Friday, June 12, 2009

First Solat

The man who greeted us at the airport was polite and well spoken.

He was a tall Arab man with dark skin and he was wearing the traditional red/white arab head dress with the agal on his head. He directed us to our fully air conditioned bus where the children and I climbed straight inside to escape the heat while Mr S made sure the bags were safely deposited in the luggage compartment underneath the bus.

And then slowly, all the other people in our group climbed in. As you might have guessed, a group of Muslims from London would comprise of people from many nationalities. There were Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians, Afghans and Egyptians. There were actually four other families travelling with children, and from that only three families were with young children. One particular family had five young children
with them but they also brought along their grandmother - I can't imagine what a challenge the journey would have been for the parents if they had to handle all their kids by themselves! The first thing that our guide - who said his name was Sheikh Al Abbasiy - informed us about was the prayer times. He said, in the way teachers like to prompt their students, "After all, we all came here to......?" And like good students the people in my group answered, "PRAY..!" At that moment, I blew out a long breath of air. I thought, "That's right. This is it. We are here to pray." I looked at the children and prayed that they were up to it and everything would be fine.
A few weeks back, at home, Little H had asked me, "Can we bring Wii to Saudi Arabia?"

Mr S and I had looked at each other and we both had shaken our heads simultaneously. "Nope."

"We are going there to solat ye," I said, "not to stay at the hotel to play Wii..."

And surprisingly, there were no groans nor complaints in response. And I had stressed to them many, many times;

"In Mekah and Madinah, we must go to the Masjid to solat, ok?"


"Five times a day, ok?"


And I had gone through with them other things as well to prepare them for the trip. I had drawn roughly the maps of Saudi Arabia a few times to show them our journey on paper, drawn the Kaabah and Masjidil Haram to show them the actions for Umrah, taught them the dos and don'ts of the ihram, the talbiah and the niat for umrah.

I'm proud to say both Little H and Big H memorized them all, mashaAllah. Kids! They are like sponges that absorb anything... it is really up to us to provide the good things for them to learn.


We were kinda late to go for our first solat at the Masjidin Nabawi.

The wait at the hotel lobby for our room cards took a good thirty minutes and we had about 20 minutes before the Zuhur prayers started.

After rushing the kids and then ourselves to wash, do our ablutions and change, Mr S and I took the children in hand and walked to the mosque in the blinding heat of the sun.

It was really, really burning hot. There was wind, but it felt like wind coming from a furnace and it did nothing to relieve us.

The nearest gate to our hotel, which was less than 5 minutes walk away was the gate next to Jannatul Baqee, where Saidatina Aishah r.a. Saidina Uthman Al Affan r.a. and numerous companions and family of the Prophet SAW were buried. All the shops were closing for the Zuhur prayers, everyone was walking towards the mosque in a brisk pace and we joined them - all walking in a straight line for the Central of Madinah.

The boys followed Mr S - simply because the men's entrances were numerous and directly in front of the gate - so the boys didn't have to walk with me in the heat. I wasn't certain of where the women's entrance was because I still haven't gotten my bearings but I followed the train of black robed throng of women walking slowly beside the mosque. I found that I had to walk all the way to the back area of the mosque, in the heat, around all that yellow tape surrounding certain areas outside the mosque (that made the walk longer than it should be, of course), to enter.

It was a challenge indeed but I walked fast, slipping through slow moving crowds where I can, determined not to be too late. It was easy when you're walking all by yourself without your kids in tow - it was like I was a single young woman again, free to do whatever I want, without any responsibilities, at least for half an hour of solat time.

The few women entrances were blocked by people standing to be let through by the strict women guards of the mosque, clad all in black jubahs and niqabs. Handbags were opened and checked on entry - handphones were not allowed so I slipped my small Motorola underneath my bra strap just below my left shoulder beforehand. Phones are vital in Mekah and Madinah in my opinion - it's the only way you can meet up back again with your family or friends in the mass of people - especially in Mekah.

I stepped into Masjidin Nabawi and felt the air conditioning and marble flooring cooling me down even though it was packed. Stepping in between lines of people already in their prayer lines, moving quickly in front of some who are praying before the start of the Zuhur prayers, I made my way further in, further in front of the prayer lines to find a good spot.

About three minutes later, I found an empty spot near to the 'walkway' across the middle of the prayer lines, near to the front but not near enough that I got to pray on the carpet. I realised that I was late - solat was going to start in a just a few minutes - so I faced the fact that this first time, I could not pray in the first few safs.

And then I heard the beautiful sound of the Iqamah. All the women around me started to stand up to correct the lines, Qurans were sent to the shelves, some empty spots were filled, little children were put down and handbags were put safely right in front of their owners.

The Bilal called out 'Sauf! Sauf!' and then, the prayer started.

I raised my hands in Takbiratul Ihram following the Imam to start my prayers and out of nowhere, tears started to flow down my cheeks like a perpetual stream.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


It's funny that while we were having a light dinner at Heathrow, and I was looking around while chewing on the warm toasted cheesy panini Mr S bought for me with my left hand around the tall cup of hot latte I had ordered, the people I noticed , from the many, many people walking about, eating and drinking, all waiting for their flight there were the people who were also going on the same flight with me. One in particular was the teenage girl who was sitting on the tables and chairs reserved for the opposite cafe, eating a foot long sandwich. Her hair was ample, long, dark and curly, her face fair and beautiful and she had an air of well..."I AM RICH" about her. She was sitting opposite a similarly haired figure in front of her whom later I realised was her brother. She was tall and thin and was wearing a skimpy Burberry miniskirt and she was socialising with the other teenagers on the plane right next to Mr S's seat across the aisle. There were quite a few of them all looking bored and clad in designer clothes and bags. At first I thought they were children of British expats going to visit their parents in Saudi Arabia for the half term holidays. But then, I heard them talking together in English - with a foreign accent...

Oh..they were actually sons and daughters of rich Arabs who send their children to boarding schools in England..

Well, at least at the airport in Jeddah they would know how to speak Arabic and won't feel a bit I did the moment we stepped onto the hot and arid desert land...

It's not easy when you wanna go to a non English speaking country all by yourself. You feel a bit lost at times - especially at the airports where the workers there just shut you out when foreign words come out of your mouth and when other local travellers take advantage of you just because you look different.

I did feel a bit lost at the airport in Jeddah because of the differences in language, culture and system although I have to say, the workers there do understand a bit of English and we managed to check in our luggage for the domestic flight without any problem. But still, when you're travelling with kids, you feel a little bit more anxious than normal although Allah knows the kids themselves don't feel anything at all - only excitement.

We, as the parents are the ones who worry.

That is the reason why I had in the beginning wanted to treat our trip to Mekah and Madinah as a 'holiday' for the children.

It was because of my worries.

I worried that they wouldn't feel comfortable in the heat, they wouldn't like the crowd in Masjidil Haram, that they would be too tired to go to the mosque all the time and I worried that they wouldn't be able to benefit from the trip.

But most of all, I worried that because we had to look after them, Mr S and myself wouldn't be able to benefit as well.

And that would be the ultimate disappointment.

But even more than anything, I wanted so very much for Mr S to benefit from the trip.

So that left me. I decided I will have to be the one who will have to let go and sacrifice my time and extra ibadat there - for the children.

Crazy, I know. But that's just my demented way of thinking.

In order to quit myself from worrying, I made myself think this; "No...this will be just a holiday for the children..and I will not expect too much of them and I myself will not expect to get a lot from this trip."

There! Easy! So, it will be a sort of holiday for the children and I, no more.

But that was when my mother told me in a telephone conversation, "Jangan....perbetulkan niat kau tu...pergi ni nak beribadat bukan holiday. Niat mesti betulkan."

And then Allah gave me some 'time' to think. It wasn't easy...but somehow, I just learnt to let go of my worries.

I corrected my niat: no matter what happens, I want this trip to benefit all of us. We will all prepare for it and doa for the best.

And then I left it to Allah.

Friday, June 05, 2009

A Different Experience

The road to Mekah will never be easy for many people.

But then again, some people just loooovvveeee to ask for trouble - like yours truly.

The moment the words "it's just a HOLIDAY..." came out from my mouth, a dormant chicken pox virus in my body decided to reactivate itself and I started to get shingles.

Yes my dear readers, SHINGLES! The painful rash along the nerves that normally only people above 60 get!

You can call me silly, imaginative or maybe even 'superstitious' all you want but I believe, the moment Allah SWT sends an invitation to you to go to Mekah, you must set one thing straight - your NIAT (intention).

No doubt, when I was talking about our Umrah trip and said the word 'holiday' to my mother in a telephone conversation, it was in one breath with the word children i.e. what I actually said was, "It's just a holiday ~ for the children". But still, I do believe now that the word should not be uttered or even come to one's mind when going to Mekah....seriously.

Saying that, I also do feel that Allah wanted to cleanse me a bit before going can say anything you want but these things happen...dugaan (test), some people may call it.

To me, I just think that Allah SWT pitied me and wanted me to reorientate my bearings, before going to His House - to have some focus, you that I will fully use all the time I have there. So that my time there will not go to waste.

So I had about 7-10 days to re-orientate myself, while suffering from shingles.
And I thank Allah for it.

I have been to Mekah before, but at the time I was 17 years old and although it was a wonderful and exhilarating experience then, travelling with arwah ayah, my mother and my younger sisters, I was young, and saw everything with young eyes.

It's different this time around.

The whole experience was different and new. Not just because I was going again after nearly 17 years later - there are so many changes there, I can tell you that! - but also this time around, I'm travelling with my husband and my children who are my responsibility unlike the last time when I was more or less a 'free agent', being able to go to Masjidil Haram at 2 am without anything to stop me.

But it's also because we were travelling from the west this time around. Not from Malaysia with other Malaysians in our group, and Malaysian food served during lunch and dinner and tea and breakfast. This time around we were travelling with Indians, Pakistanis, Afghans, Iranians, some of them with British passports, some of them Immigrants.

The whole experience was different.

Will write more about my journey soon, inshaAllah.