Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Spiritual Journey : The Return of the Hajjah

before i write about the return, i think i should continue where i stopped in the last entry.

we were told that the Agong and the Permaisuri would be arriving in Madinah, and so after asar prayers we gathered at the hotel where the royal couple would be staying. they were expected to arrive at 5pm and we were worried that we would miss the maghrib prayers which was at 5.35p.m. we saw a few palace officials, and haji harun was also there in his purple rayhar jacket. the arab police tried to shoo us away but the officials explained to them the situation, and then the red carpet was laid out and we were told to line on either side of the carpet. i was one of those lining up inside the hotel. 
then we were told that they would be a little late. they arrived at 5.20, with 4 police escort cars. i saw the Agong, but not too clearly since the policemen were protecting him. the womenfolk get to salam the ever smiling Permaisuri. we saw the Pemangku Raja and his sister too. then we dashed to the masjid, as azan would be heard soon.

i can't write about masjid nabawi without writing about the ever infamous female guards. unlike their much gentler counterparts in masjidil haram, the guards at masjid nabawi are younger, more aggressive, and louder. they speak indonesian too, so they could be heard shouting "ibu-ibu, maju! maju!" or "ibu-ibu, dhudhuk! dhudhuk!"(the arabs can't pronounce 'd'correctly). they are the ones who search through all our things in the bags for any banned items like handphones or packed food (other then dates or fruits) or items that you just bought prior going to the masjid. they sometimes do body search too. inside the masjid, they are the ones who direct the womenfolk where to go. and more often than not, when the masjid is silent as we have started praying, we could still hear their shouts to the latecomers. it's been a joke for all the indonesians and the malaysians to mimic the guards.

on Thursday, 10th Muharram, i fasted. this was the day when Nabi Nuh was saved from the big flood, hence the creation of bubur Asyura' which was a Malay version of 'ashara'which means ten. KT96 went on a walking tour. as always, there was a Rayhar staff holding the Rayhar flag, and as Ustaz Rosli and Haji Harun had gone back, Ustaz Hadi was there with us a hailer and started to selawat to Rasulullah. of course, the rest of the muslims nearby were nonplussed what with our procession and the selawat and also the rayhar flag. we first visited a garden which was so lush with green treens and shrubs, something that you don't often see in Madinah or Makkah. it's the garden where Rasulullah used to hold meetings with the sahabahs to discuss war strategies or other important matters. it was also here that the Ansars and the Muhajirins held a meeting to elect a leader when Rasulullah was dying.

after going to the garden, we walked to the sahabahs'masjids and as the grand finale, we went to the dates market where we bought kilos and kilos of dates. i had to post some home instead of bringing with us back on the plane. sadly though because i was fasting, i couldn't taste the sweet dates.

i'm happy to say that i managed to visit the raudhah 3 times. raudhah is a piece of Eden on earth, situated next to Rasulullah's grave. no, there are no trees or flowers. it's a part of the original masjid and what differentiates it from the rest of the masjid is it's carpeted in green carpet while the rest of the masjid is in red. it's where you do sunat prayers and it is said that it's a mustajab place for doa. on my first visit there for this trip, there were a lot of hajjahs, so it was almost impossible to pray in peace as it was crowded. the last time i was there it was before midnight, and there were less people. i must have spent half an hour there. i went there with Kak Chum, Kak Mah and my roommates K. Kusha and Aunty Cha. we came out crying and hugging each other, as it was difficult to get a chance to stay inside raudhah that long (usually the infamous guards would be shoving us out if it's too crowded).

i also have to write something about shopping both in Makkah and Madinah. the prices soar during haji season, but once the number of haj pilgrims dwindles, the sellers will lower their prices. my abayat, which i previously bought at SR110, was sold at SR80 or may be less after a few weeks. of course, you must haggle the prices. most of the sellers can speak Malay, but i must caution the ladies to be careful of the Arab sellers who might be sexually harrassing you.

on saturday, 18th December, we said goodbye and left Madinah after asar prayers. we arrived in Jeddah at midnight and slept in dorms at Tabung Haji's building. that night for the first time in 42 days we heard loud music booming coming from the cafe downstairs. the next day, we received our boarding pass and weighed in the bags. then we made our way to the Jeddah airport, received our passports and the complimentary Quran and then finally we boarded Mas, already feeling at home. 

at 6.45a.m. 20th December, we touched down on Malaysian soil. i was glad to see Kak Sham, Abg Jenal, Abg Zaki and Kak Ah waiting.

i'm glad to be home, and i'm happy that i went for haj. it's not some mundane journey, it's THE journey. it's full of so many significant memories, lessons and experiences of ourselves, the ukhuwah with other muslims and our communication with Allah. it is not only to fulfil the 5th rukun islam, but it's one's spiritual journey, to be close to Allah, to learn of the history of our religion, to feel humbled with our frailty, limits, ignorance and to respect the sacrifices of the muslims of long ago, especially our Rasulullah and above all - to discard all worldly possessions, pride, wealth and to submit oneself solely to Allah. i feel at peace and syukur to experience  the miracles and syukur that Allah had sent me help me when i needed it.

"mereka yang selalu bertaubat, yang beribadat kepada Allah, yang memuji-Nya dalam setiap waktu, dan yang mengembara dalam mengembangkan amanat-Nya, yang selalu rukuk dan sujud, yang selalu mengajak berbuat baik dan yang berpegang teguh hukum Allah. sampaikan berita gembira kepada mereka yang beriman" 112, Surah At Taubah


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Spiritual Journey: miracles in madinah

i will start my madinah story with the story of tawaf wida in makkah.

i felt very sad to leave the holy city, something which i didn't feel the first time around i was there for umrah 2 years ago. i knew i was going to miss the jamaah prayers at the Masjidil Haram, miss looking at kaabah, and miss tawaf the kaabah. 

as if to echo the sadness, it drizzled after asar. and my favourite imam Abdul Rahman Al Sudais imamed the isya' prayers. still, i felt sad.

we were told to do tawaf wida at 4a.m. instead of at 3a.m. after the last incident (KT 56 had to wait for 6 hours before their bus arrived). we had prayed hajat and doa that nothing would go amiss during our journey. at the dining hall, the number of people had dwindled to 20 something - and there were still kedai kopi sessions - getting to know the rest of the jemaah haji - there was one uncle who wrote a poem for Hari Pahlawan and there's another uncle who was a primary school headmaster and an excellent English speaker who had a lot to advise me about the teaching profession.  

i went to Masjidil Haram early - as early as 2.30a.m. and did my usual sunat taubat and tahajud prayers. at exactly 4a.m. i walked towards Kaabah and saw its magnificence and glory and felt sad. there weren't too many people, so i completed the tawaf in 20 minutes. i met Kak Chum there, the kakak who befriended me on the first day i was at Masjidil Haram. just before i started my sunat tawaf prayers, it drizzled. subhanallah! we felt so priviledged at that time. after the prayers i knew i had to leave a.s.a.p as required but i couldn't leave without gazing at Kaabah one last time. and i wept. i wept openly and didn't care if anyone saw me. i didnt want to leave Kaabah but i knew i had to, to continue on with my life.

still sniffling, i returned to the hotel, bought some food, waited for subuh, then went down with my handluggage. we didn't have to wait that long because our bus arrived soon after. i was on board bus no 2 with a driver who spoke only Arabic and who didnt know his way in Makkah so we were alarmed when we went on a merry go round ride until he stopped a few times to ask for directions. we stopped 3 times - once to receive muasassah food pack at the haj pilgrim centre, then once to have lunch where the men lounged on Arabian rugs and cushions then the last one to pray Friday prayers. we arrived early, so early that our rooms weren't ready yet. Haji Harun told us to have our second lunch there  (rezeki jangan ditolak) and the dining hall was jam packed as KT76,KT56, KT88 and KT96 were all there. i should say there were around 400-500 people at that time.

i moved into my new house with 3 other roommates and we went for maghrib and isya prayers together that night. during the next cold dawn, i fell down near the curb and limped slightly to Masjid Nabawi. we went for an external masjid tour after breakfast, and at that time i didn't wear my thermal top. before zohor i started to wheeze and had to take 3 Ventolin puffs. i decided to play it safe as i haven't been truly well for a month and didn't go to the masjid. 

the next day, we went on a trip to Jabal Uhud (the place of martyrs), Masjid Quba (the first masjid to be build based on taqwa) and the date farm. it was at jabal Uhud that the miracle happened. i saw a formation of clouds and thought that i never saw such clouds before in my life. i snapped a picture of it, and didn't think much about it until lunch when Ustaz Rosli said that KT96 jemaah haji were lucky to witness such an event. i went back to my room and check my camera. subhanallah! in the picture you can see the word Ällah and also Muhammad. we can't figure out the rest. we truly felt blessed, as since our tawaf wida we had no complications at all and now we get to witness a miracle.

back at the hotel, i didn't feel that much inclination to shop. madinah is definitely different than makkah, as it is more modern. our hotel is very big, and since i had stayed here for umrah i was looking forward to the comfort after the cramped hotel at Makkah. 

yesterday we made a trip to a place where there is a strong magnetic force field. it was so strong until our bus sped at more than 110kmph. the bus driver didnt even sit at his place, so the bus was moving on its own. 

after that we went to the printing press which produces the official madinah quran. i bought only 2 to give as gifts to friends as i use my late parents madinah quran at home.

we were told that Sultan Mizan will be arriving in Madinah today and haji harun has plans for us to welcome the king here.

will keep the readers posted.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Spiritual Journey : The last few days

it's quiet now at the mezzanine floor. the pilgrims of earlier flights had returned home, the first batch of late flights pilgrims are now in Madinah. around 20 are waiting for the bus to take them to Madinah, and there are less than 20 pilgrims now at the hotel. the hotel used to be so packed that having meal means tapau food from the mezzanine floor. now, we can actually sit back after all the meals and have really long conversations with some interesting people.

the sellers are now slashing the prices of their goods (usually the abayas) as most of the pilgrims have gone back. but it is also difficult to find small sized abayas as all Asian pilgrims bought those. most of the times there are abayas of  big Arab sizes, which will sink any medium sized Asians. 

at Masjidil Haram, the top floor has been closed. i managed to pray there only once, on the day of my arrival. a few hours ago i heard that the entrance gates from Safa and Marwah have also been closed. going to the masjid now isnt a hassle, you can always find a  nice spot to pray and see Kaabah even half an hour before prayer time - something that was unthinkable a few weeks ago. there are not many people around doing tawaf either, but i still can't get to hajarul aswad - most cautioned me not to go for my safety.

how do i feel right now? i feel sad to leave. those who have not been here will wonder, what does this dry dusty land have that other major cities in the world don't? (duh, the most obvious - the Kaabah!) no, i mean seriously.

all the cities have their own specialties - but they're all the same. they have all the tangible and physical attractions like the shopping experiences, the food, the architecture etc. but Makkah is a holy city. it doesnt have temperate cool climate - it is dry, dusty, hot and there are barren rocks everywhere. so when one comes to Makkah, it's a matter of faith and submitting oneself to Allah - forsaking comfort for Allah's pleasure.

and there's something that one cannot explain.

i feel that bond with Kaabah and the Masjid. and because my days here are numbered, and unfortunately since i'm asthmatic, i'm willing to wear purdah (another alternative to wearing mask) to avoid the dust in order to pray at the Masjid at least during maghrib and isya'. to be in the Masjidil Haram is to feel safe and to feel the ukhuwah you have with the rest of the Muslims around the world - and to hear the beautiful quran recitals during prayer by Imam Abdul Rahman Al Sudais is very soothing to the soul. 

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Spiritual Journey: Charity

in one of my entries for the Spiritual Journey journal series, i've mentioned that somewhere that the Prophet has said that haj mabrur is sedeqah and salam.

the charity aspect is very much seen everywhere here. it is encouraged by the ustazs here in Rayhar and it is seen in Masjidil Haram and also when i was in Arafah and Mina. it is not strange to see sisters in the masjid passing dates or nuts or even sweets to other sisters. but it doesnt mean that you have to sedeqah in the form of objects - you can give sedeqah through helping other people, sharing your knowledge or even giving a smile.

here at the hotel, the pilgrims will share their foods with the rest. some brought packed rendang, serunding daging (beef floss) and dried sambal ikan bilis. my contribution was the kicap kipas udang, which finished in 2 days. for yaasin recitals, some will pool money and then there will be a feast of mutton mandy rice (which i don't fancy at all).

in arafah i remember younger ladies in my tent gave us sedeqah by helping to distribute the packed muassasah food and drinks. they had to walk to and fro in order to deliver to probably 30 sisters in the tent. some even volunteered to throw the used tin foils into the garbage can outside the tent. how else can you give sedeqah? some of you who have been reading The Spiritual Journey journal would have read about the queueing and the condition of the toilets in Arafah and Mina. by giving up your turn to some other people who are "desperate" for nature's call you are giving sedeqah. though not in tangible object form, the other receiving party will appreciate it, and you will receive their gratitude.

i was told of this story. there is this one particular old makcik from kampung who travels without a mahram. she depends on the others for help. on one particular night, this makcik woke up earlier than usual - she woke up just after midnight, and asked her sleeping roommate for the time, and being sleepy the roommate mumbled  the time. the poor old makcik heard wrongly and thought it was near to 4 a.m. so she left for the masjid for subuh prayer at 1a.m. the concerned roommate pitied the makcik and realised that even though the makcik is poor, she doesnt act needy. the roommate then remembered that the makcik does not bring a sejadah to the masjid, she only uses a face towel as her sejadah. she zikirs only with her fingers, and not with her tasbih. she washes her dirty laundry with the remnants of the roommate's detergent. the roommate then decided to be charitable and bought the makcik the things. the makcik was very happy and thanked the roommate. the roommate was happy too, but she was happy because the sincere charitable act gave her peace and tranquility in her heart. 

in Surah Al - Rum, verse 37-38, Allah says
Have they not seen that Allah enlarges the provision to whomsoever He pleases, and straitens it to whomsoever He pleases? In that truly are Signs for a people who believe. So give to the kinsman his due, and to the needy, and to the wayfarer. That is best for those who seek the favour of Allah, and it is they who will prosper.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Spiritual Journey: When the Imam weeps

2 nights ago, the chief imam at Masjidil Haram, Abudl Rahman Al Sudais, wept when he recited a few verses of At Taubah during isya' prayer. not knowing a word of Arabic (correction, i took Arabic when i was in Seri Puteri but failed miserably), i was determined to know the verse which made him cry until he was unable to continue reciting for almost a minute.

back at the hotel, i asked our ustaz in resident, Ustaz Nik, and he told me that it's the last verse in At Taubah. in order to understand the last verse, i've to mention the verse before.

128. Verily, there has come unto you a Messenger (Muhammad) from amongst yourselves. it grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. he is anxious over you (to be rightly guided, to repent to Allah, and beg Him to pardon and forgive your sins, in order that you may enter Paradise and be saved from the punishment of the Hell-fire), for the believers full of pity, kind, and merciful.

in my humble and little knowledge about Al Quran, i think this verse talks about leaving your fate and depending on Allah, after being rejected by the very people you're trying to help. this is especially true when you're in distress or troubled and you feel so alone and there's no one to turn to - Allah is always with you. and this is especially true for me when i went back to the maktab in Mina alone at 4a.m. after stoning. i felt so alone in the sea of other pilgrims but because of tawakkal to Allah, i persevered and arrived safely at the maktab.

Monday, November 29, 2010


a few days ago i performed my umrah wajib with my roommate Kak Sidah. Rayhar provides buses for its pilgrims to go and niat at various miqats in Makkah namely Hudaibiah, Ja'ranah and Tane'em'. the closest miqat is Taneém which is 7km from Masjidil Haram. that day we went to Taneém. 

a day after that i didn't perform umrah, but there was an umrah ziarah for my KT96 group. we went to see the places we had to be at during haj, but which are now deserted places - Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina. some of you can see the pics in my facebook. then we went to Jabal Rahmah, the place where Adam met Hawa after a few hundred years. we also visited Jabal Thur (where the Prophet hid with Saidina Abu Bakar, if i'm not mistaken) and Jabal Nur (where the Prophet received his first revelation). 

Yesterday i performed umrah for my late mother. it's the least i could do for a person who had raised me with love. as it was meant for her, it was very emotional for me, as one of the mustajab places to doa is during tawaf and when i doa for her, tears came falling down. may be some of the people were puzzled to see a lady crying, but i just didn't care. i performed the umrah alone, for the first time, and it's better this way because i could move faster. may be during umrah season tawaf and saie would take less than 2 hours, but it took me 1 hour to complete the tawaf, and 1 hour to complete the saie. unlike some people who tawaf on the 1st floor, i stick to the groundfloor, and i was in the middle of the tawaf ring. i didn't have much difficulty and the most pleasant experience was when i could feel the cool air - which Ustaz Hj Ahmad Rosli mentions in his book as the breeze from heaven.

today i didn't perform umrah, but we stopped at the camel farm. based from my previous experience, the camel farm is a very smelly place, and the smell hit me as soon as the bus door opened. some bought camel milk, but i wasnt interested at all as i'm lactose intolerant. then we went to Hudaibiah mosque for miqat. it was a brief visit, unlike the one i had when i performed umrah where we visited the museum exhibiting masjidil haram objects such as kiswah and the gold door.

i will continue my story later.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Spiritual Journey:This Is It!

hi guys! finally i'm connected to the net! now i'm able to tell my experiences in performing hajj. i've previously written my journal and saved the file in Words but due to some techie errors, i've lost the file, and only have the journal dated atfer my return from Mina. i'll try my best to remember the experiences.

my journey began at Tabung Haji Kelana Jaya. Kak Sham sent me to the centre and there i could see pilgrims in ihram, and i felt nervous. i saw pilgrims with Rayhar signature purple coloured bags and felt a bit secure. i met Abg Mi and we then went to Rayhar counter to get our complimentary gifts and our ID tags. then the check in began. it was smooth sailing, and i thanked Allah for it, because Hj Harun, Rayhar's CEO, had prepared us for the worst case scenario. then after praying dhuha at the prayer room, Rayhar's Ust Zul recited the azan. i tell you, i was so emotional at that time. during our haj lectures the ustazs always said that going for haj is like preparing for death - you don't know if you're coming back or not. and that's how i felt at that time. tears just came running down. we then boarded the bus. i was contemplating whether to do haji tamattuk or haji ifrad. Abg Mi and Kak Madiha opted for Haji Tamattuk. but i did istikhara the previous night and somehow when i was boarding the bus i kept looking at the Haji Ifrad checklist. in the end i decided to choose Haji Ifrad, which means that i'll be in ihram for haj as soon as we pass Qarnul Manazil miqat. anyway, there were 10 buses for KT96 that day, and it felt nice to see the police traffic stopping the traffic just for us. made us feel like VIPs. once we arrived in KLIA, we didn't have to wait that long to board the 747-400. i was lucky to get the window seat as i love looking at the clouds or the land below. a few hours into the flight, and i could see the landscape below. i had this feeling we were in Africa, there were huge mountains. then later i could see the Sahara desert. then the landscape changed and i knew we're in Saudi Arabia. 

we arrived in Jeddah at night, and had to pray at the arrival hall. there was a delay because they didn't have enough immigration arrival cards. after that was settled, we went through imigration check. we're very lucky that the Arabs respect Malaysians, so the check was a breeze. we then collected our big suitcases and it was there i saw a few workers praying Isyak not in a room, but near the luggage conveyor belt - just to show that whatever it is, solat comes first and they will pray at any clean space available. something that we don't see in Malaysia. in Malaysia, we have a special room for praying and even then not all Muslims pray. makes you wonder, doesn't it?

after that we had to wait until past midnight to board the bus. we arrived in Mekah at 2am and as usual i was crying when we recited the talbiyah. i saw the giant clock tower, which is near to Masjidil Haram. we arrived at the hotel feeling dazed and exhausted. the Rayhar officer told us to get ready for tawaf and saie at 7.30a.m. the majority of the pilgrims in my group did umrah, but because i decided to do haji ifrad, i had to do tawaf qudum or welcome tawaf and this enabled me to do saie haji. it was an experience to see Kaabah...subhanallah! as always, i marvel at its magnificence. 

after tawaf and saie i decided to stay on at masjidil haram for zohor. though alone, i wasn't afraid because minutes later i met 2 ladies who were from my KT96 but staying at a different hotel. these friendly ladies took me under their wings and asked me to have lunch with them at their hotel. i even took a nap in their room, as their hotel is near to the masjid. we then went for maghrib and isyak prayers together. while waiting for Isyak, one of the ladies, Kak Mah, asked me if wanted to take some zamzam water. we made our way to a zamzam fountain but it was full with men. Kak Mah then had the idea to ask one of the cleaners in green uniform to help. the cleaner we asked for help didnt help us, but he stopped another of his colleagues and i could hear him say clearly "Malayzia". so, his friend gladly helped us to fill our bottles with zamzam water. so my dear readers, Malaysians are very much respected by the Arabs in Makkah since we don't create problems. we should feel so lucky because of this reputation.  

my friend As told me that i should do a lot of sedeqah. and i remember reading a hadith somewhere that haji mabrur means sedeqah and giving salam (correct me if i'm wrong). so i bought some dates and brought some to the masjid. it's not much, but in Haram Land, the reward is tenfold (or should i saw thousandfold?). at this time too, i was about to read Yaasin as it was Thursday (Friday night). i was sitting between 2 Turkish ladies. one of them tried to talk to me but since she knows no English, we're like chicken and duck talking. she was gesturing towards my Yaasin, then i realised that she wanted me to teach her how to read Yaasin! subhanallah! this is an opportunity for me to do good deeds by helping other people to read Quran. so i helped the lady gladly, and she hugged me afterwards. i felt contentment and tranquility after that, knowing that i've done something good. as usual, as i'm writing this, i'm not trying to glorify what i did, i'm just telling my readers about my experiences and inspire the others.

i felt pleased with myself, but the feeling didn't last long because i then came down with flu despite the  Vaxigrip vaccine shot. i stayed in bed most of the time, and i was worried because we were due to leave for Arafah on the 14th Nov as 15th is wukuf day. worried, too, because the most important haji rituals should be done in the next few days, all along with all the trials and tribulations. anyway, i gathered all the strength that i could muster and climbed the bus to Arafah.

on the bus,  i sat next to a senator who i called "makcik"before that. never mind, everybody's on equal footing on holy land. as we went farther and farther out of Makkah and masjidil haram, i could still see men in ihram in some of the buildings - which shows that their lodging is much farther than ours, and still that did not deter them from doing pilgrimmage. and my hotel is only 250m from masjidil haram. makes one think  that we should stop complaining and think of how lucky we are.

"Haji is Wukuf" (Haji itu Wukuf, as quoted by Nabi Muhammad s.a.w)

what with the fever and fatigue, i fell asleep. we reached Arafah campsite around 9pm. my fever was so bad at that time that everything happened seemed to be surreal, even to the late dinner i had. my head pounded so bad and all i wanted to do was sleep. we were divided into tents which were spread with Arabian rugs and a mattress, a pillow and a blanket for everybody. there were airconditioning units so air ventilation was good. the only thing  that wasn't good was the toilets. this is the most basic facility at its most rudimentary form that you can get, and it won't do you good to complain because we're in Arafah to submit ourselves to Allah, not to come and ask for 5 star hotel treatment. in these hard times, one can see the true colours of other people - it is only our iman that determines our patience to bear with all the hardships. the food provided by the muasassah wasn't appetising, but i didn't complain. suffice to say that i must have lost some weight because i only ate around 2-3 tablespoons of rice at best.

Rayhar made sure that our time is filled with food for our souls, so there're always tazkirahs, zikirs, quran recitals, and latest info by the management. on wukuf day, Ust Ir. Mohd Radzi recited a few lines from Al Baqarah concerning haj, and there was a khutbah Arafah and throughout the day there was a constant flow of zikir. Nabi Muhammad delivered a Khutbah Arafah to the pilgrims during his last haj before his death, and this was where he asked the Muslims if he had completed his task as Rasulullah. 

then it was almost sundown and it's the most mustajab time to doa, which i did by sujud, because we'ré closer to Allah that way. it is said that at this time Allah is nearest to the earth as He can be, asking the angels if there're any more wishes to be granted.
Spending the night at Muzdalifah (Bermabit di Muzdalifah)
by nightfall, we left Arafah ground to spend at least half a night at Muzdalifah. unfortunately though, there's not space available so some of us had to sit by the roadside. we were there until 2 am then we went to Mina.

Spending the night at Mina (Bermabit di Mina)
at Mina, the tents are made of canvas and durable enough so that the tents are permanent structures there. we were in Maktab 83 and Rayhar purple flags were flying about. that night i slept as soon as my head touched the pillow. a few minutes later, i was awakened by my neighbour who said some people had gone stoning the jamrah kubra. i immediately switched on my phone and realised that Abg mi and Kak Madiha had gone. i was determined to get my tahallul awal as i was in ihram far longer than most of the hajis and hajjahs, and as luck had it (or call it Divine Intervention) my roommate and her husband wanted to go stoning. so i joined them and went stoning at 3am. there were many other pilgrims, namely the arabs and the turkish, and there were also a few groups of indonesians and thais. after stoning the jamrah kubra, we did tahallul of cutting a few strands of hair. unfortunately though, my roommate wanted to return to Makkah so i went back alone. yes,alone. at 4a.m. i was scared, but my only thought at that time was that Allah is always with me. i kept reciting "rabbi yassir wala tuassir" all the way until i reached the maktab.no words could express my emotion at that time. i've completed the first leg of haj, and the 10 restrictions were lifted. one kakak even said that i had a glow on my face, the glow of those who have gone through tahallul awal. really? well, i don't know.

life in mina is better than in Arafah in the sense that the tent is much better, the facilities are better (in this i'm talking about the toilets which were equipped with working showerheads) and Rayhar made sure that there's a free flowing of fresh fruits (arranged abundantly in trays), biscuits, hot drinks, and an inexhaustable supply of mineral water. nothing can be said about the muasassah food, well, what do you expect when Arabs cook rice for you? still, it took 1 hour to queue for the shower or the toilet...but then, you're only there to please Allah, and you're not late for any business meeting or appointment.

anyway, my flu was bad, so i asked to go to the clinic. i asked to go to Tabung Haji clinic first, and to go there, i had to pass a few private haji packages tents. and they were all very silent, there's no activity going on at all. the only activity and sounds came from Rayhar maktab as they made sure that the time is filled with tazkirahs and zikir. made me think that i made the right choice in choosing Rayhar in the first place. when i reached the Tabung Haji tent, the doctor told me that only emergency procedures could be done there. so i had to go to the Arab clinic outside. the Arab doctor could communicate in English, thank god, so i told him, in my almost barely recognisable voice that i wheezed. unfortunately though i forgot to mention i have gastritis. after that, i went to get my medicine at the pharmacy counter. the arab pharmacist tried to make a joke when he asked for my medical book and put it in his pocket pretending to refuse giving it back to me. anyway, i was given an inhaler, and some other pills. at the tent, i was blessed because i had some concerned neighbours who rubbed some vicks on my back, and there was a doctor as well. so this doctor taught me how to use the inhaler properly. 3 hours later, i realised that the antibiotics was acidic, because i had gastric pains! immediately i asked the doctor's opinion and she told me to take the anti-acid pills that i had. the good doctor finally gave another set of antibiotics to me, which she said is "kinder".

Abg Mi decided to do nafar awal. in performing haji, one has the option of staying 2 or 3 nights in Mina. we chose to spend only 2 nights in Mina. on the last night in Mina, we went stoning at 3am. Rayhar made sure that we're in one big group, and there're Rayhar people holding Rayhar purple flags as well. we made our way to the jamrah, reciting takbir raya as we went. we then went to stone the 3 jamrahs before subuh, so that means 21 stones, and another round of stoning after subuh prayers to complete the 2 days of stoning. we then returned to our maktab and then we went back to Makkah. 

The Philosophy behind the Stoning

the pilgrims have to stone at Mina because this was where Nabi Ibrahim was stopped by Satan who tried to dissuade him from sacrificing Nabi Ismail. Nabi Ibrahim responded by pelting Satan with stones. 

as Abg mi and Kak Madiha had done their tawaf haji, i decided to join my roommate K.Sidah and her husband. we planned to tawaf at night as we were exhausted. but by asar, there was a storm in Makkah - in the midst of jammaah prayer! we wanted to go for maghrib prayers, but Masjidil Haram was closed as they needed to mop the floor. i had to pray on the marble staircase then. we only returned to the masjid at 1a.m. do to do tawaf, hoping that the crowd would recede. i was wrong. there was a sea of pilgrims all doing their tawaf. just imagine 3 of us, in the sea of tall, towering Goliaths who could just crush us by sheer force. but by the grace of Allah, we finished our tawaf. as for me, at 2.38a.m. i completed my haj. i didn't sleep for 48 hours as i was psyched up, and now i'm now a hajjah! alhamdulillah! i wish my parents were still alive so that they could be proud of me, as i'm sure they would.

a week after completing haj, Rayhar organised a trip for us. i've been to these places before during umrah, but i decided to go with the rest of my KT96 mates. we visited Jabal Thur, where Rasulullah and Abu Bakar hid from the Quraisy clan. there were too many pilgrims there, also taking pictures, and sadly though, the place isn't maintained at all. there were also peddlers selling tasbihs and offering photo taking services. after that we we passed by Muzdalifah and Mina, the 2 places we had to be at during haj. Mina was a deserted place now, but the tents still stand. we then stopped for half an hour at Jabal Rahmah, the place where Adam and Eve met after a few hundred years of searching for each other. i didn't climb the hill as i did that during my umrah trip. there were also men towing the camels bedecked in gaudy ornaments, offering pilgrims camel rides at a certain fee. i felt sorry for the gentle creatures. i think they should be allowed to roam free instead of being tied up with human commercialism. after that we went to Jaaranah, a place which is 22km from Makkah and another miqat for umrah. after that we passed by the hill called Jabal Nur, where Rasulullah first received his revelation from Jibrail. from far away we could see tiny white specks and i knew those were pilgrims who were cilmbing the steep hill. i salute them and most importantly, i really respect Rasulullah because it is a steep hill, and he went there to be alone to worship Allah.

today is the 26th of november, and because of uzur syaríe, i 'm taking this chance to do what jemaah haji and ustazs like to call "tawaf kedai". yes i'm in shopping mode! a lot of the pilgrims are seen shopping - be it the Turkish, the Thais, the Indons, the Malaysians - everybody is shopping for souvenirs. well anyway before my netbook runs out of battery i'd better end my journal here, and hope to continue later, especially when we go to Madinah on the 10th Dec.

my advice to my Muslim readers who have not performed haj yet, start registering if at Tabung Haji if you haven't. you must have at least RM1300 to register for haj, and if you have enough money, and if you want to perform haj a.s.a.p then i suggest you go by private packages as Tabung Haji is decreasing the subsidy given to muassasah pilgrims. i would also like to suggest my readers to go as early as you can, while you still have your physical strength, as the most important rituals involve a lot of stamina through walking and enduring hardships. but most important of all, don't go for haj only because it's the 5th tenet in Islam. go for haj because you want to be close to Allah, and to bare yourself and your weaknesses to Him. be sincere because you'll be rewarded. prepare yourself months before by praying sunnah prayers : tahjud, taubat, dhuha, and the qabliyatan and ba'diyatan prayers. it may be difficult at first, but through discipline you'll be rewarded with peace and contentment and insyaallah you'll feel you're close to Allah.

la baikallah hummalabaik
la baikala shari kala kala baik
innal hamda wa ni'mata
laka wal mulk
la sharikalah

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Spiritual Journey: inspirational words

My brother, Abg Mi, who will be my mahram, and my sister in law, Kak Madiha, held their doa selamat last weekend. As usual, the family gathered, but my brother had invited his neighbours and friends, so there were some unfamiliar faces. as usual, Abg Jenal, our family "tok imam" started the tazkirah, and to Abg Mi (who sat crosslegged facing him) he gave this as an advice "when you go for haj, leave your position behind". yes, how true and how wise that advice is. money and status might help one in the worldly world, but when you're in Holy Land, a prince is just as equal as a pauper. and that is also how Masyhar is going to be.   i'm also reminding myself not to think that i'm so special and so i'm worthy of first class treatment over there, and that i'm going there to perform ibadah and we're there as Allah's humble servants. Abg Jenal then again reiterated all his points in his earlier tazkirahs at Abg Halim's (at the time i'm typing this, Abg Halim and my sis in law Kak Siti are already in Makkah as they're in the early flights batch) and my doa selamat - that we 're not there only to do the rituals of haji, but to actually grasp the fundamentals of the philosophy behind it (or in other word, the actual realisation) and undergo a process of becoming a new changed person, as pure as a newborn baby. 

abg Jenal's tazkirah actually inspired some of my siblings. Kak Dah even said she felt she wants to return to Makkah. and Kak Sham, the wife of Abg Jenal, called me a few days ago to ask for abt Rayhar, because they plan to go for umrah after the haj season. alhamdulillah.

i've stopped revising my haji notes for a few days because now i'm busy marking the final exam papers, but tonight i decided to take it easy and i continued reading Travelog Haji written by Muhd Kamil Ibrahim. like me, he may not be a learned ustaz, but he wrote with sincerity in the hope of inspiring Muslims to become better Muslims, and also in the hope of inspiring more to perform haj and experience the most wonderful experience. i've come to the part where he said he extended help to those in need and in this he has really inspired me. i hope i can be as helpful and generous as he is when i'm there.

i've only experienced  umrah once, so i'm in no position to say how everything is going to be, but i can only hope and pray for the best and insyaallah, rabbi yassir wala tuassir...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Spiritual Journey - to be Mentally Prepared

there are a lot of things that soon-to-be hajis or hajjahs can pack in their suitcases for a 40 day stay in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, but then those are just material things that are immaterial when compared to the life changing experiences one gets.

it is not a holiday.

it's a sign of repentance and a purification of the soul, which one must start much earlier before embarking on the journey. in terms of ibadah, this means to regularly wake up in the middle of the night (in my case, an hour or half an hour before subuh) to do qiammulail of tahjud and taubah prayers, as well as other sunah prayers at other times such as isyraq, awwabin and dhuha. it takes a lot of patience, and discipline, but once you get the hang of it, your soul will feel at peace and that quiet joy called sakinah. you know then that you're close to Allah.

but it's not just ibadah that one must prepare oneself with. this is a transition, a liminal space (ahem, i'm using the theory of cultural hybridity term here) where one must adopt changes, good positive changes, which require a good deal of adapting and casting away the bad habits. for me, it is about not to backstab people and bitch about them.it is hard, since humans love to talk and gossip, but i want to try. i've met  a few people (2 of them are ustazahs) who are always serene and have nothing ill to say about others. i aspire to be like these people and insyaallah...

 There are a lot of things that seem trivial and unimportant now. there are a lot of things to be done, a lot of changes to be done. before i went for umrah and after my return, i started wearing long sleeved t shirts and blouses, but i backslid last year. now, after coming across the aurat issue during my quran translation reading, i've started wearing the long sleeves again - and also to wear tudung when my brothers in law or nephews in law are present. it seemed ridiculous at first, because i grew up without wearing tudung when the family was present, but i figured it out that this is a command from Allah, and that vetoed everything else. like my friend Asmarani (who had trained and worked as a hepatologist and then resigned because she wants to devote her life to religion...subhanallah) says, "do it because you want to please Allah".

i'm writing this not to glorify my changes but to inspire the other Muslims. this is sort of Travelog Haji but written in English, and in a blog.

i will try to keep the readers updated when i reach the Holy Lands. certain pictures will be uploaded here, but the rest of the pictures will be available in my facebook account.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Spiritual Journey: Preparation

last week, a day after the rayhar briefing, i held my first tahlil and doa selamat at my sister's house in kelana jaya. my siblings were so happy that i decided to host the tahlil that they teased me about it. one of my brothers (who's now in Madinah, insyaallah) even joked that we should call Karam Singh Walia to report for TV3 news.

well anyway, Abg Jenal, my brother in-law cum tok imam for our religious gatherings, began the doa selamat by giving tazkirah. his question was pertinent, and very very important for every haj pilgrim.

"why do you want to go for haj?"

a basic question, which can produce a lot of answers. but what is the answer?

we perform haj not only to complete the 5th pillar of Islam, but we perform haj as penitent and humble Muslims, who are willing to sacrifice worldly possessions in order to become pure, as pure as newborn babies.

labaik Allahuma labaik
here i am O Allah, here i am

labbaika la sharika laka baik
here i am, you have no equal, here i am

inna al-hamd wanni'mata laka wal mulk, la sharika lak
verily all praises and blessings are yours, and all the sovereignty, you have no equal. 

and as we go through the rituals of tawaf, sai'e, wuquf in Arafah and stoning the Satan in Mina we must remember that we're reliving the significant scenes of what happened to some of the most significant people in Muslim history. Nabi Adam was the first man to do tawaf, and Nabi Ibrahim was the first man to build the Kaabah. sai'e symbolises Siti Hajar's run from Safa to Marwah in order to find water for Nabi Ismail. the stoning ritual symbolises the actual stoning by Nabi Ibrahim when the Satan tried to dissuade him from sacrificing his beloved son.all these point to the most important thing - to sacrifice what you love in order to be Allah's most devoted worshippers.

for me, going for haj doesn't  mean you have to be pure and contrite only when you're in the Holy Land.  it starts long before.this is a process that takes a lot of determination and patience for a Muslim. it is not easy to be good, and that is why we get extra bonus for being one. there are times when i backslid, but i steered myself right back on course.  

haj, is therefore, a spiritual journey, just like i called it once when i performed umrah in 2008. but back then i didn't have the much deeper understanding like i have now. it is still a spiritual journey for me, but i feel at peace. i long to see Kaabah again, to be able to pray jemaah in Masjidil Haram with all the other 3 million pilgrims from all over the world and to feel the ukhwah. safe. secure.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rayhar's briefing on the journey to Mecca

this is the last briefing of any kind before i report myself at Tabung Haji in Kelana Jaya next month. it's vital that the soon to be hajis and hajjahs be present at this briefing, because this is no longer about what to do and when to do it like we learnt in the past 10 months, but this is about our journey to the holy city, expectations and unexpectations.

ustaz rosli was there as the MC, and it's nice to see a familiar face. as usual, we began the briefing with talbiyah, which of course made me cry. it's so profound, especially when you're saying to Allah "Here i am, o God, i'm answering your call". it teaches us about humility, and that Datuk or no Datuk, Tengku or no Tengku, King or no King, we are all the same in the eyes of Allah.

after the talbiyah, the CEO of Rayhar Travels, Hj Harun, explained to us why there was a delay in informing us the flight schedule and as to why we haven't received the Rayhar signature purple bags. there was some laughter of embarrassment when he requested us not to be angry about the whole thing. as he told us lots of time, "relax, be patient and smile". that should be our mantra. we were informed of what we should do once we reach Tabung Haji Kelana Jaya, later to KLIA and Jeddah Airport. when i saw all the pictures of Makkah, Arafah and Mina, i couldn't wait to be there!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Last Hajj Course

normally a jemaah haji will go through 3 courses before embarking on the pilgrimmage to Makkah Al Mukarramah. i've gone through the 15 series of course, the intensive course, and the grand finale which is the Kursus Haji Perdana, where they gather the jemaah haji from all over the state, in this case for me it's Wilayah Persekutuan. my other family members registered at Selangor so they attended the course at the Shah Alam mosque while i had to go to Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin mosque, the mosque some fondly dubbed as the Steel Mosque.

i don't know my way in Putrajaya, and although Kak Dah and Abang Najib showed me the way on the first day of raya, i knew back then i'd get lost somewhere in god knows what precint. so Kak Dah offered to drive me there. good!

when we arrived there at 2pm, there were many cars around, and there were policemen controlling the traffic. the mosque is huge, it's a complex! i made my way with my pink bag and after asking people for some directions, i finally reached the lobby of the mosque - and met my Rayhar course lecturer, Ust. Hj Ahmad Rosli. he recognised my face and we chatted for awhile. then i registered, got my tag, and again, made my way to the lift, all the while seeing a lot of pilgrims around - wheelchairbound grandmothers, young ladies, the educated ladies who spoke in English to their husbands (reminded me of my family). we were already separated from the men, and we were placed in maktab, simulating the scenario in makkah. my maktab happened to be at the end of the mosque on the 3rd floor. i immediately saw that there were mats around, we were instructed to bring the mat. some were sprawling on them. i immediately made friends with Kak Nor and K.Nora (wah! a person who looks like me, with the same name, and we have a lot in common)

there was to be a briefing at 3.30 and we were told to wear our white ihrams. the organiser was Tabung Haji, and a few ustazs spoke to us, telling us what to expect and etc. then, we had the talbiyyah, which always makes me cry.i think the most beautiful view was when i saw rows of pilgrims praying, with the men all in white ihrams, and we the ladies at the back, symbolising unity, equality and humility. and most of all, that we're jemaah haji.haj bound.

after the asar prayer, my maktab started the first practical, which was tawaf and sa'ie. we had to tawaf and sa'ie in the rain as they told us that in 2008 it rained in Makkah, so we had to expect the unexpected.  that night at 10pm, we started the melontar practical, or stone throwing. 

i couldn't really sleep well that night, as the structure of the mosque is so that it is light and airy, and there's no solid wall. it may be light and airy and cool during daytime, but at night i was freezing. decided to take a morning shower at 2.30am as to avoid the congestion in the showers and restrooms.

in the morning we had the last practical for tawaf and sa'ie. finally we had the closing ceremony and it's time to return home.

this is just a gist of what everyone might expect while doing hajj. there were only 3000 pilgrims at the mosque, but once we're in Makkah there'll be 3 million pilgrims.

May Allah make this haj a good haj for me.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Happy Eid Mubarrak

i celebrated my hari raya at my one of my sisters this year. it's a quiet raya for me, i don't know whether it's a matter of getting older or that raya in KL is not raya at all. in truth, i miss celebrating raya in terengganu, because of all the excitement of having more than 50 people under one roof , and visiting relatives at kampung.

well, life goes on. 

i still had that slight raya cheer in me though. early in the morning of raya i went down the stairs and nearly triggered the alarm because i was so damn hungry. and before kak dah could cook her masak lodeh, i was already popping cookies into my mouth.

after the picture taking, we went to kak sham's house. kak sham's house was very quiet this year, because her children celebrated raya at their in laws. so no patters of little feet, no cries and no Disney Chanel. the grandparents were on holiday for a few days and the 'nursery' is closed. kak sham cooked mother's nasi biryani and i was so happy that i had a second helping of it. not to mention i ate another round of lemang and rendang (i don't know why, but this year i craved for rendang and lemang). the problem is, kak sham's lemang is everything-you-can-eat and not only beef. i accidentally bit into a slice of liver and byearkhh!! can't stand the taste! 

next we visited kak ma, my eldest sister who is suffering advanced dementia. she's okay, but she doesn't recognise any of us anymore. hard to imagine that 10 years ago she's an elegant lady, the mistress of the house.

after the brief visit, we went to abg zaki's house, where i had another round of lemang and rendang. there's nasi dagang, but i figured that nasi dagang is a knockout with the richness of the pulut, so i skipped that.  had a slice of Janna's strawberry shortcake. the heavy feast was taking a toll on us, because we felt so sleepy and down we went on the carpet, like nana called it, "beach whales"

and that was on the first day.

on the second day, abg mi had his open house, and i had nasi minyak and soto. met my nephews nana and yaya and started discussing the gym training and the injuries we usually get in the gym. thank god for a doctor who can advise me straight away!

and lastly, we went to datuk's house. abang halim's house is full of his DIY projects - he tiled his house and the fence himself. he made the fish pond himself. and knowing abg halim, his home theatre speakers can deafen anybody's ears. 

and so 2 days of feasting ended. i went home to ampang before i could do further damage to my weight.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

the loss of innocence

Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn't have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standin' by
But "happily ever after" fails
And we've been posisoned by these fairy tales

The End of Innocence, Don Henley

it's funny how fragile happiness is. it is not permanent, and this i noticed with the passing of years. 

when i was a young adult i had no cares in this world, and happiness was when i was with my family. raya was the happiest time since everybody came back home, and back them my closes nieces were still unmarried, so we would roam places, talked and just laughed under the big big sky.

but now things are different. my mother had passed on, my nieces are all married and have their own problems, and the only one who remains the same is me. 

may be we've all grown up and moved on. but then again, can we ever achieve that happiness again?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

bubur lambuk

all these years i had been championing terengganu's bubur lambuk, saying that ours is the original version of the bubur lambuk, what with the fish and the ulam kampung added. 

but on the first week of Ramadhan i was given the famous Kampung Baru bubur lambuk twice. and i'm hooked. unlike its east coast counterpart, kampung baru bubur lambuk is made with shreds of beef and dried shrimps, but it still has coconut milk, just like the terengganu version. anyway, i kept dreaming of it for the past few days.

and so yesterday i decided to cook the bubur lambuk myself, since going to any pasar ramadhan is suicidal what with the traffic jam and all...i googled up the recipe, and found a decent one by this  blogger . 

bought the stuff at MaxValu and when i returned home at 6pm, i started cooking straight away, the only things i added  were the fresh shrimps and ground dried ikan bilis, and i omitted the white pepper (since i don't like it). the porridge was done before iftar, alhamdulillah. and when i tasted it, it was perfect!!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

the day i pancited...

before ramadhan, i was determined to repeat my feat during last year's ramadhan - to continue working out in the gym. unfortunately though, words are easier said than done. i've been coughing since the start of ramadhan, and had to put my gym visits on hold.

until today.

i was so happy to see that there were many available treadmills, and gleefully made my way upstairs. i decided not to jog but to merely walk, which is good enough. i did lower body weight training, which was nothing unusual. at school, i was talking to everyone like i would normally do. and i shouted at the errant students in class, just like i always do.

until 4pm, when lethargy started to kick in. i felt like i was sleepwalking. my speech is low and monotonous, and not at its usual high pitch.  my students looked at me in amusement.

now i feel like it's not a good idea after all.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What Muslims in Malaysia Eat in Ramadhan

i've noticed that there is a certain food culture during Ramadhan. it didn't occur to me until i was on my way to school and saw a makeshift stall selling canned lychees and longans at Pasar Keramat. so here's my list:

1. Typical drinks for iftar : soya bean milk, cincau rose syrup and sugarcane drink.
packed soya bean milk

sugarcane drink
2. Typical desserts : jellies, taufu fa and santan based kuih

agar-agar berlapis santan

packed taufu fa with molasses or regular syrup
kuih talam
kuih cara manis
kuih seri muka

3. Typical savoury kuihs:

pulut panggang

roti jala

4. Typical canned desserts : lychees in yellow cans
and longans in blue and white cans
longans in heavy syrup

5. Typical main meal from pasar ramadhan : nasi kerabu,
nasi kerabu

roti john


ayam percik

ikan bakar

6. Typical homecooked meal : fried mee hoon, fried rice and spicy broth
fried mee hoon

fried rice

spicy beef ribs soup

7. A must for every iftar : dates