slip-sliding away…..

Archive for August, 2013

Ready for Hajj series: Part 1 (Madinah)

Posted by Yacoob on August 31, 2013

Inside Masjid-an Nabawi

Inside Masjid-an Nabawi

Hajj season is upon us, and with hujjaaj leaving soon, I thought it would be an ideal time to finally revamp and complete the Hajj tips series I wanted to do last year.

So, while Hajj Chronicles (blog series here | e-book here) is a set that described my own Hajj, the full story may be a bit too detailed for practical purposes – especially for those that are leaving soon and want to-the-point tips.

With that in mind, I’ve gone through the entire series and extracted the related lessons from each of the 3 main sections (i.e. Madinah, Makkah, and the 5 days of Hajj).

Each document is still relatively long, but it’s intended to be comprehensive reading that you could look at when you have a few minutes to spare (which will probably come up during those long travels ;) ).

First up, we have the Madinah tipsheet – which you can download here.

Feel free to download and share with others. And remember that – like any advice in life – it’s best to take what you think is good, and discard the rest.

My ultimate goal here is to share beneficial knowledge, so I would be extremely honoured if even just one of these tips end up being useful to you.

May this journey be the greatest experience of your life, and the one that will drive you to Allah’s Eternal pleasure and Jannah in the Hereafter.

PS: I’ll post the Makkah and Hajj tipsheets later, insha-Allah, but if you need them immediately, you can get them here: Makkah tipsheet, and 5 days of Hajj tipsheet. For a more visual version of these tips, check out the slideshows at ProductiveMuslim.com.

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A thousand words: Apocalypse now

Posted by Yacoob on August 28, 2013

Syria

No, this isn’t a scene from a movie. It’s a photo of a man walking through a street in Syria – which has been ripped apart by the conflict for far too long. May the tyranny end soon. Keep the people of Syria in your prayers.

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Hajj Chronicles Part 26: Day 3 – Euphoria

Posted by Yacoob on August 21, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 25

One of the jamaraat walls

One of the jamaraat walls

Rounding off one crazy night

The 10th of Dhul Hijjah is the day of Eid al-Adha. But for those on Hajj, it’s nothing like the Eid we experience back home. There’s no Eid salaah, no special clothes, no feasting, and no visiting friends and family. Instead, it’s very hectic as the hujjaaj carry out three important rituals of Hajj:

  • pelting the jamaraat
  • getting their hair cut / shaved, and
  • performing a tawaaf and sa’ee at the haram in Makkah

(The rituals can be performed in any order, and the latter two may be delayed to the following days.)

When I had just gotten back to Mina after my ordeal of being lost, my group was already outside, about to go pelt the jamaraat (which was close to our camp). I needed a break (as well as the toilet – which I hadn’t used for those last 9 hours), so my wife and I didn’t go with them.

The pelting used to be a major source of fear for hujjaaj because of the stampedes and craziness that would occur there. But with expansion of the jamaraat and improved crowd-control measures, it’s much safer nowadays – hence we didn’t worry too much about going on our own a little while later. I didn’t pick up my stones on Muzdalifah (since I had bigger concerns at the time), but my wife’s relative had kindly collected them for me – so off we went.

Stones

Hujjaajj pelt the jamaraat using small, pea-sized stones

The pelting itself was relatively easy since the jamaraat wasn’t too busy at that early hour of the morning. We made it to the front, close to the jamaraat wall, but on trying to exit, I got hit with stones that were intended for the wall – so I had to use the top piece of my ihraam as a shield.

Next up was shaving of my hair, and there were ample barbers further down the road to do the honours. Predictably, though, they were jam packed, so I to wait a long time to get my turn. It was my first time being completely shaved, so it looked and felt rather strange, while bringing an increased sense of freshness (not to mention a cold head).

Having now completed my ‘minor release’ from ihraam (or, as they call it in Cape Town, “die klein verlossing”), I didn’t have the energy or courage to head for the haram to do the tawaaf ifadah and sa’ee – so we decided to do that the following night. So we set off for our room in Aziziah – where we’d spend a few hours resting before we had to get back to the camp on Mina. But my wife and I are a geographically-challenged pair, so we ended up getting lost and walking for close to an hour (whereas the walk should have taken less than half that time).

We finally made it back (grabbing some KFC for breakfast on the way), and I made Fajr in the nearly-empty masjid near our building (it being empty since it was Eid morning, so most locals were probably heading for the haram in Makkah). I was still in my ihraam, and after salaah, one of the brothers greeted me as “Hajj” (i.e. Hajji). It felt good – but not because that title was a superior status (I don’t believe a Hajji is any better than another Muslim). But it was special because I felt genuine love from him in that greeting, similar to the love I felt on the road near Muzdalifah – when bystanders were handing out water to the hujjaaj as sadaqah. Everybody recognises the value of this journey, and for those who can’t make Hajj (even though they live in Makkah), whatever little they can do to help the hujjaaj is their contribution to an incredible event. So, I pray that Allah accept their efforts and reward them abundantly.

After Fajr, I stayed up a little to do some writing – since I needed to record everything while it was fresh in my mind. And then – a little after 8AM – after the most momentous (and sleep-deprived) 24 hours of my life – I collapsed in bed for some well-earned rest.

Rebirth

Later that day, I awoke to the greatest feeling I’ve ever experienced: one of tremendous inner purity, which I can only describe as a ‘lightness of the soul’. I already knew that Arafah serves as a complete forgiveness for all sins, but now I was literally feeling it. Purity, cleanliness, and like the weight of my life’s worth of sin was now totally gone.

My wife and I both experienced these incredible feelings. In my mind, these were moments to savour and take advantage of, because we would probably never be that pure again in our lives – since we were bound to sin and make mistakes again in future (as all humans do).

I also felt empowered, because I knew that – in terms of sin – I was starting from a clean slate, and for the time being, it would be easy to keep that slate clean: every wudu, every salaah, every istighfaar – all of that wipes away sins.

In normal circumstances, although we know of these cleansing effects, it’s hard to actually feel those sins falling away. But now, because there was no longer a huge backlog of sin, those actions felt so much more effective, because every repentance needed to cover only a short period of possible transgressions – the time from the last salaah to the current one (rather than years and years). To use an analogy, it’s like comparing our hearts to dirty dishes: whereas before, it would be a case of dealing with heavily greased dishes that sat in the sink for days, now it was like washing lightly-soiled dishes immediately. It’s so much easier to clean a few marks quickly, rather than dealing with deeply-ingrained stains.

And if repentance alone wasn’t enough, by following up a bad deed with a good one, you totally wipe out the bad deed. That concept – which is actually a hadith – was another example of how the Prophet s.a.w.’s words were being practically manifested in my life (like the hadith that characterised my main lesson from the previous night).

Mountain of deeds

By this time, we were halfway through Hajj – with 2.5 days left (actually, a little more than that for us, since our group would stay the extra night on Mina). I wanted to make the most of that time, having made abundant dua and planning to do so much. In my mind, the importance of the coming days was perfectly crystallised in the analogy of building a mountain:

At this point, we were completely pure – forgiven of all sins, and starting from a clean slate. My ideal, for the rest of my life to follow, was that I wanted to live a life of dua, connection to Allah, reliance on Him alone, reciting Quran, making frequent and abundant istighfar and dhikrs, living with taqwa, remembering death often, being careful in my speech, and many other good deeds and aspects of good character. At this point, such things were so easy to do, and they felt so natural, beautiful, and amazing – probably because we were back to our fitrah (our pure state of birth), wherein our souls take true delight and are well-nourished by these actions. (For an explanation of this nourishment, read this post.)

But I knew that in the time to come, especially once we left those blessed lands, we’d face challenges: hardships, the evils of the devils (both of mankind and jinn), and our own bad inclinations. Though we’d leave Hajj with clean souls, all of these things would dirty our souls again. So in the upcoming days, while we were still on that incredible, blessed journey of Hajj, it was time to build a mountain of good deeds – which would act as spiritual provisions for the rest of our lives.

By gathering these provisions, we’d build our own personal stockpiles – or mountains – which would serve as a stabilising force and a protection against the spiritual erosion that would occur once we got back to ‘normal life’ and lived the remaining years or decades of our lives. I hoped to use the remaining days of Hajj to build my mountain so that once I left Mina, I would never, ever get ‘low’ again in terms of spirituality and the purity of my soul.

I dreamed – perhaps foolishly, but still optimistically – of remaining at this spiritual peak for the rest of my life, and getting even higher, making slow and steady progress over the rest of my life to eventually reach my full potential in this world.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: Return to Mina

Related lessons:

  • For men, if you start getting hit with stones at the jamaraat, the top piece of your ihraam makes an excellent shield.
  • If you’ve got a room in Aziziah and are heading back there right after pelting, make sure you know the direction to go. After pelting, you won’t be able to turn back and exit Mina through the same tunnel where you came in – you’ll be walking quite far and then exiting through an unfamiliar place. So, make a special effort before Hajj to find out the route from that exit to your accommodation in Aziziah.
  • Just because you’ve completed Hajj (Arafah being the main part of it), doesn’t make you better than other Muslims. Don’t ever let the title “Hajji” make you arrogant or delude you into thinking you’re somehow superior to others. If anything, you should be even more humble and even more fearful of slipping up – because Allah has given you this incredible experience, so you now have the added responsibility of living up to the high standards your Hajj for the rest of your life – whereas those who haven’t been aren’t in that situation.
  • Many people live in or near Makkah, yet they cannot make Hajj with you. Accept whatever help they try to give you, and make dua for them. You have this amazing opportunity to perform Hajj whereas they don’t, so appreciate what you have and ask Allah to reward their contributions to the event.
  • If you’re keeping a journal of your Hajj, write your experiences and feelings as soon as you can – even if it means you’ll miss a few more hours of sleep. Capture everything while it’s fresh, because you never know if you’ll get another chance, and with so much happening, the important memories may fade sooner than you think.
  • Savour the feeling of purity and lack of sin after Arafah, but remember that you can’t retain that feeling forever. You will slip up and sin / make mistakes, but now, it’s so much easier to wipe them away – via wudu, salaah, istighfaar, and good deeds. Stay clean by performing these actions regularly and abundantly in these days, and make it a habit to repent immediately after you do something wrong, and beyond that, regularly – even when you can’t explicitly recognise any wrongs you’ve committed.
  • The soul loves to worship Allah, and is nourished by these acts of worship. While your soul is in its pure state of fitrah, feed it abundantly via these actions, and savour the beauty of worshipping Allah without the baggage of sin.
  • You may feel like you can now relax, since Arafah is over. But don’t fall into that trap. While you’re on a high, and still on this sacred journey, use the remaining days and nights of Hajj to build up a mountain of good habits, good deeds, good character, and other spiritual provisions – which will serve as a much-need protection for you once you get back to the challenges of normal life back home.

What happened next?

Later parts in this series will be added at this link, insha-Allah. Alternatively, you can download the entire series (past posts as well as upcoming ones) as an e-book here.

Image sources: Both pictures from Muslmmatters.org.

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Hajj Chronicles Part 25: Not your average Saturday night

Posted by Yacoob on August 15, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 24

Hujjaaj spend the night at Muzdalifah

Hujjaaj spend the night at Muzdalifah

Marathon man

For most of the walk from Arafah, I drank minimal water – since there were no toilets on the road (and my water was warm anyway). As I neared Muzdalifah, I started to feel a bit like a marathon runner. At the side of the road, people were popping up handing out cool, refreshing water. I gratefully took some and continued – now sure that it was only a matter of time before I reached my group.

When I got into Muzdalifah, I was still lost. As was the case throughout the walk, I spent quite a bit of time and energy on the phone, trying to find my group. And, just like all the other times, my conversations with both my wife and our sheikh served only to confuse and frustrate me more. When I told them I was in a park, and could see some hujaaj walking with shopping bags (presumably from a nearby supermarket), the sheikh thought I had become delirious!

But I was just fine, and was experiencing a side of Muzdalifah that my Hajj group never got close to. Realising it may still be a while until I’d be reunited with the group, I decided to give the search a break and settled down in that small park to make my Maghrib and Esha salaahs (which are combined and made on Muzdalifah – as per sunnah).

Wandering soul (part 2)

After a brief rest, my search for familiar faces resumed. I regularly spoke to my wife and our sheikh on the phone, and at several points, the sheikh asked to speak to the Arabic-speaking locals near me – hoping they’d have more success trying to direct me to the group.

I walked up and down trying to find the landmarks my wife and the sheikh described. I must have walked from one end of Muzdalifah to the other several times, but to no avail. Whether I asked policemen, military personnel, or taxi drivers – nobody seemed able to help. They either waved me off in a vague direction, or called others to escort me. But every single time, the end result was failure.

The entire search was both tragic and comical, especially the point where I saw a bus from my cousin’s Hajj group approaching. South Africans at last! But, as was the theme that night, it was hopeless. They were too far away for me to go and seek their help.

Night-time at Muzdalifah

Night-time at Muzdalifah

In all of this, I still took the time to observe the scenes around me. Muzdalifah is basically a massive space of just tarmac and gravel, with a few hills around. Aside from toilets, there wasn’t much infrastructure at all. The hujjaaj settled down in just about every space available; many sleeping on mats under the stars, in tents, or in the luggage compartments of busses, while others made salaah or walked around. Vendors also covered the area, selling torches, drinks, fruit, and food (Al Baik being a popular choice).

Breakdown

In all that time, I didn’t let tiredness get to me much. I was running on adrenaline, with my priority being to find my group – rather than worry about the strain being put on my body. Psychologically, I didn’t panic for a long time, but the fear eventually overcame me. What if I never found my group? The next day – Eid – would be a hectic one, with pelting and other activities. I couldn’t go into that day alone.

My feelings of desperation intensified. I felt like crying, and actually did cry a little. I felt hopeless – like I wanted to give up. I just wanted to go home and forget all this. So what if it was Hajj? At that point, I hated the experience of being lost. I didn’t care if my Hajj would be ruined – I just wanted to get out of there, to a familiar and comfortable place again…even if I didn’t fulfil the remaining rituals I needed to do.

I felt like my wife and group had abandoned me, and this Hajj – this particular part – was a horrible, horrible experience. Why would I ever want to come for Hajj again?

And what if I fainted or had some medical emergency? Being totally alone, I’d become some anonymous statistic on the side of the road – possibly never found by my wife or Hajj group.

These were all bad thoughts, Desperate, anxious thoughts.

While still seeking help from others, I turned to Allah time and time again in dua. And time and time again it seemed like I was going in proverbial circles – like a hamster on a wheel. Doing nothing but walking and walking and walking, but making zero progress.

By that time, since leaving Arafah, I’d been alone for more than 7 hours. And still I had no idea where I was and where my group was. My wife and others sensed my desperation and were encouraging on the phone, but it wasn’t too comforting at that point – because they weren’t with me in the moment. I was utterly alone – with all these foreigners who didn’t speak English around me. I had no one. No one but Allah.

It ends

When I reached my breaking point, Allah finally saved me: it was nearly midnight – which was the time when my group and many others would be leaving Muzdalifah to head for Mina and the Jamaraat. The Hajj group brother who I was in contact with on the phone advised me to head for Mina and meet them there. It was a logical order, but given the various roads out of Muzdalifah, and the night’s predictable pattern of everything going wrong, I didn’t have much hope in that plan.

But I had nothing to lose, so I started walking in what I thought was the right direction. I figured I was on track because I was walking under the monorail – which went back to Mina.

It was a relatively quiet walk, with not many people or Hajj officials around at all. I later found out that my walk to Mina was a stark contrast to my group’s experience, where they had crowds as well as crazy Hajj officials that ripped bags off people (which is what they do if you have too much luggage with you). Turns out I was on a different route to them.

Alhamdullilah, I ended up back on Mina, but then took a while to find my group’s camp (which I wouldn’t have done if I didn’t memorise the camp number beforehand). I eventually made it to the camp at 1.30AM – a full 9 hours after I’d started walking from Arafah. Our sheikh was happy to finally see me, and apparently everyone knew my story by then.

My wife was ecstatic, and despite being in ihraam, we shared a beautiful reunion (without violating the romance prohibition, of course!). Gone were the negative feelings I’d held against her earlier on; all was forgiven. The 9 hours of almost non-stop walking and wandering wore down any anger and blame I was keeping inside, and I was just relieved to finally be ‘home’ – with my wife and in familiar surroundings again.

In case you’re wondering, I never made it to my group because I was on a completely different route to them. On the Arafah-Muzdalifah stretch, there’s a bus route and a pedestrian route. My group took the pedestrian route, but I completely missed that turnoff – hence I was with the busses (which didn’t seem wrong because there were so many people walking on that route with me.) As for Muzdalifah, I still have no idea where my group had camped – despite the fact that I probably walked the length and breadth of Muzdalifah that night.

Regarding the time of leaving Arafah, one year after our Hajj, I found out that the group leaders had in fact announced the departure time during the collective programme. But, of course, I’d skipped that programme as I needed to be alone during wuqoof. And it just so happened that when I asked everyone, they all neglected to mention this. Not on purpose, I believe, but perhaps just because that was Allah’s plan to ensure that I wouldn’t end up making the walk with them (and hence have this whole adventure).

Additionally, I was blessed to leave when I did. Apparently, some time after I left, there was a stampede in the crowds leaving Arafah, and some hujjaaj lost their lives. So despite the initial perception that my timing was bad, it was actually perfect – because it would have been worse had I been in that crowd.

Reliance

There’s a hadith that goes:

“…Be mindful of Allah and Allah will protect you. Be mindful of Allah and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, then ask Allah [alone]; and if you seek help, then seek help from Allah [alone]. And know that if the nation were to gather together to benefit you with anything, they would not benefit you except with what Allah had already prescribed for you. And if they were to gather together to harm you with anything, they would not harm you except with what Allah had already prescribed against you. The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried.” (Related in Tirmidhi)

The Prophet s.a.w.’s words came to life that night. They came true in my life. I had sought help from so many different people that night – my wife, our sheikh, the policemen, military, taxi drivers, and others – yet absolutely no one could help. All their efforts came to nothing. Allah had not intended for them to help me, so despite their efforts, they couldn’t make a difference to my plight. And it was only when I turned so utterly and desperately to Allah alone that He opened the way for me and guided me out of my misery.

That was my lesson in this whole ordeal. That was what Allah wanted to teach me:

Tawakkul. Reliance on Allah alone.

On Arafah, I had made a strong dua for exactly that: for stronger eman and true tawakkul on Allah. And immediately after that, Allah put me through this trial – which brought that dua to life.

Personally, the whole experience was incredibly trying. But it was the highlight of my Hajj. I prayed that – because of that experience – Allah would elevate my Hajj and grant me more reward than what I would have otherwise gotten.

And in terms of other people, it was also valuable because it gave me a more interesting story to tell, whereas without it, I wouldn’t have had much to say, other than talking about how I was stuck in the toilet that morning, or complaining about being rushed during wuqoof.

So my final thought to wrap up this segment is: if Allah brings you to it, He will bring you through it. Put your complete trust and reliance in Allah, and watch the miracles that occur before your very eyes.

Related lessons:

  • While you’ll want to get some rest on Muzdalifah, do take some time to walk around and observe what’s going on, how people are spending their time, etc. Unless you perform Hajj again, you’ll never experience an open-air camp this big – so take it all in and appreciate the moments you have there.
  • Long before, if you end up walking from Arafah to Muzdalifah alone, know that there’s a pedestrian route and a bus route. Keep an eye out for a turnoff (or ask others where it is), since this is probably the route your group will take if they’re walking.
  • Whatever seemingly-unfortunate experience befalls you, know that it’s Allah’s plan for you. So go forward with confidence that this is not a disaster, but something you’re meant to benefit from – even if you can’t see the lessons immediately.
  • Also remember that no matter how ‘bad’ your misfortune may seem, it could be worse. So be thankful that it is what it is, and not even more difficult. (This is also a good general principle for life: look at those less fortunate than you, as it’ll help you to appreciate what you have – rather than envying those that have more / seem to be better off.)
  • Be mindful of Allah, and He will be with you. Always.
  • Turn to Allah alone, having complete and utter reliance (tawakkul) on Him. Put your complete trust and reliance in Allah, and watch the miracles that occur before your very eyes.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: Euphoria (Check this link in about 2 weeks’ time for the next part, insha-Allah)

Image sources: Opening image, second image.

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Your Eid gift: The Hajj Chronicles e-book

Posted by Yacoob on August 8, 2013

Eid cupcakes

On behalf of myself and my family, I’d like to wish you and your loved ones Eid Mubarak – wherever you are in the world, and whichever day you celebrate(d) on. May this day be one of beautiful celebration, togetherness, and happiness – all within the boundaries of halaal, of course :). And may the spiritual gains from this Ramadan be ingrained into you so that you can take them forward into the coming months and at least maintain your spiritual levels, if not improve upon them as this blessed month fades into history.

The primary objective of fasting in Ramadan is to attain taqwa – sometimes translated as consciousness of Allah. The next big event in our Islamic calendar is Hajj, wherein the best provision for the journey is the very same taqwa.

So for those going on this blessed journey, Ramadan serves as a means of building up taqwa – which you’ll need to maintain and build even further as you near the biggest 5 days of your life – i.e. Hajj.

With this in mind, and as promised during Ramadan, I’ve compiled the entire Hajj Chronicles series (the 24 already online, plus the 6 to still come) into an e-book. You can download it here:

Hajj Chronicles e-book: PDF (3.7MB) | MS Word (3.4MB) (Right-click and choose ‘Save as’)

The e-book is provided absolutely free, for the purposes of promoting the Hajj and educating others about it. I encourage you to share it with those who are interested in the journey of Hajj.

Of course, the content is obviously copyrighted – so don’t steal my work ;). If you want to use parts of it for commercial purposes, please contact me to discuss it. Otherwise, you may use parts of it for your own personal or academic purposes, but reference it properly, and link back to this blog.

I hope you enjoy the book and benefit from it. And if you have any feedback or queries, feel free to email me.

Enjoy!

Yacoob

<Image source>

Posted in Hajj Chronicles, Milestones, Ramadaan | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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