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Archive for July, 2013

Hajj Chronicles Part 24: Adventures in the desert

Posted by Yacoob on July 24, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 23

The road leaving Arafah

The road leaving Arafah

Catch us if you can

After leaving Arafah alone, I had some hope because – via mobile phone – I was in constant contact with my wife and the sheikh, who were trying to figure out how far behind I was. And as I walked, I remembered the verse in the Quran about how we “flow” from Arafah (Surah Al-Baqara, verse 198), imagining that we were supposed to be feeling all pure and liberated. But such sentiments were far from my heart and mind.

My focus was on catching up to my group – who were nowhere in sight. My hope was fading as I realised I was totally alone: in the middle of this desert, unfamiliar with the surroundings, knowing no one and not speaking Arabic (or any other language that most of the hujjaaj spoke – since fluent English-speakers are rare on Hajj). And while the common perception is that it’s impossible to get lost – because there’s just one road and everyone goes in the same direction (to Muzdalifah) – the reality was different. Early into the walk, there were quite few side roads, and people going off in different directions for their busses. I didn’t know who to follow and ended up taking numerous wrong turns – which set me further back from my group.

In that first hour of walking, the reality of the situation hit me, and I grew very angry at my wife for ‘abandoning’ me. I knew she hated waiting for me, so I blamed her impatience. I felt betrayed. She knew that for the Hajj walks, couples are advised to stick together – yet she couldn’t wait a few minutes. But I knew that shaytaan was trying to get to me – as he does on that road from Arafah. So I made dua asking Allah to take away such angry thoughts. Blame wouldn’t be constructive, so I needed to focus on correcting the situation by finding them.

Wandering soul

My feelings oscillated between adventurous curiosity, fear, and anxiety. How could this be happening? And why? Why me?

One possible answer popped into my head: our sheikh’s advice that unexpected events on Hajj are Allah’s way of trying to teach you lessons. So my mind settled a bit, confident that I’d catch up to my group, and I focused on enjoying the adventure.

On that walk, I spotted a multitude of very cute babies and toddlers – some in ihraam. But I also witnessed the not-so-cute garbage along the road – which many people complain about. It was totally understandable, though – because in my entire walk, I saw absolutely no bins. I saw just 2 garbage bags in that whole walk. For a route covered by something like 4 million hujjaaj, it was shocking that there were no bins. So if you want to know why Hajj is so dirty, look at the waste management situation. (Then again, there may be reasons. I’ve heard that there used to be bins but people didn’t use them – so the Saudis gave up and now just bulldoze the dirt afterwards.)

Most of my walk was along the side of the road, which gave me plenty of exposure to insane bus driving. One driver would be stuck, with no room to move forward, yet the driver behind him would hoot like a maniac. The front driver would then hoot back, so maybe this was actually a conversation between busses  :).

It was incredible to see and be among the millions heading to Muzdalifah – both by bus and walking. The busses held passengers inside, on the roofs, and in the luggage compartments underneath. Those busses sometimes ran so close together that it was hard for us pedestrians to cross the road at the off-ramps (as one lady in a wheelchair narrowly found out). And with traffic being so incredibly slow, it really was quicker to walk.

But the sidewalks weren’t that safe either. Men on bikes regularly drove on the pavement – giving people lifts (presumably for a large fee) and not seeming to care who they may knock over.

By this time, it was already dark and I’d given up hope of catching my group on the road – so I figured I’d meet them at Muzdalifah. My wife, who’d been panicking for several hours, eventually realised that she had to stop worrying and put her trust in Allah. As for me, I was physically uncomfortable as I had to carry a heavy backpack (with limited food and water). But that wasn’t as bad as the chafing that had begun on this walk.

(Ladies: please forgive me for the bit that follows. I’ve tried to word it subtly.)

Men: when people advise you to put Vaseline / lubricant on the insides of your thighs while you’re in ihraam, listen to them! If you start chafing, it’s not fun walking a long distance in ihraam with that kind of ‘disturbance’ down under. Putting aside how strange you’ll look trying to manoeuvre and hold your bits when in that state, just the physical pain of that experience will teach you the value of underwear!

As I approached Muzdalifah, I chose to follow a small group of hujaaj walking on the side of the road – thinking it was a more adventurous route. The detour took me into open desert – which I’m sure no one in my group experienced on that walk. In a way, it was closer to the Prophet s.a.w.’s Hajj, because I got to walk on the sand of this Makkan desert, and experienced the night sky from that viewpoint.

At one point, I started smelling animals. And then I saw them: a group of sheep in a pen, with no humans around. They were probably waiting for the morning’s Eid sacrifices. “B-a-a-a”, I said, greeting one of them. “B-a-a-a”, came a reply. Nice to know the sheep weren’t ignoring me :).

Strange as it sounds, the whole period of being lost was actually an enjoyable experience. Being a person who’s quite comfortable on his own, I didn’t really mind being away from everyone. It gave me time to think, feel, and just experience something that was completely out of the ordinary. It felt like Allah’s gift to me – initially seeming like a disaster, but turning out to be the highlight of my Hajj up to that point.

Related lessons:

  • A mobile phone is essential for the 5 days of Hajj. If possible, get a very basic model that has a long battery life, a torch, and minimal distractions (such as email and Internet access). You’ll appreciate that extended battery life once you leave Mina (on Day 2).
  • As far as possible, stick with your group when you leave Arafah. Don’t assume that you can’t get lost, because it can easily happen – especially if you’re leaving with large crowds around you. Husbands and wives should stick together, even if they get separated from the rest of the group.
  • Shaytaan is at his lowest, most embarrassed point after Arafah – because all his work of trying to mislead for so many years you is undone when Allah completely forgives you during wuqoof. Shaytaan will, therefore, be waiting for you on that road from Arafah – so be aware of this enemy, and try to keep your thoughts clean and fill your heart, mind, and tongue with remembrance of Allah.
  • If things go wrong, try not to panic, and don’t let hopelessness or desperation overcome you. Stay calm, turn to Allah for help, and recognise that this might be His way of trying to teach you important lessons.
  • If you’re walking, keep your garbage with you (in your bag or in a dirt packet). Don’t just throw it on the road, like so many other people. Just because the masses are doing it, doesn’t make it acceptable. You’ve just completed the highlight of Hajj, so don’t start your ‘new life’ being dirty.
  • Take in the sights and sounds (and smells!) of that journey to Muzdalifah. Unless you go on Hajj again, it’s not likely you’ll ever be in such a large and diverse gathering of people headed in a single direction. (But do be careful of those crazy men on bikes. You don’t want to get knocked or injured on the walk.)
  • Men: especially if you’ll be doing the walking Hajj, put (unscented) Vaseline / lubricant on the insides of your thighs while you’re in ihraam. Don’t just assume that you won’t chafe in that area, because if it happens, you’re in for a painful few hours.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: The search resumes at Muzdalifah (Check this link in 2 weeks’ time for the next part, insha-Allah)

Image source: Opening picture

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Ramadan ramblings

Posted by Yacoob on July 17, 2013

This month is usually one of great inspiration for me. In previous years, the words have overflowed on these pages each Ramadan – both in reflective postings as well as practical advices. But this year is different. I find myself being stifled by both time and circumstance; unable to bring forth even a shadow of the writing effort I exerted in years gone by.

Still, though, the spirit – and habit – can’t be buried any longer, and I find myself writing this post not so much out of inspiration, but more because I need to write. I can’t let another night go by taking the great benefits of the month (which I am enjoying), without expressing something from within.

So here I sit. I’ll probably stay awake far later than I would like, with the sole intent of pouring forth something that I hope will result in some benefit for both myself and you, the reader.

Planning to not plan

So, we’re more than a week into Ramadan, and for the most part, I’m very pleased with the spiritual revival it’s brought me personally. Due to circumstances that I’ve mentioned later on, I totally abandoned my usually-detailed Ramadan planning this year. My only plan was to ‘do a little more – consistently’, because I knew that any grand plans would be bound to fail given the impending events (again, read on to find out what I’m talking about).

So far, mostly, I’ve managed to stick to the vague plan – doing a little extra each day. And it’s been beautiful because the very concept that I always harp on – i.e. doing small and consistent deeds (which is from a hadith of the Prophet s.a.w.) – is what’s kept me spiritually ‘inflated’ so far. Prior to this, I felt like I’d been in spiritual ICU for far too long.

Work – spiritual life balance

I think probably a big contributing factor to that state was my job. I’ve been in a new job for nearly a year, and it’s been hands-down the most demanding position I’ve ever had. Compared to my previous job – which was actually quite easy – this one is really the answer to what I was seeking in a professional position. It’s filled with good challenges that help me grow, while still being something I can just manage – if I apply myself and look at it positively.

I’ve already taken precious lessons from an incident earlier this year, which was the biggest professional disaster I’ve ever faced. And as the weeks pass, I realise that that situation wasn’t necessarily an isolated example of pressure. By my standards (which are based on a relatively easy career path up to now), it is a really high pressure job, and I can see why the department I’m in has a reputation for having one of the highest sick rates in the overall institution.

Still though, my pressures are still small compared to others. (Though to be fair, the same can probably be said of my salary – so it works out in the end :) ).

Anyway, my point here is that being under this much pressure for such an extended period has taken its toll on my spiritual state. And I realise now that, since this is now the permanent state of my professional life, I need to work harder on my spiritual side – to balance out the harder work and bigger focus that my work has demanded.

Without pushing myself spiritually, the worldly matters are going to continue to eat up more and more of me, until there’s nothing left but a superficial shell.

So there’s lesson number one for this post: When worldly pressures compromise your spiritual state, push harder on the spiritual side to maintain the balance.

The never-ending story

Aside from that, another big thing occupying me is home-related maintenance. We’ve just come through a few very challenging months of home maintenance related disasters. The biggest culprit was a leaking pipe, which in turn spawned hectic plumbing repairs, tiling, painting, and 2 rounds of re-flooring. Add to that separate electrical problems, a not-so-water-resistant window, and geyser issues, and you get many weeks of frustration.

These things just dragged on and on and on, and it was actually funny at times to think that when one thing was finished, you could pretty much expect something else would come up soon after.

Alhamdullilah – as of today, it seems that it’s finally over.

Mind you, we’ll need to get a few compliance certificates soon, so there’s a chance that the inspections will uncover even more work to be done….but by now, I really don’t care anymore. We’ll just have to deal with whatever comes up if it does.

Is there a lesson from this? Well, nothing deeply insightful. Just practical: when you move into a house (or before that, actually), get good, trustworthy people to check out your plumbing and electrical stuff. The previous resident isn’t necessarily going to tell you about all the flaws (or they may not even know), but it’s better for you to spend the money upfront, find out potential issues, and deal with it at the start – so that once you’re settled in, you don’t have to turn your house upside down with repairs.

Of course, you can never anticipate all the things that could go wrong – so it’s best to still expect trouble.

Actually, one other lesson for me in all this was to remember to be grateful for what I have. If you look at a home, there are so many wires and pipes running all over the place – in hard to reach places like walls and floors. Sure, one or two things may go wrong and become a headache. But what about the hundred other things that could have gone wrong but didn’t?

Bear patience in the things that do go wrong, and thank Allah for all the things that didn’t go wrong. And if you’re grateful, insha-Allah He will give you more (see Surah Ibrahim, verse 7).

The big event

And that brings me to the impending events mentioned earlier. What should have been my biggest focus for this last while, but hasn’t been: baby number 2 is due near the end of the month, insha-Allah.

Four years ago, before the birth of our first child, I wrote these reflections on this blog. I read through it again last night, and have picked up a recurring pattern: back then, I could barely remember the period before marriage – which was odd since that was the most emotionally intense period of my life. As life moved from one stage to the next, the old stage was forgotten.

Now, the almost-2-years of marriage before our daughter was born seems like a hundred years ago. Again, as I moved from one stage of life to the next, the old stage faded tremendously in my memory.

Chances are, this current stage I’m in is going to suffer that same fate in a few years. I’ll probably look back on tonight, and this post, and not remember much about how it was to be married with just one child.

Such is life: it moves on. What was once so important to us, and so immediate in our minds, becomes a vague memory, as we have new things to focus on.

And on and on the pattern continues.

I guess the lesson from this segment is: appreciate what you have in the moment, and take what benefit you can from it now, because in time, it’ll become nothing more than a memory. Related to that, if your current situation is one of extreme challenges, remember that in one year, five years, or ten years, it’ll probably meet the same fate – becoming just a memory. You just need to get through it now, be patient, try to take whatever benefit you can from it, and know that it’ll pass. Life moves on. And so will you, insha-Allah.

Final thoughts

So there we have it. The Ramadan magic strikes again – inspiring lessons through the process of writing, and I hope that – first and foremost – I will remember and apply these lessons going forward.

As for this blog for the rest of the month, you’ll have to forgive me if I write nothing else after this. It’s looking like the baby will be arriving in 2 weeks’ time, so hopefully I’ll get something else up here before that – but after that, I’m going to have my hands full.

As mentioned before, though, you can expect the Hajj Chronicles series to continue roughly every 2 weeks – finishing in late September insha-Allah (which is just before this year’s Hajj). For those wanting to read the rest before then, though, I’m hoping to have the complete e-book version ready by the end of Ramadan, and make that my Eid gift to you.

There are about three weeks remaining, and we’re heading into the mid-month slump in which our efforts usually wane. If that’s the case for you, remember that this month is a very precious and extremely limited opportunity – just a few days and nights, which you may not live to see again next year. Even if you start slacking now, keep striving to some degree – even if it’s only a little extra you do. Just do it consistently, and with the right intention.

If you can, check out Mufti Menk’s daily 30 minute tafseer from Cape Town – Pearls of Peace from the Noble Quran. These kinds of reminders are especially beautiful in this month, when our hearts are softened.

Remember to make dua for all those suffering across the globe – especially in Syria, Burma, Palestine, Guantanamo, and Egypt; as well as the Uighur Muslims in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, and everywhere else where Muslims are deprived of Ramadan by the authorities.

Also, when the final 10 nights come around, don’t fall victim to 27th night syndrome.  Keep pushing until the end, and insha-Allah you’ll see the benefits stretching far into the year ahead.

Wherever you are in the world, enjoy the rest of your Ramadan. May it be the best month of your life, and one which will inspire in you the greatest spirituality that will bring you ever closer to Allah both now and in the months and years to come.

- Yacoob

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Hajj Chronicles Part 23: Arafah (part 2) – Wuqoof

Posted by Yacoob on July 11, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 22

Wuqoof on Arafah during Hajj 2011

Wuqoof on Arafah (Hajj 2011)

Hajj is Arafah

Zawaal time soon came, and minutes later, we made our Thuhr and Asr salaah combined – as is sunnah (though some disagree on that). Right after that, lunch was announced. For me, it was a really ridiculous time for food to be served. We had entered wuqoof time, but if we didn’t get our food early, we risked missing out completely in case it was all gone (which wasn’t wise, considering there was no food provided until the next day). But we didn’t control the schedule, so we had to accept that time and make the best of it.

To avoid the risk, as well as longer queues later, I took my food early. I was careful to take only a little, since we were advised to not overdo it as we wouldn’t want to be bloated and tired in these priceless few hours (not to mention needing the toilet).

After lunch, I settled down in the tent and started on my own efforts for the afternoon. Any thoughts of talking to others vanished, because now was not the time to talk to any human being. It was my private, most special time with Allah. When I first became more committed to the deen, dua was my first love in terms of ibadah. It was through dua that I took my initial steps deeper into Islam. Dua was what drove me closer to Allah, and Allah used that as the gateway to changing my life so completely – from one of aimlessness and ignorance to one of purpose and knowledge. Now, in these few hours, I had the ultimate chance to make dua. And so I began.

However, as it often happens in life, things don’t always go according to plan. My wife and I had agreed that we’d spend some time together on Arafah making dua. Much sooner than I expected, she phoned to ask that we go and do that – since she wasn’t finding much privacy or dua-conducive conditions in her tent. It’s important to note that doing this was a completely non-romantic thing – since romance is totally prohibited in ihraam. The entire focus was spiritual, but there was still a special, non-physical intimacy to the moment. As a married couple, it was an incredibly beautiful experience, and one that we weren’t alone in (we saw other couples doing the same). For me, it also re-emphasized the sacredness of the bond of marriage. How beautiful it is to base your marriage on the foundation of deen, and how amazing it is to be united in ibadah.

Alone time

After making our duas in a quiet spot, we separated and went off to continue our wuqoof alone. I sought out a private spot – where nobody would interrupt me and the sounds of conversations and loudspeakers would be minimal. After some searching, I found a very distant yet secluded area – in the corner of our section, behind an African camp.

I continued with my own duas, running through an enormous paper list that was already physically worn out from the previous weeks of folding and unfolding. Some of those duas felt very sincere and emotional, but my enduring feeling for most of that time was one of frustration. I figured that my group would be leaving Arafah early – 2 hours before sunset – so I had a very limited amount of time to make my duas. We were told that when we left, for much of our walk we’d still be on Arafah, so we could still make our duas as we walked. But I was hesitant about that, because I’d made many duas on the move in the past and I knew how difficult it is to concentrate under those conditions.

So I felt like it was now or never. I only had about an hour on my own, and in that time I had to rush through as much of my list as I could so that I would accomplish my goal of making all my duas. Instead of relaxing and giving my duas the time and attention they deserved, I felt pressured and insincere. So instead of savouring the fact that I was on Arafah, able to at least make some duas, I felt short-changed – partially deprived of what was the most precious period of time I’d ever had.

If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have left early. I did have the option to spend the entire wuqoof period in the camp – until sunset – and head off with the last group to leave. But my wife wouldn’t have wanted that because of the logistical complications. We’d planned to stick with our sheikh, and this was the way he managed his group.

But I couldn’t let the negativity ruin the experience. I had to believe that Allah would fulfil all that I’d asked for, and that which I didn’t get the chance to ask for too – even though I’d made my duas so hurriedly and insincerely. Allah knows best why it turned out the way it did, but I just had to appreciate the experience and have faith that it was the best thing for me.

The split

Knowing time was almost up, I made my way back to the camp, where the group had just finished its collective program. Everyone was very emotional – hugging and wishing each other an accepted Hajj. It would’ve been nice to experience that – because it’s a momentous occasion for us all, and it’s nice to share it with others. But because the group program cut through most of the very scarce personal time available, there was no way I would attend it. As I’ve said before, for me, ibadah is personal, and if it’s a choice between being in a group and being on my own, I choose the latter every time.

At the camp, I wandered around, trying to find out if they’d announced exactly what time they’d be leaving. For most of the day before that, they’d been very non-committal – so we had no idea what time things would happen until they announced it. Every person I asked gave the same answer: no; they’d let us know. So I used that time to hurriedly continue with my dua list – which I finally accepted I’d never finish in this wuqoof.

No announcement came, and I wouldn’t have known the time of departure had I not overheard one of the sheikhs tell someone that we needed to start moving. Of course, with a long walk ahead (roughly 14 kilometres in total for the group’s planned route), it was a pre-requisite that you needed to use the toilet before leaving – especially since there were no facilities on the road.

But as was customary on Hajj, the toilets had queues, so I had to wait a while. After doing my business, as I walked back to the camp, I passed my wife’s cousin – who told me that they were preparing to leave. I just needed a few minutes to get my stuff and would then meet them, so I thought they’d wait for me. But when I came back, they were gone.

I spoke to my wife on the phone, and assumed they were still standing and waiting for people – as was the case for most group activities on this trip. She’d failed to tell me that they were already on their way. The group had left, and she hadn’t waited for me.

But I figured I was only a few minutes behind them, so I would catch up. Everyone was walking in one direction, so there wasn’t much chance of getting lost. With a feeling of anxiety mixed with bravery, I made dua for the journey and ventured off alone – among the not-too-many people leaving at that time.

Little did I know, an immense adventure awaited me…

Related lessons:

  • You probably won’t get to choose what time lunch is served, but when it is, make a smart decision as to when to eat – so that you can maximise your dua time while not missing out on the precious food you’ll need to sustain you for the period ahead.
  • Try to eat only as much as you need. Over-eating may make you bloated, tired, and in need of the toilet – which would ruin your chances of making the most of your wuqoof.
  • I probably don’t need to remind you, but DO NOT WASTE EVEN ONE MINUTE of your wuqoof time. Spend it in dua (or whatever other ibadah you plan to do), and steer clear of people that gossip and waste your time.
  • If you’re with your spouse, make some time during wuqoof to make a special dua alone with him/her. It’s an incredibly beautiful experience that will, insha-Allah, bring your hearts closer together and benefit your marriage and family life.
  • As for personal duas, you may have trouble finding a secluded spot to be alone. Don’t spend too much time looking – just get away from the crowds and find a spot where that’s good enough (i.e. minimal interruptions / distractions from others).
  • Your group may start walking to Muzdalifah early, so if you have the choice to stay until the very end of wuqoof (i.e. sunset), do so if you need to (and if it’s logistically possible). It really is an absolutely unique experience that you shouldn’t compromise. You can go anywhere in the world, spend time right next to the Kabah and in the Rawda, experience tremendous highs in Ramadan – but NOTHING is like this wuqoof. And with the quota systems in place, it may be the only wuqoof you ever get to make.
  • If your wuqoof doesn’t live up to your expectations, don’t lose hope and don’t let negativity overwhelm you. Just be grateful for the experience you did have, ask Allah to accept and fulfil all your duas, and be confident that He will do so – regardless of the shortcomings.
  • Before leaving Arafah, make sure you use the toilet (since there are none on the road to Muzdalifah) and pack enough provisions (water and a few snacks).

Image source: Here

Coming up next, insha-Allah: Adventures in the desert

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Ramadan 2013 is almost here

Posted by Yacoob on July 8, 2013

Masjid Al-Aqsa - seen through festive Ramadan lights (2009 - AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Festive Ramadan lights in Jerusalem (2009 – AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

OK, so admittedly, I haven’t posted much in the lead-up to Ramadan. The truth is, I’ve had a lot of other things occupying me, and with a new baby due near the end of the month, chances are I won’t be too active on this blog during Ramadan. (Other than the Hajj Chronicles series, which is actually finished, and scheduled to be published every 2 weeks or so.)

But since we’re on the doorstep of Ramadan, I’m recycling from last year ;)

Take whatever benefit you can from this post, and I make dua that this month is spiritually, physically, and emotionally uplifting for each and every one of us. And every night when we break our fast – which is a time when dua is readily accepted – let us consistently make a dua for our brothers and sisters suffering in Syria, Palestine, Burma, Guantanemo, Egypt, and every other place facing trials; as well as the Muslims who are so severely restricted / targeted during Ramadan (and outside it) – in China, Russia, and elsewhere.

If you’re in Cape Town, try to get to Gatesville this year, where Mufti Menk will be leading taraweeh insha-Allah; with his tafseer series this month titled “Pearls of peace from the Noble Quran”. Insha-Allah it’ll be posted online as well for those who can’t make it.

The Ramadan prep bits follow below:

Although the Ramadan 2012 Early Bird Challenge focused intensely on specific areas of preparation, it’s also important to do more general planning for the month – such as outlining the kind of schedule you’d like to keep, along with listing other areas you want to work on and actions you’d like to take forward beyond Ramadan.

With this in mind, I’ve updated the Ramadan planner template – which is a compact 2-page template you can use to help you prepare. It’s rather amateur – but it’s only a template, so you can customize it according to your own needs (including making it more visually attractive if you want).

Download: Ramadan planner template v2 (50Kb)

Resources:

1. The Fasting and the Furious

I highly recommend listening to Muhammad Al-Shareef’s “The Fasting and the Furious” – which contains many important lessons for the month, and especially the middle of the month (when we lose momentum).

Follow these links for the video and the MP3 audio. (Note: If the links don’t work, just search the Internet. The talk is quite popular, so you should find it easily).

2. Ramadaan inspiration

One of my favourite Islamic speakers is Shaykh Hussain Abdul Sattar of Chicago – who has a knack for using easy to understand analogies to help make the listener understand some spiritual aspect.

His website contains a treasure chest of awesome audio material; including an in-depth series on purification of the heart, which I started writing about (kind of a transcription) in this article.

Anyway, for this month specifically, you can find hours of Ramadan-related talks in the Ramadan section.

All the best for the coming month. May it serve as a means of purification for our hearts, minds, and bodies – and benefit us in ways that will stick with us for the rest of our lives.

If you’ve found the template, any of these resources, or the Early Bird series beneficial, please share them with others. A person who helps spread goodness gets a piece of the reward – so be generous to others and think of what you yourself can also gain from sharing.

JazakAllah

Yacoob

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A reminder from Egypt’s chaos

Posted by Yacoob on July 4, 2013

An image from the Egyptian revolution 2 years ago.

An image from the Egyptian revolution 2 years ago.

With the unrest in Egypt at the moment – including rampant sexual attacks against women in the recent protests – it’s hard to be positive. However, Shaykh Navaid Aziz shared some wise words which I wish to share here, so that we may take positives from the situation:

“I generally refrain from commenting on politics just due to the fact that I don’t know much about it. However, what happened today in Egypt had very little to do with politics and more to do with the plight of humanity. 

1- We are our own worst enemies. Time and time again Allah will bless us with favors and we will go out an sabotage these favors. While Morsi is far from perfect, he was a big blessing to the people of Egypt. They have no one to blame but themselves for what is to come. 

2- What we witnessed is a growing dichotomy between secularism and religion. What people fail to realize is that when your government has no greater authority to respond to except for itself you will always see oppression. Our rulers need to be answerable to God himself, that is the only way they will be kept in check. When people lose the fear of God they lose all sense of morality. Our religion is a way of life and not just something we practice in our homes or mosques. 

3- Up and until we change our own internal states, the physical changes will make no difference. Few are the people that represent us in government that actually want what is best for us, as oppose to their own personal interests. The revolution must begin from within before the external one is sustainable. As a point of benefit their is a great wisdom behind the fact that most supplications that ask for victory usually begin with recognizing our relationship with our creator and seeking his forgiveness. 

4- Make it a litmus test of your faith to see how much you are praying for the people of Egypt, Syria, Burma, and the rest of the lands filled with evil and oppression. 

5- I was down and depressed all day today after seeing what had happened in Egypt. However, I came across a verse that I feel is very applicable to our situation right now: “Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said,”When is the help of Allah ?” Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near.” 2:214 

Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Burma be patient a little while longer as victory is just around the corner. Stay positive and optimistic!”

While it’s fine to discuss the situation and read more and more about it, know that all of this will achieve nothing for the people of Egypt. It’s only when we turn our thoughts into actions – via dua for them, and our own inner change – that things will happen.

So, let’s spend less time caught up in the news, and more time in deep reflection and plead with our Lord for the millions of people – in Egypt and elsewhere – who are suffering as a result of political tragedies.

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Hajj Chronicles Part 22: Day 2: Arafah (part 1)

Posted by Yacoob on July 1, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 21

Morning on the plain of Arafah

Morning on the plain of Arafah

The biggest appointment of my life

On the first night of Hajj, we slept a few hours on Mina – getting some rest for the day of Arafah that would follow. We had no idea what time our busses would leave the next morning, and because the queue for the toilet was always long, I got up early so that I could be ready to go on short notice. At 3.30AM, we were still waiting – but I wasn’t letting the time go to waste. I made tahajjud salaah, read Quran, prepared my bag, did some writing, made dua, and reflected on the momentous few hours that would await us later that day. It was the most important day of my life, because the upcoming wuqoof period – from Thuhr to sunset – would be the biggest appointment of my life, where my sole mission would be to make all the duas I needed and wanted to make…pour out my heart to my Lord, and beg for His complete forgiveness, and the acceptance of all my requests.

As mentioned earlier, I had written an extensive dua list back home – long before we left for Hajj. In the weeks leading up to Hajj, I’d made a few additions – but for the most part, everything I needed to ask for was already down on paper. So that morning on Mina, I waited: my duas pre-written, well-rehearsed, and ready to be made.

I wasn’t nervous, or excited, or anxious. I was just waiting, hoping, and making dua that I would be in top physical, mental, and spiritual condition, and able to make all the duas I needed to make.

Getting there

The busses came just before Fajr, and many in our group waited in the line and boarded – despite the fact that they’d miss Fajr (unless they read on the bus, or somehow made it to Arafah before sunrise – which was unlikely). My wife and I thought there’d be enough time to make our Fajr, though, so we did that – enabling us to follow the Prophet s.a.w.’s example of making Fajr on Mina before leaving. We followed the sunnah, but it came at a cost: we got no seats on the bus and had to stand.

My wife soon squashed in with her cousin, but I was stuck standing. It was a horrible ride for me because I was highly nauseous for most of the drive. I alternated between squatting, sitting and standing – while keeping a vomit bag with me in case I needed it. In some ways, it reminded me of childhood – where I’d often get carsick. One of the tips I’d learnt back then was to face backwards, and I followed that advice to good effect on this ride.

We eventually got to Arafah, and were directed to our camp. The layout was somewhat similar to Mina, with tents all around and pathways between them. However, these tents had no mattresses and no airconditioning – just empty red carpets where each of us found a spot to settle down (again).

An eventful morning

After a little while, I settled down for a nap and managed to sleep for about 90 minutes – which would be a priceless rest considering what would follow that day and night. One of my biggest fears for the Hajj, and Arafah especially, was that I’d have a ‘personal disaster’ that would force me to use the not-very-appealing showers (I’m trying to be discreet here ;). Alhamdullilah, my nap went off without a hitch – unlike this brother, who wasn’t so fortunate.

I didn’t totally escape misfortune, though. At one point that morning, I went off to the toilet and after I was done, the door wouldn’t open. It was jammed quite hard, and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t pull it open. So there I was, on the greatest day of my life, stuck inside a stinky toilet cubicle just hours away from wuqoof time. But Allah put calmness in my heart, so I didn’t panic. I made dua for a solution, and I knew someone would save me. Soon after, I was freed (and also made a mental note to avoid that stall for the rest of the day :)).

Later, as I sat in the tent, my fellow hujaaj were engaged in ibadah all around me: salaah, Quran recitation, dhikr, and reading beneficial books. I, on the other hand, just didn’t have the inclination to pack in any more of those activities. I was ready for wuqoof, and felt I needed a mental break – to just stop, relax, and observe what was going on. Generally, I spend my life either being busy or trying to fill the time – fearing I’ll waste it otherwise. But there’s so much benefit in just being still, and I decided this was a practice I wanted to inculcate more from that point on.

Awaiting wuqoof in the tent on the morning of Arafah

Awaiting wuqoof on the morning of Arafah

Another highlight that morning was the experience of equality. In both my tent and the one next door, there were numerous people who were prominent in the community back home (and some internationally too) – ‘celebrities’, if you can call them that. And although they’re held in such high esteem, they were all dressed exactly like me: no special clothing, no special treatment. All in their bare, basic ihraams. It drove home the realisation that ‘celebrity’ is really just a construction of the mind. Strip away all the awe and reverence, titles and acclaim, and we’re all the same: human beings – all equal before Allah. The only ranking is taqwa; and nobody knows the true taqwa of each person, other than Allah.

Related lessons:

  • There will be times when you’re waiting for transport, your group, etc. Don’t waste this time in idle chit chat or other non-beneficial activities. Use it for dua, Quran recitation, or anything else productive.
  • If you haven’t already prepared your dua list by the time you get to Mina, make sure you do it in that first day on Mina (while still getting enough rest that night).
  • Logistical issues can be a nightmare on Hajj, to the point where some travel times may even deprive you of making fardh salaah on time. Try your best NOT to miss a salaah, even if it means you’ll be a little inconvenienced.
  • If you get carsick during the bus rides, try facing backwards. Also, always keep a sick bag with you in case you need to vomit. (Keep the ones from your plane rides.)
  • Get your rest in the morning when you’re waiting for wuqoof to begin. Aside from physical rest, also get some mental rest: don’t force yourself to make constant ibadah and don’t keep your mind constantly occupied; but rather give your mind a break to simply ‘breathe’ and relax.
  • Before wuqoof (and even during it), enjoy the atmosphere on Arafah and savour all the beautiful thoughts and realisations that come to you. Keep pen and paper handy (or electronic versions if you prefer) and don’t be afraid to write down your thoughts and feelings.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: Wuqoof on Arafah

Image sources: Opening picture from here; tent picture by Dr Z. Parker (both taken on Hajj 2011)

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