Friday, June 20, 2008

Stories from the Holy Land

Slightly more than a month ago, both hubby and I left the country for the holy land to perform our first umrah. Neither of us had actually planned to perform it this year. In fact to be honest, we never expected it to happen anytime soon. There were always routines that bogged us down and prevented us from leaving home, things which needed to be attended to, work issues... so on and so forth. But mainly we were worried about who's going to take care of the kids during our absence and can we get people to man the clinics while we're away? Me more so for the former, hubby for the latter.

So how did this trip came about? Well back in Dec 07 I was informed by mom that my uncle was planning to go for umrah with his family in 2008. My response was ...a big Ohhhhhh!!!! How wonderful...and fullstop. She then had this idea that me and hubby should tag along and even offered to look after my kiddies. Of course when I heard this I was over the moon. The only snag was I didn't have a helper then, and didn't know when she would arrive. I couldn't imagine leaving my 5 kids..yes 5 kids with my mom and no help.

So over the next couple of months I remember constantly praying that help would arrive by the time I leave for the holy land. And syukur alhamdulillah, 3 weeks before I was to fly off, my maid arrived. In between this of course, I had other lil obstacles (mostly work related stuff)which thankfully sorted themselves out (praise to Allah). What I realised prior to my departure was the need to constantly pray for the things I want in life, and trust in Him that he will make everything ok for me and the family. If we believe and trust in God, insyallah everything will fall into place, as it did in my case. And as a result of that, I soon found myself on the plane on 24th May... destination Madinah.

Nabawi Mosque, Madinah

We arrived at our hotel just slightly before 4am I think, and saw streams of people making their way for the mosque to perform the Subuh prayer. It was pretty awesome, looking at the hundreds of people walking slowly towards the mosque and listening to the melancholic call of the azan in the background. My first sight of the mosque early that morning left me speechless. Masjid Nabawi was just soooo beautiful. The size, the magnificent architecture and its sheer beauty and everything else about it was perfect.

That morning after breakfast, my aunties and I went to queue for Raudhah. It was open to public (the ladies) at 7-11am and I thought that since we were there before 7am, we'd have no problems getting in. foolish could I be. There were hundreds of others already ahead of us and I was beginning to doubt whether we could actually get the chance to enter. I noticed that the crowd was divided into groups..from the the Indians/Pakistanis us from Msia/Spore/Indon/Brunei. It wasn't hard to tell the groups apart as we were all shrouded differently. So while sitting and waiting for our turn, which of course felt like forever, we did our individual zikir and privately prayed that God would give us easy access to Raudhah. Insyallah.

Honestly when we were sitting right infront of the entrance, I was overwhelmed with a lot of mixed emotions. Running from excitement to suspense and even fear. When we were finally allowed entry everybody scrambled in. Me being a first time umrah performer was stunned by the crowd's sudden rush forward. People were scrambling in and I could only describe its likeness to the mad rush you'd see on J Card day! I'm not kidding in saying that it did feel like a stampede at times. I remember once being told that when you're in Raudhah don't be surprised by the amount of pushing and shoving. That's to be expected I guess, after all it is The Garden of Raudhah. People were just trying to find whatever spot they could, to do their prayers. And Alhamdulillah with a lot of patience and after taking in a lot of pushing from the back and front and left and right..I managed to perform my prayers. In that very short space of time permitted to us, we quickly read our duas; personal duas for ourselves, our family members, relatives and friends. Duas that were either read from small books brought from Malaysia or scraps of papers which were hastily handed to us by relatives who sent us off at the airport. And not forgetting the duas which were not written down in any form but remembered by heart and read on behalf of people who have not had the chance to come to the holy land just yet.

Salam to Rasulullah and his sahabat was conveyed from the inner area of Raudhah. I recall distinctly how difficult it was to even do that. There were just soooo many people wanting to do the same. Again, people were pushing and shoving and a couple of times I was swept away back and forth. It's hard to describe the feelings felt as we stood huddled closely facing the wall which separated us from the area which housed Rasulullah's makam. Suffice to say it was pretty overwhelming. Not only because of the huge crowd factor but more of the realisation that Rasulullah's makam was just behind the walls.

Infront of entrance for ladies at Nabawi Mosque

The inner area of Nabawi Mosque

The several days spent in Madinah saw us visiting some of the historical sites which were either learned through personal readings or stories related by my ustazahs back in school yonks ago. It was quite amazing to be at the very places mentioned in my textbooks. Our visit of the Quba mosque was most significant since it was after all the first Islamic mosque ever built by the late prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and is the oldest mosque in Saudi Arabia. We were reminded earlier by our guide to take our ablutions at the hotel and upon arrival to pray at the mosque as "Whoever purifies himself (take wudhu') in his house then comes to Masjid Quba' and prays in it has the reward like that of Umrah. (an-Nasa'i and Ibn Majah)". Masyallah.

With uncle, aunties and cousins at Quba mosque

It is believed that a black spot at the dome area (pic above) marks the

exact position where the late prophet used to pray in the mosque

Getting By in Madinah
When in Madinah, our hotel was a mere 50m away from the mosque and near the entrance for the ladies. It was the Saidina Usman entrance I think. This was sooo convenient. Just outside the hotel were many shops and vendors selling this and that...and I had a wonderful time absorbing the view everytime I walked to and fro the mosque. There's always something interesting to see... from the exquisite local wares peddled by enterprising businessmen/women/kid to wonderful and terribly cheap items brought in from neighbouring countries.

Initially I was worried about buying things from the locals since I couldn't speak the language. I must confess I remember failing every single Arabic paper back in my agama school heydays in JB. My kids actually tried to give me a crash course before I left for my umrah, but mama was such a slow learner... they gave up!

But lo and behold I needn't have worried coz the locals could speak enough BM for me to understand them. Haggling was a norm ...which was great. It was quite amusing infact to discover during a shopping outing that some of the locals called us ladies from Msia as ...SITI RAHMAH. So they'd go "Siti Rahmah..Siti Rahmah..mari mari murah murah". Well better Siti Rahmah...than Siti Nurhaliza!

I'd have to say in Madinah foodwise my faves have got to be the mango juice and kebab which were sold infront of our hotel. Many times on our way back from the mosque, our party of 10 would make a quick stop at one of the small shops to obtain our snacks. Not only did they taste good...they were also very cheap. Imagine savouring fresh mango juice and super delicious kebabs at only 5 riyal...roughly about RM4 plus! That's something you can't get back home.

It's a different kind of feeling when you're in Madinah. I'm reminded of what a friend once wrote about her experience performing her umrah. About not remembering to call home until 3 days later after arrival. I can understand that now. My worries about my kids seemed to disappear altogether....and I'm such a worry-wart! When I was there, there's this feeling of calmness and happiness and contentment which is hard to explain but is surely felt.

Leaving Madinah

On the last day in Madinah we prepared for our 4 hour plus journey to Makkah to perform our first umrah. The nite before, after isyak, hubby and I went to my uncle's room so that hubby could learn how to put on the ihram. It was quite hilarious, seeing grown men (hubby and another uncle) learn the proper way of tying the kain ihram. Tips were thrown in by those who have worn it before on how to minimise the possibilities of the ihram dropping off...(hubby's biggest nightmare!).

Anyway, the next day we left for Bir Ali - the beginning of our umrah journey. I have to admit I was a bit worried about the 13 pantang larangs...during the long journey to Makkah. Not so much worried about the "larangan membunuh binatang"...since I'm no huntsman/woman..but with the likes like.."memotong kuku...rambut" etc...things that I often do unconsciously all the that was worrisome.

The journey to Makkah took about 4 hours plus and we arrived in Makkah nearly 10pm. We then checked into our very old hotel which was about 1km away from Masjidil Haram. After making a pit stop at the bathroom, we began our walk down the hill to the mosque. It was warm and since its nite time I couldn't really see the buildings surrounding us.

As we got closer and closer, we saw lights from the minarets beaming brightly on the mosque and we became more and more awestruck by the sheer size and beauty of Masjidil Haram. I think my heart must have stopped beating when I saw Kaabah for the first time as I descended the steps that led to the dataran. It's a feeling that simply cannot be described. We've seen pictures of the Kaabah in newspapers or magazines or tv. It's even on most of our prayer mats. But to see it right before our eyes and to have it standing right infront of us during solat just sooo surreal...leaving one with a most humbling experience...

We then proceeded wth completing our umrah. The saie was a bit tiring with the distance to be covered but overall everybody was in good spirits and alhamdulillah everything went well.By the time we finished it was about 2am. I was surprised that though it was very late, everybody seemed as fresh as a daisy (including 6 year old cousin - Haziq). It must be the excitement and adrenaline rush pumping on overdrive.

The next day when we walked to the mosque for zohor prayers we were shocked to see that the route taken the nite before looked like Ground Zero. Buildings which I presume were old hotels surrounding the mosque had been demolished and we had actually gone through a construction site...with rubbles and piling rods protruding from the ground everywhere. This infact became our route to and fro the mosque for the next 6 days. It was a quite an adventure for us as we found ourselves having to negotiate in between lorries and tractors several times a day, everyday!

Our daily route to the mosque

Once after Asr prayers I was walking back to the hotel alone (hubby had the case of food-poisoning) and saw all these people ahead looking at me. Suddenly a local construction worker shouted at me "Hajah! HAJAH! Arabic " and pointed for me to move away from the area. I turned to my right and saw that a building abt 20m away was in the process of being demolished. Infact dah senget pun and they were all waiting for it to collapse. To put it in my best BM description..I pun bukak langkah seribu and lintang pukang cabut lari to join the crowd on the other side who were waiting to witness the collapse of yet another building. Honestly, the construction of the area was in full swing, but safety measures for the public forced to use the route...was an absolute zero..zilch..nada. Pandai-pandai lah jaga diri masing-masing.

Bluewonder's great escape

Daily trek across construction site worth be able to see this

Our time in Madinah and Makkah wasn't that long..only 10 days. But the most memorable thing for me about my time there was the time spent at the mosques. For the first time in my life I did nothing but indulge in lots of prayers, zikirs, selawat and reading the Quran. Something that I don't do much in Msia. I feel that my time here in Msia is often spent doing a lot of other stuff..and very very little time is spent on my ibadah or preparations for the hereafter. Ouwchh!

Anyway, both hubby and I have registered with Tabung Haji and hope to be able to perform our haj some day. Though the year given to us is a loooooonnnnnngggg way ahead, we hope to be able to go while still young and healthy. Hopefully sometime soon.

To uncle Famy, thank you, thank you, thank you for inviting us to join your family on this trip and also for being hubby's oral rehydration seeker when he was ill..

To uncle Jaafar, thank you for accompanying me to Hajar Aswad - now that was an experience!..

To aunty Faezah and aunty Liza...when can we do this again?...

To Amar, Imran, Amira and Haziq...thanks for the wonderful company....and... my hubby, thanks a million for sponsoring the trip. May God Bless You Always!..

Hannan's Pahang Adventure