Episode 02: The 8-hour plane ride to Saudi Arabia

The plane ride was something else. Saudi Airlines was, by my definition, Mumtaz. I’ve never felt so privileged before, taking a plane even though my seat was under economy class, and placed at the back of the airplane. Before take off, they reminded us of the dua’ when travelling,

اللهُ أَكْبَرُ ، اللهُ أَكْبَرُ ، اللهُ أَكْبَرُ سُبْحَانَ الَّذِيْ سَخَّرَ لَناَ هَذَا وَمَا كُنَّا لَهُ مُقرِنِيْنَ وإِنَّا إِلَى رَبِّناَ لمُنْقَلِبُوْنَ ، اَلَّلهُمَّ إنَّا نَسْألُكَ فِيْ سَفَرِناَ هَذَا البِرَّ وَالتَّقْوَى ومِنَ العَمَلِ ماَ تَرْضَى اَلَّلهُمَّ هَوِّنْ عَلَيْناَ سَفَرَناَ هَذَا وَاطْوِ عَنَّا بُعْدَهُ. الَلَّهُمَّ أَنتَ الصَّاحِبُ فِيْ السَّفَرِ والخَلِيفَةُ في الأَهْلِ الّلهُمَّ إنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ وَعْثاءِ السَّفَرِ وكَآبَةِ المَنْظَرِ وسُوْءِ المُنْقَلَبِ في المَالِ والأَهْلِ .

Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest, How perfect He is, The One Who has placed this (transport) at our service, and we ourselves would not have been capable of that, and to our Lord is our final destiny. O Allah, we ask You for birr and taqwaa in this journey of ours, and we ask You for deeds which please You. O Allah, facilitate our journey and let us cover its distance quickly. O Allah, You are The Companion on the journey and The Successor over the family, O Allah, I take refuge with You from the difficulties of travel, from having a change of hearts and being in a bad predicament, and I take refuge in You from an ill fated outcome with wealth and family.

 

and I thought that is a great way to remind us of who we should rely upon in everything we do, including travelling.  There is musolla in Saudi Airlines, something which I was told is the only airline that provides that. But I think Emirates or any of the middle east airlines do provide it too. I’m just assuming. The conundrum that every pilgrims faced then was, which way was the Qiblah?

Our ustadh told us that when you pray in the plane, just follow the plane’s direction of the destination the pilot’s heading to, which was to Makkah. Come prayer time I confirmed with him again just to ensure that I was doing it right, but even if there wasn’t any musolla, you can still pray sitting without the need to follow the Qiblah. There was a pilgrim who was not satisfied with the fact that we should just follow the direction where the plane was headed to, but my ustadh was calm in dealing with the man. He reasoned through his understanding and after a while the man calmed down and the exchange of knowledge continued while I went on and pray.

The meal times was surprisingly good; I will attest to the fact that the briyani they served on board is much better than any briyani I’ve tasted on land in Singapore! So next time if you want a good briyani, take a trip to the North West and you’ll be served with a good plate of briyani 🙂

Anyway, I love the fact how the small screen in front of us are filled with many educational videos to watch. There were a few apps of the Qur’an, and that is something I was excited about. Nothing soothes your heart more than the Words of your Maker, Allah  The Almighty. Of course, there was entertainment too, but I didn’t fancy the movies much, nor the dramas. Since I wasn’t on my ihram yet, that paranoia comes kicking in as to when I should wear it. For those doing ‘Umrah, we should be in our ihram and we should intend to do ‘Umrah before entering into the meeqat, or else there would be repercussions to it. Our entrance was through the Yalamlam meeqat, and the good thing is the pilot will always announce to get into your ihram and prepare to be in the state of Ihram.

I put mine 1 or 2 hours before, and after wearing it, the next concern came in: fearing it would become loose and I’d become bare naked in front of other pilgrims. I still think it’s the funniest thing that could happen, but I ask Allah to protect us from any humiliation. Usually during this time the pilgrims would start to rush to the toilet and change their clothes into just two white cloths, of which its thickness is like a bath robe, preparing to humble themselves before Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala.

The Talbiyah. We were told to recite the talbiyah as often as possible until we reach masjidil haram. To concentrate and do it every moment might be a rare occurence, because honestly, the mind sways easily. But to recite and embrace the meaning is of a humbling experience, because it reminds you of the fact that one, you are going to become an honoured guest to the most beloved place of Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala. Two, it rectifies your intention, that you’re going to Makkah to perform the ‘Umrah, and that all the sightseeing and other activities are secondary. Three, you are reminding yourself of how weak you are as a human being, and that you are coming to Allah to get your sins erased.

8 hours of sitting and pondering upon the beauty outside. By the time we reached Riyadh, it was already close to 12 AM…

 

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Episode 01

I had one month to prepare for the trip. Everything had to be done in a rush. The vaccine jab, the visa, and other administrative matters, including the checking of the expiry date for the passport. I have to admit, it was one of the nerve wrecking moments in my life; all of this happening in a flash? Yes!

Believe it or not, lessons were only done twice, fortnightly on Saturday nights. That meant I had to sacrifice my time to travel to the East side, and also one of the Saturdays away from Universal Studios, because at that point of time all NSFs and Regulars were given a special discount to a whole day entry to Universal Studios. But I knew leaving this to attend the class was much more important and crucial. Usually, classes on Hajj and ‘Umrah are done in a stretch of months end. I can understand why, because the ones who will perform this ritual are mostly adults, those who are aging and have saved up a lifetime’s worth of money just to go for the once in a lifetime trip. But I was pleasantly surprised to learn how,  in two lessons, all cramped up in a span of 4/5 hours per class, could make you realise that ‘Umrah is actually simple. Of course, it was draining. We were all so focused on the class, and we were oblivious to the time. We started at around 8 pm….and by the time I looked up to see the time on the wall, it was close to 1 am.

We received two luggages, a pair of ihram clothing. And what is ihram clothing? You’ll know it when you wear it; it’s the most humbling experience in my life to only have two clothes that cover me up without wearing any undergarments or t-shirts. My only fear though, was the thought of having my lower ihram being stepped and pulled over whilst wearing it. That anxiety did wear me out a bit. So I became a little bit conscious when trying it, making sure that it was tight enough to be wrapped around my waist.

 

…and I still find it funny though, the thought of having it being stepped on and it is left opened. May Allah protect us from humiliation!

I wanted to tell no one about this trip, but I knew I had to say my last words to a few closed ones. The thought of leaving and not coming back home made me drop my ego for a moment, and all I wanted was to travel to my Lord with a clean heart. So I did what I had to do. I texted them and told them I was leaving.

Departure day

I didn’t know how to feel that day. A tinge of sadness, a tinge of hope, a tinge of happiness, of the fact that I was finally flying off to the holiest place on Earth. Years of dreaming of it, of listening to the imams reciting the Qur’an, of making persistent dua’, and I was finally flying off to Makkah and Madinah? Alhamdulillah. It was one of the biggest blessings in my life. To the point where my late aunt commented on saying, “You are so fortunate to be going there at such a young age.” She passed away last April. I miss her now. May Allah have mercy on her.

 

My parents were there to send me, as with a few close friends – Shafiq and Uthman. Shafiq was elated for me, and he knew what I was going through. I don’t know but, he has always been that friend that brings on the good vibe with his Jim Carrey impersonations, the endless laughters, and the lame jokes that we both create out of thin air. I miss him now. But, he’s also the friend who’d always chide on me for not taking the opportunities that were presented in front of me. Although it hurts my ego, I feel it’s only because he cares for me, and I love him for that. I’m thankful that this friendship has lasted for the longest time possible. Friends; we should find people who care enough about our well being, both in this world and the next.

The moment came. We said our goodbyes, and off we went into the departure hall. Surprisingly, there were a lot of pilgrims going on the same day as us. But Alhamdulillah, it was a joyous occasion to experience, seeing each and everyone who passed through the departure hall, all going for one purpose, and that is to worship Allah alone. The moment my passport was chopped, I instantly made a new friend. He was to be my friend throughout my whole trip.

8 hour trip. Once we were ushered into the plane and to our seats the relief began pouring down. Everybody was made to seat accordingly. Seat belts on, the standard procedure of the cabin crews instructing us about the do’s and don’ts in the plane, and a few minutes later, we were ready to take off…

At around 3 in the afternoon, the plane took off, leaving everything behind on ground, and me, although still with a heavy heart, took off too just like the plane, slowly flying up into the altitude of peace and serenity, for peace and serenity. Finally, I was on my way to becoming one of His guests in the most beloved places to Him, Masjidil Haram…img_0150

 

To the Northwest, where I belong.

Episode 00.

Makkah & Madinah — two names that are not foreign to Muslims. The blessed lands that many long to visit. They have always been in my prayers ever since I had learned more about Islam. But one day, a heart was broken, a soul was lost, but a door was suddenly opened. It was as though Allah was telling me that this has been your hindrance to getting your dua’ from being accepted. “Now that you’ve let it go, I am giving you the wish you’ve been meaning to get,” as though Allah was saying that to me. Thinking good of Allah never disappoints the believing slave. Everything that has been decreed is and will always be good for the believer.

Right until then, I had a few countries in mind to travel; Indonesia, Australia, Japan. It was like an obligation for every men who served the nation to take that break from the mundane lifestyle we’ve built over the course of two years. We simply needed the break.

But one day the thought passed by — why not Makkah and Madinah?

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So I decided to enquire.

A month before I was released, my teacher had sent me a message, “UMRAH TRIP 2017.” It was a long and detailed message, but by the end of it, I had pushed it aside, away from my mind, away from my heart. Not now perhaps. the inner voice said. But, we don’t know of the future. Circumstances change us, it redirects our attention and motivation. It makes us react and respond accordingly to the events happening around us.

My heart was left broken.  It had always been for a long while. But one day came the penultimate moment. The ties we’ve made were cut, and it was deep. It shattered my hopes, and ambitions to live a good life. It affected me badly. For days I was left in daze, but slowly it made me realise how futile it had been all these years.

A friend once said,

“as with the seasons, people change too.”

That was profound, I thought. Because I was made to believe that people in your life would still be the same person even though you’ve not met him/her for the longest time possible. I became deluded by this belief.  Sometimes, the waiting is the one that gives us the pain, but in waiting there is wisdom Allah has put behind it. You may wait for a person for the longest time but you end up not being with him or her. That wait has caused you so much pain, so much weight for you to carry forward in life, but remember, with this pain, you turn yourself to Allah and complain of your ignorance, your incompetence to worship Him properly. I’m not saying you should follow this path of waiting, but learn from me — never wait, never hope from human beings. The second type of waiting, is the one you should do, and that is to patiently wait for Allah’s help. You do so by worshipping Him alone without any partners being associated to Him, follow His Messenger Muhammad (Peace be upon him), and at the same time learn how to find the right one for you. What’s the underlying factor behind all this? Knowledge. Seek knowledge of the religion, understand what Allah loves and what Allah hates. Understand the purpose of your existence. We are made to know Him. That’s our primary reason for existence. What loses us is the fact that we have been made to learn about love the wrong way. You may say love is something that is subjective, but hey, for once, shouldn’t we look at love and life from God’s perspective? How does He define love? How do we love? What is love? The fundamental questions we need to ask ourselves time and time again.

Anyway, as with bad experiences in life, we learn from it. So what did I do with my broken heart?

I decided to complain it to Allah, and I did so by going for the ‘Umrah trip. I was extremely fortunate that when I enquired about it, there was only a seat left in the group. That day I learnt how fortunate I am to know that this was a blessing in disguise after all. The whisper in my heart that told me about the ‘Umrah trip again made all the difference, and like what Robert Frost says in his famous lines of poetry, The Road Not Taken,

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I decided to take the road less travelled, and that has made all the difference.

 

Alhamdulillah ‘ala kulli haal…

 

To be continued, If Allah Wills…