The day before my journey I prepared everything that I needed and gathered every cent I had. My concern was that my ticket was paid, but I only had R7,000 and a few rand in savings while the tuition for my full stay for the year was R13,000. That night I made du’a to Allah that I would get to Tarim, and I put my trust in Him completely. I was due to fly on the Saturday evening. The evening before, I had many visitors, friends, family and friends of my parents. The majority of the visitors were there because of the qualities of my parents. My parents did not have wealth, but they were kind and generous. As the visitors left most of them put a gift or an envelope in my hand, something I did not expect. On Saturday morning, I opened the envelopes, and, to my astonishment, I calculated that the monies came to about R12,000. This was close to double the amount I had saved and would be enough to cover my tuition and boarding. I sat there in tears and just kept thanking the Almighty.

I banked all the money. Before I left the house, more people arrived to see me off, many of them were family, friends and neighbours. Shaykh Abdurragmaan also came, as did the Imam of the local masjid, and many people I hadn’t seen before. The Imam had mentioned my journey in his Jumu’ah talk the previous day, so I surmised that this could be the reason why so many people came. They could also have been sent by the Almighty.

Shaykh Abdurragmaan and the Imam gave thought-provoking speeches. As the time came for me to say farewell to my family, everyone recited salawat. My parents, brothers and family cried, and I was very excited. I understood that not only was I leaving, I was also traveling to a country at war, and this had my family worried more than anything. It was an emotional experience, but also exciting. I wish to emphasize that I sincerely appreciated all the support from my family and friends, knowing that if it wasn’t for the Almighty sending them to me, I would not have been able to undertake the journey at that time.

At the airport, I gave all the envelopes that I had received on the Saturday to my uncle. He calculated that the monies came to a total of R9,000. I was so shocked and remembered the words of Shaykh Ismael, “Allah will provide”. I realised then that Allah was certainly blessing my travels and He was the All-Knowing, the All-Seeing and the One Who provides sustenance to all. I received even more gifts from friends and family who came to say farewell at the airport. My uncle exchanged the R9,000 for US dollars. I needed dollars because the dollar is an international currency and my tuition would have to be paid in dollars, so they would be more useful than rands.

I had to greet my family and friends, but most importantly my parents and five brothers. My little brother had been crying continuously since we left home, and he was very emotional. We were very close, growing up. We did everything together. We were underprivileged but we found things to do together and have fun regardless of the circumstances. I appreciate all my brothers and love them dearly. My two eldest brothers had worked endless shifts over weekends to help to support us when the rest of us were little, and Allah has granted them success, Alhamdulilah, and because of their generosity, I regard them as heroes.

My parents were crying too, and it was the first time I had ever seen my father cry. I had felt as if I was not his favourite child, but that day I saw his love for me in the tears he shed. He is a true hero, and I can never thank him enough for all he has done and will continue to do for us.

I can say this much about my mom’s amazing qualities: she is a true example of sacrifice. I have never heard her complain. She made sure we ate, and she tried to give us the best that she could. I will never be able to show enough appreciation for my mother, no matter how hard I try. Even if I were to buy her the world, it would not make up for what she has done for us. My mother is the true hero.

As I headed through the terminal with everyone bidding me farewell, my journey truly began. I travelled through Dubai and Qatar to Salalah in Oman. There the journey became difficult. I tried to communicate with the people, but they laughed at me. Everything was in Arabic. I did not understand Arabic at the time, and I felt utterly lost. I was to meet a student from Port Elizabeth at Salalah Airport. I had no internet connection and could not contact him. After roaming the airport for hours, I saw a person coming down the escalator, but I did not know whether it was him, as I had not seen him or his photo before. We had communicated via WhatsApp, and he had said he would wait for me at the airport in Salalah. Not only did I not understand Arabic, I also had no experience of traveling, so it was very kind of him to wait for me.

He called out my name and I replied, “Yes”. He hugged me and said, “Alhamdulilah”. His name was Ali. He had been waiting for me for more than a day. While he waited, he had booked our bus tickets and made arrangements for our journey. We had to travel from Salalah to Yemen by bus, a 24-hour journey, or maybe longer. We stayed at the airport for another day until our bus was to leave. By then, brother Ali had been at the airport for more than two days. He explained to me that he always enjoyed Cape Town’s food. I remembered I had chili bites in my bag, which my mom’s friend had given me, as well as brownies from my cousin. That was the start of a good friendship between Ali and I. We agreed that we needed to stick together to make this journey successful.

We went to the bus stop and boarded the bus. Ali was very well grounded in Arabic, so he did all the talking. He told me to speak very little as we were foreigners heading into a war zone. We travelled for a long time through the mountains of Oman. The roads were so scary, the bus seemed to be about to break down at any moment, and the driver took the bends around the mountain very fast. After many hours we reached the border with Yemen. The process took a very long time, and the border officials searched all our belongings.

We were not allowed to leave the bus. We had to wait until they gave the go-ahead. Everyone had to give 100 USD to the official collecting the money. We had no choice as they said the visas we had were not valid. The soldiers at the border were fully armed and looked dangerous. I was afraid because this was real danger and we had to comply. After the official had collected the money, Ali took a photo of the situation at the border. He didn’t realise that a soldier had spotted him. The soldier called his fellow troops and the two of them entered the bus. I did not understand Arabic, but they spoke to Ali in a very harsh tone, instructing him to follow them into his offices.

I was very afraid. I did not know what to expect as this was country in war, and who knows what they could do to him. Hours went by. The bus driver was restless and didn’t want to wait any longer. I went to look for Ali, but could not find him. Minutes before the bus driver decided we were leaving, the soldiers and Ali came out and they let him go. I could see that Ali was afraid, judging by the reaction on his face and his body language. As we headed to Yemen, Ali told me they had removed his sim card, scrolled through his entire phone, and searched his whole body, even the most private areas. He said all he could do was pray to Allah that the situation got better.

In Yemen, the closer we got to our destination, the worse the roads became. The sun had set, and we were tired. We took turns to sleep as we could not trust anyone at this point. When I was awake, I wondered how the bus driver would be able to stay awake for the full journey. I saw him chewing on a plant. He had been chewing it since we left Oman. When he awoke, Ali explained to me what it was. It was a plant they used in Yemen to stay awake – some sort of drug. The plant made the eyes of the bus driver so big. It looked like his eyes were going to pop out. It was my turn to sleep, but it was hard to sleep because the bus driver was speeding, the roads were in poor condition, there were no lights, and I felt the bus might crash at any moment.

As we approached a small city, we were instructed to change buses. We did not wait long, and the new bus driver seemed calmer. Ali and I fell asleep for some time. When we arrived at our destination one of the passengers woke us. We exited the bus and before I could ask Ali if we had arrived in Tarim, a person drove past us and said, “Sallu ‘ala al-Nabi”. Ali said, “We have arrived,” and we stood in the blessed city of Tarim. The journey to Tarim felt like it had taken a lifetime already.

Seeing the beauty of the people’s character, I could tell I was in a special place. We approached a cab driver asking him to direct us to Dar Al-Mustafa. He told us to get in and for a small fee he transported us to the Dar. At the Dar the streets were quiet. I could only hear dhikrullah coming from the building in front of us. As we were about to enter the Dar a man approached us. He looked like a Cape Malay. I didn’t understand Arabic, so Ali spoke to him and told him where we were from. He took us into the Dar, and I saw light everywhere. We entered the musallah (the praying area, and the place where the circles of dhikr and classes were held), and I immediately saw the shaykh who was standing at the front. Everyone was kissing his hand and showing him so much respect. This was new to me. Ali told me that he was al-Habib ‘Umar. Shaykh Abdurragmaan had always spoken highly of him. As soon as I saw him, I could tell he was a special person.

When we entered the musallah it was after Fajr salah. The brother who looked like a Cape Malay introduced Ali and I to a South African brother, Faheem. He welcomed us with a smile and said, “Welcome to Tarim”.


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