slip-sliding away…..

Posts Tagged ‘Hajj’

Beyond Hajj: Reflections 3 years later

Posted by Yacoob on October 1, 2014

Sunset on Arafah - Hajj 2012 (Picture courtesy of Shaykh Muhammad Al-Shareef)

Sunset on Arafah – Hajj 2012 (Picture courtesy of Shaykh Muhammad Al-Shareef)

Three years ago, I experienced my first magical moments in Madinah. It was the opening destination on my first and only Hajj, and I was awe-struck and honoured to be in so blessed and peaceful a place…a little piece of Jannah.

As the days passed, Madinah’s glow wore off, and I moved on to Makkah, where, despite being initially underwhelmed, the place soon grew on me. In particular, one special night in the haram stood out – wherein I finally found what my heart was seeking – what I would need, internally, for the upcoming 5 days of Hajj.

Lethargy and laziness followed – my biggest regrets about Makkah – before moving onto Aziziah, which was to be our final stop before the days of Hajj began. There – free of the luxuries of Makkah – I managed to get back on track, preparing for the biggest five days of my life – with the Day of Arafah being the most critical of them all.

Hajj itself was a mixed bag, with incredible experiences on Mina, Arafah, and a misadventure on the way to Muzdalifah (and beyond); but some disappointment on the days of tashreeq that followed: once the intensity had departed after Eid, that spirit of striving was clearly gone – both in myself and in the others on the journey.

At the end of it all, what I was left with was:

  • A (hopefully) clean and pure heart, forgiven from my lifetime of sins and spiritual dirt.
  • Beautiful memories of 6 weeks on this different, separate planet (because it’s a different world, divorced from the realities of life at home).
  • Spiritual ambitions. Intentions for change. Desire for self-improvement. A mission…a lifelong mission to’live’ my Hajj for the rest of my life.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

Crashing back to Earth

Like everything in life, Hajj had to come to an end. The beauty of the Holy Lands, the spiritual purity felt after Arafah, and the general goodness of dedicating a portion of your time to this mission – free of worldly work and responsibilities…all of it couldn’t last forever, no matter how much I wanted it to.

The differences between Planet Hajj and the rest of the world were brought firmly into focus as soon as we arrived at our next stop – waiting in transit at Cairo’s airport. Whereas Madinah and Makkah were (relatively) spiritually clean – free of sexually-driven advertising, indecent music, and other vices of the outside world, in Cairo’s airport, these things came flooding back into consciousness – sensorial assaults from the sick, degenerated, fitra-robbed environment that I knew all too well from life in South Africa and other Western-influenced societies.

Over the next week, as we spent time in Palestine and then Cairo again, the euphoria of Hajj continued to fade at a sadly rapid rate. When we got back to South Africa, the world felt even more different, and I braced myself for reintegration into the society I’d known and lived in my whole life.

Gone were the days of building an entire schedule around time in the masjid. Gone was the time to spend in self-reflection and writing. There would be no further long stretches of dua on a consistent basis. And I would no longer have the chance to undertake night-time excursions to the Kabah.

From that point on, the external environment would no longer drive my spiritual ambitions. On the contrary, conditions on the outside would now chip away at my spirituality; so I faced a harder fight to simply maintain focus – let alone build something greater than the state I was in after Arafah.

Hanging on

The first few weeks back home were relatively good. I tried very hard to maintain my levels of spirituality – despite being plunged back into the working world and the rigours of fatherhood (we had a 2 year old daughter). I used the still-fresh emotions of my journey to keep some level of momentum going, with taqwa, dhikr, dua and self-reflection as my companions.

In terms of work, I faced a potential crisis when – a few weeks after my return – news came that the company was at the very real risk of going under, and much of the workforce would have to be cut if they were to survive. I tried to put a positive spin on it for those who I could make some kind of impact on – urging them (and myself) to see the bigger picture, and always have hope that Allah would take care of them.

In the end, I ended up keeping my job – though I knew that it was time to start looking elsewhere. 6 months later, I was on my way to a new challenge – a job that brought intellectual stimulation and variety back to my working life – which had, in my previous job, been largely stagnant.

The years that followed found me getting more and more entrenched in my work – which was a demand of my new position, while conversely, my spirituality sank more and more (as realised in Ramadan 2013).

But there were still good points, with the first year or so being extremely fruitful in terms of my personal writing, and some good habits becoming more entrenched. Subsequent Hajj periods (the months of Dhul Qada and Dhul Hijjah) were also amazing, because following the Hajj via TV and social media always reminded me of my own experience, and helped rekindle the yearning to go back.

Those Hajj periods, in particular, helped to remind me that while the emotion and nostalgia was so strong, and the desire to go back was heightened, I needed to convert those feelings into practical actions. I needed to strive, once more, to ‘live’ my Hajj. To show my gratitude via action, for if I am grateful, insha-Allah I will be blessed with another chance.

Game over?

A little over a year ago, my life changed significantly once more, with the birth of our second child – another little girl who immediately captured my heart, attention, and time.

By then, I had already slipped far from the standard I’d hoped to live after Hajj – in terms of personal character and behavioural changes I’d wanted to implement. Old habits die hard, and in the absence of immense striving, my habits were resurrected, dusted themselves off, and made themselves comfortable in my life once more.

And if I thought I had hope of making a comeback to the standard I’d aspired to, the demands of fatherhood quickly shattered those illusions. Along with the new baby, there was also the older child to see to – with her adjustment to being a big sister (and no longer the centre of attention) being relatively difficult.

When things let up a bit, I fell into an old addiction of mine. Nothing haraam, of course, but something very time-consuming which – I first rationalised – I needed as a means of de-stressing from the burdens upon my shoulders. A new, potent enemy which I’ve been fighting – on and off – for the last year.

My problem is that I’m extreme in indulgence. I don’t know how to be moderate; balanced. It’s a quality that can be very beneficial if used in productive pursuits, but detrimental when applied to self-satisfying, otherwise-useless initiatives.

We also went through an extremely traumatic period earlier this year, which really drained us and for me – personally – strengthened me internally, but also knocked out my hope of an internal revival. That may seem a contradictory statement, and because I’m being deliberately vague here (since I won’t explain the details publically), it might not make sense.

Essentially, it strengthened my imaan – so there was spiritual growth; but at the same time, it took its toll mentally and psychologically – such that I felt like I was in too weak a state to build up again, to strive for the lofty ambitions I’d held after Hajj. Like I was now too far away from those days of Hajj – both in time and inner purity – to seriously think that it was possible to achieve what I wanted to achieve.

And on top of that, my life was dramatically different now as compared to those days after Hajj. There was the more hectic job, for one. But there were also the challenges and demands of two young kids now: a baby and a school-going child….instead of just one toddler (which was the case when we got back from Hajj).

Thinking of all of this, it seemed hopeless.

What’s next?

But was it, really? Does it mean I have given up all hope? That ‘living my Hajj’ is now just a distant, beautiful-sounding dream that was just a foolish ambition of my younger self?

I hope not. Because if that was the case, I would be throwing away much of what I gained from the journey.

I can’t just confine my Hajj to good memories and long-gone spiritual achievements.

So, what I needed to realize – and it took me a long time to figure it out, despite it being SO obvious – is that I can no longer see my life through the lens that I’d envisioned it three years ago. I can’t look at myself and my life in the same way, because my life has shifted. So I have to shift my gaze too.

Now, three years later and in very changed circumstances, I need to start my post-Hajj mission again. I need to start fresh:

  1. Analyse what I want, in my overall vision of my life (both worldly and beyond).
  2. Look at the demands and challenges I face now and in the coming years.
  3. Redraw that list of ambitions, pulling it into a realistic, measurable plan of how I will get from here to there.

And even if I don’t succeed in some or even all of those plans, the most important quality I need to apply is persistence. For so long, I’ve let myself be deceived by the idea that if I can’t achieve success in a plan, or if I can’t at least be consistent in a certain initiative, then it’s not worth even bothering with that initiative.

Perhaps that attitude is a reflection of my perfectionist tendencies. Or perhaps it’s from the whisperings of the devil – who doesn’t miss an opportunity to try to impede my spiritual growth and success.

Whatever the case, I need to change that mindset. I need to consciously realize that such thinking is false and actually counter-productive.

I need to just keep trying, because all that I’m responsible for is intention and action. The results are in Allah’s hands.

So now, as I sit here three years later, with this year’s Hajj due to begin tomorrow insha-Allah, I feel a renewed sense of purpose. A re-commitment to the mission I accepted, and was so excited about, all that time back.

I ask that you, my dear reader, please make dua for me in this road ahead; as I make dua for you too.

JazakAllah

Yacoob

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It’s almost time…

Posted by Yacoob on August 22, 2014

Approaching the masjid

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.

Madinah beckons…

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Ready for Hajj series: Part 3 (Days of Hajj)

Posted by Yacoob on September 27, 2013

Tents line the valley of Mina

Tents line the valley of Mina

Wrapping up the Hajj prep series (after the previous Madinah tipsheet and Makkah tipsheet), our final tipsheet focuses on the big event – the biggest 5 days of your life: Hajj.

Download: 5 days of Hajj tipsheet

Here, the tips cover day 1 on Mina, the all-important day of Arafah, the journey to Muzdalifah, Eid day, and beyond. The list also covers important aspects of your final time at the Kabah, along with advice for when you go home and attempt to maintain your Hajj for the rest of your life.

Again, these are practical tips are extracted from the Hajj Chronicles (blog series here | e-book here) – which described my own Hajj 2 years ago.

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

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

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

PS: You can get the Madinah tipsheet here and the Makkah one here. For a more visual version of these tips, check out the slideshows at ProductiveMuslim.com.

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Ready for Hajj series: Part 2 (Makkah)

Posted by Yacoob on September 16, 2013

Door of the Kabah

The door of the Kabah

Following on from the Madinah tipsheet last time, this week’s tipsheet for departing hujjaaj focuses on practical ideas and lessons for Makkah. It includes the road trip from Madinah to Makkah, first sight of the Kabah and first umrah, and a lot of general info about time in Makkah.

Like last time, these are extracted from the Hajj Chronicles (blog series here | e-book here) – which described my own Hajj 2 years ago.

The document is relatively long, but it’s intended to be comprehensive reading that you could look at when you have a few minutes to spare – such as the waiting period in the airport or on busses.

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

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

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

PS: You can get the Madinah tipsheet here, and if you need the 5 days of Hajj tipsheet immediately, you can get it here. For a more visual version of these tips, check out the slideshows at ProductiveMuslim.com.

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Ready for Hajj series: Part 1 (Madinah)

Posted by Yacoob on August 31, 2013

Inside Masjid-an Nabawi

Inside Masjid-an Nabawi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 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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Hajj Chronicles Part 21: Day 1: Mina

Posted by Yacoob on June 12, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 20

The tunnel leading to Mina

The tunnel leading to Mina

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

Tent city welcomes you

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

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

Tents line the valley of Mina

Tents line the valley of Mina

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

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

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

Inside a tent on Mina

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

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

An Eastern toilet on Mina

An Eastern toilet on Mina

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

Wandering on Mina

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

Inside a tent on on the first day of Hajj

Inside a tent on on the first day of Hajj

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

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

Inside a camp at Mina

Inside a camp at Mina

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

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

Death’s dress rehearsal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related lessons:

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

What happened next?

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

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

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