From the news desk

Death in a State of Ihram

By Dr Salim Parker

Hajj is Arafat. Arafat is the closest that we mere mortals ever get to our Creator, the day when we are in our Ihram, which resembles the cloth than we adorn once we depart this world. It is the day when Allah smiles on his worshipping subjects and when more are forgiven than on any other day of the year. Ironically, in this submissive state where we are reminded of our inevitable demise, our Creator encourages us to rekindle our humanity, humility, piousness and God consciousness, with a chance for us to emerge from the plains of Arafat as sin free as a new born child.

Death. Life. A new beginning, an end to old bad ways. Arafat and Hajj reminds us of the stark interplay of our temporary existence on this earth, our pre-ordained departure, and how we manage that time.
It is known that those who pass away as martyrs are guaranteed Heaven. Anyone who is garbed in Ihram when recalled by our Creator is considered a martyr and are blessed with a place in Jannah.

Many express the wish for their final breath to be exhaled during their once in a life time pilgrimage and some are honoured as such whilst in a state of Ihram. Most however wish for the ultimate redemption that is associated with an accepted Hajj so that they can commence their remaining time on this temporary abode with a clean slate.

He was one of those that accepted whatever his Creator has planned. And we know that Allah is the ultimate planner. There were subtle hints that he was preparing to not return to South Africa from Hajj. Some who greeted him before departure to Saudi Arabia were puzzled with the cryptic messages he gave them. However, on deeper analysis and reflection, it became clear that he was preparing them to bid farewell to him.

Even in Saudi Arabia his wife could not initially understand certain of his suggestions such as buying present for their loved ones as this was contrary to him offering his customary duaa for them. I saw him a day before Hajj when he suffered an epileptic attack. I tried to ensure that he understood that he had to at all times wear some form of identification in case he fell sick again. These identification tags would then ensure that his group leaders would be contacted. His parting words to me were: ‘Allah knows best.’

The crowds are massive on Arafat and Mina every year. He and his wife reached Arafat without any issues and they reached out to their Creator during the time of Wuqoof, the apex of Hajj. I strongly advised him to travel by bus and he took the bus from Arafat to Musdalifah after sunset. This journey is very unpredictable and, after reaching Musdalifah, they were separated into smaller groups, and finally only the couple found themselves with each other.

Somehow they made their way to Mina and they pelted the largest of the Jamarat. They then tried to make their way back to their camp on Mina but could not determine their bearings due to the massive crowds. He sat down and they shared some water and a fruit. As they were always travelling together, she kept his phone with her belongings. At one stage she had him in her sights. The next minute he was gone.

We are faced with these situations every year. Every year people get lost and every year we inevitably are able to reunite them with the rest of the group. This year was no different. When his wife made her way back to the camp we assured her that we will find him. We could not call him as she had his phone but we assumed that he had his identification tags on him.

All he had to do was to show it to any official and they would either call the numbers displayed prominently on the tag, direct him to his camp or even escort him back to the rest of his family. She was very uneasy when I spoke to her. It was evident that she had a nagging doubt that he would approach any of the officials. There was always the chance that he would run into someone of his group, or that someone would recognise him and approach him. That day, the Day of Eid, the Day of Celebration, was one of severe anxiety for his wife.

“He is in Azizyah!’ a fellow pilgrim informed one of the group leaders. We excitedly informed his wife and a massive feeling of relief was collectively felt by all of us. We immediately contacted one of the members of the group to check up on him. Once found this contact would call our lost pilgrim’s wife. This person could find no trace of him. We then asked fellow pilgrims to search both our buildings in Azizyah and this was duly done. Again no one could find him. The person who initially reported seeing him was then contacted and it then transpired that he saw someone who resembled our lost pilgrim in the vicinity of our building but did not actually have contact with him.

Still we were not too worried. We did send out his name to the hospital data base and they indicated that no one by his name was admitted to any of the hospitals in the vicinity. In retrospect we should have asked them to check each of the four names that he had. Often the hospital data base contains the name or second name as the surname so a search for surnames, even under the South African nationality, would not reveal anything.

The group started to get a bit concerned the next day when we did not hear anything yet. All the other lost pilgrims were by now found. His wife was worried that he would simply sit down somewhere and make Duaa. No one will, among the millions present on Mina, ask someone who is sitting somewhere and praying whether they need any assistance. We do not know what transpired. All we know is that he was not reunited with us.

One of the group members went to the central hospital and a very kind receptionist there searched the entire data base. This was on the second day of Tashrique, the second day of stoning. He had a first name, two second names and his surname on all his cards. The receptionist diligently entered all the names separately and came up with a match. ‘He is in the hospital in Arafat,’ it was revealed. One of the group members had a vehicle and immediately set off to Arafat hospital. I informed the wife that he has been found and she told us that her daughter and son-in law, who were working in Saudi Arabia, were on their way to Makkah.

We were at that time walking from Mina to Azizyah. I reassured her that the medical facilities were world class for all Hujjaaj and that he was in the best of hands. That was until I receive a call from one of my colleagues. He told me that he was at the hospital and our pilgrim was indeed there. I was walking alongside his wife at that time and excitedly asked him whether I should put her on the line with him. ‘No Doc, please step away from her. They asked me to identify him at the hospital morgue.’

That last thirty minutes was one of the most difficult times of my life as the wife was fully expecting to hear that he was well. Some other pilgrims asked me some medical questions and we in the meantime managed to ensure that her family would be there to meet her in Azizyah. We broke the news collectively to them and tears flowed freely, not just amongst the family but amongst the rest of us. We were assured that he was still in Ihram and that he was destined for Jannah. He most likely simply sat down somewhere, recited like a true martyr and waited for Allah to call him. We asked ourselves whether we did enough to keep him with us in order to make more Duaa for all of us. Allah alone knows the answer to that.

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