IT was not a wishful dream. It was reality. I was able to pray nearer to ‘heaven’s zone’ for the first time, by the grace of God.
Of the many long distance flights I have taken, one was the most significant.
I was on the return trip from the Holy Land in Mecca to Kuala Lumpur on board Malaysia Airlines when this opportunity presented itself in 2011.
The air stewardess announced that whoever wanted to pray on board the aircraft could do so.
A prayer mat with a curtain for privacy was set up. There was only room for one worshipper at a time.
Of about 100 pilgrims on board, I was the second one to accept the offer for the subuh (dawn) prayer. Others declined.
She laid the prayer mat towards kiblat (the direction of Mecca) and advised me to pray in a sitting position.
Only then did I realise that even the middle-aged pilgrims skipped the compulsory prayer for fear of sudden turbulence should there be an air pocket.
As some pilgrims suffered from altitude sickness, they would not take the risk of falling and injuring themselves during the eight-hour flight.
I was grateful to have performed my ‘prayer in the sky’. My time frame is short. My life is in the twilight years.
I just wanted to do what has to be done, as commanded by our Maker.
I felt my life filled with peace and freedom. My spirit blossomed. It provided me with a memorable and enlightening experience.
I could feel the splendour in the sky.
This trip was more meaningful as it was fully sponsored by my late childhood friend, Musni Hashim.
This he did, before he died, to get Allah’s blessing. May his soul rest in peace.
Musni’s action reminded me of a quotation by author John Edmund Haggai in his book, How to win over worry:
“Give for the joy of giving. Do for the joy of doing. Help for the joy of helping.”
The Holy Land has opened my eyes to be more humble and simple in life. We were born with nothing. We leave this world with nothing too.
Our wealth, our social status and our titles are mere decorations. There is nothing to be proud of. It is time to have a metamorphosis and be an asset to mankind.
Even the pilgrims’ graves in Mecca have no inscribed tombstone. Just a small rock on the burial ground. All are equal – whether you were rich or poor.
You may be a legend in life, but just a speck of dust after death. Have we ever contemplated this?
I am glad I played a significant part to send my father-in-law to Mecca as a full-fledged Haji with my own savings.
A Chinese convert at the age of 22, he was much better than a true Muslim.
He could recite the Quran fluently and was certified to conduct the bathing ritual for the dead.
He was a respected person in my kampung. He passed away at 60-plus during the fasting month. His body was still warm when we tried to wake him up for the sahur (breakfast before dawn).
So, one good turn deserved another. I sent my father-in-law to Mecca. And I set foot on the Holy Land through the grace of my friend.
Times have changed. In the early 1970s, pilgrims went to Mecca by ship. The journey took almost a month. Now it is an eight-hour flight.
I still remember I had to cover the assignment by going on board the ships at the Swettenham Pier, which later shifted to the Butterworth deepwater wharves.
I was then working for the Straits Echo, which later changed its name to the National Echo.
Those who died during the journey had to be buried at sea. The elderly were usually the victims. They could not stand the strain.
I remember during one of my flights to Bangkok, I experienced a very bad air pocket. There was thunder and lightning. The plane ‘plunged’ from its normal altitude.
Passengers panicked. Fear was written on their faces. My wife and I remained calm.
I am always ready to accept death when the fated hour comes. There is no escape.
It was obvious that passengers were hovering between life and death. We must believe in our destiny. Have faith in the Creator.
We cannot keep death at bay forever. Face and accept reality.
Death is not a hiding place. Problems will not be eradicated even after death. There is a link somewhere to those who are still alive.
> A.R. Amiruddin is a former journalist with The Star for 19 years and the defunct National Echo for 10 years. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.