Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Haj 2015 - Part III Wukuf & The Heat Wave


If there is anything I like about my Haj or trip for Makkah this time around, it is for the fact that I did not have any of the normal ailments associated with the weather or conditions there.

The hemorrhoids that I had before leaving for Haj has subsided tremendously, and I was no longer in pain the last 2 days before wukuf. It must be the zam-zam water; in any case I was thankful it did not give me any trouble at all. With His grace.


But what puzzled me the most is that none of us (there were five of us altogether in the group) had any complaint whatsoever of sore throat, cough, cold or fever at all. Not even a tinge of soreness. None. Nol. Kosong. Zero. Zilch.  Oh, puzzling was not the proper adjective to describe my feeling then, and even now. More like I am thankful. I can safely mention here that until the end of Haj, I had no complaints. My medical box has no use beyond my daily blood pressure medicine. I think this is His way of compensating me for the dilemma and problems I was facing early on. May be, I don't know that for sure.

As far as I can remember, I would get at least one of them on the very first day in Makkah or in Madinah. For me it would normally start with sore-throat, and would follow with cough and/or some form of fever. I would feel bad; I had skipped a few external ziarah trips due to health reason on my first trip.

But I was in the pink of my health during the haj. Allahuakbar.

I hope it is not a reflection of the "mabrurity" of my haj; pardon my coining the terminology. People have said that without any pain or illness - cough was the ailment normally mentioned, there was no haji mabrur!

I hope that was said in jest.

22nd Sept (The Day before Wukuf)

We had decided during a quick meeting with the mutawwif and organizer on how we would approach the Wukuf as the day drew nearer. We knew the majority would head to Arafah the day before wukuf, specifically after asr. Wukuf this year would fall on 23rd September, so technically late afternoon on 22nd September, tens of thousands, most likely millions, would be making their way to Arafah. 

After Asr prayer, the lobby of the hotel is full of pilgrims heading to Arafah on the 22nd Sept, the day before wukuf. My journey however would only begin in the morning of the Wukuf day itself. The next day.
Mind you, Arafah is only about 21 odd kilometres, but as I had mentioned in Part I, everybody would be heading the same way at the same time, so a simple one-hour journey may lasts much longer.

Ustaz Jufri assured us that we should not have problem reaching Arafah even if we were to head there late morning on Wukuf day itself. In fact he reckoned that the road would be empty since by then everybody would be in Arafah already. We debated intently on the risk. "Wukuf is Haj," said my sister later. So without it, there would be no haj. The prophet said so himself. "The car has all the permit to drive anywhere during the haj," the organizer told us, "furthermore Zaki is more Arab than he is Malay! He would have no problem." Since there is no or little risk of not making it to Arafah, we agreed that we would head to Arafah on Wukuf day itself.

A near empty Haraam that night before wukuf. Most were already in Arafah, and we get to enjoy more solat time in front of Kaabah. It is a rare view by the Kaabah standard
Coming back after asr prayer on 22nd, you can see how crowded the hotel lobby. Everyone  is heading to Arafah. We quietly sat back and enjoy one more night at the Haraam, and a reasonably quiet and empty hotel that night.

Sept 23, 2015 - WUKUF DAY

So it was business as usual even in the morning of Wukuf Day with the dawn prayer and breakfast. My main concern for Wukuf then was still the toilet. So I had to make sure that I would minimize my use of those facilities in Arafah - do all your deeds in Makkah! The journey to Arafah, by traveling on Wukuf day itself, should be a breeze, so one part of my concern is no longer in the equation.
An empty restaurant in the morning of Wukuf. Only the five of us. Not!
The time has finally arrived. Yes, D-Day, or technically it should be W-Day! Our Haj is finally here - it was a lifetime in the making. Donning our ihram, we headed to the tower basement to catch our transport to Arafah. It was close to 10 am when we left the hotel. I was nervous; we were at least 30 mins later than planned, but Zaki the driver is as cool as cucumber.

Zaki is a Pattani descent. He can speak the Kelantanese dialect, but he was born-and bred in Saudi, and even married a Saudi girl. He was our driver since the first day, but we were told that he has a rich family; his father owned a couple of hotels in Makkah.

But his job was to drive us around, and boy, was he a good one. There is no road off limit to a guy like Zaki.
Us and Ustaz Jufri just before the trip. All in our standard Haj uniform.
So how long really it would take us to drive to Arafah from Makkah? Twelve (12) hour according to Roslan Ibrahim, The Metro newspaper reporter who wrote about his journey in his column. I have heard that it was 6 hours for many. Three to four hours is normal, on a good day, I guess

For us, leaving Makkah at 10.00 am, it was a beautiful drive to Arafah on an empty highway. Not a single vehicle on the road once we left Makkah. Padang Jarak Padang Tekukur. It would be a nightmare for PLUS, if I can say it here.
The white tent of Arafah

Empty roads leading to the tent

Entering Arafah

Nobody was on the road.

I am sure Malaysian government would have to fork out millions of ringgit of compensation for the highway operator! Haha, you can call me Haji Sarcastic.

It took us a very long 45 mins to reach Arafah. With ample of time to spare from the start of wukuf, I was happy and I was relief.
But where is everybody?
But here-in lies the greatest challenge that I faced during my haj. Not the toilet; the toilet was clean; I can assure you of that. As good as you can get. I did not cringe when at the end of the wukuf time, I had to use one. It is so clean. A very fussy person on toilet cleanliness, I have no complaints in Arafah.

And there was no queue to talk about. You read it right. (Did I mention that it was also very clean?)
Queues like this in Arafah? Nonsense. I did not even see two person queuing like in this picture. Taken from the net, with apology.
I had been told of numerous stories about the long queues, and the antics of people wanting to cut queue. At times, it can be hilarious, especially in hindsight. But I saw none of those. I did not have to queue at all when I went there to do my deeds. There were ample of toilets and behind our our tent, there was even a two-storey building housing multiple of them and they were mostly empty.

Not many would like to climb stairs to go to the restroom.

As for me, I did not know of its existence until the very end.
Our tent in the foreground and the two storey toilet in the background
To me, this is like a revelation. Wahyu dari Illahi in the days when there was no more wahyu; I hope it it is not blasphemous for saying so, God forbids. But you know what I mean. I was so afraid of that. I refrained myself from having lunch, and I minimized my water intake to ensure that I didn't have to go to the restroom. In the end, I had no problem with that facilities. All these years, I was reluctant to go for my haj; in the end, it was for nothing.

Allahu Akbar.

The longest queue I saw was for the ladies at the Indonesian camp. Probably four persons in a row - and there are probably ten toilets at that particular place. But that was it.

But something that I did not plan for was the heat. It was sauna-like condition at mid-day. In fact I think it was hotter than sauna. The temperature must have been at least 50 C, something I had not experienced and could not stand.

Metro reporter reported that the temperature during wukuf was a whopping 55 C.
View of our tent in Arafah. IT was like being in a sauna, and I was never a fan of the sauna.

I could not stand the sauna condition in the tent. I was so stressed out - it felt like all energy has been drained out of me. My body temperature must have risen dramatically. I was spraying water to my face every 10 seconds, and wetted my hair and head in an effort to cool down. My hand squeezing the spray bottle was faster than my lips reciting the zikr.

It was no joke. I dreaded those moments, even today. My mind was shutting down. I could not concentrate on the tasks at hand; that is to do lots of zikr and ibadah.

It was something I did not prepare, but it was not something I could have prepared.

Counting back, I realize that it would take at least another 20 years for the Haj to be in the winter month of February. Wukuf in the middle of summer was hard. The sun was especially harsh in Arafah. There was no air conditioner; only water chiller. But then again, I guess, it is a prelude to Mahsyar. It would be a million time worse. Here in Arafah, we still value those around us. In Mahsyar, we will most likely ignore others. Everybody is in there for oneself only.

I could not have waited to experience haj in winter - my age conspired against me doing that. I should have gone 10 years ago perhaps, when it was in December. 

All in all I spent less than 7 hours in Arafah. Many had spent the whole day there; and night. I am not sure how they survived. I thought I could not stand the 7 hours I was there. I was feeling very weak, to be honest. In the end, I was just there to complete the Wukuf; nothing more, nothing less. I am not proud to admit.

I also did not see the seas of people like in Mahsyar. I  guess we are further away from Jabal Rahmah, and I guess at mid-day I did not venture out at all. I was busy trying to survive.
Many were doing their ibadat in the open in front of my tent. Those standing were doing the dua. This was after asr.
However, as the day ends, the scorching sun tend to be a bit more gentle to us. More and more people came out of their tent to do their duas. Many were doing it in pairs  husband and wife. It was a wonderful sight. Maksu later joined any group doing the duas, and probably were just "amin-ing" to all the duas.
This is our tent (left). That's my Paksu chatting with his best friend, an MAS pilot

Towards the end, I walked a bit to see the surrounding. I saw the Korean tent, the Thai tent and the Indonesian ones. It is a mixed area. Many joined which ever groups were doing the duas, especially the Indonesian one since we can understand the language. But Islam is such a universal religion that it attracted people from the world over. You can see the diversity at Arafah.

The Heli hovering high above us, as we approache maghrib in Arafah, and the end of Wukuf for 2015
Through out the day, we had lots of helis hovering above. I was told - jokingly by my brother in law perhaps - that those were the VVVIP pilgrims doing their wukuf from high above!

And I believed him.

Obviously it was not, at least not according to my ustaz when I related to him the story. It was simply the security helis doing their rounds checking that everything was alright at Arafah.

To be honest, I did not get to see Arafah. I had no idea where Jabal Rahmah was in relation to my tent; not that there was a need for me to do my duas there, after all I was already in Arafah. I was busy keeping myself cool and dehydrated. 55C was a bit too challenging for me, and many had to be taken to the clinic for hydration, especially the old folks.

I came knowing well my limitation, and was praying hard that I can handle that. I had trained hard - physically, to keep myself fit - I was jogging daily the last month before Haj. But in the end Allah tested me with the hot weather, something beyond my limit.

I would not consider myself a weakling. But if the mid-day sun was any longer than it was that day, I am not sure I could be here writing. Boy, was I glad when it was over (or when the sun went down). I had survived Wukuf in Arafah, and with that too my haj.


By far, that was the biggest challenge of my haj.

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