181 pilgrims back in family’s loving embrace

National 5 minutes, 14 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

A TOTAL of 181 Bruneian Haj pilgrims arrived safely in the Sultanate yesterday afternoon after being away for a month in Mekah as they joined their Muslim brothers and sisters in fulfilling the fifth pillar of Islam.

The flight carrying the first batch of Bruneian Haj pilgrims was scheduled to arrive on an earlier flight at 10.45am but was delayed to 2.40pm. The wait was well worth it for some 200 of their kin, most of whom had arrived as early as noon at the Brunei International Airport to wait patiently for the return of their loved ones.

Shortly after the plane landed, a doa selamat was recited by a religious officer from the Ministry of Religious Affairs which could be heard throughout the airport.

When the first few pilgrims emerged from the airport's arrival area pushing trolleys full of luggage and also Zam-zam water, almost immediately the atmosphere changed from silent anticipation to ripples of joy and expressions of welcome.

Ripples of the greetings "Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh" (Peace be upon you with God's blessings and prosperity) or the shorter version "Assalamualaikum" could be heard followed by "Alhamdulillah" (Praise to Allah SWT) before kisses and hugs were exchanged amidst tears of joy.

The voice of a toddler who was in the arms of a guardian could be heard calling "Papa! Papa!" repeatedly as he waited for his father to appear from the crowds of returning pilgrims.

A common sight were hands waving in excitement to grab the attention of returning family members. It was indeed a touching moment to witness the reunion of family members who have been separated for a month in the name of Allah SWT.

Spotted at the Brunei International Airport was Her Royal Highness Paduka Seri Pengiran Anak Sarah, who was there with Yang Teramat Mulia Pengiran Muda Abdul Muntaqim to greet both of her parents who were amongst the first batch of Haj pilgrims.

Also present was the Acting Minister of Religious Affairs, Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Hj Badaruddin Pengarah Dato Paduka Hj Othman, Permanent Secretary Hj Md Mahdi Pehin Orang Kaya DiGadong Seri Diraja Dato Laila Utama Hj Abdul Rahman and Deputy Permanent Secretary Pg Hj Bahrom Pg Hj Bahar.

This year, a total of 766 Brunei pilgrims completed their Haj accompanied by 33 medical officers as well as those from the Ministry of Religious Affairs to assist the pilgrims in their quest.

First-timer, 16-year-old Ak Haji Abdul Khaliq Pg Hj Hashim performed the Haj together with his parents who were also first-time pilgrims. "It feels great. You can see the brotherhood of Islam," Ak Hj Abdul Khaliq told The Brunei Times.

"When I went to Masjid Nabawi I went to the path of Raudah where Nabi Muhammad (Peace be upon him) prayed and became an imam and gave khutbah. When I was there, it was very crowded and I was with my cousin and he told me to put much confidence that I can pray here and put trust and effort that I can do it," said Ak Hj Abdul Khaliq.

"When I started praying, my cousin started to act like a wall to protect me. When I continued praying, the space became bigger because some of the people started acting like a wall to protect me as well. It was pretty much amazing," he recalled.

From the eyes of a person who has never been to the Holy Land before, he found it to be breathtaking and he could not believe that he was actually in Madinah and Mekah performing the rituals of Haj. He had never seen so many people from all over the world congregate in one place and focused on doing one thing.

"This is really a life-changing experience and it's really heart-changing (as well) when you (transform) from being a person with less iman (faith) to become someone with more iman," he said.

"I discovered that (Islam) is not about how we are, it's about how we feel about the religion. Not by force or anything but how we feel," he added.

He realised prayers should be performed in a sincere manner and not out of force by parents or people. "We don't do this (practise Islam) because of our friends, we do this because we want to get closer to Allah SWT," he said.

Apart from doing the Tawaf around the Ka'abah and the Sa'ie, the most memorable experience for him by far was the night stay at Arafah and also, Mina.

"Everyone came there and slept with nothing special about them — no status and position — everyone is the same. And when everybody was wearing the ihram (white cloth worn during the pilgrimage to the plains of Arafah), nobody was rich, nobody was poor (because) they all look the same," he said.

"I think I'm going to change a bit on my negative side and improve on my positive side," he said, adding that Haj should ideally be performed when one is at an age where they can really understand the reason behind the act so that they can get the most benefit out of it.

His mother, Dk Hjh Halimah Hj Besar, 56, was also overwhelmed by the whole experience. Although she has performed the umrah in 2002, a lot of things has changed.

"There used to be a lot of old buildings before and the way they performed the Haj is also different. Now, following the new changes, the rituals are easier to do. There is no crowding anymore as everything is much more systematic with stages such as the three levels that have been erected. The area for tawaf is still crowded but Alhamdulillah, we managed to do it. Even the place to perform the Sa'ie is also wider, a lot of improvements have been made there," said Hjh Halimah.

She added that seeing other people who were passionate about improving the level of their iman such as reading Al-Quran fuelled the same fire inside her to further improve her own iman. "Even though it's tiring, it's worth it in the best way. The opportunity is not wasted."

The Brunei Times