More than 4,100 Indonesian haj pilgrims arrived home October 20th looking tired but content as part of the first wave of returnees.
Sukariyani, originally from Karanganyar, Central Java, was one of more than 168,000 Indonesians who made the pilgrimage this year. She was satisfied with her trip and indicated that performing haj was a very special moment in her religious life.
"Performing haj is one of the pillars in Islam. I value this as a religious duty. So every Muslim should try their best to fulfil this responsibility," she told Khabar Southeast Asia.
Sukariyani says she had a wonderful time reflecting on her life as a Muslim and as a member of society while in Mecca. Although health concerns arose during her trip because of a spreading virus, she took precautions and was not affected.
"The World Health Organisation (WHO) had reported the spread of a new outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and we were warned by our group leaders to be aware of this situation by frequently cleaning our hands, not touching faces and eating healthily," she said.
WHO noted that 138 cases of MERS infections were reported worldwide with 58 deaths. The majority of the cases emerged from Saudi Arabia, which has increased concerns given the number of haj pilgrims flocking to the country.
More hajj, more tolerance
Other returning pilgrims, like Sukariyani, spoke of the journey's powerful impact on their faith.
"I have prayed in my heart that after I performed hajj I will be committed to obeying Muhammad's teachings," said Nina Kusuma, a hajj pilgrim who returned to Solo in the first wave.
She said closer engagement with Islam encourages Muslims to become more tolerant, as they gain a better understanding of the Prophet's message.
"I think we have been facing religious intolerance in many places," she told Khabar. "If Muslims agree that performing hajj is also a journey for reflection, I hope there will be an improvement of religious tolerance in Indonesia."
Nina said that with so many returning Indonesian pilgrims, there is a good chance that tolerance in Indonesia can be improved, especially in West Java, if the message is taken to heart.
"We hope each of us will be hajj mabroor (faultless haj). I know that nobody is perfect, but we can do our best. God knows what's in our hearts," she said. Sumiran, an Islamic cleric in Karanganyar, wants to see the returning pilgrims keep their religious faith strong throughout the year and not simply behave like "seasonal Muslims".
"We are better than that. We should follow our Prophet's teaching. Keep a good habit of five prayers per day, keep zakat (charity), and more importantly keep your faith," he told Khabar.
Pilgrims should make a commitment that after performing hajj they will improve their tolerance, he said.
"We hope they will have more understanding that Islam is tolerance. Walking with thousands of haj pilgrims from all over the world must be a good reminder that we are not alone. We come from different languages, ethnicities, but all of are united under Islam's and Muhammad's love," he said.
"I am grateful for them," he added.