Having been in Makkah for over a week now, I’d like to use this post to extract a few lessons from my time here so far. From this, I’m hoping to gain reminders that will benefit both myself and the readers.
1. Change demands change
The difference in physical environment – between Makkah and Madinah – is immediately noticeable. Unlike the calm, peaceful serenity of Madinah – even when it was full of people – Makkah is the opposite. It’s very urban – very much a big city; fast-paced, always busy, and usually noisy. Yet this city, like Madinah, is one of the holiest on Earth. And if you want to feel the spirituality here, you need to adapt to the situation and put in the effort to make it happen for yourself.
The lesson here is that change is to be expected, and every external change requires individual, internal change – to adapt to the situation. If you fail to do that, you can end up frustrated and having a negative perception of what could otherwise be a wonderful experience.
2. Understanding differences
The people here, too, are different. Most of us are pilgrims (i.e. locals are only a minority right now), and many have also been to Madinah before getting here. But the attitudes are different here. Some people seem more aggressive and stressed out. It’s not uncommon to see people becoming angry – even inside the masjid. And the cultural differences come through, too.
In South Africa, and other parts of the world, we value fairness – waiting in line for your turn. But here, people from some places don’t seem to understand that concept. For example, when in a shop, they’d impatiently push their way forward and hold their item over your shoulder – presenting it to the teller, who they expect to instantly ring it up on the till. We’d find that behaviour very rude – but maybe that’s just the way they operate back home – due to poverty or circumstances they face. Maybe they have to be that way to survive – and they bring that mentality with them here. But it’s easy for us to be quick to judge them – without understanding the situations they’re coming from. We just expect that our standards of etiquette are universal, and everyone that doesn’t follow is just rude or uncultured. Yet that’s not the case for those whose everyday lives follow different norms and rules.
Similarly, we regard English as the most universal language in the world. But being here, you see that that’s not the case. Most people do not speak English – or if they do, not very comfortably at all.
The lesson here is to never impose your own ways – be it social etiquettes, language, or other – on other people, even if they look similar to you, or share common attributes such as religion. The Earth is a vast, extremely varied place, and it’s rather self-centred to hold an attitude that your way is the “right” way – whether you consciously adopt that attitude, or it just comes in because you’ve always been surrounded by people like yourself.
3. Complaints come too easily
I’ve made many complaints about things that have happened so far, and also heard complaints from others. And what strikes me is how quick we are to complain when things aren’t to our liking.
Instead of looking at people who are worse off than us, we tend to expect that we’ll keep getting our pampered, easy standards of living – like we’re entitled to comfort and ease.
One complaint is the physical hardship of the rituals here in Makkah. For example, during umrah the other night, the pain finally kicked in for me. It was probably past midnight, and we were halfway through the Sa’ee – which is a walking of 7 circuits between the hills of Saffa and Marwa, representing the actions of Hajar (may Allah be pleased with her), the wife Prophet Ibrahim (may peace be upon him).
It was late at night, and with the tawwaf finished – which was already a physical exertion – we were halfway through sa’ee, and my feet started aching. But then I thought of who I was emulating in this act. How she did this – this distance 7 times. She didn’t have the comfortable building we had – no roof. And she did it in the daytime, with no fans or airconditioning, in the incredible heat of this Arabian desert. She had nothing around at all – and was driven by the desperation of her son’s imminent death, if she found no food or water.
These two hills that we walk between are Allah’s symbols – “…Al-Safa and Al-Marwa are among the signs of Allah…” (Surah Baqarah verse 158). These symbols are meant to help us remember the hardship of our pious predecessors. How close they were to Allah, and what they struggled through. And we re-enact that today, but in relative ease. And still it’s too physically intense for us. Still we complain or comment about its difficulty.
Another example is the heat. We complain about how hot it is here (and it is very, very hot – as compared to South African standards). But the companion Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) was persecuted in this heat. He was tied down – out in the open, in the hot, burning, mid-day sun, and whipped – with his master trying to get him to renounce the faith of Islam. Yet his faith was so strong that it didn’t break him. He withstood that heat and punishment for Allah’s sake – even though he could have lied and said words to appease his master (which is allowed – as a show, to save your life when you’re being persecuted). Yet he withstood the pain and torment. And maybe that’s why the Prophet s.a.w. heard his footsteps in Jannah. It was that sacrifice of his – which we need to learn from.
So the lesson here is that whenever anything is not to our liking, it’s better to favour silence rather than speech. Stop and think of whether that complaint is really necessary. Think of those who went through it before, and how their patience earned them tremendous reward. And if those stories of the past are too far for us to imagine, think of those people who – in present times – face hardships and conditions worse than yours. When it comes to worldly conditions and things, always look at those below you, or who have it worse off than you, and you won’t complain – rather, you’ll be grateful for what you have.
4. Using precious time
Though we haven’t taken enough advantage of it, the time in the masjid is awesome. As one person said, you go there to charge your spirituality. And I’ve definitely felt that, particularly for some of the long stretches I’ve spent inside. For example, for Jumuah on Friday, you need to go very early to get a decent spot. Those couple of hours waiting provide immense opportunity to focus on the acts of worship that nourish your spirituality and help you focus on the important things – which you would be too distracted to do outside the masjid, given the distractions outside.
Whether it’s reading Quran in Arabic, or the translation of the meaning in English, or reading other material, making thikr, making dua, listening to a lecture (on an MP3 player), writing, engaging in self-reflection, or making plans for life improvements – there’s a huge amount you can do when you have to wait – particularly in that type of environment.
This is a lesson I’d like to take forward into the future – something that can help me be productive in any situation where a wait is involved. This is a simple lesson that can be applied not just here, but in any masjid – wherever you are – because all the houses of Allah (i.e. mosques) are places of barakah.
This trip has taught me the value of always having beneficial things to do to – whether it’s any of the abovementioned stuff, or just relaxing and unplugging your brain from doing anything at all.
In public, on trains and busses etc, people are always on their cellphones or BlackBerrys – checking email, on the Internet, Facebook, or Twitter. It’s like a plague that’s swept the general population – myself included. And while those activities are important at times, I think it’s worth it for each of us to honestly analyse the time we spend on those things: what proportion of that time is actually necessary? And of that, what proportion is actually beneficial? And then compare that to the proportion of time where we’re just doing it to pass the time, or keep our hands and minds busy.
Time is precious, and instead of wasting it on things that are of no/little benefit – or even harmful – it’s better to always be prepared, and have something beneficial to do.
That’s it for now. I hope to share more lessons or other posts later on, insha-Allah; but in the meantime, I hope you’ve benefitted from these last few Hajj-related posts.