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In Indonesia’s ‘porch of Mecca’, Hajj rekindles age-old bond with Arabia

JAKARTA: As they depart for Hajj, Acehnese pilgrims prepare for a transformative and spiritually moving experience, which also rekindles for many of them a special, centuries-old connection they feel with Saudi Arabia.

Indonesia’s westernmost province, Aceh is the site of the first Muslim kingdoms in Southeast Asia, which began to form in the late 13th century.

It was Southeast Asia’s last port of call for pilgrimages to Islam’s holiest city, and by the 17th century court chronicles of Acehnese rulers began calling it ” Serambi Makkah” or “Porch of Makkah” – a term that is still used by Acehnese people today.

Now the opportunity to leave for the real Mecca and perform Hajj is something they have been looking forward to for years, even decades.

“In Aceh it’s around 30 to 31,” Mizaj Iskandar, who was commissioned by the local government to organize the pilgrimage, told Arab News.

“They are certainly very emotional because they have been waiting for so long,” he said. “The moment they receive the call, they should be moved, happy and in disbelief. All these emotions you can find in almost all participants.

One of the pilgrims, Kamariah, 58, from the regency of Aceh Besar, could not find the words to describe how moved she was to be able to see the Kaaba at the center of the Grand Mosque, Masjid Al-Haram , in Mecca.

“I don’t know how to express how happy I am to see Kaaba,” she said. “I feel like I’ll never want to leave him again.”

Like other pilgrims, Kamariah prepared for the journey, especially spiritually.

“Before going to the holy land, we must already have cleansed our hearts,” she said. “We hope to become good Hajj pilgrims.”

One of the five pillars of the faith of Islam, the Hajj has been limited over fears of a pandemic to just 1,000 people living in Saudi Arabia in 2020. In 2021, the Kingdom limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 participants nationals, compared to 2.5 million before the pandemic.

But this year, having already lifted most of its COVID-19 curbs, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million foreign pilgrims. More than 100,000 of them arrive from Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country in the world. And among them, 2,022 are from Aceh.

“My family and I have not ceased to express our gratitude to Allah, because we have been called to perform Hajj this year,” Amalia Sabrina, a doctor in the town of Sigli in the Pidie regency of Dahlia, told Arab News. ‘Aceh.

“I once dreamed of the event that has now taken place, and it’s almost like deja vu to be in the same position as in that dream.”

She arrived in the Kingdom last week and appreciated the hospitality with which pilgrims were received.

“Whether it’s hotel service, food, laundry, store service or people,” she said. “Everyone has been friendly.”

Sabrina’s younger brother, Miftahul Hamdi, a football player, was also grateful to be in the Kingdom.

“I am so grateful to have this opportunity to go to Hajj this year,” he said. “Aceh is often referred to as the ‘porch of Mecca’, so being able to do Hajj here is just very fulfilling and makes me very grateful.”

Acehnese people’s enthusiasm for the Hajj pilgrimage, a sacred stop for Muslims, is bolstered by their historical ties to Saudi Arabia.

Marzuki Abubakar, a researcher and lecturer at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, said Islam in Aceh has revolved around Arabia since its advent in Southeast Asia. The coastal region also connected the rest of the islands that make up present-day Indonesia to the Middle East.

“Aceh was a transit point for Hajj pilgrims traveling to Mecca from all over the archipelago,” he said. “There is incredible enthusiasm among Acehnese to go for Hajj.”

What has strengthened the bond recently is the help the Acehnese received from the Kingdom during one of the darkest times in the region’s history: the 2004 tsunami.

“They are emotionally attached to Saudi Arabia because of the help they received after the tsunami,” Abubakar told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia was one of the largest donors of humanitarian aid when the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami devastated Aceh, killing more than 160,000 people, nearly 5% of the local population.

Saudi charities have helped rebuild homes, medical facilities and the 17th-century Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh, a symbol of Acehnese religion and identity.

Nurlinda Nurdin, a radio journalist from Banda Aceh, who made the pilgrimage in 2006 and spent two months covering Hajj preparations in Saudi Arabia, said that before the trip she often fell ill, but all her ailments were gone. when she was there.

“When I arrived in Saudi Arabia, I was still healthy. I was working fully, I didn’t feel exhausted at all, I was having fun, I was comfortable,” she said. at Arab News.

“I just felt very close, like my home was right behind the mountain. My heart was just at ease.

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