Sunday, February 27, 2005

of ihram and equality

In Mina, within the cramped fire-proof tents, we felt the meaning of equality of men. There, as in the whole of ‘Tanah Haram’, some small deeds gain immediate retributions. Wrong-doing too. You got paid in cash they say.

In the tents, space was such a premium that the mattresses were laid overlapping one another. One can only sleep if he can stand sleeping close to his snoring neighbor. So close that a complaining pilgrim described it in his Perak slang as ‘bernapeh dalam telinge teman' (breathing in my ear)’ But everyone was tired and everyone was snoring. So what difference does it make?
With more than three hundred pilgrims sharing the same tent, it was impossible to know everyone. So when the wives come calling, checking on the husbands, asking for the spare ‘ihram’ or whatever, they better know not the name or title but their husband’s mattress number.

A lady’s voice was heard from outside the tent. ‘Boleh panggil Haji Nawi?’ (Can you call Haji Nawi?). Instantly and almost in unison came the response, ‘nombor berapa? (what‘s the number?’)
Reduced to numbers certainly made us all equal.

Oh, about the spare ihram?

For the uninitiated, ihram is a garment of two pieces of white cloth without any sewing that every male hajis must wear while in ihram. You don’t get it? Well, the ritual of Haj, requires a male pilgrim, to wear only that two pieces of cloth. Absolutely nothing else! Not even the underwear. That two pieces of cloth is call the ihram. Ihram too is the term describing the state of restrictions that all pilgrims must observe as a condition for Haj. Restricted among others are acts of hunting, killing, fighting, arguing, sex, shaving or putting on perfumes. In ihram, all the pilgrims from kings to paupers are equal. As soon as he donned the garb, made a ‘niat’, and set out to Arafah for ‘wukuf’ he is required to remain in the same garb until he completed his first stoning at Jamaratul Aqabah and cut or shave his hair. Women? Their ihram (before you start imagining ‘bukan-bukan’) is the regular prayer garment not like the men. Because the ihram is normally made of towel, it made a good blanket as well.

As soon as the pilgrims arrived in Mina from Arafah, most went straight to stoning, cut their hair and change from the ihram to normal wear. But, discarding the garb then does not free the pilgrim from another restriction that is abstaining from sex or any conducts leading to it. In short, man and his wife are still restricted from being together. That is until they returned to Mekah and performed the ‘tawaf’ and ‘saie’ when all the restrictions are lifted and you are officially a Haji.

At night, in the tent, Mina was rather cold. Blankets provided by ‘muassasah’ were rather worn out. So the ladies seek for their husbands’ ihram as alternative. So when the first of the ladies peek into the tent asking for her husband’s ihram, some guys were quick to pass a remark. ‘Tak dapat Haji Din, dapat kain ihram Haji Din pun jadilah’ (Can’t get Haji Din, it’s good enough to just have his ihram). Others laughed.

Soon, it gets hilarious as one wife after another came asking for her husband’s ihram and almost no one was exempted. Retributions were certainly swift.

The story was based on real event. The names of the characters were changed to protect the identity and privacy of the real person – Editor.

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