The reluctant Guest - A Hajj Travelogue

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Chapter 1 : By His Will

All Praises and gratitude be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds and prayers and blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w., to his family, his companions and all those who follow him.

Alhamdulillah, my husband and myself are safely back in Johor Bahru, Malaysia on Saturday, 27th November 2010. The eight hours flight home was most uneventful and I could not sleep out of sheer anxiousness and excitement to meet my children and family. Thirty minutes to landing, after the pilot announced that the landing process was commencing, I thought the air suddenly became still - as though the engines have been switched off. The feeling then was that the plane was gliding - and I could feel pressure up my ears. At that moment, my husband who was asleep, woke up and true enough, he wondered aloud why it was quiet and the plane felt like not moving. When the pressure seemed unbeareable, the engines started again, and cool air flowed in. The landing was smooth, but the change in air pressure was too much for some - one old lady exclaimed she had a terrible headache, a few were cupping their ears and I was furiously chewing Strepsils. I was so excited, but had to contain the excitement as we were all ushered to the second floor of the Senai Airport. Oh! There was expectance in the air, and the ladies hurried to the bathroom for last minute touch-ups. I craned my neck at the visitors' section, but could not make out any familiar faces. I couldn't believe that our luggage were the first to clear the customs, so there we were, my husband and I, finally able to collect our belongings and make our way down to the waiting area. When I finally saw my father, then Nina, then Halim, Hadi, Hafiz and Haziq, my mother, sis and her husband, I finally broke down. All the pent up emotions gave way. It was such a relief! Alhamdulillah! Allah has protected my family and has reunited us after 44 days of separation.(Halim, my eldest son,  told me later that he had just learned what I experienced just now in the plane is a procedure followed by a pilot when he wanted to lose the plane's height quickly - that is, by switching off all engines and truly let the plane 'glide' down...)

The whole hajj experience has been truly most inspiring and unforgettable. It is not easily describable either, but I want to try and share that experience for I want to give glad tidings for those who are despairing, that Allah's Will overcome everything else and nothing happens without that Will and since He is Most Merciful and Beneficient, then everything that happened to us is everything that we need.

You see, I was a reluctant hujjaz. I never took seriously my husband's announcement that we were going for hajj that year. I worried over who would look after the children, especially Nina. I worried on where to look for a temporary maid. I worried about my dear Secondary 5 Cordova girls and my Art students. I worried about my Secondary 4 and Secondary 2 exam papers. In short, I worried over my worldly affairs. I never really could concentrate 100% when we went for the hajj course at the mosque every Sunday - Nina would sit quietly for like ten minutes, then I have to cater to her tantrums for the next one hour or so. It was my husband who went out of his way - calling his contacts in Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur to ensure that I could go with him. When we finally surrendered my passport (on the fourth day of Hari Raya) it dawned on me that I was lacking and unsure of the rites of hajj. So I went on a self-study streak. Ustazah Muayanah was my point of reference and dear Cikgu Zul opened up a 'talian haji' (hajj hotline) - he was most helpful in giving me a crash course on hajj. Even then, I was holding on to Tabung Haji's letter that my flight would be the last one, on 10.11.2010. For one whole week, I couldn't enter JB because I had no passport. On Wednesday, 14th October 2010, I was to get my temporary passport. The 'bomb' was dropped at about 11.00 a.m. - my husband called to say that our flight was Thursday, 15th October at 7.30 am. via SEnai Airport. Less than 24 hours notice! It was madness - but true! Frantically passing to dear Mr Esmadi my papers, quick goodbyes and bewildered looks from my colleagues - Cikgu Zul again was most comforting.Miss Amnah and the rest of the Management team were most reassuring. I am deeply touched and forever indebted to them. Furious smses to my girls and Ammar. Allah help them all in their exams. I went straight to get my temporary passport - still calling up TH to try and delay my flight. My husband was even 'threatening' me that he would go for Hajj alone even if I refused. I called TH in KL, nontheless. No can do. If I missed the flight, I woud have to pay RM$4,000 as compensation. I am ashamed to say that I actually toyed with the idea of paying up...astargfirullah...(Allah forgive me!)

Back in JB, I had little time to think - just act. There were the clothes to pack, instructions for Halim who will be the leader in the family now . I cut my long hair short at 1.00 a.m.! It had grown almost to waist length, but friends have advised to cut it, so as to make the Hajj rites easier. Snipped went my pride....- It wasn't until about 3.00 am that I fell asleep and was up by 5.00 am. My feelings were numbed and I was going through the motion zombie-like. We had breakfast at KFC in the airport, but I was not tasting anything I was eating. Nina! My three year old only daughter, who could not speak well yet - how could I leave her? How would she react? Would she cry? My second son Hadi was sitting for his GCE 'A' Levels examinations - Allah help him! Can my aged mother and father cope with looking after my five children? When I finally checked-in, waving at my family, I saw Nina smiling. Smiling! She really was. Subhanallah! I was relieved. A miracle she was not crying. I did not turn back. It was the point of no return.

When I collected my passport and my boarding pass, I found out my husband's passport was missing! TH officers frantically searched and apologetically declared that his passport was in KL! Believe it or not, we missed our flight to Jeddah! There we were, the only two would-be pilgrims left behind - us in our white clothing, with our big luggage and unable to board the plane. We were at Starbucks when our plane took off. It was kind of embarassing, as we walked aimlessly to and fro - people were eyeing us, and we knew they knew we were supposed to be on that flight. We awaited our fate - sometimes laughing at the incredibleness of the situation - who would have thought such things could happen? We were awaiting our fate when I remembered my reluctance of performing the Hajj and I immediately felt deep, deep remorse and immediately, fervently, begged for Allah to forgive me. HE was testing me, I know, testing my sincerity and intention. However,  the immediacy of HIS Will, the feel of HIS OMNIPRESENCE left me a sense of awe. I prayed fervently for HIS mercy, not anger. By noon, TH officers announced that they were going to send us to KL - on a flight fully paid by them! So we took a flight to KL International Airport, from there, we were taken by coach to Kelana Jaya (TH KL's HQ). I felt so surreal, being in Kelana Jaya, amongst families who were smiling yet tearful at sending their family members off. It had also a kind of carnival atmosphere, with small stalls selling last-minute items to bring for the pilgrimage. Since TH had to ensure we reached Madinah as soon as possible, they put us on a flight with the private pilgrims, meaning, these pilgrims paid much more for their pilgrimage expenditure by going through private travel agency. I felt a slight embarassment, feeling out of place amongst the 'rich', but they were nice people, actually, who made me feel at home. It was not until 1.20 a.m. that we finally took a flight.

I thought our flight was to Jeddah, but we actually landed at Madinah! That flight was a direct flight to Madinah - so we bypassed Jeddah actually! Subhanallah! The beauty of Allah's plans!So, Cikgu Zul, contrary to the warnings and advice you have given me, we actually 'missed' the chaotic conditions in Jeddah (the long wait, the dirty toilets as told by my room mates, not to mention the 8 hr bus journey from Jeddah to Madinah) - Allahu Akbar! Allahu Hafiz! We are but HIS servants...

(When I did my first tawaf at the Mataaf in Mecca, after spending ten days in Madinah, gazing at HIS HOUSE, I cried copiously, fully aware, feeling very, very small - that I was there because HE wanted me to be there - HE knew that if given more time, I would be looking for excuses to delay my flight - so HE PLUCKED me from my comfort zone - to be HIS guest...and I regretted my selfishness...Allah has blessed me 45 years of beautiful life - and I could not even sacrificed 44 days - a day out of every year that HE has given me - to be with HIM, to remember HIM, to be HIS true servant..Ya Allah! Ya Allah! Ya Allah! Labbaikallah humma labbaik! ....)

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