It was December 1998, during the Muslim month of Ramadhan that I first set foot In Makkah. It was a trip that opened my mind and saw things from a totally different perspective.
Two weeks prior to that, I went for this briefing at the tour agent’s house on the do’s and don’ts of Umrah, and was given a guide book published by Tabung Haji on how to perform my Umrah. There were specific doas to be read each round I circumambulate the Kaabah, each round of Sa’ie and just before I snip some of my hair for Tahallul. Our group arrived in Jeddah at around 5am and got a taste of why the Prophet was from amongst the Arabs. We did the 6-hour bus ride to Madinatul Munawwarah and I broke my fast at the Prophet’s Mosque (Masjid an-Nabawi) with several Indonesians. It was still smack bang in the midst of the Asian financial crisis, and Dr Mahathir’s
removal pegging of the Ringgit ‘s peg to the US dollars had just taken effect. I had bought myself two lamb kebabs (yes, those days I was still able to eat lamb), but the Indonesians were only having lettuce and yoghurt. There were six of us seated on the cool marble floor outside the mosque. So I divided each kebab into three to share with the Indonesian pilgrims. They cried when we broke fast, being able to have the kebab, and thanked me for sharing.
I left Madinah for Makkah on the third day, stopping at Bir Ali to put on my Ihram and upon arrival, performed my Umrah. It was there that I stopped reading the guide book, and prayed in the language I know best – Malay; for Allah is All-Knowing. So I thought it was best for me to pray (Doa) to Him in Malay instead of probably asking Him for Pizza in Arabic. A Chinese family walked past me during Tawaf and were praying in Mandarin, and a Caucasian woman prayed in French. I returned to Makkah twice after that, all during the fasting month, and performed Umrah seven times each trip, doing one each for my late grandparents, my late uncle, my late sister, and myself (I performed for me first).
I performed my Haj in March 2001. That year, Formula One was in Sepang and it rained heavily. And I was in Makkah watching CNN when the space station Mir made its fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. I went on the last flight into Jeddah; and over Qarnul Manazil, I was already in my Ihram, ready to perform the most difficult of Haj – the ‘Ifrad. I was to be in my Ihram until I have completed my first Tahallul (Tahallul Awwal) when I can remove my Ihram clothes and wear normal clothes but will still be restricted from performing certain things until I have completed my Haj. For one week I had to watch what I do, wear only unstitched piece of cloth, no perfume or scented soap and so on.
Then one day, we left for Mina on the day before Wukuf, and at midnight, moved to Arafah in preparation for Wukuf. I met the Air Force officer I relieved in Alor Setar as the Squadron Officer-Commanding there after ‘Asar. After Maghrib, I went to Muzdalifah to collect some stones for the Stoning of the Jamrah rites in Mina. I made a pact with a religious teacher from Indonesia to go to Mina, then find our own way back to Makkah to perform our Sa’ie and Tahallul Awwal. After midnight, we hitched a ride on the back of a pickup, made our way back to Masjidil Haram and performed the Sa’ie, followed by Tahallul Awwal, after which, I went back to my hotel and changed into normal clothes.
The next day, I went to Mina throw stones at the Jamratul Aqaba. Despite the stories I’ve heard, I got to stand right in front of the pillar that I was sure to hit the pillar had I stoned it with my eyes shut. After this ritual, past midnight I rushed back to Makkah to perform my Tawaf If’adah (or Tawaf Haji) and I was free from ALL restrictions.
I spent over the next three days stoning the Jamrahs (Sughra, Wusta and Aqaba/Kubra) and completed my Haj. I spent another two weeks in Makkah performing Umrah (again, I did the mandatory one time for Haj, one time for myself and the other six for my late grandparents, my late uncle and late sister). I even took the opportunity to scale Jabal Noor, northeast of Masjidil Haram and managed to pray inside the Hira’ Cave just to experience it. I also scaled Jabal Thawr, southeast of Masjidil Haram, to see the cave where the Prophet took refuge from the Quraisy. On my second last day there, I met with a former classmate of mine, who is now a cardio-surgeon. The next day I left for Madinatul Munawwarah and spent six days there before returning home.
It was a journey of a lifetime for me. A journey that dispelled the myths that so-called religious people in Malaysia have told me. It is there that I finally realised that most of what we have been practicing in Malaysia are based on hearsay and not according to the Quran and aHadith as-Sahih, that many things have been added according to various human interpretations.
And most important, I realised God is NOT for the Muslim Arabs, but also the non-Muslim Arabs, the Jews, the Chinese, the Indians, the Christians, and that Islam is a way of life as prescribed by Him, not as interpreted by so-called Imams and Ulamas.