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 18 – The Walls

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

11/8/11Hajj, Day 5

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

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

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

Pilgrims Embrace The Sacred House

Pilgrims Cling To The Ka'aba During Tawaf

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

Placing My Hands on the Ka’aba During Tawaf

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

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

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

The Black Stone Scuffle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Day 18 – Post-Apocalypto

“Trust me, you get the hardships in regardless. A little A/C ain’t gon hurt, go for it, bro.

11/8/11Hajj, Day 5

Before I came for Hajj, I’d always be like, “Yeah, who cares about food?? It’s Hajj! I prolly won’t even eat, I’m all about roughin it out.” Pshhh. I would eat like crazy right now if I could. I end up not really eating much, cuz food here sucks. I miss American food. I’ve been craving a burger from Quattro’s for like 2 weeks. That’s gonna be my first meal once I get back to work and go out for lunch, iA. Already looking forward to it. Literally, every time I’m hungry, it’s like, “crap…what am I gonna do?” I get confused, there’s so little that’s worthwhile, or there’s just 200,000 people at one Al-Baik, trying to get some chicken nuggets. Saw that today too, such a crazy scene, right outside the Jamarat. They had barricades and floodlights out in front of the restaurant for crowd control. There were 2 guys in their fast food uniforms: white shirts with matching maroon pants & visors, and breathing masks. They were standing on top of the barricades, yelling out into the mob to keep order. Spotlights were shining down on them from above, the big, bright, neon restaurant sign lit in the background. That place is crack. It was the most epic I’ve ever seen a fast food place become. People act like they’re in a post-apocalyptic world and it’s the only place left where you can get a piece of chicken.

Parts of this camp look pretty post-apocalyptic actually. The trash…and the smell, good Lord. Rancid, just disgusting. There will be piles and piles of trash, sitting in water, with food rotting in it, and people sleeping no more than 2 feet away. It’ll also be just like that, right next to the entrance of the bathrooms. Just foul, subhanAllah. No human beings should live like that. It’s the 3rd World camp sections that are like that, it’s like they managed to completely recreate their home environments in…damn, only 2 days! I swear, when you walk through the Indo-Pak section, it straight up looks/feels/smells like Pakistan, and not in a good way. More so, in the way that you block out of your mind, and get rudely reminded of only after arriving again to visit the motherland after 7 years of being away, in real civilization – with actual sanitary laws. Too late, you just landed. Enjoy your summer. Don’t get Hepatitis. Or do…who’s really counting anyways? Hepatitis is prolly their equivalent of sugar, water, purple.

Right. So, yeah, food is tough. Conditions overall are still rough, I don’t care how much you pay and think you’re getting luxurious accommodations. You’re on Hajj? Allah finds ways to make this trip…memorable for you.

Before Hajj, I was also like, “Yeah, I’m gonna walk everywhere, screw buses!” That was before I got here. Now, I’m like, “I don’t give a *bleep*, we need to be on a bus, with A/C! I don’t care how much time it takes.” Everything else is tiring enough, trust me, you get the hardships in regardless. A little A/C ain’t gon hurt, go for it, bro.

So, we got to the Haram around 10am. We proceeded to make tawaf. It’s the biggest I’ve ever seen the crowd there, definitely the toughest tawaf I’ve had so far, but also the most rewarding :)

I also found out from my mom what happened to the group 2 days ago, when my parents and I separated from them and went back to Mina, while they went ahead to the Haram. Apparently, they got stuck in traffic on their bus for 4 hours! When they finally got to the Haram…the doors were closed! There were, apparently, so many people there, they had to close off the entire masjid, subhanAllah. It would’ve been a waste of a trip there, had we actually gone. My dad told me that the group turned around to come back, and jumped in a cab, paid 50 riyals each, and the driver went about a mile and got stuck in traffic. Instead of just letting them out there, he turned around, took them back to the Haram, and let them out, and kept the fare. Ridiculous. I think, by the time they finally walked back, it was around Fajr. They had to walk the 5 miles back to Mina from the Haram. 12 hours to travel such a short distance, money wasted and nothing accomplished. That must’ve suckedd! Alhamdulillah wa Shukr, Allah saved us from a really severe test, so thankful for that. Also, so happy I experienced that connection :) Like, in my heart that day, I felt like going there was the last thing I really wanted. I sincerely just wanted to get back and rest. Allah inspires the hearts to guide as He wills, subhanAllah. I pray I continue to receive guidance towards what is good and easy.

I saw a dude at Arafah from Gambia, met him as were were leaving. He was jacked! Djimon Hounsou status, and spoke legit English. He kinda looked like Dr. Sulayman Nyang, on steroids (he’s the only other Gambian person I know of). He said his daughter, who lives in Maryland, surprised him and his wife by buying Hajj packages for them. That’s awesome mA. He was so happy and seemed so proud of her and thankful. Lesson being: those that want to do that for their parents, should, they’ll appreciate it.

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Day 18 – Thoughts Overnight

“Mina is like a refugee camp version of NYC.”

11/8/11Hajj, Day 5

SubhanAllah, I knocked out. There was so much I wanted to write, but I was so exhausted, I really couldn’t do it. Just woke up, it’s 1:25am, I prayed ‘Isha and brushed my teeth – I forgot this morning, so gross. Now, I’m laying back in bed. It’s been such a long day, but we’re still not totally clear, one more day, iA.

So, let me start from the beginning, iA. My parents and I went to the Haram this morning to complete our tawaf & sai’iy for Hajj. We had to walk from Mina, past the Jamarat, which is 2 miles away, to catch a bus to Mecca, which is another 5 miles. Alhamdulillah, I got to buy a new thobe off the street outside our camp. People line up for blocks along the roads to sell all sorts of goods to the pilgrims, no kiosks, they just lay everything out on blankets and sit on the ground. The thobe’s been really solid so far, Alhamdulillah! Still no tears, which is great, cuz I have nothing else to wear.

By the way, as I’m writing, or walking, or praying, or even drinking mango juice (exaggeration), I fall into these sporadic coughing fits. Isn’t there some movie where people are infected with something and it’s all epic, with them going through the streets all dramatic-like, and individuals would randomly keel over and cough their lungs out…then get up and keep going? Feels like I’ve seen that visual before, maybe with some techno blasting in the background – of the movie, not my life. Though, I have started messin with Tiësto & Deadmau5, it’s been somewhat transformative I must say. Anyways…that’s what it’s like for me. I’ll be doing something, cough for like 10 seconds straight, spit out the biggest phlegm wad ever, and keep going about my business, like nothing happened. It’s that Hajj cough.

Walking in the streets in these days, especially Mina, is horrendous. SO many people, so much garbage, pollution, street hustlers/vendors. Mina is like a refugee camp version of NYC – all the action, with none of the infrastructure. What makes NYC amazing is that it actually manages its own chaos very, very well. The Saudi’s should hire NYC government folk as consultants, no joke. Saudi’s have done nowhere near enough to prepare for the scale of this event. They should either make an effort to scale up infrastructure, or limit the number allowed in, to like 1-2 million.

I saw more dead bodies today. Like 4, lined up in the Masjid Al-Haram. I was walking through and they were laying there, in an area on the ground floor, roped off and guarded by police. Every prayer there has a janaza (funeral prayer) afterwards, so it was really interesting to actually see the bodies there. One of them had his face uncovered. He looked dead. It’s funny, now I think I know what a corpse should look like. I’ll be walking in the camp and see people laying on the street, completely motionless, look at them, and be like…nah, he’s not dead. I’m like, he would be more pale, or his feet would be like yellow, as if I’m a forensics expert now. Quick to give myself street cred, I’ll tell ya that. It’s a suburbia thing, you wouldn’t understand. Only real suburban hard knocks gon feel me on that one.

The camp has free water at least. Cold bottles of sealed Aquafina, as much as you want, until they run out and the Pathans come back to fill it up…then hang around to try to get tipped by everyone. “Bakhsheesh? Bakhsheesh?” I learned that means “tip” by the third time one of them lingered around, asking with upturned palms and head cocked to one side. Meals are pretty gross though. Haven’t had a decent one yet. Actually, since I’ve been in Saudi, I’ve only had one bomb meal, at that Pathan road stop, on the way to Medina. That place was a pure God send, mA.

They keep turning off the lights, so it’s getting darker and darker in my tent. Still keeping it goin though, iA, long as I can…

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Day 17 – Cheapskate

I’m Desi, it’s hard not to be cheap. Help me yall.”

11/7/11Hajj, Day 4

I woke up this morning and just wanted to stay asleep. It was so loud though, the camp just stays obnoxiously loud at night, with everyone around constantly talking all the time. I just wanted to stay in my dream world, even that was a relief. A mental escape from the realities we face.

My current test is a recurring one. My thobe is almost in shreds practically. I bought some super cheap ones – 10 riyals ($3) each – and just got 4 of them. Every single one has ripped and gotten torn up. The one I’m wearing now is the worst, and I’ve barely even worn it. It’s also the only thing I brought along to Mina to wear. I didn’t realize we would be here so long after being out of our ihrams. There’s two huge slits on both thighs, where the pockets are, and the left side is torn open from the knee down.

The lesson: quality over quantity. This is what I get for my habit of spending money on cheap stuff. An investment into some more decent quality clothing would’ve been worth the extra cost. Now, I have to go out and try to buy something in the street in the camp to get by for the next 2 days. There’s no way I’m just wearing this tattered thobe.

I’ll try…I’m Desi, it’s hard not to be cheap. Help me yall. In the meantime, gotta figure out how to get around without being a harami and showing off my ‘aura.

——————–

Today was real. So intense, subhanAllah. The condition of this journal is proof. I had a feeling I’d get tested with the journal, it was just a matter of time, Alhamdulillah.

Soaked Pages

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Day 16 – Path to Purity

“Maybe when we remove the dirty ihram, Allah removes with it the impurities in our hearts.”

11/6/11Hajj, Day 3

While we were coming back, I felt like we were on the path back to purity. I got my head shaved on the walk back, I went to a legit barber, who used a fresh new blade and just shaved my hair straight off. Didn’t trim it first or anything, worked out perfectly. It feels so incredibly refreshing, Alhamdulillah. I look so boss with a bald head and the beard :P. I might rock this look more, who knows.

—————

Finally showered, changed, prayed, ate a little. I can rest now, iA.

Coming back, I saw some men in ihram that had been to the slaughterhouse apparently. Their clothing was covered in blood splatter. The bottom of their ihrams were totally soaked red with blood. It was such a violent image, I actually cringed at the sight – white sheets, soiled with dark, dried blood. Then, I realized, if we follow the rituals as they’re prescribed, there’s no way the ihram would stay clean. You stand in the sun all day in Arafah, so you sweat, and it bakes into your clothing. You spend the night in Muzdalifah, out in the open, on the sand – so you’re exposed to dirt and dust all over. You walk more the next day and travel to the Jamarat and throw stones that you pick up along the way. Then, you go to the slaughterhouse and sacrifice animals and get their blood all over you. It’s actually not required for people to go slaughter their own animals now, you can have it arranged to be done on your behalf and you get a phone call when it’s complete, but traditionally, people would do it on their own.

Then, you cut your hair or shave your head, so you get hair all over your ihram. By the time you’re done, you’re bound to be filthy and disgusting. Thankfully, you’re supposed to take a shower and change, what a relief that brings. Maybe that’s part of the metaphor? You obey His demands for this pilgrimage, bear the toil on your body and clothing, and ultimately shed it all as a renewal and ‘rebirth’. Maybe when we remove the dirty ihram, Allah removes with it the impurities in our hearts. Maybe when we shower and cleanse our exterior, Allah polishes our hearts and purifies our interior. I wanted to be in such a state when I return to Mecca to make tawaf. I preferred to be in a pure state when visiting The Sacred House, ready to receive from the Lord of All, directly to the heart. That is the bounty I desire, and it is a state better befitting His Majesty. I do not regret today’s hardships. Ya Rabb, You alone are sufficient for me.

One of my dad’s friends, Tahir, has been puttin out some truly thoughtful insights this entire time. While I’m in the corner writing, they’re on the other side of the tent, in the midst of this deep conversation about raising kids as good Muslims and decent human beings in America. Seems to be a recurring concern/issue for the uncles in our group.

It started when my dad was complaining about how whack Saudi is compared to America, exclaiming, “America is the greatest country in the world!” He sincerely meant it. I agree with him. There’s just nothing that compares to the infrastructure, cleanliness and overall order in society. We honestly take for granted how civilized our environment is. In other parts of the world, even basic rules don’t apply. Traffic patterns, litter, pollution, personal space/boundaries, civility – it’s like nothing is as it’s “supposed” to be. Basic example, NO one stands in line. Ever. If you wait in line, you’re telling everyone around you that you do not want whatever the hell you’re standing in line for, and they can jump in front of you and shove you out of the way. That must be what it means, because that’s exactly what happens when I try waiting in line. I ain’t no fool though, I learned lines are for suckers. Even at restaurants! You order food, you have a number, you’re not going to be served until it’s your turn. Doesn’t matter, push, shove, fight to the counter, every time the attendant turns towards you, throw your receipt up into his face. That’s the only way you get what you want, it’s ridiculous. Adapt or starve.

They started talking about raising kids. I guess that’s one area in which they find America to be a problematic environment. Tahir said, parents, especially Desi’s, keep their eyes closed to their kids’ lives. He said, “Good parenting isn’t just making sure your kids pray when they’re at home, but raising them so when they’re out all day, they do what’s right.” I think he hit it right on the head. Too many Desi parents try to force religiosity on their kids, and not actual morality. Many times, it seems they lack the morals themselves to even be able to impart them upon their offspring. He made a dope comment about how Allah didn’t send this many prophets for no reason. Heavy. We are indeed a rebellious creation, wanting to transgress for personal convenience and gain.

——————–

It’s funny, I’ve been encouraged by so many of my group members to publish a book of my journey. The old Iranian man I sat next to on the bus has been really supportive & sweet. I had a feeling that would happen when I was writing about him at the time. His name’s Zakaria. His cousin, Nabi, also in our group, is a really nice guy too mA. He wanted to take a picture with me yesterday, it was also the first time we spoke. I was like, um…ok. He said he had a brother-in-law that looked like me. Compliment for him, right? ;)

In general, my group has grown on me. Even some of the Desi uncles I was hating on are turning out to be real solid dudes mA. There’s Fiyyaz, who’s a G, from Hydro-bad, and his buddy Saleem, who’s also such a great man. Then, there’s the other Saleem, who’s been super considerate, taking care of me like family. He’s always asking if I need anything and offering to share in his meals whenever he sees me. Our group leader, though he’s good at getting things that he wants, usually serves himself, making him a d-bag. Sorry, not traveling with you again. The Somali crew are also good folk, great fun, but here for the right reasons. Alhamdulillah, they have a good time and manage to get focused when the time is right.

We got skipped when meals were being handed out at lunch and dinner. Either because everyone and their mom hates our trip leader, or cuz the workers keep asking for tips and we just dont care anymore. Seriously, do yall not get paid? Or you just hustlin right now cuz your in the American tents? Whatevs, I already ate – had my leftover Turkish joint. Time for bed, I’m beat…I don’t care if it’s only 8:30pm and it’s Eid [Eid Mubarak!].

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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 16 – A Night In Muzdalifah

“With Allah’s Help, I think I’ve been protected. That’s what I’m telling myself to keep the paranoia away.”

11/6/11Hajj, Day 3

It’s Eid! Hajji’s don’t really do nothin with it though. We have more rituals to complete today, it’s not over yet.

We spent the night, last night, in Muzdalifah. It was out in the open, on a paved lot, under the street lights. It basically felt like being around millions, trying to sleep on a dusty Wal-Mart parking lot, with buses zooming past all night. I was out cold with some earplugs, a breathing mask and an eye shade. People around me were loud though, seemed like they talked all night. I kept waking up, didn’t sleep well at all. I also had a really freaky dream – I think some jinn was trying to mess with me, honestly.

I dreamt that I felt someone touch my lips, as I was laying in my place, asleep. They put their fingertips on my lips and then pulled out a few strands of hair from the front of my head, then I heard them walk away. So, still in my dream, thinking I’m awake now, I immediately thought there was some witchcraft goin on, so I touched my hair to feel if there were any knots. I found some of my hair tied in a knot on the back side of my head, on the left side. I untied the knot and looked around to see if I could find who had done it. Still dreaming, I talk to my mom, who was laying near me. I asked her if she saw anyone come near me while I was sleeping and she acted really weird. She responded, “Well, what about your wife?” I was like, “What?? What about my wife?!?!” and I got really, really pissed, and she backed off.

I woke up freaked out, not knowing how real it was. In my dream, I started reciting Ayatul Kursi and Surah Al-Falaq for protection, Alhamdulillah. Once awake, I started looking around, scouring the area around me for anything suspicious. When I went to sleep, I was completely surrounded by only my group members. When I woke up, there were two complete strangers lying right next to me, to my left. I eyed them suspiciously for a while, looking for any unusual activity. Never really found anything wrong. I tried to figure out if anyone had been messing with me, so I asked my mom if everyone had slept at the same time. I was trying to see if anyone would have been awake to see if anything happened to me. Seemed like there were a few people awake the whole night, with nothing to report.

I think, if it was real, there was a jinn that tried messing with me, maybe trying to put a spell on me involving a spouse. I think my untying the knot and resisting when they talked to me as my mom to find out about a wife, in addition to reciting the verses, may have helped to ward off any danger. With Allah’s Help, I think I’ve been protected. That’s what I’m telling myself to keep the paranoia away.

We’ll go to do Rami’ soon, where we’ll be stoning the Jamarat, the structures representing Satan. We got on a bus, which we waited an hour for. It took us another hour to get to Mina on the bus, due to all of the traffic. Some of our group, including my mom, chose not to wait for the bus and just walk, and their trip took them an hour. My dad and I were like nah, we’ll wait. Took us 2 hours to get back to our tent.

I feel grimy. My ihram is dirty, I need a shower, my hair needs shaving, and I got a vicious Arafah tan. Soon, habibi, soon, we’ll be done. Sabr, Hajji, sabr.

By the way, the bus was packedd! Fights almost broke out amongst all of us trying to get on. I had to force my way through to get on with my dad, I barely made it. We definitely couldn’t get seats, so we stood the whole way back. I had some dudes armpit in my face the whole time. Nice. Felt like catchin a ride in Pakistan. The bus ride was long, hot, sweaty, sticky. Yum…

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Day 15 – To My Heart’s Content

“Even if none of my du’as are answered, the blessing of hope is generous enough.”

11/5/11Hajj, Day 2

Arafah At Dawn

From 1pm until Maghrib (5:45pm), I did my best to continuously make du’a. For like, 2 ½ hours, I went non-stop, Alhamdulillah – making sure to stand in the sun for as long as I was making du’a. I walked out of our camp, wandered about a mile away, trying to find a secluded area to make du’a, but didn’t have much luck. I ended up standing on the side of one of the streets, where at least no one from my group would see me, so I could be more engulfed in my supplications without any distractions or judgments. Even then, people were continuously walking past and would stop and try talking to me, I guess seeing me standing there with my eyes closed and hands raised wasn’t enough of a sign. I’m finding it’s surprisingly difficult to find the solitude I’ve been yearning for while here.

There were some nice little interactions though. One guy saw me and gave me a bottle of water. Later, a woman walked up to me, carrying 3 cases of water and juice on her head. She was out of breath, speaking to me in Arabic. I froze, not knowing what she wanted, but luckily another man came and helped her get the cases off of her head. Ahh…oops… :/. She rested for a few minutes, then when she went to put the cases back on her head, I helped her prop them back up. She smiled and said, “Thank you”, in English, and walked off. Another guy walked up and stood like 5 or 6 paces away from me and stared at me while I was making du’a. I just ignored him, closed my eyes and kept going. After a little bit, I hear him talking really loud, I look and see him on his cell phone. There was space all around us…but he chose to stand right in front of me and have his conversation. Thankfully, he didn’t stick around long.

I went through my entire 6 page du’a list. Each name. Before I left for this trip, I emailed the majority of my contacts and asked them to send me any du’as they had. I copied and pasted them all into one document and just printed that out, along with the names of everyone that hadn’t sent me anything, so I could still remember to make du’a for them. Going through it, I would read each name, close my eyes, think of the person and try to ask from my heart for whatever good I wanted for them. I would get tired and want to stop, but trudged through, out of the love I have for these wonderful people, mA.

I’m pretty beat right now, even though I ain’t do nuffin else all day. I heard that it was best to be in the sun when making du’a on the Day of Arafah, to feel that heat and intensity, and to remember the Day of Judgment and the Hereafter. Standing out in the sun for that long was especially exhausting, but at least I got a little Arafah tan afterwards :P.

It was a huge blessing to be able to witness this day, Alhamdulillah. Even if none of my du’as are answered, the blessing of hope is generous enough. Allah owes us nothing, but Him giving us the opportunity to ask for whatever we want is truly Majestic. My Lord is Most Bountiful, Allahu Akbar.

Pilgrims Plead For Their Salvation At Arafah

We’re currently in Muzdalifah, it’s about 9:15pm. You’re supposed to delay Maghrib on the Day of Arafah until you get to Muzdalifah. I’m not sure how long you’re allowed to delay it for though, I feel like we waited way too long. Our bus took a while to show up at Arafah, so we didn’t get to Muzdalifah until like 9pm. I’m about to straight knock out though in a few minutes. We’re basically on a parking lot on the side of a street. It legit feels like a highway rest stop, with millions of people all around and buses constantly roaring past. There’s actually alot of pollution here, it’s not the open-air, fresh weather I was expecting when I first heard about Muzdalifah.

I’m gonna slam in my earplugs and drop on this eye shade and get me some good sleep iA. Tomorrow is Eid, it’s also going to be our longest day. We have to stone the Shaitan after Fajr, then wait for our qurbani’s, then we get to shave our heads- woop woop! We can change out of our ihrams too, but we still have to do one more tawaf and sa’iy in the Haram before we’re all clear. That’s alot for one day, but then we’re pretty much chillin. The last 2 days after that are much simpler, just stoning both days.

That’s all for now. Just pray my du’as are accepted. They’re good ones, I promise ;).

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Day 15 – Well, This Is Awkward…

“The first thoughts that came to mind were, “Crap! I’m in my ihram too…and it’s the Day of Arafah!”

11/5/11Hajj, Day 2

The tests have not stopped, they’ve only just started hitting much closer to home. I just got hit with a very personal test. It’s kinda funny really, though totally embarassing.

 So, I took a nap in our tent after sunrise, trying to kill time til Dhuhr, and get some rest. After Dhuhr is when I wanted to focus on making all of my du’as. It was a pretty good nap – restful, comfortable, peaceful. I started to dream. How do I say this…? The dream turned…saucy. That’s hilarious, I didn’t plan on using that word, but it works, I’m stickin with it.

The details of this saucy dream are a bit too personal even for this journal, though it wasn’t graphic or obscene. Ok, enough about that. I immediately woke myself up as soon as it was “happening”. The first thoughts that came to mind were, “Crap! I’m in my ihram too…and it’s the Day of Arafah!” The only day that really matters. So, I recoup, having also just woken up – rude awakening status. I went to the bathroom, trying not to walk awkwardly.

The plan I came up with on the spot was: get into a stall, make ghusl, switch my top ihram sheet to the bottom, wash the bottom sheet, and be out without anyone noticing what happened. Problem was, there were no showers in Arafah, those are only in Mina. Also, everything had to be done in this small toilet stall, where there’s also the infamous hole in the ground. Staying clean was a top priority.

Alhamdulillah, I got through it just fine, no worries. Allah makes it easy when you reach out to Him for help. I got lucky and had a clean stall, with no lines waiting to get in after me. There was also an unusually long water hose in the stall, normally they’re only half that length. There were no hooks though, so I took off my top sheet and slung it over the door, hung my money belt on the door knob, took off my bottom sheet and folded it up loosely. I didn’t have anywhere to set down my bottom sheet, so I took off my flip-flops and sat it on top. I used the super long hose to make ghusl, took my time and cleaned up. Worked out really well actually. I cleaned off the bottom sheet, draped it over my shoulders, wrapped my other sheet around my waist and walked out. Ten minutes tops. Now, I’m sitting in the sun to dry off. Not a single suspecting soul, Alhamdulillah.

Question: If I’m in ihram and there’s an ant crawling on me and I flick it to get it off and end up killing it, do I have to pay a penalty? That just happened…

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