slip-sliding away…..

Archive for June, 2013

Dirty money

Posted by Yacoob on June 25, 2013

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Source: “Africa – where laughing is the only reaction” Facebook group

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Hajj Chronicles Part 21: Day 1: Mina

Posted by Yacoob on June 12, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 20

The tunnel leading to Mina

The tunnel leading to Mina

Friday, 4th November, 2011. The day that my wife and I embarked on our Hajj. We’d made all our preparations, entered into ihraam, and we were about to make our way up to our camp on Mina – where hujjaaj spend most of the five days of Hajj. It had been a long wait – from the point where the call had come to me a year earlier, then the months of preparation, then departing for the journey, and finally the five weeks in Saudi leading up to this point. And now it was here.

Tent city welcomes you

We arrived late to meet our group – with everyone already waiting for the latecomers, and the group having collectively pronounced their niyah for Hajj. It wasn’t the ideal way to start, but we hurriedly made our niyah, and then set off with the group – taking that 20 minute walk up the hill, through the tunnel, and onto the vast plain of Mina, all the while reciting the talbiyyah:

Labbayk Allahumma labbayk (Here I am at Your service, O Lord, here I am!)
Labbayka la sharika laka labbayk ( Here I am at Your service! You have no partners, here I am!)
Innal-hamda, wan-ni`mata, laka wal-mulk (Yours alone is all praise and all bounty, and Yours alone is sovereignty.)
La sharika lak (You have no partners.)

Tents line the valley of Mina

Tents line the valley of Mina

My feelings were similar to that of the first time I was in ihraam – before our first umrah, yet this time the magnitude of the event was far greater. There was little space for thoughts of the outside world or distractions. Everything needed to be focussed on what awaited in the coming days – especially Arafah the next day.

On Mina, our group leaders took us to our camp, where men and women were separated into male and female tents. Good companionship is important on this journey (and in life, generally) – so I was fortunate to get a spot next to one of my wife’s relatives, who wasn’t the kind to waste time with gossip or anything negative.

Inside of a tent on Mina – the main camp site for Hajj

Inside a tent on Mina

As expected, there wasn’t much in the way of comfort. We each got one smallish mattress, one pillow, and one blanket. We were in a ‘special services’ camp – meaning that we were close to the Jamaraat, had our meals provided for us, and had 24 hour access to snacks. Others on Mina weren’t so fortunate, with the worst off being those who had to pitch small tents on the dirty pavements beside the roads. (I’ve been told those were illegal hujjaaj – i.e. they don’t have permits to perform Hajj.)

The toilet situation wasn’t too pleasant, but I’d expected that. There were cubicles of Eastern toilets that doubled as showers, plus two Western toilets. In all honesty, it was cleaner to use the Eastern versions – since your skin wouldn’t have to touch anything as you squatted).

An Eastern toilet on Mina

An Eastern toilet on Mina

Shockingly, the toilet areas also included urinals. I couldn’t believe that the Saudis – being so strictly religious (and therefore, presumably, aware of the hygiene issues) – would put these disgusting fixtures here on this holy ground, for the holiest journey of a Muslim’s life. To make things worse, the sinks for washing up included scented soap – which is obviously not allowed in ihraam. I had come prepared – bringing my own unscented soap – so it wasn’t a problem for me, but I feel sorry for those who had to do a number 2 and then find out that they weren’t allowed to use the only soap available.

Wandering on Mina

Despite it being a Friday, there was no Jumuah for us (it isn’t required for those on Hajj). So, aside from the fardh salaahs, there wasn’t much else to do. The top priority for everyone was to rest so that we’d have strength for Arafah the next day. Some recited Quran, others made dua (or wrote their dua lists – at this late stage), some slept, and others socialized or munched on snacks.

Inside a tent on on the first day of Hajj

Inside a tent on on the first day of Hajj

Though I’m a junk food addict, I managed to restrain myself for much of the day. I found that keeping busy in beneficial activities helped keep my mind off the temptations, and it was only when I allowed myself to get bored that my will was broken. It may seem trivial, but for me, it was a simple but important lesson that I hoped to take forward.

Our group had a few talks that day, but – as had been the habit in Aziziah – they also included a musical session, wherein some of the naat singers in the group did their thing. I’m not into music, so I hated it. (Sidenote: for a superb discussion of music in Islam, read “Slippery Stone” by Khalid Baig.) I understand that this kind of thing is big in Cape Town and in the Indian community, but to me, this was purely cultural, and was definitely NOT a spiritual activity. I literally fled – not wanting this mockery to put a damper on what should have been a day of personal reflection.

Inside a camp at Mina

Inside a camp at Mina

I wandered around the camp, trying to find a quiet spot away from the noise to engage in personal ibadah. Yet I found no place of solitude. So I drifted from tent to tent, listening in on lectures that the other Hajj groups were having.

While my group’s choice of activity was frustrating, it drove me to a good experience in witnessing the variety in the camp.

Death’s dress rehearsal

While I’d spent some time in ibadah that day, I’d also used some of my time to take in the experience – and found it was a poignant reminder of death. The tent was quite cramped, with everyone lined up in rows – space just sufficient for each person. That’s exactly how a graveyard is laid out. Additionally, we were all wrapped in our ihraams – similar to the white cloths we’ll be wrapped in when we die.

The nakedness in the tent also struck me: men – myself included – slept, lay, or sat – topless. Although I’m self-conscious about that kind of thing, it reminded me of Qiyamah – when we’ll ALL be naked. Totally naked – with no separation between men and women. Yet we won’t care about it at that point, because we’ll have much greater concerns. Can you image the states we’ll be in on that day? How terrifying it will be, how anxious we’ll be about our destinations, and how immense the events of that day will be.

The bareness in that tent reminded me of the bareness on Qiyammah – highlighting the point that it’s not the external appearance that counts in this life. It’s what’s inside. It’s the state of the heart that’ll determine our condition that Day.

I prayed that the day on Mina, and the Hajj itself, would put me and all the other hujjaaj on the road to a clean and pure heart (Qalb-us saleem) – which would, insha-Allah, secure us the best possible condition when we stand waiting for our Books of Judgement.

We’re often forgetful about death, the grave, the resurrection, and final judgement. But that tent on Mina gave me a glimpse into that future, and a reminder that – while we’re still alive – we have abundant chances to change our ways and secure our future, before our personal Hereafter begins at the moment of death.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: The day of Arafah

Related lessons:

  • Try not to be late when your group leaves for Mina. Psychologically, you don’t want to feel flustered at the very start of such an immense experience.
  • If possible, try to get good companionship in your tent – especially your immediate neighbours. Try to be with those that will encourage you to do beneficial things, and avoid those that have a habit of being overly-social, too joking, and inclined towards wasting time.
  • Make sure you bring your own unscented soap (and other unscented toiletries you may need). Always take it with you to the toilets, and share it with others if they need it. (Which is why you may want to take extra soap.)
  • The toilets may not feel clean, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to be dirty. Always try to be clean, and if you accidently mess an area you shouldn’t, clean it up – as a courtesy to the next person that’ll use that stall.
  • Keep yourself occupied with beneficial activities on that day – even if it’s just sleeping, or having spiritual discussions with your neighbours. Don’t allow boredom to overcome you.
  • In your tent, let the constriction of your personal space remind you of the grave that awaits you.
  • Let the simplicity of ihram clothing remind you of the only material items you’ll take to that grave. What counts most in this life is NOT the external, but what’s inside, and the state of your heart. Strive for a clean and pure heart – which is your ticket to an easier journey to Jannah.
  • Allow these thoughts and experiences on Mina to sink deep into your psyche so that they’ll be a lifelong reminder of the Hereafter that awaits you. While you’re alive, you have abundant chances to improve your position with your Lord. Use these opportunities while you can.
  • Walk around your camp and enjoy the experience of being among other Hajj groups and people of different nationalities.

What happened next?

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

Image sources: All pictures taken by me, except “MAlShareef_8thDH” (by Muhammad Al-Shareef), “MinaTents_z” and “MinaToilet_z” (sources unknown).

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Isra and Mi’raj (for dummies)

Posted by Yacoob on June 5, 2013

In honour of tomorrow night’s blessed occasion of the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W.’s miraculous night journey and ascension (Isra and Mi’raj), masjids worldwide will commemorate it by holding a special programme. Remember that there are no special acts of worship specified for this occasion – so take what benefit you can from those programmes, but don’t let yourself feel that this is a compulsory act of worship.

In addition to those, here are two enlightening resources which serve as an education and a reminder for us all.

1. Lecture:

Isra and Mi’raj: A talk by Shaykh Hussain Abdul Sattar (Chicago, USA) – 87 minutes (Right click and choose “Save As” to download MP3)

2. Infographic:

Courtesy of Islamographic.com

Infographic - Isra and mi'raj

 

Posted in Events, Information | 3 Comments »

Hajj Chronicles Part 20: Reflections before the big day

Posted by Yacoob on June 4, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 19

Entrance to the haram in Makkah

Entrance to the haram in Makkah

Going home

The same day we climbed to the cave of Hira, we spontaneously decided to go back to the haram in Makkah for Maghrib and Esha. Just the travel there and back was an adventure on its own – including 2 busses each way, being stranded at our former Makkah hotel, a Turkish lady taking my seat on the bus, and waiting in a deserted, dusty parking lot for our shuttle – which seemed to magically appear when we needed it.

It was also challenge for me physically, because I was operating that whole day on 3 hours of sleep. I was tired even before Maghrib, but held on to make the salaah before drifting off into a beautiful, relaxing, and merciful sleep.

Being back in Makkah was nostalgic. I hadn’t fully appreciated it while we were staying there, but now that it was no longer home, I missed it. The familiar sights and sounds of the haram, Ajyad Street, and the crowds all drew me in – making me long to return to what was once home, but would never again be mine. It was a valuable life lesson: appreciate your comforts and surroundings while you have them, because life will move on sooner or later, and you will lose them.

Reflections

The week in Aziziah wasn’t too eventful, but it did provide much-needed time for seclusion, self-reflection, and rest. One of my realisations revolved around how different, and beautiful, this Arabian society was. I’m not saying that all the people were perfect in character, nor that the politics or social trends of Saudi Arabia are admirable. Those are issues for a different discussion. What I mean is, my weeks in the country up to then culminated in the realisation that – despite the flaws – this was an environment and society based on Islam – and I loved it, because it was so natural, and such a huge change from the Western society I’d spent my whole life in.

Here, there was no ideological warfare with blind atheists, arrogant secularists, or misguided worshippers of idols and humans. Everyone knew and believed in the truth of Islam, and we all had the same ultimate ambitions for Jannah. To not be surrounded by such kufr gives you space to focus more intensely on your own soul and relationship with Allah.

In terms of action, people would take time in their ibadah, and would turn everyday situations – like waiting in line at the shop – into opportunities for dhikr. Salaah was central to life – with the day’s schedule revolving around salaah times, and people making the effort to pray – rather than making excuses to miss it. They’d take their musallahs with them and when it was salaah time, they’d pray – out in the open, without self-consciousness. Common folks – like drivers and shopkeepers – would carry their Qurans with them and recite in their shops. If customers couldn’t pay for an item, shopkeepers would let them take it anyway – trusting they’d come back and pay later. Women would dress modestly and cover properly – eliminating the nakedness we’re so used to in Western societies. And on an unprecedented scale (for me at least), men were respectful towards women.

It got me thinking about da’wah on a wider level. Da’wah is primarily important because it invites to Islam – which is what will save each and every individual from eternal failure. But on a wider level, da’wah also benefits the society and the environment – because Islam naturally brings honour and beauty to the communities it dwells within (or at least, it does when it’s practiced correctly). So, while the people in Madinah, Makkah, and Aziziah weren’t all perfect in terms of Islamic character and conduct, being in their society felt so much more natural than our Western societies back home – because the very foundation of that environment was the deen of Islam.

The challenge of tomorrow

Another reflection stemmed from the timing of this trip. At that point, I was 30 years old, and the elders had often remarked about how good it is to go when you’re young. But I didn’t feel “young”. Like I’ve said before, life hasn’t been “too short” for me – because I feel old beyond my years. So now, at this milestone age of 30, I was about to embark on the experience I hoped would define the rest of my life – however much longer that would be.

In addition to that, it was also 10 years since my life changed – meaning that the catalyst had come a decade earlier, and then Allah had used the next 10 years to mould me, refine me, and prepare me for this – the most important journey and event of my life.

And on this journey, perhaps it would be easy to wish for death after the main event – Arafah – was complete. To die right after Arafah means you leave this world in a state of absolute purity – with all sins having been forgiven, thereby making your journey to the Hereafter easier, and your Eternity one free of the consequences of the sins and mistakes you’d accumulated in life.

I wasn’t too attached to the material things of this world, so an ending like that would seem tempting. But I didn’t want it.

Why? Mostly, for my daughter. My parents and others in my life would cope without me. But if my daughter lost me at the age of two, it would have had a huge impact on her. I had missed her tremendously on this trip, and I wanted to go back to her after Hajj – to be her father: to spend time with her; to help her grow up, to teach her and help mould her to the awesome person I pray she’ll become.

And for myself, I viewed the rest of my life as a challenge and an opportunity: the challenge to live this Hajj for the rest of my life, and the opportunity to improve my own life and make an impact on others and this world. If I died, I wouldn’t get the chance to take on that challenge, and my impact on the world wouldn’t go beyond whatever I‘d already achieved in my life up to that point.

Final preparation

The last days before Hajj weren’t as spiritual as I hoped, but it gave us the chance to speak to our loved ones. It also gave me the chance to send one last email to a very special group of people back home; people who I respect and admire very much. Physically, I was so far away from them, but throughout this trip, they’d been in my thoughts and in my duas, and this was my last chance to convey a special message to them before I embarked on the biggest five days of my life.

The final Hajj class also left me with one enduring and most critical piece of advice – which was a reminder I’d written at the top of my Hajj preparation list:

“…The best of provisions is taqwa…” (Surah al-Baqarah verse197)

For everything I would be facing, I had to remember it was all for Allah. Everything difficulty, every sacrifice, every challenge that required patience…the thought I had to CONSTANTLY keep in mind was: “this is for Allah”.

That was it.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: Youm-al-Tarwiyyah – the first day on Mina

Related lessons:

  • Appreciate your comforts and surroundings while you have them, because life will move on sooner or later, and you will lose them.
  • Despite the flaws in the society, it’s refreshing to be in an environment that has Islam at its base. We don’t experience that in Western countries, so appreciate it when you’re over there, and make dua that one day, the beauty of Islam will come to be at the very core of the society you live in back home.
  • Going back home after Hajj presents you with a challenge and an opportunity – both of which must be embraced. The challenge is to live your Hajj until you die, and the opportunity is to make a greater impact on the world.
  • In your final moments before leaving for Mina, reach out to your loved ones. Take advantage of the strong emotions in your heart and convey to them the beauty of what you feel, inspiring them to make this trip, and asking them to make special duas for you in the coming days.
  • One of the most important thoughts to bear in mind on the 5 days is to remain conscious of Allah at all times. Taqwa is your best provision, and all that you’ll face is for Allah.

What happened next?

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

Image source: Opening picture.

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