Beyond Hajj: Reflections 3 years later

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

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

Three years ago, I experienced my first magical moments in Madinah. It was the opening destination on my first and only Hajj, and I was awe-struck and honoured to be in so blessed and peaceful a place…a little piece of Jannah.

As the days passed, Madinah’s glow wore off, and I moved on to Makkah, where, despite being initially underwhelmed, the place soon grew on me. In particular, one special night in the haram stood out – wherein I finally found what my heart was seeking – what I would need, internally, for the upcoming 5 days of Hajj.

Lethargy and laziness followed – my biggest regrets about Makkah – before moving onto Aziziah, which was to be our final stop before the days of Hajj began. There – free of the luxuries of Makkah – I managed to get back on track, preparing for the biggest five days of my life – with the Day of Arafah being the most critical of them all.

Hajj itself was a mixed bag, with incredible experiences on Mina, Arafah, and a misadventure on the way to Muzdalifah (and beyond); but some disappointment on the days of tashreeq that followed: once the intensity had departed after Eid, that spirit of striving was clearly gone – both in myself and in the others on the journey.

At the end of it all, what I was left with was:

  • A (hopefully) clean and pure heart, forgiven from my lifetime of sins and spiritual dirt.
  • Beautiful memories of 6 weeks on this different, separate planet (because it’s a different world, divorced from the realities of life at home).
  • Spiritual ambitions. Intentions for change. Desire for self-improvement. A mission…a lifelong mission to’live’ my Hajj for the rest of my life.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

Crashing back to Earth

Like everything in life, Hajj had to come to an end. The beauty of the Holy Lands, the spiritual purity felt after Arafah, and the general goodness of dedicating a portion of your time to this mission – free of worldly work and responsibilities…all of it couldn’t last forever, no matter how much I wanted it to.

The differences between Planet Hajj and the rest of the world were brought firmly into focus as soon as we arrived at our next stop – waiting in transit at Cairo’s airport. Whereas Madinah and Makkah were (relatively) spiritually clean – free of sexually-driven advertising, indecent music, and other vices of the outside world, in Cairo’s airport, these things came flooding back into consciousness – sensorial assaults from the sick, degenerated, fitra-robbed environment that I knew all too well from life in South Africa and other Western-influenced societies.

Over the next week, as we spent time in Palestine and then Cairo again, the euphoria of Hajj continued to fade at a sadly rapid rate. When we got back to South Africa, the world felt even more different, and I braced myself for reintegration into the society I’d known and lived in my whole life.

Gone were the days of building an entire schedule around time in the masjid. Gone was the time to spend in self-reflection and writing. There would be no further long stretches of dua on a consistent basis. And I would no longer have the chance to undertake night-time excursions to the Kabah.

From that point on, the external environment would no longer drive my spiritual ambitions. On the contrary, conditions on the outside would now chip away at my spirituality; so I faced a harder fight to simply maintain focus – let alone build something greater than the state I was in after Arafah.

Hanging on

The first few weeks back home were relatively good. I tried very hard to maintain my levels of spirituality – despite being plunged back into the working world and the rigours of fatherhood (we had a 2 year old daughter). I used the still-fresh emotions of my journey to keep some level of momentum going, with taqwa, dhikr, dua and self-reflection as my companions.

In terms of work, I faced a potential crisis when – a few weeks after my return – news came that the company was at the very real risk of going under, and much of the workforce would have to be cut if they were to survive. I tried to put a positive spin on it for those who I could make some kind of impact on – urging them (and myself) to see the bigger picture, and always have hope that Allah would take care of them.

In the end, I ended up keeping my job – though I knew that it was time to start looking elsewhere. 6 months later, I was on my way to a new challenge – a job that brought intellectual stimulation and variety back to my working life – which had, in my previous job, been largely stagnant.

The years that followed found me getting more and more entrenched in my work – which was a demand of my new position, while conversely, my spirituality sank more and more (as realised in Ramadan 2013).

But there were still good points, with the first year or so being extremely fruitful in terms of my personal writing, and some good habits becoming more entrenched. Subsequent Hajj periods (the months of Dhul Qada and Dhul Hijjah) were also amazing, because following the Hajj via TV and social media always reminded me of my own experience, and helped rekindle the yearning to go back.

Those Hajj periods, in particular, helped to remind me that while the emotion and nostalgia was so strong, and the desire to go back was heightened, I needed to convert those feelings into practical actions. I needed to strive, once more, to ‘live’ my Hajj. To show my gratitude via action, for if I am grateful, insha-Allah I will be blessed with another chance.

Game over?

A little over a year ago, my life changed significantly once more, with the birth of our second child – another little girl who immediately captured my heart, attention, and time.

By then, I had already slipped far from the standard I’d hoped to live after Hajj – in terms of personal character and behavioural changes I’d wanted to implement. Old habits die hard, and in the absence of immense striving, my habits were resurrected, dusted themselves off, and made themselves comfortable in my life once more.

And if I thought I had hope of making a comeback to the standard I’d aspired to, the demands of fatherhood quickly shattered those illusions. Along with the new baby, there was also the older child to see to – with her adjustment to being a big sister (and no longer the centre of attention) being relatively difficult.

When things let up a bit, I fell into an old addiction of mine. Nothing haraam, of course, but something very time-consuming which – I first rationalised – I needed as a means of de-stressing from the burdens upon my shoulders. A new, potent enemy which I’ve been fighting – on and off – for the last year.

My problem is that I’m extreme in indulgence. I don’t know how to be moderate; balanced. It’s a quality that can be very beneficial if used in productive pursuits, but detrimental when applied to self-satisfying, otherwise-useless initiatives.

We also went through an extremely traumatic period earlier this year, which really drained us and for me – personally – strengthened me internally, but also knocked out my hope of an internal revival. That may seem a contradictory statement, and because I’m being deliberately vague here (since I won’t explain the details publically), it might not make sense.

Essentially, it strengthened my imaan – so there was spiritual growth; but at the same time, it took its toll mentally and psychologically – such that I felt like I was in too weak a state to build up again, to strive for the lofty ambitions I’d held after Hajj. Like I was now too far away from those days of Hajj – both in time and inner purity – to seriously think that it was possible to achieve what I wanted to achieve.

And on top of that, my life was dramatically different now as compared to those days after Hajj. There was the more hectic job, for one. But there were also the challenges and demands of two young kids now: a baby and a school-going child….instead of just one toddler (which was the case when we got back from Hajj).

Thinking of all of this, it seemed hopeless.

What’s next?

But was it, really? Does it mean I have given up all hope? That ‘living my Hajj’ is now just a distant, beautiful-sounding dream that was just a foolish ambition of my younger self?

I hope not. Because if that was the case, I would be throwing away much of what I gained from the journey.

I can’t just confine my Hajj to good memories and long-gone spiritual achievements.

So, what I needed to realize – and it took me a long time to figure it out, despite it being SO obvious – is that I can no longer see my life through the lens that I’d envisioned it three years ago. I can’t look at myself and my life in the same way, because my life has shifted. So I have to shift my gaze too.

Now, three years later and in very changed circumstances, I need to start my post-Hajj mission again. I need to start fresh:

  1. Analyse what I want, in my overall vision of my life (both worldly and beyond).
  2. Look at the demands and challenges I face now and in the coming years.
  3. Redraw that list of ambitions, pulling it into a realistic, measurable plan of how I will get from here to there.

And even if I don’t succeed in some or even all of those plans, the most important quality I need to apply is persistence. For so long, I’ve let myself be deceived by the idea that if I can’t achieve success in a plan, or if I can’t at least be consistent in a certain initiative, then it’s not worth even bothering with that initiative.

Perhaps that attitude is a reflection of my perfectionist tendencies. Or perhaps it’s from the whisperings of the devil – who doesn’t miss an opportunity to try to impede my spiritual growth and success.

Whatever the case, I need to change that mindset. I need to consciously realize that such thinking is false and actually counter-productive.

I need to just keep trying, because all that I’m responsible for is intention and action. The results are in Allah’s hands.

So now, as I sit here three years later, with this year’s Hajj due to begin tomorrow insha-Allah, I feel a renewed sense of purpose. A re-commitment to the mission I accepted, and was so excited about, all that time back.

I ask that you, my dear reader, please make dua for me in this road ahead; as I make dua for you too.

JazakAllah

Yacoob

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