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Hajj Chronicles Part 30: Farewell

Posted by Yacoob on October 7, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 29

Tents line the valley of Mina

Tents line the valley of Mina

 

Ambassadors of Hajj

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.

The last night

Dhikr in Mina - Hajj 2011

Dhikr in Mina – Hajj 2011

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.

Together for the last time

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.

Allahu akbar
Allahu akbar
Allahu akbar
Laa illaaha ill-Allah
Allahu akbar
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.

Goodbye, Mina

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.

Sunrise over Mina on the final morning of Hajj 2011

Sunrise over Mina on the final morning of Hajj 2011

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.

Mina on the final morning of Hajj 1432 (2011)

Mina on the final morning of Hajj 1432 (2011)

Final words

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)

Related lessons:

  • When you go home, you don’t just return as ‘Hajji’; you go back as an ambassador of Hajj. Your job is to now inspire others and encourage them to make the journey themselves.
  • Ever if you’re not fond of group gatherings, spend some time with the group in your final days and nights of Hajj. Appreciate the fact that Allah has specifically chosen each of you to be companions on this journey.
  • In the takbiers after salaah, reflect on the meaning of what you’re reciting. Think through all the experiences you’ve had, and let them fuel the sincerity of what you’re saying: you’re testifying to Allah’s greatness.
  • Also during those takbiers, take mental snapshots of the scene. In later years, when you’re home for Eid ul-Adha, replay those scenes in your mind, and let them remind you of this journey.
  • When other people’s bad moods / anxieties threaten your special moments, don’t react instantly. Rather, see it as a test from Allah, keep calm, do what you can to avoid conflict, and savour whatever you can of the moment.
  • When it’s all over, thank Allah – again and again and again – for granting you this journey.
  • In the journey of Hajj, and the journey of life, try to always be conscious of Allah. Taqwa is the very best provision.

What happened before this?

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).

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Hajj Chronicles Part 29: Back to the Kabah

Posted by Yacoob on September 30, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 28

Mina during Hajj 2011

Mina during Hajj 2011

 

An unfortunate pattern

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.

A fruitful delay

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:

  1. The jokers: People that just look for fun and laughs in everything, and are extreme in that they don’t know when to stop.
  2. The complainers: People who find fault with everything, and are naturally inclined to complain about delays and other things which they should bear with patience.
  3. The people of dua and dhikr: I’ve written before about this group – who I’d observed engaging in this kind of behaviour during earlier periods of waiting. They didn’t indulge in chit chat and time-wasting, but instead used their time wisely in dhikr, dua, and reading beneficial material. These blessed souls inspired me throughout the trip, and showed me first-hand that such people do exist. And I long to be one of them.

One last time

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.

Door of the Kabah

The door of 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.

View of the Kabah from the 2nd floor

View of the Kabah from the 2nd floor

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.

Related lessons:

  • After Arafah and the rigours of Eid day, it’s tempting to let up and relax your way through the rest of Hajj. Relax, but don’t overdo it. You’re still on an immensely spiritual journey, and you still have a few days and nights in which you can gather tremendous rewards and build your spirituality in ways that you wouldn’t be able to any other time or place. Don’t waste the time – even if those around you are doing just that.
  • A mobile phone – while very useful – can also be a tremendous timewaster if you’re not careful. On Hajj especially, be very mindful of how much time you spend using the phone (whether talking, chatting online, or using the Internet). The moments of Hajj are precious and extremely limited. Don’t waste them on things you could do any other time back home.
  • When you’re telling other people your Hajj stories (back home or even still on Hajj), make it a point to emphasise the lessons you learned.
  • At any time while you’re waiting (for a bus or other people), use the time wisely – in spiritually-productive activities. Don’t be a moaner, and don’t turn the wait into a social activity full of idle chit-chat and over-the-top joking.
  • Appreciate what you have before you lose it. Before Hajj, make the most of your tawaafs, because once you hit those 5 days, chances are you’ll only have one or 2 more chances to do it again before you have to go back home.
  • Allah is closer than your jugular vein – so remember that no matter how close you feel to Him in Makkah, He is always close to you – no matter where you are in the world.
  • Before you leave the haram for the last time, take some time to make a last dua while looking at the Kabah. It’s a memory you’ll forever treasure, and insha-Allah the sheer gratitude of the experience will bring your heart forever closer to Allah.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: Farewell

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 the upcoming final one) as an e-book here.

Image sources: Opening picture courtesy of Al-Anwar Hajj & Umrah, Kabah door, 2nd floor shot of Kabah.

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Hajj Chronicles Part 28: Boom!

Posted by Yacoob on September 23, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 27

The main street in Aziziah

The main street in Aziziah

Why did the Hajji cross the road?

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.

Boom!

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.

It’s up to you – alone

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.

Pelting for the future

One of the jamaraat walls

One of the jamaraat walls

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”.

Related lessons:

  • Be very careful when crossing the road, and don’t assume bikes (or other vehicles) will stop for you. There may be unwritten rules of the road, but just like when you’re driving a car, it’s safer to just assume that others will do something wrong – so you be safe, rather than sorry.
  • 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. You never know what kind of impact your dua can have on their lives.
  • On the way to the jamaraat, try to retain high taqwa – consciousness of Allah. Don’t waste the time having social conversations or doing other spiritually-unproductive things. You’re about to go perform a tremendous act of worship, with both immediate and long-term significance. So immerse yourself in dua, reflection, and dhikr so that you can make the most of the experience.
  • In life, generally, people won’t remind you to do good. You have to remember on your own. Always try to be be conscious of Allah and of what you’re doing – i.e. whether it’s pleasing to Him or not – even if others are heedless at the time.
  • When pelting the jamaraat, think of the immediate benefits – which include each throw being a self-purification for you. But also consider the long-term benefits: intending your pelting to be a protection for your future – so that in future, when shaytaan whispers to you, you can repel him with the same strength you did here at the jamaraat.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: Back to the Kabah

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: Opening image, jamaraat.

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Hajj Chronicles Part 27: Return to Mina

Posted by Yacoob on September 9, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 26

Mina3

Just another face in the crowd

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.

 United hearts

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.

Mercy

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.

Acceptance

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.

Related lessons:

  • Never let your own experiences fool you into thinking you’re special. No matter how extreme your circumstances, others also have their own challenges. Learn from other people’s stories and share your own story – but don’t consider your trials as more worthy of attention.
  • Unless you have deeply religious friends / companions, or attend some pretty special spiritual gatherings back home, you may not get another chance to discuss life, Islam, and other things in the way you can on Mina. Take advantage of the special conversations in this period, share your thoughts with others, and take lessons that you can apply with you in your ‘normal’ life back home.
  • The ulama teach that the way you live is the way you’ll die; and the way you die is the state you’ll be resurrected in. Strive to live a righteous, God-conscious life and always make dua that your moment of death will come at a time when Allah is pleased with you.
  • In Mina (and around any Eastern toilet), DO NOT take anything of value to the toilet. Leave it all behind in the tent. Your possessions are usually safe there.
  • When unpleasant things happen, let your first (and instant) reaction be one of acceptance. It’s Allah’s will that’s transpiring, so thank Him for it and be grateful – whether you initially see it as a calamity or not.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: Boom

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.

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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>

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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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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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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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