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CHAPTER 9: THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS AND BEYOND.

It was the first day of Hajj (8th Dhul-Hijjah). We got up early that morning, well before Fajr and had a quick shower. We had already made all the preparation for the Hajj before hand so it was just a matter of getting ready and performing our Fajr Salah. We finished last minute minor preparation, made our intention to perform the Hajj and then headed out towards al-Haram. We prayed the Fajr Salah in Masjid Al- Haram then returned to the Hotel.

There was much more of a hustle this morning with people moving about with a sense of purpose rather than meandering along - the mood was definitely different. In the Masjid, there had been a constant stream of people- thousands coming in and thousands going out. This moving river of human souls was none stop, all completing their obligatory prayer before their Lord. Most people then returned to their hotels to make the final preparations before continuing with the Hajj journey.

In the hotel, we quickly got changed into the Ihrams, the two pieces of cloth that we originally wore to Makkah. Once the Ihrams were on, we were ready to perform the first stage of the Hajj. We journeyed back to the Al Haram; we performed the Tawaaf around the Kabbah by circulating it seven times; we prayed the nafal Salah (two Rakaats) and drank some ZamZam water. This was the initial stage of the Hajj completed.

We returned to the Hotel to join with the rest of our group so we con make the journey to Mina. We waited patiently for the rest of the brothers and sisters to gradually join us in the hotel lobby. They came in their ones and twos, each clad in their Ihrams, carrying all their essentials for the next few days. We were raring to go, fully aware and focussed on the task before us.

The night before, we had all sat down and discussed what we needed for the next few days. This was the 'United Nations' of our small group. There was myself, the Turkish link; Brother Farage, the Libyan; Brother Hassan, the Pakistani representative; Brother Ahmed from Nigeria and finally Brother Abdur Raqheeb - the true Scott and our sincere braveheart.

We had sat down in a circle and decided on a few principles. That night, we agreed to stick together and look after each other during the Hajj days. We put our money into the centre for food and other necessities needed for the Hajj. We went shopping straight afterwards for some food for the duration of the days. We had dates, bags of dried and fresh fruits, biscuits and olive salad… As I write this I still have a taste of the olives and feta cheese. I have managed to avoid that food since I returned to Scotland (alhamu-lillah).

One critical advice I was given in Scotland was to always have some water with me during the Hajj. There certainly wasn't a shortage of water during Hajj but this turned out to be solid advice. Those words of wisdom ended with, 'You will know why when you get there why you want water with you.' I really did find out why when I got there!

Even though I wasn't worried about anything, every now and then I would quickly go through everything in my mind, makings sure that nothing had been overlooked. I checked all my belongings for the journey, snacks, water supply, sleeping bag, paracetamols… I was ready for anything. I was now truly ready both mentally and physically. I was eagerly anticipating the start of the Hajj journey.

Time was of the essence because we had to be there before the Zuhr salah, the midday prayer. Although we few brothers were fully ready, we were still waiting for some of the team to get together. I remember looking outside into the street, which was still buzzing with people but not as busy as earlier. I was panicking; I entertained thoughts of being late to Mina and ruining our Hajj. I was desperate to get moving and wanted to fly down the stairs and dive onto our bus but even that wasn't there yet.

Things progressed too slowly for me but finally the whole group was ready, families, individuals, every single member of our Hajj family. Suddenly, Uncle Riaz wandered in and asked who wants to join him in performing the Hajj by foot. This was a spanner in the works for our well laid out plan. We looked at each other and I know we were all in two minds to some degree. I felt it would be better to perform the Hajj by foot just as many billions of people before us. Surely this would hold the most blessing, the closest to the method adopted by the Prophet and the many righteous souls after him.

I pulled aside brother Abdur Raqeeb and spoke to him about it. He was also very keen to do this by foot and his face was beaming with enthusiasm. We quickly discussed it with some of the brothers who assured us they would look after our belongings if we decided to perform the Hajj by foot. They would make sure our extra luggage was loaded on the bus and they would look after it until we met again in Mina.

I still wasn't fully satisfied with this, some doubts and worries were still tormenting my mind. What if the already late bus doesn't arrive? What if they forget to put our luggage on the bus or even worse forget to take it off the bus? What if our bags go missing in all the confusion and mayhem? The sacred journey before us was daunting enough but I didn't fancy sleeping in the freezing desert night without a sleeping bag! I had never been on Hajj before and I had visions of sleeping in a big tent in the middle of the desert… miles away from civilisation with scorpions running around like in an Indiana Jones movie. I was worried!

I also had some reservations about the navigation skills of Uncle Riaz. I wasn't completely satisfied with things so I questioned Uncle Riaz, "Do you know the way to Mina?" He looked at me as if I was asking him something absurd, he replied, " Of course I do, I have done the Hajj so many times!" He then described the plan in great detail, which gave me more confidence and was very re-assuring.

This small group of three adventurers, laidened with food and supplies on their back, with the zikr of Labaik on their tongues; and an emotions sandstorm of excitement and anticipation in their heart took their first steps of Hajj. After walking towards Al-Haram for a few minutes, Uncle asked us to wait outside the King Fahd gate whilst he did a final prayer at the Kabbah. He then proceeded into the Masjid with us patiently reflecting on the journey before us. As we waited, we scrutinised the map over and over, taking in the tiniest detail and information about the Hajj.

Finally, uncle Riaz returned but he complained that he had been looking outside the gate for ages and questioned us as to why we had moved. I think he must have got confused and been looking outside the wrong gate! Maybe it was just by chance he had noticed us standing there outside a 'different' gate. This didn't inspire us with confidence but we continued our journey to Mina.

We headed towards the location of the Prophet's house. They have built a library on that very site which was fitting in a way. The prophet brought knowledge to the world and is a source of guidance for all mankind. Similarly, a library is a source of information and knowledge which too enlightening the world. I joked to myself, the miracle of Isa (Jesus) was the power to heal people I wonder if they built a hospital where he was born!

We walked with the tide of millions of Hajjis; sometimes going with the flow and at other times navigating a winding course through the crowds. We then turned right and joined an even bigger river of people making it like a huge moving sea of people. More and more people joined this mass until it was humongous with people dressed in white as far as the eye could see in every direction. This human river turned to the right and headed straight towards a vast mountain range which boasted some enormous mountains. They looked like emotionless giants, sitting there devoid of life and vegetation.

As we slowly approached the mountains we could see people being 'swallowed' into the mountain through this massive tunnel. This was one of a series of tunnels that passed through the mountains, making it easier for the Hajjis to travel from area to area. As we entered the mouth of the mountain, the calls of the Lubaikh seemed to get louder and louder. As we proceeded, this murmur was now a thundering roar as it echoed through the whole mountain. It felt as if the Earth below our feet was shaking and the whole mountain was moving with the rhythm of our beating heart. It was quite a humbling experience being amidst these millions of Hajjis.

The tunnel seemed never ending. Its impossible to say how long the tunnels were with boundaries of time and reality becoming an intermingled blur. Our hearts were beating to the lubaik: the soul was lost in some spiritual ecstasy and I marched with an army of billions of searching souls from a timeless spiritual reality. This marching scene could have been a thousand years ago; the world may have progressed with science and technology but the soul remained in its pure and uncorrupted form.

When we came out of the tunnels, we were greeted with bright sunlight and a warm dry breeze. Uncle decided that a tea break was needed and we happily agreed. We stopped off at one of the many eating areas that lined the sides and we joined others who had similar thoughts. A small group of Turks started speaking to Abdur Raqeeb whilst I was getting tea. They were saying, American, American… and brother Abdur Raqeeb was replying no, no, Scottish, Scottish. It was quite farcical because they could not understand that he was Scottish and not American. Finally, I intervened and explained to them that I am Turkish and this is my brother Abdur Raqeeb from Scotland. They were very surprised and shook his hand with such happiness. They were so pleased to meet a Scottish Muslims and they expressed genuine love and happiness for our brother.

They were so overjoyed to see a Scottish Muslim, with a Sunnah beard and white complexion. Even with such young iman in his heart, he was performing the Hajj whilst thousands of people, maybe millions, who are born as Muslims hadn't performed the Hajj yet. All those brothers and sister are too engrossed in chasing the material world, big houses and BMWs but are neglecting this important pillar of Islam.

I feel embarrassed myself writing about this because I was also engrossed in this corrupting materialism and blinded by its alluring beauty. The only guarantee the world makes is to rob you off your time and youth with some empty promises and mirage-like unattainable goals. I was lost for many years in this forgetful, selfish state but by the mercy of Allah, I was allowed to make this Hajj. Its only when I performed the Hajj did I appreciate the sorry state I was in before. It's like a blind man who regains his sight. He can't stop thanking Allah for this gift as a new world of beauty and colour is opened before him.

After this small break, we continued the journey towards Mina. We rejoined this moving mass of people and continued this sacred journey. After the tunnels, we were travelling on these massive walkways, which are probably equivalent to a six-lane motorway. They were packed with moving people, so much so you could not see the road. We too became part of this traffic and before long we were close to our destination, or so we thought