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Day 20 – Ascension

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

11/10/11

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

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

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

Mecca in the Distance

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

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

Winding Climbers

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

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

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

Filthy Irony

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

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

Photogs Chillin

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

Praying on the Edge

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

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

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

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

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Day 19 – Brainstorming

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

11/9/11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Day 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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