“I’ll take these please,” I handed over the navy and pink ski jacket and a pair of thermal gloves to a Sports direct cashier. I distinctly remember there had been a sale- mostly because I was short on cash at the time and my housemates had decided -in the heat of the moment after realising it may be our last chance to go on a trip together- to embark on a 5 day trip to Poland after looking at Instagram photos of a few Malaysian students who had gone.
We would be leaving in three days. It was a whirlwind last minute decision. February was quite cold in the UK but Poland had them beat in that department. That night I had thrown my thermal wear, scarves and a few books into the beaten down luggage I had for five years. It would be a budget getaway- we made that clear to each other as we packed ramen and instant noodles (our main food source for five days) into our rucksacks along with some plastic utensils.
I remember getting off at the John Paul II International Airport Kraków and hopping onto a 7 seater cab as I foolishly gawk, wide-eyed at the sight of the thick snow on the ground
We realise we had just missed snowfall. As Southampton students, it was mostly hail or rain or both that we experience. The one time we had snow in the three years there; I endeavoured to witness the 15 minutes of snowfall before it melted into puddles knowing I would be late for a lecture. Coming from the equator especially, snow was not exactly within reach.
The Fresh Apartments we stayed in had ample beds – one queen sized, a lounge with a sofa bed and two single beds that had a little wooden staircase leading up to them on a sort of indoor balcony propped up above the lounge. I was pleasantly surprised at how aesthetically pleasing it was considering the affordable price. It had a TV and a small kitchen area which I was sad to leave when we had gone to Zakopane for a short ski trip and some hiking.
It had not taken me long to realise we had hardly seen anyone who were like us: hijab donning girls with boots who would look at our watches anticipating when we would need to pray next. Back in the UK we would pray in changing rooms if mosques were not within our perimeters. To have Justin Bieber blasting in the background as we read our prayers was a compromise and an exercise on khusyu’. It was gratifying to drop everything to face Allah when we were clearly being surrounded by what was any shopper’s haven. Deen over dunya!
This was challenged when we were climbing the slopes of the Tatra Muntains. It took us far longer than we had hoped to reach the actual frozen lake- the Morskie Oko that lied at the end of the path. Carriages pulled by horsespassed by us as we set the journey on foot despite having slipped onthe frozen pathway a few times. We took our time to let the surreal view sink in as we pass waterfalls and dwelled at points that were without any obstructing trees at the sides of the slope. The breath taking view of the snow covered mountainside and the sea of trees beneath made me contemplate on Al Khaliq- The Creator. How perfect must He be that the mere sight of His creations had us awestruck?
“Someone once asked me why we feel at ease in nature. Why people vacationing at beaches find it easy to relax?” I started as we looked at the stream of icy cold water crashing onto a stony streamlined river. “She told me it is because everything is making zikr.”
Halal food was not explicitly specified in the hut like building by the frozen lake that catered food when we finally arrived. We sat down, sharing platters of what I could only describe as something vegetarian. After hours of resilience treading the landscape in unsuitable footwear we had taken our fair share of photographs and selfies and had recharged enough for what felt like a long descend.
That was when we stopped outside a rustic looking restaurant and pub. I held onto rucksacks and backpacks while the four girls made ablution in a public restroom on the first floor. We took on the challenge of finding somewhere to pray that would shelter us from the drizzling rain. A man who must have owned the outdoor dining space was kind enough to let us use a corner. It was in no way enclosed. The people who were indoors could clear as day see us but it did not matter. What mattered was that we meet Him. I was sat behind the group of hijabis guarding their belongings when I realised we were facing a magnificent view. The rain had only amplified this sense of mystifying beauty. The mountains were opposite us.
I was reminded time and time again that no matter where we are in the world, wherever a muslim is, they are Allah’s servants unified by facing the qibla
Surah Al Fatihah could be heard- slightly drowned by the sound of rainfall and chatter from the diners indoors.
I had not been wet from ablution but felt cold enough to make me prop myself next to the outdoor heater- I could not imagine how freezing it must have been for the rest who had by then taken off their jackets and placed them on the ground to be used as prayer mats. My thoughts had suddenly wandered off to my brothers and sisters in faith who had to flee their country due to turmoil. They had no place to stay. How do they do this every single day in the cold when temperatures could reach subzero degrees at night? I realise we had some food but I had already felt tired not long after. The cold was taking its toll. We had walked some distance and my feet were sore. “How long did they have to walk?” I mouthed to myself thinking of the distance some refugees would have to endure. We all prayed in silence knowing Allah is As-Sami – The All Hearing.
As we walk in darkness the rest of the journey down slope, with only our phones to light the way I was hit by another reality: refugees had to face this at some point too
Some may have to brave darkness in the middle of the ocean on a flimsy dinghy- not knowing if they would ever make it to their destination. When they do- they face all kinds of uncertainty. As we were sat in a white van that would take us back to town I felt a rush of relief- there was a heater and we would soon be lounging in an apartment that had electricity and internet access. In two days we would be boarding a flight back to our second home where we could continue on with our lives and get an education. It would have been so easy to feel somber: our bodies were aching, we were tired, wet and hungry but being muslims meant being thankful. Allah had made it so that we were to look at our blessings. Our lenses should focus on bigger pictures beyond our own portraits.
I realise many refugees had left their lives not knowing if they would ever have their livelihoods back. As I flew back home, my prayers were for them. I was thankful for this experience and the bolt of sudden realisations in the midst of it all. Pondering on a moment could change your view of any situation and and strengthen the faith.
We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness? (Fussilat 41:53)