Living in the past…hoping for the future

Mina on the final morning of Hajj 1432 (2011)
Mina on the final morning of Hajj 1432 (2011)

Here follows a ramble of thoughts, on the eve of tomorrow’s Hajj…

I’m immersed in memories. Memories of four years back, when I was on the cusp of my first and only Hajj. We were in Aziziah, doing last-minute stuff before we’d leave for Mina the next day.

Trying to find a shop that sold airtime was surprisingly difficult – but I eventually did. Walking around the massive Bin Dawood and being tempted by the confectionary delights – yet settling for just a little, as I hoped to restrain myself on the 5 days. Waiting in that line to pay, hearing a man use his time wisely – his tongue wet with the remembrance of Allah. It hit home with me – that particular act. An act we’re advised to always do, yet something I’d never witnessed before, nor thought – often enough – of doing myself whenever I was faced with a queue.

The Day of Tarwiyyah – 8th Dhul Hijjah – is the first of the five days. For us, it fell on a Friday. As usual, we were rushing to get done on the morning. We ended up being late to join our group and missed everyone pronouncing their niyah for Hajj in unison…so we did it on our own, hurriedly, when we got there.

Walking, in my ihram – which I had by that time mastered – up that hill, next to the highway, and into the tunnel that led to Mina. That tunnel with those massive air vents on the ceiling, which tin cans had somehow gotten stuck to.

Arrival at our tents, and the choice of who to sleep next to – brought up familiar childhood insecurities – yet I still had a companion.

Reflections from that first day – self-restraint, busying myself in acts of worship, and noticing how the tent was a lot like a graveyard: each of us having our own small, confined space with no luxury. All lined up in rows. All wrapped in 2 white sheets – the same ones that will cover us when we enter our next homes…the hole in the ground that we’ll occupy until Qiyamah.

I’m more familiar with that hole now. Late last year, and earlier this year, I entered those graves for the first time – participating in burials of family members. The impact of death was strong on me back in Madinah – when I witnessed a burial in Jannatul Baqi. But that faded soon after.

Now, again, the burials at home reminded me of the Reality that I will face – at any time, with no notice.

The time in the grave worries me, yet I’m cautiously optimistic…optimistic that if I try to live properly now, despite my character flaws and habitual deficiencies, insha-Allah my grave will be a place of peace, and not torment.

Moving on from Mina, there are parallels between Qiyamah and the Day of Wuqoof. Both days in which we stand before our Lord – utterly poor, utterly desperate, in the most need of His Mercy, Forgiveness and Kindness. Hajj is a journey to Allah in this life, which prepares us for the journey to Him in the next life.

The morning of that day, on Arafah, we just made it onto the bus – but I had to stand. The car-sickness that hit me – nauseous for most of the ride. Then the tents on Arafah. Red carpets, I remember. A looser seating arrangement than Mina.

The seriousness of the men around me. We were all serious. We were all focused. This was the biggest day of our lives. In a few hours, we’d be in the very essence of our Hajj. 5 weeks, 4 weeks, 3 weeks…however long our trip had been up till then – it all built up to one afternoon. One period of a few hours – when we would stand out in the sun, or sit in the tent…pouring our hearts, minds and souls out in dua. Dua. Begging, pleading, bawling our eyes out. Our special moments with our Rabb – Who comes so close to us in that time. Who boasts to His angels about us. How we have come to this place, in this dishevelled condition, seeking His Mercy.

And how they bear witness when He confirms that He has forgiven us.

My own wuqoof was cut short. A few hours only, because the group left hours before sunset. My frustration at having to zoom through most of my extensive dua list because of time pressure. A laundry list of a lifetime’s worth of pleadings – reduced to a thick pile of papers, which I couldn’t even read through to the end, let alone make each dua with sincerity or concentration.

If I ever came back, I told myself, I wouldn’t cut my time short. I would take as long as I needed and leave only at Maghrib…even if it meant inconvenience of being late to Muzdalifah.

Then, of course, came my biggest test of Hajj. A logistical mix-up leading to the next 9 hours being all alone – walking from Arafah to Muzdalifah for half that time, then all over Muzdalifah for the other half…yet never finding my group. The night when a famous hadith mirrored my life: Part of it being:

“…And know that if the nation were to gather together to benefit you with anything, they would not benefit you except with what Allah had already prescribed for you.”

All those police officers, soldiers, group guides, taxi drivers, my wife, her companions….all tried to guide and help me, but none succeeded. And so that was my time alone, with only Allah as my companion. And just when I reached my emotional breaking point – a little after midnight, on that packed – yet lonely – land of Muzdalifah, was when Allah guided me to what would finally re-unite me with my wife and those I was supposed to be with all along.

Only, I wasn’t supposed to be with them. We plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners. His plan was always for me to do it alone. And, me being a creature of solitude, I see His Wisdom in that. Despite the stress, anxiety and physical discomfort, I actually enjoyed that whole experience.

It was the highlight of my Hajj, and a real-life, custom-made lesson in tawakkul – reliance on Allah.

Walking under the monorail track back to Mina; then another while of wandering around (feeling like an idiot); before finally getting back to my wife. It was maybe the happiest we’d ever been to see each other, other than on our wedding day.

Our solo pelting of the jamaraat; shaving my head in that crazy-packed barber shop on Mina. Then our lengthy detour throughout Aziziah – getting lost on our way back to our hotel. It characterised us. We’re not the most geographically-inclined couple.

Fajr in Aziziah in an almost-empty masjid – the residents had gone to the Haram of Makkah for Eid salaah. A little sleep, then waking up – to the most liberating, beautiful, pure feelings. The feelings maybe others felt after Arafah. But ours – mine – was delayed until the next morning.

I’ve never felt that good. That clean. Words cannot describe it…nor should they, because some things cannot be encapsulated in the mere confines of human language.

Spiritually, things went down after that. How could the spiritual and emotional intensity remain so strong after Arafah?

But there remained benefit in those final few days.

My misadventures continued, though – to the extent that each day I expected something to go wrong.

I learnt, the hard way, not to take a phone into an Eastern toilet cubicle. I learnt, the hard way, that it’s better to wait to cross the road for 10 minutes – rather than risk crazy Arab drivers running you over (even if the one that hit me was a wild youngster…the older ones sometimes aren’t much better).

And then, that epic, final departure from Mina. I still get teary-eyed thinking about it. 6 weeks in these blessed lands, all culminating in these 5 days…now over. The last time walking out of Mina. Sun growing stronger in those early hours of the day. Streets still filled with signs of the millions that had been there with us. A sad, sad walk for me…yet one I still took lessons from.

The yearning to go back still remains. It’s faded each year, but is strong again this year.

Is it normal to want to go back this soon, even though I’m still relatively young? It’s not that I want to make up for anything. I don’t regret anything. But just that this trip is one that made such a deep impact that my naturally nostalgic self can’t help but want a repeat. It’ll never be the same, of course. You only get your first time once.

But who’s to say that subsequent times can’t be even better?

The news that the haram expansions are almost done, and quotas will be relaxed, give me a renewed sense of hope. Maybe it will be possible to be back within the next decade. Possible, but probable? Rationally, there’s so much against that possibility. But I’m a dreamer, and with Allah, all things are possible. In the hadith I quoted earlier – about all the people gathering to help, but not being able to – the converse part of that hadith is that no matter what anyone does, if Allah has prescribed something for you, nothing can stop it.

As I’ve said before, it perhaps comes down to gratitude. If you’re grateful, He will give you more. In this case, I take gratitude as meaning there needs to be sincerity. Sincerity in trying to live the Hajj you’ve already had. Prove to Allah that you’re worthy of going back.

And then – no matter what factors appear to be against you – insha-Allah it’s only a matter of time before He invites you to be His guest once more.

May Allah make this year’s Hajj the greatest experience for those honoured guests this year. And may He help them, and all of us who have been before, truly live the Hajj for the rest of our earthly days.

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