I am on my way to Hajj for my mother. The plane ride on Lufthansa has been a pleasant surprise. However our team leader has warned us about waiting time at the Hajj terminal.
Jumping on to the waiting air terminal bus after deplaning held eagerness in our step as if people were waiting at the Haji terminal to whisk us off to Makkah.
The Hajji terminal is one of those bad dreams that you get caught in and never leave, you eat there, you sleep there and you meet the nebulous workers dressed in green and orange who know nothing of where your destination is and look through you as if you are a ghost.
Impatience did not appear in our group till almost seven hours after the wait, and then some shuffling of steps, and some questions were beginning to be asked.
Looking around there seemed to be only porters or workers of that level. There were no airport officials to be found. The evening grew into the night I went to look for a place to pray and was sent to the “women’s musallah” I entered it to find three men sleeping there whom I promptly sent packing, prayed quickly on the carpet caked with dirt I thanked God for Qasr prayers for the traveler and went back to the group.
At the ninth hour we lined up and identified our luggage, it was like practicing for a tableau we would walk a few steps, our luggage would be dumped from the cart, we would identify it, it would be reloaded and then it would be done again…….. till we reached the buses. Meanwhile everyone who had arrived after us had left and the Hajji terminal was almost empty.
We got into the bus and my companion insisted on bringing her carry on suitcase and backpack onto the bus instead of into the bus. Everyone was too tired to argue with her, but looked askance at this special request. The bus had no place inside to stash luggage. It ended up a solitary nuisance sitting in the aisle blocking passage. I thought of all the m aterial attachments we have that we are afraid to lose………..
I made a mental note to myself to work on removing these attachments from me, such that they do not matter anymore.
I looked out and saw four men load the luggage into the belly of the bus and with the help of a crane onto the top of the bus.
One lesson I learned by looking at the mountain of unending luggage and the sweating porters was that this was entirely too much luggage for forty-six people. I had brought only one bag though two were permitted. I vowed to travel even lighter in the future.
I saw four men hauling the luggage in and up on the bus. One of the four was a red haired, red bearded, green-eyed young man, typically Syrian from the villages near the mountains where the Crusaders castle stands.
I noted with regret that the Syrians were the new poor, if they were sending their young men to the Middle East to earn money as laborers. Every year a new country earns that honor. Two years ago it was Bangladesh.
Watching the Syrian man lift the huge American suitcases sent my thoughts to the simple and sincere hospitality of the village crowd that had gathered around our tourist van at the mountain village in Syria and had insisted that we have lunch with them…..
The bus finally moved with the permission of the Mutawif. I found out that nothing happens in Hajj as far as movement without the permission of the Mutawif. He holds the passports and orders the buses to leave stay or wait……..without explanation or respect for time for prayer or otherwise.
I must have fallen asleep as the bus moved. I awakened suddenly to lights, and saw that we were entering a beautiful gateway, which was the Hajji welcome Center. We each got a gift box of goodies with most importantly ……….a bottle of treasured zam zam. The night silence broke with the sound of the CD in English regarding the life of the Prophet pbuh.
The bus left again and winding its way through what seemed like residential areas stopped at an office with the number 51 on it.
It was the Mutawif office for all of the hajjis from North America, Europe and Australia. What a huge responsibility. I thought to myself, to hold the passports of all these people sort them out and make sure they all enter and leave Saudi Arabia and do not take off into the desert by themselves.
The bus waited and waited till the white line separated from the dark in the sky, the clock tower of Makkah hovered on the near horizon, declaring that the Haram was near and yet so far, so close and yet so out of reach.
We never heard the morning adhan but the sky beckoned to me that the time for fajr was passing. I got out of the bus against the wishes of the authorities and performed wudu from a bottle of water, laid down my blue travel musallah and prayed fajr in Saudi Arabia. So near the Haram and yet not in the Haram.
I had decided when I started my journey for Hajj that I would try to learn a lesson from each happening as I went. I felt that nothing is random in life and that Allah Subhanawataala does things to guide us, direct us, remind us or reward us.
As I looked at the passive office of the Mutawif, the spreading light of dawn, the clock tower near the Kaaba staring at me, my Fajr prayer in Makkah and yet not really in Makkah…………..I realized that someone or all of us on our bus needed to do lots of Istighfaar, perhaps all of us were deficient in sufficient humility and lacked the sincere desire for the Kaaba, and thus the privilege of praying Fajr at the Haram had been withheld from us.
I sat down in my bus seat, pulled out the amber beads from Syria and began my Istighfaar, one bead at a time, pleading with him for forgiveness for the sins of ghafala………..
The driver awoke; the bus revved up and began its ascent towards the Haram. The sky broke into a red blush and anticipation ran in my veins like a thousand horsepower machine, racing against time to its desired destination…………..