It is in 1988, when a friend, Jamal suggested that I should perform the Umrah or minor pilgrimage. At that time, I was not exactly a religious person. I remember wondering about whether I could continue doing my, shall we just say, non Islamic activities should I perform the Umrah.
Jamal made it very easy for me. I handed him my passport, paid the relevant amounts and he made all the arrangements for us to perform the Umrah, arranged by the Malaysian Pilgrimage Fund, or Lembaga Urusan dan Tabung Haji (LUTH).
I kept my thoughts to myself, but I was a little concerned when I boarded the flight to Jeddah that fateful day in 1988. I mean, I was on my way to visit the holiest place in Islam, as a guest of the All Mighty. I had heard stories of people who never made it despite all their efforts. They might have fallen terribly sick etc., and stuff like that. I wondered if such a calamity would befall me.
Anyway, the flight was uneventful and we landed in Jeddah on time. I feel that I got my first sign when we were being herded into a mini bus by the LUTH representatives to a nearby hotel for freshening up. The bus was full and there were still two of us left. The LUTH representative made some calls and told us a car would be coming to pick us up and a car did come.
Boy, what a car! It was a stretch limo, the type that we see pop or movie stars use. My first time in such a car!
From Jeddah, we flew to Medina first and spent a few days there, praying at the Prophet’s pbuh mosque (the 2nd most holiest place in Islam). We then flew back to Jeddah (dressed in ihram and having taken the niat or intention to perform the Umrah) and were then taken in a bus to Mecca. We unloaded our bags at our hotel and were taken by our guide to the Grand Mosque.
Some pilgrims in Ihram
I remember walking into the Mosque, following our guide and silently reading the various prayers that we were recommended to read. Masjidil Haram or the Grand Mosque in Mecca is the holiest mosque for all Muslims, where a prayer done is equivalent to 100,000 prayers done in any other mosque.
This mosque is built around the Ka’abah, towards which the entire Muslim population faces whilst performing prayers. We reached the sunken part of the Grand Mosque which has the Ka’abah at its centre.
A pic of the Masjidil Haram. The Ka’abah is the black cube that we see in the centre. Credit: Google
It was slightly after midday, and for the first time in my life, I say the Ka’abah in all its splendour. I suppose I must have stared at it for a while perhaps with my mouth open!Hundreds of people were performing the tawaf, an Islamic ritual where we walk 7 times around the Ka’abah.
I broke down and cried. Not sobbing or anything like that, but just cried. I don’t know why. It just happened. Tears flowed down my cheeks and I remember not being bothered about whether others were looking at me.
Insya’Allah, the Umrah that I performed that day, was accepted.
As part of the trip, we were taken for a guided tour around Mecca and our guide explained to us the various events that had taken place in Islamic history at each of the places that we stopped.
Other than this, we spent most of our time in Mecca in the Grand Mosque. Each and every time, I entered the Mosque and saw the Ka’abah for the first time that particular time, I felt moved.
Since that fateful day, my wife and I have performed the Haj and I have been back a number of times to perform the Umrah. Each and everytime, I have been moved. I don’t know if the Ka’abah is called a building, but no structure or building has ever moved me as much as this building has done.