A little reminder from Mufti Ismail Menk: Download Ramadan around the corner (48:50 | 22.36 MB)
Posted by Yacoob on May 21, 2014
A little reminder from Mufti Ismail Menk: Download Ramadan around the corner (48:50 | 22.36 MB)
Posted by Yacoob on April 11, 2014
Posted by Yacoob on April 4, 2014
“Just as the most beautiful rainbows are born from rain, the most beautiful lessons are born from trials and pain.”
(Quote source unknown, but posted here.
Image is a painting which can be purchased here.)
Posted by Yacoob on March 3, 2014
In the Islamic calendar, two major events stand out: Ramadan and Hajj. Both of them are seasons of barakah, wherein the sense of community is high, and on a personal level, our good deeds can be multiplied exponentially.
In terms of timing, these seasons are close together – occurring in the 9th and 12th months of the lunar year. Outside of that, there’s an 8 month gap wherein it can be especially difficult to stay motivated and strive to better ourselves. It helps to be surrounded by good company, but even with that in place, the grind of day to day life can wear down even the best of us – weakening our resolve and making it easier for us to fall into bad habits (both spiritual and worldly).
Coming alive in the dead zone
At this moment, we find ourselves in the midst of that ‘dead zone’ – more than halfway between the last Hajj and the next Ramadan. In times of difficulty, it’s good to look for inspiration, and for the Muslim ummah, we need only look to the best generation among us: the sahabah (r.a.).
Their connection with Ramadan was so deep that it’s reported that they looked forward to it 6 months in advance, and once Ramadan was over, they’d spend the next 6 months asking Allah to accept the deeds they did in that month.
The work starts now
We may not have the same enthusiasm and level of commitment as our pious predecessors, but that’s no reason to be despondent. Each of us knows our own level of spirituality and connection to Allah, and with ample time left until next Ramadan arrives, we can slowly but surely start building ourselves up to the coming month. Early preparation will, insha-Allah, enable us to hit the month of Ramadan already on a spiritual high – which will better equip us to make the most of the amazing opportunities ahead.
To give you a practical roadmap to your Ramadan prep, check out the Ramadan early bird challenge. The series, which is built upon the foundation of gradual change, gives you a personal, step-by-step path to looking at your own life and improving – little by little.
Each instalment focuses on a particular area, and you can choose the one(s) you feel most pertinent to you, working at your own pace to identify your challenges, come up with viable solutions, and ultimately overcome your weaknesses in small but consistent steps. Also included are valuable resources – such as audio and video lectures – that can help you in your path to improvement.
So if you’d like to make the coming Ramadan your most productive one yet, give the series a try. Areas covered are:
May Allah fill the coming months with barakah, help us to take advantage of the time available to us, and bring us to the coming Ramadan in the highest state of eman and taqwa.
Posted by Yacoob on January 9, 2014
With poetic inspiration returning to me at the end of last year, I thought it would be a good time to look back at some of the more creative posts on this blog over its history.
Since there’s nearly 7 years to cover, I’ve split the selection over more than one post – hoping to not pack too much in each time. This one covers almost 2 years: from 2006 to mid-2008:
Though the blog started back in June 2006, it took me more than 4 months to actually publish my first poem (A bird’s eye view) – an ode to my favourite hangout spot, which I’d often go to, to escape the rigours of everyday life. World-view was a rant against the consumerist, information-flooding tone of society, and that was followed by One year on – which reflects much of my perspective towards the youth – and their future – at the university I was working at during that period.
Reliance is – by far – my favourite piece ever, because it perfectly encapsulates the multi-year struggle I went through in my quest for love and marriage. I hope the message is timeless, and hope that it can continue to inspire all those single people that are still trying to find their other halves. The sequel, Dedication, came 5 months later – when I was on the verge of marriage – hence ending the most emotionally-difficult period of my life. Childhood also came in that period – a reflection on how innocence was corrupted, yet hope remains for the next generation.
Rise was inspired by my time watching sunrises from outside my home – a beautiful, peaceful habit that unfortunately has become a thing of the past. Rooftops was a pleasant surprise, coming to me in a few minutes I had to wait in the car for someone; while You suck! was in the same vein as World-view – in that it was a rant, though this time against the news industry.
The inspiration doesn’t come much anymore, but with this post, I just wanted to highlight what’s come to me in the past. Hopefully, by reading these pieces, it’ll inspire you to express yourself in whatever way is best for you (while also perhaps reminding me of the ability that was once so central in my life).
Feel free to give your feedback either in this post or in the individual pieces linked from here.
Posted by Yacoob on December 31, 2013
The last day of the year, in the heart of a South African summer.
I’m at work now (sadly), but this time of year brings back fleeting memories of childhood summers gone by:
Hours and hours in the back yard playing soccer and cricket;
Still more hours and hours on the tennis courts,
pushing ourselves to the limits in best-of-5-set matches –
always with the end reward being an ice cold cooldrink
plus chocolate treats to accompany.
Sunny Durban days are the enduring memory of my past life;
Those school holidays where responsibilities were non-existent,
and pleasures were all we lived for:
Movies, video games, staying up late,
Not a care in the world
until the looming dread of the new school year crept back into our thoughts.
Stationery and uniforms,
Haircuts and shining those shoes for the first day back…
Oh, the horrors of educational imprisonment –
early morning rising to get to school on time,
assemblies and new timetables,
finding out whose class we’d be in –
wishing to be with our friends,
who shared the struggle with us –
making the torturous daylight hours more bearable.
Science lessons and Maths tests
(the latter of which still haunts my dreams),
academic pressures and extra-curricular bothers…
School was never a ‘home away from home’ for me,
yet those years –
while stifling my freedom within the system –
gave rise to the foundations of adult life,
and provided the best memories.
as my own child approaches her first year of ‘back to school’,
I feel the dread for her;
I know the anxiety she’ll face over the years,
Yet somehow, some way
I’ll need to put a bright face on it all;
so that she can be more positive than I,
and enjoy her coming occupation in ways I never did.
For just as she’ll face the seemingly never-ending grind of school life –
year after year –
so too will these years be her platform for her future,
and her treasure chest of precious childhood memories.
School doesn’t last forever,
nor does childhood;
But while we’re young,
we live through both –
a microcosm of life,
good and bad – all mixed together.
So, my child,
appreciate both sides,
take it all in,
and then move on to the adulthood that awaits beyond these endless summers of youth.
Posted by Yacoob on November 14, 2013
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.
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.
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 :) .
Posted by Yacoob on October 10, 2013
Picture courtesy of Saaleha
The days of Hajj are almost upon us, and since the moon wasn’t sighted in South Africa this past Saturday, it means that Dhul Hijjah officially started here on Monday. This contrasts with Makkah, where the month started a day earlier – on Sunday.
Every other month of the year, this difference isn’t much of a big deal (although for some, it matters in Ramadaan). However, for this time of year, it means that the South African Eid-ul-Adha will not be synced with Makkah’s Eid-ul-Adha.
Growing up in Durban, I don’t really remember there being much fuss over this. But here in Cape Town, it’s been a contentious issue for quite a while, apparently. When the local date doesn’t match Makkah’s date, we have some Muslims who celebrate with Makkah, while others celebrate a day later.
There seem to be sound arguments for both opinions, yet the tragedy in all of this is that it still divides the community. In what should be a time of unity and great blessings – given the significance of the Hajj underway in these days – there’s argument and division over which opinion is right.
For all the years I’ve lived in Cape Town, none of this really affected me. I just put it down to difference of opinion, and carried on – celebrating Eid on whatever day it was officially announced by the local authority (MJC).
However, this time around, it’s a little more concerning. The day of wuqoof – when the hujjaaj stand on Arafah – is one of the greatest days of the year (if not the greatest). And for those not on Hajj, it’s a highly recommended sunnah to fast that day (with the reward being the fast wiping out the sins of the previous year and the year to come).
This year, wuqoof is on Monday 14th October, insha-Allah. Thus, if you want to fast on the day of wuqoof, Monday is the day. Yet the announcement from the MJC is “Those wishing to fast on the day of Arafat, fasting takes place on the 9th of Thil Hijja, according to our local calendar, coinciding with the 15th of October.”
Following that logic, those wanting to fast on the day of Arafah will actually not be fasting on the day of Arafah! (Since the 15th of October is already Eid in Makkah.)
But as I see it, those who want to fast on the actual day of Arafah should do it when the hujjaaj are actually on Arafah – i.e. Monday 14th October.
What then, of the day of Eid?
If you fast on Monday, then Eid should be the next day – Tuesday.
So you’d be in that group which takes Eid with Makkah.
But I’ve also heard very sound advice that in cases of such disputes, the correct thing to do is to follow the consensus of the ulama / authorities of your country – i.e. take your Eid with the majority – the of the community.
And that makes sense not only on a societal level, but also lower down, on a family level. You can’t really choose to have Eid on your own – the day before – while your family is taking it with the community the next day. So, even if you disagree, for the purposes of social harmony, it’s better to stick with the majority.
Thus we have a situation of fasting on the day of Arafah, having a ‘normal’ day after that, and then having Eid the next day.
Some may call that inconsistent – saying that you either go with Makkah completely or go with your local ulama completely.
But really, when you face a situation like this, there’s no way to reconcile the 2 positions. It’s a compromise that has to be made in order to preserve both personal belief and social harmony.
Or do you see things differently? What’s your view on the 2 Eids issue? Does it happen in your community, and if so, how do you handle the issue of fasting the day of Arafah when your local calendar doesn’t match Makkah?
Posted by Yacoob on October 7, 2013
Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 29
Hajj consists of 5 days, but those wanting to exert themselves even more can stay an extra night – taking the total to almost 6 days. Some of our group opted to go back to Aziziah after the 5 days, but my wife and I would not miss the chance to extend our Hajj – so we stayed.
On that final night, we did our pelting after Esha, and the walk back gave me food for thought. I spoke to an older uncle – probably 60-odd years old – who was on his first Hajj. He was wealthy and had been for umrah four times in the past – but, strangely, had never made this particularly journey before. His brother had been the year before, and only after that was he inspired to make the trip. The conversation just reinforced a theme that one of the alims had been drumming into our heads throughout the trip: when you go home, you don’t just return as ‘Hajji’; you go back as an ambassador of Hajj. After experiencing this yourself, your job is to now inspire others and encourage them to make the journey themselves – so that they may not only fulfil an obligation of the deen, but also experience the immense gifts that Allah gives to Muslims via Hajj.
We had a group dhikr on our last night in Mina. I wasn’t really into it, but I attended anyway because I knew these were precious moments that I should spend with the larger group. As I sat there, I was moved by watching my fellow hujjaajj. I reflected on how we were all brought together for this trip: Allah had specifically picked each and every one of us to be His guests at these holy sites in this year. I thought about the bonds had grown between us, and how united we’d been. And soon, this would all end. We’d go back to our own lives at home and our Hajj would fade into history as fond memories – flashes of a past experience that we would so dearly love to hold onto, but wouldn’t be able to, since life would move on, and time would erode the highs of our spiritual peak.
But, just as we were all together on that last night, I made dua that we would be re-united in the same way in Jannah. And, in that future bliss, we would remember this Hajj, and look back on these times and remember all we went through in the dunya – but at that time, being eternally safe in Allah’s Mercy of the akhirah.
The final morning’s fajr was my last salaah on Hajj. My tears fell during that first rakaat, as I realised this was truly the end of the road. This journey that had taught me so much, and had been my life for nearly 2 months…it was ending. It was my last salaah with the group, and probably the last time I’d see most of my fellow hujjaaj.
We were still within the days of tashreeq, so there was the usual takbier after the salaah. This time, I reflected deeply on the meaning of it.
Laa illaaha ill-Allah
Allahu akbar wa illahil hamd
Allah is great. Greater than anything and everything. We – having experienced this Hajj – could attest to that. And there, in that Mina tent on our final morning, we proclaimed it loudly and proudly and with sincerity.
I imagined the Eid ul-Adhas to come in my future, when I’d again recite this same takbier. Only at that time, I hoped it would mean so much more to me – because I’d remember this particular gathering. I hoped it would bring back memories of this trip, this tent, this salaah, and this takbier.
Unlike many of the others, who could stay in Mina until the afternoon, my wife and I would be flying out that evening – so we needed to get back to Aziziah quickly to prepare for the travel. Straight after fajr, we went off alone to do our final pelting of the jamaraat. Afterwards, we got lost coming back to the camp (though this was entirely her fault :)), so our departure was delayed a little.
As we got our stuff and headed out for the last time, we didn’t see too many people from the group – but I did catch ‘the joker’ again. He was much more sombre this time, and seemed to have forgotten about teasing me. Again, I bore no ill feeling towards him. But I’m glad he eventually got over his excessive joke-making mood.
We left Mina as the sun was rising, and I wanted to savour the last few moments of this experience. However, it didn’t happen as I’d hoped. My wife gets tense when we travel, and on the way back, she was super-stressed about time – especially since our Hajj group hadn’t given us an official departure time from Aziziah (we’d been told 12.30PM might be the time, but nothing was confirmed).
She had valid concerns, but I felt she was overreacting. I was actually sad for her too – because she was so anxious and absorbed in worry that she didn’t seem to take in what should have been beautiful, peaceful final moments on Mina.
I recognised that when she was in that emotional state, it was a test for me – a challenge Allah was putting in my path. So I just tried to stay calm, avoid confrontation, and absorb what I could of my last moments on Mina.
And so, as we crossed the bridge and headed into the tunnel that leads to Aziziah, a beautiful, eventful, and lesson-filled period of my life had just ended.
I’ll be forever grateful to Allah for granting me the experience.
Alhamdullilah. Alhamdullilah. Alhamdullilah.
So, this brings to an end the Hajj Chronicles series. I began writing it just days after we returned from Hajj, and now – almost 2 years later – I wrap up with this post. Through all 30 parts, I hope that my words, descriptions, and pictures have conveyed to you the experiences, struggles, lessons, and ecstasies of the six weeks that the series covered.
For those who have been for Hajj before, I hope the series has helped to remind you of your own Hajj, and that it stirred up those feelings of spiritual elevation and inspired you to recommit to the lofty goals and intentions you made while you were there.
For those that haven’t yet been, I hope that the series will inspire you to do whatever is in your power to make the journey yourself. From your side, you need a sincere intention, followed by dedicated efforts and lots of dua. But ultimately, Allah is the One who invites. So you do your part, and when it’s your time, He will take you there – no matter how unlikely it may look from your present point of view.
I pray that you’ll get your chance soon, and that when it happens, that it’ll be the most incredible, life-changing experience that’ll purify you of past mistakes, and set you on the path to eternal success. And if you do get to go, please share the experience with me – either by commenting here, or emailing me (see contact details below).
JazakAllah to everyone who has followed this series. I hope every reader has benefitted, and I really appreciate the feedback I’ve gotten from some of you. If you do have any other feedback or queries that you don’t want to post on this blog, feel free to email me instead.
The chronicles end here, but my story did continue after that. We went on to Palestine then Cairo, before coming home, adjusting to the normal environment and routine again, and going on with the rest of our lives.
Later on, I may write more about those experiences, but for now, I close with this post. In the coming weeks, I hope to compile the entire series into an e-book (PDF format) – which you can download for free. And because detailed English-language accounts of the Hajj aren’t that common, I am also open to the idea of rewriting the series as a book – complete with new pictures and experiences I didn’t include in this series. If you’re a publisher and you’re interested in the project, please email me to discuss it further.
I pray that Allah accepts this series as my contribution towards that ancient call of Ibrahim a.s. (Surah Al-Hajj, verse 27).
As a final thought, I leave you with the advice of Allah. The advice applies to Hajj, but also to the journey of life, as we move towards the Hereafter:
“…So make provisions for yourselves; but the best of provisions is taqwa. Therefore keep your duty unto Me, O men of understanding…” (Surah al-Baqarah verse197)
The entire series (30 parts) is available at this link – post by post. You can also download the complete series as an e-book, either in PDF format or as an MS Word document (both versions are under 4MB in size).
Image sources: All pictures taken by me, except for the dhikr picture (courtesy of Al-Anwar Hajj 2011 Facebook group).