Monthly Archives: January 2012

Day 18 – Like Clockwork

I recognize that I have to get tested with everything I have that matters to me, to see if I turn to Allah with that threat of losing each thing.

11/8/11Hajj, Day 5

On the way to Sai’y, the adhan for Dhuhr went off. I was on a walkway that passes over Safa and Marwa, on my way to outside, to find a staircase to the roof. The walkway was maybe wide enough for 6 people to stand side by side. When the adhan goes off, people stop wherever they are, throughout the city, and form lines and pray right where they stand. I got stuck on the walkway,  tried going forward to get outside, but everyone in front had already formed their lines, there was no way I could turn back either. So, I stopped where I was too, and just formed a line with those next to me. Others behind me kept pushing through, even after the prayer had begun.

It was so packed, I started weeping in salah. I just had this thought like, “Look, this is what we do, we crunch ourselves into tiny spaces to worship you, Ya Allah. People push past us on their way out, carelessly shoving us while we pray, but we must bear it and continue. This is our nature, this is who we are – small, insignificant. You are truly Magnificent and Glorified. You tell us to come here, to complete these rituals, exactly the way You say and we do our best to follow. Please forgive me, please protect me, please benefit me by what I’ve done for your sake, for I have no power to benefit myself. I have no station by which I may protect my own soul. It is truly all in Your Hands. My existence is completely at your whim, just as I am now, physically, in sujjud (prostration), an inch away from those around me. My face is pressed into the same ground thousands of people, myself included, had just been walking along. Allahu Akbar.” In retrospect, I don’t think I’ve ever felt closer to Allah in prayer as I did then.

I went upstairs and ended up on the roof. The rush everywhere else was unbearable at this point, I was much more willing to brave the hot, midday desert sun and heat, on the uncovered roof, than pushes and shoves. First though, I needed to rest, desperately. I found some shade and sat down, then laid flat on my back. Reminded me of that yoga position, “open and ready to receive”. It felt amazing, like I was melting into the cool marble floor. After a while, I got up and wanted to write for a little bit, so I pulled out my journal…and was horrified. It was soaked. I was like, OMG NO! I went through the pages to see the damage. The edge of every page I had written on so far was soaked..with sweat..? I think I sweat through my bag and soaked the book? Or maybe it’s from being pressed against other people and getting their sweat on it? I’m not entirely sure. What’s amazing is that the pages I hadn’t gotten to yet were dry, subhanAllah. Only pages with writing were wet. That’s purely a test.

The words weren’t bleeding, the ink wasn’t running, which was very, very good. The pages were stuck together though. I didn’t want them to dry that way or they’d rip when peeled apart after drying and maybe mess up the letters and become illegible. I remembered suddenly that I had packed a small hand towel in my tote bag that I still hadn’t used, from the airplane. I actually yoinked it from the first class bathroom, after I snuck in when the lines were too long for the bathrooms in our economy section. Finally came in handy though ;). I put the towel on each page and pressed down with my pocket Qur’an to soak up the moisture. Took me a little over an hour to do each page, 90 in all. It was time-consuming, but it was working, the pages were dry enough that they didn’t stick. Alhamdilillah, I think it worked out, it’s still not entirely dry, at 4:30am, but it’s almost there, and the unused pages are totally unaffected, so I can continue to write without issue.

I would have been so devastated had I lost it, the collection of my thoughts and heart’s reflections and ponderings. Had to get tested though, I understand. I recognize that I have to get tested with everything I have that matters to me, to see if I turn to Allah with that threat of losing each thing. The only other thing I needed to get tested on, the only thing left, was my parents. Suddenly, when this thought crossed my mind during my Sai’y, I realized that I had totally left myself open to be tested there too! We had set such a shifty rendezvous place to meet at after we were all done with our rituals, what if I can’t find them! I went to the edge of the roof and looked over to our meeting spot, the bathroom in the courtyard outside of the masjid. There were like 100,000 people standing around our meeting spot. I had already taken an hour and a half break, what if they get there way before me and can’t find me and freak out and do something hasty?

Sure enough, the test came like clockwork :). I finished my Sai’y on the open roof, which wasn’t so bad, I did it in an hour. There were very few people up there, so there was no rush. It was also made more comfortable with the easy access to the cold ZamZam fountains all along the sides, which are normally jam-packed during Sai’y. I moistened the hand towel I had with cold ZamZam and covered my bald head with it to stay cool and to keep the sun out of my eyes. So glad I chose to do this instead of doing this indoors with everyone pushing and shoving and packed tightly together.

View of The Sacred House From The Roof, During Hajj

When I got down to our meeting spot, I walked through and around the entire area in search of my parents. Nothing. No cell phone either, and we had to take a taxi back still, we HAD to go together. Even though I suspected this would happen, I still had to deal with it somehow. I made du’a, and went around a second time. When I was inside, in the shade, I heard my mom call out to me. I saw her and was like, SubhanAllah, this is all Divine Support. Give in, remember Allah when you’re tested and He supports you. It’s real. My favorite thing about Hajj has been learning to trust Allah and how to seek His Help and Support. Hajj is like a crash course in dealing with hardships and tribulations. You need this now, not when you’re old, with one foot in the grave. Go as soon as you can, trust me.

My parents had just gotten there 2 minutes ago, so we basically got there around the same time. We tried to get food but couldn’t make up our minds about where to eat. Not having decent options made it difficult again. We ended up just grabbing ice cream and hopped on a bus to go to the Jamarat. It was 3pm. SubhanAllah, I was so amazed at our timing. I even took a break before doing Sai’y and we still ended up together at basically the same time.

The bus was packed, we had to stand the whole way. We were all so tired, my feet were blistering. We finished our ice cream on the bus and I was looking for some place to set down the empty cups. I placed them in an empty overhead compartment and they somehow fell over and spilled. My ice cream soup fell on the old Indian man sitting beneath the compartment, his seat and shirt got stained. I felt so bad! :/ He didn’t really say anything though, he actually even moved over and offered to let me share his seat with him. How sweet mA. I couldn’t do it though, the orange stains across the shoulder blades of his otherwise pure white shirt made me feel too bad. Another test. That was the first time I’d really done anything ‘harmful’ to someone here, and thankfully it was by mistake at least. I apologized to him and he made no fuss whatsoever.

The trip took an hour, the driver got stuck in so much traffic that he couldn’t take the bus any further. He told everyone that he refused to go on and made us all get off, a mile away from our destination. We got out and walked the distance to the Jamarat and did our Rami’ (stoning) and made our way back to the camp. We had to stop like 4 times on the walk back, we were all in so much pain. We even laid out our prayer rug and just sat down and chilled until Maghrib, outside of the Jamarat. For miles, everywhere you sit, the police come by and yell at you to get up and keep moving. You can’t even rest peacefully when you’re so exhausted and worn. Thankfully, since prayer time was close, they let us stay in our place until after prayer. Off in the distance, you can see the clock tower of the Haram, protruding into the sky. At times for prayer, the tip of the tower sparkles and glitters to show that the adhan is being made. We watched from miles away, until the lights stopped flickering, and then performed our Maghrib prayer. Immediately afterwards, the police officers returned and shooed us all away again, so we set back onto our journey back to Mina.

It took like an hour and a half to walk back, all through the refugee-lookin parts of Mina again. We got back in, that’s when I laid down and just knockedd outt! Now, it’s 5am, time for Fajr. I’m gonna pray and sleep for a bit. We’re gonna catch a bus to leave Mina at 4, so we have to go to the Jamarat one last time between 12-4pm iA. If we don’t leave before Maghrib, we have to stay here one more night and complete the stoning ritual one more day. I’ll continue with more later, good chat :)

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Filed under Al-Masjid Al-Haram, Hajj, Mecca, Reflections, Travel

Day 18 – The Walls

There’s no way to fight it, the drop of water cannot move the ocean. You have no choice but to let yourself go

11/8/11Hajj, Day 5

When we started tawaf, I was like yo, let’s just go to the ground floor, but my parents weren’t feelin it. We split up and they eventually went back up and made tawaf in the gallery of the first floor, while I went in closer. It took me 3 rounds to get closer. Alhamdulillah, as painful and packed as it was, I managed to make it to the Ka’aba, with Allah’s Help of course. I touched the walls on different sides on my 3rd, 4th and 5th rounds. On my 4th round, I even got to hang on the door of the Ka’aba (al-Multazam) and make du’a, Alhamdulillah. I also got to go to the little half-circle (Hijr of Isma’il) and pray 2 rak’ahs! It was the first time I had done that, Alhamdulillah. That section used to be part of the original dimensions of the Ka’aba, so praying there is like praying inside the Ka’aba, according to the Prophet. It was a great little break from making tawaf, I was dying. I felt like I was gonna pass out, it was so physically draining and tiring today, more than any of my other tawafs have ever been.

On the ground floor, amidst the crowd, the temperature felt like it was no less than 110 degrees. Thousands of bodies are packed together so tight, and you literally have no control over where you go. If the mass sways, you sway, if the mass turns, you turn. There is no separation, only the congealed mob of bodies of Believers, crying out to the Lord of the Ka’aba.

It’s an incredible experience. Phenomenal. So many people, from all over the world, Chinese, Indonesian, Pakistani, Russian, Afghan, Egyptian, Iranian, Malian, Bengali, and more and more…all crying out passionately, weeping as they circumambulate The Sacred House out of complete devotion to The One. It’s so profound to see how touched everyone is, the universality of this experience is amazing. It’s also pretty dangerous, honestly, that many people fervently crammed together, all trying to move through the same space. Many times, I almost fell or would get caught with my body turned so awkwardly, unable to even stand straight from the lack of space. I would be twisted unnaturally and then have to continue to keep walking this way for many yards, while trying to keep my balance so I wouldn’t fall and get trampled. There’s no way to fight it, the drop of water cannot move the ocean. You have no choice but to let yourself go, to submit yourself to it, to the Will of Allah. He it is, who controls the waves. He creates openings you can jump through, don’t hesitate, just go. Jump through every open door, rush at every opportunity. That is how we’re meant to interact with Allah’s Bounties. Take advantage of them and He will show you why. Open yourself up to the openings and receive Him directly into your heart.

Pilgrims Embrace The Sacred House

Pilgrims Cling To The Ka'aba During Tawaf

I got to take some pictures and video at the walls of the Ka’aba. That was dope. I figured, this was a chance not many people have – to be at the foot of the Ka’aba during Hajj, surrounded by record-setting millions. I had to get some footage. My memory card was full though. Also, took some time  to find my camera in my bag, but i wasn’t going to give up. That was one thing I’m sorry for. I was on the wall of the Ka’ba, rummaging through my bag and then scanning through my camera to delete pictures and make space. But, I got some shots up close and some video of me getting to touch the Ka’aba. So dope, subhanAllah. I’m really thankful for it, it’s epic. Definitely gonna run those online when I get back iA.

Placing My Hands on the Ka’aba During Tawaf

You can see from this video how spaces open and close rapidly throughout the path. I wasn’t sure I was even going to get to it while I was recording, but I kept trying until there was a space that opened just for me :). I tried showing the mass of people present that day, from the center of it all. Excuse the shaky hands ;)

Ok, so, it was such a beautiful experience, but it was surrounded by difficulty, like gift-wrapping a Quattro’s cheeseburger in some barbed wire. For example, there’s trash all over the ground around the Ka’aba. You have to be so careful when you walk to not step on anything sharp, but…you can’t even see the ground! Everyone is that packed together. So, every step you take, for the duration of the 7 rounds, has to be delicate and careful. I was pretty much tip-toeing the whole time. I would get so much stuff on my feet, and I’d constantly be reaching down and trying to wipe them off as I was moving along. I came across so many safety pins, you don’t even understand. I would see them and dart down and pick them up real quick, so no one else would accidentally step on them and puncture their feet.

The worst part though, is how panicked people get. As they would be moving along, when it would get too intense, some people would really freak out. Don’t panic in the ocean, that’s how you get drownded. Trust me, I know from experience. I almost drownded before, good thing Amer  saved me :). You have to completely let yourself go, no fighting or freaking out. People cling so tightly to each other, looking for support with those they know, forgetting they are with Allah, the best of Caretakers. That’s when it gets ugly. That’s when they start getting divisive and start pushing, and others fight back, self-serving through self-action. The wave guides and provides, the droplet can do nothing for itself, save what the wave allows and facilitates. Be patient, you will be get yours when the time is right. Stick with the struggle until then, that is your role.

The Black Stone Scuffle

This video shows the scene surrounding The Black Stone, where many pilgrims push and shove to get close enough to kiss the stone, as the Prophet would do. There is a guard overseeing the corner where the stone is mounted, he’s the one that put his umbrella out in front of me when he saw me approach with my camera. You can’t actually see the stone, it’s entirely covered by the mob surrounding it. If you notice the man on the left, at the end of the video, wearing blue and leaning down, his face is where the stone sits. It’s the most intense and difficult spot to be in, throughout the entire Haram, nearly impossible to reach without putting up a serious fight. The closest I ever got, was touching the stone with my fingertips, by reaching desperately over the heads of dozens of other pilgrims.

The best technique for moving in and out is to tag along. People are going to link up and fight their way through, you dont even have to do anything physical, just follow. Space will usually stay open long enough for you to pass through if you stay close. As the train of pilgrims passes by you, just jump to the back of the line, and go along as far as you want. Keep looking for openings, keep moving. I imagine that’s how the Sirat Al-Mustaqim is, visually. At each step, the next best step is not always the one directly ahead of the last. Quite often, you’re better suited for reaching your destination by stepping side-to-side, slowing down, speeding up, taking a step back – it’s forever-shifting, never constant. With every step, you have to re-evaluate and strategize the next move, with the ultimate destination clearly in mind. You’re never set for life, along one track. Everyone must always face moments where they have to make decisions to change things up, this world is entirely temporal, and so must be our plans and paths.

Sounds like Sirat Al-Mustaqim to me. It’s so difficult to catch and even more difficult to stay on. You’re bound to fall off and slip, that’s why new openings are always emerging, if you miss one chance, stay alert, stay hungry, don’t settle. Don’t give up on trying to move forward out of frustration or loss of confidence. If you stop, let it be to sufficiently rest, then get up and move on. You’re not defeated or lost until you stop moving and looking for opportunities to grow. Eventually, you learn to recognize when you’re on the path, and you develop the knack for staying on. The quest for balance and the middle way :). No wonder it takes time, you have to fall off so many times before you learn how to keep your feet firm. You must look within and know which of your actions knocked you off track, and stop them before they occur again in the future. Finding that middle ground takes time and patience, but once you’re there, you have experience and expertise to keep yourself, and others, firm, on the right.

I realize I talk alot about tawaf, and talking about tawaf leads me to talking about so many other things. It’s literally one of the most inspiring and thought provoking rituals I’ve ever done, Alhamdulillah.

It took me 2 hours to do tawaf. I did 6 rounds inside, on the ground floor, and I was beyond exhausted. I started to make my way to the outer circles and completed my 7th round in the covered gallery of the 1st floor. That one round alone took me half an hour. It’s tight and uncomfortable, but it goes by much faster on the inside.

Afterwards, I wanted to do Sai’y upstairs, where there were less people. After getting so crushed and pushed around, I didn’t want to be near anymore people. It was so bad that as I was walking from one place to another, people would continuously bump into me or push through, against traffic, and I’d cower and curl up. I had to. Otherwise, I may have gotten crazy frustrated and snapped. I had to push all that way, way down deep inside and just take it.

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Filed under Al-Masjid Al-Haram, Hajj, Mecca, Reflections