Journey Of A Lifetime

He could hardly make ends meet, but a desire to perform Hajj kept him going. Mukeet Akmali talks to a man whose road to Makkah, is paved with hard work and patience.

It took him 20 years of hard labor to save money for performing Hajj in 2009. Today, Haji Mohammad Ramzan, 80, of Aali Kadal, says he wants to go for a second pilgrimage.

Ramzan collects scrap for a living. For years, he has spent his days scavenging for scrap, selling it to dealers, and saving money for the holy pilgrimage.

When he was young, Ramzan would work as a laborer for Pandit traders in Maharaja Gunj. “I could barely earn a living and no family was willing to marry off their daughter to me,” he says. “That’s why I remained unmarried.”

The turmoil of the 1990s led to many Pandit families leaving Kashmir, and their departure affected Ramzan’s livelihood as well. He was left jobless. “I had no money, no job,” he says. “At that point of time in my life, I thought I should resort to begging. I even started it, but found it disgraceful and shameful.” He then began collecting all sorts of junk from the roadsides. “I found collecting junk much easier than labor in old age, and more respectful than begging,” he says.

“I started earning five times more than I would with casual labor. And so I made up my mind to perform Hajj, no matter how long it would take me to save money for the holy pilgrimage,” Ramzan says.

In order to save money, Ramzan even started going door to door in the neighborhood for his daily meals until he saved enough money for the pilgrimage. His neighbors were also aware of his noble plan—they helped him by providing food and other material so that he could save money for Hajj.

Ramzan says people always received him warmly whenever he approached them for food. His neighbors also helped him complete his official Hajj formalities.

One such neighbor, Ghulam Muhammad, says, “All the members of Mohalla Committee of Aali Kadal   volunteered  and helped  Ramzaan  in completing  all the formalities—applying  for a passport, and filing the hajj form. They also helped him learn Arabic, so that he wouldn’t face any difficulties in Saudi Arabia,” he says.

Even different scrap dealers of Maharaj  Gunj helped him in this noble mission.“Whenever he would come to my shop, I always paid him more than the market value of the scrap, since I was aware of his noble purpose,” said Haji Ghulam Nabi, a local scrap dealer. When the first list of Hajj pilgrims was announced, Ramzan’s name was not on the list. Disappointed, he felt his long-time dream had been washed away.  But his name appeared in the second list.

“I did not believe my ears when I received a call from the Hajj Committee that Mohammad Ramzan was selected among the people leaving for Hajj,” says Manzoor Ahmad, a shopkeeper. “I left my shop and told him excitedly that he has been selected.”

Ramzan says, “I felt very sad when my name was not in the list the first time. I prayed to God to call me to the holy city. On the same night I had a dream, in the dream I saw myself sitting on the shore of a big river .There were ships with people chanting slogans of Allah-hu-Akbar. The ship approached towards me and I asked the people, ‘Where are you going?’ They replied, ‘To Makkah.’ I requested them to take me with them, and they said come along, so I jumped aboard the ship. Suddenly I woke up, the dream was over and I had tears in my eyes,” he says. “The next day, I got the best message that I have ever heard in my life—my name appeared in the list of people who were going to Makkah.”

Such was his longing for the holy place, that at the time of his scheduled departure from Makkah back to Kashmir, Ramzaan went into hiding in a hotel bathroom.

When he did not return on his scheduled date of arrival, his neighbors in Srinagar grew suspicious. They sought the help of Deputy Commissioner, who in turn contacted officials in Saudi Arabia. Ramzan was traced after three days.

When asked why he still collects scrap, Ramzan replies, ‘I want to perform Hajj again. I may not live that long, but still I want to do it.”

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