4: TO THE GATES OF MAKKAH
We had travelled from
one side of the world to the other with the sole intention of performing
the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Makkah. Every Muslim, who has the means,
must perform the Hajj - at least once in their lifetime. Human beings
have been performing the Hajj since the time of Prophet Ibrahim.
Our group had travelled to Saudi Arabia to fulfil this command,
just as billions of people had done before us. We had just landed
at the Hajj terminal in Jeddah Airport and we thought it would be
as simple as heading to Makkah to perform the first part of the
Hajj. We were wrong!
We were told to go into
an adjoining room, the customs area, before we can go and collect
our luggage. It was more of a hall than a room that was filled with
loads of benches stretching from one side of the hall to the other.
The people were sitting on both side of the benches with their hand
luggage in the aisles. It was packed with people, which reminded
me of a cattle market. The waiting people would pass through two
gates at the top of the hall and get their passports and paperwork
checked. At each door was an attendant who would pick a few people
from near the front and ask them to go through.
The Hajjis were tired
and many had made a long and arduous journey to get there. Our group
itself had been travelling for about a day and a half. People were
already tired with the travelling and many were easily irritable.
Then they entered this hall, which was already packed with people
waiting to get their papers checked. This was pretty distressing
in itself but every time the attendants came and selected a few
people from the front, people seemed to be getting more annoyed.
We went in and got a
few empty seats near the front. Some people had been waiting ages
and every time the attendants came they expressed their unhappiness
at having to wait so long for their turns. The attendants would
ask them to calm down and sit down before select another few people
to go through. It wouldn't have been so bad if they had actually
selected people in some particular order, maybe there would be fewer
disgruntled people. This continued over and over again whilst more
and more people got annoyed. The murmur of angry voices was now
coming from everywhere and was becoming more of a roar than a murmur.
I sat there patiently
with a smile of contentment on my face and watched the whole situation
building up. I was quite happy that the sisters were getting through
much quicker than the rest of the crowd. The Hajji next to me asked
me what are you smiling about and I calmly replied, "I am here,
in Saudi, the land of the prophet - what possible reason could I
have for being unhappy, after all I am a guest of Allah." Nothing
was going to ruffle me, this was simply a test from Allah and I
wasn't going to blame anyone, not even the Saudis but was going
to wait patiently. The guy looked at me in a strange way, sat down
for a moment, smiled then patted me on the back.
I think this Hajji realised
that there is more to this than just visiting the Kabbah. It's a
means of change and purification; it's a means to improve yourself
and lose the bad qualities, such as selfishness and greed, which
the dunya has forced into our nature. It wasn't like a post office
queue where people are waiting for a Giro but, in its must basic
fundamental form, it was an act of worship and a means of purification.
After that, things seem
to mellow down and we finally got through the queue. We went through
the customs and were immediately greeted by the sight of yet another
queue. However, there were many attendants and we managed to whiz
right through. These attendants were sitting behind a row of desks
checked all our papers, removing stubs and stamping things in our
passports. I was the first to get through from my group, with my
passport safely clenched in my hand. I felt relieved; it was another
step completed and another step closer to Hajj.
After getting through,
I closed my eyes took a deep breath and released a sigh of relief.
It was hot, I could feel the heat engulfing my whole body but there
was a warm breeze coming from somewhere. I looked around and noticed
that we were no longer in an airport building but we were actually
outside being shaded by the 'mother of all tents'. This massive
tent was stretching as far as I could see. I noticed all the flags
flapping about in the wind, representing all the different nations.
This was the true United Nations, not united on financial and political
gain but united on humanity, love, brotherhood and deen.
Our group was together
once more to continue our journey and alhamdu-lillah everyone had
got through without a hitch. We were surrounded by masses of people,
all wearing the traditional white ihram and from this white I could
see a small red cloth, above the heads of some people. As this came
closer I noticed it was the Turkish flag and with this flag a large
group was merging and heading in our general direction. I felt proud
that even at this Hajj we had a good representation from the Turkish
community. I remembered my parents were also performing Hajj this
year and maybe they were part of this group. I watched the group
pass by with great excitement and anticipation, hoping to glimpse
my parents. It so happened that I met many people in this holiest
of holy lands but I wasn't blessed with a reunion with my parents.
Imagine the scene, we
are in this scorching desert under a massive array of tents, coming
from wintry Scotland. We land in Saudi, the land of desert and sand
dunes, in sweltering uncomfortable heat. You are probably reaching
for your drinks as you are reading this. Then we are greeted by
the heavens, which was really a surprise. Out of nowhere, rain descended
from the heavens, not like rain in Scotland but more like the Niagara
falls and even with the excellent drainage system, within seconds
it was ankle deep. It was literally a jaw-dropping scene. As suddenly
as the rain came, it stopped and people began to continue as before.
The shopkeepers returned to their shops and the Hajjis continued
to make their way through the airport.
We moved to an area marked
D12 where our luggage had already been taken and then it was a matter
of waiting for our next set of instructions. Everyone seemed to
realise that we might be here for a while so they spread mats out
on the ground. Some of the Hajjis got food out and started eating
and sharing with each other; some went to sleep to shake off this
tiredness; some prayed or read the Quran; and others just sat down
and simply waited. I was unable to rest or sleep and began to explore
the airport around me. I checked out the facilities, the Wudhu and
prayer areas; the entrances and exits and looking at the different
people with their own customs and mannerisms. It was during this
'adventure' that I made contact with brother Abd ur Raqeeb, who
from that minute onwards became a close brother and great friend.
I remember doing Wudhu
at the airport, once, twice then thrice. I finished washing feeling
refreshed and noticed a brother crouching and in such a state as
if he was in deep thought and reflection. I looked again scanning
his features and thought this brother is neither a Pakistani nor
a Turk. I was sure that he was a Scotsman or maybe even an American
Muslim. I wandered over and said to him 'Deep in thought brother?"
and he suddenly woke up. After a few moments he responded "Asslamu-alaykum
brother." I joked with him for a while and apologised for waking
him up. After that brief encounter, we were bonded as the best of
friends and brothers.
Everyone was checking
through their papers and making sure everything was in order. I
began to check mine and realised that there were no hotel reservations
under my name, infact there was no information about my hotel at
all. Initially, I was a little surprised by it but then I spoke
to a few other brothers and I became a bit worried. Everyone seemed
to have their reservations but me. I then spoke to the brother who
had got ready the day before we left and even he had his hotel papers!
I became really worried and thought to myself I think I might be
sleeping in the streets!
I decided to find and
speak to Ashfaq, our group leader, guide and organiser. I explained
to him that I don't have the papers for the hotel. He simply replied
"Brother, its not my problem, I gave you the papers!"
After a frantic call to my wife, she confirmed that they weren't
in Scotland.I could only accept the situation and left it in the
hands of Allah, if I needed to sleep in the street, then alhamdulillah.
I joked to myself that I was with good brothers, if I got really
stuck, they would surely loan me a pillow!
We all had this hope
and desire to pray the Jummah salah that day in Makkah. All these
delays and the different checks and double checks had made us really
late. Then the Azan for Jummah came through the speaker system.
We immediately got ourselves together and did our first Jummah prayer
at the airport. We were pleased to have prayed in Saudi but we were
deeply disappointed that were not able to perform our Jummah in
the Haram, the mosque that houses the Kabbah. It is the holiest
sites in Islam and is associated with great spiritual blessings
After a few more delays
and a few formalities our bus was ready to leave for Makkah and
we were ready to leave the Hajj terminal. I had been restless all
the time at the airport but we were close now and with the words
of lubaik on my tongue, I fell asleep. I was suddenly woken up by
a thud as we drove over a pothole in the road. As I woke up, the
words labaik-allahumma labaik were resounding through the whole
bus. I must have dosed off for 20 mins but it felt as if I had a
good nights sleep, I felt totally refreshed.
The bus had made good
progress until we approached the city and then things slowed down.
The rain had caused a lot of chaos on a road system which was chaotic
enough in Hajj season. It was frustrating as we inched onwards towards
Makkah. At times I felt that it was better to jump out and walk,
at least I could make better progress than the bus. We gradually
made our way through Makkah and were getting closer to the Haram,
the sacred mosque in Makkah which houses the Kabbah.
There seemed to be some
problem with the guy navigating this trip to our hotel. He would
occasionally pull over, jump out and speak to someone and them jump
in. He would change his direction for a bit then seemed to stop
off somewhere else and again ask someone some information. He would
continue his journey. I asked someone what is happening. He replied,
" I don't know but I think the driver is lost!" I thought
"Great, if only I had an A to Z of Makkah streetmap"
We made a zig-zag journey
towards the centre of Makkah until the driver stopped, got out with
our group leader closely behind him. They both returned with a load
of wrist bands with some Arabic writing on them. I felt a little
at ease and relaxed because I knew that we were heading for our
hotel now. The wrist bands had information about our hotel and group.
This would be useful to the authorities who could point us in the
right direction if we managed to get lost.
As we got near we were
really excited and were reciting the Lubaik in loud and excited
voices. The anticipation was unbearable and the whole bus was now
buzzing as people looked around at the sights of Makkah from their
seats. When we saw one of the corner of the great mosque we were
amazed and scanning everything, absorbing every detail around us.
Such was the excitement and longing to see Makkah. The excitement
and suspense was getting unbearable and the lubaik was getting louder
We seemed to drive round
and round until we finally located the right Hotel. Our luggage
was unloaded from the bus onto the pavement and some members of
our group went into the hotel and sort out the rooms.
I remember standing outside
the hotel, overcome by emotion. My knees felt as if they were going
to give way as I leaned against the bags. I reflected on the long
and difficult journey we had undertaken and the many friends I had
made. I thanked Allah for this great blessing and prayed that I
would complete the Hajj successfully. My thoughts kept drifting
to how I would react when I walked into the mosque and made my way
to the centre. I would be laying my eyes on the Kabbah, the building
in which direction I had prayed all my life; the Kabbah which the
great Prophet Ibrahim had built with his own hands; the Kabbah around
which the greatest of Human beings - prophet Muhammad had walked;
the Kabbah to which billions of souls had visited and found peace.
How would I react would
I be able to control my emotions or would I cry like a baby? I just
didn't know what to do or think. More pressing problems were at
hand like where would I sleep and where would I put my luggage if
the hotel had no reservation for me? It would be impossible to find
another room at the peak of Hajj season. For a moment things were
a bit of a blur as I moved from one emotion to another on this emotional