Hajj Chronicles Part 17: Memories for the heart

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 16

View through a grill in the haram - Makkah

The crowning moment

I’ve heard that everyone gets a ‘moment’ in Makkah – some special experience where they receive inspiration, or some kind of epiphany. On one of our last mornings there, mine came.

For fajr that morning, I’d managed to get to my usual 4th floor spot of the masjid. After fajr, while waiting to make Ishraaq salaah (just after sunrise), I made a conscious effort to observe my surroundings: the birds above, the many people sitting, sleeping, taking pictures, making dua, or just looking at the Kabah. The most heart-warming sight was an Indonesian couple laying nearby, asleep – facing each other. It was awesome to see the love and mercy of marriage manifested right there –on this blessed rooftop where couples and families often spent time together.

After sunrise, I made my ishraaq salaah, and before leaving, decided to take a look at the Kabah. The mataf area was full of people doing tawwaf; the entire floor covered in this wheel of humanity, revolving around Allah’s House. I looked up a level, and it was the same on the next floor. Again, I looked up another level, and the same sight on the roof.

I’d seen it before, but this time, it struck me in a new way. For some reason, this moment was incredibly awe-inspiring, and the whole experience just brought tears to my eyes. Allah was enabling me to witness His sign – right there.

The ‘sign’ was hope and a positive perspective. You see, back home – and in much of the world today – it seems we’re in a hopeless situation. My perception is that society is going backwards – corrupted and in tremendous moral decline; given to hedonism, materialism, competition, ungratefulness, cruelty, and rising atheism and hostility towards people of faith.

But here, in front of my eyes, Allah was showing me otherwise. Despite those perceptions I had, there was still so much good. Here in front of me were tens of thousands of people – walking so slowly in this physically-uncomfortable ritual, so dedicated and in such recognition of Allah’s love and mercy. And this was only a small fraction of the ummah. Given the chance, I’m sure that hundreds of millions of Muslims – if not every single one – would jump at the chance to be down there, in that tawwaf.

And despite the sectarian, ideological, and racial differences, everyone was united. Everyone was unified by this one act of walking around one structure – one building, which is a symbol of One Allah. One Creator. One religion. One humanity. One.

Our world today is so overcome by negativity, and so flooded by troubling news of suffering and corruption – yet these few moments took me away from all of that and showed me the good that still exists. And because people like this – this ummah – still exists today, this world isn’t in such a bad state. It isn’t totally hopeless. And it never will be, because we, the people of Allah’s ultimate truth – Islam – will always be here, even in the worst of times, when Dajjal rules over the planet.

Jam-packed tawaaf during Hajj season 2011

Jam-packed tawaaf during Hajj season 2011

It didn’t stop there, though – the moment took me further. I remembered the ‘arsh of Allah being directly above the Kabah, so I looked up to that area. SubhanAllah…circling above the Kabah was a group of birds. And despite the freedom and space they had, they didn’t spread out wide. They flew only above the Kabah.

This was their fitrah. They had to know the greatness of that spot. The animals, trees, and all of nature – they all know Allah and glorify Him (Surah 17, verse 44). And we humans also know. It’s in our natural fitrah. Despite what we learn from our societies and what directions we take in life – even atheism – our innate nature knows Allah…just like those birds know.

If only we could stop, occasionally, to observe these creatures and be reminded of the fitrah which still lays buried within us – under the layers and layers of spiritual dirt we accumulate in our lives.

Speaking to the heart

During our final tawwaf before leaving for Aziziah, we walked by a man in sujood. He was sobbing uncontrollably, and his sincerity and emotion reminded me of similar scenes I’d witnessed in Madinah. I thought of how he, and others like him, are so humbled by being here. Perhaps they’d done such tremendous wrongs in their lives, and now they come here, begging their Maker for forgiveness and a fresh start.

His level of intensity spoke to my heart because of the common bond I have with him and others like him: we are all just powerless, error-prone humans that live our lives heedless of Allah. We transgress, make mistakes, and try to correct ourselves – but we fail and fall back into error, again and again and again. Yet Allah is so merciful that He gives us chance after chance to come back. He awakens regret in our hearts and allows us to repent and return to Him – even though He knows we’ll again falter after this.

Unless you live in extreme circumstances, it’s rare to witness such emotion: to see the tears and pleading of grown men – perfectly humbled and fully aware that no one and nothing can help them except their Maker.

Seeing this is an incredible reminder of the reality we so often forget. In truth, no matter how comfortable or trouble-free our lives seem to be, we are all in the same position as that man. We all have this tremendously-deep need of Allah. And while the veils of this worldly life may distort our perception of that, on the Last Day, we will see it as clear as the sun. So while we have the chance in this life, we should discard all attributes of arrogance, ward off all illusions of being self-sufficient, and beg our Creator to help us see things as they really are – see the reality of who we are, and how much we need Him.

Coming up next, insha-Allah:
Farewell, Makkah

Related lessons:

  • In the haram – particularly on the roof levels – remember to take in your surroundings. Observe the people and what’s going on, and look for beautiful sights that your heart will remember for a lifetime after you leave Makkah.
  • If you ever need a reminder that this ummah is strong, and that there are still so many people in this world that take their deen and connection to Allah seriously, remember the packed tawaafs you witnessed in Makkah.
  • And if the sects and divisions of the ummah get you down, again remember those tawaafs – which prove the unity that’s still possible despite our differences.
  • Every single human has a natural recognition of the truth of Allah – whether they choose to accept it or not, even if they’ve buried it under years of heedlessness and sin. Be aware of this fitrah, and remember that we can all return to it if we try, insha-Allah.
  • When you see grown men crying and witness the desperate duas of fellow pilgrims, take it as a reminder of your own insignificance, your own complete helplessness, and your own complete need of Allah for every single thing in your life – whether big or small. Remember that even if you don’t feel the same right now, a Day will come when you will feel that way. So use your life on Earth wisely so that, when you reach that Day, you’ll be in the best possible position before your Lord.

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: Opening picture taken by me; tawaaf picture by Dr Z. Parker.


Champions again

Man United - 2013 champions

Congratulations to Manchester United, who have secured their 20th league title after last night’s win against Aston Villa. Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that it really is a club with something special – to have won so many titles in the last 25 years.

Predictably, the Liverpool (and other) fans will be eagerly awaiting the day that Sir Alex retires, but when that time comes, we’ll just see how your teams fare… 🙂

Mister Y’s mysteries (part 8): Crossing over

Pedestrian crossing light

At South African traffic lights*, why does the green light stay on for such a short time for pedestrian crossings? It’s only green for a few seconds before it turns red again – which is usually not enough time for the average person  to cross the road. The light then flashes red for quite a while longer – even though cars must still remain stationary (since the light is still red for them).

Is it a cruel joke to encourage people to run across roads? Or did the initial designers just grossly miscalculate the timing?

Is it like this in other countries too?

* In South Africa, we call our traffic lights “robots”. Apparently, that amuses people from other countries.

Hajj Chronicles Part 16: Smiles and frowns

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 15


My biggest regret from my Hajj journey was the time I wasted in Makkah. Both my wife and I got extremely lazy (me more than her, I believe). We’d go late to the masjid – and sometimes didn’t even bother trying to get in since we knew it’d be hard to find a spot inside (thus opting for the marble area outside). This was especially foolish, given that Makkah was even busier than Madinah had been – so in fact we should have been extra disciplined in getting there early. The result was that in our 2 weeks there, for most waqts, we almost never got to see the Kabah. The ground floor was always full, and on the higher floors, the balconies were usually covered by people standing at the rails watching the Kabah and the tawaaf. So if you didn’t go early, your best hope of seeing the Kabah was to sit in your hotel room watching it on TV!

Feeding into this lethargy were the distractions of the Internet and TV. There is some good in them, and we did have those things in Madinah too – but my level of unnecessary usage skyrocketed in Makkah, and I wasted far too much time on them. Plus, such activity also hindered my spirituality – since the time-wasting was compounded by the relative lack of beneficial information I was getting from them. Shaytaan laid these time-wasting traps out for me, and I fell for them too often – despite KNOWING it was a trap. And if that was Makkah – which should be relatively free from such distractions – what about back home?

Another regret is wasting so many opportunities for dua while in Makkah. There were so many moments – while walking, waiting, or otherwise – when I could have been making dua, or making dhikr – yet I just didn’t. Maybe that was another ploy of shaytaan – distracting me from using every moment beneficially – and I recognised it.

While I was disappointed by all these things, another first-time Hajji pointed out to me later on that this was destiny. We all have regrets, and we all think we could have done more – but this was the way it was to be. Perhaps these lessons from our first time are meant to inspire us to push ourselves to get there again – so that we don’t make the same mistakes again.

The strangest things…

Spongebob shoebag

Spotted in Makkah

But Makkah isn’t limited to just spirituality and stress. There’s a lot to laugh at too, and in our time there, we witnessed many quirky or unusual events. Among these:

  • It was strangely common to find old Indian men with Spongebob Squarepants shoebags.
  • Some women would sit and speak during the fard salaah, then get up and make salaah once the imam was finished.
  • Some men prayed next to their wives in the midst of all the women, and vice versa.
  • Some people refused to pray on the red carpet of the masjid, insisting that you must pray on a mussalah.
  • The youngsters sometimes pushed wheelchair-bound people for their tawwafs. One time, I watched as these elderly and dignified pilgrims were engaged in dhikr and dua – while the boys pushing them had a game between themselves: racing each other and having fun.
  • For every circuit of the tawaaf, you need to make a gesture (istilam) towards the Black Stone (on the Kabah). On the roof level, there’s a green light indicating where one should do this. I once saw an old man forget his istilam, and when he remembered, he turned around and made it – not to the stone, but to the green light. It was amusing, but it highlighted the fact that we shouldn’t just do tawwaf ritualistically – because we’d then misunderstand the significance of what we’re doing, and hence make a mistake like that.
  • We once saw an old man reading a Quran that had small notes in the side margins. The notes were so small that he read them with a magnifying glass!
  • Many times, you can undergo a name change: when the men want to the attention of other men, they’ll call you by the name ‘Muhammad’ (with tajweed). (Which reminded me of the default Capetonian way of getting a person’s attention: “Hallo!”.)
  • When arguments occur, the Arabs have an amazing way of resolving it quickly: a simple “khalas!” is often enough to just stop things.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: Crowning moments in Makkah

Related lessons:

  • It’s fine to get your rest when you need to, but be careful not to become lazy to the point where you end up being late for salaahs in the masjid.
  • Be aware of the time-wasting traps shaytaan lays out for you. Whether it’s TV, the Internet (including email and social networking on your mobile phone), newspapers, or something else – if it’s not benefitting you spiritually, be very careful of it and try to minimise your usage.
  • Don’t waste the small moments – for example, while you’re walking or waiting in line. Use these moments in beneficial activities, such as good conversations, dhikr, dua, etc.
  • Keep your eyes open for the many quirky things you’ll see in the masjid, shops, and other areas. The incredible mix of different cultures, ages, and backgrounds is sure to provide warm memories of things you’d never see anywhere else.
  • Educate yourself about the reasons behind the acts of worship you’re doing. This will help you avoid mistakes that could otherwise creep in when you just do things ritualistically without understanding.

What happened next?

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