Monthly Archives: November 2011

Day 3 – Mecca

We seek to retreat to a place the Prophet used to retreat from. That’s how crazy our lives are? Or are we just not doing it right?”

10/24/11

It’s about submission. Tawaf is completely about submitting yourself to the Almighty & finding peace & bliss in that submission. Give yourself up to it & just go with the flow. Like a drop in the ocean, with the waves being controlled by The One.

We finally arrived at Mecca. Still haven’t gotten off the bus though, it’s about 11:30pm. We first went to a Pilgrim Welcome Area – where we were given boxes of crackers & Zam Zam water & free CD’s – “Hajj gifts” for pilgrims. Alhamdulillah, it’s cool I guess, we’re all fienin for some real food though & it looks like it’ll be a while before we’ll be getting any.

We then went to the receiving office for “Pilgrims of Turkey, Europe, America, & Australia”. Maktab (office) #39, whatever that means.We’re sitting in the bus still, some kids came on & handed out more boxes of crackers & water, haha. They also handed each of us elastic wristbands with our maktab number handwritten along with some other Arabic writing. I think we’ll get to go to the hotel soon iA.

The landscape around Mecca has been interesting. It’s all desert & mountains. Everything looks so unnatural in its appearance – the buildings I mean – the architecture, crazy lighting, grandiose scale. I’ve never been to Vegas, but I can totally see this being like Vegas. All this flashy development in the middle of nowhere. It’s kind of sad, but that’s human nature I suppose. Even a mile away from the Haram, people feel the need for worldly distractions & attractions – carnivals, restaurants with jungle themes, things made to look like they belong in other parts of the world. A place like this should focus on the attraction it has, rather than bring into it things it doesn’t have. That’s the real way to honor the Haram – preserve it, keep it as a place of worship.

The clock tower is enormous. I saw it from at least 10 miles out. Driving up to it feels just like approaching the Empire State Building. The “downtown” area, where the Haram is, is poppin. very alive & grand. Just driving through briefly has been cool. It’s just past midnight & we’re pulling up to our hotel now. Khair iA, let’s see what happens next.

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Chillin in the hotel lobby. Holding this cell phone my parents bought, with a TV blaring behind me & a guy on his iMac in front of me & I’m wondering how much of a retreat this will really be. It’s funny though, that we seek to retreat to a place the Prophet used to retreat from. That’s how crazy our lives are? Or are we just not doing it right? One thing came to mind, from Tariq Ramadan’s book, “In the Footsteps of the Prophet”, his emphasis on how connecting with Nature is critical in the advancement of Faith. We don’t need to retreat to a city, we have nature around us where we live – the Prophet used to retreat outside of the city. I’d like to start doing the same. Maybe one weekend a month, head out into some mountains or woods or something.

I saw signs for Ta’if & it reminded me of the history behind that place during the Year of Sadness. I kind of want to see it. I want to do a tour actually, of significant places from the Seerah (Life of the Prophet).

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Just completed ‘Umrah. It’s 7am, I’m finally getting to bed. I am exhausted – physically, mentally, even emotionally. Tonight was epic. I started writing a journal to capture times like what just transpired. I’m so overwhelmingly tired though that I don’t feel like writing anything – but I also don’t want to risk forgetting anything. I’ll try my best to get it all down before I pass out….zZzZz….

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Day 3 – Blank Scars

“The simplest thing will take hours for no apparent reason. THAT is your Hajj, that is your teacher.”

10/24/11

It’s 8:30pm, we’re on the bus now finally, waiting to ride to Mecca. We’re going to go straight to the hotel & eat, rest & I’ll probably head to the Haram (the Sacred Place) to do my ‘Umrah (ritual of visiting the Sacred Place).It’s funny, Hajj is supposed to be a journey that teaches you patience. We often assume we have the chance to learn patience later, as things try us throughout the journey. We haven’t even gotten to the Haram yet & we’ve had to show so much patience. You never know where it’ll come from – the simplest thing will take hours for no apparent reason. THAT is your Hajj, that is your teacher. So far, I think I’ve been keeping up alright, iA I am actually considered patient by Allah & I can successfully endure what else we face.
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The waiting game is real. We’ve been playing since we got here, round after round, subhanAllah. It’s 9pm – still on the bus, waiting to leave, the driver finally got here. Now we’re just staring, hoping to pull out any second!
Sitting here, I looked down at my hands & saw this scar on my thumb & felt like it was so distant & foreign. I sat there, staring as I forced my way through my mind to recall the accident I had, sawing wood to build a float for a Homecoming Parade in high school, almost 11 years ago. It’s like I’m in a whole different world & everything before I got here is but a vague memory I can barely recall. This has become my reality, I almost don’t remember any life before this morning, before this plane ride. I was born when I put on this cloth – who was I before this? Was I before this? All seem completely valid questions right now. I am, or appear to be, a pilgrim, a Hajji, that is how I am called by others. That has become my identity. I have completely lost all other notions of my self. This is not an exaggeration, this is not me dramatizing my state. This is real. I try to remember others, my loved ones, & I can see their faces, but I feel nothing. All I feel is this yearning to reach my destination. I am coming! O My Lord, I am coming! Please accept me! Labbayk Allahuma Labbayk is all I know in my heart right now. Alas, we embark for Mecca, just after 9pm.

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I imagine tawaf gives the ultimate Axé. The concept from Capoeira is so captivating & intoxicating, I’m eager to see if this feeling will compare. Maybe the act of tawaf is the ultimate Roda. Maybe it is part of The Divine’s decree for His creation, for them to be so engrossed & lost in His Orbit. This is such an interesting topic that I have to contemplate further.

Axé (ah-shay) is a term used by the Brazilian martial arts form of Capoeira to describe a feeling of intensity that emerges from within, in the midst of a Roda (ho-da), or demonstration circle. It is the free flow of energy from the members of the circle to the fighters – a dizzying concoction of adrenaline, excitement, fear, ambition, and raw passion. Everyone in the circle claps and sings ancient songs that tell the history of their people and their beautiful art-form. Meanwhile, the fighters throw powerful movements, one after another, at each other – with an aim not to injure, but to flow seamlessly. The most beautiful Capoeira will have little if any physical contact, with fighters constantly moving through the space within the Roda, nearly crippling one another but never actually striking a blow. You could get seriously injured in any second, with fervent voices at your back, thrusting you forward. There is the excitement of overcoming yourself, while finding complete harmony with others at the same time. That rush is Axé.

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Day 3 – First Impressions

No one makes mention, everyone looks away, continuing to chant remembrances of their Lord, The Most High.”

10/24/11

It’s interesting, so far, the overwhelming majority of the people I’ve seen (pilgrims), have been old. Not many young pilgrims, which is unfortunate. It has the capacity to be such a profound & impacting experience, one that’s touched the lives of trillions, and the majority of those that partake in it are those who don’t have much energy & life left in them to make a difference with the newfound experiences they pick up. We should do something about that – pay/subsidize for more young people to perform Hajj.
I also saw a delegation of Algerian pilgrims. It was so funny – each one had a different Dahman characteristic (my Algerian roommate in college). One wore his shoes the same way – with the back folded in, another had his body hair (tmi?), another had his beard style/afro & his body type. So Algerian :)

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So we finally got our passports back – 6:30pm. It’s been long for no reason, but relaxing. Been people-watching hardcore. The local Saudi’s that walk around in thobes & headgear act like they run the show. What’s funny is that they probably do run the show – I can’t take them seriously though, I know the outfits are supposed to be their equivalent of a suit – but, c’mon, really? It’s just not the same. It has it’s own elegance to it, I agree, but nothing is quite as boss as a pimp 3-piece suit.

There’s also a very identifiable attitude amongst the Saudi’s. They’re the ish maximus here, they know it. I remember Saudi’s at VCU would act the same way, except no one gave a dang over there. Here… people actually hafta pay attention. That sucks!

There’s sometimes a noticeable tension between the workers, who seem to be primarily immigrants, and their Saudi managers. Like they don’t respect them, but fear them b/c of their status & still act out sometimes, passive aggressively.

I actually saw an altercation between two Desi (Indian/Pakistani/Bengali) janitors. They argued, the first man broke a broomstick, the second broke the stick to the dustpan the first man was holding. A Saudi came by and, though they were upset, they restrained from saying anything to him. They only continued to argue & exchange heated words amongst themselves after the first man was seemingly told to leave by the Saudi. He was escorted away by a Saudi police officer. I don’t know. Seemed like they fought cuz one guy used the other’s broom? So, he got annoyed & broke that same broom, then the other guy broke his dustpan. Then, the 1st got mad & yelled at the 2nd for getting him in trouble. Seems like there is that seedy, cutthroat, backstabbing vibe in the underbelly of this machine.

Even when first landing at the airport, while shuttling to the terminal, you can literally see pockets of workers, dozens at a time, resting in covered entrances around the building – battered, exhausted, visibly drained, while kept mostly invisible. It’s something powerful to see, as you roll up in your fresh white sheets, ready to go. Suspicions creep into your mind of the injustices that may exist, under covers that no one dares to lift. No one makes mention, everyone looks away, continuing to chant remembrances of their Lord, The Most High.

So, it’s incredible to compare the disparities that are present, just in the airport. We’re all immigrants to this land. Some as pilgrims, searching for the salvation of our souls & success for the Hereafter. Others, as migrant workers, searching for a means of earning to better support themselves &/or families back home – in search of worldly success. The workers look beaten & worn, the pilgrims look excited but drained. I suppose the desert takes its toll on all, may Allah bring us all the best of successes in this life & in the Hereafter.

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Day 3 – These Sands

This place has a history. These sands have a legacy. We may contribute to it, but never can we be privileged enough to define it in a way more magnificent than what has already been done.”

10/24/11

Wow. Ok. So we’re here, it’s been a bit hectic. Mostly, cuz I wasn’t mindful of the fact that this is a straight 3rd world country. We got out of the airplane in Jeddah & just got hit right smack in the face by the thick desert heat. I actually didn’t mind it. To be honest, I’m enjoying the weather. Sure, myself & everyone else is gross, sweaty and sticky but it’s all love homie, we in the birth land of the Rasul!

A bunch of bureaucratic drama has been taking place at the airport. Something to do with having to pay to get our passports. I dunno, I’m chillin, waitin for it to all clear out. We’ve been at the airport for about…5 hours maybe? We have our bags & everything, just waiting until one office delivers our passports to another office 4 kiosks away, so we can pay them, pick up our passports & leave. Inefficient much? Totally. I guess that’s how bureaucracies go, especially in kingdoms.

This place reminds me a great deal of Pakistan, the way things are painted with tacky colors, the dry heat, the laid back attitudes of the people that work here. People just not on that America level :P

SubhanAllah though, I prayed Dhuhr & ‘Asr in the musallah at the airport, and it was such an amazing feeling. Something about praying in ihram, under the desert sun, with a cool breeze, in the land where the Nabi received revelation is profoundly powerful. I really felt baraka that was special, a connection that was greater than what I’m used to. Labbayk Allahuma Labbayk (I am responding to Your Call, O Allah, I am responding to Your Call).

People-watching here is so great too. With the locals, it’s like they prolly think they’re the ish cuz they work in Saudi. Then again…they kind of are the ish…cuz they work in Saudi. Even if they are just bag handlers at the airport, there’s something very special & majestic about this place. When you look out into the desert horizon, and all you see is a flat line off in the distance & a brown, dusty tint to the air that hangs above it, you feel the magnitude of being a in a place so much bigger than yourself – so much more significant than what’s made it important by your meager existence in these few days.

This place has a history. These sands have a legacy. We may contribute to it, but never can we be privileged enough to define it in a way more magnificent than what has already been done. We seek, instead, to merely be a part of this magnitude. To be lost in these deserts, under this never-ending sky, breathing air that encompasses every imaginable creature with its density & grace. We seek to be lost together, in circumambulation, moving with the crowd like a sea crashing rhythmically against the coast, no single drop free to move on its own. Go with the flow. Move with the current. Take off your shoes & swim good. Lose yourself in these rituals & connect with The One that brought you here. Find Him. He has brought you for that purpose. Seek out His Majesty & Glory. That is why you are here. That is how you will be transformed. Find Him. And remember what you have found. Carry it with you & share it with others. Lather, rinse, repeat. Others will follow in the same footsteps, you may return again & even join them. But, no journey can match the first invitation. Get the most out of this trip. You will never have the opportunity to go to Mecca for the first time ever again, for the rest of eternity. Ya Rab, please bless me to find what is best for me to find here. Guide me to what is best for me, here & Hereafter. Thank you for your invitation. I happily accept! Labbayk Allahuma Labbayk!

In other news, vaseline between the thighs? Genius! Muhammad Al-Shareef comin through all the way on that HajjCoach. Chafe free is how I be (iA) alllll dayyyy!

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Day 2 – Two Sheets

I donned my funeral shroud…I mean ihram.” 

10/23/11

I donned my funeral shroud…I mean ihram. Such a different feeling. Oddly refreshing & invigorating, while nerve-wracking & kind of scary at the same time. Probably b/c this is the first time I’ve ever been in the state of ihram. I’m trying to be super apprehensive about how I do everything now. See, I’m used to fasting, knowing what to avoid in that state & how to maneuver that – ihram is entirely foreign though. Hopefully, I won’t make any mistakes & have to pay a penalty or end up leaving the state of ihram.

On a side note, these uncles talked all night long. My mom & I got no sleep. I’m so tired – I’m concerned I’ll end up spending valuable ibadah (worship) time having to catch up on sleep now. There’s still more transit time til we get to Mecca though, maybe I can still catch some shuteye. We’re actually going to be flying into Medina first, then Jeddah. Our group is opting to wait til Medina before changing into their ihram. I decided that would be too hectic & just did it early – every single dude on the plane trying to change into their two sheets all at once, with only 4 bathrooms, that’s a problem. Most people on the plane started it after Fajr – which, by the way, came super early! We jumped so many time zones, I suppose that’s why. I’ve never actually done this, where I prayed on a plane, according to the prayer time for the area we’re flying over. It’s been so long since I’ve been on a trip overseas – last time I went, I didn’t care so much about praying. Alhamdulillah. Going to try sleeping a little iA. A lot more traveling still ahead.

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Day 2 – Liftoff

10/23/11

On the plane, we’ve lifted off & begun the flight. You can sense there’s alot of excitement, especially amidst our group – all the uncles are like, on a buddy trip, chillin wit they homies kinda vibe. I’m chillin with some earplugs in, finding bliss in tuning out the noise. I’m sitting next to my mom, which is funny b/c I was assigned a totally different seat. My mom had some guy next to her, who offered to switch with my dad, but he didn’t want to sit next to her! So funny. He didn’t want to deal with the nagging for 12 hours :). She was giving him a hard time for not switching next to her though, so he did it to avoid making a scene. He sat down next to her, 30 seconds later, he was at my seat asking to switch, haha! I happily switched. I’d much rather be close to her than with some randoms. I’m hoping to spend alot of time with her this trip, helping her however I can. I know she really wants it too, she’s saying my dad already said he’s not gonna stay with her during the rituals. These two are so funny, it’s cute. I’m looking forward to being there for her though, may Allah make it easier for us & reward me even more for helping them :) cha-ching!

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I’m reading Tariq Ramadan’s “In The Footsteps of the Prophet”, finding it to be so inspirational & beautiful. So well-written & perfectly contemplative mashaAllah. I hope that I’m able to take from it what would be best for me to know while I embark on this momentous journey. Speaking of which – I realize this trip has a magnitude greater than what I currently grasp. I’m attempting to capture as much as I can though, so that later, when it settles in, I can re-live & share the journey in a meaningful way. I also imagine there’s an opportunity for my future generations to interact with this text. If that ever happens, if I am to be so blessed, then, Salaam to you all :D (I actually smiled when I drew that, even though it’s hideous, geez cut me some slack, I’m your granddaddy for goodness sake!) j/k future kiddos, j/k :) (that means “just kidding” in 2011 talk). Who knows what you’ll be into when you’re time comes – where your interests will lie. I do solemnly pray & hope for your success, in the most true & everlasting sense of the word. May Allah preserve, guide, elevate, & honor my progeny & make me and my brother the elevated, guided, successful progeny of those who came before us.

The Hideous Smiley

On a less inspirational, yet equally inspired note, these Punjabi uncles seriously won’t stop yapping on the plane. AND they’re SO LOUD! It’s ridiculous. It’s like 11:30 pm and they’re still carrying on like we’re traveling to an international cab-drivers convention (they all actually are cab drivers). Can we please contemplate the journey afoot? Mentally prepare ourselves for one of the greatest experiences of our lives? Really hoping they don’t turn this Hajj into a bachelor party. I will not hesitate to bounce & do my own thing – I need to do this right & to have my du’as accepted – I need my sins forgiven, my heart cleansed, my self enlightened. Ya Rabb, I am in Your Care now, more than always, please sufficiently prepare & guide me. Ameen.

Word to the kiddos – don’t be loud, obnoxious Punjabis. Nobody thinks that mess is cute.

I’ve been reading & writing much of the way, I think I should sleep, we land in about 7 hours I believe, & it’s all action from there.

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Day 2 – Dulles

“It’s nice to have some relief before it gets heavy.”

10/23/11

We leave today – in a few minutes actually. I finished up my packing last night – it still hasn’t quite hit me that I’m going anywhere. HajjCoach.com was so helpful in giving a comprehensive rundown on the essentials – great for a procrastinator like me. Shopping lists, ritual guides and overall good advice in some quick little videos. Great site mA.

I made a late night Wal-Mart run to pick up a few essentials. InshaAllah, I’ll have everything I need. Don’t know if I’ll get sick either, I’ve been feeling a little sore throat & fever for the past few days – we’ll see if that gets better or worse.

Reading over guides last night for Hajj & ‘Umrah is when it hit me that this process was real – it helped me totally visualize it & see myself there, which made me tear up. This morning though, I woke up & felt like it was any other day, like nothing special. Felt nice actually – I imagine it’ll be all crazy from here on out, so it’s nice to have some relief before it gets heavy.

Must go now, we’re heading out the door – my uncle & aunt are here to take us to the airport
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We’re driving to the airport now. I’m looking outside & it’s beautiful. 65 deg, sunny, cool breeze – the leaves are changing color. Such a gorgeous time to be here. I wonder if I’ll miss out on autumn altogether by the time I get back. Apparently, it’s going to be 103-108 deg in Mecca during the day, 83 deg at night. That’s. Insane. And it’s a desert, that’ll be interesting…
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Got through security just fine. We’re seated at the gate now, waiting to board. We had enough time to get situated comfortably, grabbed a quick snack [tuna melt croissant from Dunkin – money :)] & we got to pray ‘Asr at the airport chapel. It’s amazing how tranquil & peaceful I felt after praying. SubhanAllah, each prayer feels so good now – past few years, salah has been so much more fruitful & beloved to me. I still haven’t grasped the connection, mentally, between praying towards the qibla & embarking on this journey in which I’ll be face-to-face with my qibla. The qibla has become a safe place in my heart – the direction has become one of comfort & tranquility. This trip will bring me the opportunity to discover the qibla anew. Something I put off thinking about b/c I don’t want to lose the peace I get from it as it is now in my heart. It’s the little things I suppose that bring comfort & peace to the heart.

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Day 1 – Preparations

I’ve found that this preparation for going to Hajj is really a preparation for death.”

10/22/11

I’ve found that this preparation for going to Hajj is really a preparation for death. You settle all of your affairs, you seek forgiveness from everyone, prepare a will, say goodbye – don your funeral shroud, & head to the source of your origin.

I know Hajj is meant to be a metaphor for life – the life cycle, specifically. We re-focus ourselves around the most important thing – our connection to Allah. We leave behind everything to answer His Call. We assemble at the place we’ll all be resurrected. We try to grasp the magnitude & horror of that day & we beg for forgiveness. If Hajj is crazy, the Day of Judgment is yonkers. I pray that Allah, the Most Merciful, will see me enduring the Hajj & will forgive me & purify me & will make the DoJ easy for me as a result. Maybe I won’t have to face this twice, iA. May this Hajj, be that it is a lesser trial, suffice in testing me, so that on the DoJ, I will only be receiving the Good News. Ameen.

I also just haven’t been out of the country in 10 years (Canada doesn’t count). So I am a bit nervous about that. I’m not worried though, really, I think it will all be just fine, iA.

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Notes from HajjCoach.com:

“Sabr circle” – when feeling tried, know that it is a test & look at bigger picture, resolve issues w/thankfulness & mercy. Imagine a circle, inside of which are all things you are able to remain patient with. Anything outside of this circle is what will really test you – identify when situations are beyond your Sabr circle when they arise and deal apprehensively. Remember the spirit of Hajj.

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Day 1 – Aspirations

Travel Companions

Everyday, they ask me if I’m ready, I have nothing to say.”

Book 1

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

10/22/11

We leave tomorrow. This will be my first time going on this journey, so it still hasn’t quite hit me yet. I was hoping to start documenting my thoughts & feelings earlier, finding the time has been difficult. I’m going to do my best to keep up this journal b/c I want this experience to be something completely memorable. Even now as I’m starting to write, there are so many thoughts racing in my mind & I want to capture them all. Breathe. Here goes iA (inshaAllah, God-Willing).

 I haven’t done anything in the way of getting prepared. My parents had bags packed, ready to go, seated beside the staircase 2 months ago. Everyday, they ask me if I’m ready, I have nothing to say. I still can’t believe I’m actually going. This is truly a blessing & indeed an invitation from Allah SWT (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, May He Be Glorified & Exalted). The entire process of planning this trip has been so smooth & easy. The cost almost didn’t even matter – after having paid for everything, I really don’t feel like anything was decreased from me, subhanAllah. Allah truly opens doors & is the best of planners. I was honestly skeptical about how real this was going to be until we got our passports & visas back. But even now, until my eyes look upon the ka’aba & I take that first breath of air inside the Haram, I won’t fully grasp it.

 I’m looking forward to it. I’m honestly not worried or concerned by what people say about it. People have stories about how dirty or difficult or intense it will be. I’m sure I can handle it. I’m just concerned for my parents – not sure how well they’ll be able to keep up, but I’m sure we’ll be able to get through it iA.

What I’m most looking forward to is making du’a (supplication). Over the past few months, du’a has become my favorite hobby & past-time. So, Hajj is especially exciting, it’s like the big leagues for du’a. The majors :)

There are so many things I ask for, but really I just want what’s best in this life & in the Hereafter. I also love to make du’a for others – especially my loved ones. I’m excited about the 6 page du’a list I’ve got with names & du’as from other people. Ya Allah, make me one whose du’as are answered. Ameen.

I’ve been contemplating this past year & I’m so thankful for how blessed I’ve been. Getting to go on Hajj, getting a good job, having a good relationship with family – meeting new family, seeing Ali (my younger brother) do well in school & set out in a good direction, being financially stable, being healthy, being free from major problems, being able to get active & creative with side projects again. So many great blessings Alhamdulillah wa Shukr.

I’m excited about following the footsteps of the Prophet. I want to visit the places where he was – I’m so hopeful for visiting the cave of Hira, where he would meditate & retreat from society, where the first revelation came to him. That must be a powerful place.
I hear Mecca is crazy busy & crowded – like a bustling NYC & I’m so interested to see that. It’s a major place where the primary focus of everyone there is Islam. I’ve never been in a place like that, we’re always a minority, or in places where there are Muslims, I’ve never been around that level of intensity and devotion.
I also have heard that Medina is completely tranquil & serene. It blows my mind when I hear about that. It’s amazing to hear it from everyone & to imagine the tranquility to be so overpowering & unmistakable. I’m so curious as to whether Medina was always this way, or b/c the Prophet lived there & prayed for it. He also loved Mecca, so it’s interesting & nice that a busy city was something he enjoyed – surely it was still busy back then, just relative to their scale. He loved the busy city, but would retreat every so often into the cave to find balance & remove himself so he could discover himself & understand this world & this life. Eventually, Medina held a special place in his heart, the tranquility must have been there then. I understand & relate to it so much. I just want to go & experience it myself, iA.

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Welcome to the Journey

Peace & Blessings,

I was recently blessed to be able to go on a very powerful and spiritual journey to Mecca to complete the Hajj pilgrimage, one of the 5 pillars of the Muslim faith. During my trip, I kept a travel journal to document my experiences, reflections, aspirations, and more. This is a transcript of those journal entries. I’ll also be including photos and videos along the way.

There are a total of 2 books. Each day’s posts will be broken up into smaller sections that will be released every few days, with different themes, until all 23 days are complete.

The journal progresses as the journey does, so be sure to keep reading to see how my perspectives evolved and matured throughout the trip.

Click Here to Start from Day 1. You can also scroll along the right sidebar to see posts from other days. There’s also an FAQ section you can visit, especially great for those of you making preparations to go to Hajj yourselves.

Please feel free to share with others and to post any comments/feedback. Hope you enjoy :)

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