“Allo? As-Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullah!”
“Wa Alaikum us-Salaamu Rahmatullah,” the other voice replied. It then began in Arabic.
“Brother Abu Ja`far al-Hanbali. I have just come from the embassy. They had your passport until the very last moment. I have it now and the visa has been granted, no problem.”
Dead silence from myself and then I speak after. “Al-Hamdu lillah, that’s good, Imam. I suppose I’ve got to get things ready. Oh, and one more thing…do they provide the ihram or do I need to buy it myself. Also, the immunisations? What do I do about that?”
“Yes, brother. You have to buy your own. I’m sorry someone did not mention it. Subhanallah! Yes, you need to get one or some. Get the immunisations but just depend on Almighty Allah. Only He can protect you.”
And with that the phone call ended. I sat for a moment praising Allah. Just a short time previously, I had made a nadhr to Allah that if He allowed me to go on Hajj this year, that I would make 300 rak`ah nafl to glorify Him, do three `umrahs for the Ummah and also have two rams sacrificed and the reward donated to the Ummah. Looks like I’m going, I thought.
I finished work and ran back to the house, checking the last of the things. I have an annoying habit to some of doing things way to early and still checking after the fact. I had done it again. The only thing missing was the ihram. Hoofing up the block and catching the tram, I was at the local Muslim store in 15 minutes, asking about an ihram.
“Brother, we have a few here.” The shopkeeper smiled encouragingly when I answered in the affirmative regarding this being my first Hajj. I looked and wondered whether this would fit me. It better be! I’m not going to be running around there naked, I resolved. Ihram in hand, I now headed back to the house to get things ready.
A second pair of sandals might be useful, but that was not the time. Once safely at home, I took the ihram out of its’ plastic bag with handles. Now I need to prepare it. Following the practice of the first three generations down to our age, I wet my hands with as much scented oil as possible and gave the ihram a rub down. I must have used three bottles but I wanted these garments-which would soon be sanctified-to be in the best form as possible and commit as much Sunnah as I could so as to be rewarded.
Everything was ready and now it was time to go to bed and rest for the next day. An incident with financial woes had reared its’ head but was quickly solved with the Providence of Allah (and may Allah reward those believers who assisted me with entrance into Paradise without reckoning).
Upon waking up for fajr, I almost bounced out of bed from the floor with nervous wonder. It was time, things had come to a head and now I was headed out. I spent the remaining part of the morning after prayer rechecking the fiqh that I had been looking at for a year and spending tender moments with the family.
The date was Wednesday 21 Dhul Qa`dah 1430 in the United Kingdom and it was time to head out. The buses from the Central Masjid were going to leave at 11am and I made it my job to be there an hour early so that I would be ready. My will was re-confirmed and re-written, then told to my wife along with its’ location being given to her. I attempted to remember any debts that I did not know about or any outstanding matters, but as far as I could remember, all of them were settled.
I hoped in myself that the year of training, fasting and diet had worked. I felt that I was as ready as I could be but there was still some doubt in my mind. After a very long farewell to my wife and children and enjoining them to righteousness and to fear Allah, I walked over to the buses, met and greeted some believers and then embarked on the large behemoth that would be carrying more than fifty people. From my front seat, by looking in the bus’s rear view mirror I could see that there was another one of these mammoth vehicles behind us. Altogether 90 of us would be headed to Heathrow Airport in London.
People came and filled the bus quickly and I recognised none of them; this did not matter as I was making the hajj for Allah and not to socialise or make a holiday. I needed to maintain my patience in the face of whatever hardships. The first test of patience came with the drive down.
As if silence was not sufficient for some, Urdu language chanting CDs were passed forward and my eardrums were tortured for the great majority of the three hour ride. Although able to maintain patience, the chanting reinforced my firm hatred of ‘na’ats’ and ‘nasheeds’ more firmly than had been previous.
An orderly procession disembarked from each bus as we arrived at the airport and we praised Allah for the ease that we had undergone. Now we just needed to check in our luggage and then have our passports checked and receive our boarding pass.
Accepting of the normal fate I have suffered, I accepted and acquiesced to the constant interrogation about my last name, where I have been, if anyone has used my passport before besides myself and whether I knew the whereabouts of some people who bore this name. All answers from me were in the negative but the icy stare was still held for a few seconds. I was then handed back my passport and told to have a ‘good pilgrimage.’ Great, I’ve got an aisle seat, I enthused to myself while gazing at the pass and stomping through the gates.
Searching was the same as usual: intrusive and constant. Allah put me with a noble brother Khubaib (who from the beginning I mistakenly thought was named Shu`aib) who became a traveling buddy to me. I praised Allah and was happy there was someone who had been for `umrah before and could kind of give me something to look forward to coming up.
“No, I wouldn’t change yet either. You have to remember you’re going to be in those clothes for a little while so you had probably better put them on before reaching the miqat,” he agreed with my sentiments that I shared with him about going into ihram at the airport. I knew that many of the other people had and this was fine but I decided to take on the ruling that I was aware of from scholars of fiqh such as Imams Mansur ibn Yunus al-Buhuti (d. 1051 AH), Ibn Qa’id an-Najdi (d. 1079 AH) as was as Sulaiman ibn `Ali al-Musharraf (d. 1099 AH).
Once on the plane, I was happy for takeoff and was pleased to know that I only had 5-6 hours to get to my destination. What would happen once there however would be a different thing. In the air and soaring high above the clouds, the cabin crew were extremely helpful, particularly Khalid, Hibah (both Egyptians) and a British woman whose name escapes me. The bilingual announcements of approaching the miqat for putting on the ihram were greatly appreciated and the professionalism was apparent.
The ride was so comfortable I slept and just re-examined the fiqh most of the way. Thirty minutes from the miqat I sprang from my seat realising that the time was short. Still wearing my jalabiyyah, black jack boats and `imamah, I quickly hurried to the bathroom to change. It felt strange changing into the ihram, a piece of clothing I had never worn and felt against my body before.
This would be the first time I would be bearing my head in public, something that in most instances is impermissible due to the compulsory command to cover the head and conceal it out of glory for Allah; but on this occasion it would be an exception to the rule that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, established for the men of his Ummah.
Now that I was no longer in hall but in a state of ihram, I headed back to my seat and the brother in the middle seat and his wife at the window smiled at me. “Looks very good,” he said to me, speaking through his big smile. The double strap sandals were also foreign feeling, my favourite footwear being black jack boots, house shoes or Cortez. Outside of ihram, Hibah had accidently ran over my foot twice with hear drink and snack tray, which each time caused her to wince and apologise profusely. Now in sandals with toes exposed she bulldozed over my phone with her drinks juggernaut again.
It was not as painful as I thought or I was so nervous it did not hurt. “I’m really, really, really sorry,” she blushed with shamed face while realising the skip of the cart was over a human foot. “It’s okay. You’ve done the Sunnah. You’ve done three.” I looked up and she chuckled at the reply to her apology. After that my feet were safe. Once the captain announced that we had entered the miqat, Khalid came around and had us start the talbiyyah:
Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik!
I am here, Allah! I am here for You!
Labbaika La Sharika Laka Labbaik!
I am here for You! You have no Partner! I am here for You!
In Al-Hamda wan-Ni`mata Laka wal-Mulk!
The Praise, Favour of Salvation and Dominion are all for You!
La Sharika Lak!
There is no partner for You!
Exhilaration shot through me as we now neared the most Holy Sanctuary on Earth and I had been called there. Only a few things qualified as the best moments of my life and this would be one of them. I now waited and with sweaty hands prepared for the plan to come into Jeddah and land. I had no idea that the arrival had surprises I had not calculated. This will be coming under the message on Arrival, insha’allah.
And with Allah is every success,
brother in Islam,
al-Hajj Abu Ja`far al-Hanbali