Umrah is a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, performed by Muslims that can be undertaken at any time of the year. In the Sharia, Umrah means to perform Tawaf round the Kaaba and Sa’i between Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, after assuming a sacred state, either from a Miqat like Zu ‘l-Hulafa, Juhfa, Qarnu ‘l-Manāzil, Yalamlam, Zāt-i-‘Irq, Ibrahīm Mursīa, or a place in Hill. It is sometimes called the ‘minor pilgrimage’ or ‘lesser pilgrimage’, the Hajj being the ‘major’ pilgrimage and which is compulsory for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. The Umrah is not compulsory but highly recommended. For my case fortunately I performed both.
The day has come; it is tomorrow that I leave for the Holy Land. A frequent traveler I have been in the recent past so what to pack and not forget does not bother me. Late in the night I am still in office trying to take care of what I might not manage remotely. It is the month of Ramadan and Mombasa is awake late in the night with most shops opened, I take family out for shopping and dinner as good bye for the many days I will be gone.
My friend and I arrive at the airport on time for our KQ flight to Nairobi only to be told that one of our business class seats has been allocated a different passenger because we were late and only one left. I let my friend take the remaining business class seat as I head for my economy class seat. If it is paid for and the owner does not show up, how about leaving it vacant, just a thought as the plane takes off. Classes are not important but in case you’re traveling in transit try to use the business class, considering the service they provide while on transit, the hotels, transit launch, straight check in like a diplomat etcetera. Kenya Airways call it Sky priority business premium; Ethiopia Airlines call it cloud 9, and ETC, for direct flight will recommend you to use economy.
In Nairobi I meet another team that will accompany me to Kingdom of Saudia Arabia. Our flight to Ethiopia is three hours away so enough time to meet a few associates to clear various pending matters. I had not thought much about the weather in Nairobi, if I did I would have carried the heaviest coat in my closet. Considering the traffic in Nairobi we chose to hangout at the airport lest we lose seats again, we freeze till 3pm when we check in for Ethiopia.
It is Dream liner for our flight to its homeland in transit, methinks big planes move faster because of weight cutting through air, and if the theory does not hold water just allow it as my excuse for liking big planes. Immediately we land at Bole international airport Addis. We stayed at the transit launch like another 3 hours, met some other friends on transit to other destinations, combined prayers and had some Afur and Sahur (that’s the fast breaking and taking supper for the next day) their food was tasty and nice. When you talk chicken meat they don’t talk of quarter or half you will need to handle a complete one. Posted some status on FB to my family, friends and relatives using my hand held gadget and the free Wi-Fi at the facility, got some congratulatory comments, pray for us, bring me this bring me that and few inbox from my friends and relatives at Saudi advising their contact numbers to reach them on arrival. Three hours are over and we check in for our flight to Jiddah.
We landed at King Abdul Aziz international airport around morning, I am rewarded for not carrying or wearing heavy clothing, we had to shower and put on our Ihram from the airport as per the regulation. With the exception of the province of Asir on the western coast, Saudi Arabia has a desert climate characterized by extreme heat during the day, an abrupt drop in temperature at night, and very low annual rainfall. Immediately we headed for Mecca, using a 4×4 taxi, the driver was good despite the language barrier; everyone used his mother tongue where it got hard. As jovial as he was the guy’s service was expensive we will get to know that later on.
We arrived Mecca few hours later. Mecca, a city in the Hejaz and the capital of Makkah Province in Saudi Arabia. The city is located 70 km inland from Jeddah in a narrow valley at a height of 277 m above sea level. Its resident population is roughly 2 million, although visitors more than triple this number visit every year during Hajj period held in the twelfth Muslim lunar month of Dhu al-Hijjah.
When in a foreign environment, it is obvious to be looking out for what is different from your own. The crowd control police using zero force cannot go unnoticed. I have been to places where crowd control involves whipping, battering, water canon and live bullets. The hospitality is beyond my expectation, if there was a way to carry this back home I would definitely do. The philanthropy and charity given out by the rich is also crystal clear.
Straight away we performed our Umrah in the Kaaba, the rules apply. Tired and exhausted we were, using taxi for our local transport, the drivers ranged from greedy to God sent. On one unfortunate incident we were charged 150SR (KES.3500) to visit a market, not knowing rates we paid without any thoughts of being overcharged but on our way back, same distance different taxi we were charged 20SR (KES.466) and enjoyed the comfort of Toyota Fortune 2013. It is the land of black gold where oil is cheaper than water so you have to get used to high end cars used for taxi, perhaps here in Kenya reserved for few.
Where there is money there is class. All kind of food was available from Arabic to Turkish, (didn’t trace Ugali though) for Iftar AKA Afur and Sahur aka late supper.
We stayed in Mecca for better part of our stay, until a day to our departure when we visited Medina. Medina is the second holiest city in Islam after Mecca and the burial place of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) Medina is critically significant in Islamic History for being where Muhammad’s (pbuh) final religious base was established after the Hijrah and where he died in 632 AD/11 AH. Medina was the power base of Islam in its first century, being where the early Muslim community developed under the Prophet’s leadership, then under the leadership of the first four caliphs of Islam: Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman and Ali.
Year 1 of the Islamic calendar is based on the year of the emigration of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his original followers from Mecca to the city of Medina in 622 AD/1 AH. The Maliki madhab places emphasis on ulema and scholars originating in Medina.
Medina is home to the three oldest mosques in Islam, namely Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (The Prophet’s Mosque), Quba Mosque (the first mosque in Islam’s history), and Masjid al-Qiblatain (the Mosque with two Qibla). Also placing Medina on the map of the world are the sweet and delicious dates of unmatched quality. The most popular variety is Ajwa Dates, believed to Keep Away Harm, Poison And Magic. Ajwa is a soft dry variety of date fruit cultivated at Madina Monawara, delightfully soft, fruity with fine texture, still enjoying my take home for the same. We spent one day in Medina and travelled the next day back to Mecca then Jiddah for departure. In Jiddah we met few friends and relatives who were helpful and joyous as we were too.
The airport services were good, we used four airports. Moi International in Mombasa, Jomo Kenyatta International in Nairobi, King Abdulaziz in Jiddah and Bole in Ethiopia.
If i rate the services i can confidently give JKIA the best without being patriotically biased. Ironically it got better after the fire that razed down a big part of it. The makeshift international arrival unit was smooth like VIP, previously there were rowdy police who use to run after people arriving from outside Kenya, especially those who seem to be from NEP, I hear some officers were arrested for looting during the fire, must be the same unscrupulous officers running after foreigners arriving, just a thought as we are received with hugs from family and friends. The visit was spiritual, cool and inspiring.
InshaAllah will post about my next Umrah if all goes well. Will request all my Muslim brothers and sister to go and perform Hajj/Umrah if they can afford. It will obviously clean us spiritually.