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Day 4 – At Second Glance

That’s what I’d like to see, for Mecca to become a marketplace of ideas & stories as much as it is a marketplace for jewels & cheap, Chinese prayer beads.”

10/25/11

I just prayed Maghrib on mount Safa. I think Shuraim led the prayer & he recited the verse about As-Safa in the 2nd rak’ah :). That was cool. During prayer time, it’s completely silent. Hundreds of thousands of people – everywhere you look – in the same position, reciting the same words, facing the same qibla. It’s awe-inspiring. It’s so much easier to cry in salah here. I teared up in the first rak’ah when he recited “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un” (Surely, we belong to Him and surely, to Him is our return), but maybe that’s cuz that verse always gets me. Here, at least you just feel it so much more. When he says we all belong to Him, I believe it so much easier – how else would we have all gotten here? How else would we be altogether in this place, in this way, if we were not His slaves & property? So, if we are His property and we are to return to Him, then may our return to Him be as joyous & peaceful as our current union in this wonderful city. Ameen.

Mecca, specifically Masjid Al-Haram, just became my favorite place in this planet. Apparently Medina is even more tranquil than this?? That’s something I have to see. This place is special because it is So busy, just like NYC – but in a 3rd world country, & unified around a single theme – worship of The One. So much more than in NYC can you see every part of the world here, and completely, utterly unfiltered, in its most raw & true form. People make no attempts to hide who they are or be anything else – they are purely themselves, from wherever they’re from. And this place accepts them all, however they are. So beautiful. There’s also tons of Desi’s here – I don’t even need to speak Arabic, so many people, especially workers & shop keepers, speak Urdu. Even the Arabs speak Urdu, probably since so many of their workers do – like Spanish in America.

Speaking of which, for some reason my dad keeps speaking Spanish with the locals. He either speaks in English, or in Spanish. I have to keep reminding him that no one knows what the heck “gracias” means here. It’s kind of funny. He’ll be haggling with a cab driver and randomly bust out with an “Ok! Si, si, si!” and just get a blank stare. Of the many languages spoken here, Spanish, surprisingly, is not one of them – at least not as far as I can tell. I miss Latinos.

Another thing about prayer is, when the imam isn’t reciting, it’s silent. All you hear is birds chirping & people coughing – and ALOT of people be coughing. Everyone seems sick, it’s kind of gross b/c alot of them don’t cover their nose or mouth when they cough or sneeze. Makes me imagine that the Haram would be a great place to do educational outreach – it would reach samples of the entire world’s population.

Mecca could be so much more of a Mecca, to be honest. It’s surprisingly underwhelming. The masjid is the only part of the city that really seems to have it together. There should be institutions here that help to capitalize on the opportunity here – not just from a business perspective, but a Humanitarian perspective. That’s something to seriously consider. I don’t know if it’s something that isn’t being allowed, or is too expensive to manage here, but there’s great work that can come out of such an establishment. So many people come here, but they don’t really connect with each other. We connect with the Ka’aba, with Allah & with each other merely as bodies occupying spaces adjacent to us, not as brothers & sisters from regions throughout the world, facing struggles, hardships, pain, suffering – or even joys & successes – that can all be shared & leveraged.

That’s what I’d like to see, for Mecca to become a marketplace of ideas & stories as much as it is a marketplace for jewels & cheap, Chinese prayer beads.

Before I forget – I wanted to make mention of the look on the face of the Saudi guard watching over Hajr Al-Aswad. He looked overwhelmed, like he was holding back tears, while guarding the corner. Then, I imagined how powerful it must be, to stand where he stands, to look out at the magnitude of the place he’s in. To look into the fervent faces of pilgrims & zealous worshippers, to see them struggling so hard to get closer, to even simply brush their fingertips across the corner he is posted at. And it’s continuous. Never-ending. Perpetual. Until the end of this place. SubhanAllah.

I should eat right? It’s almost 7pm, I’ve been here for 4 hours – just writing & reflecting. All I’ve had today is ZamZam – and I haven’t really felt hungry. I had some KFC this morning before heading back to the hotel after Fajr – it wasn’t all that. Halal Popeye’s back home is better actually. I’m gonna go peep that Burger King tho, been fienin for it. More later iA, still need to talk about after tawaf & the rest of this morning iA.

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Reflecting on salah. I actually took so long to get out after maghrib that it came time for Isha. So, I prayed before leaving. I imagine the city full of people, stopping at the adhan, turning to the Ka’aba & devoting themselves in salah. The imam recites the revealed words of Allah out over loudspeakers, which resound through the streets, fill the air and are snatched down by the open, devoted hearts of the worshippers. No word goes un-seized.

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Day 4 – The Ka’aba

How one man touched the hearts of so many people is….incomprehensive. It’s a feat only Allah could pull off. This is proof of the Almighty’s Truth.”

10/25/11

That didn’t work out so well. I definitely knocked out, so exhausted yesterday. So, before I get into describing yesterday – I need to state that I’m writing this while seated in the Masjid Al-Haram. If I look up from my page, I am in viewing distance of the Ka’aba. Surrounded by people – literally surrounded. There’s such a soft, cool breeze blowing around – there’s this hum of voices, not overpoweringly loud, but comfortably present in the background. Over it all, there is the sweet chirping of birds, darting & maneuvering through the air inside the masjid & outside, around the Sacred House. It’s bliss. There’s dhikr, there’s laughter, there’s joy, there’s peace here. Serenity. Yes, you can say it’s chaotic & busy, but it’s captivating. Something will catch your eye & I swear you’ll sit for 20 minutes staring w/o even realizing it. When you finally break free of the trance and move to walk away, you turn & see that 20 others were around you, entranced by the same sight. It’s universally magnificent.

I swear the Ka’aba is one of the most beautiful things I have ever laid eyes upon. It’s said there’s reward in just looking at the Ka’aba. When you’re here & you look upon it, no further justification is needed. It calms the heart, the sight of it is absolutely mesmerizing. Seeing waves of people slowly circling it is almost equally as captivating. There is such proof in the Glory of The One in this place. What’s incredible is how many people there are. Haha, I know that’s what everyone says. But, what’s amazing is how many people are devoted to the same thing. Completely devoted. Not passively, not minimally, not conveniently – completely devoted. How one man touched the hearts of so many people is….incomprehensive. It’s a feat only Allah could pull off. This is proof of the Almighty’s Truth. I’m sitting in a random spot & I’m next to people from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Indonesia, West Africa, Turkey, North Africa – who knows what else. It’s spectacular, subhanAllah. What’s great is knowing that this feeling is shared by everyone here. Okay :) I think that does if for me in this place, let me try to recall last night now, iA.

We arrived at the hotel around 1:30am probably. Maybe 12:30 actually. I immediately decided I was going to do my ‘Umrah that night…

Man, I keep looking around & getting distracted. I had to get up and move somewhere else, it was getting too crowded where I was. I’ll just skip to the good parts. We walked to the Haram, about 10 mins from the hotel, very convenient & easy. We get there & decide to rendezvous at a police post near the ‘Abd Al-’Aziz door, South of the masjid, at the end of the night. Once we’d debriefed, our guide gave some quick pointers on what to do & we headed in. As we neared the masjid, I started getting nervous. I slowed & walked separate from the group, so I could collect my thoughts. I almost didn’t want to go, like I wasn’t ready, but I also couldn’t stop myself from pushing forward. We entered the mosque and I see the Ka’aba after a few steps. And, I froze. 2:03am, when I first laid eyes upon The Sacred House. I found the whole group lined up, hands raised, making du’a & I remembered the virtue of du’a when seeing the Ka’aba for the first time. So I prayed for two things first, as I was taught:

1 – Allahuma ja’alni mustajab ad-da’wah [O Allah, make me of those whose prayers are answered]

2 – O Allah, honor this Ka’aba & all those that look upon it.

The first, I’m told, was a du’a of Imam Abu Hanifa, when he first saw the Ka’aba – basically asking for all of his prayers to be answered – the wish for more wishes :). The second was from Imam Magid’s workshop. Once I had those two, I continued to make du’a for myself & others, & began to tear up. I was standing next to my mother, who was weeping.

We then moved down to begin our tawaf. My parents grabbed hold of me & wanted me to stay with them. After 1 round, we found that it wasn’t busy so I pulled away from them & went on my own, to try & get closer. I think I ended up doing 7 more – but each time I was able to touch the Ka’aba, Alhamdulillah :). I didn’t need to push, though I got pushed, stepped on, crushed, & coughed on. But, honestly, I didn’t care. It didn’t make the experience any less spectacular. The first time I touched the Ka’aba I began to cry & made du’a – or tried to make du’a. The whole event was very overwhelming & made it so difficult to remember anything. All I could think to do was ask for forgiveness & Jannah (Paradise), freedom from Hellfire, the best in this life & the next. It took a few rounds to actually settle my thoughts & to remember others & to pray for them.

So, I was able to touch the wall of the ka’aba, before the Yemeni corner. It was very easy, I was able to do it almost each time around. A few times, I touched the Yemeni corner – where it’s said that wiping the hands clears sins. I touched the corner & moved on.

I did not get to touch Hajr Al-Aswad [The Black Stone, brought down from Heaven by the angel Gabriel and given to Abraham to mount upon the Ka’aba]. I came pretty close, but not close enough. That was the most intense part. I was doing my best not to push anyone, I would only stand my ground against others trying to push me out of their way sometimes. Specifically, while trying to get to the stone, I would move in, hold my ground, & move in, & hold my ground, continuously, until I got closer. I ended up about 5 ft away, but there were so many people, crushing me, that I wouldn’t have been able to go any further w/o pushing. So I left it & moved on. By the way, I loved the proximity. I loved the fact that everyone is pressed together, musty, sweaty, pushing, a bit unruly – it shows the determination & heart of everyone there – shows their passion & persistence – shows their love & need for the Divine. I was honored to be a part of that.

Hajji's Swarm The Black Stone Corner

It’s crazy when you look at that picture to imagine that I actually made it through to the spots that I did. Allah is Generous :)

I was able to touch the door. Well, the ledge [Al-Multazam, where all prayers are accepted] & the door frame – I’m not tall enough to reach the actual door. I grabbed the ledge, and while hanging, I prayed for Allah to release me when I would be forgiven of All my sins…and I was still holding on. I was like, um…ok, so like, now would be good. Still holding on. So, I went ahead & made other du’as. Still holding on. I got nervous, like maybe Allah didn’t want to forgive me? So, I got more desperate, said “release me & forgive me!” and I slowly got pushed to the side…sort of loosened my own grip & waited for the right push to let myself go. Don’t know how successful that was, but Allah definitely has a sense of humor :).

The wall next to the door was also fairly easy to touch. This time, I grabbed it & lowered my head & pressed it to the wall. I wept and made du’a after du’a. My hand trembled, my face was hot w/tears & sweat, but I felt like I had all the time in the world, so I kept making du’a. I don’t even remember what I prayed for, but I know I said everything I wanted in my heart. I pray my du’as are accepted.

I continued around in tawaf a few more times – I think I did 8 rounds total, maybe more – I’m not really sure. I got so caught up at the time, I lost track. It was a beautiful experience. I wanted to live in that moment forever. The angels in the Heavens, making tawaf above the Ka’aba are blessed to be able to do that perpetually. It was also amazing to look up in the night sky, illuminated by the bright lamps of the Haram, and to see birds, flying all around the Ka’aba. They looked so free & beautiful. That is a blessed & envious existence. I made du’a that I could be so free in Jannah. I’m trying to recall if they ever crossed directly over the Ka’aba [they did] or sat on it, & I don’t think they did. Interesting. The birds are always singing here – very vocal, chirping away with their sweet songs as they help themselves to the skies & airways all throughout the Haram & inside the masjid – to be continued! Maghrib time, be back later!

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Day 3 – Mecca

We seek to retreat to a place the Prophet used to retreat from. That’s how crazy our lives are? Or are we just not doing it right?”

10/24/11

It’s about submission. Tawaf is completely about submitting yourself to the Almighty & finding peace & bliss in that submission. Give yourself up to it & just go with the flow. Like a drop in the ocean, with the waves being controlled by The One.

We finally arrived at Mecca. Still haven’t gotten off the bus though, it’s about 11:30pm. We first went to a Pilgrim Welcome Area – where we were given boxes of crackers & Zam Zam water & free CD’s – “Hajj gifts” for pilgrims. Alhamdulillah, it’s cool I guess, we’re all fienin for some real food though & it looks like it’ll be a while before we’ll be getting any.

We then went to the receiving office for “Pilgrims of Turkey, Europe, America, & Australia”. Maktab (office) #39, whatever that means.We’re sitting in the bus still, some kids came on & handed out more boxes of crackers & water, haha. They also handed each of us elastic wristbands with our maktab number handwritten along with some other Arabic writing. I think we’ll get to go to the hotel soon iA.

The landscape around Mecca has been interesting. It’s all desert & mountains. Everything looks so unnatural in its appearance – the buildings I mean – the architecture, crazy lighting, grandiose scale. I’ve never been to Vegas, but I can totally see this being like Vegas. All this flashy development in the middle of nowhere. It’s kind of sad, but that’s human nature I suppose. Even a mile away from the Haram, people feel the need for worldly distractions & attractions – carnivals, restaurants with jungle themes, things made to look like they belong in other parts of the world. A place like this should focus on the attraction it has, rather than bring into it things it doesn’t have. That’s the real way to honor the Haram – preserve it, keep it as a place of worship.

The clock tower is enormous. I saw it from at least 10 miles out. Driving up to it feels just like approaching the Empire State Building. The “downtown” area, where the Haram is, is poppin. very alive & grand. Just driving through briefly has been cool. It’s just past midnight & we’re pulling up to our hotel now. Khair iA, let’s see what happens next.

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Chillin in the hotel lobby. Holding this cell phone my parents bought, with a TV blaring behind me & a guy on his iMac in front of me & I’m wondering how much of a retreat this will really be. It’s funny though, that we seek to retreat to a place the Prophet used to retreat from. That’s how crazy our lives are? Or are we just not doing it right? One thing came to mind, from Tariq Ramadan’s book, “In the Footsteps of the Prophet”, his emphasis on how connecting with Nature is critical in the advancement of Faith. We don’t need to retreat to a city, we have nature around us where we live – the Prophet used to retreat outside of the city. I’d like to start doing the same. Maybe one weekend a month, head out into some mountains or woods or something.

I saw signs for Ta’if & it reminded me of the history behind that place during the Year of Sadness. I kind of want to see it. I want to do a tour actually, of significant places from the Seerah (Life of the Prophet).

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Just completed ‘Umrah. It’s 7am, I’m finally getting to bed. I am exhausted – physically, mentally, even emotionally. Tonight was epic. I started writing a journal to capture times like what just transpired. I’m so overwhelmingly tired though that I don’t feel like writing anything – but I also don’t want to risk forgetting anything. I’ll try my best to get it all down before I pass out….zZzZz….

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Day 3 – Blank Scars

“The simplest thing will take hours for no apparent reason. THAT is your Hajj, that is your teacher.”

10/24/11

It’s 8:30pm, we’re on the bus now finally, waiting to ride to Mecca. We’re going to go straight to the hotel & eat, rest & I’ll probably head to the Haram (the Sacred Place) to do my ‘Umrah (ritual of visiting the Sacred Place).It’s funny, Hajj is supposed to be a journey that teaches you patience. We often assume we have the chance to learn patience later, as things try us throughout the journey. We haven’t even gotten to the Haram yet & we’ve had to show so much patience. You never know where it’ll come from – the simplest thing will take hours for no apparent reason. THAT is your Hajj, that is your teacher. So far, I think I’ve been keeping up alright, iA I am actually considered patient by Allah & I can successfully endure what else we face.
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The waiting game is real. We’ve been playing since we got here, round after round, subhanAllah. It’s 9pm – still on the bus, waiting to leave, the driver finally got here. Now we’re just staring, hoping to pull out any second!
Sitting here, I looked down at my hands & saw this scar on my thumb & felt like it was so distant & foreign. I sat there, staring as I forced my way through my mind to recall the accident I had, sawing wood to build a float for a Homecoming Parade in high school, almost 11 years ago. It’s like I’m in a whole different world & everything before I got here is but a vague memory I can barely recall. This has become my reality, I almost don’t remember any life before this morning, before this plane ride. I was born when I put on this cloth – who was I before this? Was I before this? All seem completely valid questions right now. I am, or appear to be, a pilgrim, a Hajji, that is how I am called by others. That has become my identity. I have completely lost all other notions of my self. This is not an exaggeration, this is not me dramatizing my state. This is real. I try to remember others, my loved ones, & I can see their faces, but I feel nothing. All I feel is this yearning to reach my destination. I am coming! O My Lord, I am coming! Please accept me! Labbayk Allahuma Labbayk is all I know in my heart right now. Alas, we embark for Mecca, just after 9pm.

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I imagine tawaf gives the ultimate Axé. The concept from Capoeira is so captivating & intoxicating, I’m eager to see if this feeling will compare. Maybe the act of tawaf is the ultimate Roda. Maybe it is part of The Divine’s decree for His creation, for them to be so engrossed & lost in His Orbit. This is such an interesting topic that I have to contemplate further.

Axé (ah-shay) is a term used by the Brazilian martial arts form of Capoeira to describe a feeling of intensity that emerges from within, in the midst of a Roda (ho-da), or demonstration circle. It is the free flow of energy from the members of the circle to the fighters – a dizzying concoction of adrenaline, excitement, fear, ambition, and raw passion. Everyone in the circle claps and sings ancient songs that tell the history of their people and their beautiful art-form. Meanwhile, the fighters throw powerful movements, one after another, at each other – with an aim not to injure, but to flow seamlessly. The most beautiful Capoeira will have little if any physical contact, with fighters constantly moving through the space within the Roda, nearly crippling one another but never actually striking a blow. You could get seriously injured in any second, with fervent voices at your back, thrusting you forward. There is the excitement of overcoming yourself, while finding complete harmony with others at the same time. That rush is Axé.

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