Category Archives: Travel

Day 23 – A Proper Sendoff

“Home. Feels as foreign as Jeddah did 3 weeks ago.”

11/13/11

Our journey, it seems, is never complete without some wholesome, hearty tests of patience. It’s 3:30 am. Our flight back to DC is at 8:25 am, in Jeddah, which is an hour and a half from Mecca. We’re still in Aziziah. We’ve been waiting for hours on the front stoop of our building, with no sign of our bus to take us to the airport. This whole day has been one long waiting game. The anticipation has been killer. The patience here is almost entirely run out, I feel like people in our group are on the verge of snapping. Some people – men and women – have actually broken down into tears out of anxiety about potentially missing their flights. I’m totally calm myself, accepting of the real fact that we may very well miss our flight. Our trip organizer is basically BSing us, saying the bus is coming. But, we’ve been hearing this for over 2 hours. I’ve winded down over the past 2 days. I’m ready to go, but there’s just nothing to do but let the mind wander. This is a test though, like all the others we overcame these past 3 weeks. Who knows what we’re meant to do? I’m going to continue sitting here and waiting patiently for My Host to reveal His Plan to return us home. Or, if we are meant to stay, we must accept our fate. Allah is the best of planners. La ilaaha illa hu.

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We waited from 1 am until 4 am, when our bus finally showed up. We actually stopped a large cargo truck that was passing by before our bus came, and decided to start packing the whole group’s luggage into it to save time in loading our bus, in anticipation of there not being enough space on our bus to hold all of our bags. The wait for the bus and the drive to the airport were both very nerve-wracking. Alot of people just couldn’t take it, the fear of missing the flight was too much. We’ve always been told to arrive at the airport here at least 12 hours early, to even have a chance of getting through to flights on time. Our bus arrived at the airport in Jeddah at 6 am. Our flight was scheduled for 8:25 am. SubhanAllah, by 6:40, we were all done checking in and just went straight onto the plane. We got there and the clerks were like hey! we’ve been expecting you guys. It was so smooth it’s not even funny. Allah is indeed the best of planners, that’s real. We had one final scare when even this bus driver didn’t know how to get to the airport. I mean, really? How all yall drive buses and don’t even know how to get to the major airport? That was it for some people. Luckily, the truck driver we hired to carry our luggage had our group leader with him, so he called us to guide our lost driver. Did I mention I unloaded this truck full of luggage single-handedly? 36 people, close to 70 pieces of luggage, all by myself ,with not so much as a thank you or look of acknowledgement. Alrighty then. That’s not why I did it, but just surprised at how quickly we forget patience and how seriously committed we are to self-service. I’m no exception. Truly blessed is he who, on that Day, will call out for his Ummah, while all will cry out only for themselves. May Allah guide us and bless us to be amongst those closest to Al Mustafa.

I’m on the plane now. I just set my watch to D.C. time :), we have about 10 hours left. I just watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes – pretty dope, 4 stars. Gonna keep watching these flicks till we show up, just killing time now. Alhamdulillah fil kulli hal. Allahu Akbar!

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2 hours left til landing. Everything’s nice and smooth Alhamdulillah. Also watched Super 8 – 3.5 stars, and Henry’s Crime – 4 stars. Started watching Green Lantern, but it sucked so I stopped after half an hour. I wanna also watch The Help, Wrecked, Smurfs, The Beaver, and Source Code. Thank God for in-flight entertainment.

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Home. Feels as foreign as Jeddah did 3 weeks ago. Within 5 minutes, I knew I was back though. We arrived at 1:20 pm. We got through immigration by 2:10 pm and were outside with our bags by 2:40 pm, Alhamdulillah. We waited in line for a while at Customs. Hold up. Let me say that again. We waited. In Line…like…civilized Human beings. It was so simple, but so relieving. I kept fighting the urge to push through and shove my way to the front. It had become second-nature over the past 3 weeks to behave this way, just as a matter of survival. Ironically, many of the people that you would tussle with in crowds to get somewhere were standing calmly and peacefully in the same line as you. Suddenly, we all have etiquette again. Way to go, America.

I was also thrilled to see Latinos! I haven’t seen a Latino in 3 weeks! White people too. You don’t understand how good it felt to be around some European diversity again. Sure, they stare at you funny, something I also miss ;), but at least they behave! mA.

The sight of that flag too, Allahu Akbar. Never have I really felt a sincere appreciation like this for this country. We truly are blessed to live here. Allah blessed mankind with something uniquely magnificent with this nation. What a great opportunity, what a blessing to be here. I was happy to see officials that speak English too! Shooo, question me all you want, I’m home papa, that’s all that matters. Alhamdulillah, no problems though, got right through.

My uncle and aunt picked us up, we’re riding back now from Dulles Airport, almost home. It’s about 20 more mins. My parents are going on about all the problems they faced – complaining so much. I’m like yo – can we mention some good things too. Khair, iA. Hajji’s don’t always realize the affect their stories have on others, and the appalling things tend to stick out more.

If you ever go for Hajj, try to share the good experiences you had too. The next stage is adjusting, conveying those messages and stories – finding focus in life, learning from the experiences, and sharing them with others. Alhamdulillah wa Shukr. Ya Rabb, please continue to help me through and to keep focus. Thank you for bringing us back safely. Now begins the real journey.

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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 – 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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Day 16 – Seeing Clearly

“All you hear is trash being kicked and crushed as people move along in the streets.”

11/6/11 Hajj, Day 3

My feet are gone. I can’t find them. They’ve been replaced by swollen, blistered globs of flesh. Today’s been rough, and it’s only 4:30pm. This morning, we got back to our camp from Muzdalifah, took 2 breaths – shallow ones, not deep ones – then we went to the Jamarat to do our Rami’ (stoning). There were millions of people there, for sure, all in the same place, subhanAllah. It was a terribly long walk from our camp though, like 2 miles, it took about an hour to get there. Seeing the Jamarat was interesting. While you’re throwing stones, on some level, you feel like you’re actually attacking Shaitan, even though they’re just giant stone walls. Feels good.

One of Three Jamarat Walls

Afterwards, our group was like ok, let’s go to the Haram and do our tawaf! I was like, um…what, how about no. I was already tired and filthy, I definitely didn’t want to go to the Haram in this condition. Going to the Haram would’ve meant getting pushed, shoved, stepped on, coughed on, and worn down even more. Not to mention the extensive walking it would’ve taken to get there, to do the tawaf (circling the Ka’aba) and the sai’y (going between Safa & Marwa), and to make the way back to the camp. We easily wouldn’t be back to Mina until like 11pm, given everything goes smoothly, which of course it never does on Hajj.

Based on that, I was seriously resisting going with the group to the Haram at that time, but my parents insisted, just to get the rituals done and over with. In reality, you do have to perform tawaf and sai’y as part of your Hajj, but it can be done in any of the last 3 days of Hajj. We still had 2 whole days to make it happen, there really was no need to rush. I wanted to go back and clean up first, then go to the Haram maybe later today or tomorrow. I ended up getting caught up with the group and continued walking with them towards Mecca. Everyone was so tired, walking in the sun and the heat, wanting to rest so badly. Our group leader kept pushing on, out of his own hastiness, but no one wanted to say anything or protest and just kept slaving on. I got fed up and just sat down on the curb, like “Screw it, y’all keep walkin if you want, I’m resting.” Immediately, everyone around me also stopped, my parents too. People were hesitant to just rest, saying we should inform the rest of the group, which had walked so far ahead, that we were stopping. I was like whatever, go ahead, I’m not budging though. It didn’t take more than a few minutes for everyone to stop and rest too. We desperately needed it.

It was close to Dhuhr time, so after a few minutes of rest, we walked towards an adjacent neighborhood to pray and get some food. We found a pretty awesome Turkish spot just up the street and prayed Dhuhr afterwards at the masjid across from  it. I swear that place stressed me out. There were so many people packed together, in some ways it was worse than the Haram, and it was just some random street mosque. The bathrooms were just gross and muddy – puddles and thrown ihrams all over. People would literally just discard their sheets anywhere and everywhere, after being able to change out of them, even just dropping them into the water drains in the public wudhu areas. I had to navigate a massive crowd the entire time, just to make wudhu, walk to the musallah and pray. I honestly haven’t had that much difficulty doing those simple things at any other place here thus far.

When we got out, everyone started looking for a bus to Mecca. I was like “Nah, I really don’t wanna go.” My parents freakedd out, especially my dad, who was getting upset and paranoid that I’d get lost. I tried reassuring him I would be alright and that they should still go if they wanted to finish their tawaf today. Deep inside my core, I earnestly felt that the last thing I wanted to do at the time was to travel to the Haram. I decided I was going to head back to Mina and split off from my parents and the rest of my group. I was that adamant. Luckily, my parents jumped ship too, to stay together. It was great in theory, but then we had to actually make the walk back, having already gone another 2 miles in the opposite direction, along with the group. That trip was difficult for me, I know my parents must’ve been feelin it. The worst part is, there was absolutely nothing I could do to make it easier for them, apart from insisting on taking breaks periodically. We all had to endure the hardship together, but still each on his/her own. It took us probably like 3-4 hours to walk back from where we prayed Dhuhr, all the way to our tents in Mina.

We saw the realness. Straight up realness, subhanAllah. We walked back through the camps for other parts of the world, specifically Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and West Africa. It’s interesting though, this place has legit 3rd world filth, straight up. I’m so grimy myself right now, it barely even phases me anymore. I’m so desensitized now that something really has to be extreme to get to me at this point, even then it’s not for sure that it’ll illicit a reaction. For example, walking back through Mina, we’d pass by sewage drains that smelled like death and I’d gag, but that was about it. Towards the end of our walk back, I saw a dead body, just lying in the street. I didn’t even blink. Yeah, we saw a dead body, a man laid down, covered in his own ihram towel, subhanAllah. It was right outside one of the information offices for the camp. An ambulance came and picked up the body and drove off, barely anyone even noticed. I’m not even really sure anyone was with him, he may very well have been all alone. My dad actually walked right past the body, coming out of the info office, without even seeing him. This was right after I was telling my mom how Mina is exactly like what a refugee camp must be like – with the transitional housing and all the people packed in, it’s insane.

It was so sad though, going through the other countries’ camps. People don’t live in a way that’s clean or healthy…or safe. And they’re completely comfortable. They carry their customs and habits with them even to the Holy Land. The streets look like a landfill exploded, not just in the camps, but in the areas around the Jamarat as well. All you see when you walk in the streets is empty water bottles, crushed juice boxes, broken paper cups, and discarded flip-flops, littered across the pavement. If you’re lucky, you can actually see the color of the street beneath, when people kick trash out of the way as they trudge along. Outside of the Jamarat, people are just marching along, in droves, huge numbers. All you hear is trash being kicked and crushed as people move along in the streets.

Men were also able to shave their heads now, but to save money on going to barbers, many would shave their own heads, in the streets. Now, not only did you have garbage, you had thick carpets of cut hair strewn across the streets and sidewalks. I’m not exaggerating, it was disgusting. I was sincerely ashamed and disgraced to be a part of this community when I experienced these things. I know I’m not the only one, based on conversations with others around us. Unfortunately, this is a reality, maybe not one we accept, but for many, it’s what they’re used to. I have major problems with that.

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Day 14 – Moving Into Mina

“Patience training wheels…just remember to keep pedaling, junior”

11/4/11Hajj, Day 1

Today is the day. It’s the 8th of Dhul Hijjah, the first day of Hajj. It’s also a Friday – which apparently makes this is “Hajj Akbar” (“Greater Hajj”), supposedly worth 70 times more than a regular Hajj, inshaAllah. [After doing some research, I found that there actually is no such thing].

It’s 5:40am, just prayed Fajr in our room. We’ll be heading out on the buses soon to go to Mina & will have to get into our ihrams again, with the intention of Hajj. This is the moment we’ve been preparing for, for the past 8 months, and waiting for our entire lives. Once it starts, we’ll be in Mina, more or less, for the next 5 days, living out of tents. We’ll be spending one night in Muzdalifah, sleeping in the open, following the Day of Arafah. The rest of our time will be in Mina.

I’m very much looking forward to the Day of Arafah. I have a ton of du’as I’m hoping to make and to have heard iA. Someone I know told me all the du’as they made there were answered, subhanAllah. I intend to beseech the same Merciful & Generous Lord. Also, totally want to shave my head. This long hair is kind of driving me crazy. Well, not crazy, it’s just too much to worry about right now.

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It’s 9:50am, the bus is finally here to take us to Mina. Not much goin on today, just sittin around, waiting. Lots of talbiyah, a little napping, trying to rest. I started feeling sick again this morning, like something was up with my stomach too. I definitely have a cough now also. None of it is serious, you just get accustomed to not being 100%.

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We’re in Mina. It’s 12:15pm, we’ve been sitting here for almost an hour, in the bus. The group chemistry has gotten alot better. There’s always nice, entertaining interactions between the Somali sub-group and the Punjabi sub-group. There’s actually a brother named Ahmed, Somali dude, who lives in Hyderabad, India – so he speaks Urdu. Makes for some great humor with the Desi uncles. Especially, when he gets into explaining the Indian bobble-head syndrome. He does a killer impression too, it’s dead on :). There’s another brother, Fiyyaz, who’s actually from Hyderabad. Watching them go back and forth is a riot, such good hearts mA. They make the whole environment much easier for everyone.

Sometimes, I envision my journal as a screenplay for a film. Cool idea – since there’s so many languages being spoken around me, it’d be interesting, visually, to only show subtitles for specific words that are understood, leaving the rest untranslated. This might illustrate how bewildering everything can be sometimes.

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We got into tents at around 2pm. There was a huge discrepancy with the lady…

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Sorry, got caught up. Things got heated in the tent and I got distracted. Basically, we showed up to Mina & had no tents, so we waited on our bus for 2 hours, where there was A/C. Then, the bus driver was complaining because he’d been up since 3am and had to leave, so we finally got off the bus to let the poor guy go. They still had no space for our whole group. The entire group had paid an extra $245 each, for a private, air-conditioned tent, with foam mattresses and 3 daily meals, for the entire duration of the stay in Mina, with the entire group being together. We showed up and they split up our group. The ladies got put in a room with women from another group. 5 of the men were split up and given spots in a few different tents, with other groups. The rest of us, 17 guys, were led to a small tent and told to stay there. The tent was tiny, smaller than a college dorm room, with 4 fold-up cushion beds, but no meals. We were like…um…ok…kept our heads down, and started to settle in.

We had all barely sat down when an unknown woman came into our tent, yelling and complaining in Arabic about our group leader, Muhammad Hirsy, saying he was ordering her around and being rude. We later found out she was the organizer from our Hajj group, through whom all of the local arrangements were made by the group leaders. She was complaining that he had not paid her any money for the upgraded tents and that she offered to extend some help to him out of her own generosity and kindness, but he was making too many demands and being overbearing, taking advantage of her hospitality. We were like, ok…chill…work it out, cuz WE definitely paid him. It all turned into a really big issue. All of the men in our group got together in our tent and had many meetings to try and figure out what to do. So, now there’s like 22 guys, all chillin in this tiny space – tired, hungry, frustrated, starting to lose their tempers. The lady came by again and dropped off 9 meals, as “gifts” to our group.

Most of the men were pissed at this point. They tried to take a stand to make a statement about how they were going to get what was owed to them, in full. No one had eaten all morning though…and those meals were just stacked high…in the middle of the tent. The men were so fired up about going to the Ministry of Hajj and complaining about not getting what they paid for, and getting ripped off…as they continued eyeing the hot food, untouched and unclaimed. Those boxes of biryani were calling out to us as we huddled around in a disjointed circle, meeting to strategize how best to make our stand. We couldn’t fight it any longer, the meals got passed around and split up – 2-3 people per box. Once we started eating, everyone calmed down and completely lost steam haha. Some guys went and talked to the lady again, to try reasoning with her. She said she would work things out for us, though it may take time. So, we’re all just hanging out in the tent, indefinitely.

Man Meeting, The Biryani Beckons

It’s funny though, everyone gets so fired up about the simplest things. Every registered Hajji is guaranteed a tent with carpet and water, that’s the basic provision. Even with just that, we woulda been chillin, no biggie. People already paid though, so I guess they have reason to be upset. My pops paid the upgrade for my whole family, so it’s not like I’m really feelin the pressure. He was up and at it though.

I think it’s also an American thing. We have so much less patience, it’s actually alarming. I was just making wudhu and there was a guy doing his wudhu outside of the drainage area, so he wouldn’t have to wait in line to use the faucet. There was another man there, stopping people from doing that exact thing because all of that water would run down into his tent. He told the man to stop and not make wudhu there, said it twice. The other man got so pissed, like “ok! I understood you the first time!!”. I’m like, dang…he just gave a simple admonishment. Peeps need more patience. That’s the biggest thing I’ve gotten out of this so far. Life, as well, is about being patient with your tests. It’s like enduring smaller tests here, in a controlled environment, to help you get practice at developing patience. Every hardship is resolved practically the same day, though it feels like forever til you get there. Patience training wheels :) Just remember to keep pedaling, junior :P

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