Fair fight?



Hajj Chronicles – Part 19: Ascension

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 18


As stated last time, Aziziah was a place where we hoped to disconnect from comforts and prepare ourselves for the biggest 5 days of our lives. It was also the place where our tour group finally kicked in with Islamic programmes. Up to that point, I’d been highly disappointed by the relative lack of lectures, classes, and other spiritually-uplifting activities offered.

We’d specifically chosen our Hajj group because of the top-notch ulama they take with them, and I had expected a journey like this to be full of inspirational lectures and activities that would help get our hearts and minds into the states they’d need to be in for Hajj. But it wasn’t to be. My favourite alim didn’t even make it there (due to visa issues), and such events were minimal in our Madinah and Makkah stays. It was only now, with a week to go, that everything went into full swing – with 3 activities per day, including a choice of different Hajj classes (one for Hanafis and one for Shafis).

Our schedule in Aziziah included daily Hajj classes, naseeha, and other activities.

Our schedule in Aziziah

The only small inconvenience was that none of the activities were in our building – they were in the other two that our group occupied. But that was a small price to pay for the knowledge and benefit on offer. (And it also gave me an unusual adventure in trying to find one of the buildings one night.)


Before receiving prophethood, Muhammad (s.a.w.) used to often spend his time in seclusion – in a cave at the top of Jabal Nur (the mountain of light – also known as Mount Hira). It was here that everything began – Angel Jibreel (a.s.) coming to him with the first words of Quran to be revealed to humanity:

“Read! in the name of your Lord who created.
He created man from a clot.
Read, and your Lord is the Most Honorable
who taught with the pen,
taught man what he did not know.”

(Translation of the meaning – Surah Al-Alaq, verses 1-5)

Those visiting Makkah have an opportunity to literally follow the footsteps of the Messenger (s.a.w.) – by climbing that same mountain, and spending some time in that same cave of Hira (despite the discouragement of the Saudi authorities – as mentioned previously).

Jabbal Nur from the base

Jabbal Nur from the base

Because of the heat, our tour group did the climb in the early morning – before Fajr. I didn’t have the best preparation for the climb – attending a lecture the night before and only sleeping after 12PM. But I wasn’t going to miss this chance, and I knew that the benefit of sleep lies not in sleeping a certain number of hours – but in the barakah Allah puts in your sleep. So I made dua for barakah in that sleep, and Alhamdullilah – I was fine and able to function for that morning, when I needed the physical strength for the hike.

We gathered downstairs at 3AM, walked to meeting point, then waited a long while for everyone to arrive and everything to be sorted out. In such group situations, there’ll always be people delaying the group – so prepare for this and remember not to complain about them, but to have sabr and use the waiting time beneficially.

Then came the bus drive to the foot of the mountain, and we started our ascent just before 4AM. It was incredibly steep at first, but manageable – even with the heavy backpack I had to carry. Just like our Arafah visit earlier, we again encountered many beggars with deformed limbs. They’d recite basic things – like “Allah; Jannah” and make duas for us to have an accepted Hajj.

Another prominent feature of the climb was the sheer amount of rubbish we saw strewn on and off the path. Humans are such dirty creatures – leaving garbage at tourist spots – even in these holy sites. It’s so sad that Muslims, who are supposed to maintain cleanliness as ‘half of faith’ – can be so, so dirty, and so cruel to the environment.

But we should have expected that: Makkah was dirty, and we were warned that the days of Hajj would be dirty too.

A sign reads: "Kindly keep our hold area clean." The sign is severely defaced, with grafitti all over it.

The state of this sign tells you what many visitors think of its message.

A garbage can lies half empty, while garbage is thrown on the ground next to it.

Lots of space in this bin

Discarded bottles, cans, and other garbage lies strewn on the mountain

A sure sign that humans have been here

Reaching the summit

The climb got easier as we got higher, and we encountered vendors selling refreshments, tourist souvenirs, and even one selling these:

A vendor on the mountain sells mobile phones

Connecting people

At the top, it was confusing knowing what was what. There was a confined space to climb through, and we thought that was the cave – but it was only a passageway to it. We got through that, then stood at the mouth of the cave, where a small crowd had already gathered.

It was here that the adhaan went off from the many masjids down below. I’d been told of how beautiful it was to hear it from up there – but I couldn’t fully enjoy the moment because my attention was focussed on getting into the cave, which only held 2 people at a time. There were foreigners up there with our group, and I feared the now-common ‘ignore-the-queue-and-push-to-the-front’ attitude from them.

We waited a long time, and made wudu there using our spray bottles (discreetly – I don’t think anyone even noticed). But with so many people waiting to go in, and more coming, I wanted to just give up and leave. After all, we might have ended up missing Fajr if we kept waiting – and this cave, despite its significance, did not take priority over a fardh salaah.

We came all the way up, yet it seemed we wouldn’t make it to the main attraction. But one of our group members changed all that for me. He was adamant that he’d go in. He didn’t come all this way from Cape Town, and climb this far, to give up. If we had to wait, we would. I was inspired by his persistence and decided to stick it out; while still making dua that we wouldn’t miss Fajr.

So we waited in a queue – us South Africans plus a few foreigners. Tempers flared when one of them fell out of line, and a fight almost broke out. Alhamdullilah – calm heads prevailed, and he backed down, eventually leaving without even going into the cave. But it again highlighted the aggression that seems to be more prominent in Makkah – where even the sacredness of the place doesn’t subdue such negative raw human emotion. (If you’re ever in such a situation, learn the ‘sabr’ hand sign…it’s something that we all can understand, regardless of home language J.)

As for this cave, it seems many people think it’s sunnah to make 2 rakaats of non-obligatory salaah inside. This is obviously not the case, since – apparently – after he became a Prophet, Muhammad s.a.w. didn’t go back to this cave. There’s no sunnah salaah of the cave – as the Saudi authorities would readily tell you – it’s bi’dah. One of the foreigners waiting with us said the same. Regardless, everyone was making salaah in there.

When our turn came, my wife’s wisdom shone through. I was uneasy about the type of salaah to make in there, but my wife eliminated the problem by saying we should make our Fajr in there, and do nothing else since others were waiting to get in.

One of the apparent miracles of the cave is that it directly faces the Kabah – so it’s easy to make salaah there (though it is cramped). We went in and made our Fajr – but bearing the other people in mind, I couldn’t truly enjoy it as I had to be quick. Still though, it was the experience of a lifetime: to be in that same confined space where my Prophet s.a.w. – and the arch angel Jibreel a.s. were….it was amazing.

Taking in the scene

The cherry on top came afterwards, when we got away from the crowd and were able to sit on top of the cave for a while. If you’ve experienced the solitude of a mountain top before, or a sunrise without any distractions of day-to-day life, you may be able to imagine the experience. This was a combination of the two: high above Makkah, with a view of the city, the haram (and the infamous clock tower), and the early morning silhouettes of those incredible mountains all around.

It was exceptionally serene. Just calm, peaceful, and a moment to savour for the rest of my life. Experiences like that make me yearn for Jannah – the desire to have a place like that all to myself, without anybody else to disturb the mood, and no time limits or logistical considerations to prematurely end the beauty of the moment.

But all good things must end, and we soon had to make our way down the mountain. In the early light, we saw wildlife that we hadn’t seen on the way up – including a family of monkeys, and this little kitty:

A kitten on the mountainside - He seemed to be sleeping, yet he sat up

He seemed to be sleeping, yet he sat up

But the highlight of the descent was undoubtedly the sunrise. No matter how many times I watch this tremendous miracle of Allah, I’m always amazed at how quickly the sun moves from below the horizon to high up in the sky – from infancy to towering strength, spreading its light and warmth across the vastness of the Earth. It’s a sight I see far too rarely, so having the experience on this most-important journey made it all the more special.

The earliest sunrise shot - with the sun's glow still muted
The sun's glow is now visible
The sun is nearly visible
The infant sun peeks out from behind a mountain peak

Back at the foot of the mountain, my fatigue finally caught up with me, and after enjoying the last few moments there, we headed back to the bus – then our room – where I collapsed in exhaustion.

The neighbourhood at the base of the mountain

The neighbourhood at the base of the mountain

This giant tasbeeh was on sale at the foot of the mountain

This giant tasbeeh was on sale at the foot of the mountain

Coming up next, insha-Allah: The build-up to Hajj

Related lessons:

  • When it comes to sleep, scientists and commentators may insist we need between 6 and 8 hours per night. But Allah is in control of everything – sleep included. So if you don’t get that many hours, it won’t matter – as long as you have barakah in that sleep. Make it a habit to ask Allah for barakah in your sleep – whether you get a full night’s rest or not.
  • In tour groups, there’ll always be some people that delay the group. Expect this, and remember not to complain about them, but to have sabr and use the waiting time beneficially.
  • In general – and especially when you’re in nature – respect the environment and don’t litter. Cleanliness is half of faith, so make a conscious effort to be clean – even if others around you are not.
  • If you can make it to the top at the time of Fajr adhaan, try to saviour the experience of hearing the many adhaans from down below.
  • Whenever you’re touring, always take a spray bottle and enough water for wudu. You may not always have a tap around (such as at the top of the mountain), and in any case, using a spray bottle is tremendously water-efficient.
  • Don’t ever miss your fardh salaah for a ziyarah place / tourist attraction. In worldly terms, you may feel regret at missing out – but in the Hereafter, your regret will be much greater. If you’re in a jam, make dua and do your best – always remembering that salaah comes first.
  • If tempers flare, don’t get caught up in the emotion of one / a group’s wrongdoing. If you must be involved, try to be a peace-maker. There’s no benefit in fighting with others. (And learn the ‘sabr’ hand sign.)
  • There’s no sunnah salaah for the cave. Make your fardh salaah if it’s time, or make dua instead. Or maybe just make an extra salaah – but being very clear in your mind that you’re NOT doing it under the impression that it’s a sunnah.
  • When you get in, do what you need to, and savour the moment. But don’t take too long if there are others waiting. We’d all love to spend a long time in there, but it’s inconsiderate to deprive or delay others unnecessarily – so give others a chance too. (The same concept applies in any place that’s in high demand – such as the Rawda in Madinah.)
  • When you’re done, don’t be in a rush to get back down again. Spend as much time as you can above the cave / near the top – taking in the scenery and the experience. You can’t get this anywhere else in the world, and you may never get this chance again, so enjoy it while you can.

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.
Note: Title for this post borrowed from here.

Hajj Chronicles Part 18: Joke’s on you

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 17

Our welcome gift in Aziziah - slippers from Chinese Tourism saying "Warmly welcome"

Our welcome gift in Aziziah

It’s not about the feelings

During our stay in Makkah, our last tawaaf right near the Kabah came a few nights before we left. I hated it. It was so full and uncomfortable that my focus was not on dua, dhikr, or spiritual thoughts – but on the difficulty and unpleasantness of the experience. But it reminded me of a crucial lesson in Islam: we don’t worship feelings.

You see, in ibadah, it’s amazing to have the beautiful feelings of peace, contentment, and an emotional connection to Allah. But such things are not pre-requisites for acceptance of the deeds, and even though they feel good, our feelings shouldn’t be our motivator for those acts of worship.

In Islam, we don’t worship our feelings. We worship Allah. And this applies in all conditions and states of mind and heart – even when we’re distracted and spiritually weak. So I took this experience as a reminder I need to always live by.

Leaving Makkah

On the 1st of Dhul Hijjah, rocketing hotel prices prompt many hujjaaj to leave Makkah and spend the last week before Hajj in Aziziah – which is a nearby suburb. And on our last night before leaving, we got up at 12.30AM for the final tawwaf of our stay there. With Jumuah just hours away, and the prospect of chaos since we’d be leaving that afternoon, it felt crazy, but we had to do it. Logic said to just rest and sleep. But this was our last chance, so logic lost the argument.

The mataaf was too full, so we went to the roof for tawaaf. It took much longer, but it was much more peaceful and gave me the time and space to enjoy and take benefit from the experience.

Then came a few hours of sleep, followed by the morning rush in which we left 3 hours early for Jumuah. We spent that long waiting time in the masjid – making dua, reading, and doing other beneficial activities. (Tip: If you really can’t stand the heat, get a spot in the airconditioned basement. You don’t see much, but at least you keep cool.) The sheer length of waiting time again reminded me of how – back home – I need to make more effort to be early in the masjid (for all salaahs – not just Jumuah), and not let laziness and distractions deprive me of the blessings of being early.

We were to leave the hotel after Jumuah, but, predictably, there were some delays – so we had time to get some lunch (which was amazingly cheap yet still tasty J). Finally, we got onto our bus and made the journey to our new home: Aziziah.

Back to reality

At different points of the journey, our group leaders joked about the systematic decline in the standard of accommodation for the trip. Five star in Madinah, four star in Makkah, no star in Aziziah, then all the stars in Muzdalifah.

Seeing our room in Aziziah confirmed that it was no joke. The place was kind of like a hostel, and actually reminded me of a prison in some ways: the bright lights inside, the confined space, and an incredibly small bathroom (though if you live in London, you may have used something similarly small).

We got these very thin slippers, saying “Warmly welcome” – courtesy of China Tourism. China Tourism also provided other material, like the soaps. And we’d been warned that the toilet pipes were small – which meant this sign wasn’t too much of a surprise:

The sign says: "Don't insert tissue into the toilet. Put tissue into the waste box."

An ominous warning

Since we couldn’t stomach the thought (or smell) of throwing used toilet paper into the bin, frequent flushing was a better alternative.

The bathroom space was…well, “economical”. If you sat on the toilet, your legs would be in the shower. And with a largely ineffective shower curtain, you’d be sure to wet the floor with every shower. But, sensibly, the hosts provided a mop, and there was a drain outlet on the bathroom floor.

The geyser was above the toilet (and it was secure enough to not fall on our heads ;), and the sink was unusually big – almost the same area as the shower cubicle’s floor space. Additionally, we got one (unclean) towel, which ended up being our floor towel (and we used my spare ihraam as bath towels).

The room and more

The room itself was decently-sized. It housed an old airconditioner, one window, a large table, no cupboards, 2 single beds, and a mirror. Outside, we shared a small, communal kitchen with our neighbours.

All in all, it kind of reminded me of a dingy hotel room in New York. But we were in no position to be picky. We weren’t here for luxury, and we sure weren’t getting any in this place ;).

Downstairs, the eating hall was also comical – with ceilings so low you’d have to bend to avoid hitting your head in some places (as one unfortunate person soon learned).

Meal times further reinforced the prison-like atmosphere: our Indian hosts would lay out the food (almost always curry or another Indian dish), each person dished out in a plastic carton, took their bottle of (warm) water, then sat at a table and ate.

After my first meal, I went to wash my hands at the nearby sink. The dispensers on the wall said “Shampoo” and “Conditioner” – but both were empty, so I used the Nivea tube on the sink – thinking it was at least some kind of cleaning liquid.

It wasn’t. It turned out to be coconut oil – and I only realised it when I was already washing my hands. And so, my first dining experience in Aziziah ended with a full stomach, and coconut-smelling hands.

With first impressions like these, you’d think I’d want a refund from the Hajj operator – given the high price of this accommodation. But that wasn’t the case at all. Despite the shortcomings, this place had a simplicity that perfectly fitted our purpose for that period.

In the lead-up to Hajj, we needed to divorce ourselves from luxury, cleanse ourselves of worldly attachments, and prepare – wholeheartedly – for the coming 5 days. And our Aziziah accommodation – free of the comfort and distractions of Makkah and Madinah – seemed to be an ideal setting for that.

Coming up next, insha-Allah: Jabbal Nur

Related lessons:

  • In acts of worship, when things aren’t going your way and you’re not feeling “into it” – remember that you’re not doing it for the feelings. You’re doing it for the sake of Allah. So persevere and make dua for an improvement in the situation, but remember that we don’t worship feelings – we worship Allah.
  • For any salaah –but especially Jumuah –if you can’t stand the heat, go early and try to get a spot in the airconditioned basement. But, because there’s not much to see, make sure you take your Quran, dua list, or other things to do.
  • In Makkah and Madinah, it becomes necessary to be at the masjid early for each salaah. Take advantage of that waiting time, and make it a long-term reminder too: that back home, you should also try to be early to the masjid.
  • These days, the comforts of shopping malls and luxury hotels can really distract you from your purpose on this journey – which isn’t ideal preparation for Hajj. If you’re able to, right before the 5 days, try to get some simple accommodation that’ll be conducive to Hajj preparation.
  • If you manage to get such lodging, look past the faults and focus on cleansing yourself of worldly attachments, and preparing your heart, mind, and body for the upcoming days.
  • On a practical note, if your lodging has small toilets, be economical with the toilet paper, and flush frequently – rather than throwing used toilet paper in the bin. It may seem like a waste of water, but hygiene comes before convenience.
  • Also on the practical side, when you’re not sure what’s in a soap dispenser or cosmetic tube, always pour a little out first. Don’t be deceived by labels – lest you end up with oily, coconut-smelling hands 😉

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: Both pictures taken by me