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CHAPTER 5: THE KABBAH

All our baggage was unloaded onto the pavement outside the Hotel. The bus was still unloading as my companions checked their luggage, making sure all their essentials had arrived safely. I hurried into the hotel to see what my fate would be. I was a bit anxious to find out if I had a place to sleep that night or would I have to tackle the impossible task of finding a room in Makkah!

I hurried into the reception and said salaam to the brothers behind the desk. Next to me was brother Ashfaq who was the organiser of the whole tour. Ashfaq was swamped by questions as he tried to communicate with several people at the same time and I didn't want to add to his burden. He suddenly must have noticed me standing next to him with a perplexed look on my face. He turned towards me and said "Just go with your companions to the same room." I asked him "Are you sure that will be okay?" He quickly replied "Aye, aye" as if he was brushing me off so that he could return to his barrage of questions and queries.

I was very impressed with the way the Hajj was organised by my brother Ashfaq. In the mass chaos around us, our brand of chaos was different and was spiked with a sense of humour. No matter how mad or chaotic things were, Ashfaq always had a cool and mellow temperament. He seemed to be unflustered whilst others would have lost their heads! I think deep down he knew Allah ta'ala was guiding this tour, no matter what happen it always works out. He had seen it all before!

After all this travelling, all this worrying, spending so much time wearing the Ihram, the hot and often humid conditions, the monsoon type downpours and the sandstorms, I had arrived safely. The surprising thing was that my companions in the hotel room were no other than Ahmed, the brother who joined us at the last minute, Brother Abd ur Raqeem the Scotsman from the airport and Brother Hassan, the Amir of the Tablighi effort in Stirling. Alhamdu-lillah.

My friends and brothers in Islam, Bashir and Shakir had their own individual rooms that they shared with their wives. I felt that it would have been so good if my wife had been with me, we could have shared this spiritual experience as we had shared so much of the good and bad over the last 18 years of marriage. I felt guilty and at times I wanted to talk but my soul mate was back in Scotland… I really missed her.

As soon as we got our keys, I dived outside with fresh energy, got my bags and quickly got settled into our room. The room was small but I never intended to spend much time there, I wanted to spend as much time in the Holiest of mosques in worship, prayer and contemplation. I wanted to go straight out and do the Umrah and complete the first part of the Hajj. Whenever a Muslim travels to Makkah, he performs the Umrah which is often called the lesser or smaller Hajj. It involves doing the Tawaf - going around the Kabbah seven times - reading two Rakaat of salah at the Mikami Ibrahim and then going between the hills of Safa and Mawrah seven times. Before removing the Ihram and changing into normal clothes, the hair has to be shaved or cut.

I spoke to the brothers in my room, encouraging them to get moving straight away and head to the great mosque. Brother Hasan had lost his luggage and was busy trying to locate it. How ironic it is that we spend weeks planning our journey, taking with us only the very essentials that we might need during these three weeks. When we pack our bags, we feel re-assured that everything will be okay in this foreign land with our 'survival kit' with us. Our plans are thrown in the air when we land and our baggage goes missing, losing even the basic necessities such as a change of clothes. Allah indeed tests us all in different ways and even for the strongest of us; it is a great trial.

Other brothers were trying to get in contact with their family back home to inform them that they had arrived safely whilst others were thoroughly exhausted with the travelling and wanted to rest for a short while. I was probably the most impatient of them all, nothing was going to stop me, I needed to do this and I had every intention to. I went down to the reception and thought to myself, surely I will bump into someone who will be my companion and we could do the Umrah together.

Makkah is no ordinary city, it has an extra four million people during the Hajj season and the place is packed out. Now packed out isn't like having ten extra people in your living room but its like being part of a crowd at a major football match but in every direction you turn, there are thousands of people moving about. Often your own movement is very restricted. The streets of Makkah can be likened to rivers but with thousands of people moving instead of water. Often the current goes in the opposite direction to your direction and getting back is difficult. This is especially true for a stranger like me in Makkah with its unfamiliar surroundings. It is highly recommended to be organised and go with a guide. If you manage to get lost, which apparently is very easy, finding your way back can be an absolute mission.

Near the hotel reception, I met brother Nazir who had just returned from completing the Umrah. He had shaved his head that meant the Umrah had been completed and he could change out of the Ihram into normal clothes. Just to make sure that he had completed the Umrah, I asked him, "Brother have you done your Umrah?" He replied" Yes, I have just completed the Umrah." I said to him "If I knew you were going to do the Umrah, I would have joined you." He simply replied" I couldn't wait any longer I had to go and do it."

I could understand him; I had the same compelling desire to perform the Umrah, to lay eyes on the Kabbah, to drink the sweet water of Zam Zam, to go to the Holiest of mosques on this Earth. I was anxious to go but also reluctant to go on my own without a guide. My navigation skills are legendary amongst my friends and colleagues but this was another ball game. I was itching to go and could not wait till tomorrow like others had decided. As I was weighing things up in my mind whether I should go or not, a brother next to Nazir said " Listen Brother, I also want to go so if you can find your way back I will go with you. I am scared to go on my own, I will surely get lost!"

This was too good, I immediately agreed and the adrenaline was rushing through my veins as I waited for him to return from informing his wife. I was so excited and when we stepped outside the hotel… wow! what a sight. The place was buzzing, so many people moving to and fro and in the distance above these people, I could see the walls of the Holy Mosque. My courage had left me when I was confronted with such an awesome amount of people and it was so hot and uncomfortable. My heart was powering my actions and with a deep breath (and a quick prayer) we began our journey towards the Mosque.

I looked at my watch, the time for Magrib was approaching and thousands of people had already laid their prayer mats on the streets outside the Mosque. Many people pray outside the mosque because often it can be difficult to find a place inside. We kept walking, winding our ways around these groups of people. I was actually getting a bit worried, what will happen if we keep going and could not get room to pray inside the mosque? Aren't we better off stopping here and doing our Magrib prayer before proceeding?

We kept on moving and the sky was starting to get darker which indicated that the time for prayer was approaching fast. As we got close to one of the many entrances to the mosque, the people were moving much quicker and we were getting pushed left and right. As we reached the entrance we realised just how enormous it was, we felt like dwarfs standing there. It was beautifully decorated with such beauty and attention to detail. It was an absolute masterpiece.

Just then the speakers burst to life and the Adhan resounded from every corner, drowning out the low background murmur of the Hajjis. It was loud and seemed to be swirling in from all directions as if looking for us: inviting us to hurry to peace; inviting us to hurry to our Lord; inviting us to hurry to success and salvation and inviting us to hurry up and find a place! We could feel a cool breeze blowing from the Masjid as we took our slippers off and entered through the gate. People were moving briskly and panning out in all directions as if they were going to different area of the Mosque. The marble was cold under foot, which was quite a surprise because the conditions outside were hot and stuffy.

The Azan was nearly complete, the places were filling up quickly before our eyes but we kept on going. Everything was happening quickly and our progress was getting slower through this increasingly thickening crowds. Just then bang, I were stopped dead in my tracks. No it wasn't a physical force which stopped me but the sight of the baitullah - The Kabbah.

For a moment I was the only person in the whole mosque, as if in a dream world just me standing before the baitullah. The hussle and bussle disappear, as did the urgency to find a place to pray. Nothing seemed to matter in fact nothing did matter. I felt peace for the first time and it was unlike anything I had felt before. My eyes were locked onto the Kabbah, just like you gaze into emptiness when you are daydreaming. I was over-awed and for a moment I was lost, lost in spiritual ecstasy and contentment. I know it was for an instance but time too seemed to disappear and it felt much longer. I had learned the dua to recite when I first lay eyes on the Kabbah but these words were already flowing from my lips and my eyes were welling up. It was as if I was ready to drop in prostration and thank Allah for today I realised that I am just a servant of the vast, undefinable God of all that exists.

Then I was brought back to reality with a firm pat on the back and the brother pointed towards a small space to the right of us. We were one of the few people still standing, all the other Hajjis were seated and ready to pray. As we approached the space, the brothers nearby by shuffled across a little to accommodate both of us. I said Alhamdulillah, sat down and waited for the salah to begin.

After Salah, all we had to do was perform the Umrah which was first instituted by prophet Ibrahim a long time ago. This would be the first significant action we would be doing on our Hajj and for the first time I felt at home with a tranquil peace. I had been worried of making mistakes and errors but now I felt everything coming naturally and was full of confidence. The words "Allahu akbar" resounded through the whole mosque and I became one in a congregation of millions, Magrib had started.