Sunday August 5, 2012
Ramadan in Mecca
By CHEMARA D PAKA
Performing the umrah during the fasting month is a memorable experience.
OUR plane landed in Medina a day before the start of the fasting month last year. The moment I stepped out of the terminal, I could feel the dry heat blowing on my face. But my husband, his mother and I, who were travelling with a group of 26, felt eager and excited because we had been looking forward to performing our umrah during Ramadan.
For me, the only inconvenience of being in Mecca on a group package was that we had to stay close to one another and tolerate each other’s quirks. We were like one family built within a day.
The first “test” began when we were hunting for the transport that had been arranged to take us to our designated hotel. It is difficult to communicate in Mecca if you don’t understand Arabic. But somehow, our body language betrayed our distress and I felt relieved when a Indonesian young man came towards me, greeted me and spoke a language I finally could comprehend: “Ikut saya Bu.”
Ah, this must be the transport. The heat was making me uncomfortable so I hurried towards the bus. Familiar faces were already on board.
The pinnacle of being in Medina is visiting the home of Prophet Mohamed, located within the extension of Masjid Nabawi. For women, it is always a challenge to enter the part of the Prophet’s home called the Raudhah, believed to be amongst the sacred places where Allah grants us our wishes.
In the Raudhah, I was pushed around, my feet were stepped upon and I could barely breathe. I was circled by big muscular women, as though they were “guarding” me from entering further. I had to tiptoe and raise my head to breathe. Most of the languages spoken around me sounded foreign to me.
It was hot, stuffy and suffocating. Some of the women were crying, shouting and howling. The place was so crowded that things started to get rowdy. People were jabbing each other’s backs with their arms.
Islam does not condone violence. What had happened to the love of sisters? To the feeling of unity, I thought quietly while trying to break free from the crowd.
Then, suddenly, I said aloud in Arabic: “Ana ahbuki fi llah!” (I love you for the sake of Allah). The ladies around me were startled by my words. They stared at me and the pushing suddenly stopped.
I did not know what to expect next. Did I say anything wrong? Did I say something that meant something else? But what could be worse than the crushing and pushing amongst them? I waited for their response.
To my utter surprise, a lady behind me repeated what I had said, followed by another, and then another, like a chain reaction. Soon the rage amongst the crowd gradually ebbed. This is what I call the power of LOVE.
Love comes in many unique forms, and the level and type of love you have for the people in your life differs. The love of a sister, the love between husband and wife, the love of two best friends, love for your children, love amongst believers, love for the nation, love for our prophets and, most importantly, love for our maker, the Almighty Allah.
Suddenly, the women around me were hugging me and uttering blessings. As I walked out of the mosque that day, I felt contented and loved. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Happiness and sadness were part of the routine during our time in Medina. But we accepted the little tests, grateful that we all had good health and the strength to continue with the spiritual obligations despite having to weather the heat wave, and other things.
After the teraweh prayers one day, my husband decided to buy some yoghurt on the way back to the hotel. I was too tired so I walked back alone. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang.
I opened the door and there was my husband, looking pale and panic-stricken. “I was robbed! My wallet was taken. I’m penniless and I don’t have my identity card too.”
Besides the wallet, my mother-in-law’s slippers were taken from the masjid many times. I often joked with her that she could set up a small shop selling slippers if ever she found the culprits who took all of hers.
Our journey to Mecca in a bus was quite a challenge as the heat was getting intense.
Upon arrival, we had to go round the Ka’abah seven times. Every time the call for prayers was announced, the three of us would walk towards the masjid. My favourite entrance was always the doors numbered 89, 90 or 91. They had air-conditioning and were nearest to the women’s section.
To cope with the heat and to prevent sore throat and cough, we consumed lots of yoghurt. I realised that to get a place to prostrate in the masjid for the teraweh prayers, one must be prepared to go there much earlier. The crowd was overwhelming.
I enjoy observing people and the Masjidil Haram is the best place to do so as people come from all over the world to be where Islam began, and the birthplace of our beloved Prophet.
In the masjid, I was seated next to a girl named Fatima. From our first meeting, there was a bond between us, like that of sisters. A year has passed and Fatima continues to call me from Morocco to ask about my well-being.
Once, I met two best friends. One was from Morocco and the other, Thailand, and they spoke different languages. Yet, they had promised to meet diligently in Mecca every Ramadan at the same spot. Their body language and gestures said it all.
Once, a lady came close to me, touching and caressing me in a very peculiar manner. I thought she was being too friendly. Then I realised she had cut my sling bag to steal my purse. I was vigilant this time and my immediate reaction saved me from being robbed.
One must have sufficient rest in order to stay fit during one’s time in Mecca. It is important to stay focused while praying and to read the Quran with understanding to benefit from true submission.
I feel it is important to understand the reasons behind each ritual and to have the right knowledge to benefit most from going on the umrah during Ramadan. People change for the better when their rituals are accepted, hence their quest will be answered.
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