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CHAPTER 6: THE UMRAH

Magrib was my first Salah in Makkah in the Al Haram. I found it quite unusual with the second Imam reciting the Takbir behind the Imam in such a beautiful voice. This is not common in our part of the world. I think in the past, before microphones, this was the only way prayers could be perfomed with such large congregations. It was very pleasant and was a new experience that appealed to me immensely.

The hair on my body was standing on its ends during the whole salah. I had prayed my salah many thousands of times in Scotland but this was something quite different, something special. It was a deep and moving spiritual experience. Everything around me seemed super charged with barakah. Every breath I took, every moment that lapsed was blessed. It was like positive spiritual energy was concentrated in one place - in the holiest of places on Earth - the spiritual focal point for every Muslim.

I was so relaxed and at total peace. It's like when you put everything on the line, your whole life, your past, your future and it pays off! It would be the ultimate high and the best feeling ever. This is what I felt, the ultimate feeling of achievement and success; I was in heaven… and as close to heaven as can be (literally) in the holiest of places.

Towards the end of the salah, it was difficult to contain myself with the sheer power of excitement and pleasure. Its like when we were kids and were waiting for an Eid present, we would be jumping up and down with excitement and at the same time be ready to rip the wrapping paper within an instance. It was like subduing the excited kid inside me that was ready to burst with emotion and anticipation.

After the main Jamaat prayer I perform the Sunnah, the optional prayer, which unusually was so difficult. I'm sure the soul from my body was running away from me, eagerly trying to perform the Umrah itself. It was a battle to get myself together and complete the salah with every part of my being pulling me in different directions. When I finally did the salaam which completing the salah I was relieved. After a very short dua I headed immediately towards the Kabbah.

Let me describe the scene to you. This is the peak of Hajj season, the city population swells exponentially. The whole focal point of this huge mass of people is the Kabbah. When you turn in any direction there is always someone in front of you. There's always a head with two ears facing you. In every direction you look, there are eager faces looking towards the Kabbah. It's like when a special VIP guest visits and everyone's eyes are hooked onto this guest. I felt a little ashamed that I was looking around gazing at the faces whilst all the faces were facing and gazing at the Kabbah. It is said that even gazing at the Kabbah is an act of worship.

The floodgates had been opened and the Kabbah was overflowing with souls as more and more people were entering the area around the Kabbah. It was as if a dam had burst and a surgence of people was flooding the area. It was like a race with everyone rushing to get there, eager to please his or her lord, eager to complete this final pillar of Islam.

I too wanted to get to the front and touch the Kabbah, kiss the black stone as billions had done before us. Muhammad (pbuh) the last prophet, the greatest of all mankind had kissed the same black stone and the only thing that stood between the black stone and me was a huge crowd of thousands of people.

Then the wisdom of my guide put things in perspective as he placed his hand firmly on my shoulder and said " Brother, you don't want to go there just now, you will break so many hearts to get there, lets complete our Umrah in peace and complete the command of Allah."

It was completely true and this crushed me. I thought I would be emotional and cry the minute I saw the Kabbah but I was strong. However, when the brother said this I just wanted to cry but his words were completely true and I respected that!" I continued completing the Tawaaf around the Kabbah but my eyes kept falling on the Kabbah.

The Tawaaf was very emotional for me, and as the emotions flowed so did the duas from my lips… I didn't think about it, they were from the heart. I made so much effort in planning and learning the duas and when I got there they had completed deserted my mind. I don't think I can remember my feet ever making contact with the ground, with dua after dua carrying me around.

We were quite near the edge of the people going around the Kabbah so it was much slower and longer but less of a mission. When I gazed towards the centre I could see the crowds were moving quicker but there was a little pushing and shoving as groups of people made their way through the crowds at their different speeds. The nearest thing I can relate to would be like traffic in India or Istanbul, organised chaos and mayhem. I thanked Allah that we did not have to cause any inconvenience or heartache to any of his guests.

I remember an old couple who had probably travelled many thousands of miles like us were performing the Tawaaf. They also completed the Tawaaf and were only a small distance behind us throughout. They looked very old and weary as they started but managed to remain close to us. I joked to myself afterwards, forget the Duracell of this world, I am sure Allah's batteries keep us moving during the Hajj. Maybe it was the burden of the sins we had been carrying, maybe it was getting lighter as we performed the Tawaaf? (Inshallah)

After the Tawaaf, we prayed two Sunnah and also drunk the Zamzam. Then we navigated our course to the hillocks of Safah and Marwa, snaking our way through the crowds of worshippers.

As a bit of a reminder for everyone, the Zamzam is the same spring of water that gushed forth from the ground at the time of Prophet Ibrahim. Ibrahim had left his wife Hajar and his baby son Ismael in this barren valley, near the hillocks of Safah and Marwa. When they ran out of food and water, Ismael began to cry and Hajar made a frantic run between the two hillocks looking for somewhere she could get some water. When she returned to Ismael, there was a spring of pure drinking water where Ismael had been kicking his feet.

It's the same pure water that we drink from in Makkah when we perform the Hajj, the Zamzam. Its also the same hillocks we move between the Safah and Marwa as part of the Umrah ( the lesser pilgrimage) and the Hajj. Both these have become part of the great mosque in Makkah which has expanded from around the Kabbah, incorporating the Zamzam spring and the two hillocks.

We completed moving between the hillocks of Safah and Marwa. This is repeated seven times and by the size of each trip you would think that it would be quite an expedition but we completed it easily without feeling tired. Many people perform fourteen trips between the Safah and Marwa but it is a total of seven.

After this stage of the Umrah, all that remains was to get the hair trimmed and that would complete the Umrah. Immediately, we began to trace our steps back towards the hotel. There were many barbers on route and we chose one barbershop, which was close to the hotel.

The barber asked me if I wanted it trimmed, I just said "Take it all off, I'm leaving the old me behind!" I was leaving my old world behind me, the old me was finished and a new chapter had begun in my life. I wanted every reminance removed from me just as some lizards shed their skins; I was shedding the old hammy!

As I was getting my hair shaved, I recounted the terrible sins I had done in the past as the hair fell to the ground. It was as if I was shedding those sins along with it. It was as if Allah was making me comfortable, as if acknowledging that these sins were purged from my system. After all, many souls come to Makkah with sins piled like mountains and return with only a clean start, a clean heart and a new purpose and outlook in life.

Finally we returned to the Hotel and as I briefly rested in our hotel room, I was relaxed. Even the sounds, smells and feelings around me felt foreign but I knew I belonged here; my soul was at peace and at complete ease. I reflected on my journey here and the great hardships I had to endure. I reflected on the Umrah itself that took about three hours during which we had completed everything correctly. We managed to squeeze Isha into the whole thing. It was quite a job.

For now my eyelids were dropping and I knew I would be woken by the sounds of the Azan calling all the worshippers to return to their lord's presence in complete submission and obedience. For now, I was at peace and rested, even though by body was ready to go again and my mind was active, absorbed in deep thought