Allahu Akbar… Allahu Akbar… Allahu Akbar…
La Ilaha Illallah Huwallahu Akbar…
Allahu Akbar Walilla Hil Hamd…
Aidiladha for my sisters and I this year is different from years past. I just feel there’s nothing worth celebrating when you are worried for the safety and health of your parents who are away on Hajj. We can only pray hard that God will look after them as well as all the other pilgrims over there, bearing in mind the number of cases of stampede in the past. People might see us as quite relaxed with our parents over there, but they dunno that deep down, all three of us are quite worried sick for them especially when we heard that they got ill over in Madinah, which is currently in the midst of winter, only that there is no snow due to its geographical position. Speaking of Madinah and Makkah, the two holy cities, brought back a lot of fond memories of my time there as recently as this past June.
Not many people knew we went there for Umrah, as we did not want to publicise it for fear that people thought we wanted to show off. I was even hesitant to talk about my experiences in this blog as I felt that I did not want to come across as being pompous or a goody-two-shoes. In short, I could not find a valid reason nor angle to talk about it. Why I think I am ready to talk about it now is because of the current Hajj season which makes me reminisce of my time there and hope that with the sharing of my experiences, it would entice you to go there sooner if not later…
It was meant to be our honeymoon in the first place. We had planned to go in March but due to work commitments on both sides, we had to push it to June. With that apparent postponement, Aida‘s planned pregnancy had also taken a backseat as we did not want to have any complications when we were abroad or high up in the skies. But of course, accidents do happen and God certainly had ideas which HE knows best. And so it was, we were sceptical about going when we found out Aida was pregnant at the end of March. But we had to go as we did not have other time plus I had to serve my intentions of going (Nazar) as soon as possible. Alhamdulillah when Aida passed her 1st trimester stage, it was just nice for us to leave as the little one would have settled down in her womb by then. As an added precautionary measure, my in-laws joined us on the trip so my mother-in-law could take care of Aida especially at places where only females were allowed. Even though it looked like “a breach of privacy” as we had meant it to be our honeymoon, I did not look at it that way one bit. In fact I was extremely thankful they tagged along. It was also my opportunity to bond closer with them. We departed on 5th June 2006 at 5:30am.
We spent almost 24 hours just to get to the holy city of Madinah Al-Munawwarah from here. When I did my Umrah back in 1992 with my family, the time spent to get there was only about 18 and a half hours. The reason we took a longer time was because we took Gulf Air, which had to make a stopover in Bahrain for 4 hours and when we reached Jeddah, instead of taking a flight to Madinah, we went there by coach. The travelling time took about 6 hours. So we kinda wasted about 10 hours waiting and on the road. Luckily our meals in Bahrain were catered for, as I was quite appalled by their currency which is even higher than British Pounds. We ended up doing a lot of window shopping during our 4-hour transit.
Along the way to Madinah, we stopped halfway to perform our Maghrib and Isya’. It was at the stopover place that I first experienced what the desert temperature is like, about 43 degrees Celsius. The heat practically stings your face the moment the bus door opened and you stand on the steps with the wind blowing. It was like being in a sauna. It felt uncomfortable at first but I told myself if the people there can survive, then there’s no reason why I could not acclimatise myself. I spent the majority of the journey sleeping in the coach and psyching myself not to think too much about the travelling time even though deep down I was cursing the travelling agency for subjecting us to such an ordeal, the waiting and all. I treated it as a test on my patience as those who know me too well know my lack of it and the short fuse I have. I also remembered there were cases of people who received their come-uppance for complaining or being impatient when they were there. So I was quite determined to keep my thoughts to myself.
We entered the holy city at about 10:20pm (3:20am Singapore time). By then I was awake and I was looking out for Masjid An-Nabawi (The Prophet SAW‘s Mosque), the grand mosque in Madinah, which resembles a majestic palace especially when you see it at night with its towering minarets illuminated. I did not have to wait long, it soon appeared within sight, even though we were still about 10 kilometres away. Memories of my last visit in 1992 soon flooded my mind and even though it felt like I was there yesterday, I had yearned to return as soon as possible. I took 14 years to return but I felt it was 14 years too long.
We checked in at the Madinah Hilton at around 11pm. I was too tired to venture out. Anyway, Subuh was around 4am so I had to catch some sleep to be fresh for the next day’s event. The hotel is about 5-minutes walk from the central rear gate of the mosque. I was amazed what the 14-year gap has done to the place. Tall hotels surround the mosque and the compound of the mosque are tiled. When I was there in 1992, the compound was still not developed and full of sand. On the way to the mosque to perform Subuh, as I was about to enter the compound of the mosque, tears welled up in my eyes as I was overcome by emotion that I had finally returned to the place I am not ashamed to call “home” and to the mosque I revered so much. From my last visit in 92, I felt at home more in Madinah as compared to Makkah. And this recent visit only emphasised that fact.
I won’t delve too much into my activities in Madinah, just that I was amazed by the rapid progress the city has undergone over the past 14 years. The Quba’ Mosque (the first mosque to be built in history), the Qiblatain mosque and a few other mosques we visited are now air-conditioned and on some places, carpeted. The Masjid An-Nabawi is one of the most intriguing masterpiece ever to be built in my opinion. Its marble tiles, pillars and ceilings are sights to behold. The chandeliers that grace the interiors and the carpets add another dimension to its glory. Workers work round the clock to maintain the gleam and shine on every nook and corner of the building. It is not surprising to see the place shining as though it has just been built.
For those who wanna visit Al-Raudhah, the designated portion that will be part of Jannah (Paradise) in future, in Masjid An-Nabawi, be prepared to fight it out with other congregators. I tried to get a good place in there by entering the mosque as early as 3am when the mosque opens its gates, but I still ended up on the outskirts of the designated green pillars indicating where Al-Raudhah is. Perhaps the timing of my visit was not that good as there were many people who came from Pakistan and Iran, countries having school holidays in June. Nonetheless, the experience was one that I cherished and hoped that some day I would return.
The people there have also progressed in terms of linguistic skills. I thought I could practice the few Arabic phrases and sentences I learnt in my Arabic course but to my surprise, they answered back in fluent Malay. I left Madinah with an extremely heavy heart on the 4th day. Even though it was very hot and dry, it did not dampen nor lessen my love for the place. We left for Makkah by coach and the journey took about 6 hours. It was a testing time for us as the air-conditioner broke down halfway so we were perspiring with our Ihram already on. As usual, I was praying hard that we would reach Makkah as soon as possible and psyching myself not to curse our luck. We reached Makkah at 5:30pm and checked in at our hotel (forgot the name), which is separated from Masjidil Haram by Hilton Makkah and the massive Ben Dawood supermarket.
This is the view walking from my hotel to the mosque. This street is full of peddlars and beggars from African countries especially after prayers.
We did our Umrah obligations right after Maghrib with the Tawaf and continued with Sa’ie after Isya’. The place was buzzing with people and the crowd was almost as many as what you get during the Hajj season on the ground level of the mosque. Looking at the Ka’bah and the number of people, I felt extremely humbled at the fact that we were all there for one purpose and that was to submit and worship to HIM. Seeing people clamouring to kiss the Hajar Aswad made me determined to kiss it again after 14 long years. But there were just too many people pushing, shoving and elbowing one another just to kiss it. Likewise, Hijir Ismail, where our prayers are said to be answered, people were making a beeline to get in to pray.
The next morning, after Subuh, I decided to do Tawaf. Halfway through, I was enticed to join the crowd who were clamouring to kiss Hajar Aswad. Out of nowhere, appeared 5 Indonesian guys who offered to help ease my way to kissing the blessed stone. After a lot of pushing and shoving my way through, I finally got to kiss the stone but a surprise was in store for me. The Indonesian guys brought me to one side and asked to be paid for their services. I thought SG$10 was enough but they said they were normally paid US$50!!! So I fished out SG$50 only for one of them to remind me 5 of them had helped me. As I was alone and for fear of being mugged or sabotaged (since they were students and spoke Arabic fluently), it was just their luck I had SG$250 in my wallet. So I just gave them and they were gone.
I was in a daze and told my Ustaz about it when I got back to the hotel for breakfast. He could do nothing but shook his head in wonder at how I was apparently cornered. It was only then that I realise that I had been mugged by this syndicate which my colleague had told me about before I left. I totally forgot everything in my haste to kiss the stone. It was an extremely valuable lesson well learnt for me when it comes to having patience. I was greedy and God taught me a lesson by making me forget the warnings. From then on, I told myself never to succumb to that kind of greed and to exercise patience when I want something so badly. If it’s meant for us, then God will surely grant it through deed, hope and patience. Throughout my stay there, I was so tempted to kiss the stone again, in fact I tried again a few times but was unsuccessful due to all the pushing and wrestling with other pilgrims. Some ended up bloodied and even my Ihram was once stained with someone’s blood due to all the shoving. It was pandemonium out there. Even females were not spared and got punched by some of the overzealous pilgrims.
We spent about a week in Makkah. The World Cup season had just started. I was expecting the number of people at the mosque to be lessened since Saudi Arabia was playing in the tournament, but of course the people there are more pious than caring for their country’s chances. Even my fellow travelling group members made jokes about how easy it was to kiss Hajar Aswad since people would be staying in to watch the matches. The crowd was just massive and a sight to behold as you can from the pictures I took.
This was right after Friday prayers. The pilgrims did not care about the searing heat as they only had one thing in their minds – to submit and pray to God…
Everytime I walked to or from the mosque, I would always have to pass by this particular street where peddlars and beggars throng the lines. These people are mostly from the African countries and places like Mongolia and Indonesia. Some come peddling their wares, while others make use of their infants or handicapped children to beg. If you happen to go there some day, please say a prayer for them for their well-being. It pained me to see them all in that state and I have to admit I cried when I first saw them. We have to really be contented with whatever riches or good life we are now leading here as others out there are struggling to make ends meet or even try to get a bite of food daily.
We don’t have this in Singapore…
Speaking of food, well they are found in abundance over there. I did not expect to find fast-food restaurants like KFC, Burger King or Pizza Hut over there. I did not get to see McDonald’s though. What amazed me was the size of the food. Can you imagine the size of a Mushroom Swiss Double burger is twice (or is it thrice???) as big as what we get over here??? The pictures don’t lie you know… Even the drink container is huge… What about the Zinger Supreme??? I rest my case… All I can say is that I did not even get to eat half of the Mushroom Swiss Double to feel full. I guess that’s why the people over there are quite big-sized.
See what I mean???
I took some time to finish off the drink…
Of all the places we went in Makkah, like the museum where they chartered the history of Masjidil Haram and Masjid An-Nabawi, to Jabal Rahmah in Arafah, my only regret was not being able to climb atop Jabal Nur, where the Cave of Hira (where Prophet SAW received his first revelation from Jibrail) is situated. My Ustaz said that if you were to take away all the hi-rise buildings surrounding the mosque, you can actually see the Ka’bah from the entrance of the cave. It is definitely a challenge to climb up and if there had been more sporting members in my travelling group, I would have gone up the mount just to see the cave.
Someday I would love to conquer and reach the top of Jabal Nur…
This was where Adam and Eve met after being banished from Jannah (Paradise)…
Cameras and handphones with camera functions were of course not allowed into the mosques. But there is so much the security could do to check people’s bags before they enter the mosque. For males, I found they seldom check on us but females are subjected to frisking as well. Of course, I had to be mindful of the security people walking around the mosque before whipping out my handphone and snapping away. The photographs turned out well surprisingly as compared to other photographs I took before in the past. I guess it’s just the beauty of the place that makes it worth looking over and over again.
We were fortunate to have experienced rain, which is quite a rare thing over there. When I was there in 1992, there was also rain on one of the days. As it was the summer, rain was quite unthinkable of but of course we only know so much while God has other ideas. I still remember as I entered the mosque to perform Asar, I realised the sky was overcast. I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was seeing things right. When Asar was over, the rain still had not fallen. So I told my father-in-law I wanted to wait for awhile and told him to go ahead. I sat on the steps facing the Ka’bah, waiting for the rain to fall and I did not have to wait long. When it fell, it was not heavy but more to a drizzle, scores of people rushed to the front and stood facing the Ka’bah with their hands up in prayer. It was as though time stood still. It was definitely the best time to say our Du’a and ask God to grant us our wishes. I remembered there were auspicious moments to do so like after Asar, during rain fall or when you are facing the Ka’bah amongst others. I was blessed to experience all three and felt humbled by the experience. I pray that whoever who goes there would experience the same thing as me.
Rain after Asar… Notice the overcast sky???
When I last went there in 1992, I had met Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam and Sultan Ismail Petra of Kelantan, who had famous 80s actor Datuk Tengku Shah Rezza as part of his entourage. There were no celebrity sightings this time but I nearly met Linda Onn, Radio ERA‘s famous DJ. I was staring at the Ka’bah whilst waiting for Isya‘ when an elderly man came over and struck a conversation with me. He told me he was Linda‘s father and that Linda had also accompanied him and the family there. As we had some time before Isya’ we chatted for awhile and he told me of his history working in Singapore and how he still has family members over here. Before we made our own ways, he invited me over to his chicken rice stall (the famous MMCR stall at Ampang Point) whenever I decide to go up to KL.
I learnt a quite a lot of valuable lessons over there. One of them was the right method of burial for the deceased. We were brought to a cemetery to learn how the people there went about burying the dead. As you can see from the photographs, their graves are just a piece of flat land and marked by a stone. By right, graves should be kept like that and not the extravagant ones you see at our cemeteries. And normally when we say a prayer for the dead, more often than not we recite Surah Al-Fatihah. Over there, we recite a simple Du’a, “Allahumaghfirlil mukminina wal mukminat, wal muslimina wal muslimat, al ahya iminhum wal amwat…” which translates to “Oh God, please forgive all the Mukmins and our fellow Muslims, those who are still alive or have returned to you…” Upon reflection, this simple Du’a actually carries more weight in that we’re asking for forgiveness for everyone, whether alive or dead, from the beginning till end of time. Oh, and unlike here, females are strictly prohibited from entering the graveyards and must wait at the waiting lounge at the cemetery’s entrance, since after all Islamic traditions have already forbade them. I sometimes wonder why things that are so simple and cost-cutting is often overlooked over here or not being followed by us.
The cemetery… See how they are marked by just a stone???
The prayer to recite for the dead…
It was interesting to hear how other pilgrims recite their prayers as they have different accents. Sometimes I couldn’t help but giggle as they sounded quite funny as compared to how we normally say it. I think they too would feel the same way if they were to listen to us. Another interesting thing I observed was how a marriage solemnisation was conducted. Where I prayed every Maghrib (near the King Abdul Aziz Gate), there will always be a marriage solemnsation ceremony right after prayers. Normally the event does not take more than 5 minutes and within minutes, they would disperse. Of course, we did not see the brides, neither did I see any sermons being read by the solemniser. How I wish such a thing was practised over here. It would cut down the groom’s feeling of nervousness and the minimising of unnecessary exchanging of gifts.
Another thing I learnt is that people there or even fellow pilgrims from other countries dunno that Singapore actually exists. Whenever they asked where are we from, their question will always be followed up by “Malaysia” and “Indonesia“. When we say “Singapore“, they will say, “Singapore very good / nice country…” but then they will ask again, “Where is Singapore???” For those who know, they might just jack up the prices, just like those Indonesian guys I was telling you about earlier. Speaking of them, I met them again on the last day before Subuh as I was doing my Tawaf. When they saw me, they gave a hopeful grin and asked me if I wanted to kiss the stone again. I wanted to say something spiteful but remembered I was a guest at God‘s greatest home so I bit my tongue, glared at them and waved my hand to indicate to them I did not need their help.
Alhamdulillah I managed to kiss it for one last time on my own after I had completed the Tawaf. How I did it, only God knew. Even if I knew I just feel it’s not right for me to say it. It was a miracle and I should say, divine intervention as there was no way I could get in just by observing the pushing crowd from a distance. Yes, God works wonders and the words “God will only help those who help themselves” rang in my ears. But I guess patience also played a big part as I had been disappointed a few times before that over the past week I tried to get my lips to kiss the stone. The Azan for Subuh was called a few minutes after that and it was the most soulful, and sad call for prayer I had heard throughout my stay there. It was as though they knew we were leaving later. I wished I had recorded it on my handphone to listen over and over again.
The Red Sea… Simply beautiful…
Before we boarded our flight back to Bahrain for another transit, we stopped by a mosque facing the infamous Red Sea in biblical and Islamic scriptures. We had our lunch there and enjoyed the view of the sea as well as its pristine state. The water is crystal clear and you can definitely see the sea bed. The mind wondered off to the past on how the sea could have parted during the time of Prophet Musa (Moses). It was one of God‘s miracles and it was worth reflecting as I stood with arms outstretched replicating what I saw from The Ten Commandments movie, whereby Moses stretched his arms out and parted the sea. Yeah it was a poor impersonation on my part.
Trying my darndest to impersonate Moses…
And so I returned to Singapore with a heavy heart. 12 days away from here and my love for the two holy cities grew fonder as I was there. I had half the mind to give up on everything I have here just to stay there. Yes, the pull of the place is just so great, everything there is so humbling and everyone is seen as an equal. I’m sure those who have gone before would agree with me and I hope that for those who will go in future would feel the same way too. Thankfully Aida was healthy throughout with no complications and I was happy my daughter has had a good start to her life y visiting the place, albeit still in her mummy’s womb. I can’t wait to go there again, maybe if I were to do Umrah, I would do it right after the Hajj season as there are not many people and I won’t have to fight my way just to kiss Hajar Aswad or sit at Ar-Raudhah. I certainly miss the smell of the Minyak Atar Hajar Aswad whenever I stepped into the 2 grand mosques. In fact I miss everything associated to the place. Which is perhaps why I envy my parents for being able to serve their responsibilities in upholding the fifth pillar of Islam…
It’s been two years plus since I have blogged. As readers, be it old or new, I’m sure you have grown with me, read my ups and downs, shared my joy and felt my sadness. I hoped my entries have not been a bore for you, cos really, a guy seldom talks or writes a lot unless they have a lot of surpressed thoughts waiting to be unleashed like yours truly. It is heartwarming to know from one of my fellow bloggers that everytime she reads my entry, she has to make sure she has potato chips and cola ready. Complimentary yes I appreciate it a lot, but it’s also another meaning that others who are not attuned to my brand of yarn spinning think that I am too long-winded for my own good. But oh well, I’m not out to please people. All I can do is be more responsible with what I type and minimise personal criticisms which might be detrimental to my relationship with people.
You know, “Time flies when you least expect it“. It’s a cliche heard a thousand times over. Today marks my first wedding anniversary. I still remember at this time last year, how we were all busy preparing for the day, my kind aunties, uncles and cousins who had chipped in their assistance to make it a day to remember for us. I was still awake at 3am, not being able to sleep and just thinking about the day I was about to go through. Not to mention that wedding dinner I had and the mini concert I made it out to be. And now here I am, happily married with a daughter in tow. What a difference a year has made.
To my beloved wife Aida, one year has passed in the blink of an eye, but my love for you has never waned and it gets stronger and stronger by the day. Thank you for the priceless present you gave in the form of our darling princess Syahindah Adawiyah. Your pregnancy has made me love you even more for the pain and hardships you had to go through, not forgetting the love and care you showered me. Yes, I might be a pain in the arse at times when I complain about having to be your servant, but you know it’s only my way of joking, no matter how queer it sounds. May Allah prolong our union for decades to come… Amin!!!
One year on, and another year added to my age. I celebrated my 27th year last year by being a husband. I celebrate my 28th year today as a father and leader of my family. More responsibilities added to my already growing list but I am enjoying and thriving every minute of it. Another year added and another year closer to returning to God. Which is why I don’t quite fancy the idea of celebrating birthdays unless people do it for me then I have no choice but to go with the flow. I always treat birthdays as a timely reminder that Death is near, to self-reflect whether I’ve been a good son, friend, subordinate, cousin, nephew, and now husband and father to the people that matter in my life. I hope I could be an even better person than people know me for in time to come…
Here’s wishing you a prosperous year 2007 ahead, full of happy moments and realising some of your dreams that you’ve yearned for so long. For my Muslim readers, “Salam Aidiladha“. May whatever deeds we have done all these while or if you happen to be making a sacrifice today, would enhance our ticket to Jannah, Insya-Allah… God bless…