Sunday, November 15, 2015

Haj 2015 : Part I The Tribulations


I thought I would never be able to complete the fifth, and final, pillar of Islam.

Just imagine 2 to 3 million people converging to the same city at the same time, and making it worse, to the same locality (village, if you must). Imagine our North-South hiway being inundated with thousands of buses carrying these millions of pilgrims. Imagine if KLCC were the masjidil haraam, we need to ferry these people to, say, Shah Alam; take Shah Alam as Arafah.

At the same time!

Then from Shah Alam, on the same night, bring them over to Petaling Jaya (Mudzalifah) and then onward to Cheras (Mina), and house them all there for 3 nights. How long do you think that simple journey from  would take? And beyond that, I can't imagine how the facilities can cope with these people. Tens of thousands of people need to relieve themselves; beyond the foods, the drinks, everything else that they would need.

What if the journey took hours to reach the destination. There are cases of journey that took more than 6 hours; even 12 hours were being reported by Kosmo journalist for the 2015 Haj. I was told that several years ago one bus even got lost, but luckily arrived just in time for the Wukuf. THe journey had started the day before!
The after-isya crowd
We could not even even handle the yearly exodus of balik kampung; that too through the length and breadth of the peninsular, so the space is much more than the Haj!

More than twenty years ago, I remember giving Mak half of my last bonus with PETRONAS for her to go for Haj (circa 1994). At that point in time, it did not cross my mind to offer myself to take her for the haj. The calling for me was not there yet. I should have though. I am sure I was entitled to get the Haj leave and it would be much easier for both mom and son.

I was then in my early 30s; young enough to do haj, but I guess then career came first (in hindsight, I do regret for not being there with Mak).

I confided in a good friend An - after visiting him and her wife Liza upon completing their haj, that I cannot comprehend myself competing with the other 2 millions muslim brothers and sisters for my share of space in the Holy Land. I cannot stand dirty toilets; in fact, I abhor dirty toilets. I know it is an uphill task to ensure cleanliness dealing with such big crowd from all parts of the world. I hate having to queue up to get my business done in the morning; or queue for my food, like I was in school again.
Taken from the net
And I don't really like big crowds; I hate noises. I seldom go to a place with crowd - fair, open-air concerts are not my cup of tea. I don't  mind them if they are well organized, and people are orderly.

And I hate being stranded in a bus for hours.

How do I go to the mosque when I need to be there 1-2 hours before prayer time; can the mosque cope with the millions of us? What will happen to my sleeping hours?

So these were partially reasons why I have not completed my haj going into 5-series. Reasons, I would say, but more like excuses, if I were to be honest and blunt. 

And to make matter worse, the line of people queuing up for haj keeps on getting longer and longer. Actually my turn would come in 2041; may be long after I was dead. They need to wake me up in my grave, I joked with friends. Stale joke, I must add.

It is with the background, I started my Haj journey in 2015 after failing to get a visa for two consecutive years. It seems that the journey in 2015 is much more real. Things seems to be moving in the right direction from the start. The travel agent was very positive that we will get our visa, especially that for my uncle - a Korean airline captain, who could only return a couple of days before actual departure to have his passport stamped with Haj visa.

MY JOURNEY - Part 1 (The Tribulations)

A week before departure, I was still unsure if I am going. Deep in me, I felt something was not right.  May be I should not be going/ May I should postponed my trip? Would Allah accept me to be His guest this time around? Go next year may be. I am not sure why. I was so fickle minded the last few days.

The first test of the journey came without warning, and I did contemplate cancelling/postponing the trip because of it.

I had hemorrhoids a few days before departure!

It was painful, to be honest. As I had mentioned, I have had issues with the toilets in Makkah and Madinah, and He tested me before I even set my foot in Makkah itself. With hemorrhoids, my apprehension with toilet cleanliness and the state of affair in relieving oneself went to another level, something beyond me to comprehend the tribulation I was facing.

He knew my dilemma and weakness, and I was being tested to the fullest. I knew I should have kept my view to myself!

So I rushed to see my GP and he assured me that by giving me the best hemorrhoids medicines, including antibiotic and something for you to shove into you know where [sigh], I should be ok i.e. no surgery would be needed. But would I recover enough to go on the journey?

"InsyaAllah, just make sure you do not carry your luggage yourself. Use porter to assist you, and do take the medications I gave you," the doc told me.

The day before the flight, I was still talking on this subject matter with another schoolmate Haji Rosli Harun. "Man," he said, "go and see this doctor in Puchong and I can guarantee you in ten minutes you would be fine." It was a lengthy conversation as he tried to convince me to take the bull by its horn. He has done his haj; he knew I may have problems performing the haj with hemorrhoids.

But Friday (18th Sept) was the last day of packing for me. Since I had just moved to a new home, and with the flight tomorrow I knew I didn't have the time to visit the doctor in Puchong. There were just so many things to do.

I decided to leave my fate in His hand. Redha is the proper islamic term and concept; I would take it as such.  I thought after all my apprehensions about going for Haj all these years, I deserved it.

May He forgives all my sins.

So I only completed my packing the night before the flight, and the pain of hemorrhoids has not really subsided by then. It has improved, but it was still there and it was still painful.

The flight was full so much so we did not get what we wanted, but we were happy to be on-board
So we did not have the best of start, to be honest. But things went ok at the airport and the flight. The food was not great, as we were always served last, due to our seating location, so whatever meals we wanted would have been gone by then, but it was no big deal. The flight was smooth, no heavy turbulence; it was an immemorable  flight.

The way I like it.

But as I was tested the week before departure, my apprehension of the journey came to its full manifestations. 16 hours after landing in Jeddah, we have yet to step our feet at the hotel. In fact, we were left stranded in some not-so-remote part of Makkah for nearly 3 hours, next to a dump area. In fact, we have no clue as to our location. This is not what I had bargained for. We knew the clock tower is somewhere behind the hills, and were looking forward to rest in our hotel, but the bus would not budge, and would not take us to our destination.

Where on the signboard that it says Maktab 68? This was taken about 1 hour after arrival. It was still dark
Later on we found out that we were supposed to register ourselves at Maktab 68 prior to going to our hotel. The irony was that we were at Maktab 68, but we didn't know about it. There was no indication that that building was indeed Maktab 68 - either in Arabic or the Roman alphabets. Since we didn't register, the bus can't leave with us on-board. But nobody told us until much later what were supposed to happen for us to continue our journey to the hotel.

It is a new day dawning. Maktab 68 is the second building on the left
Our agent was nowhere to be seen.

Stranded by dump site.
After two hours waiting in the bus, an Indonesian guy approached us and asked us about our destination, and informed us that we need to register ourselves, before we could go to hotel. They can't leave with us on-board. Now we know what we have to do; so I went to an office inside the building and register our group.

(Later on, we offered him some compensation for finally solving our predicament, but he declined.)

However, the guy handling the registration were quite obnoxious, to be honest. A Thai national from southern Thai, he chided me for not coming up to register upon arriving earlier. But who would have known; nobody informed us of that procedure.  I bluntly told him that this is my first haj, so how would I have known the procedures. Should they not come down and tell us what to do instead?

"Who is going to pay for this registration?" he asked me, looking very stern. Pay? Nobody said anything about having to pay anything in Makkah. We had paid our dues to the agent and I was not about to fork out a single riyal to him. I told him so.

I can be nasty and I am sure I can quite sarcastic, but my mind was set on doing haj and being His guest, so I controlled my emotion and just say enough to get us out of jail, so to speak.

I was there as His (special) guest, and these people want to make life difficult with procedures, as if that we are seasoned Haj travelers, when they are there to assist.

So arriving at that location at 4 am in the morning,  we were there until 7 am. Next to a garbage dump. It was a testing time for us; a real test to our patience. We were hungry by then, and some of us had missed our dawn prayer.

The agent Hj Amin arriving to pick us up
Haji Halim went to buy breakfast
It was after 7 am only our travel agent Hj Amin arrived at the scene; we were furious, and he was apologizing profusely to us. We had paid him good money and we were not ready to accept excuses for failing to deliver. People had committed crimes all in the name of Islam; and some even sold God's name for their own shortcomings, and not deliver what they had promised to deliver. This was not as bad, but we have heard too many stories of travel agent failing to deliver their part of the bargain to the pilgrims and they gladly sold Allah's name to silent any dissent.

Not the best of start, but then we were in our ihram and just want to complete our umrah as soon as possible. I believe we checked in by 0900 hours - 12 hours after landing and went on to complete our umrah before zuhr time. We finally can rest and reflect.

It was four days before wukuf.

We can only pray that we will have no more hiccups and blunders by the agent, and I just hope my hemorrhoids would subside quickly.

The haj has not even started and yet I felt like I was being tested to the fullest already. I hope it was not a sign of things to come.

But I had my reward early on too. Contacting my former schoolmates who were already in Makkah, after settling down at my hotel, we quickly set a teh-tarik-roti-canai reunion session at Tabung Haji HQ. It was a beautiful reunion at holy land. I had not met Art Imam since we left Maktab at the end of 1980, so I had not seen him for 35 years. I had met and talked to Judane more frequently than MatLee, but seeing friends at the holy land - you can beat that joyness.

Simple meal on the pavement for former schoolmates
I was not posing for the pictures. I was just happy to be among friends; that's all.  Life is full of tribulations, the reward was worth the effort. Doc Judane arrived on the 16th, 3 days before I did, and he was still in his ihram. Good on ya, doc. I have to tabik spring for him!

I was only prepared to do the normal (tammattu) haj.

By this time too, all my tribulations earlier have been forgotten.

(to be continued...)


I am a bit apprehensive to write about my experience at Haj, to be honest. It is after all my personal journey, and not something to be told to strangers, especially if one were not asked. It is a story to be told verbally to close friends only.I had never written about my umrah beyond visiting some old and ancient site near Madinah.

But I relented after reading the journey of Metro journalist Roslan Ibrahim (12 November 2015) entitled Arafah-Makkah 12 Jam).I thought I have a story to tell and I think I would like to encourage others to take up the Haj as soon as possible.

And please forgive me if I sound like bragging. May Allah forgives me.

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