the world with its false standards and adornments and become just the human being….