Hajj 1435 - Day Thirteen

This trip has been anything but the idyllic spiritual retreat that I thought it would be. Perhaps in that is a retreat of sorts. The most interesting contrast between Makkah and Madinah is the way in which we’ve experienced the hospitality of the two. Madinah by its very nature felt warm and inviting, even though the traders and hotel staff in general were abrasive, dismissive, or unpleasant. I found myself chastising myself several times about criticising the people of Madinah, but took some comfort from the fact that the majority of those that treated us poorly were not the locals of Madinah.

In Makkah, the reverse is true. From hotel staff to traders, we’re welcomed at every turn and served well as guests of Allah. That part feels good. But the warmth of Madinah is missing. Makkah has a very business-like atmosphere. It feels as if we’re here to do a specific transaction, and the moment it is done, we should leave. Unlike Madinah where it felt as if we shouldn’t leave at all if we could help it.

The crowds have grown tremendously over the last few days, even though we were hoping it would subside with many groups already leaving for Azizia. What I used to stare at in awe on TV at home I am now a part of. The experience is breathtaking and intimidating at the same time. There is no other city in the world that suffers from as beautiful an insomnia as Makkah.

We leave for Azizia on Thursday, at which point the final countdown for Hajj will begin. In all honesty, the gripping excitement has yet to hit me. I am still very much taking things in my stride and I’m starting to wonder if my jadedness might not deny me the beauty of this experience after all. The persistent after taste of this trip so far has been one of ambivalence. I find myself admiring the beauty of the constant flow of worshippers performing tawaaf, but being painfully aware of the harsh treatment many have towards each other in their selfish strides to take what they need from the experience. Like the Ummah, from a distance, it appears harmonious and united with a single ethos, and a single focus, but just a slightly closer look and the rifts, the bickering, and the harshness towards each other stings your eyes.

My focus now is to get my sleep routine more sustainable before the days of Hajj. The purpose of this trip, as we were reminded many times by the group leaders, is the five days of Hajj, so exerting yourself excessively before that will only detract from that core purpose. I guess that adds to the ambivalence because on one hand I want to expend myself as much as possible in the time I have in Makkah, but on the other, I know that it will be detrimental to my health and ability to do justice to the days of Hajj during which the conditions of ihram place an additional strain on my city-seasoned body.

One more thought that keeps occurring to me is the absence of the simple sunnah of greeting each other with a cheerful disposition. The Prophet (SAW) used to greet every person he passed in the market place with a smile. I don’t recall the hadith singling out Muslims in that practice either. Yet with almost every Muslim I pass both here in Makkah and at home, rarely do i come across one that greets enthusiastically or cheerfully. Oddly enough, it is those that are perceived to be further from the sunnah in apearance and dress code that tend to practice this beautiful sunnah more than most. This obviously excludes those people that we greet out of familiarity or common acquaintance.

Hajj 1435 - Day Ten (I think…)

The chafing is a beautiful reminder of the simple things we take for granted. Being able to walk without waddling, as an example. On my way out the other day I saw a slender built brother in visible pain waddling very slowly into the hotel. I smiled and felt pity at the same time. My vanity was also pacified by the fact that it wasn’t my thunder thighs that were the cause of the chafing, but rather just a natural occurance when wearing ihram. I’m desperately trying out various techniques and remedies to alleviate this feature of hajj so that the five days in ihram will be easier to bear insha-Allah.

I managed to get one tawaaf in this morning before Fajr. It was during this time that I realised that I had more to fear from the women making tawaaf than from the men, well most of the men anyway. The women tend to move in packs, with arms interlocked, and literally bulldozing their way through the crowd. More often than not I found myself almost totally off balance after being knocked out of the way by the many groups of women around there. Of course the men wouldn’t take kindly to being outshined in this way, so I was also fortunate enough to have had a man’s arm entangled in my strap of my shoe bag that I was wearing on my back. After violently wresting it out, he offered a sheepish grin and extended his hand as a gesture of apology. I took his hand, but was only able to muster up half a grin in return. My strap is now broken. Alhamdulillah.

There are changes being sparked in me, but I’m not quite certain what those changes are. I was within an arm’s length of Hajratul Aswad this morning, after having been able to touch Rukn Yamani without shoving anyone out of my way, but I walked away from the black stone after witnessing the vile behaviour of many around it. The experience was similar to Raudul Jannah in Madinah. I expect less now, so it made it less offensive. That’s concerning because it reflects how easily we become complacent about what’s not right around us. The same thought occurred to me while observing the men reading salaah around me this morning. The majority are composed, reserved, considerate and unoffensive, but there are a significant number, by no means a majority, that are abrasive, offensive, selfish, and arrogant in the way they push through others without any consideration for the fact that they’re in salaah.

My response to this is also significantly watered down compared to when we first arrived over a week ago. But this time not so much because of complacency, but rather the realisation that this is simply a reflection of our state in life. That state we reach when we feel we have to simply take what is needed because waiting or respecting the rights of others inevitably leaves us short-changed. I’m convinced that those men behaving so offensively are mostly oblivious to how vile their actions are. This is part of the problem with living life as a victim. We inevitably become aggressors in the process, which creates new victims that spawn new aggressors. Another vicious cycle that can only be broken through reflection and accountability.

Reading through a collection of ahadith this morning made me realise even more how merciful Allah is. It amazes me when so many try to insist on emphasising specific spots and actions that result in Allah’s forgiveness for your sins or answering of your duas, but few step back and look at the pervasiveness of such opportunity. I have seen sahih ahadith that confirm that the dua made during adhaan, while ill, while travelling, while oppressed, on behalf of someone else, while performing wudhu, while making effort in the path of Allah, while walking to the mosque in a state of wudhu, when looking at the Kaaba for the fist time, when standing between the Black Stone and the door of the Kaaba, when in Raudul Jannah, etc., are all accepted. To me, this simply confirms that whenever we’re faced with worldly attraction, or blessing, or trials, if we stop and reflect and turn our gaze towards Allah, Allah will respond. Khalaas. Being mìndful is therefore a requirement to be a good and conscientious Muslim. Being purposeful in our worship is therefore a prerequisite for acceptance, but not because we’re being punished if we lack it, but simply because we are not talking to Allah when we turn to him. Often, because we’re still continuing our last conversation in our heads about some worldly matter. Too often, this plays out physically with too many busy with their phones while in the masjid, sometimes interrupting their dua to take calls and photos so that they can share the moment.

Our attention whoring has taken us to a new level of self-destruction. Popularity is a trap more than it is a benefit. I’ve found that even on this trip, I indulge in more banter and critical analysis of what’s going on when I am in familiar company where my opinion may be respected, whereas I find myself focused inwardly when alone. Sometimes our introspection reveals truths about ourselves that are uncomfortable to process without the amicable interruption of acceptance or admiration from others. We’ve become so obsessed with affirmation and validation, that our successes are not deemed successful unless recognised by another that is considered a credible judge of such success, and similarly, our pain is considered to be a weakness unless it is celebrated as a triumph of adversity by similarly afflicted fools.

Misery loves company, true. But misery is not always presented as pain or failure. How miserable an existence isn’t it when we later realise that the best moments were lost to distractions that we thought were significant at the time?

Hajj 1435 - Day Eight

I think it’s day eight. It’s easy to lose track of time when life is not run by the corporate clock. It seems a little disconcerting at first, but I know it’s going to feel stifling when I have to get back into the routine. The last few days have been interesting. That’s an understatement.

The bus drive over from Madinah took about 11 hours. The journey was a little over 400km. Yeah, not a very good average speed at all. The seating space made cattle class look like business class (on the plane that is). But it was part of the experience. My shoulder bag fell on my head twice from the overhead storage area, so it was probably a sub-conscious reprisal when I forgot it on the bus as we disembarked.

We received a number of surprise gifts along the way. First a hamper of food and drinks including milk and orange juice when we just left Madinah, followed by generous handouts of passengers sharing their snacks throughout the bus, and then completed with another round of unexpected food hampers given to us at a check point before entering Makkah. The final gifts we received was a bag with a prayer mat and a white umbrella for the coming days of Hajj. It was a pleasant surprise for most of us, except those that decided to buy umbrellas for themselves in Madinah.

Despite the long journey, I decided to complete my Umrah the moment we arrived. Almost everyone else retired to the very plush hotel rooms provided, but having done this before, I preferred going by myself. The experience was surprisingly pleasant, with minimal buffoonery in the pushing and shoving department, and a surprising level of mindfulness that I managed to achieve on my part. It felt spiritually and emotionally grounding. Exactly what I needed to complement my experience in Madinah the day before we left.

My head is once again clean shaven, and I like it. Definitely thinking of sporting this look on a more permanent basis. Lots of new quaint experiences that I’ll probably touch on later. Need to go out now and once again search for some shorts that don’t choke my thighs. The thigh burn from the saiee between Safa and Marwah left me chuckling in pain. But more on that later insha-Allah. The souk is calling.

Hajj 1435 - Day Five

The clutter has yet to subside. The more I try to focus on the purpose of my journey the more I am reminded about the frustrations I experience as a Muslim among the Muslim community both online and at home. The dynamics of millions coming together from all over the world results in those frustrations being magnified rather than subdued. The appearance of unity is amazing, until you spend a few minutes in the mosque and once again witness the emphasis on personal benefit and objectives rather than striking a harmonious balance with those around us.

There are exceptions, but unfortunately those exceptions are what should be the norm. I am therefore convinced that society is insane. The woes of the Ummah rests not only in the hands of the corrupt leaders, but instead, and probably more importantly, it rests in the hands of each of us that either fail to uphold the most basic of ethical standards in our dealings, or in the hands of those that turn a blind eye instead of opposing such corruption of our moral standing as an Ummah. We have gotten to the point where I can count on the business ethics of the non-Muslim traders in South Africa more than I can trust the sincerity of the Muslim trading at the door to the mosque of the resting place of our most beloved!

On our trip to Uhud the other day, one of the elderly people in the group who was unaware of the history and time period surrounding the area commented that it was probably in such a state because of the wars fought there. It’s a shameful sight, not just because it is the burial place of a great companion (Hamzah RA), but because no Muslim should live in such filth and disrepair when skills, resources, and capability is within reach. Adult Muslim traders looking at you with finger firmly planted in nostril, unkempt hair, littered surrounds, and abrasive manners, while offering to sell you pirated goods of western brands whose lifestyles they claim to spurn. The contradictions are mindblowing.

I sat today before Asr salaah with my eyes closed trying desperately to get into a frame of mind that would be conducive towards reflection, but was promptly interrupted by the extended tune of a cell phone ring tone blaring out a few rows from me with absolutely no inclination by its owner to silence the curse. It’s disheartening to say the least. I tried to get into Raudul Jannah again last night, but was soon deterred by the abominable behaviour of the crowds that had gathered there. The pushing and shoving was once again despicable with a total disregard for anyone reading salaah immediately outside that section. I walked away because I wanted to have no part in such behaviour. Not because I think I am better, but because it reminded me of the hadith that teaches us not to inconvenience another Muslim, let alone harm them. It reminded me about the fact that the objective of performing salaah in that sacred spot is to earn Allah’s favour for entry into Jannah, and to be close to Rasulullah (SAW), how then can we proclaim to be doing it with such aspirations if we blatantly discard any such teachings in the way we conduct ourselves in this most sacred of places? Soccer hooligans come to mind, and that is not the lasting image I should be carrying with me when leaving this blessed city! I feel cursed!

I seem to grow despondent too easily these days. My tolerance levels are at an all time low. I look around me and see so many using the beautiful Sunnah to justify their unethical behaviour, like reminding me to be patient in how I bear my trials, while those trials are directly related to their blatant disregard for the service that they are contracted to offer, or the ethics they are expected to uphold in their dealings. Surely such trials should only be borne with patience if it results from unexpected outcomes while all involved act sincerely? Or are we now suggesting that the lethargy, dishonesty, and insincerity that already plagues the Ummah must go unchecked because it is more important to bear our trials with patience?

I sometimes contemplate deleting my blogs and surrendering any thoughts of writing that book in the hope that that may offer some reprieve from this clutter. Sometimes it seems as if being able to express myself through this medium creates a space for such frustration to grow, but I’m soon reminded that in the absence of such expression I will find no outlet or ventlet, and such a scenario will most likely be devastating to my ability to bear with patience in person that which I am able to vent about online. Neither is a feasible option, and so my frustrated state will persist.

Edit: I am in the blessed presence of Rasulullah (SAW), may Allah overlook my fickleness of considering myself to be cursed. I am fortunate, Alhamdulillah. Had a challenging but thought provoking experience in Raudul Jannah. Yes, I finally made it in, but more because the crowd allowed me to move in no other direction when I had thoughts of exiting because of the way in which so many were behaving again. I found myself inadvertantly part of a human chain that was formed to create a space for some to read salaah in Raudul Jannah. Yes, a human chain was needed because all the etiquette of the masjid was thrown to the wind by most that attended. It was interesting to see how so many suddenly respected the informal structure that was created and stopped pushing and shoving, but of course there was also a number of men that still saw fit to force their way through the musallees just to get to their desired spot. Nonetheless, Alhamdulillah, it feels like a weight has been lifted. Please make dua that this feeling persists beyond just tonight. Aameen.

distilled-wisdom:

Scenes like these force us to consider if we truly appreciate the beauty of being part of a single Ummah that has no sects, cliques, cultural conflict, or racial boundaries.

distilled-wisdom:

Scenes like these force us to consider if we truly appreciate the beauty of being part of a single Ummah that has no sects, cliques, cultural conflict, or racial boundaries.

"The question I find myself contemplating this morning is, will Hajj ease or intensify the regrets of the past? Will it clarify my thoughts, or cause it to become even more murky? One quote often echoes in my head from the movie The Message. ‘A man sees the world too clearly from the mountain.’ Sometimes it feels like I’ve been living at the top of a mountain most of my life."
Zaid Ismail

Hajj 1435…Final Thoughts Before Departure

About to make the final preparations before leaving for Hajj tomorrow. Despite the nearing deadline for departure, I’m constantly reminded that even at this point I could face a departure of a different kind. One that would see me never fulfil my right of Hajj before I die. Death is always just a breath away.

The last month or two have been the most spiritually testing period I can recall. It felt as if the entire might of this worldly distractions, and Shaytaan’s manipulations have been brought to bear on my fickle soul. So many times I drew closer to the forbidden but found myself protected through entirely no effort on my part. This, I believe, must be the acceptance of the duas of others for my wellbeing. Duas that I often don’t feel worthy of.

I have yet to pack. I am used to leaving my packing to the last minute because of the frequency with which I travel for business purposes. But this trip is supposed to be different. It’s supposed to be more meaningful, and infinitely more significant than any of my previous travels, including my trips for Umrah in the past. The reality is, it doesn’t feel that way.

In honesty, I feel a sense of trepidation instead. It beckons unpleasant memories of my previous visits to the blessed precincts. Flashbacks of the arrogance of the guards around the Haramain, the dishonesty of the taxi driver that extorted money from me, the arrogance and opulence of the visitors to the Kaaba who strutted around in gelled up hair, designer beards, and cell phone planted firmly against ear conversing with someone in a conversation that appeared to be anything but important if the demeanour was anything to go by. And this while making Tawaaf as well.

The uneasiness I felt on my arrival in Makkah and the awkward sense of not belonging when I looked around me and saw the crowds of faithful servants drawing composure or release from their submissions to Allah. I stood there looking on very much as a stranger staring in awe at a scene I wished to be a part of. I was a part of it, but I was completely removed as well.

Like everything else, excessive portions of anything is harmful, and so it is with mindfulness as well. I’ve conditioned myself to the point where very little holds appeal beyond what is immediately apparent . The significance of what came before faded from view while I stood there observing that building whose presence was greater than any photo I had ever seen. I stood for a few brief moments when I entered the Haram and laid eyes on the Kaaba for the first time. I was moved, yet unmoved at the same time. Despite its humble construction and size relative to the extravagance that surrounded it that was intended to embellish it, it dominated my view as if there was only a hand span between me and it, even though I stood on the edge of the courtyard not having set foot on the marble floor surrounding it.

I’m not sure how I will respond to its sight this time. Will I be moved at all, or will I feel even more removed than before. That I am a welcomed guest of Allah is no doubt. Allah is the most gracious of hosts. So I’m left wondering if the flaws within me, the flaws that feed my ego, my contempt for life and this world, and my flaws that spurn sentiment in favour of reality, I wonder if all those flaws will allow me to be a gracious guest so that I may be able to at least sip from the fountain of contentment that awaits.

Contentment, peace, rest, comfort, and even serenity are all foreign to me at this point. Despite the comforts and luxuries I am surrounded with, or the familiar faces that I embrace on a daily basis, I am still constantly aware of the void that exists between them knowing me, and me knowing myself. If nothing else, this will be a trip that symbolises my dutiful endeavours, while I desperately crave the warmth that its sentiment has to offer. May Allah make it a successful trip in every way, Aameen.

"About to go on an extended leave of absence from work. Flying out to the blessed lands on Tuesday next week Insha-Allah. Depending on circumstances, I may or may not post any thoughts or reflections on the trip for Hajj. So excuse the silence in the coming weeks if it works out that way."
"Your strength is not strength if it is reliant on the presence of someone in your life. That is dependence."
"Rally behind a scholar, or rally behind the Sunnah. The one divides the Ummah, while the other unites the Ummah. The choice is yours."
There is no middle ground on this. If you rally behind the Sunnah, you will automatically be aligned with the scholar that is focused on the same. (via cynicallyjaded)

Ramadaan is not lost

simplesunnah:

If, like me, you are regretting all the opportunities that you missed this Ramadaan to benefit from the extension of Allah’s mercy even beyond its normal measure, then perhaps the following few thoughts may be of use, insha-Allah.

No doubt there are specific acts of worship that are emphasised for this blessed month, but that does not mean that it is the only way to obtain the blessings of Ramadaan. What we may not have been able to achieve or fulfill this year, insha-Allah we will be able to improve on next year, with a consistent and gradual build up of our iman from now until that point. And that is really part of the essence of the sincerity of a believer.

The benefits of Ramadaan are not limited to fulfilling the optional acts of worship only. So if you had good and sincere intentions of performing tarawih with jamaah, or you intended to sit for i’tilkaaf, or perhaps you wanted to contribute more actively towards a feeding scheme or other efforts that you had in mind, it will be good to remind yourself of the following hadith:

Book 1. Hadith Qudsi. Hadith 037.

On the authority of Ibn Abbas that the messenger of Allah, among the sayings he relates from his Lord is :

 ”Allah has written down the good deeds and the bad ones.” Then he explained it [by saying that] :” He who has intended a good deed and has not done it, Allah writes it down with Himself as a full good deed, but if he has intended it and has done it, Allah writes it down with Himself as from ten good deeds to seven hundred times, or many times over. But if he has intended a bad deed and has not done it, Allah writes it down with Himself as a full good deed, but if he has intended it and has done it, Allah writes it down as one bad deed.”

Reporters - Related by Bukhari and Muslim in their two salihs.

For every act that we made a sincere intention to follow through on, we already received an abundance of mercy and rewards from Allah. The one who struggles to fulfill those acts of worship will be rewarded even more than the one who finds it easy. It is all relative to our individual cases in Allah’s court as confirmed by the following hadith:

`Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) reported: The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, “The one who is proficient in the recitation of the Qur’an will be with the honourable and obedient scribes (angels) and he who recites the Qur’an and finds it difficult to recite, doing his best to recite it in the best way possible, will have a double reward.”
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

So focus on the good that you did, and expect Allah to grant you benefit and blessings in that good that you have done. It could have been as simple as smiling at someone even though you felt weak and not in the mood while you were fasting, or perhaps you spent a little more time with your family, or bought extra gifts for them, especially those that were unexpected, or for no specific reason but to show appreciation for someone. Any improvement in your character, no matter how small, can be attributed to the blessings of Ramadaan making it easy for you to achieve those improvements.

Islam has never been a religion of chastisement but rather a way of life that encourages constant improvement. Don’t help Shaytaan by insulting your own efforts or the efforts of others, no matter how meek or weak it may seem. take the good from it and build on that, and insha-Allah any slump that you may feel like you were in will quickly subside while you focus on the blessings and mercy of Allah, rather than focusing on His wrath.

"Allah says, ‘I am as my servant expects Me to be, and I am with him when he remembers me. If he thinks of Me, I think of him. If he mentions Me in company, I mention him in an even better company. When he comes closer to Me by a handspan, I come closer to him an arm’s length. If he draws closer to Me by an arm’s length, I draw closer by a distance of two outstretched arms nearer to him. If my servant comes to Me walking, I go to him running.” (Al-Bukhari)

Ramadaan is never lost, unless you make it so.