It was a bolt from the blue when on October 22, 2011, just two weeks to Haj, my daughter, Lulu, told me that all of us — Sara, Ulfat, Amer, Zehra and myself were going for Haj along with her family via Sana, by land.
Although her family’s programme for Haj was there, at the end of her husband’s two-year tenure as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Yemen, our inclusion at the eleventh hour was beyond any comprehension, specially because Haj programme formalities are so cumbersome that several months are needed for its preparation..
Lulu had completed all visa formalities and left for Sana on Oct 25 along with husband and one daughter. The other daughter could not go because of her school commitments. We five were to follow her on October 27. We were booked with Qatar Air. On October 26, Lulu rang up to inform that Qatar Air had suspended its flights to Sana and wanted us to change the airline. We contacted the travel agency and, blissfully, got five seats without any problem in Gulf Air for the same day and same time. The only problem was one way business class and the return in economy class which we readily agreed. Then a phone call came from my nephew in Karachi late in the evening that the reference numbers of our tickets were needed in Sana Since no one else was home, I got hold of the ticket packet and while reading the number discovered there were two tickets in the name of Zehra while Ulfat’s ticket was missing. Anyway, my nephew noted down the numbers.
I immediately rang up Sara, who was out shopping, on her cell number and informed her because we had to fly early in the morning the next day. She along with Amer and Ulfat rushed home. Amer contacted his friend, Airport Manager, and sought his assistance as the travel agency was closed and the owner of the agency was not responding to our call on his cell number. The Airport Manager asked Amer to come to the airport, contacted the owner of the travel agency and the missing ticket issued.
When we reached the airport, we were told that the flight may not be allowed to land in Sana because of the condition obtaining there and in that event, the plane would be landing in Aden and we would be required to proceed to Sana by ourselves — an eight-hour drive. We had no option but to board the plane with prayers seeking God’s help. Our payers were answered and the plane landed in Sana.
On October 30, we got ready to proceed to Makkah by land route. A 12-seater heavy vehicle along with two security mobiles reached the Pakistan House in the morning and as we were getting ready to load our baggage, the Saudi Ambassador telephoned to say that the land route was closed and we could not travel by land. It was a major disappointment and we thought it would not be possible to proceed for Haj because even the deadline for air flight was closed. The last flight of Yemeni Air had left on October 29.
Sara, however, suggested to Lulu, to find from the travel agency if anything could be done to send us by air from any other source. The travel agency responded by saying a special flight of Saudi Air would be leaving on November 2 and assured her of help in the matter. Within an hour’s time, to our joy, came his call, saying our eight seats had been arranged. It looked like a special flight because most of the passengers were VIPs, including Yemeni ministers.
On reaching Jeddah, we were told that all our baggage were left behind with the assurance that these would be brought to Makkah in a couple of days. We had no time to waste in arguments and discussions with Airline officials. We quietly proceeded to Makkah in Ahram, performed Umrah, then to Mina, Arafat, again Mina. All Haj rituals were performed in peace and strictly according to rules. Then we changed to normal dress for which we had to buy a pair of trousers and T-shirts and for ladies Maxi and Dupatta because the baggage had not come. Finally, from Mina we proceeded to the last leg of our Hai journey to Makkah for Tawaf-i-Ziarat and Farewell Tawaf.
On completion of Tawaf-i-Ziarat, we came out of Haram Sharif and after almost 30 minutes to 45 minutes discovered that we had left our bag containing our passports, tickets and cash at Safa/Marwa .in the midst of millions of people. The very thought, what would happen now, was devastating. Some of us rushed to the place while others prostrated in the House of God for His mercy. At Safa/Marwa, we found a man sitting with our bag waiting for us. He handed over the pack, saying please check if everything was okay. All of us were in tears and speechless.
I was reminded of an elderly Arab colleague in Khaleej Times, Dubai, who told me that in adversaries, at times, God Himself comes down to help His creatures. and that he had seen God helping His creatures. How true he was. That was exactly my feeling when the bag was handed over to us. Only God Himself could have protected the bag in the midst of millions.
After the Farewell Tawaf, the next day, we proceeded to Madina-i-Munawwara for Durood-o-Salam at the Prophet’s Mosque. We were there for a couple of days with our niece before taking return flight to Sana and then Karachi. We had taken for granted our baggage were lost, but, No, they were there. The Saudi Arabian Airlines brought the baggage and handed them over to us at the given address in Karachi on November 27, almost one month after our return
The Moral of the story: Only those make it to Haj who are called by Allah. Our Haj looked like an urgent call by our Creater, Who was there with us all time.