Day 15 – Arafah

“The hardships must always accompany the ease, such is the nature of our existence.”

11/5/11 – Hajj, Day 2

The Day of Arafah. Finally, we are here. It is a beautiful morning, maybe 65 deg, light breeze, clear skies. It’s 6:30am. After Fajr, I was planning on sleeping, but I stayed up to watch the sun rise over the mountains. It’s not as delicious as the sunsets, but it has its own majesty about it.

Minute by minute, the world around me is coming to life as the sky fades from dark to light, blue & black to orange & white. I’m sitting with my mother now. Hugs, kisses, asking about our night’s sleep. Waiting for the sun to break from behind the mountain – just a few more minutes now, iA. There’s sakinah (tranquility) and peace here. It’s so thick in the air, you can feel it in your bones. The Day of Mercy has begun.

Last night was more of a mess, none seemingly worth mentioning anymore – though I will briefly, for the sake of this journal. The hardships must always accompany the ease, such is the nature of our existence. My shoes were stolen, from inside the tent. Someone probably took them by accident and left theirs, which looked similar, but I can’t take those when they’re not mine. I’ve resorted to my backup flip-flops, no harm done. They’re terribly uncomfortable though, I don’t think they’ll be very useful if I walk alot.

We slept, packed in our tent, practically pressed against one another – 15 men in one small tent. We got dinner at least, Alhamdulillah. I took the HajjCoach’s advice and used earplugs and an eye shade to sleep and it worked beautifully, Alhamdulillah. I knocked out around 10pm and didn’t wake up until someone shook me at 3am to wake me. I took off my mask and it felt like I just entered the land of the living for the first time – sensory overload. Right back in the thick of it all over again. At least I got some rest, some time away Alhamdulillah, before everything came rushing back.

This morning, we had to leave before Fajr, which is against the sunnah of Mina, but we had to in order to catch our bus to Arafah. With millions of pilgrims traveling in such a short distance with limited resources, we don’t have much control over our situations. They said there were fatwas saying it’s ok to go to Arafah before Fajr, because of the sheer volume of people traveling at the same time. We were already going anyways, but that made the pill easier to swallow.

I got upset with my dad too, sort of lost my cool for a sec. He kept telling me to “stay together”, said it like 6 times. I would be standing no more than 5 or 6 paces away the entire time. I sort of snapped, and was like, “what are you talking about? I’m right here, where am I gonna go??” This was while we were gathering to board onto the bus to leave Mina this morning. I felt bad afterwards, he was trying to make sure everything would go smoothly, in his own way. So much virtue in keeping your mouth shut. I think I’ve saved myself alot of headaches on this trip by staying aloof and staying quiet. Yesterday was the first time I got involved in the drama – out of sheer curiosity and I regret it. It brought no benefit and just gave me a crucial migraine.

Alhamdulillah, it’s behind us now. We have finally been blessed with Arafah. After all of the tests, hardships and setbacks, Allah has allowed us this magnificent day. May He accept our prayers and make us amongst those whose prayers are answered. Ameen.

Here comes the sun…

Sun Rising Over Arafah

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Day 14 – Settling In

“If it ain’t hard, it ain’t Hajj.”

11/4/11 – Hajj, Day 1

I’m feeling so confident that my du’as may be heard tomorrow – very optimistic and hopeful at least. Especially the du’as that are of major concern to me, those relating to matters closest to my heart. Those are the ones I’m feeling good about. I so sincerely hope my Lord answers them and hears me. Allahu ‘Alam (Allah knows best), I may have to face even more tests and have to be patient with not receiving what I ask for. Such is the nature of my life in this world, I am at the whim of my Master. It is up to Him whether to preserve me or discard me – I have no right to demand either. I can only hope and pray for His Infinite & All-Encompassing Mercy. There is no deity save for The Most High, The Lord of the Worlds. May we see His Infinitely Bounteous Face and receive His Glad Tidings. Ameen.

————–

Somehow, we got wrapped up in a full-blown resistance movement. Ok, maybe not that serious, but definitely just as dramaticized. So, this lady from our Hajj company has been claiming that we didn’t pay for food & beds in our tents. She’s demanding that we show receipts if we say we’ve paid. Right. Let me just pull that right out of my sheet-suit. She’s basically just beefing with our tour guide. Apparently, he disrespected her when he first spoke to her this morning. We later find out that she said he beckoned her with his finger to come to him when he wanted to speak to her. Our group leader denied even having done this, but didn’t put up much of a fight to get us what we paid for either. All this mess because one man wagged his finger at the wrong woman. A group of men actually went to the Ministry of Hajj office and complained about the lady. Of course, this is a bureaucracy, where nothing is done by the people you approach. They suggested we call the cops, put in our claim for having been cheated. The guys were very hesitant though, they wanted to try reasoning with the lady one last time.

They caught up with her at the entrance to the camp and got in her face. 15 men, 1 woman. She wouldn’t budge, they all stayed soft. She basically said what we have is all we’re gonna get. Our current arrangement, with 15 men sleeping in one tiny tent, is the best she was going to do for us. I wanted to just blurt out, “Yo! We boutta call the cops, cuz you’s stealin from us right now!” Of course I didn’t, they were all talking in Arabic, so I had no clue what was actually going on at the time. So, here we are, in this small space, maybe 12’x12’, 15 men, sleeping on the floor, practically pressed up against one another.

I have a killer headache from all the excitement. It’s like 8pm & we’ve been caught up in this affair since we got off the bus this morning. Earlier, I was afraid Mina would be boring. I should know better, nothing is ever uneventful during Hajj ;). My dad was apologizing to me, for this day being so difficult. I reminded him that nothing has been easy so far, and that this is Hajj. It’s supposed to be difficult, that’s all part of the test. This is also the first official day, of course it’s going to be even harder than what we’ve been going through so far. Now, we’re being tested with our money, food, rest – things we have full rights to. No one ever has an easy Hajj – at least, they’re not supposed to. If it ain’t hard, it ain’t Hajj. Alhamdulillah, it’s been very manageable thus far.

Earlier today, I went around tent city a bit. Completely fascinating. I mostly stuck around the area with Western Hajji’s, and even that was enormous. I definitely didn’t even scratch the surface of Mina, there are so many people here, it’s just incredible. It’s very well organized and structured as well. Reminds me of disaster management and refugee sheltering, done so right. The shelters are sturdy, comfortable, efficient, and not to mention dignified. It’s a very impressive arrangement.

Pilgrims Settling Into Their Tents

Pilgrims Gathering In Mina For The Beginning of Hajj

Here Lies Tent City

I know some people in our group are really frustrated & upset. I’m just tired and hungry. I just want to get to Arafah tomorrow. After that, let whatever happens come iA.

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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.

——————–

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%.

——————

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.

——————–

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

——————

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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Day 13 – Now or Later

“It’s an intriguing topic – to purify now, or later?”

11/3/11

It’s funny how stores here post pictures of things they don’t sell, especially restaurants. So many people go up to these food stands and be like, ooo this sandwich looks good, can I have one? Store owners be like, um…nah, we don’t sell that. That would never fly in America. These places got so long to go before they catch up, forreal.

I’m sitting on my bed, writing, & I can hear my dad & the other men in the group talking about me in the other room. Nothing bad, just about how old I am, how quiet I am – and how I’m always writing all the time. It’s starting to catch on as my “thing”. I pretty much am always writing around them, so it’s understandable. They all think I’m writing a book, that’s funny. I always just imagined this to be a notetaking expedition, But, we’ll see…

I mainly wanted to preserve the experience for myself, in my elder years perhaps, and to be able to share with others.

I’m the youngest of my group, not sure if I’ve mentioned that. Because I’m the youngest, and there’s such a significant gap, the men tend to assume I’m much younger than I actually am – also cuz I’m the son of their friend. They all sort of carry this sentiment that I’m going to be pure after this, and since I’m so young, I have to be even more careful the rest of my life, so as to not mess that up. If your Hajj is accepted, then all of your sins are forgiven, you would be as pure as a newborn baby. Do they feel like they are making the more strategic move in going for Hajj while they’re old? I’m not quite sure, but it’s an intriguing topic – to purify now, or later? Obviously, there’s the question of – well, will there even be a later? You could die long before you grow old. On the other hand, purify now – live a long life…what if you screw it up? As much as I would love to go off & sin for a few more decades & come back & seek purification, it just doesn’t seem right. I’ve already done things I regret, it’s never too early to seek forgiveness. Who knows? Maybe this experience will motivate me to live even better iA. It’s a blessing regardless, Alhamdulillah.

One of the uncles, last night, said something interesting to me. He said that I’m very lucky to be here, to have received this invitation from Allah to come to the Holy Lands, which I agree with. He then said that, “Most kids today are not good”, which I disagree with. It’s unfortunate, considering I learned that he has children whom he has trouble dealing with. Then again, from what I understood, he was trying to impose on his children to attend Islamic schools, to be more religious. I heard him talk about how they hated him for years, I’m assuming they would rebel and push back. It doesn’t mean they’re “not good”, just means you need to understand them better. Who would fight the opportunity to be closer to The One that created him? If you suck the love and joy out of the faith, you can’t expect anything short of rebellion against it. There is no Islam in that Islam.

Anyways, he said that Allah brings those here whom He loves and wishes to purify and benefit. That alone is an enormous blessing, distinction, honor, favor, and reward. I pray my friends, and more young people, would receive the same distinction. It can only benefit our ummah (community) at-large, iA. This is truly a blessed place, despite all of its shortcomings, and all would benefit from visiting it. Allah knows best when we would get the most from it in our lives.

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Day 13 – Tests in Question

“The ultimate goal is not to “pass” the test – often there is no real way to pass or fail – the goal is simply to return to Allah. 

11/3/11

I was taking a shower, at around 1:30pm, and in the middle of it, all the water in the bathroom runs out. I’m standing there, covered in soap, well I rinsed off some of the left half of my body when it ran out. These little tests crack me up sometimes, cuz they always catch you off-guard, but they’re real and you actually have to deal with them.

So, I stood there like, wth??And I hand-squeegee’d as much soap off my curves as I could…please, ladies, this is a Hajj journal. SMH. Then, I was like ok…maybe I’ll just use the water from the bidet or the hand shower, or the sink, shoot I’ll use whatever, short of toilet water of course. All water sources had run dry – no water in the entire bathroom. Totally forgot I was in a 3rd world country. The water reservoir had probably run out, especially from people doing their laundry across the hall. So, I just kinda stood around…hung out for about 10 minutes, laughed at myself in the mirror. Suddenly, some water came back & I rushed to clean off. Got through it, Alhamdulillah.

That still raises the question: how am I best meant to interact with these tests? Just show patience and wait for them to blow over? Show diligence in the future to plan more efficiently and prevent falling into the same situations? Take advantage of the opportunity and work to fix the situation? Maybe a combination or selection of the options, based on the situation? That’s probably what it is. I have realized though, it becomes much, much easier to deal with the tests once you recognize you’re being tested. It sort of allows you to step outside of the situation and regain your personal identity. You are not your test. The test merely helps you to know better who you really are. All tests are from Allah. Stepping away from the situation, mentally, allows you to connect better with Him as well. He gives you the test, and will give you the answers if you ask Him. I always loved teachers like that :)

Why would He just help you if you ask? Because the ultimate goal is not to “pass” the test – often there is no real way to pass or fail – the goal is simply to return to Allah. To recognize & assert His role in your life. Communicating with Him in the midst of a test or hardship is the way to succeed. With that step, you more forward & prepare yourself for His Divine Support.

When I ran out of water in the shower, I go, “Yo, God – you testin me again, right? That’s funny LOL.” I don’t say, “Oh no! This always happens to me. FML. I have the worst luck, maybe God just hates me.” Tests are not necessarily earned, though they are tailored to you specifically, according to what you’re capable of handling. You don’t necessarily get a particular test because you deserve if, so it’s not personal in that sense. However, The Educator knows His Creation & what pushes your buttons, so tests are handed out accordingly. Similarly, He knows how far He can push you, and stays within the limits when He tests you. This is something that should provide relief. If you face some challenging situation, know that your Creator believes in you, and He has equipped you with the capacity to overcome your difficulties.

Also, if you see others in the midst of a test, be gentle with them. They are facing their own tests, which are according to their own capacities. Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” So much wisdom in those words. Others can not face what you are tested with, nor can you face what they are tested with, subhanAllah.

The Prophets faced the most severe tests, but also turned to Allah & He supported them through their hardships. These tests made them the closest to Allah. So, our tests, though they are smaller and less intense, have the same aim – to garner the support of our Educator & to draw us closer to Him. The constant remembrance of this situation relates to our level of faith. Perhaps, that is the greatest remembrance, to remember our constant connection to Him, to see it in every step. Not just repeating chanted incantations, but seeing their applicability within our own hearts, in the lives we live. May Allah guide my heart & make me of those that remember Him, receive His support and “pass” His tests. Same for you :)

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Day 12 – Khamsein?

Every day has been such an adventure here, subhanAllah

11/2/11

Of course, getting back to our rooms was not easy, why would it be? :P Not only did the main group bounce without waiting for everyone, it took the rest of us forever to get a cab. Took at least an hour to find a taxi willing to go to Aziziah, then once we got one, it took the driver an hour to get us to our place. It’s only a 10 minute drive. He got completely lost and didn’t know how to get us there, even after asking everyone & their mom along the way. We actually took 2 cabs & split our group up. I was in the first cab with my mom and the other women from our group and my dad was in the second cab, with the uncles. It took my dad’s group another hour to get a cab after we had gotten ours, we basically back to the room at the exact same time.

The uncles negotiated with our driver and worked out that each passenger would pay 20 riyals, about $5. As soon as we got in the car and started driving, he turns to me, in the front seat, and says, “Khamsein?” I just stare at him, dumbly. He pulls out 50 riyals worth of bills and waves them in front of me, asking each person to pay that much. I’m like, “Nah bump that”, and reach for the door handle to get out while he’s driving. He quickly changes his mind back and is like “ok, ok! ‘Ashrein (20)?” Much better. Egyptian drivers have been such characters. He tried speaking to me in Arabic, and realized I didn’t understand. As he was driving around, lost, he’d turn to me in frustration and try asking me something in Arabic and I’d just shrug my shoulders. He’d give up and be like “Ahhh! No Arabic…!”

He really couldn’t find our spot though, and we hadn’t been there more than one night, so I really hadn’t gotten familiar enough with the area to help him either. So, we called my dad’s group to see if their driver could guide our driver. Their driver, mA, talked to our driver, found out exactly where he was, drove up to us, and had us follow him to our front door. May Allah bless that man, that’s such kindness & generosity. And competency. Our driver, after being guided to our destination, asked for more money. I might’ve actually given him something for his troubles, but then he had to go & ask for money, which ruined his chances with me. It’s like a knee-jerk reaction, I can’t help it. We were also already standing at the front door, no leverage homie. We got in at 12am.

We did get to eat at an Afghan restaurant before leaving, near the Ramada, by the Haram. It was decent food, just such a pain to get seats. You had to literally poach chairs by standing over people while they were eating. The second someone got up, you had to sit down, or someone else would get there before you. We spend 20 minutes trying to be civil and waiting for tables to clear out, and we found that everytime we’d go check, new people would be in the seats. You couldn’t even stand on the side of the room and jump in when someone got up, you had to physically stand over their shoulders and wait for them to finish eating. The hospitality industry here is majorly lacking. That’s just awkward.

The food was different than what you normally find in American Afghan places. It tasted less…sanitary. Like, way less sanitary. I actually thought I was gonna throw up after I had the kabobs, they really didn’t seem cooked. I have the sneaking suspicion that most places don’t use real meat in their food. Meat in general has been pretty hard to come by. I’m guessing they process in alot of…filler with the meat. Sounds gross, but that’s probably the reality. Most people in 3rd world countries really just can’t even afford to eat meat.

Honestly though, Food Corner would smash these Afghan joints. We have such amazing food in America, at least in Northern VA (wut, wut!), Alhamdulillah. I mean, I still enjoyed it, oddly enough. Pathan Urdu is definitely still the best. They have such a sweetness in their tongue when they speak, with their incorrect grammar. Makes the language suddenly more interesting & dynamic.

I think the plan is to stay in Aziziah and just chill tomorrow. That might be best after our fiasco with the taxis tonight. Going back and forth from here to the Haram is such a hassle. After tomorrow, we head to Mina and the real fun begins. We’re almost there.

Every day has been such an adventure here, subhanAllah. Hopefully, that’s been conveyed in these writings. I feel like it makes these pages out to be quite the interesting read…should I ever let anyone read them…j/k, I prolly will share them. At least, parts of them – some things have been too personal, but who knows, maybe? It’s definitely been a pleasure keeping this journal :)

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Day 12 – A Posthumous Visit

“When you are here, you understand that you are known to your Creator. You feel His Presence.”

11/2/11

This tawaf was awesome. Very tough. I got so beat up & crushed, it completely wore me out, but it felt amazing. Tantamountly worth it. I made some meaningful du’as, I got to cling to the door frame (Al-Multazam) to the Ka’aba twice & make du’as I wasn’t sure I made there last time.

There are so many people trying to reach Al-Multazam that you literally have to cling to the wall to hold on and make your supplications. I wish I could have taken pictures, there’s calligraphy on the underside of the bronze door frame to the Ka’aba that you can only see when you stand at that spot and look up. I couldn’t make out what it said, but it’s very cool to be able to see. I made sure to pray for a qalb saleem (a sound heart) – in this world & when I leave this life. It’s said that only the sound heart will enter Paradise, so I’m trying to get that iA. I also made du’a to learn the Qur’an, Arabic, the Sunnah, and to embody the characteristics of the Prophet – to be guided, protected and elevated as a model for others. Apparently, every du’a made there is answered, I hope these receive the same end iA. 

I also got to touch the walls a few times – that’s become so easy that it’s like not even a big deal anymore :P. I almost touched the Black Stone. I got to touch the silver frame it’s encased in…I think I touched the cement inside, but I’m not sure, I couldn’t see. I was stretching my arms out, reaching out over peoples’ heads, trying to touch what I could. I felt my fingertips brush across something, but I have no idea what it actually was. That was epic, though that’s were I got crushed & pushed the hardest. It’s literally the most intense space I’ve ever stood in, in my entire life, anywhere in the world. It’s probably the only physical spot in the world where there’s always people pushing and shoving non-stop, 24/7. 

The funny thing is, I totally didn’t push and would literally just let myself be carried from one place to another. I’d only make minor steps here & there to get some better positioning. I would just express with my heart where I wanted to be and it would become easier, I just had to put in the umph-effort at the last instant, much like in real life I suppose;). I would actually end up getting caught in the Black Stone scuffle each time I went around, because of how close I was. Even when I didn’t want to get closer because I was exhausted, I would still get pushed deeper & further, towards the Ka’aba. Can you imagine being so tired and drained from getting crushed and crammed tightly for so long, and not even being able to walk away? SubhanAllah, it was still such a great experience. I completely miss it.

All that exhaustion & pushing made me think of how the Prophet was crushed by the Angel Gabriel & his heart received revelation. I prayed for my heart to also be filled by Allah, as I was also being physically crushed. I imagined my physical body being drained, my soul gaining strength and my heart finding itself. That was clarity. In such situations, you realize – we’re all just a jumbled, compressed mob of bodies – sweaty, musty, exhausted & drained. We become a blurred mass. Where is that which defines me? Where is my ‘I’? It is in the heart. When you’re body is trapped & crushed, your heart still breathes easily, it reaches out & kisses the breeze. The birds, circling above, sing songs just for the heart, and the heart sings back, with a fluttering of its own.

This is why I love Mecca. This place is indescribable in its total incomparability to any other space on this planet. It is a place, not from this Earth. It is from the Heavens themselves, placed on Earth by Allah’s Closest Friend to show our hearts that the Lord knows. When you are here, you understand that you are known to your Creator. You feel His Presence. It is such a fundamentally simple structure – just a cube, in the desert. From afar, there is no magic, it seems uninspiring. Once you stand before it, once you look upon its majesty with the naked eye, once your lips…ok, your fingertips, grace its humble walls – then you will understand. Then you will be convinced and you will know that the Lord knows.

Sai’y afterwards was kind of tough, but I took my time. I went nice & slow, not rushing one bit. I finished tawaf around 2:45pm & started Sai’y around 3. Stopped for ‘Asr & then finished at about 4:15 and met up with my parents. I dedicated the reward of this ‘Umrah to my father’s father, Nazir Alam. InshaAllah, he gets the reward of this as a completed ‘Umrah, having never been able to make the trip here himself. I pray I’m able to do more for my forefathers & that I’m blessed with an even more generous & rightly guided progeny

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Day 12 – Lost & Found

“We can never run out of reasons to be thankful.”

11/2/11

10am. Finally got some sleep. The room we’re in had the A/C blasting, with the knob broken off, and we had to sleep in our ihram, so it was chilly. We’re about to catch a cab to go to the Haram and do ‘Umrah iA.

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SubhanAllah! The most amazing thing just happened. I went to the bathroom & was takin my time, you know. I took off my watch & left it on the ledge in the stall, while I was inside. I finish my business and get out, make wudu, stand in front of the fan for a while, dry off, hit the water fountain – just takin my sweet time, chillin, freshening up before I go to make ‘Umrah. This was in the bathroom of the Masjid Al-Haram by the way, which isn’t actually in the masjid, but in an underground area outside the masjid, beyond the courtyard (feels like a Subway station).

When I showed up to use the bathroom, there was basically no one around, just 2-3 other people waiting to use the stalls. There are just hallways, lined with dozens of stalls. The stall I used had a bag of clothes hanging on the wall, left there by someone who used it before. I moved it when I got inside, to hang my bag. Before leaving, I made sure to return the bag to the same place I had moved it from. When I left the stall, there was suddenly like 100 people waiting. There must have been 2 or 3 people waiting in front of each stall. I was like dang, ok. So, I go about my business, and get all ready to go. Then, as I’m about to climb the stairs to get back out, I go to check the time and realize…I left my watch in the bathroom! I was like, “Astaghhhfirullaahhhhh!” and I darted back to the stalls. While I was headed back, I was like subhanAllah, here’s another test – Allah finds ways to test each part of us, in ways we wouldn’t even imagine. I was also like, ok, let’s see how well Muslims revere the Haram – you’re not supposed to take anyyything you find here – you either leave it or you’re responsible for publicly announcing what you’ve picked up, to return it, before you can take anything.

I get back to the stalls, and there’s even more people than before, it’s packed tight in the hallway. Each stall was numbered, but I didn’t remember to look at which number I was in. I didn’t remember exactly which stall I used, but I had a general idea. So, I camped in front of like 7 stalls where I knew it’d be. Each time someone came out & the door opened, I hustled over and poked my head in to see if it was the right stall. I was thinking, man, what if it takes a while, is it worth it? I’ll be telling everyone how I lost my new watch in the masjid bathroom, is this really how it ends? And I was like, no! I need to try. Within a few minutes, the stalls I was watching were all opening up. One particular stall had a bag of clothes hanging on the wall!! I immediately went forward and saw my watch still sitting on the ledge!!! I excused myself past the man that was going in & grabbed it, and bounced out – a huge grin on my face. Allahu Akbar :) Alhamdulillah wa shukr.

This place has credibility mA. That was a huge relief & a great blessing. I’m so thankful to be able to keep this gift. May Allah shower abundantly with His Bounties & Blessings the one that gave it, the one that wears it, the one that looks upon it, and all those that benefit from that which it measures. Ameen :)

It’s funny, isn’t it? We think the possessions we have belong to us, but Allah can easily separate us from them. Even being able to keep what’s come to us is an immense blessing. We can never run out of reasons to be thankful.

Time for ‘Umrah ;) 1:20pm

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That.Was.Intense. I’m exhausted just from the tawaf. It was so hot & crowded, under the afternoon sun. I still managed to maneuver around, by letting myself go, not fighting the crowd. Going with the flow got me to my destination.

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Finally got some food & a little time to recharge after that grueling ‘Umrah. My parents & I met up around 4:30pm, after I finished. We had lunch at this pretty good Turkish “kebap” joint, just up the street from Marwa. Alhamdulillah, we showed up beat, tired and just outta shape. We found a table and just collapsed down, exhausted. There was another man next to us who was joined by his friend, who came holding three large trays, full of meals. He had brought at least 10 meals, which he and his friend were going to go to town on apparently. We looked at the two of them like…dang, they gon eat all that…? SubhanAllah, without hesitation, the man picked up 3 of the meals – plates of freshly grilled kebabs – and placed them in front of us, telling us to help ourselves & eat. What great hospitality, it was such a generous & pleasant gesture. May Allah show them even more hospitality on the Day where we will be at His total Whim, ameen.

The food was pretty good. I still went up and ordered some chicken for my mom, who typically won’t touch red meat. I also got a rack of cold drinks. We shared sodas with the men at our table and all enjoyed our meals together. Such a huge blessing Alhamdulillah. Another ease to accompany the hardship…starting to see a pattern, aren’t we?

Afterwards, my dad cut/sawed off some of the curls from the back of my head. Ihram complete :) I love being in ihram, but fulfilling the rites & being done with it is such a great feeling too, Alhamdulillah.

My mom & I grabbed some ice cream too – we were serious about recharging :). The ice cream, or “scream” as the store owners called it, was really good. It was just a bunch of different flavors in one cup, all soft-serve. Even the chocolate wasn’t bad, and I hate chocolate ice cream usually. This wasn’t bitter at all. We went on to pray Maghrib & now we’re sitting inside the mosque, waiting for ‘Isha.

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Day 11 – Familiar Faces

The worst thing about the trip was the frustration of being trapped, not being able to go anywhere, do anything…These are events which try your patience.”

11/1/11

The desert calm that clings to the soul. Forcefully grabs hold and enshrouds the heart. There can be no escape, only surrender. It is to this tranquility we retreat. There is no salvation from it, until the desert is left behind – mountains at your back, city streets under your feet. Only then, may you find peace from the Peace. A peace, by which, there is no solace, only yearning – for the perfectly blended skies and warm radiant rays of the brother you left behind.

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2 things: SubhanAllah, nothing compares to the beauty of a desert sunset. I was in total awe, I could have stared forever.

Second, 6:30pm, SubhanAllah, we stopped at a random rest stop on the way to Mecca to pray Maghrib & I saw Ali Hanif! SubhanAllah, that was incredible. Hanif is a good friend of mine from college, I met him and his wife, Nasrin & took pictures together. Allah is the Best of Planners. We may not get to meet again, but I’m grateful to have found a familiar face & extend a warm embrace with my beloved brother. He’s staying at the Al-Massa hotel, I remember seeing the sign, it’s somewhere around the city center. I’ll try to run into him again iA. I made du’a a few days ago to run into people I know, because I was ready to share these moments with my friends & I was finally granted the chance, Alhamdulillah. I was in the prayer area and I saw him standing there. I just rushed up to him and gave him a big, crushing bear hug :) Squeeze first, ask questions later.

I saw Mona Haydar yesterday. Though we don’t talk, I knew she was coming to Hajj from her CNN video, so it was cool to see her. She was in Medina, in the courtyard outside of the masjid, carrying a bunch of shopping bags :) May Allah accept all of our efforts & make our Hajj Mabrur iA.

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That was the perfect ease to accompany this hardship, my heart feels at complete peace. That was, until the slow-boy crew grabbed the mic and started the dyslexic talbiyah, short bus status. The speaker system in the bus needs to get regulated by someone with some courtesy. Can we not have the mic circulate between 4 people with equally horrendous voices that sound like their throats are closing up from peanut allergies? Seriously, man? That’s too much self-confidence, put the mic down, walk away. Take some Benadryl.

Cool thing about the drive from Mecca to Medina is that there are signs posted with different adhkar (reminders of God), periodically along the sides of the road. Reminders to remember The Most Near, Allahu Akbar!

7:20pm, dark, on the bus, not enough light…

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8pm, about an hour left iA. I’m remembering our drive to Medina & how awesome it was. Our driver was something special, subhanAllah, what a character :). That Pathan restaurant was so amazing!! My dad said it was the best food he’d had in years. Not to be taken lightly. I want to remember that whole adventure well iA.
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We got to Mecca at 11pm. It was 11:30 by the time we got out of the Pilgrims Processing Center. The bus ride got much worse before it got better. We hit insane traffic & were stuck for 3 hours. I was also getting talbiyah brainwashed, with it blaring repeatedly, directly over my fatigued head. At least I got to get out at the Pilgrims Center and use the bathroom and blow out some face phlegm (gross, I know – wait till you get here :P). I’m feeling a bit more refreshed, Alhamdulillah. That’s the awesome thing about this journey, I suppose – you get hit with stuff tailored to make you go insane..and want to punch old Persian men in the face…and other group members…sometimes even complete strangers…But, you learn your limitations, your weaknesses and your actual capabilities. Don’t worry, no one got punched. Not by me, at least.

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Allahu Akbar. We finally got to our rooms in Aziziah, just northwest of Mecca. It’s 3am. Our trip from Medina to Mecca really did just take 12 hours. That’s as long as my flight from DC to Jeddah. Normally, it’s only a 4 hour drive between Mecca & Medina. I’m so tired and hungry, but so relieved. The worst thing about the trip was the frustration of being trapped, not being able to go anywhere, do anything. We were caged in on the bus and had to just wait for things to take their course, on their own sweet schedule. These are events which try your patience. The drive to Mecca has been difficult both times now, while the trip to Medina was actually alot of fun & was really memorable. It was so dysfunctional and ridiculous that you couldn’t help but laugh. There was nothing amusing about the hardship this time.

I think things are getting more and more difficult as the time for Hajj nears. I wonder if it’ll be easier once we’re done? I’m *hoping* things will ease up once we’ve completed our Hajj. We’ll see iA.

Things take so long for no reason other than to test your patience.

My dad went down the street and picked up some pizza. It’s actually really legit, I’m totally killing this at 4am. No hesitation. So good…

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Thus far, I’ve seen two things which are amongst the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in my life – the Ka’aba & the desert sunset.

The Ka’aba is a masterpiece. It carries such magnitude & grace that it’s just awe-inspiring. It is significant for so many reasons – it stands as a historical landmark, a spiritual symbol, and a social phenomena, amongst other things. It is the anchor for so many worlds. Gazing upon it will make the heart swell & put one into a trance-like state. The hypnotizing, ceaseless circumambulation of pilgrims penetrates the soul with its beauty. Everyone orbits the Ka’aba in fluid motion, while that structure stands as an absolute pillar, from which we all draw stability. Not only whilst making tawaf, in the Haram, but all around the globe, it is our direction of prayer. It is a metaphor for our Universe in so many ways. We orbit, as celestial bodies in space do, mimicking them in movement & in appearance – joining ourselves to the order of the galaxies. It is also reminiscent of the nature of our very own existence. We derive stability from the only Absolute in the Universe, while fluidly in motion, according to His Whim. This is the epitome of “going with the flow”. Being a part of that phenomena, participating in this analogy, is what makes this place even more fantastic. If only we could carry the lessons with us, throughout the other aspects of our lives.

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Day 11 – Rollercoaster to Mecca

I’m in ihram and trying, tryingTRYING not to flip out on this bus and start getting reckless. 

Book 2

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

11/1/11

This is awesome, I filled up the whole first book & we haven’t even started the actual Hajj rituals yet. There’s still 3 or 4 more days to go before it really starts.

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There was a big throwdown at breakfast between our group leaders & all the uncles. They’ve been complaining for days behind his back, but to his face they would barely speak a word. Whatever the case, I would highly recommend going along with a group, where you buy the full package & everything is pre-arranged and planned out in advance at each step. Apparently, there are groups some of the guys learned about where people have full packages, where they get everything, and at good quality, for $3,800. Much better than us, who paid around the same amount & did stuff individually & have so much entropy to deal with. We essentially bought our own ticket and latched onto a smaller group for our housing and transportation arrangements. There’s some guy they found here from Abu Dhabi who paid $10,000 for his package & got put in the same hotel as us. What a screw. He didn’t complain though, not as far as I could tell – just got used as fuel for our group members’ complaints about how messed up the system is. May Allah accept his Hajj, ours too.

Bus is here, 11:40am, heading back to Mecca, iA.

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It’s past 1pm, still in Medina, waiting to load the whole group in & head out soon iA.

So, I’m not sure exactly, but I think gas is stupid cheap here. Like, the bus driver we had that took us to Medina, filled up his bus with diesel fuel for 10 riyals. That’s like $3-4. Maybe he just didn’t fill up? Either way, it’s retardedly cheap. It’s no wonder they love these big, gas-guzzling American SUV’s here. There’s so many Saudi’s pushing Toyota 2400 pickup trucks like they’re Civics & Corollas in America. Suburbans, Yukons, Land Rovers, all that.

Problem we’re having now is that we are jam-packed in this bus. We actually have so much luggage that the cargo compartments are all full, so the whole back row of seats has excess luggage on it. That leaves 4 ladies with no seats. Our group arranged for a 52-seat bus for 54 people, then 4 seats have suitcases stacked to the ceiling. Dang. We’ll see how this works out.

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2pm, we finally started to leave Medina. We’re headed to the Meeqat (entry way to Mecca) to put on our ihram, so we can perform ‘Umrah upon entering the city of Mecca. I’m thinking of doing it for someone else – maybe my brother if I can do it for someone living. Otherwise, my grandmother maybe, on my mom’s side. I never really knew her while she was alive, but she seemed like such a sweet woman. I am at a loss for not having the opportunity to have known her better & think I would like to do this for her.

Before we left, there was a little scuffle. Someone shoved our group leader, one of the Hajj officials I think, to keep him off the bus. This fired up alot of the men on the bus, who immediately shot up out of their seats and almost bolted out of the door. Our group leader tried to stop the bus from leaving too, which went on without him & the 4 women he tried to get on. They were refused by the official because apparently they weren’t on the final list he had. Our group leader said he paid extra to have them added later. No dice. All this messy stuffs, I’m just chillin though, dikrin’ it up iA.

We just got to the Meeqat Dhul Hulaifah. It’s a nice masjid. It’s about 2:20pm. Will return in ihram, iA.

Meeqat Dhul Hulaifah

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We’re on the bus, driving for the past hour. I’m in ihram and trying, trying, TRYING not to flip out on this bus and start getting reckless. The old Persian man next to me, for SOME reason, chooses to hold all of his ginormous shopping bags in his lap. I asked him if he was planning on setting the bags down in the aisle. “Yes, soon.” Continues cradling his bags. I’m all crammed in the corner here, against the window, with no space. On top of that, the driver’s been blasting this all-Arabic, angry-man khutbah over the speaker system for God knows how long. I woke up and the speaker, directly above my head, was blaring & I got so pissed. Alhamdulillah, other people said something & he turned it down. Soon as I started writing, we randomly started hitting bumpy patches of road. NO, it’s ok, I’m gonna stay cool, no worries iA. Let’s see what else gets thrown at me.

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