Monday, June 11, 2012

Eat Walk Pray: My Awesome Umrah Journey

The blog title (adapted from Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir of self-discovery) describes exactly what my trip to the Holy  Haram Land of Makkah Al-Mukarramah and Madinah Al-Munawwarah was all about. It was a spiritual journey of a lifetime. It was an awesome, amazing, highly-emotional, spiritually-cleansing and life-changing experience beyond compare (except for Hajj of course). Alhamdulillah! Praises to Allah for giving me the opportunity and means to visit His Holy Haram Land.

No kind of physical and mental training could ever prepare anyone for the journey to the Holy Land. One will be easily overwhelmed physically, psychologically and emotionally by the sheer grandeur, awesomeness and holiness of the place. Not to mention the physical exertion of endless, tireless walking to and from our hotel and two of the grandest, holiest mosques in the whole wide world, Masjidil Haram in Makkah and Masjid An-Nabawi in Madinah. Indeed, Umrah and Hajj are physical forms of ibadah or worship in Islam.

This is my first, which means my compulsory Umrah (wajib). Every Muslim has to perform Umrah and Hajj once in his/her lifetime when he/she fulfills all the criteria to do it, which includes having the means to finance the journey and still able to sustain the dependents left behind at home. One can perform Umrah at any time of the year provided that the Saudi Government give permission, while Hajj can only be performed once a year from 9-13th Dzulhijjah according to Hijrah calender.

My calling to perform Umrah actually came a few years ago when I dreamt I was present in front of Prophet Muhammad SAW (Peace Be Upon Him) mausoleum. It was so surreal that when I was actually there during my visit, I felt the same overwhelming emotion. However, I was too busy with work and stuff. I kept postponing it. That I regretted. On the spur of the moment, I decided that the time was right. When I enquired TH Travel & Tour departure date of 5th of May 2012 was available and conveniently scheduled to fly from Senai Airport, Johor Bahru. It was a decision I never regretted. Having the opportunity to perform Umrah because of devotion to Allah Taala (Lillahi Taala) is a privilege by itself.

So my wife, her sister and I started preparing ourselves for the trip of our lifetime. Reading books on how to perform Umrah. Attending Umrah course. Asking friends who have been there to share tips and experience. Browsing websites and blogs on other people's accounts and experiences of their Umrah. There are even iPhone apps on Manasik Umrah and Hajj.

As the departure date approached, I felt uneasy and restless. I got goosebumps worrying about everything. Suddenly, the task at hand felt very daunting. The more I read about how to perform Umrah, the more unprepared I felt. As I said before, Umrah and Hajj are physical forms of ibadah. There are no specific recitations or incantations to memorize during the Umrah. All the supplications or du'as in the books are recommendations only. All one has to do to perform Umrah are to say one's intention to perform Umrah at one of the many Miqats (Qarnul Manazil, Zulhulaifah, Yalamlam, Hudaibiyah, Ji'ranah, Tana'im etc) after wearing the Ihram (2 pieces of unsewn cloths for men; telekung or cloak that only show face and hands for women), to perform the Tawaf (circumambulation around Kaaba 7 times), to perform the Sa'ie (walk to and fro between Safa and Marwa 7 times) and to finish off to cut or shave one's hair. It's mandatory to follow that sequence or else your Umrah will be null and void. There are also thirteen forbidden acts one must not do while wearing the Ihram but I am going to skip that part.

As the departure date loomed and final preparation being made, I had mixed feelings about it all. In a way, I was very excited and happy to be chosen by Allah to be His guest at the Holy Haram Land. At the same time, I was scared and worried whether I could perform the task at hand to the best of my ability. Every day for a few days before departure I felt feverish with cold shivers down my spine.  I would perform Solah Hajat (praying that my journey would be uneventful) and Solah Taubah (praying that Allah accept my ibadah and forgive my sins) before bed. Additionally, two tablets of Panadol and good night sleep would usually do the trick.

Finally, the day came when we were meant to fly out to the Holy Land. Feelings of elation, excitement, worry and sadness all jumbled up inside me. Excited to finally have the chance to perform Umrah. Worried about what would be in store for me there. Sad to leave my daughters and family in Malaysia. Most of all, elated to be chosen to be His guest.

We flew from Senai Airport, Johor Bahru at 12.10 noon. After a short transit at KLIA, we departed for Jeddah at 3.20 pm. I haven't been on a long-haul flight for quite a while and I have never liked it. The last was the flight to Capetown, I think. I really hate the smell of in-flight food. All I could eat was the bun and fruits. I had 2 of 'em buns with only butter (they forgot to serve the jam). I tried to catch some sleep to conserve energy and shut out the jitters but who could sleep with all the above feelings cluttered in your mind. It was an 8-hour flight so I did some last minute revision, writing down and memorizing supplications (du'a) and getting my body and soul ready for the Umrah task ahead.

We arrived at Jeddah Airport at dusk. What a feeling stepping on Saudi Arabia soil (or tarmac) for the first time (hopefully not the last). I was jumping for joy inside. We were told that the immigration process could take up to 8 hours. WHAT? As long as the flight? However, my group were cleared uneventfully within a couple of hours. The group consisted of people of all ages and all walks of life, from dato's and datins, professionals and celebrities but most notably FELDA settlers. They must have loads of  money with the good CPO price and the forthcoming so-called "durian runtuh" (financial bonanza) of RM15000 per family promised by the government. Anyway, my wife and I helped a few elders fill up their embarkation cards. That was where we got to know a certain few people in our group. As fate has it we would be bound together all of our time in the Holy Land.

We hopped on our bus bound for Madinah Al-Munawwarah, literally meant "the radiant city", where our Prophet Muhammad's PBUH mausoleum is located. I can't remember much of the journey from Jeddah to Madinah neither can I remember how long the journey was because I slept almost all the way out of exhaustion and jet-lagged. We were woken up from our slumber when we got near the suburbs of Madinah city. It was around 3 am. As we were alighting from the bus, we were greeted by the call of Adzan from Masjid An-Nabawi. It was the first call. The Adzan is usually called twice for Suboh prayer here in Madinah. It was the most beautiful Adzan call I have ever heard in my life.

I quickly checked in the hotel room and freshened up to get ready for my first Suboh prayer in Holy Land. It was the most solemn and touching prayer I have ever performed. Without realizing it, my eyes teared up and started sobbing. However, I had to do Sujud Sahwi because nobody told me that here one has to recite the Du'a Qunut by yourself, not the Imam. They did tell me that they don't do Dzikir and Du'a but there will always be Solah Jenazah after Fardhu prayers for those who had died here. After prayer I made Sujud Syukur (thankful prostration) to Allah has given me the chance to be His guest in the Holy Land and a safe journey. Then drowned myself with the serenity, magnificence and grandeur of Masjid An-Nabawi.

We stayed in Madinah for 2 days and 2 nights at a 5-star Movenpick Hotel. The highlight of my stay in Madinah was definitely the visit to Prophet Muhammad's SAW mausoleum and Raudhatul Jannah (Garden of Heaven) on the first day. Although I missed the group tour by a whisker, I braved myself and went there ALONE. Alhamdulillah Allah made it easy for me. Although it was packed like a can of sardine, all of a sudden there was an empty spot in front of me. It baffled me because there were people in front of me but somehow or rather they were heading elsewhere. Subhanallah! So I got to pray in the Raudhah and made my du'a which I have written in a little notebook so that I won't forget or miss anything. It was said that one's du'a will be granted by Allah in Raudhah, Insyaallah! I could still remember the feeling of solemnity and humility which easily made me break into tears (even as I was typing this blog). I spent about 15-20 minutes there. Unselfishly, to give others chance to do the same I gave up my spot to a complete stranger who was like others looking for a spot to pray and he was more than happy to oblige.

Then I made my way to the Prophet Muhammad's SAW, Sayyidina Abu Bakar's and Sayyidina Umar's mausoleum, which were next to each other. There was a long queue alongside the shiny gates. Subhanallah! It was like a dream come true. The place was exactly as I remembered it in my dreams, serene and solemn.  I recited the Salawat and greeted Salam to Rasulullah SAW for myself and for everyone (families and friends) who has requested me to send Salam to him. The feeling was indescribable. It was like meeting someone of inimitable greatness and very dear to you whom you have known for all of your lifetime but have never met. It was a very humbling experience. As emotions overwhelmed me, again I broke into tears! As I walked out of the mosque, I reflected on my meek, pathetic existence. Prophet Muhammad SAW is a human beyond compare.

It was so peaceful and serene in Madinah that 2 days passed very quickly. Daily walk to and from hotel and Masjid An-Nabawi five times a day made me totally forgot about everything else, work and all. I was surprised that Zamzam water is available in Madinah. I drank all I could every time I have the chance and also brought back to the hotel room in a bottle. Nevertheless, it was too short a stay in Madinah. I went to visit the Rasulullah's SAW mausoleum and tried my luck to enter Raudhah several more times. Unfortunately, I could only get to pray near the Raudhah area because it was so jammed and packed with people, some resorted to step over or maybe even trample other people's head in the mad rush. Yes it was madness there especially for the ladies, I was told. Never mind. It was not meant to be. Insyaallah I will be coming back for a second visit FOR SURE.

By the by, my wife and I did most of the souvenir shopping in Madinah because the air is cleaner to walk around, Madinah are friendlier and safer and they say it's cheaper here than in Makkah. Word of caution: don't get too immersed in shopping because that was not the reason you come here for. Just buy small presents for the loved ones back home. Tips: perfume, tasbih, skullcaps, jubah, sajadah and of course Ajwa dates.

Finally the day came when we were supposed to leave Madinah Al-Munawwarah for Makkah Al-Mukarramah to perform Umrah, the ACTUAL reason we come here. I started to have butterflies in my stomach. My legs became jellylike. My heart started to miss a beat. Ya Allah! I am finally going to do Umrah for REAL. Please make my it easy on me and a safe journey to Your Baitullah.

Labbaikallahumma Labbaik
Labbaika Laa Syarikalaka Labbaik 
Innalhamda Wan Ni'mata 
Laka Wal Mulk 
Laa Syarikalak 

I respond to Your call O Allah, I respond to Your call, 
I am obedient to Your orders, You have no partner, I respond to Your call 
All the praises and blessings are for You, 
All the sovereignty is for You, 
And You have no partners with you.

Makkah Al-Mukarramah: "Mecca the Honored" or loosely translated as "The Holy City of Mecca" is our final destination. The distance from Madinah to Makkah is around 400 km which is about 4-5 hours bus ride. Before anyone leaves Madinah, it is sunnah to perform Ziyaratul Wadak, which is saying farewell Salam to our Prophet Muhammad SAW. Being a crybaby, I can't contain my emotions and started to sob. I made a determined promise that I will be back FOR SURE if I am blessed with good health and longevity.

We left Madinah after lunch. We wore our Ihram from the hotel, as I mentioned before these are 2 pieces of white cloths for men and telekung cloak for women. We stopped at Dzulhulaifah or Bir Ali about 10 km from Madinah as Miqat to state our intention to perform Umrah. From then onwards, we were bound to the 13 forbidden rules during Ihram which include no sewn clothes, shoes, socks or hats can be worn by men, women cannot cover their face, cannot cut any hair or nails etc etc. If one breaks any of the rules, one has to pay the Dam (kinda like summon). For Umrah, one has to keep the Ihram for several hours only. I can't imagine how it'd be like during Hajj when one has to keep the Ihram for at least 5 days or maybe more.

They say Allah will test you in ways you could never imagine during Umrah or Hajj. Our first test came when one of the elders in our bus group Pak Mohamad went missing at Bir Ali Mosque (image on the right). A few of us went searching for him and finally found him after about 2 hours. Apparently, he was waiting for his sister, who was already on the bus waiting for him. Indeed, I was warned that I have to be careful of the words I chose to say in Holy Haram Land. For example, don't say "wait for me here" but instead say "we meet up here". You could wait for hours but never meet.

Because of that incidence, our bus was delayed. Along the way we recited the Talbiyah (see end of part II), to praise Allah and to remind ourselves that we were on our way to perform Umrah. I tried to catch some sleep during the journey to conserve energy for the ever-so-daunting task ahead. I was very nervous beyond words but yet exalted!

We were roused from our sleep by the Mutawwif as we approached the suburbs of Makkah. Again we recited the Talbiyah as we drove along the road to the Holy city. Everyone was very excited when the Zamzam Tower (the biggest clock tower in the world) loomed from the distance. All of us could sense that Masjidil Haram is near. I started to have goosebumps together with butterflies in my stomach. My heart pounded ever so faster and sometimes skipped a beat as we edged closer to Masjidil Haram. Allahu Akbar! Allah is Great!

We arrived at the 2-star Syobra Al-Khalil Hotel, our place of stay for 6 days in Makkah at around 11 pm. The other 2 buses of the TH Travel & Tour group had arrived earlier at 9 pm. We were told to check in our rooms, freshen up, perform ablution, have our supper and congregate at the lobby at midnight to be shown the way to the Masjidil Haram. We were going to perform our first Umrah as a group in the cool of the night. Much to our surprise, the Ibrahim Al-Khalil Street, where our hotel was situated, was still crowded and bustling at this time of night. Such the devotions of Muslims from all over the world.

The walk from our hotel to Masjidil Haram was only about 450 meters but it seemed farther. We walked through the dark, narrow, dusty, crowded streets of Bakkah (old name for Makkah). There were rows of old shops and hotels cordoned off scheduled to be demolished to make way for new buildings. Makkah, as our parents or grandparents knew it, is changing rapidly. Construction is everywhere, even at the entrance of Masjidil Haram. When we looked up to our right, there it was the humongous Zamzam Tower dwarfing every other buildings around it, and sadly to say, even the Grand Mosque of Masjidil Haram. We can't stop progress and development although we know it is a sign that the end of the world is nigh. I continued walking humbly to the gate in awe and in trepidation at the same time. I gathered my physical and mental strength and focused my concentration to the Umrah task I was about to perform for the first time of my life.

As I walked in the midst of the crowd, through the King Abdul Aziz Gate No.1 (image above) and down the stairs, I recited the special du'a. Instantly, my gaze was transfixed to the black magical building, beautifully-clad with Kisbah, adorned with golden scriptures from the Quran at the center of the open square. I can't fathom the rush of emotion and the feeling of humility, for there it was in front of me, the building I have been facing towards all my life during prayers 5 times a day, called the Kaaba. It was like a DREAM. As I stared fixedly at the Kaaba reciting the special du'a, I reflected on all the sins I have done in the past. My whole life flashed before me. No one in this world could contain his/her tears when seeing the Kaaba for the very FIRST time even though one has seen images of it many many times on printed or broadcast media. So I did it again, crybaby! I am crying even right NOW when I reminisce the moment.

By the time I was stirred from my trance, I realized that we were separated from the group. I immediately knew that this was another test by Allah. My sister, sister in-law, my wife and I were left with four elders who had been tagging along with us from the hotel. So I took control of the situation and decided to make sure these four elders will never leave my sight. I told Pak Udin to hold on to my hand tightly as if his life was depending on it, while his wife, Rupah held on to his Ihram followed by the other two women. We went to the square to perform Tawaf, circumambulation around Kaaba for 7 times. I guided Pak Udin to state his intention to perform Tawaf Umrah at the green light parallel to the Corner of Hajar Aswad and off we go together as a human link like a string of tasbih. In retrospect, it's kinda amusing and people might have thought those were my parents and relatives. May Allah bless them! Oh! By the way, Pak Mohamad and Pak Udin were my roomamates in Madinah and Makkah, ironically.

My wife and sisters followed suit behind, I think? During Tawaf one cannot look back because one must always keep the left shoulder towards Kaaba and walk counterclockwise. I did my Tawaf reciting whatever dzikir or du'a that I can remember because I cannot refer to the Umrah booklet as my hands were full, literally. I also recite this du'a taught by my mother in-law "Robbi yassir wala tuassir, Robbi tammim bilkhoir", meaning “O my Lord, make things easier for me, do not make things difficult for me. O My Lord, let my affairs end with goodness". As I said before, Umrah is a physical form of ibadah with no specific recitation. Time and time again during Tawaf, I broke into tears reflecting on all the sins I had done all my life and pleading to Allah to forgive my past, present and future sins and hoping Allah will accept my Umrah and ibadah for as long as I live.

People say doing Tawaf is like being in a big washing machine. The first few rounds are like the wash cycle, when one's soul is being washed and sins are being washed away. Next few rounds are the rinse cycle, when Allah is cleansing one's soul. A few rounds of spin cycle, when one makes a fresh start and does a 360 degree turn of one's life. And then the drying which is when one is done performing Tawaf and contemplates on what one has just accomplished and asks Allah to accept it. Wallahualam! By the time we finished Tawaf, my hands were all sweaty after holding on to Pak Udin all the way. Later when I used my pedometer I found out that the distance covered during Tawaf was 2.5 km or more depending on which radius one takes. But one will never notice the distance because one will be too immersed in it all. Believe me!

After Tawaf I picked a spot behind Maqam Ibrahim close to the Multazam (another place where your du'a will be heard by Allah) to perform Solah Sunnah Tawaf and recite the same du'a from my little notebook which I recited at the Raudhah. I drank the Zamzam water to quench my thirst. I met up with my wife and posse and we proceeded to the Safa Gate to perform the next compulsory act of Umrah, the Sa'ie, which literally means "ritual walking". It must be performed at the Mas'aa which involves walking between Safa and Marwa (450 meters distance) hillocks 7 times, which totals about 3.15 km. This act is said to commemorate the act of a mother's sacrifice for her son, the story of Siti Hajar mother of Prophet Ismail searching for water after being left by Prophet Ibrahim  in a barren, desolate place which is now Makkah. It is also the story of Allah's mercy in answering prayers and also of the origin of Zamzam water. All the while during Sa'ie I pondered and imagined how it was back then for Siti Hajar without the comfort of the sheltered roof from the hot sun and marble flooring from the scorched desert sand. As if Allah wanted to test me, I did experience such an ordeal myself during my second Umrah which I will divulge later.

After completion of walking from Safa to Marwa 7 times, it came to the end of Umrah when we had to cut at least 3 strands of hairs or shave our head called Tahallul. It was 2 am. That early in the morning there was no barber shop open for business so I just cut my hair. With that last act, we were free from the forbidden rules of Ihram.  It was such a BIG relief like something had been taken off my shoulders. Alhamdulillah I completed my first compulsory Umrah successfully and prayed that Allah accept it from me.

That night I didn't sleep at all. I went back to the hotel to take a shower and change to normal clothes. By this time I was used to wear the Arabic jubah because it was so practical for the weather here and the long jubah covered all my trouser pockets. Then I went back to the Masjidil Haram for Suboh prayer. Luckily, there were no ziyarat program that day so I slept after breakfast. Do make sure you have all the meals of the day breakfast, lunch and dinner because you need the sustenance and energy. That's the reason for the first word in the title, EAT. And do drink as much Zamzam water as your stomach could take because this is your only chance to do so in the Holy Land but most importantly to keep you well-hydrated in the hot weather. Only thing is I can't imagine how it would be during Ramadhan fasting month. I guess one must eat loads during Iftar and Sahur. People say it is more barakah (blessed) performing Umrah during Ramadhan. It's definitely more expensive and crowded especially the last 10 days.

The incident I mentioned earlier happened during my second Umrah. We went for ziyarat to Hudaibiyah, about 17 km from Makkah, which is one of the three Miqats for Makkah residents. It was a visit to a camel farm in the middle of the desert. That was it because the Saudi government didn't allow anyone to visit the Haramain Museum. So on the way back we repeated the same acts as before to perform Umrah. I noted that a few people decided not to perform Umrah this time round. It was their own choice. No elder was tagging along this time. Oblivious to the ordeal I was about to endure, I performed my second Umrah with my wife, my sister and sister in-law before Zuhor prayer during the hottest time of the day. It was flawless with Tawaf and Sa'ie till the end. Without anybody tagging along, I could recite the du'as from the book and do the sunnah acts like joggging between the green lights during Sa'ie. Until Tahallul when I decided to shave my head instead. It was a mistake not to bring along my slippers. I thought the barber shops were just behind the Marwa Gate. My ordeal began. I walked barefoot in search of a barber shop. Initially, the marble flooring was bearable to step on but when I had to cross the tarmac road...Astaghfirullah! was burning hot. Yet I continued walking without any thought. Actually, there was one thought. This is only 1/70th of the heat of the fire in Hell. I completed my Tahallul and had to walk back to the Marwa Gate the same way I came. Immediately, I made a beeline to the nearest Zamzam water station to wet and cool my burning feet. Nevertheless, the sole of my feet developed blisters as painful as.....only Allah and I knew. When I cogitated, maybe this was for the sins I had committed in the past. It will remain as a reminder to me lest I forget the torture of Jahannam.

After Zuhor prayer I went back to the hotel. As it happened, I was not the only one who suffered the predicament. Two other people endured the same torment after losing their slippers. One of them and worst of all was my roommate, Pak Udin. Both his feet was blistered badly. He walked all the way 450 meters from the mosque to the hotel on the blazing hot tarmac. I cringed every time I think of it. After some first aid treatment, I gave Pak Udin some painkiller which I also took. The other person was clever enough to fashion a pair of slippers from cardboard tied to his feet. Ingenious! He was an ex-army. I actually knew you could make slippers from mineral water bottles and strings. Why didn't I think of it at the time? It's part and parcel of being in Holy Haram Land. From then on, Pak Udin stayed in his room all the time. Occasionally, I brought him meals when his wife was late in doing so. What amused me and baffled me was he called me "Cikgu" (teacher). At one time, he wittily said that he has a doctor looking after him.

My third Umrah was after ziyarat to Jabal Thur (where Rasulullah SAW hid from the Quraisy before Hijrah to Madinah), Arafah (where Wukuf for Hajj is performed), Jabal Rahmah (first meeting place of Prophet Adam and Hawa 100 years after they were sent down from the Heaven and that's why people make du'a for their life partners here), Muzdalifah, Mina (image on the left) and Ja'ranah Mosque (the Miqat for our 3rd Umrah). We got back to the hotel almost noon so my wife and I decided to perform our Umrah after Zuhor prayer because there wasn't enough time to complete before Zuhor. This time the Umrah was almost uneventful. Apart from trivial flaw here and there which didn't affect the Umrah act much. We could have done another Umrah on Sunday from another Miqat at Tana'im Mosque (which is 5 km away from Masjidil Haram and people usually take the taxi to and fro) but according to my mother in-law it is better to perform Tawaf Sunnah. There will be 120 blessings (Rahmah) sent down to the Kaaba every day; 20 will be given to those who just look at the Kaaba, 40 to those who perform Solat (prayer) near the Kaaba and 60 to those circumambulating the Kaaba.

Our daily routine during the stay in Makkah involved:
  • waking up at 3.30 am to get ready for Suboh prayer at 4.15 am. The sun rises at 5.40 am so it gets brighter as we were walking back to the hotel after Suboh 
  • having breakfast after Suboh prayer (plus a bit of street shopping, there will be peddlers along the way like "pasar malam")
  • performing Tawaf Sunnah before Zuhor or zirayat program or resting or exploring the streets of Makkah
  • performing i'tikaf (intention to stay in the mosque) in Masjidil Haram in between Zuhor (12.20 pm) and Asar (3.35), and Maghrib (6.55 pm) and Isya' (8.25 pm) prayers either reciting the Quran, dzikir or du'as. We usually make our way to the mosque 45-60 minutes before prayer times to get to the best praying spots and i'tikaf A couple of times I performed Tawaf Sunnah in the heat of the afternoon. Good for the soul.
  • having lunch at the Abraj al-Bait Shopping Mall after Asar prayer as we would have missed lunch which was served after Zuhor at our hotel and we usually went back to the hotel after that. My favorite is beriani with roasted chicken and fresh thick fruit juice. I could devour half a chicken all by myself!
  • having dinner after Isya' at the hotel and early bed before the routine was repeated all over again 
We did a lot of walking while we were there. Walking to the mosque and back to the hotel. Walking during zirayat program. Walking during Umrah. Walking during Tawaf Sunnah. Walking during shopping and exploring the city. We must have clocked 8-10 km per day or even more during the days we performed Umrah. Thus the second word in the title, WALK. No wonder people recommend to go for Hajj when one is still young, strong and healthy. And of course we did a lot of PRAYing, which was the main reason we go to the Holy Haram Land.

Tip: for those who are wearing glasses, you must get used to perform prostration (sujud) during solah with your glasses on because you will never know when somebody is going to step on your glasses in front of you.

As I mentioned before, Makkah is continuously changing fast. I am sure over the next few years if I ever get the chance to perform Umrah again I wouldn't recognize part of the city. The image below clearly shows the magnitude of the development and construction in Makkah. The next image is the futuristic impression of what Makkah will look like in the future. The BIG question is will we be there to witness and experience it?



The day came when we had to leave Makkah Al-Mukarramah. It was a sad Monday for me. We were given instruction regarding the importance of Tawaf Wadak the day before. It is compulsory for everybody (even Makkah residents) to perform Tawaf Widak should one has the intention to leave Makkah for more than 2 marhalah (i.e 91km). There are rules to follow afterwards or else your Tawaf Widak will be null and void and you have committed a sin. For example, you cannot delay your departure apart from waiting for transportation, cannot buy any souvenir or cannot give sadaqah etc. 

We left Makkah for Jeddah at around 11 am. We stopped over Corniche shopping complex, had lunch at the Grand Saha Hotel, performed Zuhor and Asar Jamak prayers, rest for a bit and the last act of tourist act, we visited the Floating Mosque of Jeddah on the Red Sea (image on the left). We said our goodbyes to our Mutawwif who can't follow us to the Hajj Terminal due to rules set by the Saudi Government. Then we were off to the Hajj Terminal for departure.
Tips at the Hajj Terminal: 
  • find and grab any trolleys lying around at the terminal because the terminal workers will charge you an arm and a leg for a trolley (up to 50 riyal for a small trolley), which was supposed to be free. An alternative is sharing to get a big trolley for the whole bus for about 150 riyal. It would be useful to have this information beforehand from TH Travel representative but they just let us being "slaughtered" by the terminal workers. 
  • Weigh your checked in luggage to make sure it didn't exceed the 20 kg limit. Weighing scales are available free of charge. Check in as a group so that the cumulative luggage weight didn't exceed the limit. 
  • Don't be alarmed even if you checked in as a group, the officer will give you jumbled up seat numbers so you will get separated from your loved ones. Just change mutually with others when you get on the plane. Passengers will usually oblige voluntarily.
  • Make sure you tell the officer your destination otherwise you will be parted with your luggage to an unknown destination.
  • Check in your Zamzam water (complimentary 10 liters or 10 kg will be given apart from your luggage weight) at the designated counter and mark them with your name and destination clearly.
  • The security check at the Hajj Terminal was very thorough. Just take off anything metallic (wristwatch, belt, keys, name tag, lanyard, coins, hand phones and wallet you name it) and put everything in your hand luggage. It will save you and the others precious time. Make sure you don't keep any scissors or anything sharp or else you have to throw them away. 
  • Don't keep small riyal change. Spend it or give as sadaqah. The airport workers will beg from Malaysians for money because they know Malaysians have lots of money and generous.
We boarded our flight home and departed after Isya'. Oh! I hate long-haul flight. The smell of in-flight food and the air-condition made me sick every time. I made myself as comfortable as I can, covered my head with a blanket and dozed off to sleep.....deep, deep sleep until the in-flight food was served. Yucks! That happened twice. Again I just ate the fruit and buns but this time with strawberry jam. I tried to watch the Flying Swords of Dragon Gate just by reading the subtitle but the screen watched me instead. What else to do in an 8-hour flight except SLEEP. I needed the rest.

We arrived at KLIA at 11 am or something. Dazed from too much sleep, we still had to wait till 3 pm for our connecting flight to Senai Airport. I met up with my brother and sister in-law outside the departure terminal, bought some giant Toblerones for my daughter Zarith Sofea, did some window shopping at the duty-free watch shop (nice Balls & Omegas!) and hung around a Kopitiam near the departure gate. Luckily, there was no delay. We touched down Senai Airport at 3.45 pm and Home Sweet Home! My daughter Mia Ariana almost didn't recognize me because of my shaved head but not for long. After all, she's daddy's girl. That was the end of the most awesome journey of my life. I urge those who have fulfilled the criteria to go perform your Umrah A.S.A.P. Rumors have it that there will be no Umrah visa issued by the Saudi Government next year.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention an incident involving a missing person in our tour group. It happened on the 12th of May, 2 days before we were to leave Makkah. An old woman was left at the ladies praying area by the son who later cannot find his mother. A search was conducted by a few people in our group and the TH Travel officers. When we left on the 14th of May, she was still missing. Only one of the son's were allowed to stay to wait for any news while the rest had to depart with us. I cannot fathom the son's feeling of losing a mother missing in Makkah. Stories had it that the mother wanted to sponsor all of her children for that Umrah but only three followed. Moral of the story is a mother's love knows no bound and children must not disappoint a mother's hopes and wishes. However, closure came a few days ago when I heard from TH Travel officers in Johor Bahru that she was already found at the Syisya Hospital in Makkah. All's well that ends well!

P/S: I wanted to upload a beautiful call of Adzan recorded during one Maghrib prayer in Masjidil Haram but I encountered some technical error with Blogger.Com. It serves as a reminder to me of Makkah as I know it.

First of all, I would like to thank all the readers of the humble blog or travelog about my divinely awesome Umrah experience. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. It was my sincere gesture to share my experience and tips that could make your forthcoming trip to the Holy Haram Land as smooth as it had turned out to be, with Allah's permission! It was never my intention to flaunt or show off but I performed the Umrah because of Allah Taala. In this post-hoc analysis of my divine voyage, I will try to look at the whole picture- after everything had concluded and I am safely back to my meek, pathetic existence in the eyes of Allah - for events I would have never expected, a priori . 

For those having problem understanding the statistical term I used:
post hoc : after the event
a priori - logic known to be true independently of or in advance of experience of the event; requiring no evidence for its validation or support

Unexpected events happened even before my departure. I was quite disappointed when someone up there in the top ranks whom I think I could trust back-stabbed me. I am not going to elaborate on the incident and I won't mention any name but one thing for sure I would never look at this person in the same way ever again. Now I think he's the worst b@$+@_d I had ever known. Mind my language but that's the way I feel about him now. If you think you know who you are, I don't give a "fish".

I learnt that going for Umrah (and especially Hajj for that matter) required a lot of preparation, be it financially, materially, mentally, physically, emotionally and most importantly spiritually. And take a provision (with you) for the journey, but the best provision is At-Taqwa (piety, righteousness). So fear Me, O men of understanding! (Surah Al-Baqara 2:197)

Financial preparation is a prerequisite in itself that make it compulsory (wajib) for you to perform Umrah and Hajj if you have not done it and you already have more than enough money in the bank. Enough money for the fare going and return, enough money for the whole stay for necessities and enough money for the loved ones left behind at home should anything happened to you there. Try not bring too much money (which I did!) for the journey but do exchange to Riyal in Malaysia. I guess RM1000-2000 per person should be enough (to buy necessities, food/drink, lost slippers, clothing, prepaid SIM card and to pay Dam) unless you are planning to shop till you drop, which beats the original purpose of going there. If you don't want to bring cash, open an Al-Rajhi bank account in Malaysia (which I did too!). There are numerous AL-Rajhi ATM machines conveniently scattered all around Madinah and Makkah. Each withdrawal transaction is charged RM10, though. I think I just leave the money in my Al-Rajhi account till my next Hajj visit, Insyaallah.

Material preparation can be a daunting task if you don't know what to prepare(like I did!). Don't pack everything you own including the kitchen sink. Just pack the necessities which could be different from one person to another. I will not even attempt to make a list here. Just google it and there are many versions for you to choose from. My tips: for ladies I guess you have to buy most of the clothings (telekung cloaks, forearm gloves, stockings etc) in Malaysia just in case you can't find them there but for men don't bring too many clothes. I brought 2 pairs of trousers, one jubah given by father in-law, enough underwears, 2 Pagoda T-shirts, pyjama and the clothes I wore in the plane. Buy jubah there for few Riyal and wear them instead of Malay traditional clothes. I bought 2 good quality Haramain jubahs that I wore alternately. Very practical and comfortable. I had one sent for laundry for 6 Riyal at any one time but you can wash yourself. Things dry very quickly there. Bring comfortable trousers with button-able back-pockets. I wore trousers and jubah all the time when I am not in state of Ihram. There are many things you can buy there for "hamsa riyal" (5 Riyal) more or less like sajadah, skullcap, tasbih, slippers etc. You don't have to bring everything from home. If you go to Bin Dawood supermarket and you can get all the things familiar in our supermarkets.

Talking about slippers, do bring a pouch (the one that comes free with shoes or handbags - ladies would know). It will save you from the heartache of losing your slippers in the mosque. Now you are allowed to bring your slippers in plastic bag or pouch to the praying areas and place it near or even next to you in both Masjid An-Nabawi and Masjidil Haram. The only times I left my slippers at a certain shoe rack (my favorite shoe racks are no. 60 &248 near King Abdul Aziz Gate) were during Tawaf lest the slippers are not clean from bird droppings. Lo and behold! There are as many pigeons there in Makkah as in Trafalgar Square. Strange thing as it happens, there are no bird droppings in the open air Tawaf area considering the earlier fact. From my keen observation, there are birds flying around but they never ever flew over the Kaaba. Hmmmmm strange indeed! Allahu Akbar!

I can't tell you how to prepare yourself physically, mentally and emotionally because it's very individualistic. Different people have different coping mechanisms. But I can tell you must get yourself fit and healthy because you are going to be doing a lot of walking in hot, low humidity weather. Do some walking or jogging before you go. Get used to drink more water. I drank a lot of Zamzam water but seldom find the need to relieve myself. You do perspire a lot but your sweat just evaporates away. Stay in the shades as much as possible. If you feel too hot, drink and drink some more and use the Zamzam water to cool yourself. Familiarize yourself with the air conditioned areas of Masjidil Haram, that was where I usually perform Iktikaf in the mosque. I will move to the area where I could see the Kaaba when the srrounding is cooler. No matter how tough you think you are or how much you prepare yourself mentally or emotionally, I can assure you that you will succumb to tears when you are in front of our Prophet Muhammad's mausoleum and again when you see the majestic, divine Kaaba towering right in front you. You will remember that moment in time for the rest of your life and you will long to go back to do it all over again. I have video-recorded the call of adzan in Masjidil Haram for keepsake on my iPhone, which I watch every time I miss the Kaaba. It served me as a reminder of my journey of a lifetime.

Now we come to the most important preparation of all: spiritually. It comprises of things to learn and things to do. You have to learn about a lot of things. Knowledge about how to gear yourself up to perform the acts of Umrah and what to do and what not to do. In this day and age, one can get information from the worldwide web as easily as googling it. But be careful of the information on the internet. Don't swallow them whole. You have to take them with a pinch of salt. Make sure the information come from respectable and knowledgeable people or sources eg prominent learned people or hadith Sahih. You must learn or review the basics of your Solah especially jamaah (in congregation), Wudu' (ablution) during water shortage, Tayammum if no water, Solah Jenaza (there will one every Solah Fardhu, the rulings of Solah Jama' and Qasar during travelling, all types of Solah Sunnah (Dhuha, Taubah, Tahajjud, Witr etc), etiquettes of du'a etc...... and the list is endless.

Books are good source of information. A friend recommended me to read these two books (in Malay) by Abd. Basit Abd. Rahman: Madinah Munawwarah Kelebihan dan Sejarah (ISBN 978-967-5102-98-1) and Makkah al-Mukarramah Kelebihan dan Sejarah (ISBN 978-967-5102-07-3). Reading these books and knowing the relevant history will give you insight and more meaningful zirayat (visit to Islamic historical sites) around Madinah and Makkah. It will also increase your love for Allah and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) by studying the life of Rasulullah and the stories of his Sahabah and how they sacrificed everything for Islam. I regretted I didn't finish reading them before departing for the Holy Haram Land. I only browsed through the relevant pages because there was not enough time to go through them from cover to cover. I decided to go for Umrah on the spur of the moment.

The list for things to do in your spiritual preparation before leaving is also endless but yet quintessential. General things to do include paying off any outstanding debt, making peace with those you have had any misunderstanding, asking for forgiveness from those you have wronged and finishing any important but unfinished matters. Specific things to do include increasing your Imaan (faith), building on and improving your Taqwaa (consciousness of Allah), building on being patient and learning to be in your best of manners and behaviors. Pray Solah Fardu five times a day on time preferably in congregation (jamaah) to build your relationship with Allah. Purify your hearts from any bad habits or any action displeasing to Allah. Purify your tongues – by speaking good, reduce idle talk and increase in dzikr. Accustom yourself with giving sadaqah to the needy. Pray Solah Sunnah Taubah asking for Allah forgiveness and Solah Hajat asking Him to make the journey easy and safe and for Mabrur Umrah or Hajj. Most importantly, constantly renew your intentions to why you performed the Umrah or Hajj  as a duty we owe to Allah and we are going to please only Him alone (Lillahi Taala - because of Allah Taala).

What else could I say? Actually, no amount of preparation could ever make you 100% ready for the journey of a lifetime. The more you read about it, the more you feel inadequate. Nothing could ever compare to actually being there yourself to experience it. When you are really there, you will be surprised how everything seems to feel natural and second nature even though you have never done it before. You just do it! Again I urge everyone, if you can afford it go there, experience it for yourself because I've had the times of my life! I want you to feel the same way too.


Michel said...

Dear Friends,

Please do not get me wrong. The reason I wrote this blog is to share my amazing Umrah experience and useful tips should you decide to go there lest people think I wanna show off or brag about having done it. Being riak & takabbur was never my intention.
It's also to etch a permanent memory in the worldwideweb for myself and for my descendants to reminisce in the future.
I hope everyone will benefit from my humble perspective.

Yours Sincerely,
Dr Ezalee

abdul hakim Khan said...

I liked all photos however I liked few photos very much. I am writing to you in hope you can share the original photos with me. Because I am planning to make big wall posters of Masjid e Nabvi and Masjid e Haram and stick it in my House first room (Hall) :-)

I was searching of very high resolution photos of Masjid e Nabvi and Masjid e Haram and then I found your site. Your photos are very impressive mashallah and keep up the good work, may Allah give you very good rewards for the same inshallah.

I was able to download few pictures directly from google image search, however I am wondering if I can get better quality photos directly from you.

If you could share then please share the original copies of below photos, of high resolution for example greater than 10 MP or photo size 4000*3000. I dont mind if you dont share and still would say Allah bless you :-)

1. One of the photo is Aerial view of Masjid e haram(file name 5652093) size is 1060KB. I was able to download this photo however I am wordering if you have a better quality one.

2. Other photo is of Masjid ul Nabawi (file name is Masjid ul nabawi aerial). I wasnt able to download the file however its size is only 145KB and of very low resolution. Can you please share the photo of high resolution.

3. Similarly please share high quality photos which you like and please do not put any names on the photos because I will delete is with photoshop :-).

Thank you in advance brother. I too have some photos of high quality which I downloaded from google Image search. I can share it with you for free :-) .

Please remember me in your prayers and please share the photos with me at

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