ISLAMABAD: For the past three months, retired lecturers Adnan Abdullah and his wife, Hadibah Idris, have been travelling by road across six countries with the intention to reach Makkah to perform the haj.
It had always been their lifelong dream to go on an overland expedition to fulfil the fifth pillar of Islam.
And, so far, the trip has been a happy and enjoyable one, albeit with some hurdles.
But Adnan, who turns 66 this October, and Hadibah, 64, had persevered so that they could continue to enjoy the journey of a lifetime.
The couple left their Shah Alam home on May 2, four days before the start of Ramadan on their modified Ford Ranger 2.5 WLT.
They named their modified vehicle Unta Kurus, or Lean Camel, as a nod to a verse in the Quran, which calls upon Muslims to travel to Makkah to perform the haj despite the hardship they would face.
Adnan said the name was perfect for his camper van-cum-four wheel-drive vehicle as he wanted to take the more challenging way to get to the Holy Land.
“The verse in Surah Al-Haj is translated as ‘And proclaim the haj among mankind. They will come to you on foot and (mounted) on every lean camel, they will come from every distant pass’ (Quran 22:27).
“The Arabs regard lean camels as the best type of camels to work with.
“I always regarded this verse as describing the hardship of the journey to perform the haj.
“Whenever people ask me, why don’t you and your wife take a flight to perform the haj? I will simply say to them: I prefer to do the journey the hard way,” Adnan told the New Straits Times, which joined the couple during the Pakistani-leg of their trip last week.
The couple drove an average of 500km a day. Their journey has taken them through Thailand, Myanmar, India, Nepal and Pakistan.
By the time they reach Makkah next month, they will have crossed at least eight countries across Southeast, south and central Asia.
After performing the haj, they will continue northwards to visit Baitulmaqdis, northern Africa and western Europe before eventually reaching the United Kingdom to visit their eldest son, Syrrunafis, 39, who works as a quantity surveyor and lives in Manchester.
Their journey will continue after that as they intend to visit eastern Europe and East Asia before driving back to Malaysia next year.
Age is not a deterrent for the couple who remain positive and are grateful to Allah for the people they meet and their experiences. They do all the heavy-duty work, such as maintaing Unta Kurus and checking the tyre pressure daily.
They sleep in hotels or camps at designated spots.
They also have had to camp in a police station and military camp on separate occasions due to security reasons.
Sometimes, they cook simple meals of rice, vegetable soup, “gulai” and eggs in their kitchenette, which Adnan and his children built into the cabin space in their modified Ford Ranger.
It did not bother them when they had to spend Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Ramadan on the road in foreign countries this year.
“It was a rewarding experience as we had the chance to trek up the beautiful highlands of Srinagar
in the state of Jammu and Kashmir near India during the first day of Hari Raya Aidilfitri,” said Adnan.
Hadibah said it was a tough fasting month as temperatures soared to as high as 46°C when they were driving through Myanmar and India during Ramadan.
“We lost some weight as for several days in a row we relied on just serunding and bread to break fast and for sahur,” she said.
“It was tiring to drive all day, so by the time we broke our fast at the end of the day’s journey, that was all we could prepare for ourselves.
“We don’t eat much any way, so we did not mind such simple meals for breaking fast and sahur.
“It was certainly different from the abundant food choices that we Malaysians enjoy during
Ramadan back home.”
The couple were aware of the health and safety risks of travelling to certain places, especially since Hadibah is a diabetic and travels with her insulin kept in the refrigerator in their Unta Kurus.
But so far, no health scare had occurred. To ensure that they are prepared for any eventuality, however, the couple have a big toolbox filled to the brim with medication recommended by two of their children who are doctors.
They face all the uncertainties for travelling to high risk places by always believing in God’s plan, or tawakkal.
During a 366km-stretch between Derai Ismail Khan and Qila Saifullah, Pakistan, the couple were escorted by police and army personnel as certain spots in the country were restricted areas for foreigners.
Adnan and Hadibah would also be escorted by personnel from the Balochistan Levies force, who operate as a paramilitary gendarmerie, when they cross the desert between the Pakistan and Iranian border this week.
The couple had their journey delayed for more than a month after they reached Islamabad due to a temporary setback with their visa application for one of the countries they were planning to go to next in their itinerary.
The month-long delay put a halt to their subsequent plans, including their intention to take the Unta Kurus across the Persian Gulf by ferry between Bandar Abbas, Iran, and Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates, to make it for the deadline for haj applications on July 26.
In Oman, they plan to settle their haj application through Tabung Haji, the Malaysian consulate general and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over there.
Thankfully, the issue with the visa was resolved when they sought the help of several people, who had explained the couple’s predicament to the authorities in Malaysia and Pakistan.
When talking about the challenges faced in their journey, Adnan said it was important for travellers to have their wits about them particularly when the going gets tough.
“I’ve learnt that as travellers, we cannot be too insistent on getting our way all the time. We cannot be too laid back either.
“For every hardship that we faced, Allah always helped us along the way as people came in to assist in the most unexpected of times and places.”
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
When explaining the reason they wanted to drive all the way from Malaysia to Makkah, Adnan said it was a way to “make up” for all the times he had wanted to travel when he and his wife
were busy raising their five children.
Aged between 28 and 39, their children are now professionals in various fields.
Adnan said that he first harboured thoughts of the road trip after their five children had furthered their studies.
“My eldest child is a quantity surveyor, two other children are doctors, and the remaining two studied engineering.
“My wife and I are retired lecturers from Institut Teknologi Mara (ITM, which is now Universiti Teknologi Mara), and I had also worked part-time managing my own interior design firm.
“This trip was to compensate for all those challenging years
of balancing family and work life.”
Adnan raised his family to enjoy the great outdoors and see the world through travelling abroad.
When the children were young, Adnan took his family on camping trips to Taman Negara.
In later years, he and Hadibah took driving trips to Thailand and backpacked around the region.
Adnan met Hadibah when she was his junior in ITM in 1975. They bonded over similar club activities in college, and were later accepted into the university’s Young Lecturers Scheme.
“I was the busybody who organised activities and Hadibah was the hardworking one.
“She was a girl from the town, and I was a kampung boy. Ini semua jodoh (it was fate),” said Adnan, a grandfather of seven from Sungai Petani, Kedah.
The preparations for the trip picked up pace when their children chipped in to buy the Ford Ranger three years ago.
Adnan, with the help of his second child, Syrrusilah, 37, who is an aeronautical engineer, worked together to modify the vehicle in stages.