Hajj Chronicles Part 15: Things to see

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 14

Old houses in Makkah - on the outskirts of the haram area

Old houses in Makkah – on the outskirts of the haram area

Early sights

Like Madinah, there are many historical sites to see in Makkah. We covered a number of these in two trips – the first being a bus ziyarah to the Cave of Thowr and Mount Arafah, among others. The cave, of course, is where the Prophet s.a.w. and Abu Bakr r.a. hid for a few days during their hijrah to Madinah. It was mid-morning, so we didn’t actually go up (it would be crazy to do so in that hear) – but some people did go on their own at a later date.

The other major stop of that trip was Mount Arafah, which is the exact spot that many of us wish to be at on the day of Arafah – since it was where the Prophet s.a.w. spent his wuqoof on his Hajj. But like the battlesite of Uhud, the place has a rather touristy type feel to it – which again distracts one from the historical and religious significance of it.

Mount Arafah

Mount Arafah

Mount Thoer - which houses the cave of Thowr

Mount Thowr – which houses the cave of Thowr

Quite shocking, though, was the number of beggars at the site. There were so many kids that were dismembered and begging – and you can’t help but feel sorry for them. Some of these injuries may have occurred naturally, but I suspect that in other cases, it was deliberate – where somebody has maimed the child to increase their ‘earning potential’. I shudder to think that parents could do this to their own kids (and I hope it’s not the case). I’ve heard of gangs in Saudi (especially in Makkah and Madinah) that send women and children out to beg, and it’s quite possible that the gang leaders – in their greed and ruthlessness – would do this to the innocent children.

It’s sad that this kind of thing happens – even in the holiest of lands – but I suppose it’s just another clear indication of how corrupted this world has become in our times.

On the way back, we drove through Azizia (the suburb we’d stay in just before Hajj) and Mina – getting our first glimpses of those famous, endless rows of tents that fill the entire valley.

Inspiration for life

The birthplace of the Prophet s.a.w.

The birthplace of the Prophet s.a.w.

To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy that first ziyarah. Unfortunately, our guides weren’t ideal and I didn’t really get much inspiration from their explanations. It confirmed the fact that – unless you’ve really prepared well on your own for visiting these sites – the quality of your experience will largely depend on the quality of your tour guide that day.

The difference was made abundantly clear later in Makkah, when we did the walking ziyarat in the areas surrounding the haram. Our guide that day was a young man who was bursting with passion and enthusiasm. He combined history with practical lessons for our individual situations, and was utterly inspiring. For example, as an engineer himself, he pointed out the engineering advances made by Muslims in the past, and how we – in our specific fields of work today – should also strive to excel and make great contributions to this world.

Anyone can tell you the history of a place, but it takes a special person to bring it to life and tie it to your current reality. In Islam, our history is absolutely full of inspirational events and lessons for all times – yet when we read about these things, or hear them in ‘boring’ lectures, we don’t absorb much. To find a teacher that can buck this trend is a great blessing, and this is even more enhanced when you can experience this type of learning at the actual sites where these events happened.

Part of the inspiration stemming from this experience was the reminder that Allah knows best what’s good for us. One of my favourite alims from home was supposed to be with us, but due to visa troubles, he didn’t make it. This young man, however, seemed to be the answer to my duas, and I suspect that his impact was more effective than the other alim’s would have been. Allah knows, and we do not know.

Masjid al-Jinn

Masjid al-Jinn

Anyway, so in this walking ziyarah, a number of sites were covered, including the birthplace of the Prophet s.a.w. (which is now a library) and Masjid al-Jinn – which has a somewhat scary story behind it (which is why it’s better that we visited in the daytime 😉 Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to tour inside the haram or see Makkah’s famous graveyard – Jannatul Ma’la – and I really regret the fact that I didn’t join one of this brother’s later tours so that I could get those areas as well.

Blessing or curse?

In our Hajj classes back home, not much was made of the way the Saudi rulers have destroyed many of the sacred / heritage sites in Makkah and Madinah. It was mentioned, of course, but not with the kind of outrage and extensive debate that some people indulge in.

The Saudis justify these demolitions under the assumption that it’s better to destroy these sites – rather than have Muslims engage in unlawful innovations (bi’dah). But those who engage in these so-called bi’dahs believe that they’re doing nothing wrong.

I agree that the Saudi rulers have done some terrible things – such as blowing away part of Jabal Abu Qubays (the mountain where the Black Stone was housed) to build the king’s palace on top. But at the same time, the actions of some visitors to the historical sites can make it seem like just destroying things is justified.

Jabal Abu Qubays - now the site of the King's palace

Jabal Abu Qubays – now the site of the King’s palace

The whole issue of religious relics and believing that specific places have special powers is really – to me – a branch of idolatry. In Christianity, people venerate physical relics and seem to worship the graves of saints. As Muslims co-exist with people of other religions (including Christians and those whose religions include idols – such as Hindus), some of these idolatrous beliefs and practices have crept into their own understanding of Islam – which is ironic because the pure doctrines of Islam are the absolute antithesis of such polytheism (shirk).

For example, don’t we have Muslims in India and other places that go and worship the pious people laying in their graves – seeking their ‘intercession’?

Even in majority Muslim countries it can happen. For example, in Cairo, at the grave of one of the righteous predecessors (Imam Shafi, I think), we saw the grave sit littered with money, clothing, and letters or notes – presumably placed by Muslims that believe such things will help them…as if these offerings to the dead person will act on their behalf. Such things are the very height of shirk – and shirk is the very WORST sin a person can commit. There’s no room for tolerating such practice in Islam.

So when some Muslims bring these ideas and practices to Makkah and Madinah, you can understand that the ultra-strict Saudi authorities find it repulsive and react strongly against any hint of such activity.

But because of the actions of these few, it seems the Saudi authorities suspect that everyone can be there for the same reasons – so they either destroy or discourage visiting many of the sites. They seem to ONLY look at the bi’dah perspective, but don’t see that some of us actually want to visit for HISTORICAL purposes.

That in itself is wrong- because these sites are important for their historical value. As Muslims, this is our heritage, and as such, we should visit the sites to remember our past and draw lessons from our history. Just like when you tour another country, the tour guides take you to historical places – it should be the same here.

But the intention needs to be correct. There’s no problem visiting a place for the right reasons, but when people go there with the intention of engaging in practices that have no authentic basis in Islam, the problem creeps in.

There’s a balanced approach to everything, and I think us as individuals – and them as the current authorities – should strive to find that balance.

The Saudis seem to have adopted a somewhat rational approach in some places. For example, in Madinah’s graveyard (Jannatul Baqi), there’s prominent signage explaining the correct etiquettes of visiting the graves and the prohibition of making dua TO the dwellers of the graves.

But that isn’t the case everywhere, and their approach in other cases is to simply destroy the place, make it visually inconspicuous, or clamp down on large groups visiting those areas.

Some sites – such as the house where the Prophet s.a.w. was born, and the cave of Hira (where the Prophet s.a.w. first received revelation) have prominent signage discouraging people from performing any religious acts there. At the foot of Mount Hira, they even have an information centre with leaflets explaining that the Prophet s.a.w. and sahabah r.a. did NOT visit this cave after revelation first came, and we shouldn’t visit it – but only visit the few places the authorities deem to be religiously and historically signficiant. (Our tour guide called this ‘Saudi propoganda’ 😉

The sign reads: "Dear visitor: it is not prescribed to visit this library as a kind of woship, because there is no evidence to support doing so."

A sign discourages worship at the birthplace of the Prophet s.a.w.

The sign reads: "The Companions of the Prophet (sa) did not visit the cave of Hira or any other sites around Makkah."

A sign at the foot of mount Hira discourages people from visiting the cave, as well as other sites around Makkah.

So the whole thing is a very contentious issue, and it’s not likely to be resolved anytime soon.

As I said, the best solution would be a balance, and I pray that both the authorities and the visitors can strive for this – so that we can appreciate and honour our heritage, without making it a bitter ideological war that causes more fitnah and disunity in the ummah.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: Final days in Makkah

Related lessons:

  • Don’t expect your tour guides to teach you about or inspire you when visiting historical sites. Always do your own research and homework beforehand so that you can fully appreciate the places you visit.
  • If you do have a choice of tour guides, and you know one is particularly inspiring, opt for that person. The benefit of having an outstanding tour guide is really, really tremendous.
  • Take lessons from our heritage – both the historical events and great people of the past – and let them serve as an inspiration for you to make great contributions in your own capacity today.
  • Take the time and effort to educate yourself about what is bi’dah and what is not – particularly when it comes to visiting ziyarah places. Do not rely on cultural practices or ‘what people have always done’ – because many spiritually-harmful (and even haraam) practices have become commonplace among the ummah. Don’t go to the ziyarah places with such things – because you harm yourself and you also reinforce the suspicions that the authorities already have about why people are visiting these sites.
  • In line with the above, know Islam’s aqeedah (belief) very well, and be very well-versed about tawheed. This knowledge will serve you well in avoiding unlawful practices on your trip – particularly at historical sites.
  • All talk and no action is an utter waste of time – so don’t waste your time in heated debates about what the Saudi authorities are doing to the historical sites. Rather, use your energy to appreciate the fact that you can still visit them and take as much benefit from your time there. If you feel strongly about the issue, make dua for a balanced solution, then make efforts in that path – whether you do so through writing / speaking, or by taking action.

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: All pictures taken by me, except Masjid al-Jinn (from this website).


Ramadan reminder

Masjid Al-Aqsa - seen through festive Ramadan lights (2009 - AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Masjid Al-Aqsa – seen through festive Ramadan lights (2009 – AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

There are just a few months left until Ramadan. Last year, this blog hosted the “Early Bird Challenge”. While it’s not being repeated this year, the series isn’t really time-specific, so for those looking to get an earlier start on Ramadan prep, feel free to browse through the series and use whatever will benefit you.

Last year’s themes were:

  1. Salaah
  2. Dua
  3. Unhealthy habits
  4. Quran
  5. Speech

May Allah allow us all to prepare for this blessed month, and see the fruits of it – both in this world and the next.

Israeli Apartheid Week pt 5: Taking action


I hope you’ve learnt a lot and felt compelled to take action during this week’s series of posts. There’s more that I could say, but in this series, I’ve kept the words to a minimum, and allowed the videos to speak and more accurately represent the reality of what’s going on.

There are many, many groups, organisations, and individuals out there doing great work to help the victims of Israeli Apartheid. While you’re free, and have the time, resources, and ability to make a difference, please do.

It’s our duty as human beings to care about what’s going on to others – regardless of their religion, race, or culture. Land grabs and ethnic cleansing didn’t end when Nazi Germany fell, or once the Americans wiped out so many of the Native inhabitants of North America. It still happens today, and Palestine is the most prominent example of this.

For further information and testimonies, here are a few links you may want to check out:

Feel free to add your own links in the comments section – if you know of websites or organisations that are active in the cause. (And please do not add any extremist / terrorist links. This blog does not promote violence or injustice, and I will not allow such ideologies to be spread via the comments section.)

Previous segments: Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3 | Part 4.

Israeli Apartheid Week pt 4: A city divided

Hebron is a Palestinian city in which Jewish settlers are particularly aggressive against the locals – with the full backing of the Israeli occupation forces. This clip covers various aspects about the oppression going on in the city of Hebron:


Hebron also houses the famous Shuhada Street – which Israeli forces have divided, with one side for Jews, and the other for Palestinians.

Shuhada Street - Hebron

Shuhada Street – Hebron

Previous segments: Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3.

Israeli Apartheid Week pt 3: “I don’t care what people think”

One of the most inhumane parts of the occupation is the Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement in their own country. In this video clip, we see the attitude of Israeli border police, who point blank display the racist attitudes embodied in so many of these oppressors: “We’re humans; they’re animals.”

It’s also worth noting that, at these checkpoints, many suffering Palestinians – who need medial attention – are denied access to the areas they need to get to for hospital care. Many Palestinian mothers are in labour at such checkpoints, and many give birth there – only to find their babies dying there.

Previous segments: Part 1 | Part 2.

Israeli Apartheid Week pt 2: What about the children?

One of the saddest parts of the conflict in Palestine is that innocent children suffer due to the brutality and greed of adults. In this short video, several children are interviewed. As you watch – particularly the outraged little girl – just imagine these were your children, and this was your reality.

Previous segments: Part 1.

Israeli Apartheid Week pt 1: A short intro

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an annual international series of events (including rallies, lectures, cultural performances, music shows, films and workshops) held in cities, communities and campuses across the globe.

IAW raises awareness of Israel’s apartheid policies toward the indigenous Palestinians and serves to garner support for the non-violent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign which seeks to bring an end to Israel’s apartheid policies and violations of international law.

For us South Africans and our liberation, people of the world mobilized in their hundreds of thousands – if not millions. During the 1980s, they held protests, music concerts, free Nelson Mandela events, lectures, film screenings and a host of other events to raise awareness of Apartheid South Africa’s racist policies and to build support for the successful boycott, divestment and sanctions against South Africa campaign.

Today, we have the opportunity to “give-back” by joining the international movement in solidarity with the indigenous Palestinian people (and their progressive Israeli allies) against Israeli Apartheid, and participating in Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is one such form of solidarity!

Find out more about Israeli Apartheid Week and how you can get involved here: www.bdssouthafrica.com/2011/02/israeli-apartheid-week.html

To help set the theme, here’s a short animated video introducing the conflict:


You can also view the full schedule of events across South Africa here.

Hajj Chronicles Part 14: Melting pot

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 13

Crowded street Makkah

A crowded street in Makkah


The contrast between Madinah and Makkah is instantly noticeable: whereas Madinah is calm, peaceful, and a place for solitude – even despite large crowds, Makkah is quite the opposite. It’s very urban – very much a big city: fast-paced, always busy, dirty, taxis hooting, and some really crazy driving (I didn’t see any traffic lights, but did see people relying heavily on their brakes 😉

The days are busy, but so are the nights. In such tremendous daytime heat, people seem to rest in in the day and then come out at night when they have more energy. It’s incredible to see so many people out late at night. Even babies and toddlers are out beyond midnight. Given the crime we have in South Africa, such a practice can never be normal back home. But here – in this different world of Makkah – it’s absolutely normal.

Also different is the attitude of the people (both the locals and the visitors). Some people seem more aggressive and stressed out. It’s not uncommon to see people becoming angry – even inside the masjid. One of our teachers back home had warned us that ‘shaytaan is strong in Makkah’, and many of our experiences there bear testimony to this.

The shops are another story too. In Madinah, we got used to most shopkeepers being very warm, welcoming, and friendly. In Makkah, many of them just ignored us – as if they didn’t need our business, and their own conversations and activities were more important than the potential customers.

And when it comes to queues, I was really caught off guard by what I initially perceived to be tremendous rudeness. In South Africa (and other parts of the world), we value fairness – waiting in line for your turn. But in Makkah, some people just didn’t seem to understand that concept. At the till, they impatiently pushed their way forward and held their item over your shoulder – presenting it to the teller, who they’d expect to instantly ring it up on the till.

Naturally, we’d find such behaviour very rude – but I realised that maybe it wasn’t intentional. Maybe, in the places where these people come from, it’s normal – it’s just the way they operate back home – due to poverty or circumstances they face. Maybe they have to be that way to survive – or else others will just walk over them.

But then they leave home and come here – to this melting pot of cultures – and they bring that mentality with them. 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.

So my lesson was to never judge others based on my own cultural expectations, because their own norms may be very different.


A street in Makkah

A street in Makkah

On this journey, it’s a given that you’ll meet people from many different countries. We – in the Western world – regard English as the most universal language in the world. Perhaps it’s the most geographically widespread, but on Hajj, you see that it’s by no means the most popular. On this journey, most people do not speak English – or if they do, not very comfortably at all.

Many times, communication occurs through broken English and whatever bits of Arabic each of you know. It’s a reminder that – despite our differences – Arabic is the language of Islam, and is the unifying language between all Muslims – regardless of their nation or culture. Yet many (myself included) just don’t prioritise learning it.

But despite the language barrier, it’s amazing to interact with such diverse people. I don’t consider myself naturally social, but in both Madinah and Makkah I ended up speaking to quite a number of people from different countries. Common themes included logistical issues (how long you’d been there, when you’d be leaving, etc) and basic family info, but in some cases – where the other person was fluent in English – deeper conversations were possible.

It was also good to speak to elderly people and those with very different life experiences. For example, twice in one day, I sat next to a Pakistani man who’d lived in London since the 1970s. He was a postal worker, and his son worked in IT in the local government.

One thing he did – which was a common theme – is to ask me to make dua for him. It’s something that happened a lot from seemingly-random people – especially from those of Indian sub-continental background. It must be an Indian thing, because it happens with Indians back in South Africa too…

In terms of nationalities, like Madinah, there was a wide variety present: Malaysians, Indonesians, Thailanders, Chinese, Turks, Africans (both North and other parts), and even people from Kyrgyzstan. Interestingly, North Americans and Europeans were very rare.

But unlike Madinah, in Makkah it seemed that one particular group dominated the numbers. Personally, it felt like 90% of the people I saw were from the Indian sub-continent (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, or Sri Lankan). Because of my own ancestral background, a lot of the times people assumed I was Pakistani – though one time an Arab thought I was Arab, and seemed very pleased at that :).


Packed tawaaf

Packed tawaaf

In all honesty, I really didn’t take to Makkah at first. It was too full, too noisy, and physically, more demanding than Madinah. And it was sometimes difficult to remember the sacredness of the place when so many people would just openly spit on the road – complete with the build-up noise. (If you’re looking for a game on the Makkan streets, try avoiding those spit-puddles ;).

The external environment is bound to affect the internal state of being, and I found the environment just wasn’t conducive to inner peace. In Madinah, I immediately felt at ease, but Makkah was quite the opposite.

Both are tremendously holy cities, but it took me a while to realise that I just couldn’t treat them the same in terms of my expectations and efforts. If I wanted to feel spirituality in Makkah, I needed to adapt to the situation and put in the effort to make it happen. I needed to make internal changes to my thinking, attitude, schedule, and actions – or I’d just stay in this cycle of frustration and disappointment.

In Makkah, you have to adjust to people pushing or knocking you even when there’s no need. You have to rise above the natural reaction of wanting to fight back. You have to ignore the many irritating things people will do in tawaaf – such as making group duas loudly, talking on mobile phones, walking in human chains that demolish everything in their path, and pushing their stinky, sweaty bodies against you.

It’s so easy to complain and focus on the negative. It’s so easy to be disappointed that you’re here at the Kabah, yet you’re not feeling the spiritual ecstasy you thought you’d find. But such feelings – though natural – are a trap of shaytaan. And as a wise Muslim, you have to make an effort to not only be conscious of these pitfalls, but also rise above them.

You’ll always get external distractions and disturbances. Such things cannot be avoided – especially in such a densely-populated circumstance. But you have to stay focused on yourself and your relationship with Allah. If you can focus your heart on Allah and your own purpose there, insha-Allah you can block out the environmental challenges and other people’s shortcomings, and end up with the greatest of spiritual experiences.

Once again, you’ll need to draw on that sabr everyone says is so important for Hajj. Once again, you’ll need to make sacrifices and do things your nafs won’t like. But therein lies the benefit and reward. The build-up to Hajj can act as a classroom and a means of internal purification, so consider these experiences – and the way you handle them – as the best preparation you can get for Hajj.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: More from Makkah.

Related lessons:

  • Shaytaan is strong in Makkah, so beware of increased irritation and aggression – in other people and yourself. Control your anger and beware of you speech at all times.
  • 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.
  • If you don’t know Arabic, make an effort to learn some – aside from a long-term intention to learn the full language. Arabic is the common language between Muslims from all parts of the world, so in the worldly sense, it’s very beneficial on this journey. (Of course, the spiritual benefits are even greater – since you’ll understand the language of the Quran.)
  • Hajj is by far the largest gathering of people from all different walks of life. At no other time, and in no other place, will you see and be among such a wide variety of people, so use the opportunity to broaden your horizons. Speak to people (of your own gender, of course!) from far-away lands and different age groups, and try to learn about their lives and draw from their wisdom, while also passing on your own positive messages to them. Despite our differences, we’re all brothers and sisters in Islam, and this is by far the greatest opportunity to feel that unity and experience the variety within the ummah.
  • As a general rule, change demands change: Every external change you face requires individual, internal change – to adapt to the situation. If you fail to do that, you can end up being frustrated and having a negative perception of what could otherwise be a wonderful experience.
  • The above is especially true about the adjustment between Madinah and Makkah. If you want to feel spirituality and really enjoy Makkah, you’ll need tremendous sabr (both in action and in holding your tongue) and the ability to mentally detach yourself from circumstances that would otherwise get you worked up. Focus on your own purpose there, and your own relationship with Allah; and take all the challenges as means of self-purification – seeking Allah’s help and reward through the difficulties.

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: Crowded street, Street in Makkah, Packed tawaaf.