Category Archives: Reflections

Day 22 – Myself Again

“3 Weeks can change everything”

11/12/11

Finished our tawaf al-wada’ last night, at 4 am. It went pretty smooth, no real issues. Alhamdulillah, Allah made it easy. We got to the Haram around 2 am, found a taxi right outside the house. Found one to come back just as easily, from beside the Library of Mecca, aka the Birthplace of the Prophet, right across from Marwa.

My mom wanted to get close to the Ka’aba, so I took her in during tawaf. By our second round, we were only 2-3 rows away from the walls, but it started getting very cramped and hot and reckless, just like it normally does that close. She freaked. My dad panicked. They immediately wanted to get out. My mom said it was the closest she’d ever been and was happy to see the door of the Ka’aba from that close, but was thankful to be out of the intensity. She claims she got so squished that her feet actually came up off the ground, and she was being carried by the crowd. I was there, I don’t remember it being that way. I still think she could’ve made it all the way, but she honestly just got really scared of how dangerous it was and panicked.

My dad started yelling at me, he got straight scared and grabbed my mom and started shoving people to make his way out. I was like yo, I just brought ya’ll this far for mom, not cuz I wanted to be all up in this, I already did all this. That’s when things get ugly of course, when you panic and freak out. There was such a contrast between them and me. I was fairly relaxed, going with the flow, and they were super tense, afraid they were going to die. My mom heard about two ladies that died there a few days earlier, they got crushed in tawaf. That thought scared her, even though I had her shielded.

It was definitely a different experience to do tawaf with my parents, not as exciting, but more calm once we got out and did it where there was more space. I wonder if my dad has no peace in his heart and that’s why he couldn’t let go and be at ease in the tawaf. Maybe, he was just super protective about my mom and didn’t trust me to look after her. He also yelled at some people doing group call & response du’as during tawaf haha! He was like, “Shut up! You’re disturbing the people!!” Me and my mom were like, wow…really? Just chill outttt. The look on his face was pure horror, right when he started pushing his way out. I think my mom could’ve been convinced to go further, but my dad’s panic escalated it. I just didn’t want her feeling like she missed out on anything. She said she was happy now, so Alhamdulillah.

I’ve been so exhausted since coming back to Aziziah. I actually missed Fajr cuz I knocked out. Seems things are returning to normal, even in ways I had hoped they wouldn’t. It’s almost 10am, I’m still in bed. People have been doing their packing and prep work for the return trip. We head to the airport tonight iA.

It was sad saying goodbye to Mecca last night. I looked upon the Ka’aba as if I may never see it again. I pray that isn’t the case iA. I’m glad to be going home though. I miss America and…civilization. And my mom’s cooking! :) I told her that yesterday, she was like, “pshhh, you don’t eat my cooking anyways!” I’m like, “yo! whatevs! I totes be crushin that joint…whenever you *actually* cook, that is.”

Real life is coming back, vacations almost over. I’m supposed to go back to work on Monday, let’s see how that goes, I know it won’t be a problem if I need to take off a few more days – perks of working for an Islamic organization ;)

My head has been shedding like crazy though! It’s kinda gross. I got crucial sunburn last week on my bald head and now it’s peeling. Hopefully, it clears up before people see me, or that’d just be unsightly. I also haven’t touched my beard since leaving home, super scruffy status. Haven’t cared much about my appearance here, it’s all a buncha old people and niqabi’s really. Not really my style :P. Soon as I get back, I’ma clean up nice though, freshen up all that. How funny would it be though if I stayed this way? Thobe, sandals, beard, kufi – I look straight Salafi actually. I should go back and be like hey, I’m Salafi now, I just went to Mecca bahaha! Here, it’s normal to dress like this, it makes sense and it’s more comfortable. There, there’s no point in it, I never wore a thobe til I got here actually, never had a real reason to. It really is just a Salafi costume there – trying to overly embody the outward of something without grasping the wisdom that’s underlying.

It’s past 10 now, I should get up and get ready to start the day, get everything packed up to go. It’s truly been an eventful adventure, a very memorable trip for sure, Alhamdulillah :).

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I was just reflecting on my first time in ihram a few weeks ago and at my complete loss of identity while in that state. It’s part of the magic of this place, in contrast with other “vacation” spots. Those places disconnect you from the world to help you get more in touch with yourself. This place disconnects you from the world and from your own self to connect you with Allah SWT. It is its own microcosm of the Universe. You live lifetimes here in just a few days. Allah progresses the mind and expands your experiences, giving you a full stock of inventory to call upon for the rest of your life.

3 weeks can change everything. Even if nothing changes, it shows change needs to happen, everything still changes. No change is dangerous in this case. Lives need reform after a journey like this. Hearts need protection, the soul needs a shield. Ya Rabb, please protect my heart, please guard and nurture it…

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Update – Added FAQs/Advice

Salaam!

Thank you all so much for your wonderful support and participation on this site. I set out to transcribe all of my written posts from Hajj online and to share them with everyone, but it’s amazing how much life really catches up to you, with plans of its own. Please excuse my delays. I’m still trying to finish posting everything from my journal, there’s only a few more posts left! I’m going to try to at least have everything up before Hajj actually begins this year iA.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some advice and responses to questions I’ve been getting from friends and others preparing to go for Hajj this year. Please feel free to share, comment, ask questions, or add your own advice. I hope this can serve as a benefit for everyone making their preparations now for their own journeys.

Hajj FAQs/Advice

I pray all those that are embarking for Hajj are met with many blessings and opportunities. I pray you are able to share intimate moments with your Creator and find profound openings and insights, both into the nature of your world and into the nature of your own soul. May Allah protect, inspire, and illuminate you through your return to Him, and may your return to your families and communities carry parts of that illumination, to be spread generously through your righteously guided words and actions. Please remember me in your prayers, may Allah accept all of your du’as and make you among those whose prayers are always answered. Hajj Mabrur iA. Ameen!

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Day 21 – Rearranging Truth

Every hardship comes with an ease, subhanAllah

11/11/11

The theme Surah for this Hajj has been Ash-Sharh, through & through. Every hardship comes with an ease, subhanAllah. It’s also a bit of a relief to find that each soul is only tested with what it can handle. Some people bear such heavy burdens, Allah has also given them broad shoulders, mA. I’m not saying this because I’m in a test now, I’m actually very much at ease, but I do want to preserve these reflections iA. Others around me are starting to face severe tests in trying to travel back home, so something big may come for us too. We’ll see iA.

Translation of Surah Ash-Sharh, #94:

1. Have We not opened your breast for you (O Muhammad)?
2. And removed from you your burden,
3. Which weighed down your back?
4. And raised high your fame?
5. So verily, with the hardship, there is relief,
6. Verily, with the hardship, there is relief.
7. So when you have finished (from your occupation), then stand up for Allah’s worship.
8. And to your Lord (Alone) turn (all your intentions and hopes and) your invocations.

The nature of these tests is so interesting. If you think about it, what is it that’s being tested? It’s whether or not you remember and turn to Allah. That’s it. It’s not a test of whether you overcome obstacles- often you’re in situations you have no power to overcome. That’s not even the point. All you have to do is remember Allah and remain patient. He then supports you, when the time is right, with His Signs and Divine Support and pulls you out of the situations He puts you in. He may show you an open door when you turn to Him and that’ll be your way out. Maybe, the test will be more severe and so the Signs and Support won’t come right away- in those cases, how long will you turn to Allah, especially when there’s silence? How long will you continue to put your faith there? That is part of the test as well. The test is not about winning and succeeding on your own merit. Sometimes, the only way to win is to lose miserably. Success is only in achieving nearness to Him, Subhanahu wa Ta’ala. Turn to Him, you pass, every time. For as long as the test lasts, stay turned towards Him, you pass. Turn away, try to rely on your own abilities, try to show pride and arrogance, you fail- or, the test will stay and endure while your efforts fail, one by one, in hopes that you see your own errors and finally turn to Him. Pass. Or, maybe He’ll allow the test to subside after you’ve made an effort without turning to him, allowing you to believe in your own self, that’s the worst failure by far. It looks like success, but just sets you up for a very, very rude awakening later on when He stops letting you just get by. All success is through Allah alone. Just turn to Him, khallas.

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The Qur’an is a major key, so is Salah. They’re tools that will help me retain this state and improve on it once I return, I know it. How exactly to employ them, I’m not 100% sure yet. Hopefully, I can gain some further insight before I head back tomorrow. Ya Rab, please help guide me in this effort.

I need to look into this further and do more thinking, learning, reflecting around this subject iA. Hearing the imam recite Surah Ta-Ha in ‘Isha and knowing some of the background behind the Surah did things to my heart. After Hajj, I’ve also had more of a strong desire to read and recite Qur’an, so I’ll randomly bust out into recitation and totally love it :). Salah, which uses Qur’an to communicate, is also somehow vital. I’m realizing more and more that there’s an art to it, and I totally want to master it. There’s way more depth to it, much greater than the mindless recitation and empty movements we’ve unfortunately degraded it to. Ya Rabb, Master of All creation, make me a master of salah, benefit me with this most generous bounty, Ameen.

I’ve also been contemplating our time, compared with the Prophet’s. So many of our problems are the same, yet we have to adapt our approach, change/tweak our solutions, to make them more applicable. For example- Qur’an is such a great source of guidance, but so many of us just don’t speak Arabic, even as Muslims. So not only should we learn it to understand better, of course, but we have to consider how we intend to spread the message to those unfamiliar- while presenting it as something native, like the Prophet did. The message, logistically, was always local and organic, very much a Meccan phenomena. Such is the wisdom of Allah- presenting things that are difficult to grasp through comfortable channels of access at least. We have to do the same thing when we present the message- not as an Arab thing, but a natural, relevant, localized thing, that’s the real key.

There’s also the case of the inevitable connection with the Arab/Muslim world, the so-called “3rd World” in general. In the West, having to connect to a body that lives in such a state would be seen as regression, not progression. It would be perceived as moving backwards, not forwards. So, our role can be twofold: to present the message in a way that makes it relevant for the people being addressed and to try uplifting and improving the developing world, most especially the Hold Lands, to more modern standards and quality of living. This should benefit all, while keeping touch with the essence of the message of Islam. Ya Allah, please guide us to accomplish these ambitious ends. Please use us to do Your work and guide and bless our efforts at each step. You have blessed us greatly, please help us to show thanks for these blessings and to find ways to spread them throughout Your Dominion on this Earth.

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Day 21 – Fading Bliss

“The little worldly things are starting to settle back into the mind

11/11/11

Right. So my dad is really sick. He’s got a fever and a really sore throat. He’s havin a really tough time right now. We just got back to Aziziah. We went to the Haram to pray Jumu’ah. It was crazy packed. Like…stupid crazy packed. My dad really wanted to go do our tawaf al-wada’ today, the farewell tawaf. My mom & I were like, “um…you know it’s gonna be super busy on Friday, right?” He persisted, so we went. After seeing the rush firsthand, he decided he needed to get out. We grabbed a cab and came back, it’s like 2:45 pm right now.

Man-Made Sea

The jumu’ah was led by Sudais. You could tell it was him by his voice. I guess he only comes out on special occasions. I don’t see what the big deal is personally, I’m totally not a Sudais fan. I like most of the imams that lead prayer in the Haram though- even though I have no idea who they are. I wish there was a way to know who your imam was each time. Do they ever bring my man El-Afasy into the mix? He’s the only Qari I enjoy, mA. I know I prayed behind Shuraim as well, he’s good too. I don’t know who led the prayer yesterday, but it sounded familiar.

This morning was tough for me. I’ve totally returned back to my normal mental state. I barely prayed Fajr and was super tired. I had a hard time getting up to go out for jumu’ah. I’m really starting to miss home too. The comfort of being back in that familiar place is overriding my desire to be here slowly. If only there could be a masjid al-Haram in Washington D.C….maybe we could do like the Mormons & just make one up?

Yesterday was the first day, since being here, that I realized I haven’t driven in 3 weeks. I miss my car.  I don’t miss speeding tickets though. Crap! I should’ve made du’a for a clean driving record! See, the little worldly things are starting to settle back into the mind. Today, while sitting in the masjid, my mind started wandering to worldly problems I would have to deal with when I return. I had to be like, “blah! I’ll deal with that stuff when I get back, I need to focus, I’m still here- in the Masjid Al-Haram!” That’s just something I tend to do. I know I’m leaving soon, so I prepare myself mentally and act as if I’m already gone. So, whatever I miss is what I know to focus on before I actually leave. Even in doing that though, you have to disconnect with the current place and I don’t actually want to do that here.

I think I’ve had a hard time buying gifts and souvenirs for that reason. It’s a way of accepting that you’re leaving or that your time in this place is very limited. I bought some stuff, but I mostly just haven’t been motivated. All the stuff you find here is the same stuff everyone always brings back, you know everyone’s tired of it. Hopefully, the stuff I got won’t be too boring- I know I’ma end up leaving people out. Oh well, this was a spiritual journey, not a trip to the mall. I made du’a for most people I could think of. That’s far greater than a 2 riyal kufi and a cheap bottle of ‘itr, trust me.

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Just got our ZamZam to go, 10L each. We were assured by the shop-owners that they’re God-fearing and only use the real thing. Ok…if you say so.

I haven’t listened to music in a while, since I’ve been here actually. Sometimes, I miss the melodies, but my mind stays so much more clear. That’s so valuable. I actually have creative thoughts and insightful reflections, rather than blasting music and drowning out all brain activity. Too much of my time would get spent like that- putting off thinking and reflecting and just getting by in a mentally vegetated state. There needs to be a balance, I don’t want to cut it out altogether. This will be one of my challenges upon returning.

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It’s close to 6:30 pm, we just did some shopping and prayed Maghrib. I really need to learn how to count in Arabic, like at the very least, in addition to the other basic Arabic I need to learn. Counting to 100 is essential, shopping would be so much easier- so would haggling with cab drivers.

How cool would it be if organizations teamed up with the Hajj Ministry and worked on delivering aid, or providing education on health, hygiene, etc to Hajji’s, traveling to the Haram? I think that’d be a dope program and would reach millions of people each year- mostly new ones each time. It would also spread awareness about the organizations, in the heartland especially, and relieve some of the burden from the Saudi Ministry. Gives nonprofits a chance to do something right for alot of people, where there’s alot of room for complaint. Maybe something to help prevent people from getting sick too? Just a thought iA.

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Day 20 – An Unwitting Descent

I have a feeling it’s going to be even more difficult from here. What follows is real life.”

11/10/11

Long day. Productive though, not hard at all, Alhamdulillah. I’m back in Aziziah now, it’s about 10pm. Gettin ready to knock out soon iA.

It took me about 40 mins to climb back down the mountain. I felt so boss afterwards, like I accomplished something significant. I need to do things like this more often. Though it wasn’t a complete retreat, I got a little taste and saw benefit. I’d love to try a bit more :)

I caught a packed taxi to the Haram. Only 10 riyals, and I got to sit in a complete stranger’s lap. Win-win, I say. On the way, coming in from the North, I saw Masjid Al-Jinn, and a few other places I recognized from the book I was reading. Interestingly, Masjid Al-Jinn was established in the place where the Prophet met a group of Jinn, outside the city, to teach them about the Message. This place is now 2 blocks away from the Masjid Al-Haram. That’s how much the masjid has expanded since then. It was cool to be able to pick stuff like that out. Masjid Al-Jinn itself actually seems pretty ordinary, with a little retro-futuristic design on the minaret. Otherwise, looked like any other neighborhood mosque. Maybe I can check it out inside at some point and get a better look iA.

Masjid Al-Jinn

I got to the Haram just in time for ‘Asr and prayed in the street. Afterwards, I went up to the roof of the Massa’, the distance between Safa & Marwa, and took an awesome nap, next to a group of West African brothers. I slept for like an hour in the shade, with the cool breeze blowing. I got my fill of ZamZam too, Alhamdulillah. Started to feel so refreshed. It’s been a good day, all in all. I did a lot on my own, went around and saw things I had been meaning to see. Glad I got all that done, Alhamdulillah. I’m basically ready to leave, at least mentally. After Maghrib in the mosque, it settled on me that I’d be leaving soon, and I got so sad. I miss home and my loved ones there, but this place has reached such a special place in my heart – comparable to none. I felt like a void was filled partially in coming here and experiencing this place.

It seems like the tests have…stopped. The burden is lifted, but the connection also seems to have faded. I felt so much more in tune with my Lord while I was on Hajj, being tested by Him. Hardship truly does bring one closer to Allah, that reason alone makes it an immense blessing.

Engulfed

The Sun Setting on Mecca

My life actually feels normal again. I feel like I’ve always felt. Not sure I like it, how do I get back the bliss and the insight from The Most Near? For that feeling, I would try to come for Hajj again and again, subhanAllah. Here is a virtue that has its place in the world. I didn’t even realize the blessing I had, and now that it’s passed, I feel its absence sorely. I’m going to have to continuously look out for other ways to draw near. I have a feeling it’s going to be even more difficult from here. What follows is real life. Hajj is so much of a vacuum, a controlled environment, chaotic as it was. Here, the test and the ease come hand in hand. In real life, it takes time to pass from one to another. Decades pass before resolutions can be conceived. Those are real tests, they require real patience, subhanAllah. Ya Rabb, please continue to guide me and show me how best to proceed from here.

After ‘Isha, I left the Haram and walked towards ‘Aziziah. I walked for about 40 mins, also saw the birthplace of the Prophet, which the Saudi’s have turned into a library. I also saw the mountain pass the Muslims were exiled to during the boycott years. Everything’s right there, North of the Marwa side of the Masjid Al-Haram.

I missed the line of cabs outside of the Haram. I kept passing up guys offering rides because they were charging way too much. Before I knew it, I had walked well beyond the limits of the masjid and ended up in some dark back alleyways. It’s my own fault really, for always ending up in these situations. I thought I was heading in the right direction, I tried using the enormous clock tower as my guide. My navigation skills were terrible. I only ended up further and further into some slummy looking neighborhoods. The interesting thing is that they were all Hajji housing and hotels still, they were just really shady looking. Everyone there was Indian, with their flags posted up everywhere. I had no incidents in Little Hajji India, Alhamdulillah, but I was trying so hard to not look lost or out of place. Eventually, going down the dark alleys, trying to find my way up to the main road, I hit a series of dead ends and decided to just backtrack to the masjid again, to regain my bearings.

I made my way back to the masjid and caught a cab, Alhamdulillah, after I passed through a tunnel that seemed about 2 miles long. It was the first time in my trip thus far that I was actually, genuinely afraid I might die. People were driving so reckless in the tunnel – making U-turns, reversing, speeding, driving the wrong way…all in a one-way tunnel-  and I realized…I was all alone…with barely any identification on me. If I died, I thought, would my parents ever even find out? That thought freaked me out and kind of made me paranoid. So, when I was finally able to find a cab driver, I was so thankful. The driver that picked me up was actually a young kid, probably no more than 15 years old, definitely not a real taxi driver. He was probably pushin his dad’s whip around to make some extra cash on a school night, but I didn’t care, I needed the ride. Alhamdulillah, he gave me a fair rate and brought me back to my place. He even picked up an Iranian couple along the way and had me translate to them how much money they owed. I speak neither Arabic nor Farsi, so I don’t know how that worked out. Straight gesticular. I later realized I was actually attempting to make a 5.5mi trip from the Haram to ‘Aziziah by foot, with no real idea of which direction to go in.

I’m settled in now, took a shower, freshened up, Alhamdulillah. I’m actually really hungry now though. I think I’m gonna step out and grab a bite down the street. There’s an awesome place across from us, they sell this amazing chicken Sajji from Balochistan. There’s also a really good Punjabi restaurant around the corner that makes fresh lentils and naan that we’ve been crushin on the regular. So convenient :). Then, I’ll head back in and pass out.

Tomorrow is Jummah. We’re planning to go to the Haram and pray there and do our Tawaf Al-Wida’, before coming back to ‘Aziziah. Saturday afternoon, we leave for Jeddah to catch our flight back home iA. The trip is winding down and finding its way to the end. Everything is calming down and collecting itself so smoothly and beautifully, Alhamdulillah. Allah is the Best of Planners.

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Day 20 – Ascension

“These rocks have bore witness to the beginning of revelation and to the opening of something superbly magnificent.”

11/10/11

This entry is being written from inside the Cave of Hira. SubhanAllah, it’s a zoo, even up here. This is no place of retreat. I found a little nook in some shade right above the cave’s passageway, still inside, but above everyone. There’s such a nice, cool breeze blowing. It’s like 20 degrees cooler in here, even at 12:30pm, it’s comfortable. It’s got to be at least 90 degrees outside otherwise. My feet touched the mountain at 10:50am. It took an hour to reach the top, so many people, still so much trash. We have left nothing sacred. Everyone going up was either Desi, Afghan, Turkish, or Russian – lots of those mountain folk. There’s also no rocks left inside the cave. I thought I’d be slick and grab a few to give to people, pieces of the cave of Hira. I found a few in the entranceway, those will suffice, people jacked the rest.

I could totally chill up here for hours, especially since I’m out of the way. I can see how the Prophet would meditate here. If there were no one around, this place would be truly serene.

The view is sick too, you can see all around in every direction. You can’t really see the Ka’aba, but you can see the Haram, especially the minaret and towers. If there was less clutter, and smog, you could probably see better.

Mecca in the Distance

Who knows which part of the cave he would actually sit in, where he would face, where his blessed hands had touched. For once though, I’ve finally come to a place preserved from the Prophet’s life. These are original walls, these rocks have bore witness to the beginning of revelation and to the opening of something superbly magnificent.

This place has become a full-blown tourist spot though. You think, ok, I’m going to climb a mountain, this is going to be somewhat spiritual and enlightening. Instead, along the way, there are jammed routes of people, tea and juice stands, beggars, and chinese tasbih and kufi salesmen. Everyone and their mom is on their cell phone, climbing up. Seriously?

Winding Climbers

You know I even had a dude standing next to me at the Ka’aba, with his hand on the wall, during tawaf, calling someone! He was Desi and spoke in Urdu, so I understood. He was like, “Ah, yeah, ok, I’m here at the Ka’aba, any du’a you want me to make??” I’m like dude…smh.

Ok, I’ve been here for about half an hour, it’s still every bit as crazy. I’m going to pray Dhuhr on top of the mountain iA, that’ll be dope. Maybe, I’ll drop by the Haram afterwards iA.

The cave has graffiti all over. The mountain itself is completely defaced. Graffiti everywhere, people tagging their names, garbage all over the sides of the slopes.

Filthy Irony

The cave itself is just a passageway that goes through a covered area in a series of stacked boulders, to the Southern face of the mountain top. I think I’m actually technically on top of the cave of Hira, but it’s still covered by a canopy. I’m gonna just peek my head into the cave in a few minutes, then head back iA.

There’s no pollution up here at least, finally some clean air – just sand and dust. The cave itself is littered with empty water bottles and crushed juice boxes, subhanAllah. I still can’t get over that. People push, shove and fight each other to get up the mountain and into the cave but they don’t even give these places basic respect and dignity. Allah save us. Guide our hearts. Help me to benefit from my journey to this place and to these Holy Lands. Ameen.

Photogs Chillin

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Close to 2pm. I’m still on top of the mountain, away from the crowd finally, sitting out front, near the edge of the mountaintop. There is sakina finally. I didn’t actually step foot in the proper cave area – not really concerned actually. It’s all about the retreat and I’ve found that. Takes some time for it to settle in, but it’s here. I just prayed Dhuhr on top of Jabal An-Nur, right on top of Hira, subhanAllah. Everything around looks so small and more calm, finally. You can still hear some car horns, smh. Other than that, Mecca and its surrounding towns are put into perspective. The mountains are so much more prominent in the landscape now. The entire area is covered with mountain ranges – great big enormous fixtures. No wonder Allah makes reference to mountains so much in the Qur’an – they’re very much a part of everyday life here, for the ancients at least.

Praying on the Edge

There’s so much peace in climbing to the top of the mountain, facing the Qibla, and making salah. There’s a hadith about the excellence of this act at a time when the world will be so chaotic, such a retreat would better benefit man. Totally get it. Time to go iA, 2:05pm.

       The cave of Hira is located at the top of Jab Al-Nur, The Enlightened Mountain. It is located a few miles outside of downtown Mecca. Before receiving revelation, it was the habit of the Prophet, peace be upon him, to retreat to this cave for long periods of time. He would prepare food and supplies for many days and go to the cave to meditate and ponder on the nature of this life and our existence in this world.

       It was in this cave, at age 40, that the Prophet first received revelation. The Angel Jibril entered the cave and spoke to the Prophet, startling him, commanding him to “Read!” The Prophet, who was illiterate, responded to this mysterious voice that he was unable to read. The Angel squeezed him, nearly to the point of death, and released him, commanding again, “Read!” The Prophet again said he was not able to read, and was squeezed by the angel. After a third time, the Angel began to recite the beginning of revelation to the Prophet, “Read! In the Name of your Lord! Who created man from a single clot of blood. He taught by the pen, taught men what they did not know”

       This was the beginning of Prophethood, the beginning of revelation, the beginning of a great movement that would change the world forever. It all began in that quiet, humble little cave, at the top of this great mountain, overlooking the Sacred House.

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Day 19 – Brainstorming

“Mess with a man’s money and you’ll see what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

11/9/11

Shah Saab, the tableeqi Santa Claus, showed me how to open a bottle without a bottle opener today. Not drinking in college has left me handicapped in ways. My dad was like, go ask him to help you. I’m like, ”…are you serious? What’s he gonna do, throw a tasbih at it??” Dude did it, opened it on the latch of a door frame. Like a boss.

I implemented the newly discovered technique on my own later, when I cracked open a bottle of non-alcoholic pomegranate malt stuff. It just tasted like fizzly juice, but whatevs.

I was chillin for most of the day today, after I got back from McDonald’s. I was reading this book we got about Mecca’ history & milestones. It was cool, helped me to orient myself better to the larger history, based off what I saw. It confirmed my original theory that all of the original sites for things from the Prophet’s time have been wiped out. Seems like it happened way before the Saudi’s though. The masjid itself covers so much land that used to be the homes of Companions and old landmarks. In fact, what used to be the old city is actually now all encompassed by the Masjid Al-Haram and it’s surrounding courtyard, and they’re still continuing to expand it. In the decision between preservation and adaptation, they clearly chose adaptation. With a vengeance.

My dad’s been really sick since we got back to Aziziah, my mom too. I just have a little cough – I think my immune system’s been able to fend off most illnesses here, Alhamdulillah. Word up for never taking meds and letting your body deal on its own ;). I feel bad for them though. We only have 3 days left in our trip and they’re basically bed ridden now, at least they were all day today. We’ll see how they feel tomorrow, iA they’ll be better.

I wanted to write about a few things I made note of the other day. The first being this littering issue. This is horrible. There’s got to be some solution to this problem. Of course, in these parts of the world, law enforcement is always an issue, so what if a different approach is used? How about a litter eradication initiative – it could even be a program Islamic Relief does and receives funding for. What if people are provided free sanitary disposal kits that can store garbage and be disposed of in specific parts of cities. Wait, they have something similar already for toilet alternatives to prevent open field defecation, human waste kits like the Peepoo bags. They have chemicals inside these biodegradable bags that break down the waste and you can just toss them anywhere when you’re done. So perhaps that could be expanded to accommodate different types of trash? Another approach might be to support the development of improved infrastructure for waste management. You could buy garbage trucks and sell them to areas with waste accumulation issues for example. One of my high school teachers told me about a guy he knew that made his first million that way, sold a few garbage trucks somewhere in South America.

It’s something that needs serious attention, education would be good too. People’s habits would need to change. If there are stories in our Prophetic tradition about how Abu Lahab’s wife would throw her household garbage in the Prophet’s path when she’d see him walking past, and it’s regarded as something vile, then how is it people can litter, inside the Haram, while making tawaf?! Shouldn’t that be a clear sin? Maybe there should be some littering fatwas and some angry khutbahs on that topic throughout the world. Is there a fatwa press release network? That’d be useful. Like a pipeline for new juristic rulings, so everyone gets the memo. While we’re brainstorming some reformations, let’s throw in one of those too.

Alhamdulillah, my feet have gotten alot better. When my shoes were taken in Mina, I had to wear my backup flip-flops, which suck and gave me blisters. I switched up and bought some flip-flops similar to what I had, which saved me! Now I’m back to my New Balance kicks, can’t go wrong there.

Everyone’s been complaining so much these past few days about how much they’re getting ripped off. Especially taxi’s and buses – they’re charging like 10 times more than what they normally would to take people to and from the Haram. I was thinking, it’s interesting, and it makes sense why they would. They’re not going to see this much business for the rest of the year. They have to live off the income they make here for a very long time. It’s so similar to how the economy was for the Quraish, in the time of the Prophet. He was bringing a message which threatened to mess with the Pilgrimage, hence, messing with the money they’d make and live off for the whole year. Mess with a man’s money and you’ll see what you’ve gotten yourself into. For the most part, those opposing the Prophet weren’t against it entirely because of the religious implications, there were huge economic motivators too. Cash rules, nothing’s changed.

Seeing how people would fight to get their money now helps to wrap my mind around the image of the Quraish fighting the Prophet to keep him from stopping their cashflow. It’s a huge blessing from Allah that Hajj was preserved as a tradition in Islam, allowing Mecca to continue to flourish economically. Otherwise, who knows, Mecca could have collapsed. Sure, Saudi’s are paid now, after discovering oil in an industrial age, but even then, most of the people you interact with aren’t Saudi, they’re immigrants. People really do live off of the Pilgrims. The Haram is the economic engine that makes it possible for everyone to generate any income here. This land is blessed by Allah in many more ways than one.

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Day 19 – Recovery

“The city appears to be in recovery. The wheels and gears have begun churning to purify the streets back to their original state.” 

11/9/11

I just slept for 12 hours. I feel completely rested and restored Alhamdulillah. I got up at 9 am and started reading my journal. Everything seemed so distant, like it happened months ago, that’s how renewed I feel right now. The rest of my time here is probably going to be different, I can feel it.

It feels like this big burden has been lifted, but not a bad one. It made me feel closer to Allah, though it was intense and heavy. I think that was the Hajj connection. Now, it’s gone. I pray for there to still be a connection. Ya Allah, keep testing me, as I can handle, and keep me close, please. Do not let me slip back into the outskirts, further away from You. This has been an experience for me like none other.

When I was reading my words this time, it felt like I was learning everything for the first time.  Though mental images would appear, conjured by the stories I was reading, they just felt so distant. Before, I used to try reading and had no interest. Everything felt too repetitive, it was all too fresh in my mind. Now, I’m so thankful to have this journal, I already feel benefited by it.

I’m going to step out for a little bit and try to pick up a few things from the store, iA. There are some things I still need to write about, I’ll do that when I get back iA.

————–

Did some leisurely exploring today. Went on a little mission to find McDonald’s. I found it, Alhamdulillah. SubhanAllah, the most amazing thing happened actually. Everyone was giving directions for me to go a particular way, then when I got to that point – I looked in that direction and was like…nah, that doesn’t feel right, and I headed in the opposite direction. From there, I just followed some hunches and things started looking familiar. It was awesome, I felt like I was being guided and felt inclinations towards a particular path. Ok, so it was just a trip to McDonald’s, but even that was made so much more thrilling because I had myself a little divine GPS backing me up. I really hope this is something that lasts, I think this is called firaasah? They say Believers have firaasah, or insight, that’s divinely inspired, allowing them to see more than what’s on the surface. I think there’s a hadith actually that says to beware the firaasah of the Believer, because it is true. I hope it’s firaasah :) I could already feel that it wasn’t going to last though. That makes sense too. My firaasah was telling me that my firaasah wasn’t going to last. How ironic.

I left around 11:20am and ended up right outside a street corner mosque at Dhuhr, so I dropped in and caught the jama’a. It was so dope to be able to do that, neighborhood mosques are such a huge blessing, and they’re always full! Every prayer is packed like jummah is at our mosques, Alhamdulillah.

I’m getting so used to carrying my shoes in my bag when I go to pray too. Just carrying this small tote bag is pretty awesome, it’s so convenient, I can keep essentials with me and put it all out of my mind that I won’t have what I need. I carry that joint everywhere. I may start carrying stuff with me like that when I get back home too, who knows? I’m definitely going to try to keep journaling, doing so has been hugely beneficial so far. It’s really helped me to track events and developments and see everything more clearly, to analyze them in a deeper light.

So, I prayed at this mosque, kept on my way and eventually found the McDonald’s. It was about an hour walk from where we’re staying in Aziziah. There was a big line inside, but not as crazy and reckless a crowd as there usually is at Al-Baik. This was a more civilized breed. Some Brits, and Frenchies, by the sound of their speech. I got outta there with some chicken nuggets, a spicy chicken sandwich, a quarter pounder with cheese, and 3 big macs with fries. All of it was sub-par. McDonald’s in general is sub-par, so I suppose it was on-par with McDonald’s standards. The prices were the same, just converted over. I felt gross again after eating – I had the chicken sandwich and a big mac. The meat didn’t even look real. I still miss that Quattro’s burger.

I’m so disappointed. Granted, American food is best in America, I get that, but I can’t even get a decent shawarma in this country! Yall suck. I’m living off laban from now on, that’s it. That joint is my crack. Laban is the only saving grace here, I’m gonna miss that when we go back. I wonder if Arab stores sell it in America, as a yogurty drink? There’s an Arab grocery near my work I’ma hafta holla at insholla.

On the way back, I tried taking a shortcut and ended up face to face with a giant mountain like…wth, where’d you come from…? That’s the thing, this city has a grid, but then there are mountains dropped throughout the whole city, randomly spread around. I found the way back though, Alhamdulillah, just tapped into that firaasah GPS…which was already fading by this point :/

I also managed to find a new memory card for my camera. 2GB for 30 riyals, not bad sir, not bad.

Things have slowed down around here, the city appears to be in recovery. The wheels and gears have begun churning to purify the streets back to their original state. It’s not as busy, not as hectic, though still very much Mecca.

Peoples’ attitudes have changed too. The generosity and patience isn’t stressed so much anymore, amongst Hajji’s at least. All the emotions they had bottled up this whole time are finally being let out by those that are still frustrated. One of the Iranian guys, Nabi, started complaining to our trip leader about not being happy with his entire experience. He was especially upset because he paid $2,000 more than most others in the group and got the same shoddy service. One of the Punjabi uncles tried calming him, saying he would ruin his Hajj this way, something that had become a routine reminder throughout the past weeks, like a mantra of sorts. He said, “My Hajj is complete! I can say the truth now and I’m NOT happy!”

I’m like smh, it’s over man, just give it up. Allah is the one that makes it ‘unpleasant’ so you remember Him, that’s how you find happiness. I’m blissful, Alhamdulillah. Truly at peace. I’m just worried about how things will change when I get back and end up in the same environments again. I pray these states I’ve reached are preserved and I’m able to retain the goodness my heart has tasted. It’s too sweet to just give up for this salty, salty world.

I’m trying to go climb Jabal An-Nur tomorrow iA, to reach Cave Hira. It’s something I’ve always wanted to visit. I’m here, I have the time, I’m going to make the effort and leave the rest to Allah. Please help me to reach this destination tomorrow, make it easy for me and show me what will benefit me, Ya Rabb. Shukran :)

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Day 18 – Rolling Stones

No one can bear the hardships of another, nor are we fit to handle what others face. Custom fit trials for each of us from the Tailor of this Universe.”

11/8/11Hajj, Day 5

Insha’Allah, this is our last day in this 12’x12’ tent, sleeping with 12 men packed together. I don’t mind so much, I’m used to sleeping in cramped spaces with way too many dudes…awkward. Let’s just say I had an interesting college-hood.

There’s a dude with us, I think his name is Sabir. He’s even quieter than I am. I feel really bad for the brother. He’s had it really rough. He’s been sick and injured since he’s gotten here. I feel like he’s always lying in bed, nursing his big toe, which has this big gash, something that happened when he first got here I think, pretty brutal. Now, he has problems with nausea. Poor guy got up so many times last night while I was writing because he felt sick. Dude went to a doctor too, but apparently they have him meds for gas instead of nausea? I read the labels for him and that’s what it seemed like. It was all in medical jargon, which I could barely make out, but that’s what I think it said.

There’s a bus taking people back early, for those who are not going to do their stoning themselves. It’s permissible to have someone to do your stoning for you if you have some difficulty, so it’s mostly women, elderly and the sick that are going to travel back this afternoon. Uncle Bhatti is going to head back too. He’s quite the entertainer on this trip, though he’s so limited in what he’s able to do because of his physical disability. He has a hard time walking and keeping balance because of some issue with his leg, so he goes around in a wheelchair, pushed by his loyal and beloved sidekick, Humayun. The tests are so drastically different from one person to another, despite how much time we spend together in such close proximity. No one can bear the hardships of another, nor are we fit to handle what others face. Custom fit trials for each of us from the Tailor of this Universe.

Bhatti and Humayun are both going to ride the bus back to ‘Aziziah, to the rooms we’re staying in. They were kind enough to carry our bags back with them, so we wouldn’t have to worry about carrying them around on this last day or coming back to the camp later to pick them up. My mom can barely walk now too, yesterday was especially tough for her. She’s going to try making it onto the bus iA and I’ll complete her stoning for her. We’ll see how that goes, there’s apparently 3 buses coming to our camp, for a group of people large enough to fill 6 buses right now, waiting. Crucial. Today is going to be crazy. I’m calling it right now. There’s going to be a mass-migration of Hajji’s out of Mina, millions of people. Millions and millions, traveling a distance of approximately 5-10 miles, by foot, car, bus, train, and motorcycle. Traffic jam from Jahannam is brewing.

————-

3pm. We’re done. Done. Done. Allahu Akbar. One of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of my life, one of the pillars of my faith, one of the biggest events in the life of a Muslim – Hajj, complete. Alhamdulillah, wa Shukr.

We finished with the Jamarat by 12:30pm, took care of our stoning immediately following the adhan for Dhuhr, which sounded off in the building over loud speakers. From there, we grabbed some Al-Baik. Turns out, the Al-Baik at the Jamarat, where there were epic lines last night, does in fact only serve chicken nuggets. WTF? People pracitcally rioting for some chicken nuggets, that’s wild. There was no rush today though, we were in and out with some food, no problems. Them joints is good, but they’re kinda like fish sticks, but with chicken. They’re like cubes of meat inside this breading that falls off when you pick them up.

I’m gonna rest for a bit, I’ll write more later iA.

————–

Our trip back to ‘Aziziah was difficult. We had to walk for probably 3 km to get away from the Jamarat and catch a taxi to take us the rest of the way. In the days of Hajj, there’s so much traffic that the local residents jump on the bandwagon and start cashing in on visitors. For example, everyone becomes a cab driver during Hajj. Locals actually offer the best deals on taxi’s too, it’s not their main income I guess so they charge way less. We found a Yemeni guy with a car that was willing to drive us to our place in ‘Aziziah. He actually wasn’t very cheap, but we were so exhausted we could care less and just jumped in.

I was with my dad and Saleem, who tried making small talk with the cab driver. When he found out the driver was Yemeni, he joked, “like Osama bin Laden!” To my surprise, the driver busted out laughing, actually seemed really pleased and warmed right up to us. They went on to say some other stuff that I’ve since blocked out of my memory. Being an American, where the War on Terror has completely changed even the way we joke amongst friends in private, I must say I felt a little uncomfortable. I think even Saleem realized this eventually and felt off and made some fake politically correct comment. Force of habit, I suppose. After all, Big Brother is always listening…even in Mecca…? It’s actually not entirely inconceivable.

When we arrived at our place, Saleem and my dad attempted to try bargaining the driver down, seeing as how they were practically brothers in arms now. Dude was not having it. They tried to pull this trick where you hand the guy only the cash you want to pay and start to slowly edge yourself away. They definitely got yelled at and forked up the rest of the fare.

We went inside and I straight collapsed on my bed. Nothing greater than that feeling right there. I’ll write more after I sleep for 3 days..

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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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