My first Umrah trip was planned by my brother when I was going through the worst phase of my life. The procedures for the journey was done within very few days and the date was fixed.
To perform an Umrah at least once in a lifetime is a dream for every Muslim as much as they aim for Hajj. To me, it was not something I had been yearning for, honestly, but happened as a retreat from all the pain and sorrows that I was undergoing.
The advice before we set off on our journey from my family to me was,
‘Use these twelve days for yourself. The ten days in the Holy land should be your days of realization and self-analyzation.’
My earliest reminiscence of the Ka’bah is of framed photos hung in our home. I did not have a clear image of how the journey was going to be, what I was about to experience or even if I am going to see a change in me for good by this trip.
So the journey was set after a few bitter experiences at the Bandaranaike International Airpot (BIA) and we landed at the King Abdulaziz International Airport and safely boarded our air-conditioned coach to Makkah.
My family and the rest of our fellow travelers were filled with excitement. I was too exhausted mentally and physically to feel anything.
As we entered the holy city of Makkah, my brother reminded me that I should be on the lookout for the clock tower. It would be the first sign pointing to the Masjid Al Haram. Seeing the clock tower for the first time only increased my anticipation which prompted me to look out for the minarets.
Finally, the beautiful minarets emerged from behind the hotels which surround the Masjid, filling me with energy and my fellow travelers with joy. We were just meters away from the Masjid.
Soon we were dropped off at our Hotel, where we refreshed and rested for a little bit from the long journey to relieve off the weariness and prepare for our first Umrah.
When the rest of the travelers and my family were happily preparing for their first Umrah, I sat in one of those hotel room beds, weeping. I had not taken my pills for postponing my period. Well, Mother Nature does not always have her best timing and there I was bleeding and tearing.
Everyone around me tried consoling me. Many assured me that it was for something really good and I must take it positively.
I went along with the rest to the Haram, where our religious guide advised me that I may not enter the Masjid until I am pure. I was left behind at the Haram, where I sat with the rest of the people who I found to be in groups, seated to picnic happily.
It was strange.
Seated there, all by myself, I looked up at the Masjid that stood high and tall in its most magnificent glory.
Hatred, joy, and pain combined to pour tears down my face non-stop. I cupped my hands together, collecting all the little strength left in me to talk to Allah.
For hours, I sat there crying and praying to him.
The greatness of Allah, the holiness of that land of Makkah, the purity of Masjid-Al-Haram, I realized when on the third day at Makkah, I became pure off my period.
That was when I felt like my spirit was lifted by Allah, I was fed with reasons to believe in the power of Du’a, the power of tears shed only for Allah.
Trip to Ta’if
Though I became pure after my Ghusl (complete bath for purity), I was told by the religious guide that I had to wear my Ihram again at the Meeqat. This, I did when we set on a trip to Ta’if.
Our trip to Ta’if was different. The scenic journey awed everyone with ‘wow’ moments throughout and taught us a lot of lessons with the narration of various stories of the life of Prophet in Ta’if by our religious guide. The transformation from dry, brown lands to the greenery in the deserts of Saudi Arabia etched a lot of mesmerizing moments in our hearts.
In Ta’if, we saw and realized the glories of our Creator and Sustainer.
What I loved about Ta’if besides the greenery, mountainous views and the scenic sunsets were the cats! Plenty of them.
I had two sit on my lap as we all sat for lunching together. Patting the cushiness of the furballs, I fell in love all over again with Ta’if for the indifference between human beings and cats in that beautiful land.
It was great to watch how the men of Ta’if treated cats so highly, fed them and talked to them just like they talked to any human being.
At the end of our trip, we were dropped off at a Masjid, which was told to be our meeqat. We wore our Ihram, prepping for another Umrah (my first).
Then, we set off back to Makkah where we again refreshed and got ready to go to the Haram.
Seeing the Ka’bah for the first time
We were advised to promptly make our way towards the Mataf, all the while lowering our gaze. Finally, when we were close enough, we lifted our eyes to behold the beautiful Ka’bah – towards which millions of Muslims face every day. Such a moment can not be expressed in words, it can only be experienced. May Allah allow you all to do so. Ameen.
We began by performing the seven Tawafs. From the first tawaf until the last, all I could think was how much Allah loves me, how much I have wasted my life spending every minute for the wrong deeds. Tears streamed down my face, I was short of breath. I kept praying and wishing that Allah makes the Tawaf easy for all of us who were there at the time and he did. After finishing Tawaf, we prayed two Rak’ahs behind the Maqam of Ibrahim (as).
Finding a spot where it was less crowded, we prayed and sat there for a while, making Du’as as much as we could. Then, we proceeded to drink some cool ZamZam before we made our way to the Mas’a.
At the Mas’a, during sa’ee, a sister among our fellow travelers held me by my arm and said, ‘You must be so thankful to Allah, you know?’
I did not understand first until she and the fellow travelers told me that during their first Umrah, they had not been able to perform Sa’ee properly and that they could not experience a satisfactory Sa’ee. They gave me many reasons and comparisons from their first Umrah and the one we were performing together and assured me that Allah loves me unconditionally and I must be grateful to him in all ways. It struck me, made me realize a lot of things I had not before I began Sa’ee.
What kept me going was thinking about how Haajar (ra) had run between the two mountains in the hot Arabian heat. There were no cooling systems nor were there any marble tiles in those days.
Once the Sa’ee was over, the men shaved their heads and we had to cut off a little bit of our hair in completion of our Umrah. It is a belief that all our past mistakes and sins are forgiven after Umrah. I felt a great sense of relief and contentment. Subhan’Allah.
Stay at Makkah
After we all completed Umrah, we were told that we can visit the Haram as much as we desired and perform as many good deeds and prayers as we liked. We made it a habit to walk to the Haram from our hotel despite the scorching sun or the burning roads for all the prayers including the Sunnah.
It was there, I prayed my first Janaza prayer which, the Imam conducted after every Fardh prayers.
The frequent visits to the Haram for every Fardh and Sunnah prayers also gave us a lot of time to recite the Quran and do plenty of Dhikr and Du’as.
I still recall times I fell asleep inside the Masjid out of weariness.
Besides prayers and collecting good deeds, we also made a little time for walking around the streets of Makkah, doing some shopping and eating out from little shops.
Makkah did not only give us all spiritual upliftment but it also calmed our souls in a way that made us forget all our worries and the mistakes we have made in the past. Because in that Holy land, we detach from the worldliness.
People and bond-making
One thing I realized among the countless life lessons I learned at Makkah was the two kinds of people in the world. One, being the friendly faces that always share a smile and assurance of a bond at first look and the other, being the most unwelcoming faces that will make you wonder if people so unfriendly do exist.
Whatever said and felt, I met countless people at Makkah, most of them taught me lessons about the duties and responsibilities we have towards each other as human beings. Above all, they taught me what it is to be humane and inhumane.
The Hardest Goodbye
The toughest goodbye that we all think is the goodbye that we all have to say when we walk away from people we love or vice versa. That is what I thought too but until it was time for us to leave Makkah.
If it takes at least two weeks for an instant attachment to be created between you and another person, then the attachment that is created between you and the Ka’bah, between you and the Holy City of Makkah is at the first sight.
As we performed our last Tawaf and prayed as much as we could, with unexplainable agony, we detached from the Ka’bah. To see the Ka’bah, to be able to touch it, smell it and be present at it, is a whole new feeling that I pray, every Muslim in this world must experience. Our final goodbye was the hardest.
We kept turning our heads to glimpse the Ka’bah until we walked out of the Haram and lost sight of it.
We cried the most at the time, not wanting to leave, not wanting to say goodbye.
My first Umrah was my first retreat, not from the pain and sorrows that held me down but from the worst side of myself, a side of me that I have always wanted to get rid of.
May Allah the Almighty grant this opportunity to every one of you at least once in your lifetime. Ameen.