Hajj chronicles – 3 beginning the Hajj

Assalamu alaikum dear readers, peace be with you,

My apologies for the delay in continuing the series. The difficult world events (our prayers for those tragically affected by them, and also prayers for peace and for true justice that which can only be foundation for lasting peace) and many other pressing concerns kept me away from posting more on this series.

To continue, Hajj proper began on the 8th of Dhul Hijjah, the 22nd of September 2015 CE, with our arrival to take up our positions in the valley of Muna, or ‘Mina’. There is a vast tent city in Mina, that lays empty all year, except for the 5 days of Hajj (8th – 13th of Dhul Hijjah). During this time, it fills up with all the pilgrims – usually about 3-4 million, though much less, at just over 2 million this year. Then the ‘tent city’ comes to life – as much as there are pilgrims in every nook and crevice and corner where there is a spare bit of ground to lie/walk/sit/sleep on, there are also tea vendors and snack sellers and first aid stations and so forth.

The valley of Mina is I think about 2 million square feet in total, so you can imagine the density of people during the Hajj. Unfortunately nowadays, this density has meant it is almost impossible to feel the natural surrounding. However, the clear bright ‘bigger than life’ dessert sky always impedes into one’s consciousness, and the barren rocky mountains that surround the valley are often visible…these at least, no government has been able to alter (!) and give one a glimpse of what it must have been for the great prophet Abraham (=Ibraheem, peace be upon him), when he was there. And indeed what it must have been for every generation of pilgrim who camped there since the time of Muhammed (peace be upon him)’s pilgrimage.

Muhammed (peace be upon him) who taught us how to perform the Hajj,  banned the building of any permanent abode in Mina, saying that the valley’s pristine purity must be left untouched. I was reflecting on my own destiny, that I was destined to be there in 2015 or 1437 in the Hijri calendar, i.e., 1427 years after the blessed beloved messenger of God Muhammed (peace be upon him) performed his pilgrimage. And I was reflecting that pilgrims who had performed Hajj a mere 30 odd years ago, would still have enjoyed that pristine dessert, up until the time so many changes have been put in place.

Nevertheless the experience played out by my own destiny brings profound impacts as well. If one is not as acutely impacted by the natural surrounding, one certainly is by the incredible *number* of people – by the crush of humanity, by the sheer magnitude of it, by the vastness of the differences in peoples represented there… and by the unique leveling the Hajj is able to bring about among us all. Truly it is ‘a great leveler’, perhaps the greatest leveler humanity ever is able to experience.

The only obligation for us on the 8th of Dhul Hijja is that we stay in Mina. What we do while we are there is up to us. Needless to say, almost all were keen to soak up the golden opportunity and try not to waste any time in idleness-curiosities/chatter/distraction etc (not always easy, but that is part of the training/lessons of the Hajj!), but spend as much time in prayer/meditation/remembrance (=dhikr, a core practice in Islamic spirituality, where the person goes into a state of trying to remember God, and his or her own origin) etc.

And indeed many were in contemplation. What a great place and what great fodder for contemplation! Contemplation (=fikr, a practice as importance as dhikr and equally emphasized in Islamic spirituality, means to contemplate all the creation so as to understand what it all means – it is to seek the Creator in the created, see here for more detail on this essential, nay, fundamental Islamic practice so often neglected by modern Muslims), is highly emphasized in the Quran, where Allah (=God), subhahana ta’ala (most sublime and exalted) constantly asks the human being to think. ‘Do you not think?’, ‘Can you not see?’, ‘Do you not contemplate the heavens and the earth?’ asks God of mankind in the Quran, and praises those who engage in fikr;

They reflect on the creation of the heavens and Earth (3:190)

The prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), in an authentic narration said ‘an hour’s contemplation is better than seventy years worship‘ (please see here for sources of the hadith, and here and here for useful articles, including on Huffpost, the well titled – Thinking is an act of worship in Islam, on fikr or ‘tafakkur (=to be engaged in contemplation) in Islam). Below is a quote defining tafakkur by Islamic scholarship, from the same post, with thanks to chaplain of Duke University;

to think on a subject deeply, systematically, and in great detail. In The Islamic context, it signifies reflection, which is the human heart’s light, the spirit’s nourishment, the essence of knowledge, and the heart and light of the Islamic way of life. Reflection is the light in the heart that allows the believer to discern what is good and evil, beneficial and harmful, beautiful and ugly. Again, it is through reflection that the universe becomes a book to read and study, and the verses of the Qur’an disclose their deeper meanings and secrets more clearly. Without reflection, the heart is darkened, the spirit is dysfunctional, and Islam is lived at such a superficial level that it is devoid of meaning and profundity.

Indeed then what wisdom to bring all the world together to this little valley, full of the rich treasures of history and heritage, the legacy and the footsteps of that giant of humanity, Abraham (peace be upon him), the vast dessert sky above and a sea of white-clad pilgrim equalled-humanity below, and then be told all we need to do is be there. So what deep oceans of knowledge and as we say ‘openings’ to reflect upon. It was a time and place where contemplation is almost forced upon one. It would be a great loss indeed, for the one who missed out.

As we are taught, the greatest ‘fikr’ is to contemplate on oneself, on who one is, where one came from and where one is going. And indeed  the beloved messenger taught us (peace be upon him), by words and example to often engage in fikr.  “If the servant knows himself, he knows his Lord” = ‘man arafa nafsahu faqad ‘arafa Rabbahu’ in Arabic (attributed to as-Suyuti, Mawardi, Al-Jarrahi, and Yahya b. Mu’adh ar-Razi. –taken from this post).

I leave you with a few pictures from Mina.

 

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Tawaf and Sa’ii – the Umrah of Hajj Qiraan – Hajj chronicles 2

Dear readers, Assalamu alaikum warahmatullah (peace be with you and the blessing of God),

To continue from the previous post, we reached Makkah after a day’s travel from Madinah. In the time of the prophet (peace be upon him), traveling on foot, this journey would have taken about a week. And what a journey it must have been, to be all together in ‘ihram’ (=sanctified pilgrim state, see previous post for detail) along with the blessed beloved messenger of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him) and making that long walk (it was encouraged, and still is, to walk as much as possible during the Hajj) chanting the talbiya together.

When we arrived in Makkah, we performed the ‘umrah’ (=visitation, the lesser pilgrimage). Performing Umrah can be done at any time of year, but it too like Hajj, requires that one be in ihram. There are three methods to perform Hajj, which I won’t go into now. Suffice to say, one of them is Hajj Qiraan. This is the Hajj the blessed prophet (peace be upon him) performed and the one we chose to do (the other two methods may be considered easier). It is where you perform an umrah as soon as you enter Makkah and then remain in your ihram waiting till the 8th of Dhul Hijjah to begin the rights of the Hajj.

It was the night of the 4th of Dhul Hijja when we entered Makkah. Umrah can be completed in a few hours and so we performed this before the 8th of dhul Hijja with ease. An umrah entails two main rituals and some minor ones. The main ones are that you ‘circumambulate’ (- a terrible English word translators have been fond of using for the right called ‘tawaf’ in Arabic. It means ‘circling’ (!), so I will just say to circle or stick to tawaf) the ‘ka’ba’, the cube shaped structure that is the holiest place for all Muslims. It is a structure built by the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) and venerated for centuries from way before the time of Muhammed (peace be upon him), as a place for pilgrimage, as a ‘house of God’.

Indeed many of the rights of the Hajj are closely linked to the establishment of Makkah as a place of habitation. In the Quran, and in the Bible, the valley of what is present day Makkah, where the ‘ka’ba’ (=literally meaning cube, it is cube shaped…we say the mathematical ratios of the sides have significance in how we understand the Divine. Also, the four corners of the ‘ka’ba’ point to the four directions; north, south, east and west) is, is referred to by the more ancient name ‘Bakkah’

إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنّاسِ لَلَّذي بِبَكَّةَ مُبارَكًا وَهُدًى لِلعالَمينَ
TRANSLITERATION
ʾinna ʾawwala baytin wuḍiʿa li-n-nāsi la-lladhī bi-bakkata mubārakan wa-hudan li-l-ʿālamīna
TRANSLATION
Indeed the first house to be set up for mankind is the one at Bakkah, blessed and a guidance for all nations.
Quran 3:96

The Biblical reference is Psalms 84. , though there is difference of opinion among Biblical scholars as to whether this is present day Makkah or not.

Makkah or Bakkah was a nondescript location in the stark and barren Arabian dessert. Abraham (peace be upon him) was commanded to leave his wife Hagar (=’Hajara’ in Arabic. Arabic, along with Hebrew, are still existent languages that are closely related to the ancient Sumerian or Syriac languages that it is likely Abraham peace be upon him, spoke. Certainly Arabic is closely connected to Aramaic, the language the blessed Isa (Jesus), peace be upon him, may have spoken). I find it interesting that her name is so linguisticaly similar to the word ‘Hajj’. The meaning of ‘Hajara’ is ‘to be independent/not in need of anyone/to avoid others’ (root word used in Quran 73:10), and indeed what an apt description of the strength and courage of our mother Hajara (and indeed of the pilgrim state itself). She is, in my opinon, one of the bravest women of all time, with a faith as giant as that of her husband.

According to Muslim scholarly tradition when Abraham (peace be upon him) left Hajara and her little baby in the dessert and turned to go, Hajara ran after him questioning him as to what he was doing. She is supposed to have asked him several times ‘Ya Ibraheem (=O Abraham), what are you doing, are you leaving us in this barren place…’ (I put this in my own words). Abraham (peace be upon him) did not reply, but walked on. We know that the prophets (peace be upon them) are the best of humanity, chosen to be messengers, due to their strength of character, their moral uprightness and their vast compassion and wisdom

[the Quranic narrative and Muslim scholarly tradition does not allow any blemish of character attributed to a prophet – male or female – many Muslims hold Mariam, the blessed virgin Mary, as a prophet. How can we look up to them, take them as role models or follow them otherwise? In general Muslim tradition holds that prophethood is too heavy a weight to be placed upon female shoulders by a loving God, so they are predominantly male. However the great female leaders in our tradition, are highly revered, and are our role models in every sense of the term. They are our mothers, peace be upon them all. The prophets (peace be upon them all) were the most tested of mankind, all of them without exception were driven out by their people and faced untold persecution. In Muslim tradition all of their endings though are good and every story has a ‘happy ending’. This is what Muslims believe also in respect of the blessed Isa (=Jesus), peace be upon him, and Muslims look forward to his return and then a happy ending. Something most non-Muslims are surprised by]

..So it is impossible Abraham (peace be upon him) would do something so cruel- a complete antithesis to what a loving husband would do, and certainly to the actions expected of a prophet of God. So Hajara (peace be upon her) followed him, asking him this and he did not reply. She finally asked him ‘Ya Ibraheem, is it your Lord that commands you do this?’, at this, Ibraheem (peace be upon him), still did not turn around…but stopped, and nodded his head. (I often think, that had he turned his head and looked at his wife and baby, his resolve would have failed him. Surrounded by the harshness and barrenness of the dessert of Makkah, this feeling was deeply re-enforced).
..When Hajara (peace be upon her) realized this, then she said ‘Go, Abraham, our Lord will not forsake us’. Her strength and faith still takes my breath away!
..He left. In sometime, her baby, also destined to be a prophet, Ismael (=Ishma’el) began to cry. She must have run out of milk by this time. A desperate mother…she ran seven times between two hillocks called Safa and Marwa located about 400m apart, scanning the horizon for anyone and shouting for help. Her struggle is forever honored by God, as a central right of the Hajj. It is also a central right of the Umrah. On the seventh trip, she comes back to where she had placed her dying baby and finds by him water was spouting from the ground. She shouted ‘zam zam’ (=’stop,stop/hold it, hold it’, basically not wanting the water to run off into the dessert sand) and quickly fashioned earth around the spout to collect the water. The water saves her baby and herself. Soon after a passing trade caravan stops by. And now, where there is water in the dessert, people settle, and soon the town/city of Makkah is born.

That water is still there, it is called ‘zamzam water‘, it tastes very different as it has a unique mineral composition. It is a small well that has been supplying water to all of Makkah for centuries. Muslims believe this is a miracle. The water is found everywhere in Makkah, not just in the grand mosque, it is supplied to all the hotels for pilgrims to drink and also trucked to the Masjid Nabawi in Madinah. Muslims know the healing properties of ‘zamzam water’ well, and it is a prized drink among us. There is a Zamzam studies and research center, part of the Saudi Geological Society, worth checking out. It is interesting that the Bible contains a story that has several similarities with the Muslim tradition (Genesis 16:3), though there are several differences as well.

Here is a picture of the old well, that is now in a Musuem. Nowadays, the entrance is not open to the public – due to fears of overcrowding perhaps.

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According to Muslim traditin, Abraham returned often to visit this branch of his family, now settled and living in Makkah. On one of those visits, he (peace be upon him), along with Ishma’el (peace be upon him), built the ka’aba. And during another visit he (peace be upon him) was ordered to sacrifice his son. Muslim scholars differ as to whether the son was Ishma’el or Is-haaq (=Isaac), peace upon them both. The stronger opinion is that it is Is-haaq actually, though most Muslims don’t know this. More about this story later – it is a central part of the Hajj, but not the Umrah.

To get back to the chronicles, the Umrah consists of two main rights – the tawaf(=circling) and the Sa’i’ (=struggle). These are done consecutively and one symbolizes one has completed them by cutting a lock of one’s hair after which one can ‘exit the ihram‘. As we were doing the Umrah as part of Hajj Qiraan, we remained in Ihram after the Umrah.

The tawaf is performed as seven circles, and during each one the pilgrim goes around the ka’ba anti-clockwise. This motion (you’ll see it on TV if you’ve watched anything to do with the Haram – the grand mosque in Makkah), we say mirrors the motion of the planets around the sun (planets orbit anti-clockwise). And there are other meanings and intentions. More about this in other posts inshaallah (=God willing).

After the tawaf, the next major rite of the umrah is the ‘Sa’ii’ (=literally ‘hardship’ or struggle). The Sa’ii is our going in the footsteps of our mother Hajara, when she made that desperate search for water. We walk in her footsteps, between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa. Each time, when we ascend a hillock we too pause and pray for help. Safa and Marwa used to be outside the mosque in the time of the prophet (peace be upon him), now the grand mosque is so large it has absorbed what used to be the city of Makkah in the time of the prophet (peace be upon him), and therefor both Safa and Marwa are now within the mosque complex.

As in the Tawaf, several prayers are made during this walk, and there are spiritual meanings and intentions too much to go into here. But the Sa’i is a very special rite for one reason – it symbolizes the desperate search of a mother for help for her dying child. It is the epitome of the love, faith and courage of a woman and celebration of motherhood.

There is a section of the Sa’ii, where it is required that men run. This is required of men, but not of women pilgrims. This is the way the blessed beloved, Muhammed (peace be upon him) taught us. When we were beginning the Sa’ii our group leader told us that our mother Hajara had run for all of womankind so women were excused, but now the men must run! I loved that, and truly it was very emotional to witness men from all countries of the world, all walks of life, all ages…yes even the very old.. running in the footsteps of our beloved mother Hajara.

The Sa’ii is not too easy to do, even now, with all the air-conditioning and the smooth marble. What then, when it was done in the open, under the dessert sun. Up until about 60 years ago, it was still like that – one performed in the open and could climb the hillock of Safa and Marwa. Now, one can climb Marwa but Safa is enclosed behind glass. It is nevertheless powerful to be there, knowing Hajara was here, and so many who have honored her search, by running in her footsteps, over the centuries. Indeed, including the blessed beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him).

Safa and Marwa have been honored by mention by name in the Quran, where Allah subhahana ta’aala (=exalted and high), calls them from among the ‘signs’ of Allah. That is a great honor indeed, and should not be taken lightly. We recite these verses whenever we are on the hillocks, while doing the Sa’ii.

إِنَّ الصَّفَا وَالْمَرْوَةَ مِن شَعَآئِرِ اللّهِ فَمَنْ حَجَّ الْبَيْتَ أَوِ اعْتَمَرَ فَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِ أَن يَطَّوَّفَ بِهِمَا وَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَإِنَّ اللّهَ شَاكِرٌ عَلِيمٌ (2:158)

Transliteration – Inna alssafa waalmarwata min shaAAairi Allahi faman hajja albayta awi iAAtamara fala junaha AAalayhi an yattawwafa bihimawaman tatawwaAAa khayran fainna Allaha shakirun AAaleemun

Translation – [Hence,] behold, As-Safa and Al-Marwah are among the symbols/monuments set up by God; and thus, no wrong does he who, having come to the Temple on pilgrimage  (i.e., Hajj) or on a pious visit (i.e., Umrah), strides to and fro between these two: for, if one does more good than he is bound to do-behold, God is responsive to gratitude, all-knowing.

Quran 2:158

Below are pictures, and also a documentary of the Hajj of a beloved scholar of Islam in the Western tradition – Dr. Martin Lings (Allah irhamhu, God have mercy on his soul). An Englishman who wrote a masterful biography of the blessed beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him), an authority on Shakespeare, and a Muslim spiritual luminary. If you watch this, you will see the purity of his soul shine through in the way he speaks. He made the Hajj in 1948 and again in the seventies. It is very impressive to hear his experiences.

In 1948 the hillocks of Safa and Marwa were as they had been for centuries, and he is one of the very few native English speakers who must have made the Hajj when the Sa’ii could still be done that way. He says of the transformation ‘I find it very hard to forgive the Saudi’s ‘… for how they have covered up half the hillocks and marbled/built over the sand track between them. How I wish it had not been done so. But as Dr. Lings says at the end of this documentary, “the baraka is unchanged”.

‘Baraka’ is another Arabic word hard to translate – roughly it means ‘blessing’. Indeed the immense spiritual gifts that come of being there, of walking in those footsteps and being a pilgrim, that has not changed. Indeed, the closeness to the Divine and to the giant spiritual role models, fathers and mothers of humankind, that has not changed.

 

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The rock behind the glass is the hillock, ‘Safa’ at which end we begin the ‘Sa’ii’. It is very jagged rock. A prayer is made here. If you can see behind all the construction scaffolding, there is the ka’aba..the top of the black cube with the gold writing is seen.
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A better image showing Safa. The caligraphy on the ceiling includes the ayat from the Quran (2:158) given in the blog
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Making the ‘Sa’ii’. A still picture doesn’t capture the feel of the place, the energy, the motion and the many groups making ‘dhikr’ out aloud. It is a beautiful experience
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This is also taken close to Safa, you can see the ‘ka’ba’ more clearly in the background here… in the old days, it must have been clearly visible when doing the Sa’ii. The black lines on the floor, are the lines for prayer -that orient us to the ka’aba. Makkah is a place where the direction to prayer changes every 10 yards! – the only place on earth like this. Muslims face the ka’aba during prayer, wherever we are on the earth.

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Standing on Marwa and praying..or contemplating. It is a place when one sits down, it is hard to stand up…hard to leave. Time stands still.

And the documentary, I hope you can watch it…beautiful footage of the Sa’ii in 1948, and going by boat to do Hajj.

Ihram – Hajj chronicles 1

Dear readers, Assalamu alaikum warahmatullah (peace be with you and God’s blessing)

Alhamdulillah (=thanks and praise to God), I am safely returned to Vancouver after successfully having performed all the rituals of Hajj. I pray my Hajj is accepted and that of all the hujjaj (=pilgrims). I pray also that all who lost their lives in the tragic accidents and events of this Hajj are elevated by it to ‘shuhada’ (=literally those who witness, often translated as martyrs, meaning those who are elevated to a very close state in/with the Divine presence, certainly their place in heaven assured), and I pray for strength, forbearance and fortitude for their families and friends.

Though none in our group was affected, we had a tent-mate from a different group who lost a relative that day…so the tragedy was brought close. Also close due to proximity and the near misses we ourselves had. But I will leave talking about this for later…the Hajj is such a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with so much it teaches, so much you learn about yourself and about people, about humanity and human nature, about the Divine presence and about life, that it is hard to find any words to synthesize one’s thoughts and emotions accurately. Therefore I thought to try to write a series of shorter articles, that each focus on a ritual or aspect of the Hajj and this way try to communicate some of what this journey is about, to my dear readers.

I will begin with the ‘Ihram’ (=pilgrim state, meaning both the dress and the demeanour a pilgrim must enter into in order to perform the Hajj. the word comes from the root word – ‘harama’, which carries the meaning of sanctuary. The grand mosque in Makkah is called the ‘haram’ meaning sanctuary, and in the way of life that is Islam, all things forbidden to a practitioner are called ‘haraam’ which though often translated to mean ‘forbidden’ actually means something more akin to ‘protection’). Ihram for men is that they wear two white untailored pieces of cloth and nothing else. Ihram for women is that they wear clothes that cover their ‘awrah’ (all except the face and hands, interestingly in the Hajj, women who wear a face-veil are required to remove it), and that it be un-figure revealing and in sombre shades, preferably white. Ihram for both includes, that hair and nails cannot be cut in that state, no perfume or any sort can be used, and that any act of intimacy is disallowed. Finally once in the Ihram state, one is not allowed to harm anything – one cannot pluck a leaf from a tree, nor step on an insect, and therefore of course, one is not allowed to harm another human being in any way or form – no pushing, shoving, no yelling, loosing one’s temper etc. One is also encouraged not to talk about worldly things…so the pilgrim focuses their thoughts and speech on being in dhikr (=remembrance, remembering God, being conscious of the Divine presence at all times), reciting Quran, contemplation, sending blessings upon the blessed beloved messenger of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him) while in Ihram.

The dress, the state one enters, the sacred places one is in, and unchanged rituals practiced since the time the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) instituted the Hajj, and the fact that one is doing this in unison with millions of other human beings from all around the world and all walks of life, combine to make it a powerful state where one is helped abundantly to go ‘into ihram’. Others who have made the Hajj told me you forget everything else but where you are, what you are doing, and who you are going to, i.e., the final return to the Divine. I didn’t understand it, until I was in it. And it is true, no matter what is going on around one, you do forget everything else. Family, home, the work you left behind, all fade away and you feel a strong connection to humanity – a connection running through thousands of years, all the way to father Abraham (peace be upon him). You feel his greatness, his purity of worship of the One God, and the tremendousness of his faith. You are both crushed by it and elevated by it. You feel the strongest sense of gratitude to Abraham (in Arabic, ‘Ibraheem’, peace be upon him) and an immense sense of strength and guidance coming from him, through our beloved Muhammed (his heir and the final messenger, peace and blessing of God be upon him), and you feel that all of life has fallen into place. You feel the strongest connection to God, you feel the fragile nature of your own life, and the immensity of the Divine presence, and yet at the same time, you catch a glimpse of the greatness it is to be human and you are grateful and humbled by that.

Once in the ihram state, the pilgrims also constantly chant aloud ‘the talbiya’ – it too a chant that has not changed even by a syllable since the time of Muhammed (peace be upon him) who taught it to us. I don’t know if it was sung before then. It goes like this;

“labbayk, Allahumma labbayk

labbayka, la sharikalaka labbayk

inna al-hamda, wa al-ni’amtha,

laka wa al-Mulk. lasharikalak”

= ‘Here I am O God, here I am (answering your call)

Here I am, No partner do you have, Here I am

Verily, all praise belongs to You, verily, all good comes from You

And Your’s is the Dominion/Creation/Sovereignity/Ownership of all. No partner do You have’

We chant this non-stop through all the days and nights we are in Ihram, wherever we are. It is a very moving experience, when the chant begins, first in the plane, as all pilgrims chant it aloud once we pass over the ‘miqaat’ (=literally rondezvous point, it is the place where once you cross it, now you are in the pilgrim state), and then in the bus as we travel from one point to the other, then as we are walking, sometimes all of us seated in our tent, or you hear refrains from people sitting in solitary contemplation or walking alone. So I heard this call, and made it, from the bottom of my heart all those days I was in Ihram (about 8 or 9 totally) and I miss that state very much.

There are five ‘miqaat’ that Muhammed (peace be upon him) set out for us. kaartje miqaat

They mark the points where pilgrims from all around the world are allowed to enter ‘Ihram. And they are positioned around the holy sights where the Hajj take place. When we first flew into the port city of Jeddah, (from where we took a bus to Makkah), our plane flew over the miqaat of ‘Yalamlam’ to the South of Makkah. The pilot makes an announcement that we are so many minutes away from the miqat, and once over it, we all make the intention out aloud that ‘O God, here I am to do the Hajj for You’ and then we have entered the state of ihram. We begin the talbiya then. It is awesome when the whole plane erupts into chanting talbiya! So we have done all the physical acts of Ihram (wearing the special clothes etc) before we board the plane, and we then ‘enter the state of ihram’ when we make this intention. Now, until we complete all the rights of Hajj, we are not allowed to remove the ihram.

In the way we did the Hajj, we entered into Ihram twice, first to perform the lesser pilgrimage, called ‘umrah’ and then on the 4th of dhul Hijja (Islamic 12th month of the year, Hajj takes place from 8th to 13th of dhul Hijja) to perform the Hajj. We entered into Ihram on the 4th of dhul Hijja from the miqaat north of Makkah, called Dhul Hulaifa. It is very close to the city of Madinah, where Muhammed (peace be upon him) spent the latter portion of his life. It is from this miqat that Muhammed (peace be upon him) entered his ihram when he performed his Hajj. So we were blessed to follow in his footsteps.

Dhul Hulaifa is about 450 km north of Makkah, and so the blessed prophet and his companions (God be pleased with them all) would have been in ihram a long time, as they went on foot from Madinah to Makkah. We traced the route, but traveling by bus. Nevertheless it was a beautiful feeling, to go along that same road. I was blessed to take the recommended shower before wearing the ihram, and then offer two units of voluntary ‘salat’ in the mosque of the prophet (peace be upon him), where he is now buried, in the city of Madinah, and then to go from their to Dhul Hulaifa where I ‘entered the state’ of Ihram. From this point onwards my Hajj had begun.

I will leave you with some pictures, inshaAllah more to follow in the days to come. It is now exactly two weeks since we left the tent city of Mina. Hard to believe, but glad I can finally begin to update this blog. Alhamdulillah!

One of the entrances to the prophet's mosque in Madinah, 'Masjid al-Nabawi'. The second holiest place for Muslims, after Makkah. No photographs are allowed inside. It is the most beautiful, serene, peaceful mosque I have ever been in. The feeling of 'rahma' (=love, mercy, compassion, kindness) there is palpable.
One of the entrances to the prophet’s mosque in Madinah, ‘Masjid al-Nabawi’. The second holiest place for Muslims, after Makkah. No photographs are allowed inside. It is the most beautiful, serene, peaceful mosque I have ever been in. The feeling of ‘rahma’ (=love, mercy, compassion, kindness) there is palpable.
The courtyard of Masjid Al-Nabawi, bustling just after a salat. The awnings unfold and retract as per the weather.. it is very beautiful to be under those large white canvas canopies, like you are in a cool date plantations with the palm trees shading you from the sun
The courtyard of Masjid Al-Nabawi, bustling just after a salat. The awnings unfold and retract as per the weather.. it is very beautiful to be under those large white canvas canopies, like you are in a cool date plantations with the palm trees shading you from the sun
20150918_043002
The courtyard of the prophet’s mosque in Madina, ‘masjid al-Nabawi’, before dawn on the day we left on the Hajj
Just after dawn, I have changed into my Ihram and ready to go.
Just after dawn, I have changed into my Ihram and ready to go.
The mosque in Dhul Khulaifa, where we made the intention and entered the pilgrim state
The mosque in Dhul Khulaifa, where we made the intention and entered the pilgrim state

Finally, here is a rendition of the talbiya I love, from an artist who is close to my heart – Dawud Wharnsby, a Canadian folk singer, very gifted. He captures the ‘feel’ of the talbiya in a very beautiful way. The way the talbiya is chanted at the start is how it is done during the Hajj. The group leader will begin, and we follow.

Hajj

My dearest sisters and brothers,

Alhamdulillah I have some of the best news a Muslim is ever blessed to share – yours truly has been invited to make the Hajj. Alhamdulillah! This great news has kept me very busy, as you can imagine, there are several preparations and arrangements to make. My Muslims sisters and brothers will know what this means. For my dear non-Muslim readers, I wish I had time to write more about it. But I leave in the morning and at least I want to gather a few links here before I leave.

So here are a few choice links for both my Muslim and non-Muslim readers. For the former, a beautiful expounding on the internal and external dimensions of this great obligation the One who made us has placed upon us, by a dear teacher, and a well-known guide of this day and age – Sheikh Mokhtar Maghroui (his physics PhD background often comes out in his talks, and I particularly love that :))

And for my non-Muslim readers, a few selected documentaries made by reputable sources. They are not Muslim sources, so the material, though watered down, is God willing easier to understand. And as a scientist – I prefer to share for my non-Muslim readers, from non-Muslim sources – to eliminate ‘ascertainment bias’ as we say. Forgive me if this often means deeper meanings are not communicated. But this post gathers from all sources, so you are free to chose what to enjoy!

Sh. Mokhtar on inner and outer dimensions of Hajj. As a personal preference, I think the inner takes precedence over the outer (think about the Meccan period coming before the Medinan period in the lifetime of our beloved, sallalaahu alaihi wasallam…), though both are important. I will therefore link the inner dimensions first and then outer dimensions as good ‘adab’ (=etiquette). I am sorry I can’t translate the beautiful and exalted du’a (=supplications/prayers) Sh. Mokhtar starts and ends with. He does often translate the Arabic words he uses in-between.

And a series of lesser-known tastefully made documentaries on the Hajj

Finally my dear readers, I ask that you pray for me for an accepted Hajj (from my Muslim readers) and that you forgive me if there have been any errors on this blog in what I’ve written or communicated. May God accept from me and guide me!

Peace be with you all

Eid Mubarak!

Eid-ul-Adha Mubarak ! (=May it be a blessed festival of sacrifice)

Dear readers, Assalamu alaikum (=peace be with you)

The rights of the Hajj pilgrimage are over and it is time to celebrate. The hujjaj (=pilgrims) will be shaving their head or cutting locks of their hair off to symbolize their completion of the pilgrimage and soon the ‘udhhiya’ will be carried out. Udhhiya is the term given for the religious sacrifice of an animal, where each pilgrim must sacrifice a goat, sheep, cow or camel and distribute it’s meat to the poor. There are rules governing the distribution, with at least 1 third being obligated to be distributed to the poor.

This year, there would have been over 2 mill pilgrims amounting to about 500,000 sacrificial animals at least. It’s commendable that the Saudi government has put in place a system whereby the meat from this massive sacrifice is processed in modern facilities and then distributed to the poor of over 30 different countries. And though some of you may find this hard to believe there are plenty of people in many parts of the world where this is the only meat they see the whole year. I personally have heard of many such cases.

The sacrifice is an enactment of the willingness of the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him, the name is rendered ‘Ibraheem’ in Arabic) to sacrifice his son Ishma’el (peace be upon him, the name rendered ‘Isma’eel’ in Arabic) upon the command of God and Ishama’el’s willingness to comply. At the last minute, God sends down a ram to take the place of Ishma’el. There are many other events from the life of Abraham and his family (peace upon them all) that the hajj symbolizes, which I won’t go into here. And there are many places in the Quran where God, Exalted and High, speaks of these events. Here are one set of ayaath (=verses, literally ‘signs’). Interpretation in English from Sahih international, surah Saffat (=those arranged in ranks, or who set the ranks), verses 100-106

Bismillahi ar-rahman ar-raheem

In the name of God, the Most Loving, the Most Nurturing

37:100
My Lord, grant me [a child] from among the righteous.”
37:101
So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy.
37:102

And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.”

37:103

And when they had both submitted and he put him down upon his forehead,

37:104

We called to him, “O Abraham,

37:105

You have fulfilled the vision.” Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good.

37:106
Indeed, this was the clear trial.

 

The lesson from the Hajj is about trust I think. Certainly the sacrifice is all about trust. Both Abraham and his son (peace upon them both) completely trusting of the will of God and that it is good for them. The pilgrimage is arduous and one is forced into circumstances and situations where one’s usual ‘props’ are all taken away. Everyone dressed alike and stripped of all the illusion we surround our souls with in terms of material possessions, we are confronted with our humanity. Confronted with our utter need and dependency. No wonder all who go have something to say about this life-changing experience.

I was searching for a video to share for Eid, and I found this 8 min clip of thoughts shared by returning pilgrims. The last speaker said what I found to be especially enlightening.

 

Eid Mubarak once more! I leave you with a clip of the hujjaj performing their final circumbulation of the ka’aba, symbolizing many things, among which, the muslims willingness to rotate their life around the axis of God, and aligning oneself with the movements of the planets and constellation and galaxies that we also believe are rotating around the axis of the One Creator. They chant as they go the ‘eid takbeer’, which we also chant in our homes during the times of Eid as we celebrate with them.

 

The ten days of Dhul Hijja

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you) dear readers,

Things are slowly settling in the new place and I am recovering from a few ailments past as well as some new developed during the move. For my Muslim readers, I ask that you please keep me in your du’a (=prayers) for a speedy and lasting recovery ‘hasana’ (=good, beauty, excellence, nobility) in this world and most importantly in the hereafter for me and my family, especially my mother who is fighting a cancer discovered last year. I ask this especially during the ten days that are about to be upon us (God grant we meet them). The first ten days of Dhul Hijja.

Dhul Hijja is the name of the last month of the Muslim year. It is during this month that the annual Hajj pilgrimage is performed. The ‘eid’ (=festival) of Hajj, in this case called ‘eid-ul-adh’ha’ (=festival of sacrifice) is on the 10th of the month and marks the end of the rights of the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is an obligation upon a Muslim who has the means (monetary and physical) to make it, and due at least once in a lifetime. It is the fifth of the five pillars of Islam. The others being the testification of faith, the salah (=five times a day ritual worship), the fasting in Ramadan, and the giving of 2.5% of one’s savings to charity called ‘zakat'(=purification) – an annual ‘tax’.

I have been longing to go but visa restrictions still prevent me. My beloved grandmother (and I ask you for your du’a upon her too, is mostly bed-ridden now, yet a smile never leaves her face. Allah bless her abundantly!) performed the pilgrimage when she was 75 by the grace of God. She needed to spend some days in a nursing home to recover when she came back severely dehydrated. She told me to go when I was young, so I would have the strength to fulfill the rights of pilgrimage and spoke highly of the multitudes of young women from Indonesia she saw performing the pilgrimage. In the old days it used to be that a village would gather to bid farewell to a pilgrim, not really expecting to see them return and many are the pilgrims who go in the mental state of not expecting to come back. They prefer death in the blessed land close to where the beloved, the messenger of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him) lived. Though it is not so long ago, I did hear of people who did not come back from the Hajj when I was a child. It was difficult for the families but there was always a sense of peace with this news. Inna lilllaahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon (=from God we come and to Him we return).

Yet, these 10 blessed days are open to all in terms of their merit in drawing near to God and many Muslims engage in extra acts of worship at home. Anse Tamara Grey, a ‘sheikha’ living in the USA organizes the annual ‘pilgrims at home’ event for sisters. Here is a link FYI.

Commemorating the sacrifice our father, the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) was so ready to make of his son, the blessed prophet Ismael (peace be upon him), we follow rituals that remind us of this event as well as of the struggles of Hajar, the blessed mother of Ismael. She, when left with her baby (Ismael in infancy) in that barren dessert, ran from hilltop to hilltop looking for help…crying for water. It was then that she discovered the well of water that had sprung up by the feet of her infant son. She was desperate to collect the water and built a ridge of sand around it, crying ‘zam zam’ (=stop, stop)…so the water would not run off. That well to this day has been supplying all the inhabitants of Mecca with water. Pilgrims will often fill what bottles and vessels they can with it and bring it back home, and then distribute it as a precious gift from the hajj. It is a sacred gift, and I have drunk of it. It has a particular taste, attributed to its higher than usual mineral content. Nowadays the water from the well is managed in a modern way and pumps are used to draw it up to supply the pilgrims and others. More information can be found here at the ZamZam studies and research center in Saudi Arabia website.  , part of the Saudi Geological Society.

I pray one day I can go, and I pray I can go soon. For the news of the mega-construction projects all around the haram (=sanctuary, another way of terming the ‘ka’aba in Mecca and the prayer enclosure around it) are very depressing to the spirit. I used to love to see photographs of the haram in the past. Now with that gargantuan clock-tower complex towering over it, the sense of aesthetic is severely dampened. It is an eye-sore, I have to be honest. The haram itself is undergoing major renovation I heard, and soon it may not be possible to see the ‘ka’aba (=literally, ‘cube’. Guess where the English word cube came from? 🙂 ) unless close to it. I have read, though I pray it is not true, that the graceful, elegant and aesthetically so pleasing porticos built during the Ottoman time by the great architect Mimar Sinan (I blogged about him here) may be torn down. What a tragedy that would be. Muslim art and architecture has always had a quality of grace, of being able to transport the spirit out of the body. I am not sure the modern day Saudi government appreciates that quality!

I wanted to point you to a very nice article written by a recent hujjaj (=pilgrim) appearing in the New Yorker. It is beautifully written and contains pithy and poignant little pieces of wisdom and insight. My dear non-Muslim readers may find it especially informative and an easy read. It is too long to copy-paste here. Here is the link. Called ‘Modern Mecca; the transformation of a holy city’. My Muslim readers also may find it very informative.

Finally to end I thought to share a documentary link on the hajj. Youtube is filled with them. I recommend one by National Geographic tracing the journey of three different hujjaj from around the world, even a Biology professor from Texas. But I picked this one to share, about 5 hujjaj from China. So as to shed light on the 20 million strong ethnic Chinese Muslim community (below). Watching it I could not but help thinking of the pure hearts of the hujjaj highlighted in it. We believe that it is only God who knows a person’s heart, and indeed that all and any act of worship is only acceptable to God or not, based on the sincerity in that heart. That it is done for the sake of pleasing the Most Beautiful One, only. A glimpse into their simple lives brings serenity to the heart. May God bless their beautiful souls.

We believe that should the hajj be acceptable to God, one returns from it as pure as a new-born babe! May Allah shower His abundant grace upon the hujjaj of this year, and accept their efforts, granting them this high state. And may we one day be among them.

Peace be with you all

 

 

Peace in the mountains, Hajj with the trees

Alhamdulillah wa shukr Allah. Allahu akber, Allahu akber, Allahu akber. Allahumma salli ala Muhammed wa ala ali Muhammed.

I am just returned from a blessing of a trip up in the Cascade Mountains. I had gone camping, my first time doing so, and gone alone. MashaAllah it was certainly an adventure and provided many a thrill. But more than this, it was deep joy and deep peace. To be alone among the undiluted Creation of Allah. Since it was bear territory and I was hiking alone, they told me to make lots of noise while walking. Now, inspiration indeed, for I took it an excellent opportunity to practice the recitation of the surah I know and also to make lots of du’a and salawat. Also it was a perfect time and place to bellow out the azan! Indeed, I felt just such a rush doing so it was humbling. Dawud Wharnsby Ali ( a fellow Canadian and a folk singer who mashaallah is so talented, I am sure he would have reached Cat Stevens status had he not converted early ;)) in one of his songs talks about the wonder of calling out Azan on the top of a mountain…ah, subhahanallah indeed he had that spot on.

Sh. Hamza once said all the trees are in continuous sujood…he said their heads were the roots and it was in the ground. Completely prostrated to Allah. Walking among all those prostrate trees I felt as if I was on hajj. A pilgrim surrounded by millions of fellow pilgrims, in complete submission. And then looking out at the immense mountains I thought of how these mountains too, who had been given the trust of ‘free will’, refused it, out of fear. Ya Rabb, how foolish then us man, to have taken it on. And how kind, that you have given your constant presence and the five time prayer to help us through with carrying the trust.

Here are some images;

The mountains as 'pegs', imagine this same extent reaching in to the bowels of the earth
Millions of fellow pilgrims...here before us and patiently in constant worship
Water reflects the sky and clouds..as the water cycle keeps us alive
remember the last ayah of Surah Mulk when I see this.

It has been a difficult time on returning from this august gathering. And that peace elusive again. But Allah has said that the only peace is in his remembrance. What a glorious ayah that is! How much to ponder upon in how it relates to every facet and circumstance of our lives

“Truly, it is by the Remembrance of Allah that hearts find rest.” [Qur’an, 13.28]

There is a beautiful and very helpful short article here about how ‘dhikr’ (remembrance) can help with every sickness and anxiety, heart ache and grief. Especially for fighting depression and melancholy. Please do read it and stay in dhikr.
I ‘youtubed’ the ayah and found this short video, I wanted to insert it here, not just for the medical stats it projects but also for it’s beautiful soothing music. And indeed music too is a glorious creation of our Lord. I was listening to all the different birds while hiking and could not but help think of the majesty and intricacy that is the creation of sound. Subhahana wa ta’ala

Allah protect and help us all and forgive us our countless sins. Forgive me my errors, defects and omissions and keep me in your du’a please.