Umrah

I will now mention an incident which changed the very perception of my life. Due to continued excessive office work without any respite, the signs of fatigue were showing and were taking the better of me. It was the holy month of Ramadan and time for me to take some rest for replenishment of energy. I applied for fifteen days leave enabling me to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr with my family at my hometown. But my leave was not granted.  I requested Abdul Sattar Dero who was my immediate boss and director general (planning & development), for favourable consideration but he advised me for deferring my leave as he thought my absence will adversely affect the ongoing process of privatization of projects. I had special relationship with Abdul Sattar Dero who besides being my boss was also my friend. We had worked for many years together and we had high regards for each other. Our relationship was based on mutual trust and understanding.

The refusal of my leave had saddened me but I had no choice and so I was back to work. The next day I learnt that Mr. Dero was himself going on one month leave abroad for performing umrah and a visit to Europe.  I couldn’t believe my ears. How could he go to umrah when he had refused my leave? If there was rush of work justifying cancellation of my leave, how could he afford to go while being senior to me and with higher responsibilities. There are times, although very rare, when I find it difficult to digest things happening around me. And this was height of it. I was sizzling and my anguish was at its peak. I rolled back my files and barged into the office of Abdul Sattar Dero without knocking at the door. He was in the middle of an important meeting and was surprised to see me in a different mood. In broken words I enquired from him:

“I have heard that you are going on leave which I don’t believe should be true. But if it is true, I need to know the cogent reason for refusal of my leave and approval of your leave.”

He was caught at the wrong foot and was looking for words to pacify me.

“Look Mr. Bughio; I am going for umrah which is a noble cause as against your leave meant only for relaxing and meeting with your family which can be deferred and done at any other time of the year.”

Disgusting, I thought, and now I was not in my own.

“Who would not like to go to umrah if it was affordable? For me even going to my village is an expensive affair. Give me a ticket and I will also go to umrah with you.”

This was my spontaneous reply without even thinking of what I was saying, which bewildered him and bewildered me too. And perhaps assuming that I wouldn’t accept his offer, he said:

“Okay. If you are prepared to go to umrah, I will give you the ticket.”

“Give me the ticket”.  I said while pulling the chair to sit in front of him.

“And I am not going from here, unless I get the ticket. Call your assistant and get me the ticket right now”.

Ostensibly I was out of my mind and Mr. Dero was also quite perplexed at my unexpected reaction. Finding no other option, he asked his assistant to connect him to Gerry’s travels, his travel agent and told him to issue one ticket for my umrah. That cooled me a little and I said to him:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Dero; I am now proceeding straight to the travel agent. I am sorry for being too harsh, but that was on account of our personal relationship.  And I know you have always been considerate in understanding me.”

Out of the office of Mr. Dero, I was puzzled at this development.  I had no plans for umrah and I was not prepared for it.  After I had composed myself in my office, my first reaction was to go back to him, offer my apology and decline his ticket offer with thanks. But I was in two minds.  Alright, so what if I didn’t have any plans for umrah, but this could be a Godsent opportunity and its denial may invite the displeasure of Allah which I could not afford at any cost. I packed up and went straight to Gerry’s travels. With first week of Ramadan already gone, he told me that issuance of ticket was no problem, but finding a confirmed seat and getting umrah visa, were the bottlenecks. I asked him to issue the ticket any way and make his efforts to get me a seat in the plane, and I will try on my own to get the visa if he wouldn’t do that for me.

The first thing I did was to call Khadim Abbasi, cousin of my childhood friend Dhani Bakhsh Abbasi from Dadu, who was posted as public relations officer of Sindh chief minister, and asked him if he could get me a visa for umrah. He told me that Abdullah Shah, the chief Minister of Sindh, had given him ten passports and he was about to leave for Saudi consulate.  He asked me if I could also give my passport to him within an hour, he would shove it in with other passports as if this was also based on recommendations of the chief minister. Suddenly things had started working. I picked up my passport from home and was well in time with Khadim Abbasi.  When I broke this news in my family, they didn’t believe it. Time was ticking while I was waiting anxiously to get my visa. On 20th Ramadan with only ten days left for Eid, I managed to get my visa, rushed to the travel agent, squeezed a seat in evening flight and I was all set to fly for umrah, an almost impossible proposition, made possible as destined by divine entity.

I took a bath in the evening and wore ihram (two pieces of unstitched white cloth which is also the dress for a dead body, before being lowered to the grave), and declared my intent to perform umrah.

“Ya Allah! I am coming. Ya Allah! I have worn the dress which is worn by a dead body and I am on my way to visit Your House (Bait Ullah).”

The words of this ritual (talbyah) were so strong that I couldn’t control myself and fainted.  My family and particularly my children, Sikandar and Farhan, who were too young to understand all this, were stunned and frightened to see me in this state. It took me some time to compose myself, as I had to hurry up and rush to airport to catch the flight.

(Talbya)

Labbayk, Allahumma labbayk.  Here I come, Oh Allah, here I come.

Labbayk, La sharika laka labbayk.  Here I come. You have no partner, here I come.

Innal-hamda wan-nimat laka wal mulk. Praise indeed, and blessings, all are Yours, and the kingdom too.

La sharika laka. You are associated with no partner (You are the One and only).

Until two weeks ago, life was normal and there was no intent of umrah by any stretch of my imagination. And two weeks down the line I was in holy city of Makkah in front of main gate Baab Abdul Aziz. I didn’t believe in myself and thought that I must have been dreaming. How could it happen like that in reality? I started biting my fingers and it pained.

“Beware my dear Abdul Razzaq. It’s not a dream, not a fantasy. It’s real. Allah has Himself invited you to come to His House. Prepare yourself to have the very first glimpse of House of God, only a dozen steps ahead of you.” 

A stream of tears was running down my cheeks and I was breathing heavily.

“Here I come. Oh Allah, here I come. I do not associate any partner with You. You are the one and only. Look at my dress that is worn only by the dead. I have come to You to seek Your forgiveness and to seek Your pleasure and Your blessings”.

I must have walked only a few yards after entering through the gate Abdul Aziz that I suddenly saw the glimpse of Kaaba (Bait Ullah). What was it? It was majestic and dazzling panoramic view. It looked to me as if bright white rays of light were oozing out of black shiny Ghilaf-e-Kaaba. I continued staring at it without blinking and wished the time could freeze and continue to remain frozen until eternity. I wanted to speak but couldn’t.  I was told that all prayers solicited on first glimpse of Kaaba are immediately answered and never rejected. I didn’t speak but my heart did. My wet eyes were speaking. My trembling body was speaking. The heaviness in my breathing was speaking. And they spoke and they continued speaking in complete silence without being able to utter a single word on my behalf, until they heard a divine whisper which said:

“Allah is listening”.

With my eyes focused on Kaaba and absorbed in grandeur and fascination of surroundings of Kaaba, I soon became part of pilgrims doing tawaf (seven rounds of Kaaba). Not knowing anything and watching all others crying, wailing and reciting prayers from out of their booklets, I was dumbfounded and kept moving on with the crowd like a goof. All I could do was to talk to my Creator in my native language Sindhi.

“Oh Allah! You made it possible for me to come here. And I know nothing of what to do and what to say. I beseech You to forgive my sins which are far too many. I am ashamed of these and I repent. But these sins no matter how reprehensible and plentiful in size and volume, these are far too less in comparison to Your infinite degree of graciousness and mercy. I seek Your pleasure and Your blessings. I do not know what to ask and how to ask. Many of Your prophets have performed tawaf here. My prophet Muhammed (pbuh) and his companions have also performed tawaf. They knew how to pray. Oh Allah! fill my tiny begging bowl with all the bounties and blessings which they had sought from You and which You had graciously showered on them. And oh Allah, protect me from all evils and bad deeds in a manner You had protected Your prophets.”

After completing all seven rounds I turned to hijre-aswad, a black stone fitted in a corner of a wall of Kaaba by none other than my prophet himself. I literally felt as if someone was dragging me and I reached there with effortless ease. I kissed it with my lips and with my cheeks to my heart’s content. I had performed hadj a year after that umrah, and was in holy land for a long period of 45 days. In spite of my best endeavors to reach out to hijre-aswad, I couldn’t succeed even once. I wondered which force, which invisible hand was making it easy for me to walk past conveniently to hijre-aswad on my maiden pilgrimage.

Zamzam spring, which was located in mutaaf (open area) of Kaaba, was accessible to pilgrims until 1997. This facility beneath the floor level of mutaaf, ceased to exist and was demolished a few years later. I proceeded to zamzam area, refreshed my ablution and sprinkled zamzam water all over my body. I couldn’t drink as I was fasting at that time. If I could describe all this in one sentence, Allah the most beneficent and the most merciful, made it easy for me. All praise be to Him.

After staying for two days in Makkah my journey started towards Madina, the city of my prophet (pbuh). By the time I settled in a hotel in Madina, it was past midnight. But I was getting restless and couldn’t wait any more, and so I proceeded to Masjid-e-Nabvi to pay homage and salaams to Rasool Ullah (pbuh). Here again I was confronted with the same problem of what to say and how to say. All other pilgrims had made their plans before hand and knew exactly as to what to do while facing towards the resting place of Rasool Ullah. I was cursing myself that I had come here out of the blue and was not prepared. I moved slowly along with the crowd and as I approached the golden and green grill in front of the holy mausoleum, I had tears in my eyes, bowed my head out of respect and except for saying normal salaams, I remained somber and quiet.

Feeling the guilt of not paying homage in a befitting manner, and repenting for my poor show, I came to area which I was told was riaz-ul-Jannat (garden of paradise). Rasool Ullah had told his disciples (sahaba) that the area in between his house and masjid, was the garden of paradise.  Within this area I saw an artistically carved semi-circular dome-like structure, similar to the one that we see in front of every masjid and which is exclusively used by imam (prayer leader) as his place of prayer. This place was a little crowded, and presuming that it must be an important place, I also joined the queue. I saw that everyone was offering two rak‘ats of salat at that prayer place, and were then moving on, to allow others to do the same. And now it was my turn. While I was offering my prayer and was still in the middle of it, I noticed that suddenly everybody was getting in line for salat (salat offered together by all faithfuls behind imam). After finishing my prayer and standing at the same sacred place, and without knowing which salat they were offering, I joined them. The imam leading the salat prayers was reciting Quran, and the recitation was so long as if he will continue it for an unknown time. And indeed, it was quite long. Not only was he taking long time in recitation of Quran, he was taking abnormally long time in rukoo, sajida and all other elements of salat. He must have taken almost about an hour to finish just two rakats of salat which could normally be offered in less than five minutes.

The next day I enquired about that dome-like structure and to my pleasant surprise I was told that the place where I had offered salat was the sacred place where our prophet used to offer his prayers. And I was also told that I was lucky not only to have offered two rakats of salat, but I had the privilege of offering salat-tasbih for which it is said that anybody offering this salat even once in a lifetime, was assured by Allah to be forgiven of all his sins and was promised entry in paradise.

From that day on, I tried to get to that sacred spot and offer salat but couldn’t ever get a chance again. I have been to pilgrimage many times after that, and I have made a lot of effort to reach to that sacred dome again, but without success. Which force was driving me to that place when I didn’t know a single bit about how important and sacred that place was? Which force had driven me to hijra-e-aswad so conveniently in my maiden umrah, which I couldn’t reach in my subsequent pilgrimages, in spite of my best efforts ever again? These are some ticklish queries for which I am still in search of reply, although I have a hunch of what possibly it may have been. All praise be to Allah, the most beneficent and the most merciful.

Back in my hotel I was repenting and cursing myself for not knowing the etiquette and decorum of presenting myself before my prophet. In this state of depression, I saw a small booklet lying on my bedside table. I was not quite interested to read it but in order to while away the time I started reading it. A couple of supplications were mentioned in it for the benefit of pilgrims. A procedure was also mentioned for performing umrah along with a guideline of how to pay respect and regards to the prophet. In this booklet there was an interesting story about eighty years old lady which caught my attention. This lady was from a small village near Sanaa, in Yemen. Out of extreme love for Rasool Ullah she wanted to visit Madina. She was a poor lady and to be able to fulfill her desire, she started saving money and finally when she thought she had sufficient money to take this trip, she came to Madina. The lady was illiterate and didn’t know what to do. Looking at others and the manner in which they were presenting themselves before the prophet, she thought that she was black, she was too thin, small and ugly looking. And she thought that being too tiny and lost in the midst of tumultuous crowd, she wouldn’t have been noticed by Rasool Ullah.  With these gloomy thoughts all day long, she returned to her hotel. She went to the mausoleum the next day again but the outcome and state of depression remained all the same. On the third night she saw her late father in her dream who was ostensibly very happy and told her:

“I have good news for you.  Rasool Ullah (pbuh) has received your salutations and he is happy that in spite of being too old and without financial resources, you have come all the way from Yemen. Cheer up my child. You should understand that it is not the colour of your skin, or the costume that you wear, or the language that you speak, but it is the sincerity of purpose and deep love in your heart, which is more important than the words you utter. Today is your day to rejoice and not to be disheartened.”

The reading of this booklet gave me a fair amount of solace and I felt invigorated. It looked as if someone had left this booklet in my room for me to read. The next day when I was in front of the golden grill, I paid my tributes and salutations in my native Sindhi language and was confident that my message was being received loud and clear. I had now reached to the end of my tour and wanted to pay my homage before my departure. With tears in my eye which were not under my control, I made a following resolution in front of the mausoleum of Rasool Ullah: 

“All praise be to Allah who is so very kind to have afforded me an opportunity of visiting this holy land. In this trip that was unplanned, I was caught unawares knowing nothing of what to do here. My trip was like a blind man who was taken to a garden and was told how beautiful, colourful and scenic that garden was. This visit has transformed me completely. Before leaving I want to resolve that when I visit this place again, I should be a different man. I don’t know if I can change my inner self on the path of piety, but I can at least change my physical appearance which is well within my hands. I hereby candidly resolve in front of this holy mausoleum that when I revisit this place, I will have a beard, a kind of a beard that distinguishes a Muslim from a non-Muslim, an identity through which I should be produced before my prophet on the Day of Judgment. And an identity through which my prophet (pbuh) would be able to recognize me as his ummati (follower of religion of Islam). I further resolve that by the time I visit this place again, I should quit and get rid of bad habit of smoking. This had been bothering me throughout my tour and was disturbing my concentration in my prayers. Oh Allah, help me in honouring and fulfilling my resolution.”

The umrah visit had completely changed the perception of my life. Back home, I was now looking around my surroundings through a different perspective. The impact of umrah was so deep into my heart that while offering salat, it would always appear to me as if Kaaba was in front of me, and this beautiful impact lasted for many days. The resolution that I had made before the prophet (pbuh) was echoing in my mind all the time and many months later, as the month of Rabiul-Awal (the holy month in which Rasool Ullah was born) was approaching and was only a month away that I thought that the time to implement the resolution was now. What beautiful tribute would it be to rekindle my resolution and to put it to practice on the birth day of my prophet in token of a humble gift from my side? I declared among all my friends and in my family, of my intent that I was going to keep beard from 12th Rabiul-Awal, and that I will never shave off my face from that day onwards. My resolve was well received by my friends. A week later I noticed that one of my best friends, Allah Nawaz Qabulio, had not shaven for seven days. I asked him the reason and he said that he had decided to join me in my resolution.  And he further said that if at all he had to do it, then why wait for a month and why not do it from today. I was overwhelmed by his desire and kissed his growing beard. My boss and my friend from the days of cadet college Petaro, Khalid Makhdoom also assured me that he will join me and let his beard grow on 12th Rabiul-Awal.

The time was ticking and my desire was expanding to a degree of explosion, and finally that day arrived.  My childhood friend from Dadu, Dhani Bakhsh Abbasi, happened to be in Karachi and was staying with me in my house. I had started smoking along with him some 25 years ago, and I told him that it was the night of 12th Rabiul-Awal, and that I was going to quit smoking from tomorrow. We talked on how we had started smoking together only out of curiosity as to why people were so addicted to it, and if they were addicted, it must be filled with fun. I smoked for over 25 years and at that time when I was quitting smoking, I used to consume two packs (40 cigarettes) of silk cut, an imported British brand of cigarettes. At the stroke of midnight exactly at 12, I took out a cigarette, lit it and told my friend Dhani Bakhsh Abbasi:

“This is the last cigarette of my life. Be witness to my resolution that I will not smoke from tomorrow onwards. And be witness that I will keep beard from tomorrow onwards.”

I handed over the carton of silk cut, which still had a few packs in it, and while smoking the last cigarette, I called it a day.  From that day on, I have kept my promise and have never gone even close to a cigarette. As the sun spread its wings heralding the advent of a new day, the first thing that I did was, that I threw my razor and its accompaniments along with after-shave lotion, into the dustbin. No more shaving from today. Interestingly two of my friends, Khalid Makhdoom and Allah Nawaz Qabulio, also grew their beard along with me.

There comes a time in the life of everybody when a decision is taken which completely changes his life style.  I was a different man on 12th Rabiul-Awal, the 27th July 1996. The earlier Abdul Razzaq Bughio had gone in oblivion and I was reborn on this day and I had started my new life. It was a new day of my life. It was a new era of my life.

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