- this was written in the course of 3 months -
I just came back from Jeddah two weeks ago. There. The whole sentence carries a certain weight, giving a certain strong statement of some sort.
I just came back from the Holy Land, and this story is the hardest thing to write. It took me more than two months to draft down the whole experience.
It was the most meaningful and the most beautiful journey of my life. The Journey of Tears.
It all started from a few years ago, when I was in boarding school. I was severely homesick. I felt lonely and out of place, and the only thought ever that comforted me was that of family.
I prayed for my parents’ longevity with all my heart. I could never forgive myself if any of them gone while I was hundreds of kilometers away. I prayed to Allah dearly to care for them and love them as much as they did me when I was a little kid. I prayed to Allah to grant them a long life so they could worship Him longer.
Never did I know, 10 years afterwards, I was the one who brought them to Masjidil Haram to worship the One God. I was the one who carried and guided them, step by step; from our homeland to the Holy Land to pray to Him in front of the Kaabah.
Of all my siblings, He invited me to carry my parents as His guests to His Baitullah; His house. With this in thought, how could I not feel overwhelmed?
I failed to recount how many times my tears simply fell in the Holy Land to feel so little in His presence, that though with all my sins, He’d still invite me to be in His house. I feel so unworthy of myself.
It was not an easy journey for me.
From the start, once we reached Jeddah, the first test was revealed before me. For reasons remain unknown, the immigration officer won’t let me pass the checkout counter. My parents already passed the counter with no problems, while I was held there a few painstaking minutes. (At that moment, you somehow felt like God perhaps is denying you entry to the Holy Land). He went through my passport, and took a long time to feel satisfied. He asked me to stand back away from the counter while he examined my passport and visa; then my face. He then asked, verbally accompanied with hand gestures:
I nodded my head.
“Kuala Lumpur” I nodded my head again.
“Kuala Lumpur – Sri Lanka – Jeddah, Kuala Lumpur – Jeddah?”
With his hand gestures, I understood that he was asking either I took a straight flight to Jeddah, or I transited somewhere else. I instantaneously responded, “Kuala Lumpur– Jeddah!”
With that, he let me through.
Nonetheless, the second test was subsequently revealed.
Our luggage now seems like literally the biggest problem that we had. I had to carry all our bags alone, which I regrettably didn’t volume down during packing. You see, my siblings feared many things that might happen, so they threw in many unnecessary things; including unnecessary, excessive just-in-case clothing into the bags. I suggested that I shared my bag with Abah, but they shoved the suggestion aside.
Hence that night I had to carry three big bags, two backpacks and a chair, transporting the luggage from one place to another – from the conveyor to the trolley, from the trolley to the bus in my oh-so-loose ihram cloth which looked like it’s going to slip anytime; revealing my body while my parents had to walk painfully without help. The mutawwifs did help them nonetheless, but it didn’t tone down my guilt.
The third test was revealed not long after.
My father’s wheelchair, which we borrowed from my sister’s sister-in-law’s family (yeah it’s complicated) and which we brought from Malaysia, suddenly never came out from the luggage conveyor. The officer said the wheelchair, which was couriered in the cargo landed on the wrong terminal. First they promised us 15 minutes to retrieve it back, then another 20 minutes, then another 40 minutes. Lastly our mutawwif kindly requested us to forget it. He said at the rate, we would likely stay the whole night in the airport and the wheelchair would still be lost.
Furthermore, we were in our ihram and we have lots of pantang larang that we could not break. It is highly recommendable to settle our first umrah first.
I had to walk my parents to the bus which was waiting for us for more than 1 hour. It was a very painful walk for Mak because we were too long in the flight that our legs very much were numb. Adding to our woes; I had to pay for an Arab to rent and push a wheelchair for Abah because Abah had completely lost the strength for the time being to walk after the long flight.
Once we were at the busstop, we were told by the mutawwif that our bus had left us because we were too late and the driver had to pay extra charge to park the bus at the airport. For that reason, the bus had to leave first. The mutawwif asked us to board another bus, which will meet our bus at some point outside the airport.
I had no problem doing that, but my parents clearly had difficulties in boarding and leaving the bus. The first time ever I felt like crying was when Mak were too weak to climb the stairs of the bus, and some more she had to pass through all those big luggages blocking her way on the aisle. I heard the mutawwif apologized to my mother “Masya Allah Hajjah. Maafkan saya begnya besar-besar”
After few minutes outside the airport, we finally reached our real bus, and we had to climb down again. The mutawwif realised our anguish in mobilizing the bags, thus they assured us they’re going to send our luggage to our hotel and we don’t need to bring the luggage down. Once in the bus, we joined our jemaahs for our journey to Mekah. The negative emotions began to subside when our mutawwif started to address us. He asked us to sing our praises to Allah since we are His invited guests. The bus took us from the airport in Jeddah to our hotel in Makkah. The journey took us an hour.
Once we reached the border between Tanah Halal and Tanah Haram, the mutawwif woke us up. Unsurprisingly all of us; the jemaahs fell asleep from the tiring 9 hours flight. The mutawwif told us that we are entering the border of Tanah Haram, the border which remained the same from the creation of the universe and will remain so until the Day of Judgment.
“Dari mula-mula alam ini diciptakan sehinggalah terjadinya Hari Kiamat, sempadan Tanah Haram ini sama; beginilah besarnya - tidak akan berubah.” He told us.
He reminded us to preserve ourselves from tarnishing the holiness of Tanah Haram, including avoiding rubbish talks and indecent behaviours. Instead, we should sing more praises and zikir.
When first we reached the Mekah, the mutawwif, Ustaz Iskandar Muda immediately showed us the Masjidil Haram. Masya Allah, it was nothing short than majestic! The moon was shining full on the 14th night of Syaaban; no clouds in the skies. The moon illumination shone directly the Masjidil Haram. It was simply breathtaking and I could not believe my eyes. I wonder how many Malaikats are there in the clear sky between the Masjidil Haram and the moon, and then I remember my own name; which Abah gave me after the full moon. I felt strangely contented at that moment.
We reached our hotel at about 1.00 am, and since we were still in our ihram and don in our white kain ihram, we had to perform our umrah first.
Since it was beyond arguing that Mak could not walk any further that night, I had to pay the hotel’s employee 300 riyal to push her in a wheelchair to complete the umrah, while I pushed Abah’s wheelchair (which we borrowed from the hotel, of course). We could not join the big group of our jemaah since we had to use the wheelchair partition specifically for disabled and old jemaah. We had to perform our umrah separately from our jemaah. It was almost 24 hours of non-stop journey, and we still hadn’t had the chance to rest.
We performed our umrah; 7 rounds of tawaf, and 7 rounds of sai’e from Safa to Marwah.
The moment we completed our tahallul, the subuh azan was heard in the atmosphere. The hotel employee rolled Mak’s wheelchair to the women section, while Abah and me stayed at the men’s saf. We performed our Subuh prayer, and that was my first time ever praying my solat fardhu in Masjidil Haram.
As soon as we finished our Subuh prayer, I pushed Abah in his wheelchair to look for Mak. Suddenly the reality dawned on us. In the ocean of humans, we could not locate Mak at all. The hotel employee, who pushed Mak’s wheelchair just now, was lost together with Mak. The moment I stepped out of the Masjidil Haram’s gate with Abah in his wheelchair, I saw a gazillion of humans; and among them are Mak and her helper, but we don’t know whom or where.
I stood there dumbfounded, my body shaking. I remembered the stories about people who got lost for few days in Mekah and could not find his way back to his hotel. Turned out he was being tested by Allah. Am I, at that moment I recounted – being tested by Allah? By God, I didn’t even remember the way back to the hotel. For goodness’s sake, we were in the hotel not over than 30 minutes.
Abah clearly felt the same thing. There was nervousness in his voice when he was asking for my mother.
“Mana Mak awok?” he asked repeatedly, while eyeing the crowd, looking for Mak.
I simply answered “Tak tahu, Bah.”
I was beginning to tear up. Mak was lost. We were lost.
Then I remember, if not for Allah all of this, then for whom? For all the things happening, it’s of Allah’s will.
I prayed in my heart “Ya Allah satukanlah aku dengan ibuku, ya Allah ketemukanlah aku dengan ibuku, tunjukkanlah jalanku ya Allah…”
Then I slowly started to push Abah’s wheelchair, crying at the same time through and through. I didn’t know the way to go, but I know I can only tawakal to Allah. I remember some of the landmarks that we passed through before we arrived at the Masjidil Haram, and using those landmarks as my directive, slowly I retraced back the path to the hotel.
The first time ever in the Holy Land, I felt so lost. Lost in thoughts, in numbers, in emotions. I imagined, if this is the Akhirat and this is the Padang Mahsyar, and Allah lines us according to our amalan; from the best person with the best amalan to the worst person with the worst amalan; what number would I be? And at least, within only this current population of Mekah; what number am I among these people?
I was terrified.
It was then when I saw people wearing baju Melayu with kain pelikat walking with his family. I rushed to him, with a calm voice “Abang, abang tahu tak mana Grand Hera Hotel?” Clearly he was a Malaysian.
“Entahlah. Saya pun tak tahu…”
At that point, it felt useless. There are thousands; if not hundreds of hotels in Mekah. I could not assume any Malaysian that I met know the direction to these hotels; could I? It was however, a very calming sight to see another fellow Malaysian wearing familiar garments walking among the crowd. I must have faith – I thought. Allah is always here for me, if I believe in Him. If worse comes to worst, these Malaysians can help me out.
Since Mekah and Masjidil Haram particularly are now under renovation, lots of construction sites were erected around the vicinity. The roads were clearly the most obvious signs – potholes were everywhere.
When I pushed Abah’s wheelchair around for our Finding Mak expedition, sometimes the wheelchair got stuck in the potholes. It was at that point I realised all the jemaahs were indeed; an ummah. Everytime the wheelchair got stuck, whoever around the vicinity would quickly lift the wheelchair back to safety.
It was still Subuh; at about 5.00 am. It was also a magical sight, an ocean of white jemaah against the black backdrop of dawn. We were all walking to the same direction; outward from Masjidil Haram back to our respective accommodations, the walking which also reminded me of the last assembly on Padang Mahsyar.
I was also – in tears still. My feelings were in shambles.
Luckily Abah couldn’t see my face or else he’d be more panicked. So me and Abah – we were now in silent. I was pushing his wheelchair, but I didn’t know where to go. All I could ever do were walk and pray. And tawakal.
After 20 minutes or so walking, we almost reached the end of the road. The signboard was showing the road to the highway, but Mak was still not to be seen. But I didn’t stop walking. There was a certain realisation that somehow I was walking on the same path before, that it was strong enough to make me believe we almost there.
Then lo and behold; just few meters before the end of the road, I recognised the fork leading to our hotel. The small market (or if you may, shop) at the corner was the distinguishing sign. I quickly turn right, and there - in front of us was the hotel.
I pushed Abah’s wheelchair faster; and mentioning to him casually; “Abah, kita dah sampai” as if to tell him that I knew the way all along to calm him, though I went half nuts and cried like a child trying to get us back. Just as I pushed him inside, Mak was waiting for us. Our reunion was pretty much unceremonious – no confetti thrown or no tear jerking hug. But at there and then, no words can describe how grateful I was. From afar, when I first saw Mak my heart blossomed in joy.
Nevertheless, I saw the need to swiftly control my emotions as to not make both of them emotional. I was beyond happy and I was beyond glad. This is just too good. We were not that lost, and Mak was safe and sound. Mak smiled and jokingly asked where we had been to, while Abah clearly still in shock.
“Ah ye, koi ingat aok dah kena culik! Ntah mana-mana dia bawok awok”
“Aman lambat sangat!”
“Mujur dia ingat jalan, koi memang dah tak ingat lalu!”
So then we had our breakfast and gone back to our room.
Abah, surprisingly told us that he was crying when he thought he had lost Mak while I was pushing his wheelchair. Little did he know that I was crying too; but I needed to put a charade to keep his emotions under control.
So unexpectedly while the three of us were smiling that dawn, tears running down our cheeks. Abah and me was too glad to see Mak again, while Mak was touched that Abah actually love her and care for her that much.
That was the very beginning of my Journey of Tears.
……. To be continued……