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    Journey of a lifetime

    Azlan Othman

    It was a blessing to be able to perform haj this year and becoming one of Allah the Almighty’s guests or Duyufurrahman. I was reminded again and again by my peers how lucky I was to be able to perform the pilgrimage as not many were bestowed with the opportunity.

    When I sent my luggage to the Brunei International Airport a day prior to my departure to Madinah, a friend congratulated me and said how lucky I was to be chosen as one of 453 Brunei pilgrims this year.

    The haj pilgrimage is a thing of beauty. I registered with the Haj Affairs Department at the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) to perform one of the five pillars of Islam back in 2017 and attended religious courses at Sultan Sharif Ali Mosque in Kampong Sengkurong a year later, every Friday and Sunday.

    In 2020, which was the year that I supposed to fly off to the holy city to perform haj, I attended the mandatory haj course four times at Pengiran Anak Puteri Amal Umi Kalthum Al-Islam Religious School in Kampong Mulaut before it was abruptly stopped due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 globally.

    This year, Saudi Arabia finally re-opened the holy city of Makkah to international travellers after a two-year pause, including allowing one million people to perform the pilgrimage. About two million people normally descend upon the city, but officials decided to limit the number of participants this year due to the ongoing pandemic fight.

    Pilgrims at An-Nabawi Mosque in Madinah. PHOTOS: AZLAN OTHMAN
    Brunei pilgrims in a group photo with the Ka’abah in the background

    I still remember the day when I received a call from the Haj Affairs Department. It was a Sunday morning in May. They asked me whether I was willing to accept the offer to perform haj this year. I accepted without hesitance. It was a last-minute decision as our departure to Madinah and Makkah would only be a month away, and the process normally takes three months.

    Performing haj is indeed a journey of a lifetime. It is obligatory for every able (physical and financial) Muslim to perform the pilgrimage at least once and I was fortunate enough to be one of them.

    As one of the five pillars of Islam, it’s definitely on every Muslim’s bucket list. Besides fulfilling our Islamic obligations, it was also an amazing experience to be part of the one million Muslims coming together for a common goal.

    Going on the haj is also life-changing. Being one among a million from all walks of life, from the richest to the poorest, all dressed in white, performing the same rituals, particularly touched me.

    To see the Ka’abah for the first time or to feel the sublime and peaceful atmosphere of Madinah and visit Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) An-Nabawi Mosque in Madinah was unforgettable.

    Standing in front of the Ka’abah for the first time, it felt so surreal.

    Just seeing the holy mosque itself brought me to tears. All this while, we could only see the Ka’abah on TV, in print and on a prayer mat; to see it in person, I couldn’t contain myself. To be in the same spot where our Prophets once stood, it was a powerful feeling that is difficult to put in words.

    I started seeing the impact of a million worshippers crowding a city. Streets were too jam-packed for any transportation to flow. Shops were filled with people buying prayer mats, food, prayer beads, dates, and more. “Abang, kakak, lihat dulu, murah-murah” is a common phrase by vendors to attract the attention of pilgrims.

    I learnt that we have to be patient and kind in our approaches in life, which consequently changed my attitude towards life. We are humans and we have our own way of doing things.

    During the pilgrimmage, to gain space in Al-Haram mosque for the prayers, it’s better to go two hours before the prayer time. Rewards for praying at Al-Haram Mosque in Makkah is 100,000 times more than normal while praying at An-Nabawi Mosque in Madinah is 1,000 times more.

    They usually block the doors one hour before prayers as the mosque will already be crowded with congregants.

    As part of the haj rituals, we also set foot on the blessed plains of Arafah and gather for Wuquf and pray to Allah the Almighty and ask for his mercy, forgiveness, and the strength to be guided towards a life of faith.

    Off the plains lies a short mountain, Mount Arafah where where Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) gave his last sermon to those who were present at haj with him when pilgrims climb the rocky mountain, they feel deeply connected to Allah the Almighty.

    We stayed in Arafah from morning until after the Isyak prayer.

    The day of Arafah is sacred and deeply spiritual. It allows you to ponder the life you’ve lived so far, the life you want for the future, and to turn to Allah the Almighty.

    Right after the Isyak prayer, we headed to Muzdalifah and later continued our rituals in Makkah for Tawaf or circling of Ka’abah seven times at wee hours of the morning. After circling the Ka’abah, pilgrims have to walk about 100 metres to two hills – Safa and Marwah for Saie – where they recreate another significant event recorded in Al-Quran.

    After Prophet Ismail (pbuh) was born, Allah the Almighty instructed Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) to leave his newborn son and his mother Hajar out in the desert, and he complied. But when Prophet Ismail (pbuh) cried out with thirst, Hajar ran between these two hills, looking for water, until finally she turned to Allah the Almighty for help.

    Allah the Almighty rewarded Hajar for her patience. He sent His angel Jibril to reveal a spring, which today is known as the Zamzam well.

    After we completed our Saie, we trimmed our hair at nearby Safwa shopping complex at the cost of SAR20 (BND7) and were able to change out of our Ihram (white clothing) and into normal clothes.

    On the next day, we spent three days and two nights at Mina tents for symbolic stoning of the devil at Jamarat. In Mina, about five miles from the Al-Haram Mosque of Makkah, tents that stretched as far as the eye can see were provided to travellers who stayed at the camp.

    It was a privilege to have Brunei pilgrims placed some 50 metres from the stoning site, making it convenient compared to pilgrims from other parts of the world, with some having to walk several kilometres to reach the site under the hot sun.

    Memories of performing the pilgrimage this year remain strong. Brunei pilgrims were blessed to be able to stay at Raudhah at An-Nabawi mosque in Madinah for more than 30 minutes as our visit coincided with the Asar prayer.

    Raudhah is a small area inside An-Nabawi mosque, which extends from the tomb of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to his pulpit. Also called the Garden of Paradise, it is the most sought-after spot in An-Nabawi mosque. Brunei pilgrims were able to perform as many prayers as they wanted.

    Another blessing was to be able to perform Wuquf at Arafah on Friday, a rare moment which promises multiple rewards. I must admit that some of the pilgrims sobbed when it was announced that haj pilgrimage Wukuf in Arafah fell on a Friday.

    In a nutshell, one must prepare the mind and soul for the trip. If you are young and able-bodied, consider performing haj because you will need both physical and mental strength for the pilgrimage. When the time is right and your heart is looking forward to completing your last pillar in Islam, you will have to do it whenever you can afford it (in terms of money, time and health).

    Prepare your fitness by starting a workout regime. While performing haj, trying to stay healthy amidst a sea of people from all over the world may seem daunting. Stay hydrated, eat well, rest well, as well as bring medications and supplements.

    The pilgrimage is a deeply profound experience and a spiritual journey. Muslims who return home after their haj feel a revival of faith and connection to Allah the Almighty.

    Each detail and the feeling of being in haj is still alive in my heart. This is the testimony of almost all pilgrims when they return to their lives – that it lives within them forever. I eagerly await the day I could return and experience it again.

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