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When Fatmah Tanggol Guiling learned that she had been selected for this year’s Hajj, she could not hold back her tears. The moment she had waited almost 40 years for had arrived.

Philippine Hajj pilgrims wait for their flight to Saudi Arabia at Manila airport.

Guiling is one of around 7,500 Filipinos who will perform the pilgrimage this year, but for her the journey is not only the fulfillment of one of the five obligations of Islam — it is also a return to a place that played a significant role in her childhood.

“My mom and dad lived in Jeddah for more than 10 years. My dad worked there. When I was 12 — around 1986 — I was able to visit them there,” Guiling, a government worker from Marawi, told Arab news.

Guiling actually visited during Hajj that year, but she was too young to perform the pilgrimage, and since then the journey has always been too expensive — at least until Guiling’s relatives stepped in.

“Although me and my husband have stable jobs, we have four kids and there are other expenses, so it’s not easy for us to raise funds for the Hajj,” she said. “I cried when some of my family offered to help, because they know it’s my dream to do the Hajj. This is one of the things that will fulfill my life — it’s a realization of my dream. And I’m now one step closer to it.”

Guiling said she was eager to return to Makkah — a place she has been unable to forget since she saw it as a child.

“When you’re there, it feels like you’re talking to God, face-to-face — especially when you are at the Grand Mosque,” she said. “When you pray and ask for forgiveness, you feel like He’s right there listening to you. I can’t explain exactly how it feels, but it’s overwhelming and you’re overjoyed, and you just feel like you can talk to Allah and tell Him everything and He is listening.”

Like most of the Philippine pilgrims, Guiling comes from the southern Philippines.

Muslims constitute roughly 5 percent of the country’s 110 million population, which is predominantly Catholic. The majority of Muslims in the country live on the southern island of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago or the central-western province of Palawan.

The last of the special Hajj flights carrying Philippine Muslims to Saudi Arabia departed on Friday. The annual pilgrimage is expected to begin on June 26.

For some of them, including Jabber Lasang from Sapu Masla, a remote village in Sarangani province, the pilgrimage is also the first time they have traveled abroad.

“This (will be) my first time on an airplane. It has been my dream ever since I was a child to ride in one,” he said ahead of his Hajj flight.

Lasang, 24, converted to Islam eight years ago, and said he has memorized the Qur’an. His trip was sponsored by community members who were moved by his recitation of Islam’s holy book. He said he never imagined that, coming from a poor family of farmers in a mountain village, he would be able to perform the pilgrimage at his age.

“During last Ramadan, I was invited by an imam from one of the mosques who told me they were impressed by the way I read the Qur’an and that I have a good voice,” Lasang said.

“I was moved to tears. I am a poor man, and I really couldn’t afford it on my own.

“I feel so blessed,” he continued. “I have always prayed to Allah that I could finish studying the Qur’an and (that I would) be able to go to Makkah.”

Nomaya Guiling, 42, a pilgrim from Marawi, said she was prepared for trials during the pilgrimage. “These will test your faith and your love for Allah … your patience, your focus, and your determination to complete the Hajj,” she said.

While she is nervous, and afraid to disappoint all those who have helped her to afford the journey, her strongest feeling is gratitude.

“Not all Muslims are blessed to go to Saudi Arabia for Hajj,” she said “If I can finish this, it will complete me, even though I know I am not perfect as a person. But I can say I have done one of the most important things (that God asks of) us.”

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