It’s been ten days since we landed on home soil. In my mind my memories already look like dreams, but I have not forgotten what it feels like. What it feels to wake up and hear the Athaan for Tahajud in Makkah. The familiarity of that call to prayer and the comfort of knowing that you’re in the best place you could ever be on earth.
I will never forget the plush carpet of Masjid Al Nabawi and the way my heart cried when I knew this would be the last time I pray there… until I receive my next invitation of course. It felt like leaving my true home, it felt like leaving something so dear to me. It was the most beloved place I’ve ever lived. It is the most beloved city.
Leaving Madina was heart-sore but we had to move on. Our Umrah had yet to take place.
We followed the steps to prepare for Ihraam and on the 31st of December 2014, at approximately 11am we started toward Makkah.
It was just about an hour when we reached the miqat, there we made our intentions and duahs.
Soon after we came across a petrol station and as usual there was a masjid next to it. I made Dhuer practicing the rights of a traveller to bring it forward. Dad bought Burger King Whoppers and we managed to devour it before we started moving again.
Then the ride was long but soothing. The bus was comfortably air-conditioned and we took in the sights. I was amazed with all the hills and mountains. It was absolutely beautiful, it’s possibly one of my most favourite things about Saudi Arabia.
By the time we got to Makkah the day was nearing its end. The sun took its time to set, slowly creeping toward the mountain’s dark silhouette, blazing red as it went down. Our group’s Talbiyah wasn’t as loud and enthusiastic as I always imagined it would be but we had our moments. At one point Ismail went forward to take the microphone and lead the Talbiyah, because our group leader was female and requested males to take turns in leading. It certainly was a proud moment for mom and dad as their eldest grandson’s voice boomed the Labaik across the bus.
It was maghrieb when we entered the humdrum of traffic near our hotel. It was fascinating watching the driver snake through congested roads and maybe I don’t know better but as far as my eyes could tell; we were in a tunnel and he made a U-turn! *mind boggles*
Just as mom and I were trying to make sense of what just happened, I saw our hotel. We went around the back where the entrance and peaceful parking lot was. Our last week in Makkah was spent at the Anjum Hotel. We would receive breakfast as well as dinner. I was quite satisfied with the Hayatt International in Madina but this hotel is definitely higher in standard and more modern in décor.
After we got our luggage and regained our composure we were able to run down to the restaurant that was serving dinner.
Our agent wanted us to meet them at 8:30pm to complete our tawaf and sa’ee as a group.
Mom however had a hard time with her leg. We then decided that it was best for her to use a wheel chair, thus we would not be able to join the group. Instead the 4 of us went on our own. It was after 7pm when we left our rooms. We got a chair from the hotel, it was the last one so it was a bit shoddy but it served its purpose Alhamdulila.
The anticipation, anxiety and excitement got us all a bit tense. This made for quite a memorable evening. Dad pushing mom in a wheel chair, against on-coming traffic was nerve wrecking for her and frustratingly comical to Ismail and me. We couldn’t help but laugh as we walked pass the hammering of construction, hooting taxis and a hysterical lady in the wheel chair. It took a lot of convincing for mom to sit still and stay put.
When we got to the entrance of the Masjid Al Haram things took a solemn turn. There were so many people. Immediately mom once again worried about us sticking together. I made a point of holding Ismail’s hand and reassured mom all night thereafter that we were right behind her. We followed the signs that showed wheel chair access to the temporary ramps that circle the Holy Kaba.
Once we were there everything happened so fast. We weren’t necessarily running but we kept a steady pace. There were lots of people from different nations, some in big groups that we had to go around and some in small groups of 3 or so, randomly spaced. We had breathing room; we could go at a pace we chose. Everything was white, the ramp, the walls, the people’s clothing. The lights were bright as well. I was trying to keep up and hold onto dad when I first saw the Kaba. My eyes were wide as I tried to make duah with my gaze intently locked on. I wanted to hold my ‘first gaze’ as long as I could.
We started at the neon green lights which indicate where the Hajr Al Aswad is. Good thing too because try as I might, I couldn’t spot it when I looked over the barrier down at the Kaba. When mom returned from Hajj she told me the Kaba is smaller than one would expect. I could see now first-hand what she meant. The Kaba is smaller and the ramps are narrower than what it looks like on TV. I prepared myself for a longer stretch when I heard we’d be using the ramps, but the tawaf went by so quickly I literally thought,’ was that it?’ I would hardly make three ‘Rabana Fid Dunya’ dua’s then we’d turn the next corner.
I’m glad I had notes with me though. Even when repeating the same sets of dhikrs & dua’s I still had to look at my booklet every time we started another round, to check how to say ‘Bismillahi Alhamdulila Wa Allahu Akbar’. Making Tawaf is such a simple task. However, the fact that there are other people that you need to go around or give way for and keep up with, added to the fact that you’re trying to comprehend the sight before you (the KABA!); the significant act you’re currently performing and just the awesomeness of what’s happening right then and there. It’s slightly overwhelming. (It’s for this reason that I’m grateful we went for a second tawaf, closer to the Kaba so that I could concentrate better and spiritually connect with my surroundings and emotions).
When our tawaf was done we made salaah on the ramp, where some people were gathered. We stood as out of the way as possible but I basically made salaah under moms wheel chair, behind her. When we exited the ramp, we were surprised to find a wide carpeted area available for people to make salaah (*Eish*). There we also found Zam Zam containers lined up. We then just refuelled with Zam Zam and continued onto the next stage; the Sa’ee.
The hills, safa and marwa, are low but wide in expanse. The passage between them is tiled and air-conditioned but it’s quite a long passage. When I imagined a blazing sun above me, loose red sand beneath me and the crying of my suffering child, with no shelter or water in sight, I couldn’t help but feel for Hajaar. How faithful and strong she was Subhanallah. So as a mother the sa’ee really hit home for me.
It’s also during this time that I started to feel the physical effects. I didn’t practice walking like I had planned to before this. I could see why it’s important to be in shape and take care of your health. Next time I’ll try harder In Sha Allah.
When we were done we left via a random door in the passage. We checked a map which made no sense, and then we asked one or two people where we could find the barber. Nobody spoke English so it was a bit tough trying to communicate, but they pointed to where it was. When we moved position we could actually see a building in the distance clearly stating ‘barber’.
Mom and I then sat patiently waiting for Ismail and Dad to come back. When they returned we had the task of figuring out how to get back to the front of the masjid. Due to construction there were barriers preventing us from just walking around the masjid.
We then went back and forth into the sa’ee area. The upstairs and downstairs sa’ee passage looks exactly the same and we got a bit confused as to where we were. (I don’t know how we ended up up-stairs when we were on the ground floor before).
This is where confusion, frustration and exhaustion can get to people. Especially when in Ihraam we have to be consciously aware of our actions and words. We asked a (non-English speaking) cleaner how to exit. He briefly contemplated just pointing but then realized it would be useless. To my surprise he led us all the way (aaaallll the way) down an exceptionally busy escalator, against the tawaf traffic, and through the masjid. All the time we were running to keep up with this guy, he was just casually strolling. I ran ahead while dad struggled with the wheel chair through the thick of people. Massive groups of people came between us multiple times. We thought we’d lost him or he just gave up on us then we’d spot him again.
Alhamdulila eventually we made it out. If I think about it now, I realize that exiting was often harder than trying to perform a task. It happened with the Umrah and when we went into the Hijr Ismael (kraaltjie) as well. When I hear the others talk they’d say the same, coming out is harder.
Our muscles felt the burn as we walked back to our hotel. The sweat ran down my back as my feet marched on. What an event that was.
Mom and I hadn’t cut our hair yet so we were still in Ihraam. In our room I joked with Ismail, asking him how short I should go; ‘bob maybe?’. Mom and I cut an inch of each other’s hair and that was that. I practically jumped for joy, exclaiming, ‘Alhamdulillah!’
By the time I’d showered and got into bed it was pass one am already.