Saturday, November 21, 2015

Haj 2015 - My Last Haj?

I was apprehensive before I started the journey, but once we got started, I think we never looked back.

We had our share of predicaments - especially in the beginning, but in the end, I thought it was a moving journey. That's how I would remember my haj.

I was never into it - all these years; too young, too busy, too many people etc, and hence I never offered to chaperon Mak. Even much later, I was nonchalant about it. Without my uncle and auntie pushing me to join them for haj, I would not have made it.

I am not proud to admit.
The Two Haji and Hajah  were all smiles and looking forward to return home after performing the haj

I was considering of canceling my journey due to the piles I was having. Should I have done that, I am sure it would take me a few more years to plan another journey.

After all the dusts have settled, and despite my criticisms of the management of haj, I would like to strongly encourage all muslims to do their haj if they have not done so. I have only mentioned the physical aspects of the journey and have not touched the spiritual aspects at all. I had read the book by Maulana Zakariyya, thanks to my in-law Hj Roslan, so I am not going to elaborate on them; I know I can't beat the eloquence of the Maulana. Know the physical aspect of the haj rituals, and then follow up by the spiritual aspects. You would not go wrong with it. I thought haj is a moving ritual of Islam that take you to another level.

A beautiful story on the haj was shared by my Auntie MC Kam just prior to my trip. It is about a story of a person who had never performed the haj, but apparently for that particular year, his "haj" was the only mabrur haj conferred.

All he said to Him, with his feet firmly planted at his hometown thousands of miles away from Makkah, "Oh Allah, my haj is here!"

I thought by going for this long and arduous jouney, I would be blessed by him. I thought by spending my saving for this has, I would be granted one. Instead someone who had never laid his foot on the Makkan soil was rewarded - the shoemaker from Damsyik. His name is Muwaffaq. I don't know how true the story is since it involved a dream, but I would take it at face value. After giving away 300 dirham he had saved for his journey for haj to the widow with 7 children who were cooking and eating carcass ("My food is halal for me, but haram for you, she told Muwaffiq."), he said, "Oh Allah, my haj is here (at his neighbour doorsteps and not in Makkah)" since he can no longer afford to travel to Makkah.

And yet his was the only one accepted by Him, and he did not even set his foot in Makkah.

Allahu Akbar.

As such, I thought 2015 would be my last haj. I am not planning to go again. I know it is a bit to definitive to say it here - if Allah wills it, then you go again, but somehow I felt so strong about it. You are supposed to go once in a lifetime, if you can afford it. Then you go only once. If I have the means to go for haj again, I thought I should give it to someone who deserve to go; someone with a better chance for a mabrur haj, instead of me. Not only due to monetary cost, but considering visa limitation.

I hope I would be blessed for assisting someone with his haj. If he gets mabrur haj, surely Allah will reward me too. InsyaAllah. We should all be looking for Muwaffaqs in our midst. I know insyaAllah I would be looking for mine.

I do hope that He will bless me with the mean to give someone else the opportunity to perform it. Or help others with the money you want to use for your second haj. Get them out of poverty. Sponsor a student. Build a mosque. Or orphanage. Whatever you fancy,

I kept on telling my staff and my boys since coming back and encourage them to plan their way. I am not sure if umrah is even necessary unless they have the mean do it before Haj. But it is not even compulsory.

Just do it. He will reward you more than you had spent on your haj.

I know I should not say that this was my last haj. You must wish to go again. We should all have ambitions to be His guests, but I am looking from the perspective of the law within our religion.

Once in a lifetime, if you can afford it. (Not " If you can't afford it, once in a life time! It gives totally different meaning.)

Arafah after Haj. At last I was able to stand here and du'a!

Haj 2015 - Part VII Stoning and the 8 km walk

We normally left Mina by about 2 am in the morning. Had a quick sleep in the comfort of our rooms before the dawn prayer, and then only rest during the day before repeating the cycle. 

So on the day of the 11th, we left Makkah to have our second stoning  ritual. This time around there was no Zaki driving us around. We had to take the cab this time around. We are told, it will be tougher to enter Mina during the day with many roads closed.

So I think the cab charged Riyal 100 for the 7-8 odd km trip to Mina for the five of us. I am not sure; Ustaz Jufri handled all the transactions for us.

The road leading to the Jamrah - one can only walk
It was nearly midday when we arrived on the 11th Zulhijjah. I can assure you the day was so bright, and it was hot.

It was quite a distance for us to walk from the Mina town centre to the Jamrah. But it was an easy walk. Every few hundred metres, some people would spray water on to you to ensure you are kept cool. Wonderful. There are many ways for you to earn deed for your hereafter. Only that I wonder why the government did not bother have the auto spray fan along the path to the Jamrah. May because it was only a once in a year affair, unlike at the Grand Mosque where there will be people all year round.
Paksu and Hj Halim at the back and this time around we have extra assistant handling our drinks for the walk

But still, you are talking about 2-3 million people plying the Jamrah yearly; surely it will be money well spent.

The first day was a shorter walk - around 5 km, and we had no problem getting a cab back to the Grand Mosque. It was one happy walk doing the stoning. Even at midday, it was an easy ritual; we could do the stoning right at the edge of each Jamrah. I would not say it was crowded - crowded is relative of us. I am sure they were many people, but we weren't threaten with any risk of an incident. 
Don't laugh; it was ustaz Jufri's idea that he purchased this mini head umbrella for our walk in the hot sun. IN the back ground is Mina town

It was barely 24 hours of the Mina stampede incident.

We were happy campers completing our stoning rituals. I did not take any pictures while we were stoning. It is not important to take picture. We were trying to concentrate doing the tasks at hand, and did not bother with the nitty gritty of selfie and picture taking. Furthermore, we thought we want to maintain certain dignity in performing the haj.

The second day was a tougher day. More road closure, and our journey took a different path and it involved the two tunnels leading to the Jamrah. 
12th Zulhujjah stoning. This time through the tunnels you can see in the background. Much longer walk. See the spray bottle I was holding in my left hand. That is the most important piece of Haj tool that I can ever imagine. I managed to keep myself cool with spray of water.
All in all, we walked about 8 km that day. I left my GPS running and have my S Health monitor my walking distance. Much more that I had ever done. But the heart and limbs were willing so there was no issues about walking. We also knew that that would be our last ritual. 

We would be done by the 12th of Zulhijjah.

But we were tested on the last day - not only on the distance that we walked, but we could not get a cab to come back to the Grand mosque.
Large crowd during the second day



Actually we did find a few cabs willing to take us, but they would want a few of Ry200 per person, making it Ry1000 for a 7 km trip to Makkah. It is too much to pay. We would think that these cab drivers would maintain certain dignity and not overcharge the Guests of Allah, but even in this holy land, everybody was working for themselves only.

Sad to say, isn't it?

I guess it is like working hard for a the haj month, or even for for days of Haj, and not having to work again for the remaining months of year. Wonderful, no?

View from inside the cab taking us back to al Haram. It was a reasonable jam going to the Grand Mosque, but you should see the jam of all the roads leading to Mina. It was really bad, but by this time, we were going the opposite way
Anyway, it took us about 2 hours waiting for our cab. We walked and walked, and stop somewhere to have chai - wonderful hot chai to rest our tired - really tired - limbs.

And after a while, it struck us that we may never get a cab, so we asked Ustaz Jufri on how far it would be for us to walk back to al-Haraam.

"About 7 km, through that tunnel. At the end of it would be the Grand Mosque. We can see the tunnels, but we have walked for 8 km already, we weren't ready to walk another 7 km.

But we knew we may not have a choice.

Redha. Just do it. 

We decided that since Allah has decided for us that we need to walk, about all the ease of performing the Haj, then we have to redha to His wishes. 

We will walk the extra miles, we told Ustaz Jufri. He has been all so stressed up since he could not get a cab for us. We can see in on his face. Since we had agreed to walk, we told him to bring with him more cold drinks for that journey.

But God is great, the moment you leave your fate to Him, and readied yourself to walk, a cab arrived and agreed to take us for Ry 200 per cab.

Alhamdulillah, we cried with joy.

I know the concept of redha, but I had never seen how quickly one was rewarded by being redha.

Allahu Akbar.

Haj is quite a physical ritual. You need to be strong. You need to be healthy. Young people should be the one going - not old folks. It will be tougher for them. It did strain my muscles. I am not sure how to handle the remaining 7 km  walk, if we had to walk that day.

It will be tough for sure. We might have to crawl.

After the ease of Haj on the first day, the last day was the most challenging. But still it was nothing like many had experienced. I thought my journey was so simple. And for me to be more thankful, I was also in the pink of our health throughout the Haj period. Not a tinge of sore throats or any of the common illness. My piles by this time had gone completely by Haj time.

Trust in Him. He will only test you what you can handle and surely he knew our limitations.

Haj 2015 - Part VI Mina - Beraduku tikarnya jalan, bumbungnya langit, lampunya bulan

We have decided while in Makkah that we were not going to go stay in the tents in Mina. It is not because of the experience of Arafah. It is just we felt that we would be more comfortable in our hotel in Makah and commute on a daily basis for Jamrah and due to some health issues of our members.

There are two elements of the the final ritual of Haj - the stoning ritual. I consider it the final since we have completed the Nafar Awal i.e. done our tawaf and Saei. The first element is that we need to stop for awhile at Mina - a stopover, if you must, before we do the stoning. In other words, the definition of s stop-over is that it has to exceed half a night.

In other words, we need to sleep over at Mina the night before, before we can do the stoning on the Tasyrik Days of 11, 12 and 13th of Zulhijjah. 

So after resting that Raya day of the 10th of Zulhijjah, while monitoring the tragedy of the stampede on-line, after Asr prayer, we made a move to go to Mina. As it is basically the peak of Haj, many roads leading to the Al-Haraam have been closed and hence Zaki would not be able to pick us up at the hotel and take us to Mina.

We would have to take the bus from the Haraam and go to main terminal of Makkah. All buses going in and out of Makkah daily and hence vehicles are allowed. IT is only a 5 minute bus ride and you can imagine the crowd.

Nothing much you can do about it.

It is not bad actually. It adds up to the Haj experience.

The terminal in Makkah. Ustaz in the foreground and the clock tower where we started in the background. At most it was a 10-min bus ride

It is the 11th night of Zulhijjah, so you can see the moon in the background high up, while we waited for Zaki to arrive. Traffic is an issue during Haj

Another view of the bus terminal. Dont ask about the name of the terminal, I would not remember
Once Zaki picks us up, normally he would go and buy foods for dinner that night before heading to Mina. Obviously he would ask us what we want to eat and we would tell ustaz Jaffri to bring his his (Indonesian) sambal as side dish.

We would probably enter Mina by 7.30 or so. It is still early. Most pilgrims were in the tents, so the road leading to Mina, or the side road were reasonably empty. Zaki knew exactly where to find the right spot for our Mabit in Mina.

By the side of a four-lane road that nobody use. It was only a 3-min walk to the tents of Mina, and yet we were in our own world.
MIna on the 11th of Zulhijjah night. We are ready for our Mabit
Getting ourselves comfortable for our mabit. Not quite berlantaikan asphalt, but you know what I mean ;) You see the ice box? Meaning we will have free flowing iced drink through out the night.
Zaki knew every each of Makkah and its surrounding and I don't recall how many times he has taken pilgrims performing haj. He knew exactly where to park the car and we should do our Mabit.

 We are just above the tunnel leading to the slaughter house for the Haj.
The tunnel near our site. It leads to the slaughter house for the Haj

I can assure you that this is very comfortable. I guess it was quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of the tent area, so we have some privacy to sleep in the open. But more important, the weather cooperate - night time in Mina is really comfortable.
Getting ourselves comfortable. We will be here for the next 5 hours or so

At the back of our spot is the two-storey restrooms

Our space in relation to the pilgrims' tents in Mina. As I have said, we are only 3 mins away from their tents.
Before anything else, we have to have our dinner. Oops, not true, we did our prayer first, before we filled out our carpet with food - mandey on first night, and chinese foods on the second night.
Yes, yes, it was a feast each night with hot dinner and very cold drinks. Wonderful. You want iced-water, we have iced water even until the end of the mabit each night.

I walked to the pilgrims' tents. The second night, I was supposed to have teh tarik and ice-cream with Haji Judane at his tent, but he was down with  fever. I went looking for him and even paged for him at the clinic. The tents were comfortable during the night, but I dreaded thinking about during the mid-day sun as they have no airconditioning.

Maktab 86 is where many Malaysian pilgrims would stay. I was supposed for have tehtarik session but in the end I walked away empty handed due to Judane illness.

I could not think how I can survive here. NOt only due to the number of people, but also due to the non-airconditioning of the tents. I believe that is due for an upgrade very soon. Many of the elderly collapse due to dehydration and the heat.

Maktab 86
My only other take about the tent conditions would be the mountain-high garbage pile and the rats manning those garbages. Yes, al-Haraam is very clean with the number of cleaners on duty each hour, and they should adopt same cleanliness standard here.

I have no doubt that many fell sick here due to the cleanliness issues.

I really would recommend any future haj goers to take this route and commute on a daily basis from Makkah. It is much more comfortable, if you are looking for comfort. But if you want to experience what the others experienced, yes, you can stay at Mina.

I am very happy and satisfied with this method. Staying for 5 to 6 hours each night on Tasyrik nights is a good alternative. Sleeping in the open is quite an experience not many would go through except those hardcore pilgrims who came without hotel arrangement. I did not take any picture of us sleeping, but I can assure you we slept like a log. We needed the forty wink each night. It was quite a strain on some of us physically. Haj is quite physical, so sleeping anywhere in the comfortable weather of Mina is indeed a wonderful experience.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Haj 2015 - The Mina Stampede

We were all resting in the room that morning of the incident. We had completed our Nafar Awal by Dawn prayer's time, and I guess after breakfast, we went back to have a rest, and may be atch much needed sleep. We had slept sporadically in the last 24 hours - a couple of hours at Mudzalifah, most likely and that was it.

In bed, we were perhaps surfing or on Facebook when we heard the news about the stampede and the 700 odd pilgrims who died at Mina. Obviously we were a bit overwhelmed by the news of the tragedy, but we were nowhere Mina when it happened. In fact, we were all resting in the comfort of our room. After all, we had completed our Aqabah at midnight.
Taken from BVI News

As the tragedy unfold, we were reminded how this year's Haj had become the worst in term of tragedy, in the past 25 years, and it was not a record we would like to associate our haj with. But fate had it that we were here - never mind we were 8 km away.

And of course we were soon be bombarded with wassap messages about our well being.

I don't really know what transpired at Road 6 at Mina, but there were stories about how certain roads at Mina were closed  at that time due to the presence of a Saudi prince. I was not surprised; we were ourselves stopped just after the tunnel due to the presence of a convoy purportedly of the royal families. Fortunately it took about a couple of minutes, so there was no untoward incident.

But should it lasted a few more minute, bigger crowds would have built up, and we can only guess the consequences of such build up.

I believe that the Saudi police or mosque security should learn more about crowd control. For all the years of managing pilgrims over the past hundreds of years, they are somehow incompetent in my eyes. I am sorry to have to say this, but they should know better how to handle the Guests of Allah, and not treat the pilgrims with disdain!

(They should learn how Disney staff handle visitors at their park - with a lot of smiles, and enthusiasm, but at the Grand Mosque, the staff and security think of us as a chore; that we are disturbing their leisure time with their handphones.)

I put the responsibility of the Mina tragedy solely in the hand of the Saudi government, and nobody else. The pilgrims were not to be blamed.

Many times at the Grand Mosque, the mosque security cordoned off, or closed certain gate, which I took as for no reasons. Let me explained. We were at least 1 hour away from Maghrib prayer, and the whole of the Dataran infront of the Clock Tower were filled up to the brim with pilgrims. Even the mall has started to fill up.

I guess many pilgrims simply were reluctant to go inside the mosque for reasons best known to them. Lazy, tired, too far - whatever the reasons, they simply took up the space available in the open space between clock tower and say King Abdul Aziz gate.

Sp after managing to squeeze past through the sea of people, the security closed the door with escalator leading to the roof the mosque. We knew that the roof was empty - we can see it from our room. Puzzled as to why the door was blocked, many pilgrims including us, simply wait at the door, hoping that they will open it in due time.

The crowd started to build up. They have no else to go; the open space had been filled up to the brim. The security officer was instructing us - the crowd, but not knowing Arabic, they might as well talked to the wall.

The wall might listened.

After about 10 mins, the crowd had swell to a large one. 

And then they opened the door.

The crowd simply push forward. And many were squeezed in as the door has a limited space and the crowd gathered were much bigger than the door width. Many scrambled to get it. No matter what you said about not pushing, many were simply doing that. They would push, they would shove you aside in order for them to get ahead (of you). People were competing with each other to get the best spot; to be neared to Kaabah, or whatever the reasons may be.
Can you see that even at the peak of Haj, we have ample of space to pray? You may remember the Saudi Third Expansion. The floor space is enormous. Why on earth would they closed the doors leading to this rooftop area for it to become a free for all?

I can tell you that many were nearly trampled. If they can jump over somebody, they would do it.

It was sad to see us pilgrims resorting to this.

But the irony was when we reached the roof section (open air), there were as empty as it can be. Crowds hundreds of time bigger can be accommodated there without any problem. Even until isya prayer, one can still came up and have a luxury of space upstair.

The question is why the escalator door was closed in the first place? Who gave that order? Did it come with knowledge ie was there a CCTV showing the space at the top? Why later it was open? Paksu and I were puzzled. We could not comprehend it at all.

It seems that they were all done at the whim and fancy of somebody and without proper understanding of crowd control and herd mentality.

It was sad.

Many could have been crushed that evening,  but lucky nothing untoward happened. Otherwise I may not be here to relive the tale.



And to change topic, we tried to stay away from the crane and tried to project the path it would fall and move away from that path ;)

The Grand MOsque security people or the police have to be smart. First and foremost, language is a barrier. Not everybody can speak Arabic, and most of them can barely speak English.  Never mind that Arabic is the official language of Islam, but they are serving the Guests of Allah. Be humble and learn other languages so that the Grand Mosque can serve the pilgrims better.

It is not too much to ask. MOst of the time they were only chatting amongst themselves.

They can expect the pilgrims to be on best behaviour.  We come from many countries with different cultures and education.

Due to many incidents like this - near misses, if we can use that term, I strongly believe that the road at certain part of Mina were cordoned off for somebody high up there.

My kids's piano school owner once asked of me about the incident I told him how the crowd were asked to leave their saf since the King of Malaysia was visiting. And our Yang DiPertuan Agong was only about 4 saf away from us.

"I thought everyone is equal there?" Commander James asked me. He was curious.

"Well, commander, yes everybody was equal there."

"But I guess some are more equal than others!"

Haj 2015 - Raya at the Tower Food Court

So we were done with our Nafar Awal by 4.45 am, 10 minutes before down/subuh. I did mine after subh prayer. We went to the barber at the basement and I asked for a 1 centi cut. I don't want it to be too short; I won't look good.
ZamZam Tower barbers - Taken from http://rezeki-suatucatatanperjalanan.blogspot.my/2013_07_01_archive.html

But the barber did not even adjust it his haircut instrument. He just pick it up and give it a blast over my head. I should have known better. I was left with only 1 mm of hair!

It is ok. The more the merrier, I said to myself. All my sins will be washed away with the weight of my hair.

Soon we made our way to the hotel for a proper clean-up. We have been away for nearly a day.  But since we were early, Ustaz Jufri and I decided to have a quick breakfast at the Mall food court and not bother with the hotel restaurant. We were both dressed up - I in baju Melayu and Ustaz in his jubah. Both were immaculate since we even had the time to iron it at the room.

It is after all Hari Raya Aidil Adha morning and we are supposed to have our breakfast before the solat prayer. "So ustaz, what is the solat time here in Makkah," I asked him.

"I think it is 7 am. it is early."

So by 6 am, we were having breakfast, and chatting about what we went through the past 24 hours. I thought it was quite an achievement to complete the Nafar Awal without much hiccup. There was no rendang and ketupat, and we were not complaining. We weren't even thinking about it.

But all of the sudden, we heard a call for prayer. We looked at each other and then at our cellphone - none of us had a watch. It says 6,30 am.

"Allahu Akbar," 

The imam was starting the Eid Adha prayer, and we were still at the food court.

So we rushed down.

Nothing much we can do, except to pray at the Mall together with others. It was reasonably full. There was no way we could have reached the Haraam in time if we want to join the prayer in the first rakaah.

There was no Raya takbir to warn us, and to melt our hearts, if you know what I mean. The imam was a bit to quick for us.  We nearly missed it, but luckily we didn't. Of course the subsequent khutbah was done in Arabic, so we have no clue to what the sermon was all about.

I am sure not many pilgrims had the opportunity to solah Eid at the Haraam, especially when doing one's haj. I am told that there is no solat Eid at Mina; it was after all a sunaat prayer and not q requirement for haj.

But alhamdulillah, we were in Makkah and had a taste of solat Eid, albeit at the Tower Mall.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Haj 2015 - Part V Nafar Awal and the Ministers from Malaysia

Just to be on the safe side, we left Mudzalifah at 12.02 am. 

The road was still empty. The pilgrims at Mudzalifah have still to get onto their buses when we left. We have no delayed reaction - there were only five of us, seven if you include the ustaz and Zaki. Many had started walking. May Allah bless them. We breezed through the highway heading to the Aqabah for our first date with the Jamrah. 

Until we reached the main street of the Jamrah when we were not allowed in -there was a roadblock. The officer manning it would not let us through. Our car has the sticker and yet he would not yield to us.

"If we were to use another route, it would be quite a walk for us," Zaki explained. "Let me try and talked to the security officer, and see if he would let us through," he said.

It was quite a conversation. At times I thought it was like a verbal fight between Zaki and the security officer manning the roadblock. It went for quite sometime too. In my mind, I was thinking, it is ok Zaki, never mind. We have come thus far and a short walk would be fine. 

After all, we were delivered right to our (tent) door step at Arafah, and then again at Mudzalifah. Technically we didn't walk at all. So what if we need to walk now? The clock showed 12.30 am. Most pligrims were still in Mudzalifah.

Suddenly the officer walked away and opened the barrier.

He was letting us in!

"Yay, what did you say to him Zaki?" we all chorused. We were very curious.

"Well, in the end I just told him that you are all ministers from Malaysia!"

We all burst into laughter. It cheered us up. Zaki can now parked the car very close to Aqabah and again we need not to walk far for our first Jamrah at 12.45 am.

Alhamdulillah.

The midnight throw of the Aqabah. You can do it right at the edge. But I am not sure how many of the pilgrims can beat us at the Jamrah or Kaabah that morning.In any case, it was a breeze.
There was a slight jam in Mina when we headed back to Makkah. I guess many were doing what we were trying to do. Complete our Nafar Awal before subuh.

By 1.30 am we reached our hotel, did the needful and I guess we went out for our tawaf by 2,30 am. There were already many people there, but the tawaf would still take about 1 hour and then the saei would take a little bit more than an hour. It was like a normal tawaf and saei.

We completed our nafar awal 10 minutes before dawn prayer! We are done - the rest of the jemaah did, but I was not technically done as I wanted to go to the barber and do a crew-cut hair cut for my Nafar Awal. I want to max out all my sins' being forgiven by Him and started afresh. The more hair I can cut from my head, the merrier. It was worth the weight in gold - definitely more.

Yes, we can now wear our normal clothing, and can now get ready for our Raya prayer at the Haraam!

But we were not thinking of ketupat, lemang and rendang at all that morning.

EPILOGUE

Just to recap our Haj journey thus far:

Left Makkah on 9 Zulhijjah at 10 am
Reached Arafah by 10.45 am
Left Arafah by 6.15 pm
Reached Mudzalifah by 6.45 pm
Left Mudzalifah by 12.02 am
REached Jamrah by 12.30 am
Left Jamrah by 12.45 am
Reached Makkah by 1.30 am
Went for Tawaf at 2,30 am
Finished Saei by 4.45 am
Nafar Awal by 4.45 am

Haj 2015 - Part IV Mudzalifah & Malam Bulan dipagar Bintang

Prologue

So I survived Arafah. Barely, I must add. In hindsight, if I can re-do Wukuf, I would. I was not very satisfied with my ibadah during Wukuf. I was trying hard to get through the day; more than I was trying to go deep in my prayers. And I must say I was so stressed out by the heat that I could not think properly; and that I felt weak.

For the uninitiated - like me before doing my haj, Wukuf is done in Arafah between just after mid-day to sunset i.e. magrib. Technically we can leave Arafah by sunset, sunset is about 5.30 pm and head to Mudzalifah. Technically we can stay for 1 seconds in Mudzalifah; there is no major requirement for this mabit. 

But one can leave Mudzalifah only after midnight. Not a second earlier.

MUDZALIFAH & The Seven Pebbles

We did our maghrib prayer in the dark in our tent in Arafah. I am not sure if there is any light; I guess there should be since there are pilgrims doing overnight in Arafah the night before. But our small tent has no light, so we did our deeds in the not-so-bright light of sunset.

Slowly we make our moves heading to the gate. Thousands were already there waiting for their buses, and there was not a single bus in sight - they have not arrived yet. We had to squeeze our way out, apologizing for beating the technically-non-existent queue, by excusing ourselves that our bus has arrived.

A few would not budge; they must have thought that we were trying to beat the queue. We weren't, and we had to explain that we have car waiting for us, before the let us through reluctantly.

Mudzalifah! We were here first and soon loads of buses and cars joined us
Within minutes, we were ferried out of Arafah and headed to Mudzalifah, and it was only a short journey. Guess in less than 15 minutes, may be twenty, who knows, we have reached Mudzalifah. May be at most, it was before 7 pm. Zaki parked the car and quickly we settled down at a chosen spot on the desert. It was not the best of spots; it was in the middle of nowhere to be honest. It didn't matter. But soon many cars and buses would arrive and it would have a fiesta atmosphere in that area.
Dining in the desert for us
Zaki and Jufri put up the carpet on the sand, and we quickly have our dinner!

Dinner was simple meals of sandwiches and cheese, and fruits and cold drinks. But it was good enough for me. It is just to fill up the empty stomach - I didn't have lunch, and with no public restroom within walking distance, I would prefer to control food intakes.

More importantly, we were here to collect the seven pebbles for us to throw at Aqabah, so after dinner, we quickly did just that
The romantic couple of Maksu and Paksu, working hard as a team
Enough for bus load of pilgrims - Paksu is very efficient in his collection
Just imagine, wearing our ihram, we were like kids looking for batu seremban. I tried too, but in the end, I gave up. I was still too tired by the heat in Arafah, and I knew the ustaz would collect more than he needed. I know I could rely on him for all my pebbles need to throw at the Jamrah.

By then, bus load of people were there. Some of the pilgrims from Middle East brought their big pots of Mandey! I wish they would invited me to join them for dinner. It has a carnival atmosphere.

Other pilgrims there doing the needful
As I have mentioned earlier, we cannot leave until after midnight. Technically we don't need to be here very early. But today's transportation and the fact that there were only five of us, we were here in no time. And hence we had to spend quite a bit of time here.

Some may arrived after 11 pm, and their waiting time would be much less. I guess in the old days, people would walk and ride the camel, and hence it would take them hours to reach Mudzalifah, so it would justify the time why we can only leave after midnight.

So what else we need to do to while our time away?

Yes, forty winks. We have our carpet, our sleeping bag as pillow and the black sky as our roof, and we slept our time away, oblivious to our surrounding! There was nothing in the books guiding us on what we need to do at Mudzalifah.

I guess soon many of us were in the realms of sweet dreams. I had my short nap interrupted a couple of times, but I managed to close my eyes. 

Yes, Malam bulan di pagar bintang. Yes, starry starry night! All of these. In Mudzalifah. Mak Su and Pak Su slept well, but Haji Halim slept like a baby, until it was time to leave.
But the ustaz and Zaki the driver were manning fort. Close to midnight, they would wake us up, and get it ready.

We got out of Mudzalifah at 12.02 am, and headed to Mina for our Aqabah!

EPILOGUE

Just to recap our Haj journey thus far:

Left Makkah on 9 Zulhijjah at 10 am
Reached Arafah by 10.45 am
Left Arafah by 6.15 pm
Reached Mudzalifah by 6.45 pm
Left Mudzalifah by 12.02 am (technically we were  on Raya night 10, Zulhijjah)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Haj 2015 - Part III Wukuf & The Heat Wave

Prologue

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.

Alhamdulillah.

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.

Alhamdulillah.

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

Haj 2015 - Part II The Lull before the Storm

20 Sept 2015

So I survived the trials and tribulations of the impending Haj. We still have three days left before wukuf, and we need to conserve our energy and get ourselves ready for the big day.

Fortunately we got a room at the clock tower, so our daily routine to attend the five time daily prayer was a real pleasure. Don't get me wrong,; I know that every step that we took count in the final countdown. But we are here for the last and final pillar of Islam, so we need to conserve our energy. I was told that many of us performed the daily solah at the respective hotel surau, due to conservation of energy theory.

And haj can only be performed in Makkah and nowhere else, and only at this time of the year.

Whatever we do, we have that at the back of our mind. Conserve energy. Our goal is haj.

It is 45 C!
We got contradicting verdicts about praying in our room; yes, you can and no, you can't. Depending on who you talked to. But we decided to follow the most conservative verdict, and went to the Haraam for every prayer. It was not much of a walk, to be honest.

Just that the midday sun can be challenging.The sun is so bright and the heat is harsh.

Sept 21, 2015

But after taking a rest after the arrival debacle, I quickly contacted doc Judane to arrange for a mini reunion in Makkah. I knew beforehand that the three of them had arrived before me.

I found out that they were staying at Hotel Janadriyah, apparently owned by Tabung Haji. I am also told that TH HQ is also located at the same building. So this newly-arrived would have to visit the hosts, and not the other way round. I like to have the fun visiting people rather than waiting for them to come. Especially Judane has tempted me with teh tarik and roti canai!

Morning was typically an easy time for the pilgrims.

The Crane as captured by yours truly, on the way to Janadriyah HOtel
It was a long walk from the clock tower. We passed by the side of Haraam, near the palace and the Safa and Marwah Saei route, and passed by the crane tragedy. No, it happened much early than my arrival, but the crane was still leaning by the Haaraam building. It was cordoned off for obvious reason, and according to ustaz JUfri, the construction team were in the midst of securing the crane when the sandstorm hit Makkah.

I guess had the sandstorm not hit Makkah, it would not have fell, or had the team completed their work, it would not have happened either. Tragedy or accident did not happen due to a single event, so I was told by Air Crash Investigation and Seconds before Disaster.

Soon we can see the Janadriyah hotel from afar. It has been a long walk, especially on a hot day. The picture was taken from Harrizam.blogspot.com without permission, with thanks. Apparently according to Judane, the hotel is 750 meter from The Marwah. It is quite possible, but it felt like a very long kilometre walk for me.

I was just looking forward to let loose in Makkah, after the incident the day before. Being with your schoolmates, one is allowed to be teenager again and be young again, albeit a young pious teen!

Hope I am bragging enough hahaha!

Soon, we were having teh tarik and roti canai by the side of the hotel. It is an older part of Makkah. It is perhaps more fun to be there than the mall at the clock tower.

It was quite a long meal, perhaps nearly two hours we were there.  This is my 3rd trip to Makkah, and I never had so much fun chatting and reminiscing about the old day. I am sure we can talk about the same topic over and over again till the end of our lives.

As we said goodbye to each other, Judane had other idea. "Let's visit the 3rd Expansion," he said. Earlier Ustaz Jufri told us that they had just open that section of the new mosque (i.e. today, two days before wukuf).
New open area to the pilgrim. Saudi 3rd expansion of the holy mosque
I can assure you that it is like a Maharajah palace; a palace fit for an emperor, and it is fully aircondtioned. To be honest, one does not need hotel anymore. I can stay in the mosque all day long, and I guess many did.

The ablution and toilet area are within the mosque, I guess at the basement, so one need not have to go outside to do the needful.

The entrance
The corridor


s

Beautiful, isn't it? Though it goes against my belief of the need to be luxurious. But there is a need to be comfortable.

After exploring the new section, we decided to for tawaf sunat using the circular mataf. It is a long walk to find the ramp to enter the mataf and one can't do it within the mosque itself. One would have to walk to near the At-Tawhid to go to the top mataf. But we only found the entrance to the top mataf, which was uncovered.

And that's what we did at 11 am which to my mind was the peak of the noon sun.
The view from the top Mataf at 11 am on Sept 21, two days before wukuf

Judane obviously was very fit. It goes without saying for this lecturer of public health at USM. YOurs truly obviously weren't; I can barely keep up with him. But the sun was just above our head and the vinyl flooring  of the mataf made it worse, since there is no roofing. We have nowhere to hide, but continue our seven circumbulation. 

I can tell you the flooring is very hot; I keep on walking on the shade of the metal siding. Since the sun was nearly overhead, the shadow is very narrow, but it helped. You can feel that the floor covered by the shade is much cooler. It barely cover the tenth of a single foot, but I can assure that you would take anything to relieve you from the scorching sun.

In the end, I had blister on my foot, and I was walking with a slight limp due to that blister. I was getting nervous if this continued on - I know I need to do a lot of walking and now I am limping. May be, I told myself later, I should not have done it.

But with friend, you found that extra energy to do things one would not do alone.

By the time we completed our tawaf, it was zuhr and we quickly get out and went to the saei area and did our zuhr there and then parted company.

Now limping, I went on a zam-zam water drinking spree and with each glass of water, I was praying hard to Him; asking him for a full recovery from my blister. And He heard me.

By the time we were ready for Wukuf, I walking normally again.

We were two days away from wukuf.

EPILOGUE

I never had experienced such extreme temperature in my life. Not in Melbourne, not in Houston. At least I don't remember it. The worst I had experienced was Feb in Perth, just prior to my my leaving for uni life in Melbourne.

It was a hot day, with the fan in full swing in that Beatty Park apartment in Perth. Still, we could not stand it, so I suggested to open the window to let the air in. Upon opening the window, a gush of air hit my face. It was furnace hot. I quickly close back the window.

And we satiated ourselves with indoor air.

Later on I found that the peak temperature that day was 44 C!