Three years ago, I was preparing for the journey that would take me to the most serene place I’ve ever been. May Allah bless, guide and protect those who have been honoured with the invitation this year.
Posted by Yacoob on October 7, 2013
Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 29
Hajj consists of 5 days, but those wanting to exert themselves even more can stay an extra night – taking the total to almost 6 days. Some of our group opted to go back to Aziziah after the 5 days, but my wife and I would not miss the chance to extend our Hajj – so we stayed.
On that final night, we did our pelting after Esha, and the walk back gave me food for thought. I spoke to an older uncle – probably 60-odd years old – who was on his first Hajj. He was wealthy and had been for umrah four times in the past – but, strangely, had never made this particularly journey before. His brother had been the year before, and only after that was he inspired to make the trip. The conversation just reinforced a theme that one of the alims had been drumming into our heads throughout the trip: when you go home, you don’t just return as ‘Hajji’; you go back as an ambassador of Hajj. After experiencing this yourself, your job is to now inspire others and encourage them to make the journey themselves – so that they may not only fulfil an obligation of the deen, but also experience the immense gifts that Allah gives to Muslims via Hajj.
We had a group dhikr on our last night in Mina. I wasn’t really into it, but I attended anyway because I knew these were precious moments that I should spend with the larger group. As I sat there, I was moved by watching my fellow hujjaajj. I reflected on how we were all brought together for this trip: Allah had specifically picked each and every one of us to be His guests at these holy sites in this year. I thought about the bonds had grown between us, and how united we’d been. And soon, this would all end. We’d go back to our own lives at home and our Hajj would fade into history as fond memories – flashes of a past experience that we would so dearly love to hold onto, but wouldn’t be able to, since life would move on, and time would erode the highs of our spiritual peak.
But, just as we were all together on that last night, I made dua that we would be re-united in the same way in Jannah. And, in that future bliss, we would remember this Hajj, and look back on these times and remember all we went through in the dunya – but at that time, being eternally safe in Allah’s Mercy of the akhirah.
The final morning’s fajr was my last salaah on Hajj. My tears fell during that first rakaat, as I realised this was truly the end of the road. This journey that had taught me so much, and had been my life for nearly 2 months…it was ending. It was my last salaah with the group, and probably the last time I’d see most of my fellow hujjaaj.
We were still within the days of tashreeq, so there was the usual takbier after the salaah. This time, I reflected deeply on the meaning of it.
Laa illaaha ill-Allah
Allahu akbar wa illahil hamd
Allah is great. Greater than anything and everything. We – having experienced this Hajj – could attest to that. And there, in that Mina tent on our final morning, we proclaimed it loudly and proudly and with sincerity.
I imagined the Eid ul-Adhas to come in my future, when I’d again recite this same takbier. Only at that time, I hoped it would mean so much more to me – because I’d remember this particular gathering. I hoped it would bring back memories of this trip, this tent, this salaah, and this takbier.
Unlike many of the others, who could stay in Mina until the afternoon, my wife and I would be flying out that evening – so we needed to get back to Aziziah quickly to prepare for the travel. Straight after fajr, we went off alone to do our final pelting of the jamaraat. Afterwards, we got lost coming back to the camp (though this was entirely her fault :)), so our departure was delayed a little.
As we got our stuff and headed out for the last time, we didn’t see too many people from the group – but I did catch ‘the joker’ again. He was much more sombre this time, and seemed to have forgotten about teasing me. Again, I bore no ill feeling towards him. But I’m glad he eventually got over his excessive joke-making mood.
We left Mina as the sun was rising, and I wanted to savour the last few moments of this experience. However, it didn’t happen as I’d hoped. My wife gets tense when we travel, and on the way back, she was super-stressed about time – especially since our Hajj group hadn’t given us an official departure time from Aziziah (we’d been told 12.30PM might be the time, but nothing was confirmed).
She had valid concerns, but I felt she was overreacting. I was actually sad for her too – because she was so anxious and absorbed in worry that she didn’t seem to take in what should have been beautiful, peaceful final moments on Mina.
I recognised that when she was in that emotional state, it was a test for me – a challenge Allah was putting in my path. So I just tried to stay calm, avoid confrontation, and absorb what I could of my last moments on Mina.
And so, as we crossed the bridge and headed into the tunnel that leads to Aziziah, a beautiful, eventful, and lesson-filled period of my life had just ended.
I’ll be forever grateful to Allah for granting me the experience.
Alhamdullilah. Alhamdullilah. Alhamdullilah.
So, this brings to an end the Hajj Chronicles series. I began writing it just days after we returned from Hajj, and now – almost 2 years later – I wrap up with this post. Through all 30 parts, I hope that my words, descriptions, and pictures have conveyed to you the experiences, struggles, lessons, and ecstasies of the six weeks that the series covered.
For those who have been for Hajj before, I hope the series has helped to remind you of your own Hajj, and that it stirred up those feelings of spiritual elevation and inspired you to recommit to the lofty goals and intentions you made while you were there.
For those that haven’t yet been, I hope that the series will inspire you to do whatever is in your power to make the journey yourself. From your side, you need a sincere intention, followed by dedicated efforts and lots of dua. But ultimately, Allah is the One who invites. So you do your part, and when it’s your time, He will take you there – no matter how unlikely it may look from your present point of view.
I pray that you’ll get your chance soon, and that when it happens, that it’ll be the most incredible, life-changing experience that’ll purify you of past mistakes, and set you on the path to eternal success. And if you do get to go, please share the experience with me – either by commenting here, or emailing me (see contact details below).
JazakAllah to everyone who has followed this series. I hope every reader has benefitted, and I really appreciate the feedback I’ve gotten from some of you. If you do have any other feedback or queries that you don’t want to post on this blog, feel free to email me instead.
The chronicles end here, but my story did continue after that. We went on to Palestine then Cairo, before coming home, adjusting to the normal environment and routine again, and going on with the rest of our lives.
Later on, I may write more about those experiences, but for now, I close with this post. In the coming weeks, I hope to compile the entire series into an e-book (PDF format) – which you can download for free. And because detailed English-language accounts of the Hajj aren’t that common, I am also open to the idea of rewriting the series as a book – complete with new pictures and experiences I didn’t include in this series. If you’re a publisher and you’re interested in the project, please email me to discuss it further.
I pray that Allah accepts this series as my contribution towards that ancient call of Ibrahim a.s. (Surah Al-Hajj, verse 27).
As a final thought, I leave you with the advice of Allah. The advice applies to Hajj, but also to the journey of life, as we move towards the Hereafter:
“…So make provisions for yourselves; but the best of provisions is taqwa. Therefore keep your duty unto Me, O men of understanding…” (Surah al-Baqarah verse197)
The entire series (30 parts) is available at this link – post by post. You can also download the complete series as an e-book, either in PDF format or as an MS Word document (both versions are under 4MB in size).
Image sources: All pictures taken by me, except for the dhikr picture (courtesy of Al-Anwar Hajj 2011 Facebook group).
Posted by Yacoob on September 30, 2013
Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 28
From Eid day onwards, the atmosphere in the camp on Mina was far more relaxed. We’d passed the climax of Hajj (i.e. Arafah), and now had just a few more days on Mina until it was all over. In a way, it was similar to Ramadan after the 27th night: everyone seems to think that once Laylatul Qadr is over, it’s time to relax. But that’s an incredibly flawed perspective: nobody even knows that the 27th night is Laylatul Qadr; and even if it is, the magnitude of reward in Ramadan is such that we should be striving right till the very end.
Now on Hajj, a similar pattern had emerged. And although I’d wanted to do so much more in the final few days and nights of Hajj, the overall relaxed atmosphere in the camp influenced me, so I didn’t strive as I should have.
Still though, it could have been worse. Others in the tent had their smartphones with them, so they’d spend plenty of time online – which can generally be a time-waster (and more-so on Hajj). My new phone did keep me quite occupied (as any new phone would), but I didn’t have an Internet connection – thus I didn’t waste as much time as I otherwise would have.
One of the most strenuous acts of Hajj is the return to the haram in Makkah, where hujjaaj need to do their ifadah – which is a tawaaf and sa’ee (just like Umrah). Many hujjaaj try to get this done on Eid day (right after Muzdalifah), but due to the fatigue we felt after our drama, we opted to delay our ifadah until the following night (i.e. the night between the 11th and 12th of Dhul Hijjah). Our sheikh – who would be taking the group – had advised us that this would be the best time to go, since it was usually quiet at that time. And, because my wife and I would be flying out immediately after Hajj, it would be our last time at the Kabah.
So we left Mina that night and headed back to the meeting point in Aziziah – where we were to catch our bus to the haram. Predictably, the bus took over an hour to arrive – but I used the time productively, reading Quran and trying to be positive. I did speak to others, though, and realised that, while telling my getting-lost-story to others, I need to always emphasise the LESSONS I learned from it. People love stories – especially Hajj stories; and while you have their attention, you need to bring across key lessons so that you’re not just ‘entertaining’ them, but also inspiring and educating them.
I also spoke quite a bit to one brother – who I nicknamed ‘the joker’ – since he took every opportunity to laugh at me and make jokes about my experience getting lost. It was all in good spirits, of course, and I didn’t take offence. But after a while it started getting tiring.
Speaking to him – plus my observations during the waiting period that night – helped me to distinguish three groups of people:
When the busses eventually arrived, it was one crazy ride. One of the group leaders rode on the roof to direct the driver through the various detours, while our sheikh – along with the others in the bus – embodied the Capetonian spirit of joviality and light-heartedness.
At the haram, we split up and agreed to meet again outside when we were all done. Alhamdullilah – the crowd on the mataaf wasn’t bad at all, so my wife and I were able to do our tawaaf right next to the Kabah.
Knowing that it would be my last tawaaf on this trip (and possibly my last ever), the emotions really hit me. My heart opened up in ways I wish it would more often, the tears flowed, and I just can’t describe the feelings – except to say that the way I felt was incredibly fitting for the occasion. As we made our rounds, I counted the number of times with the 7 bead tasbeeh in my hand. Back when we stayed in Makkah, I took tawaafs for granted, and was often lazy about performing them. Now, as those beads became fewer and fewer, I didn’t want the tawaaf to end. I wished this experience could just go on and on…
Then came the 2 rakaats of salaah that’s made after tawaaf. I put my all into this salaah, concentrating like never before, reciting slowly with immense reflection, and exerting myself in dua during sujood. If felt like the most important salaah of my life: my last so close to the Kabah…my last in this incredibly- special place – below the ‘arsh of Allah. Never again would I return here – or at least, not for the foreseeable future.
But despite the sadness, I took hope from the experience. I remembered the verse in the Quran describing how Allah is closer than our jugular veins. I took comfort in knowing that once I went home – far away from this House – Allah would still be with me; He would always be so close. No matter where we are, we should always remember that.
The sa’ee that followed wasn’t quite as touching, but it was still important in terms of duas. We made it on the second floor, and physically, my wife was finished by this time – so it was a real struggle for her to make all 7 circuits between Safa and Marwah. I was also tired, but the immensity of the occasion gave me new energy, and I made my circuits through the fatigue and aching legs and feet.
After it was done, just before we left, I went to take one last look at the Kabah, and make one last dua. It was an intense dua in which my emotions again overwhelmed me. I was tremendously grateful that Allah had brought me here and taken me through this Hajj successfully – finally fulfilling the dearly-held dream that I’d so longed for.
Alhamdullilah. Alhamdullilah. Alhamdullilah.
Coming up next, insha-Allah: Farewell
Posted by Yacoob on September 23, 2013
Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 27
The morning after losing my phone, we were back in Aziziah for a few hours. Despite the fact that the main segments of Hajj were over, communication was still important – thus I needed to get a new phone (even if it would be a cheap one). So I set out – alone – to find one, even though the chances were slim – since many shops were closed during those 3 days of Eid (which are public holidays in Saudi). I took my wife’s phone with me, since I may need it in case of emergency.
Crossing the road in Aziziah was always a risky endeavour. There aren’t many traffic lights, so you had to rely on your instincts and run – hoping that no vehicles would come out of the blue and hit you. This particular time, I was standing at a big intersection, waiting to cross the other side of Aziziah’s main road. Like the walk from Arafah, there were again youngsters on motorbikes / scooters –whizzing up and down, giving hujjaaj (expensive) rides to the haram.
I saw a chance to cross the road and took it. What happened next, I don’t remember in detail. What I do remember is seeing a group of three bikers making a U-turn at this intersection. They weren’t riding one behind the other. They were next to each other – spread out – thus taking up a lot more space than they should have, performing this dangerous turn in unison. I think I froze as I saw them heading straight for me. Then I tried to get out of the way, but I ended up in the middle of them.
I got hit hard – on my shin – by one of them. I fell to the ground, and was dazed and confused. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I’d never been in any road accidents before, except someone bumping my car from behind. And here I was, run down thousands of miles from home, laying in the middle of the street.
Alhamdullilah – there was no other traffic on the road at that moment, so I didn’t get hit by cars (or the truck that came soon after that). Once again, the motto of ‘It could have been worse’ played out in front of me.
I was furious at the guy who hit me. I think he had helped me get up, but had then ridden off quickly with no further concern. When I could stand again, I scurried back to the sidewalk I was originally on, and waited to cross again. Witnesses on the other side of the road were concerned, and my one slipper (which I’d lost in the impact) was still in the middle of the road. I was about to go fetch it when one of them threw it back to me.
Next, I cautiously crossed the road – safely this time. The guy who hit me then came back to return my wife’s phone – which had fallen out of my pocket. I didn’t even realise it was gone, but the biker who hit me must have noticed it and taken it, because he came back to give it to me. Maybe his conscience got to him, or maybe he just realised it was a really crappy phone (it was worth 80 South African Rands – probably the cheapest kind you could get), so he had no use for it.
In any case, what came to mind was the words of the always-inspiring Mufti Ismail Menk: make dua for your enemies and those who hurt or wrong you. Hatred and anger against them is not productive, but making dua for their guidance and goodness turns a negative into a positive. So, despite my anger, I followed that advice and prayed for that biker. I’d probably never see him again, but I hope that my dua had an impact on his life; and in the akhirah, I’d like to find out what happened to him after that day our paths crossed.
I was still wearing the same kurta which I’d lost my phone in (so perhaps it was cursed ;) ), but it now had tyre marks on it – which complemented the few bruises and cuts I had gained from this incident. I was in some pain, but alhamdullilah, nothing serious.
I managed to get a new phone eventually, and we headed back to Mina later that day – but fatigue overcame me, so the rest of the day was relatively unproductive. By that time – given the drama and exertions of the previous 2 days – I was feeling achy, battered, and bruised, but I was still loving it J.
After Eid, each remaining day of Hajj included pelting all three jamaraats. Later that evening, we did our pelting with the group – which was much safer than our first time alone. On the short walk to the jamaraat, I learned a valuable lesson about self-responsibility in the spiritual aspects of life. As we walked, many people were just relaxed and having social conversations.
At this time, we should’ve been at our most God-conscious – as we’d completed Arafah not long ago, and were on our way to another tremendous act of ibadah. Yet for so many people, heedlessness struck: they seemed to be unconscious of the taqwa that should’ve been coursing through their hearts and minds, and were thus spiritually unproductive and neglectful of the great significance of the act they were on the way to do.
I don’t mean to be judgmental at all, because honestly, if I wasn’t the relatively-unsociable person I am, I would’ve probably been doing the same as them. But since I’m quiet, I didn’t speak to others much – and that gave me lots of time to observe them. And, alhamdullilah, seeing their forgetfulness reminded me that I should be engaged in dhikr, dua, and other acts of worship (that are possible while walking).
So my lesson was that people won’t remind you to do good. You have to remember on your own. You have to be so conscious of Allah and of what you’re doing – even if others are not.
It was actually like a microcosm of life: generally, unless you’re around really God-conscious individuals, people will go on doing what they do, and won’t remind you of Allah and the deen. It’s up to you as an individual slave of Allah to remember that consciousness and take action.
As for the pelting, I knew that it wasn’t just a ritual of Hajj for that particular moment. Sure, we’d be symbolically pelting shaytaan – as Ibrahim a.s. had done at these very spots so long ago. But there were also personal, long-term benefits to take from it: in life, shaytaan will often whisper to you – tempting you to indulge in something you shouldn’t overdo, or do some wrong – all of which feeds the deep (but wrong) inner desire you have to take that action.
So when pelting the jamaraat, I knew that each throw would need to serve as a self-purification and a protection – an inner choice to cast away the evils within my own soul, and keep the devils away from me whenever those temptations arose in future. The intention was that in future, whenever I recognised that whispering, I would remember this pelting. And at that time, in my mind, I would ‘pelt’ shaytaan away – saying the same words as I chased away his evil suggestions: “Bismillah. Allahu akbar”.
Coming up next, insha-Allah: Back to the Kabah
Posted by Yacoob on September 9, 2013
Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 26
After getting some much-needed rest on Eid morning, we returned to Mina that afternoon. While I thought that my experience of being lost was unique, speaking to others about their experiences on that walk helped put it into proper perspective. I may have had an extreme case, but it was by no means the only ‘survivor story’ in our group. Everyone had their own special tests and trials. The chaos of that walk was so bad that many who were with the group even got lost – so I wasn’t alone in facing hardship. Alhamdullilah, I was grateful to learn these things, as they helped eliminate any element of pride that may have arisen from my experience.
The spirit back on Mina was amazing. There was a special closeness between the hujjaaj, with everyone wishing the others well. I had some good conversations, sharing thoughts, experiences, and lessons – with reminders about gratitude, repentance, and the equality of humanity.
These were the kind of deep, spiritual talks that would be pretty much impossible in any other circumstance. Yet here – in the simplicity of this tent, after the incredible 24 hours we’d just experienced – such topics flowed so easily and without inhibition. We were pure hearts connecting with each other on a level that was most unique, and I still treasure those moments and long for that kind of God-conscious companionship now – in the environment and times where I need it so much more than that day on Mina.
I imagine that this kind of bond, and this level of purity, will be the state we experience in Jannah; thus I regard these few moments as a sneak peek into the bounties that Allah is keeping in store for us, if we pass His tests in this world.
I’d written earlier about how dying on Hajj would be the ultimate way to go, yet it wasn’t what I wanted for myself at that point in time. For one of the old ladies in our group, it was time, and Allah granted her that tremendous gift of dying on Hajj. At 3AM that morning – which was the day after Arafah – she passed away. She was in a wheelchair, and had apparently been surprised to even get so far in Hajj – yet she did, and Allah granted her that amazing mercy of leaving this world completely pure. I later learnt more about her (via this news article), and it just deepened the awe of the situation, proving again how merciful Allah is.
The Janazah salaah was held at the haram in Makkah that night, but on Mina, we held salat al-gha’ib (Janazah salaah in absentia) in our tent, and were reminded of the glad tidings for those who die on Hajj. They’ll be raised in that state – still in ihraam, and still chanting the talbiyyah (drawn from a hadith about the one who dies on Hajj). May Allah grant the sister the highest place in Jannah, and help us all to live righteous lives which end in the most beautiful circumstances.
After a group programme of naseehah, dua, and collective dhikr (the latter being the classic Cape Town format – complete with bad tajweed ;) ), I settled down for the night – with a trip to the toilet as my last action for the day. Little did I know that yet another valuable experience awaited me:
By this time, I was out of the state of ihraam and in normal clothing again – so I was wearing a kurta with pockets. For some reason, I decided to take my valuables with me to the toilet: my mobile phone was in my pocket, and my ID cards were in a pouch around my neck. I did my business in the stall (an Eastern toilet), and when I was finished, something slipped out of my pocket…my phone.
Now, to me, those toilets are so filthy that whatever falls on the floor there can stay on the floor there – I have no inclination to clean it up and keep it, even if it’s a phone. Well, I didn’t even need to ponder that option. One piece of the phone fell straight down that dreaded hole (from which there is no return). Then another piece fell next to the hole, before sliding into it. The phone battery fell next, but stayed put on the floor. I figured I wouldn’t need that bit anymore, so I pushed it in too – to finish the job.
It was a strange feeling – realising what had just happened. Normally, losing a mobile phone would be a disaster. But I felt no anger or frustration. I felt this immediate acceptance of what had happened. It was Allah’s will; and I accepted that.
The phone had served its purpose (especially for that long walk the previous night), and now it was time for me to part with it.
I quickly saw Allah’s tremendous wisdom in the situation: 2 days before we left home, my mobile phone suddenly broke – meaning I couldn’t take it on this journey. That phone held all my contacts, calendar information, and other valuable stuff on it – so if I’d had that phone with me on Mina, this story probably wouldn’t have had a happy ending. But Allah knew what would happen, and made the circumstances such that I had to leave my phone at home and take a cheap, practical model without any valuable information on it.
The motto of ‘it could have been worse’ also repeated itself here: I had only lost a phone, which I wouldn’t miss much anymore now that the main parts of Hajj were complete. But I had also taken 2 other very important items with me in the stall: my Hajj ID card (which is essential to direct you back to familiar faces if you get lost), and my camp admission card (which was my only way into the camp, and worth a staggering amount of money – given that this was a special services camp). If those items had fallen down that stinky black hole, I would’ve had major problems for the remaining few days of Hajj.
So, once more, what outwardly looked like a bad situation was actually a positive experience that Allah had put in my path to teach me important lessons.
Coming up next, insha-Allah: Boom