A thousand words – part 1: Context is everything

It’s said that a picture says a thousand words, so this new series focuses on portraying messages via imagery – whether those be cartoons, photos, or other types of visuals. Text may be included, but the visual is the primary focus.

Part 1: Context is everything



“Telling half the story is just as bad as not telling it at all. To suggest that the Israeli attacks were due to the rockets fired by Hamas is a blatant lie. And if so, did anyone in the British media establishment care ask why Hamas fired the rockets in the first place? Does it matter at all that the Palestinians are a nation under Israeli occupation, and Gaza has been under siege for 4 years? Context is everything.” – Anas Altikriti

(Image source: Real Eyes Realize Real Lies)


Hajj Chronicles Part 9: Loose ends

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 8


Masjid an-Nabawi in Madinah

To wrap up the Madinah leg of the trip, I’d like to highlight some points which haven’t been covered elsewhere. Unlike previous posts, this one won’t follow a narrative, but will just take a point form approach. As such, there are no ‘Related lessons’ this time – as each point is its own lesson.

Masjid Nabawi

You can find actual information about the masjid in other places – such as this article and this talk. Here, I’d just like to advise on a few things:

  • Go early for all salaahs – even when it’s not so busy. The place fills up fast as the days go by, and if you want to sit comfortably inside, you need to be there long before the adhaan. For Jumuah, try to go 2 hours early. And in all cases, take stuff to do in that waiting period (reading, dua list, etc).
  • For the men (since I don’t think women are allowed), try to go up to the roof if possible. Not only is it beautiful, peaceful, and simply amazing – it’s also much quieter and less busy up there. So if you’re looking for solitude away from the crowds, chances are you can find it up there.
  • If you’re keen on being in the original area of the masjid, go towards the front on the right hand side of the Rawda. Find a row of pillars with green markings at the top (the tops of these stand out as compared to the other pillars). This line marks the original masjid’s area – before the extensions.
  • In the Rawda, don’t push others and don’t be rude – even though others may do it to you. Be patient, and remember that as soon as you’re on the green / cream carpet, you’re in the Rawda. So even if you can’t make salaah yet due to crowding, still make dua – because you’re in a piece of Jannah. And when you get your chance, don’t hog the space –give others a fair chance. If you want to make your duas in peace at that time, make them in sujood – as people are less likely to push or distract you (as compared to making duas while standing or walking, or sitting after salaah). Also remember – beforehand – to make dua for your chance in the rawdah, and insha-Allah Allah will open up your spot for you – even if it looks impossible.
  • When greeting the Prophet s.a.w. at his grave, there’s a very fine line between actually speaking to him and asking from him. Be very aware of this, and do your best to not ask from him – because to ask is dua, and you cannot make dua to him. He may be able to hear you and return your greeting (in a way we can’t perceive), but when it comes to asking for things related to him – such as seeking his intercession on Qiyamah – make dua to Allah for those things. Never, ever ask him. The same applies in Jannatul Baqi, other graveyards, and at the kabrs of the martyrs and pious predecessors…we never, ever make dua to a person in a grave.
The burial chamber of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

The burial chamber of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

Other considerations

  • Expectations: When it comes to ziyarahs / touring and spiritual programs you’re expecting from your group, don’t expect too much – or rather, don’t rely on others. For us, I expected a lot but was disappointed, and it took a while for me to realize this lesson: the journey you’re on is NOT about other people, and it’s not about being a tourist. It’s a personal journey, so consider it as your own intense time to be with Allah and to develop spiritually. Anything else you get from your group (e.g. talks and tours) is a bonus. Don’t focus on what you paid your operator for and what they should be delivering, etc – because people will ultimately fall short. Instead, focus on the positive: you’re in a place where 100s of millions of Muslims would love to be but can’t be at this time. So make the most of it. And if you really want to explore, do so on your own – taking the necessary precautions, of course.
  • Shopping:Shopping is bound to be part of your plans, and beyond actually buying stuff, it can be a great experience because it gives you a chance to interact with the locals – who are very friendly and trusting. But it can also bring you down from a spiritual high because of its very nature and the fact that you’re in the marketplace – which isn’t a spiritual environment. Before you shop, make the right niyah for shopping, and while there, try not to overindulge – because that can poison your soul quickly, and can be very distracting mentally. Yes – you want to get gifts for people, but that should be an aside. Your main purpose on this trip is personal – your own relationship with Allah. Don’t taint the trip by letting shopping go beyond reasonable limits of time and attention.

    Shop in Madinah

    A shop in Madinah

  • Sleep: Chances are, your normal sleep schedule will be thrown out on this trip. Don’t fight it, but rather use it as an opportunity to try to follow the sunnah – the Prophet s.a.w.’s sleep pattern. This included sleeping early after Esha, getting up for tahajjud in the night, staying up after Fajr (which, by the way, is a most blessed and productive time for the ummah – as per the Prophet s.a.w.’s dua in this regard), and – importantly – having a nap after Thuhr.
  • Fasting: Aim to fast on Mondays and Thursdays – as per the sunnah. It may seem daunting – given the extreme heat – but insha-Allah with practice it’ll become easy. And if your Hajj package only covers breakfast and supper, it’ll also save you the time and money you would’ve spent on lunch. However, if your health isn’t up to it, don’t over-exert yourself. If you’re off to Makkah next, it’s more physically demanding there; and beyond that, your top priority is to be in good health for the 5 days of Hajj.
  • Washing: Be warned that laundry prices can be insane. They’re charged by the article, so it can be very costly to get things washed. Unless you’re super-rich, rather do handwashing yourself – in your hotel bath/sink. By doing a little each day (or every few days), it isn’t overwhelming. And the heat is such that the clothes dry very quickly – just hang your clothes near an open window in the daytime and see how fast they’ll be dry again.
  • TV: The TV in your room can be a distraction, so try to minimize use of it. Or even unplug it completely if you fear you won’t be able to control yourself (especially if – at home – you have a habit of watching a lot). If you do watch, though, there are a few beneficial things on: the Madinah and Makah haram channels – which are great for seeing how busy the masjid and rawdah are; and Al Huda TV (an English-language Islamic channel.)
  • Internet and online distractions: With the advent of smartphones and tablet computers, it’s easy to stay connected to your online life – such as email, Facebook, Twitter, news, etc) – even in Madinah. Be very careful of this, because just as these online habits can eat away at your time back home, the same can happen here – and this isn’t the place for wasting time. Assess your habits and come up with a plan to be self-disciplined so that you don’t lose precious time on unnecessary activities.
  • Being a tourist / pictures and videos: When you’re at the masjids and other sacred places, try not to be a menace with your camera. Don’t disturb those engaged in worship – because you wouldn’t want others to do that to you. And for yourself in any case, do you really want to be so obsessed with taking pictures and videos that you miss out on the full living experience? LIVE the experience with your own eyes and senses – rather than wanting to record everything. You can get other people’s recordings and pictures later – but actually being there and fully taking in the sights and sounds with your own eyes and ears is something you won’t get to do back home. So don’t go over the top with the camera.
  • Personal reflections: If you’re one of those people that knows the value of keeping a journal – or at least documenting your experiences from time to time – make sure that you keep a journal for this trip. It’s best to write when things are still fresh in your mind – so that you can capture the important details and feelings in words. It’s better not to procrastinate and leave it for later – because your memory will fade, and with the amount of experiences still to come, your memories may just be pushed out by later experiences. A journal is also important for writing down the personal reflections and lessons you’re gaining – which will be very insightful and valuable when you’re back home and in later years.

Next up, insha-Allah: The road to Makkah

What happened next?

Update: The entire series (30 parts) is available at this link – post by post. Alternatively, you can download the complete series as an e-book in PDF format. Feel free to share with anyone you think may benefit.

Image sources: Masjid an-Nabawi – Al Anwar Hajj & Umrah group (South Africa), Grave of the Prophet s.a.w. – unknown, Shop in Madinah – virtualtourist.com

Beyond Hajj: Five ways to maintain your Hajj for life

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

Hajj is now over, and as the pilgrims return home to their loved ones, they take back with them a multitude of precious memories from the journey, lessons they’ll hope to apply for the rest of their lives, and an elevated sense of spirituality.

Back to reality

But for many, those feelings can quickly fade once they arrive home, because the contrast between the lands of Hajj and the ‘normal’ home environment is as striking as day against night.

It’s almost as if Madinah, Makkah, Mina, Arafah, and Muzdalifah are not the real world. Divorced from the responsibilities of family, work, and home life, the journey of Hajj is like an experience in another galaxy – one where everyone is geared towards worshipping Allah; where there’s no crude advertising, music, and images smacking you in the face every hour; and where the only worry each day is making it to the masjid to get a spot for the five compulsory salaahs.

But once you arrive home, you return to the environments of hardship, laziness, and sin. And despite all the wonderful gains from the weeks you’ve just spent as a guest of Allah, maintaining a spiritual high under such circumstances is difficult – if not impossible. And while you know that the real work of Hajj only starts once you get home – in that you need to live your Hajj for the rest of your life – the circumstances of normal life can soon erode all the ambitious plans you had for seeing through the rest of your days as one of Allah’s special people.

Hanging on

In such circumstances, it’s easy to lose hope – seeing Hajj as a temporary high that, in reality, cannot be maintained as the months and years go by. But such an attitude would be incorrect, because with the right intentions, sincere duas, and dedicated efforts – it is indeed possible to remain on a higher level – even if that level isn’t quite as grand as what you’d hoped for.

What follows are a five points of advice which – if followed – can, insha-Allah, help protect you from slipping into decline, so that you can maintain your Hajj for life:

  • Be realistic: According to hadith, the most beloved deeds in Allah’s estimation are those that are consistent – even if they be few. You need not maintain the same levels of ibadah you had on your Hajj journey, but if you can keep just a few small and manageable ones – and do them sincerely and consistently – you’re already a winner.
  • Stay clean: After being totally purified on Arafah, your clean soul recognises your new sins and mistakes much more easily. But you won’t stay that pure forever – and Allah doesn’t expect you to remain that way: all of mankind sins, but the best of those who sin are those who repent and return to Allah. So recognize that you will slip up – but you should follow up those sins and mistakes with immediaterepentance. In this way, insha-Allah you can keep your slate as clean as possible. And even when you don’t recognize sins, make a habit of daily istighfar. It’s reported that the Prophet s.a.w. did it 100 times a day, so following suit not only helps keep you clean, but also gives you more points for following a sunnah.
  • Keep pelting for life: Remember the spiritual significance of pelting the jamaraat. After shaytaan was humiliated on the day of Arafah, he’s even more determined to corrupt you now that you’re back home. So, just as you stoned shaytaan in those days, whenever you notice his whisperings / temptations coming to you back home, repeat that pelting in your mind: you chased him away on Mina, and you can do it again now too.
  • Protect and erase: On Hajj, you weren’t exposed to much of the ‘spiritual filth’ of the rest of the world: the obscene music, indecency, sexual advertisements and perversion, crude behavior in public, etc. But back home, such things are abundant – especially in Western societies. So protect your senses from those things: stay away from sights and sounds that would corrupt your heart, and if you do see or hear them, immediately try to erase their effects by replacing those experiences with something better. For example, if you see a non-mahram of the opposite sex in indecent clothing, immediately look at something else (halaal) and try to make THAT the image that sticks in your mind. If you hear dirty music, recite or listen to Quran immediately and let THAT push the music out of your memory. Remember that shaytaan uses your senses as the gateway to corrupting your heart in a slow and gradual way. Close those gates, be on guard, and have your spiritual eraser ready.
  • Use gratitude to go back: It’s very, very sad to leave Makkah – especially after you’ve made your final tawwaf and left the haram. Like millions of others before you, you dream of going back for Hajj again. But to make this desire a reality, those feelings need to move beyond just nostalgia and emotional yearning. In Surah Ibrahim, verse 7, Allah tells us that if we’re grateful, He will give us more. In the context of Hajj, if you show true gratitude for the journey He has just granted you, insha-Allah you can earn an invitation to go again. Make those feelings practical by translating them into actions: appreciate what you had by striving to live the best you can, as close to Allah as you can.

May Allah accept your Hajj from you, help you to maintain it until you reach the end of your life, and take you there again – so that you may step up to even higher levels of spirituality and closeness to Him.

Lower than the animals

“Surely We created man of the best stature.
Then We reduced him to the lowest of the low,
Save those who believe and do good works, and theirs is a reward unfailing.”

Holy Quran – Surah 95, verses 4-6.

Commenting on this verse, scholars of Islam mention that it means that human beings have the capacity to be higher in stature than the angels, but also could become reduced to a state lower than the animals.

Reading the tragic story below – which occurred in Syria recently – this verse came to mind. The perpetrators of this crime – as well as all others who use rape as a weapon of war and oppression – are indeed far lower than an animal could ever be:

“This is a story of a 28-year-old single woman. She was a virgin, like all the single women in our society. It took place in Douma (a suburb of Damascus), where the Republican Guards broke into the three-floor building where she used to reside, entered all the apartments, and took out all the residents.

“They killed the men, eight total, and kept the women. One officer chose this young woman, dragged her by her hair, tearing her headscarf. When her mother tried to help and protect her, [the officers’] guards hit the mother on the head with their rifles and she fell on the ground bleeding. They took the young woman into a room and raped her. All the women outside heard her screams. They started crying and shouting, asking for mercy for the woman and for themselves, but it was in vain.

“When the victim came out of the room, there was blood everywhere. She had been brutally raped multiple times. They took the bodies of the murdered men and threw

them in front of the entrance to the building and left.

“The young woman was in a heartbreaking condition. She was hysterical. Her mom lost her mind when she saw the horrible state of her daughter.”

The dates of the reported rape is unknown. Because Syrian government officials currently refuse to allow access to journalists, researchers, and aid workers, WMC’s Women Under Siege cannot independently verify this report of sexualized violence in Syria.” (Source: https://womenundersiegesyria.crowdmap.com/reports/view/119 )

We may feel helpless about the situations in Syria, Burma, and elsewhere, but the least we can do is pray for the innocent people whose lives are being ruined by the ruthless criminals that perpetrate such acts.

Beyond that, we can speak about it – or help spread awareness about what’s going on.

With that in mind, here are several Facebook groups/pages you can subscribe to to help keep up to date with the events.

Feel free to add your own additions in the comments section – whether it be related to Syria, Burma, Palestine, or anywhere else that rampant oppression and injustice continues to thrive.

Beyond words and spreading awareness, the actions we take are even greater – whether that be through donating to reputable organisations that are assisting the victims, actually trying to go to such places to assist in relief work, or any other well-intentioned action.

It’s always beautiful to see how tragic events – such as 9-11, the tsunami of a few years ago, and now Hurricane Sandy – pull people together and bring the best out of them. Telethons are held, donation drives are publicised, and people really open their hearts, wallets, and hands (via volunteer efforts) to help the victims.

But tragedies worse than all of those events are happening on a daily basis in these troubled regions of the world – so let’s not limit our generosity to the latest popular cause. Hundreds, thousands, and even millions in these places would welcome our efforts.