Read time: 18 mins

Passage to Mabrur

by Maskiah Haji Masrom
12 July 2021

Translated from Malay to English by Leela Chakrabarty 

Translator’s note

Elements that I prioritise in my work as a translator are voice, diction and meaning. I always consider possible reasons for the author to have chosen a certain word over another. Here, the author wrote the story in a straightforward and light-hearted manner, and I tried to follow suit in my translation. Sometimes, however, it becomes challenging because the meanings of the original are context-specific. For example, the word ‘pintu’ means ‘door’ but not an ordinary doorway; it is more a means of access for the pilgrims to communicate with people inside a tent. Thus, I translated the title ‘Pintu Mabrur’ as ‘Passage to Mabrur.


 

 

PASSAGE TO MABRUR

(1)

There are various trials before one is able to obtain mabrur (the accepted haj) throughout the period of masyair (massive movement of pilgrims).

Some say that the test is travelling on foot for a distance across the Muassim Tunnel and squeezing through a swarming crowd for the throw. While others say that the test is standing for hours on the bus to Muzdalifah. Many healthy male haj pilgrims are selfish. They are willing to sit comfortably and let the elderly women pilgrims stand till they puke.

There are those who say that the test is the overnight stay at Muzdalifah when the temperature is cold and you have to sleep on a rubber mat in a filthy environment, as well as the arduousness of spotting a chickpea-sized stone. There are also those who say that the test is staying at Arafah when you have to fight through a crowd like a mob scene to get to the toilet. There are only twenty toilets. There are 2,000 pilgrims, which is to say that one toilet is shared with at least a hundred. Furthermore, the toilets are too narrow, and all of them are squatting toilets. This makes it difficult for ill or plus-sized pilgrims and those who are not used to squatting toilets.

Meanwhile, some say that the test is encountering haj pilgrims who lack in the matters of hygiene. Panty liners, disposable panties and used pads are thrown into the toilet. There are toilets that are not flushed after use. Mucus, phlegm and vomit on the floor; foul smell everywhere. There are also those selfish pilgrims, bathing and washing during peak hours. There are also those who are able to cut queues; they do not give way to the elderly or people in wheelchairs.

However, it was different for me. The most challenging test was when the masyair came through a doorway of a tent.

(2)

‘Please do not peep. You might get a sight of aurat. That is sinful. You would not obtain a mabrur haj. Didn’t you hear Ustaz Khidir’s message during the talk after the maghrib (prayers at dusk) prayer?’ I was extremely annoyed, and it was showing. The elderly man was indifferent or pretended to be. His eyes continued searching into the tent. I knew he was looking for his wife at Compartment 65 P.

‘Please call my wife,’ the elderly man in a blue shirt and white close-fitting crocheted skullcap requested. He conveyed the impression that he was not bothered by what I had said. I, too, pretended that I did not notice him. I busied myself dusting off the sand particles on the mat. Both my legs felt limp after returning from the throw. The hour hand on my wristwatch pointed at number 10, indicating that the time was 10 pm.

‘My wife is unwell. I want to ask her if she has taken her medication. She always forgets to take her medication.’ He uttered the sentence that I had already memorised. Within the past 48 hours, I have heard the sentence more than 10 times. That showed that he had been at the entrance of the tent that many times.

‘If she does not take her medication, will she pass out?’  I said, staring at his face. He was detached.

‘It’s okay if you do not want to help. I want to see my wife. Som! Som!’ he called, as he put his foot into the tent.

‘Haji! Haram! Do not come in; this is a tent for women!’ I screamed in alarm. My throat felt itchy. My cough got severe. He did not care. He went straight through the line of female pilgrims, who were mostly sleeping or lying down.

‘Haram! Haram!’ ‘Get out Haji! Get out!’ Izan shrieked, and she was all chaotic as she tried to reach her veil. Kak Ani, Kak Shima, Kak Gayah, Kak Misa and Kak Zah began to chant, asking for mercy from the Almighty. They were all startled by the bold action.

‘Please see your wife tomorrow. It’s already very late in the night. Your wife is also fast asleep. Other people’s wives are also sleeping. Many are not wearing their veils. Aurat is exposed. It’s haram if your eyes lay on them. Moreover, you are entering the tent for women. This is a big mistake. If the Saudi Arabian police finds out you will be caught,’ I said, coughing. My patience was wearing thin.

Izan’s facial expression revealed that she was alarmed. She would not have thought that I was going to reprimand the old uncle that way. Haj pilgrims are often reminded that if you want to get a mabrur, you need to be patient, forgive and do good to everyone, even though one could be annoying. Avoid quarrelling, talking dirty or doing things that are in conflict with religion. There is no comparable retribution to a mabrur haj other than the heaven of God. The old uncle turned and returned. He stood there at the entrance of the tent.

‘It is not that I do not want to call your wife, Haji. I have helped you many times …,’ I said, coughing and clearing my throat. I hoped that the old uncle would soon return to his tent. I really needed to stretch my back. I caught the disappointment in the face of the old uncle as he was leaving.

(3)

Somehow, that night seemed very long. I could hardly shut my eyes. My counterparts in the same bunking area were mostly asleep. Kak Yam and the other women congregants were coughing, one after the other.  My gaze was then directed to the opening of the tent which was made of thick canvas cloth. Taken apart, there is some sort of adhesive rubber to reattach them in five spots. But because the canvas door is often flipped open drawn aside by those peering in, and was the point of entry and exit for people and things, the opening began to loosen. The doorway is always gaping, no matter when—night or day.

My seat was right at the doorway or opening of the tent. In fact, I was in Compartment number 43 P with 14 other female pilgrims. The seating and sleeping area is only as big as the prayer mat that I carry. Most of the time, I am clearing specks of sand on the mat from slippers and shoes carried by the pilgrims. I had to avoid, bow down and shrink my body each time to give way to those who needed to come in.

I also had to keep myself hooded all the time. I was unable to brush my hair or change my clothes as I pleased. I did not want my body to be exposed. I couldn’t even lie down, although my body was waiting for a much-needed rest. I was forced to sit cross-legged. I kneeled or tried to stretch all day. It’s bad to lie down in front of the male members of the congregation who were passing by to and fro. Indeed, the place destined for me in the mina period is extremely uncomfortable. But I am pleased with the provisions of God. Hopefully God will also be pleased with me.

The tent opening has many stories. It became the place of food distribution for 900 female pilgrims. Food packs, bread, fruits, bottled water, hot water, instant noodles and biscuits were all delivered there. Whenever food arrived, my friends and I had to stand up for the temporary loss of our seating. As long as all the food was not distributed, my friends and I could not enjoy the food. I volunteered to be responsible for the calculation of the number of food packs distributed. Is it not that the pilgrims are always required to perform welfare services?

The task seemed easy but there were many tests awaiting. I was forced to face various whims and fancies of the members of the congregation. Some got furious because bread was not distributed to them. Some made noise for not being given the fruits. Some grumbled as they did not get the noodles right away. Some even came accusing me of taking their food packs!

Food problems occur at every meal. I had to appeal to the pilgrims not to take food that was not rightfully theirs. I was embarrassed to appeal to a representative of the committee for an addition of food packs. The committee representative did not seem pleased with my request. I have signed a form to confirm the received food is sufficient. I felt completely wrong. Tucked between two situations. I needed to be patient. Hopefully this patience will be rewarded by a mabrur pilgrimage.

(4)

Nevertheless, dealing with the distribution of food is not as hard as being the communicator at the doorway of the tent. I felt sorry to see faces peeking and searching into the tent. Most of the older men looked old and frail, and portrayed a helpless expression looking for help. Their faces reminded me of my late father. Surely my father was in that situation when he was performing haj with my late mother.

I understood that for most pilgrims, it was the first time they had performed the pilgrimage. For most congregations, this was also their first overseas experience. Most male pilgrims relied heavily on their wives. From the business of preparing essentials and packing bags, up to their daily affairs during pilgrimage. For example, there were male haj pilgrims who did not know how to prepare their own tea and needed their wives to do it for them. In fact, some male pilgrims were not good at eating instant noodles unless their wives prepared them! Most of these couples came from village areas where everything was prepared by the wife. This dependency eventually becomes an emotional burden on others.

At first, I willingly offered myself to be the announcer to call for the wives. I recalled the Tabung Haji speaker’s message: ‘If you want to enjoy the pleasure of pilgrimage, then help others.’

‘Who are you looking for, Haji?’ I said softly. Calling pilgrims Haji and Hajah is commonalthough the pilgrimage has not been completed yet.

‘I need your help to call my wife. Her name is Kalsom.’

‘Where’s her seat?’ I asked with a passion to help.

‘Compartment 65 P.’

I promptly made an announcement. ‘Hajah Kalsom. Compartment 65 P. Your husband wants to see you.’

‘She is not well. I want to ask her if she has taken her medication. She always forgets to take her medication,’ he explained. His tone was full of concern. I merely nodded.

Shortly thereafter appeared a skinny lady, stepping out slowly and quivering. The old uncle smiled lovingly at his wife. I did not hear what both of them were talking about, although my distance from them was close enough. The couple’s voices were soft and they were more  staring at each other rather than having a conversation. I could sense the feelings of affection which were brimming between them, as I had often seen in my parents when they were still around.

(5)

After a few minutes, someone was at the door again. Other male pilgrims appeared.

‘Please call my wife, Kamsiah.’

‘In which compartment does she sit?’

‘Compartment 55 P.’

‘Hajah Kamsiah. Compartment 55 P. Your husband wants to see you,’ I yelled out, looking in the direction of the compartment. Many female pilgrims were looking at me.

‘Hajah Kamsiah. Your husband wants to see you,’ I yelled again, controlling my cough. No one came out. ‘Your wife is not around. Maybe she had to go to the bathroom.’

‘Yes, thank you,’ he said, but did not go out. He stood there in front, full of hope. I could not do anything.

(6)

The flap at the tent opening was flipped open again.

‘Is my wife there? I want to give this egg,’ exclaimed another male member of the congregation. I almost chuckled. In his hands was a clear plastic bag containing biscuits, oranges, instant noodles and boiled eggs. But why did he only just mention the word ‘egg’? What is the implicit meaning behind the word ‘egg’? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to call it ‘food’? Astaqfirullahal Azim! Why am I not thinking straight?

‘I can give it to her. What’s her name? Which is her compartment?’ I replied, without being able to hold my cough.

‘Her name is Fauziah; I want to give it myself,’ replied the pilgrim, expressionless. I became the caller again. ‘Hajah Fauziah. Your husband wants to see you!’

‘Which Fauziah? There are many with the name Fauziah here!’ Someone’s voice was thrown from the other end.

‘Which compartment, Haji?’ I asked again.

‘I do not know,’ he replied. Such things make something so simple  be difficult. In the tent there were hundreds of female pilgrims. Without knowing the compartment number, it is difficult to find anyone. The man did not budge. He stood in front of the doorway.

(7)

‘Is my wife there? Kamsiah. Compartment 40 P. Please call. Make it fast.’ There appeared another pilgrim who was very impatient. His eyes gazed at my face, as if I were the only one able to carry out his instructions. Though, alongside me there were Kak Misa, Kak Zah, Kak Shima and Kak Ani, all in the same row.

‘Hajah Kamsiah! Hajah Kamsiah! Compartment 40 P. Your husband wants to see you!’ It appears that now I am formally the communicator to call for the wives at the front doorway.

‘What do you want?’ a loud, husky voice was heard from compartment 40 P. I turned. A female member of the congregation was standing with hands around her waist.

‘Where is the toothpaste? It’s difficult even to brush my teeth!’ Her husband replied without paying attention to all the ears that were listening and all the eyes fixed towards him.

‘I do not know! Your stuff is in your bag. If you do not see it, then, that’s your problem!’ replied the wife, who did not want to bend a little for him.

‘You are useless! I ought to marry another,’ her husband proclaimed before he left. I could only call out to the Almighty.

‘His young wife is the one who packed his bags. Serves him right! Hah, you—the one at the front door. If the useless man comes again, don’t call me. I’m not willing to see him,’ the middle-aged woman gave a loud outcry. I massaged my chest. MasyaAllah, in the intention to be in the race to be good, I apparently caused the anger of others.

(8)

‘Hey! Hey! Get up! Get up!’ I hear a voice as if I were in a dream. I jolted when I felt my right leg, which was wearing a sock and stretched out towards the doorway, being hit by something. I struggled to get up and fixed my veil. A male member of the congregation was squatting at the end of my leg. In his hand, there was a pair of Japanese slippers, which was probably used to hit my leg.

‘Please call my wife, Rubiah. Compartment 90 P,’ he ordered.

‘In which compartment?’ I asked while looking at the clock. MasyaAllah, at 2 am! Why are you looking for your wife at this hour?

‘I want to carry out the tahalul (a ritual during the haj pilgrimage) for her. I forgot to do it just now,’ he explained, as though he knew what was playing in my mind.  ‘Tahalul’ your wife? I did not know if I had heard it correctly. I was drowsy as I was half-awake.

‘Compartment 90 P is far away, Haji. Right there.’ I pointed to the left. ‘There is a doorway too. Haji, try to wake someone up down there,’ I responded.

‘I have tried. All are in deep slumber now. You’re the only one who is awake. You’ve got to help. Later, if her haj is not valid, you will be responsible!’ he countered as he threatened. Astaqfirullah! There are such people here!

‘Let’s take it this way, Haji. As I said earlier, 90 P is far away. I have to move all the friends who are in bed to get there. InsyaAllah I will carry out the tahalul for her; what hajah was that? Rubiah, right? I’m ready to be responsible. Go back to your tent…’ But my words were intercepted.

‘Who are you? Please be informed that I’m the husband! The one who knows the wife is her husband! You are on the pilgrimage, and you do not know the rules and regulations!’ he reiterated as he jumped up.

My drowsiness got lost immediately. I got furious. Astaqfirullah! Astaqfirullah! Astaqfirullah! This anger is from the devil. This devil is created from fire. Only water can extinguish the fire. It took me a few minutes to calm myself down before heading to the bathroom for ablution.

(9)

After dawn, I heard someone greeting. ‘Asalamualaikum.’

I raised my head. A male member of the congregation stood at the doorway of the tent. ‘Please call my wife, Khadijah. Compartment 56 P.  I want to ask for tea.’ I was silent. I answered his greetings in my heart.

‘Call my wife, Maimun. Compartment 60 P. I want to ask her to wash clothes,’ another voice came to my ears. I sat still.

‘Is my wife there? Waginah. Compartment 49 P. I want to invite her to throw.’ I pretended not to hear. I busied myself reading the translation of Al Quran by Ar Rahman. I coincidentally read Surah An Nur, verse 58, which means:

‘O ye who believe! Let your servants and those who have not reached puberty among you ask for your permission (before entering your place) in three periods of the day: that is, before the morning prayer, when you open your clothes due to midday heat and after the isya prayers; that’s three times for you (that’s usually when your aurat is exposed to Him). You and they will not be guilty at any of these three periods for those who are always coming to you, and each  of you is in constant contact with one another. Thus, doth Allah make clear to you His verses; and Allah is Knower, Wise Almighty.’

‘Haji, do not come in, Haji! Haram!’ I heard Kak Misa scream. Instantaneously, I turned around. The man who sought for his wife early that morning was striding in.

‘Call my wife. Rubiah. Compartment 90 P. It’s very important,’ he ordered. He stood, static, right next to Misa who was dishevelled, trying to fix her veil.

‘Compartment 90 P is far away, right there. Even if I shout, she would not be able to hear,’ replied Kak Misa subtly. ‘Don’t you have a phone? Call her. It’s haram to enter a women’s tent,’ continued Kak Misa. Several strands of her hair were visible.

‘Do you think that I’m stupid? If I had a phone, I would not ask you to help me. Do you think that I like to come into this tent? What’s wrong with it? I want to look for my wife!’ His dissatisfaction was clearly portrayed. I stared sternly at his face without a word.

‘You think that I am itching to get into the tent for women. A face like yours is found everywhere. You are not even appealing to look at,’ he criticised—and this time, he was looking at me, as if he was addressing it to me. I almost got up and gave him a tight slap for his mouth that roared recklessly.

‘The women are also crowding around the men’s tent. Isn’t that haram? Isn’t it toxic? Before preaching, do study the religion till you complete,’ he said sarcastically, before he stomped out. Kak Misa was in tears after having been humiliated that way.

(10)

‘Please call my wife, Kalsom. Compartment 65 P,’ a soft voice, which has become a common sound, pierced into the eardrums.

‘Call her on your own. I have a cough. I am unable to scream,’ I replied without lifting my face. They are all rude, talking according to their whims and fancy, not to be helped, my heart whispered.

Kak Misa, whose eyes were still swollen, took no interest. Izan, Kak Zah, Kak Ani and Kak Shima all kept silent. After seeing Kak Misa being chided till she cried, everyone seemed to have come to a consensus that they do not want to call anyone’s wife.

‘My wife needs to take her medication. She always forgets to take her medication. Later, if she does not take it, she will faint,’ uttered the man again. No one cared.

‘Please, please.’ I kept silent. Eventually he left. There was not even the slightest compassion in my heart.

‘Someone fainted! Someone fainted!’ I heard a scream from inside the tent. I saw a female pilgrim carried on an orange mat sponsored by TM. All female pilgrims gave way. I found out that the person who fainted was Hajah Kalsom, the person whose husband was looking for her a while ago. Mixed feelings got into me.

While enjoying lunch, a piece of sad news came through the speakers. Hajah Kalsom binti Abdullah, 69, died of high blood pressure. She was said to be too exhausted after returning from the throw, fell asleep and had forgotten to take her medication. We are instructed to perform a prayer and to hold a brief tahlil (a ritual for the dead). We were also directed to make donations to alleviate the burden of Hajah Kalsom’s husband.

All of a sudden, the texture of the food felt coarse like sand. The gulp of water felt barbed. I was immensely loaded with guilt about what had happened.

(11)

‘Asalamualaikum, I want to request permission. I want to stand here for a moment. I want to see compartment 65 P…’ the man dressed in white expressed. His eyes were swollen. He was standing at the entrance of the tent.

‘We had promised to go together and return together… I did not think she would leave me this way…’ he continued. His tears started to flow.

My heart was full of regret. It was aching. It was as if the one who spoke was my father and the deceased was my mother.

(12)

There are various tests throughout the masyair. For me the biggest test that tested my haj came through the doorway.


Glossary

mabrur – the best performance in the sight of Allah

masyair – the most challenging phase of the haj- starts from 8 – 13 zulhijah for pilgrims

mabit – a stopover or overnight stay


Return to the the collection


Illustration by Rohini Mani

 

About the Author

Maskiah Haji Masrom

Maskiah Haji Masrom was born in Johor, Malaysia. She has written more than 50 short stories, four novels, three collections of short stories, two poetry collections and a textbook on speeches. So far, she has won more than 30 writing competitions including the Malaysian Literary Prize, the Utusan Group Literary Prize and the Darul Takzim […]

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