slip-sliding away…..

Hajj Chronicles – Part 19: Ascension

Posted by Yacoob on May 21, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 18

Education

As stated last time, Aziziah was a place where we hoped to disconnect from comforts and prepare ourselves for the biggest 5 days of our lives. It was also the place where our tour group finally kicked in with Islamic programmes. Up to that point, I’d been highly disappointed by the relative lack of lectures, classes, and other spiritually-uplifting activities offered.

We’d specifically chosen our Hajj group because of the top-notch ulama they take with them, and I had expected a journey like this to be full of inspirational lectures and activities that would help get our hearts and minds into the states they’d need to be in for Hajj. But it wasn’t to be. My favourite alim didn’t even make it there (due to visa issues), and such events were minimal in our Madinah and Makkah stays. It was only now, with a week to go, that everything went into full swing – with 3 activities per day, including a choice of different Hajj classes (one for Hanafis and one for Shafis).

Our schedule in Aziziah included daily Hajj classes, naseeha, and other activities.

Our schedule in Aziziah

The only small inconvenience was that none of the activities were in our building – they were in the other two that our group occupied. But that was a small price to pay for the knowledge and benefit on offer. (And it also gave me an unusual adventure in trying to find one of the buildings one night.)

Iqra

Before receiving prophethood, Muhammad (s.a.w.) used to often spend his time in seclusion – in a cave at the top of Jabal Nur (the mountain of light – also known as Mount Hira). It was here that everything began – Angel Jibreel (a.s.) coming to him with the first words of Quran to be revealed to humanity:

“Read! in the name of your Lord who created.
He created man from a clot.
Read, and your Lord is the Most Honorable
who taught with the pen,
taught man what he did not know.”

(Translation of the meaning – Surah Al-Alaq, verses 1-5)

Those visiting Makkah have an opportunity to literally follow the footsteps of the Messenger (s.a.w.) – by climbing that same mountain, and spending some time in that same cave of Hira (despite the discouragement of the Saudi authorities – as mentioned previously).

Jabbal Nur from the base

Jabbal Nur from the base

Because of the heat, our tour group did the climb in the early morning – before Fajr. I didn’t have the best preparation for the climb – attending a lecture the night before and only sleeping after 12PM. But I wasn’t going to miss this chance, and I knew that the benefit of sleep lies not in sleeping a certain number of hours – but in the barakah Allah puts in your sleep. So I made dua for barakah in that sleep, and Alhamdullilah – I was fine and able to function for that morning, when I needed the physical strength for the hike.

We gathered downstairs at 3AM, walked to meeting point, then waited a long while for everyone to arrive and everything to be sorted out. In such group situations, there’ll always be people delaying the group – so prepare for this and remember not to complain about them, but to have sabr and use the waiting time beneficially.

Then came the bus drive to the foot of the mountain, and we started our ascent just before 4AM. It was incredibly steep at first, but manageable – even with the heavy backpack I had to carry. Just like our Arafah visit earlier, we again encountered many beggars with deformed limbs. They’d recite basic things – like “Allah; Jannah” and make duas for us to have an accepted Hajj.

Another prominent feature of the climb was the sheer amount of rubbish we saw strewn on and off the path. Humans are such dirty creatures – leaving garbage at tourist spots – even in these holy sites. It’s so sad that Muslims, who are supposed to maintain cleanliness as ‘half of faith’ – can be so, so dirty, and so cruel to the environment.

But we should have expected that: Makkah was dirty, and we were warned that the days of Hajj would be dirty too.

A sign reads: "Kindly keep our hold area clean." The sign is severely defaced, with grafitti all over it.

The state of this sign tells you what many visitors think of its message.

A garbage can lies half empty, while garbage is thrown on the ground next to it.

Lots of space in this bin

Discarded bottles, cans, and other garbage lies strewn on the mountain

A sure sign that humans have been here

Reaching the summit

The climb got easier as we got higher, and we encountered vendors selling refreshments, tourist souvenirs, and even one selling these:

A vendor on the mountain sells mobile phones

Connecting people

At the top, it was confusing knowing what was what. There was a confined space to climb through, and we thought that was the cave – but it was only a passageway to it. We got through that, then stood at the mouth of the cave, where a small crowd had already gathered.

It was here that the adhaan went off from the many masjids down below. I’d been told of how beautiful it was to hear it from up there – but I couldn’t fully enjoy the moment because my attention was focussed on getting into the cave, which only held 2 people at a time. There were foreigners up there with our group, and I feared the now-common ‘ignore-the-queue-and-push-to-the-front’ attitude from them.

We waited a long time, and made wudu there using our spray bottles (discreetly – I don’t think anyone even noticed). But with so many people waiting to go in, and more coming, I wanted to just give up and leave. After all, we might have ended up missing Fajr if we kept waiting – and this cave, despite its significance, did not take priority over a fardh salaah.

We came all the way up, yet it seemed we wouldn’t make it to the main attraction. But one of our group members changed all that for me. He was adamant that he’d go in. He didn’t come all this way from Cape Town, and climb this far, to give up. If we had to wait, we would. I was inspired by his persistence and decided to stick it out; while still making dua that we wouldn’t miss Fajr.

So we waited in a queue – us South Africans plus a few foreigners. Tempers flared when one of them fell out of line, and a fight almost broke out. Alhamdullilah – calm heads prevailed, and he backed down, eventually leaving without even going into the cave. But it again highlighted the aggression that seems to be more prominent in Makkah – where even the sacredness of the place doesn’t subdue such negative raw human emotion. (If you’re ever in such a situation, learn the ‘sabr’ hand sign…it’s something that we all can understand, regardless of home language J.)

As for this cave, it seems many people think it’s sunnah to make 2 rakaats of non-obligatory salaah inside. This is obviously not the case, since – apparently – after he became a Prophet, Muhammad s.a.w. didn’t go back to this cave. There’s no sunnah salaah of the cave – as the Saudi authorities would readily tell you – it’s bi’dah. One of the foreigners waiting with us said the same. Regardless, everyone was making salaah in there.

When our turn came, my wife’s wisdom shone through. I was uneasy about the type of salaah to make in there, but my wife eliminated the problem by saying we should make our Fajr in there, and do nothing else since others were waiting to get in.

One of the apparent miracles of the cave is that it directly faces the Kabah – so it’s easy to make salaah there (though it is cramped). We went in and made our Fajr – but bearing the other people in mind, I couldn’t truly enjoy it as I had to be quick. Still though, it was the experience of a lifetime: to be in that same confined space where my Prophet s.a.w. – and the arch angel Jibreel a.s. were….it was amazing.

Taking in the scene

The cherry on top came afterwards, when we got away from the crowd and were able to sit on top of the cave for a while. If you’ve experienced the solitude of a mountain top before, or a sunrise without any distractions of day-to-day life, you may be able to imagine the experience. This was a combination of the two: high above Makkah, with a view of the city, the haram (and the infamous clock tower), and the early morning silhouettes of those incredible mountains all around.

It was exceptionally serene. Just calm, peaceful, and a moment to savour for the rest of my life. Experiences like that make me yearn for Jannah – the desire to have a place like that all to myself, without anybody else to disturb the mood, and no time limits or logistical considerations to prematurely end the beauty of the moment.

But all good things must end, and we soon had to make our way down the mountain. In the early light, we saw wildlife that we hadn’t seen on the way up – including a family of monkeys, and this little kitty:

A kitten on the mountainside - He seemed to be sleeping, yet he sat up

He seemed to be sleeping, yet he sat up

But the highlight of the descent was undoubtedly the sunrise. No matter how many times I watch this tremendous miracle of Allah, I’m always amazed at how quickly the sun moves from below the horizon to high up in the sky – from infancy to towering strength, spreading its light and warmth across the vastness of the Earth. It’s a sight I see far too rarely, so having the experience on this most-important journey made it all the more special.

The earliest sunrise shot - with the sun's glow still muted
The sun's glow is now visible
The sun is nearly visible
The infant sun peeks out from behind a mountain peak

Back at the foot of the mountain, my fatigue finally caught up with me, and after enjoying the last few moments there, we headed back to the bus – then our room – where I collapsed in exhaustion.

The neighbourhood at the base of the mountain

The neighbourhood at the base of the mountain

This giant tasbeeh was on sale at the foot of the mountain

This giant tasbeeh was on sale at the foot of the mountain

Coming up next, insha-Allah: The build-up to Hajj

Related lessons:

  • When it comes to sleep, scientists and commentators may insist we need between 6 and 8 hours per night. But Allah is in control of everything – sleep included. So if you don’t get that many hours, it won’t matter – as long as you have barakah in that sleep. Make it a habit to ask Allah for barakah in your sleep – whether you get a full night’s rest or not.
  • In tour groups, there’ll always be some people that delay the group. Expect this, and remember not to complain about them, but to have sabr and use the waiting time beneficially.
  • In general – and especially when you’re in nature – respect the environment and don’t litter. Cleanliness is half of faith, so make a conscious effort to be clean – even if others around you are not.
  • If you can make it to the top at the time of Fajr adhaan, try to saviour the experience of hearing the many adhaans from down below.
  • Whenever you’re touring, always take a spray bottle and enough water for wudu. You may not always have a tap around (such as at the top of the mountain), and in any case, using a spray bottle is tremendously water-efficient.
  • Don’t ever miss your fardh salaah for a ziyarah place / tourist attraction. In worldly terms, you may feel regret at missing out – but in the Hereafter, your regret will be much greater. If you’re in a jam, make dua and do your best – always remembering that salaah comes first.
  • If tempers flare, don’t get caught up in the emotion of one / a group’s wrongdoing. If you must be involved, try to be a peace-maker. There’s no benefit in fighting with others. (And learn the ‘sabr’ hand sign.)
  • There’s no sunnah salaah for the cave. Make your fardh salaah if it’s time, or make dua instead. Or maybe just make an extra salaah – but being very clear in your mind that you’re NOT doing it under the impression that it’s a sunnah.
  • When you get in, do what you need to, and savour the moment. But don’t take too long if there are others waiting. We’d all love to spend a long time in there, but it’s inconsiderate to deprive or delay others unnecessarily – so give others a chance too. (The same concept applies in any place that’s in high demand – such as the Rawda in Madinah.)
  • When you’re done, don’t be in a rush to get back down again. Spend as much time as you can above the cave / near the top – taking in the scenery and the experience. You can’t get this anywhere else in the world, and you may never get this chance again, so enjoy it while you can.

What happened next?

Later parts in this series will be added at this link, insha-Allah.

Image sources: All pictures taken by me.
Note: Title for this post borrowed from here.

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One Response to “Hajj Chronicles – Part 19: Ascension”

  1. SI said

    It was amazing being up there although I don’t think it was an ideal place for a woman if I’m honest. I’m glad I had my dad with me guarding me because it wasn’t very pleasant…

    I saw the monkeys!!! haha

    Awesome photos. What I was contemplating as I went up there was that our Prophet (SAW) was a man and able to climb it but how Khadija (RA) must have climbed it (without stairs!) to give him food and sometimes at night time on her own. Remarkable strength, dedication and courage. SubhanAllah :)

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