EAT – WALK – PRAY
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 – an amazing, highly-emotional, spiritually-cleansing and life-changing experience beyond measure! Alhamdulillah! Praises to Allah for giving me the opportunity and means to visit His Holy Haram Land.
It’s been a few days since I returned and now that I’ve had time to rest and do my cleaning up, the experience has begun to settle in me. There are so many accounts to talk about, beautiful accounts of those wonderful days I spent in Saudi Arabia. Through this blog, I hope to inspire those who have never been to maybe think about going, insyaa Allah? And as for those fortunate ones who have been able to perform both Hajj and Umrah, I hope this post brings back wonderful memories and become an encouragement for you to think about making the blessed trip again, Ameen.
Honestly, I never thought that I would ever had the chance to go to the Holy land anytime soon, I’ve always wanted to go Yes, but I thought maybe when I am much older or something. So, when I found out that my husband had planned the trip for us, I was beyond ecstatic! The best gift ever! It was sometime in July this year, that he had made arrangements with Halijah Travel but it was on the day that we were due to depart for Jeddah that I only made the announcement to all! Therefore, many were shocked as I had been keeping the strong desire and news to myself for months and months (except to my close ones). Main reason I did that was because I just wanted to keep this very private as it meant the whole wide world to me, I just don’t want to jinx it…. You know, sometimes when you have or expecting something so special, you just wanna safeguard it and not share to the world? That was exactly how I felt.. it was so sacred, beyond special, it was my first obligatory umrah and I was praying everyday that it will all run smoothly (which it did, Alhamdulillah)..
Truthfully, I thought I was fit and super ready but now that I had experienced it myself, I gathered that there will be no kind of physical and mental training that could ever prepare anyone for the journey to the Holy Land. I was completely shaken and extremely overwhelmed physically, psychologically and emotionally by the sheer grandeur, holiness of the place and especially by the continuous horde of people from all over the world! The physical exertion of endless, tireless walking to and from our hotel and two of the holiest mosques in the world, Masjidil Haram in Makkah and Masjid An-Nabawi in Madinah was extreme. There were lots and lots of walking, indeed, Umrah and Hajj are physical forms of ibadah or worship in Islam.
Months prior to departure, I started preparing myself for the trip of my lifetime. From getting the medical vaccinations to buying the right clothing, planning what to pack to reading books on how to perform Umrah, attending revision courses with my husband, asking my close relatives on their experiences and browsing websites/blogs on other people’s accounts of their Umrah journey. As the departure date was fast approaching, I felt more and more uneasy. I got goosebumps worrying about everything. Suddenly, the task at hand felt very daunting. I had mixed feelings about it all. Undoubtedly, I was very excited and happy to be chosen by Allah to be His guest at the Holy Haram Land. But on the other hand, I was scared and worried whether I could perform the rites to the best of my ability.
Finally, the day came when we were meant to fly out to the Holy Land. Feelings of exhilaration, 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 and sad to leave my 11-month old twin daughters and family in Singapore. But most of all, overjoyed to be His chosen guest.
I booked a 12-seater van for my family and I to Changi Airport Terminal 3 and we reached door 7 for Saudi Arabian Airlines at about 1.45pm on 15 November 2017. After dropping the 4 pieces of luggage at Row 9 and collected our boarding passes, we continued chatting with family and friends who were there to send us off. I was smiling and giggling but was terribly shaken on the inside as I knew that the minutes will turn into seconds that I had to let go of my babies. I kept reminding myself umpteen times to not cry! But when the time finally came, I felt so defeated by my own emotions and burst out crying and wailing like a baby. This was the very first time that I had to be separated from my Madeenah and Mayeesha, and I could not imagine the 2 weeks without them. I sobbed and cried uncontrollably in the presence of my family members and some friends, I simply cannot control myself at that very moment. After a few minutes of hugging, kissing and smelling them, I finally gained some courage to let them go from my arms – the most difficult part of the whole trip was that, really.
After immigration checks, we sat down for some quick bites at the departure hall while I was still sobbing away in tears. My husband consoled me and I tried to compose myself for what was ahead of me was something much ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ .. He was the One who gave me Madeenah and Mayeesha after many years of unexplained infertility, so I thought to myself that I should not be crying for what He has given me, especially the fact that I was going to His holy land.. and so, I gathered myself and strive ahead.
Our flight departed for Jeddah at 5pm and that was it, Singapore land soon became tiny ants-sized and suddenly vanished from sight as we soared the skies at 35,000 feet above.
I haven’t been on a long-haul flight for quite a while after I gave birth (in Dec 2016) and honestly, I have never liked it (absurdly, I used to be a cabin crew when I was in my late teens/early twenties – don’t ask me how I survived).. The last was the flight to New York in Dec 2015 I think and that was a blurr cos I snoozed out most of the time. 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 mind?! It was an 8-hour flight so I did some last minute revision, high-lighting my scribbled notes and memorizing supplications (du’a) and getting my body and soul ready for the Umrah task ahead. I told myself not to fall into a deep sleep so as not to miss the ‘Miqat’ area (Miqat refers to the boundary where it becomes necessary for pilgrims to adorn the Ihram garments and impermissible to pass except in the state of Ihram). Our first stop was to Makkah and immediately perform our umrah, therefore, the Miqat was extremely crucial for us to say our intention (Niah) and be in an Ihram state while in the aircraft. My husband changed into his Izar and Rida mid-way on board and we were all set to approach the Miqat anxiously. Hours later, the moment finally arrived when the pilot announced that we will be approaching the Miqat area.. my heart skipped a beat! We stood up, faced the kiblah, said our intentions out loud and sat back down on our seats.. That was when the Talbiyah officially began up till the moment we first saw the Kaa’ba… I kept on repeating it with my heart pumping fast…
Labbaika Laa Syarikalaka Labbaik
Innalhamda Wan Ni’mata
Laka Wal Mulk
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.
We arrived at Jeddah Airport at about 9.30pm, the feeling of warm breezes whipping my face and to be stepping onto the tarmac of Saudi Arabia for the first time (hopefully not the last!) were amazing! I was jumping for joy inside as we boarded a bus that took us to the main terminal. My husband told me that during his first umrah trip, the immigration process took about 4 – 5 hours. WHAT???!! But to my surprise, we were cleared briskly within half an hour! We went on to collect our luggage and stepped out of immigration where we were warmly greeted by our driver holding a placard with my husband’s name on. Then we went to purchase mobile pre-paid cards with Mobily (a Saudi Arabian telecommunications services company) and off we hopped onto our airport transfer limo to the 5-star Pullman Zam Zam Makkah hotel, where our comfortable stay for 5 nights was. Alhamdulillah…
During the one hour drive from Jeddah airport to Makkah, I was in daze, trying to fight the sleepiness and at the same time wanting to catch the glimpse of the surroundings, but the latter was defeated as I fell in and out of sleep. I was then awoken by some bumps and bright lights as we went through an underground tunnel and I knew that ‘it was nearing’.. and true enough, I saw ‘Pullman Zam Zam’ from afar. Our car stopped at the driveway where a bellman was waiting and brought down all of our luggage.
Maa syaa Allah, we have reached!
Check-in was a breeze and we entered our Presidential suite room on the 25th floor overlooking the Kaa’ba within minutes!
I stuck-rooted at the window of our suite and said some du’a at the very first sight of it..
Momentarily, the time finally came for us to perform Umrah! I started to have butterflies in my stomach and my legs became jelly-like! Ya Allah, I am going to do Umrah for real! I gathered my physical and mental strength and focused my concentration to the Umrah task that I was about to perform for the first time of my life..
The walk from our hotel to Masjidil Haram was only about 100 meters. The hotel is within the Abraj Al Bait complex itself and we just had to go down the lift and down an escalator before we reached to the street level towards the mosque. When I looked up to my right, there it was, the humongous Zamzam Tower dwarfing every other buildings around it. I continued walking humbly towards the King Abdul Aziz Gate No. 1, opened my slides, placed them in a plastic bag into my sling bag and was in awe as I went down the stairs. In an instant, my gaze was transfixed to the black magical building, beautifully-clad with Kiswah, adorned with golden scriptures from the Quran at the center of the open square. I could not 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 Kaa’ba. It was like a dream come true as I stared fixedly at it, recited some du’a and 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 Kaa’ba for the very FIRST time even though one has seen images of it many many times on social media or TV. What on earth did I do to even deserve to be here, ya Allah! And so I did it again, a crybaby! What an emotional journey this was!
By the time I was out from my trance, we went to the square to perform Tawaf, circumambulation around the Kaa’ba for 7 times at the green light parallel to the Corner of Hajar Aswad and off we went together – the best feeling of being able to perform umrah with the love of my life, my husband (through the bad and good times)..
I did my Tawaf while looking at my Umrah notes every now and then, got pushed and shoved along the way, but I was prepared for all that. Umrah is a physical form of ibadah with no specific recitation, so I just did whatever recitation that I could remember and most importantly, I said lots of du’a. Time and time again during Tawaf, I was teary as I reflected 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.
It was about midnight that we completed our tawaf and surprisingly, there were still a lot, and I mean, a lot of people around. Throughout the stay in Makkah, our TV in the hotel room which showed the kaa’ba was 24/7 filled with continuous sea of people – non-stop!
And this ladies and gentlemen, this is the True City that never ever sleeps, truly! Allahuakbar.
After Tawaf I picked a spot amongst the women to perform 2 rakaat prayers and recited some du’a from my notebook. I then got reunited with my husband and we went to drink the Zamzam water to quench our thirst and pour a little over our heads. We then 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. May Allah reward her…
After completion of walking from Safa to Marwa 7 times, it came to the end of Umrah when we went to a barber for my husband to get a haircut called Tahallul (mine was cut by my husband in our hotel room). 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.
The days in Makkah passed like a flash. As much as I was truly aching and missing my babies, I did want to stay much longer in Makkah. Everyday was literally – Eat, Walk, Pray – no stress, no fuss, just ibadah. During prayer times, all the shops were closed as the sales people went for prayers. At times, I got stuck as it was too over-crowded and I had to perform prayer inside the Abraj Al Bait mall itself! How cool was that? Me performing prayers with the jemaah outside Dorothy Perkins store?! I cannot stop giggling to myself at first as I imagined myself performing prayers inside Paragon mall in Singapore but it was real and the feeling was so amazing! There was a night when it was full (again) and I prayed just outside the mosque in the open under the twinkling stars, it was so beautiful.. never mind the long standing prayers, I just felt at ease and belonged!
There were lots of pigeons here in Makkah as there were at The Piazza! But weirdly, I did not witness any bird droppings at the open square or near the kaa’ba! – Allahuakbar.
Everything went too fast and the day came when we had to leave Makkah Al-Mukarramah for Madinah Al-Munawarrah. It was indeed a sad Sunday for me.
The hotel arranged for a car to transport us from Makkah to Madinah and we reached exactly 3 hours later, just in time for check-in. Again, our comfortable stay was at Pullman Zam Zam group of hotels and I was in awe by the majestic view of the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi. It was right smack in the middle of the full-length window of our spacious Executive suite room and I was so content. What a wonderful mercy to be here.. I greeted Salam to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and 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 such a humbling experience.
It was so peaceful in Madinah that days passed very quickly. The daily walk to and from hotel and Masjid An-Nabawi made me forgot about everything else, work and all the daily grinds back in Singapore. Our hotel was nearest to gate 3 and our favorite Indonesian restaurant was near gate 15, the place was huge and ‘spread-out’, so everyday was like an exercise and a test on our physical stamina. Whenever I got thirsty, I just had to pop by at the many Zam-Zam stations because it was literally everywhere. On day 2 in Madinah, we went visiting to Mount Uhud, The Seven Mosques, Quba mosque and Qiblatain mosque.
But the highlight of my stay was definitely the Ar-Rawdah (Gardens of Paradise).. (I have so much love for it that I even named that for one of my twins).. I also managed to catch a glimpse of a jenazah (funeral) that was being handled and quickly ushered to the nearby Jannat Al-Baqi cemetary.. Once the body was carried out of the mosque, I saw men running towards it to help carry. They were all after the Qiraat (reward) that will be given to them for helping out with the jenazah. I then pondered, what a wonderful blessing and mercy to be laid to rest in Janat Al-Baqi here at the holy land, near to the Prophet ﷺ , his companions, wives and all of the people during his time, maasyaa Allah..
We spent the morning of day 3 in an educational tour at the As-Salam Museum where they showcased the life of prophet Muhammad ﷺ
There was just something in the air in Madinah that feels so right, something storied and so serene, it needs to be felt, so difficult to describe.
I did most of the souvenir shopping in Madinah because it was so cooling to walk around at a temperature of 14 degrees Celsius and things are cheaper than in Makkah. But my husband reminded me to not get too immersed in shopping because that was not the reason I came here for. So I just bought some presents for the loved ones back home like perfume, jubah, sajadah, fridge magnets, Islamic books and of course Ajwa dates.
On our last day, I had mixed feelings.. sad to be leaving the place and at the same time excited to be reunited with my beautiful babies (those of whom I uttered in every single prayers that I made).. I miss them badly, but it ached me to leave the place too..
We left Madinah for Jeddah airport at about 8.15pm but before that, we bought bottles of Zam Zam water at 8 Riyal each at Madinah airport. I think we bought about 5 bottles in total. We did all the check-in of our luggage and collected boarding passes for both our flights to Jeddah and en-route to Singapore. Saudi Arabian Airlines was so efficient, I was pleasantly surprised!
After a short transit in Jeddah, we finally departed for Singapore at 1.35am and arrived at about half past 3 in the afternoon (of the same day) where my two lil munchkins were waiting eagerly at belt 42! My mum wore them denim jackets, dresses, shoes and they looked like they had grown so much over the past 2 weeks that I had not seen them, maasyaa Allah! I was in tears as I hugged them and so, that marked the end of my most beautiful journey ever.. But I made a determined promise that I will be back FOR SURE if I am blessed with good health and longevity, this time round, with my babies insyaa Allah.
I learnt that going for Umrah required a lot of preparation, be it financially, materially, mentally, physically, emotionally and most importantly spiritually. But in actual fact, 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 seemed to flow naturally even though you have never done it before. You just do it! Again I urge everyone, do go if you can afford it to experience it for yourself! It is just so beautiful.
To this end, I would like to thank you readers for reading my humble blog. 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 rather, I performed the Umrah because of Allah subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa.
I want to preface this reflection with a very sincere and humble sense of gratitude that I was able to experience this journey and it is one of the most cherished memory of my life. For I saw with my own eyes, and felt with my own heart that prayers are being answered, my faith being rewarded, my love being appreciated and my existence being blessed!
Special thanks to my husband, Nur Sazrin, for guiding me through this journey, may Allah reward you abundantly, Ameen.