Makkan Memories…and the future of me

Hajj collage

I think of how my own life has changed in these six years.

When we got back, the desire to “live my Hajj” meant staying highly spiritual: worshipping a lot; being beautiful in character; and just living a good, clean life.

Six years later, my feeling is that that’s not what it means to live our Hajj. At least not for me. Maybe because I’ve failed miserably by my own initial definition. Continue reading

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Second time around

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Where this blog stands right now

If you’ve followed this blog for the last few years, you’ll notice that my focus – since late 2011 – has almost completely been on Hajj-related topics. This was a change from the blog’s first 5 years, wherein the content was a lot more varied. Obviously, the change in direction is a sign of the impact that Hajj had on me – hence most of my writing has focssed on documenting the journey (via the Hajj Chronicles series).

In all this time – and prior to it – my audience has changed, yet I hope the narrow focus hasn’t alienated readers that are looking for other content. And now that the chronicles are complete, insha-Allah this blog will once again go in many directions – some of which will probably remain Hajj-related.

New adventures

In Ramadan this year, I mentioned that my wife and I were expecting our second child. Alhamdullilah – our baby daughter is now 3 months old. I won’t share the birth story (like I did for our first child), but I would like to share some thoughts on these few months.

To be totally honest, our new daughter wasn’t the prettiest sight when she first came out. She was covered in disgusting birth liquid, and was obviously unhappy at being yanked out of the only world she’d ever known (the womb). Her first pictures from the delivery room aren’t ideal viewing, but, thankfully, that all changed once she was cleaned up and with us J.

We got to spend much more time with the baby this time (unlike the previous birth), so I held her for most of the half hour the medical team was sewing up my wife. I probably talked more to the baby than I talk to most grown ups I meet. And in those first (one-way) conversations, I hopefully set a precedent of talking her through the most important aspects of this world. I hope to always be there to guide her as she grow and learns – especially in the critical first 7 or so years of her life.

The days in hospital were somewhat stressful – not because of the baby (though she had her own issues at times), but because we had to manage our other daughter. She’s 4 years old, and I think seeing her mother weak in hospital was a really emotional experience for her. Alhamdullilah – we had all her grandparents to help look after her, but for the most part, she was my primary responsibility. She’s always been very clingy with her mother, and while there were a few days of separation, I needed to be the stable force in her life.

As for the baby’s name, we had one in mind since the beginning – though we weren’t totally set on it. But we had a late request and even other options that came to mind at the time, so it was confusing. Of course, the best route to take in such situations is to consult with Allah, so I made istikhara salaah, and the outcome was the same name we initially wanted. Like our first daughter’s name, it’s a strong name – one whereby the baby has an immensely lofty namesake who we hope will be her role model through life.

The work begins

Once we got home, the real challenges started. It’s an Indian tradition for the new mother to stay with her own mother in the first 40 days of the baby’s life. While we partly followed that last time around, this time, my wife didn’t want to at all. She wanted the stability of our own home – especially for our older daughter. That’s not to say that her mother wasn’t involved. On the contrary, she was extremely helpful in those early weeks, even staying over for one of the nights.

It was still Ramadan at this time – the blessed final ten nights; yet we didn’t have much time for spirituality. Between seeing to this tiny infant that needed so much time and energy, and our older daughter – who was having endless tantrums and really being difficult, it was a trying time to say the least.

We knew it would be hard for our older daughter to adjust to NOT being the centre of attention anymore. She’s always been very spoilt, so it must have been really tough to now be deprived of her parents’ attention. This was exacerbated by the attention the baby was getting from visitors, who up until then, would give her all the attention.

Relief

Alhamdullilah – after a few weeks, she eventually settled down. The hardship she faced was perhaps her first major character-building experience. It helped her to adjust – from being someone who was always so clingy with her mother, into a far more independent child that can cope better on her own or with others (though she still is clingy at times). The other blessing is that it was a period in which she and I spent a lot more time together, hence we bonded in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise done when her mother was the focus of her world.

As for the baby, we had an early health scare with her, but alhamdullilah, it turned out to be a minor issue that healed within a few weeks. She still has digestive issues though (i.e. reflux), but it’s not such a big deal compared to what sickness she could have had. That recurring lesson from Hajj came up again: to be thankful for what happened, because it could have been worse.

These last few weeks in particular have found me falling more and more in love with her. She’s an incredibly happy child -finding any excuse to show that sweet smile of hers. She’s growing nicely – alhamdullilah – starting to discover her own hands, and laughing more and more.

Her older sister has also taken to her, and is actually quite smothering at times (think of “Elmyra” from Tiny Toons).

On a personal level, the pace of life hasn’t gotten more hectic; but it’s just become more demanding. But even in that, alhamdullilah, there’s ease. People commonly tease new parents about the lack of sleep, but it hasn’t really been a big issue for me: our new baby is relatively settled in her sleep – getting up just once in the night (other than the nights where she’s uncomfortable and troubles a lot).

All in all, it’s been an interesting transition filled with many challenges but a lot of benefit. And as we go move on, I look forward to the many milestones that she’ll reach insha-Allah, and I hope that the baby’s first 2 years – before terrible twos – will be as amazing and joy-filled as her older sister’s were.

As for the older one, she’s still a handful, and can be immensely stubborn at times (with the latest big problem being a recurring refusal to eat)…but we hope to navigate those stormy waters too, and in the end, come out with a well-developed, balanced child that’ll teach us as much as we hope to teach her.

As always, your duas would be most welcome 🙂 .

Your Eid gift: The Hajj Chronicles e-book

Eid cupcakes

On behalf of myself and my family, I’d like to wish you and your loved ones Eid Mubarak – wherever you are in the world, and whichever day you celebrate(d) on. May this day be one of beautiful celebration, togetherness, and happiness – all within the boundaries of halaal, of course :). And may the spiritual gains from this Ramadan be ingrained into you so that you can take them forward into the coming months and at least maintain your spiritual levels, if not improve upon them as this blessed month fades into history.

The primary objective of fasting in Ramadan is to attain taqwa – sometimes translated as consciousness of Allah. The next big event in our Islamic calendar is Hajj, wherein the best provision for the journey is the very same taqwa.

So for those going on this blessed journey, Ramadan serves as a means of building up taqwa – which you’ll need to maintain and build even further as you near the biggest 5 days of your life – i.e. Hajj.

With this in mind, and as promised during Ramadan, I’ve compiled the entire Hajj Chronicles series (the 24 already online, plus the 6 to still come) into an e-book. You can download it here:

Hajj Chronicles e-book: PDF (3.7MB) | MS Word (3.4MB) (Right-click and choose ‘Save as’)

The e-book is provided absolutely free, for the purposes of promoting the Hajj and educating others about it. I encourage you to share it with those who are interested in the journey of Hajj.

Of course, the content is obviously copyrighted – so don’t steal my work ;). If you want to use parts of it for commercial purposes, please contact me to discuss it. Otherwise, you may use parts of it for your own personal or academic purposes, but reference it properly, and link back to this blog.

I hope you enjoy the book and benefit from it. And if you have any feedback or queries, feel free to email me.

Enjoy!

Yacoob

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The closing of 2011

And so we come to the end of another calendar year, which will predictably be accompanied by year-end reviews, personal reflections, and ‘best of’ lists. For me, it’s been a momentous year – with Hajj the biggest highlight of course (as you may have noticed from the content of posts for the past few months).

But there were also other significant happenings. For example, it was the year my physical attachment to the city of my birth finally came to an end. It was also the five year anniversary of my entry into the world of blogs – significant because of how important this platform has become to me as an outlet for self-expression. And Ramadan, of course, was one of the most special yet – not just because of the beauty of the month, but also because it served, partially, as a preparation for the most important journey of my life – Hajj.

Hajj itself was incredible – starting in the most amazing city of Madinah, then Makkah, and the actual days of Hajj, then the beautiful yet embattled land of Palestine afterwards (all of which are being chronicled). If you’ve been disappointed by the lack of variety on this blog in the last few months, you can blame it all on Hajj – because it’s a journey that’s so consumed me, not only during the period I was away, but even up to now. In addition to the series started on this blog, I’ve also begun the version for a multi-faith audience (which you can find here) – and I have big plans for that insha-Allah, and if you have a chance, please have a look – and direct your non-Muslim friends or family to it, if they’re interested in what the Hajj is.

Coming back home after seven weeks, I’ve gone through different phases of inspiration and deflation – highs and lows, but always yearning to retain the specialness of that experience; but knowing that I can’t hold onto it like I want to – for feelings fade, as will memories…but that’s why writing about it is so important to me; as a capturer of the experience that I hope to re-read for years to come, until – insha-Allah – I can go back and make some new memories.

The last couple of weeks have been tumultuous at work, with a sudden disaster that’s knocked half the company’s employees out of a job. Thankfully for me, I was one of the survivors – but I still recognise the instability of the situation, and know that I’ll need to get out of my comfort zone and start looking at other opportunities – in case the worst happens next year.

It really hit me this week, when all the members of my team said their goodbyes – leaving me the only one left, other than my team leader. Four years I’ve been at this company, and things have always been good. And then, in the space of a few days, everything shattered. Jobs were lost, families affected, some fortunate enough to keep a job were humbled by demotion due to downsizing – and the happy-go-lucky atmosphere that so often prevailed in that building turned to one of somberness and idleness, as many either didn’t have work to do, or didn’t have motivation to do the work they were still being paid to do.

It’s a lesson for everyone that we can never put our reliance on a company, boss, or other created being. God alone is the Provider, and He alone provides for us – with jobs and companies only the visible means we perceive.

And when a calamity like that hits, it serves as a wake-up call – a reminder of human fragility, and a means of drawing us closer to Him.

As I worked my last day of the year today and then left, I remembered the times of old – the other ‘last days’ of my life: the last days of the school year; the days of the final exam in a varsity year; the other last working days of the year in this current job.

And while I can go into this holiday relaxed, I know that it may be the last time I can do that for a while – because come this time next year, if I’m alive to see it, circumstances may be very different – and I might not be able to relax.

In any case, whatever must come will come; and from my end, all I need to do is my best – putting complete reliance in Allah, trusting that He’ll bring the best out of whatever my future holds, and being content with the outcomes – even if they look bleak at first.

It may seem like a depressing year end for me, but it isn’t. Personally, I’m in the best state that I’ve been in for all the year ends in my life; and I hope to keep the drive up and go on to greater things – in line with the personal ambitions which have now been defined for the rest of my life.

It feels good to know my purpose in life. Not just the general one that we as Muslims believe in (i.e. to worship Allah) – but a specific one, uniquely fitted to who I am, what I have, and what I can – insha-Allah – achieve in my remaining days on Earth.

So to close off this post (though not necessarily my last of 2011), I ask you – dear reader: what were your highlights of 2011? And, going forward, what significant things do you hope to achieve in the coming years?

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The incredible journey

Nearly a year ago, I wrote this piece –which crystallised the dream that so strongly made its way into my heart and mind at the time. For those who are familiar with the process of going for Hajj, you’ll know that many across the world – including here in South Africa – need to go through a process of accreditation with the country’s Hajj authorities, since there are limited Hajj visas available to many countries.

So, this being my main mission at that time, I’d check our local authority’s website for the date when I’d be able to register for the coming year. South Africa only gets an initial quota of 2500 people that can go – a tiny number based on the fact that we’re a minority group in South Africa’s larger population.

So to get into the 2011 list seemed far from guaranteed. And to cut the chances further, there were already people that were unsuccessful the previous year who were pushed over to the 2011 list.

I knew that – in the realm of human efforts – the earlier I registered, the better my chances of success. So imagine my surprise when I happened to visit the registration site just a couple of days after registration for the new year had opened. You can call it ‘luck’ or good timing – but I believe it was Divine intervention. Allah is the One that decides who goes and who doesn’t go – and this was my first sign that it was to happen for me.

My wife and I were extremely blessed to be in that first batch of 2500 that were accredited. Getting accreditation early meant that we could prepare well in advance – in all senses. But some weren’t so fortunate. Many had been waiting and waiting for the additional quota, and were in limbo with regard to planning, leave, shopping, etc. Now, just a few weeks before people start leaving, the country’s additional quota came through (yesterday). The extra quota is a disappointing 500 extra – which is far less than was expected. That makes this the smallest South African quota in recent years; and it makes me even more appreciative of the blessing of getting to go.

During the course of the last year, we’ve gone through some challenges – but nothing too major. For me, one big issue was the loss of motivation – or rather – loss of intensity in motivation; and I spent long periods not doing what I thought I would in terms of preparation. But, of course, I still did take in a lot of information and advice – via books, speaking to people, websites, lectures (including good ones here) , and Hajj classes (which, it seems, is uniquely Capetonian in that we have 6 months of Hajj classes and not just a one day seminar).

And I knew that the preparation for this journey – and the journey itself – needed to be a long term thing. What I learn now – the good habits and actions I pick up and bad ones I drop – need to be set in stone; set into the foundation of my life.

Because as much as we all aspire to change and be better, the reality is that it’s extremely difficult. And every year, Ramadan comes around, and we have hope of making permanent life changes after it leaves. But sadly, for many of us, the same pattern repeats annually – where the ‘buzz’ wears off, and we go back to our old selves and forget the striving we intended.

But this Ramadan was different. This post-Ramadan is different. Because I’m not going back to my ‘normal’ life. I’m supposed to be building – building up that spirituality, patience, taqwa, and all good things – to take with me on this incredible journey of a lifetime.

And I need that all for the actual trip; but more importantly, I need it for after the trip. Because, as people say, the hard part is not the actual pilgrimage. The hard part is living that Hajj when  you get back home. Living the rest of your life in a state of heightened spirituality and consciousness, with better values, better habits, and a better you.

To go on Hajj, and to have it accepted and be totally cleansed of all your sins (including those against other people – who you would have sought forgiveness from before leaving) – is something tremendously liberating. I have this idea of carrying this burden of sins right now – a lifetime of wrongdoing and flawed thinking and habits to the very root of my existence – which all built up from the time I was a child, through my teenage years, early adult life, and to this day.

And if Hajj is to take all of this off my back – wash it away and give me a clean slate – then when I come back, I need to do my best to never let things of that nature build up again. Because I may never go back for Hajj. I may never go back there at all – even for Umrah. So it really is a once in a lifetime shot. One chance to drop everything bad and start again.

That’s not to say that I expect change to be instantaneous – because that’s not very realistic. I expect change to come over time – little by little (which is the critical concept of gradualism that is such a big part of the Islamic ethos of change).

But what I do hope will be instant is that sincere intention to change permanently. That point where I’d say to myself: ‘This is it. From this point on, I intend to leave everything bad behind, and strive for everything good. And whether I succeed or not, this intention is absolutely, one million percent solid and unshakeable. And I’ll try, with Allah’s help, for the rest of my life, to work towards fulfilling it – no matter what happens in future.’

The process of how that change happens – I don’t know. But the core is the intention, and that’s my focus. Will I be ready to do that? To make that intention and be serious about it? Committed to it?

‘Positive change’ is a very nice term – it sounds good, and it feels good to think that you’re pursuing it. But when things get tough, and when you’re faced with intense challenges to that goal, that’s when your real test comes.

So that’s what I need my core focus to be. Preparing myself to be ready to make that intention, firstly, and then being committed to it thereafter.

I’m scared as I write this – because this heart of mine is so attached to things I know I’d have to leave behind, for the most part. But if there’s any experience that can strengthen me to the point where I’m ready to go forward with it, then this is it.

So now, with just under 4 weeks until departure insha-Allah, I know all the logistical and physical preparations that need to happen; and I even know some of the spiritual preparation I need to still do. But underlying everything, there’s only one thing that truly needs to be ready – the heart. And my heart isn’t ready; and I don’t know if it ever will be. But I go forward knowing that it’s the main roleplayer in whether I succeed or fail in this.

So, more than anything else, that’s what needs to be my focus. And I hope and pray that, by the time I reach that peak of the 5 days, this heart will be where it needs to be.

To all who read this blog: I want to thank you for the role you’ve played in my life – whether you commented or not, and whether you’ve been reading long or not. This blog has been an important part of my identity and life for the five years I’ve been at it, and I appreciate the chance to share what I’ve shared with other people.

And now, as I prepare to leave for this journey, I ask that – if I’ve offended or hurt any of you in any way – please forgive me. I’ll try to remember you all in my duas, and ask that you do the same for me, and for all who are going; and for those who didn’t get the chance to go this year.

And if you yourself are planning to go at some point in the not too distant future, please start preparing NOW. We prepare so much for our big exams and tests in our academic and professional lives – but this is truly the most important experience we have as Muslims in this world. So it deserves the best of preparation – and that begins long before you go. Long, long before.

And even if you think it’s impossible at this time – due to finances or whatever – know that Allah chooses who goes; and it’s not impossible for Him to choose the most unlikely of candidates.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And the three pillars of success in anything – I’ve come to learn – are first making the sincere intention, then asking Allah for success, and then making your efforts (while always bearing patience and continuously asking Allah for success).