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.

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 honored guest is less than a ‘moon’ away!

I am interrupting my series on Spain because I must express my growing joy that the month of months is so close upon us. The month of Sha’ban began a few days ago with the new moon. The next new moon will be Ramadan! Muslims all around the world wait for this month. For us, ‘she’ is an honored guest. We clean our homes in preparation of her coming, and look forward to Ramadan days of cleansing the body that prepares the way for the nights of cleansing the heart. [For my non-Muslim readers, we keep our body away from food, drink, sexual relations during the day, as well as keep our eyes and ears away from things we should not look at and what we should not hear as well as try to keep our tongues away from speech not pleasing to the Divine. Then in the night there are long communal prayers, these are optional. Usually the whole Quran is recited during them by the end of the month. The standing by night in the quiet with a body enjoying the feeling of food and drink after that long fast is a very peaceful beautiful feeling. Hard to describe, it needs to be experienced]

Only a heart clean is fit to reflect divine light and what a lot of dirt accumulates in a year! So Ramadan is the Muslims great yearly shake-out and rejuvenate time. And indeed, if our hearts cannot reflect that divine light while we walk on the earth, what a poor sojourn it is. May Allah purify all our hearts and strengthen them!

The early generations of the followers of the blessed prophet (God be pleased with them all) would divide the year into two- the six months following the end of Ramadan they would supplicate to God to accept their good deeds during the month and the other six they would ask God for the bounty of meeting another Ramadan. From here

Ma’la Ibn al-Fadhl said about the Salaf (the pious predecessors): “They used to call upon Allah for six months until Ramadan reached them, then they would call on Him the other six months that Allah may accept it from them.” And Yahya Ibn Abee Katheer said, “Their supplication used to be,‘O Allah, keep me safe until Ramadan, and make Ramadan faultless for me, and secure it for me as an accepted (month of virtue).’”

 

So much to say about Ramadan…may Allah give me the blessing of meeting it, and may He give me tawfeeq (=success, felicity) to share more about Ramadan with you my dear readers. For now, I leave you with an episode from a must watch series; “traveler with the Quran”. Sheikh Fahad Al-Kandari (Allah preserve him), whose adab(=etiquette, manners, comportment) is truly a coolness to the eye hosts this series. He is hafidh-ul-Quran (=protector of the Quran literally, meaning one who has memorized it) and he travel the world interviewing huffadh-ul-Quran (pluran of hafidh-ul-Quran). Amazing series – especially the episodes from Tunisia and Algeria etc (people used to be jailed for learning Quran there as recently as 20 years ago- unbelievable!) to China (it was forbidden to learn or teach Quran till as recently as 5 years ago). No wonder the Muslim world is in disarray – if its people have been so divorced from their book. Indeed the colonial period was a catastrophe, that many scholars say equals if not exceeds the catastrophe that was the Mongol invasion that decimated Baghdad in the 12th century. May knowledge return to the Muslim nation. May Allah bring us back closer to our book!

Since Ramadan is the month when we envelope ourselves with Quran, its recitation, its reflection, and since it is the month of its first revelation…I thought it apt to share an episode. It was hard to pick an episode to share, I love so many of them. Here is one from China. I think many of you wouldn’t know about the ethnic Hui Muslim Chinese community (not the Uighers of West China). Islam has been in China since about the 9th or 10th Century CE, and has existed peacefully side-by-side with its non-Muslim neighbours.

Please click on ‘CC’ for English captions.

I am also incredibly impressed by the fluent Arabic spoken by the Chinese teachers.

To end, here is echoing the prayer for meeting Ramadan

“Allahumma balighna Ramadan”

(=O Allah give us the bounty of meeting Ramadan)!

It is a prayer to be made often, may we have the blessing of life to meet the blessed month once more

 

Peace be with you all

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the change of the seasons with music that is divine

Fall is my favourite season. The depth and range of shades on a single maple tree….Subhahanallah! (praise and glory to the Pure and High), it is beyond description. Beyond the ability of this meagre slave to extol with words, beyond the capture of any camera lens. Surely, this time if at no other, some inner chord vibrates to the call of the Creator, surely at this time if at no other, some inner voice speaks and finds resonance. You are a special creation of a magnificent Creator. The human soul is not to be belittled, denigrated to a heartless scientific experiment, not to be relegated to the happy outcome of a series of accidents. No, you are greater than this, created to do great things, understand great truths, come into great states of knowing, of understanding, of transcending, of being. Don’t let time slip by you, don’t let distraction upon distraction take away precious moments of reflection and thought, precious moments of connections and communication.

I think all great musicians have known in some deep way some knowledge of the divine, how else can they create these great timeless works, unless through inspiration. And what is inspiration except from the Creator. The source of all is The One, and there is no other. Subhahanallah!

So I am sharing one of my all time favourite pieces below. Listening to this, it takes you higher to that heavenly realm. Vivaldi’s four seasons, apt too now that the leaves are changing. May God’s light, blessing and love be with you. May you come to know Him, as He is to be known. And having said that, none of us can really ever know God, at least not in our present limited state of creation. This is the orthodox Muslim view. We have been taught

‘Laisa kamithlihi shai’

‘there is nothing like unto Him’

Quran 42:11

So whatever comes to your mind about God, He is other than that. Beyond the constrains of time and space, beyond change. How can you then grasp this fully. So study the creation to know the Creator. Study the creation and love the bounty and beauty of Allah, and Allah will love you back. When Allah loves you, your life will transform. We Muslims have lost our spiritual core, now it is just some diluted corrupted tribal nonsense we are pandering in the Muslim world. Forgive my outspokenness, but I am heartily sick of all these brutal barbaric wars and people committing humanly unthinkable acts in the name of Islam, so cruel even the ancient barbarian hoards would be cringe at committing them, and yet people do this and take on the exalted pure name of ‘Allah’ while doing so. I fear for them, for I would be shivering in my boots to do even a petty crime in the name of Allah. For Allah is swift in punishment (this too is Quranic), and yet they openly flout the teachings of Islam. Allah’s swiftness is not our swiftness, but it is swift and certain.

We Muslims who know and love and study and practice our religion the way it is meant to be have a lot on our shoulders. To our non-Muslim friends, I say, help us out. We are speaking out, living and being the best citizens we can be. Very grateful to live in countries of social justice and civics and ethics, so dear to the Muslim heart and mind. We will continue to fight against all those who claim to be Muslim and violate the sacred tradition of Islam and malign the pure and noble name of our beloved Muhammed (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Please do also read about Islam, about our dear prophet, the chosen one. Read from authentic sources. May God help us all and may we truly become who we are created to be.

God’s peace and blessing be upon you all. Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you!)

 

 

 

 

Thoughts that come – VIII

Make your hearts beautiful, make your hearts beautiful. This will not just happen, it must be worked upon. Don’t think you can work upon this alone, all that is required of your work is that you ask your Lord …to make your heart beautiful

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Eid Mubarak (An Eid = festival, Mubarak =in the state of blessing) to you all! Peace be with you.

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Joymanifest

Chasing the new moon of Ramadan 1434

Assalamu alaikum!

Peace be upon you my dear readers. Every year I hope to see the new moon of Ramadan. There is something magical about being able to spot the new moon in the few minutes that thin crescent will be visible before it sets a few minutes after the sun. So this year for the first time I formed my own ‘hilal’ committee (hilal is the arabic word meaning ‘thin crescent’) and drove out to try to see the moon from various good vantage points in the city. Why you ask, did I not do this before? Well, Vancouver is not unfamous for its rain, and indeed this is a rare year where we have had blue skies running the past few weeks. Below are some pictures…unfortunately the blue skies gave way to sunset time cloud cover over the horizon so I did not spot the moon the first night, instead caught a beautiful sunset

 

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The second night, I did see it and glory be to God, it was beautiful! But I could not get a picture, for by the time I reached a place I could park the car the moon had gone behind cloud. I spotted it in a teeny glimpse while driving and it was magical. I wish I could have shared that with you.

But what I can share is this picture; of the hilal of the third night of Ramadan. Alhamdulillah! What a feeling to witness it and know one is in the blessed month. To gaze at that moon and know it was the same moon that saw the beloved prophet (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) watching it so many centuries ago. Our beloved, the prophet (peace be upon him) used to make a beautiful supplication or ‘du’a’ when he saw the moon. I repeat it as do many Muslims. He is reported to have said;

‘O Moon, as you do worship God, so do I’

 As we believe, every natural object is in a constant state of worship, simply by virtue of fulfilling its natural laws and purpose if not by more.

And O Moon, as you do worship God, so do I! May the peace and blessing of this blessed month continue to envelope you.

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Stand with Malala!

Malala Yousafzai will be speaking at the UN this week, please sign her petition calling for education for all children across the world. Apparently it will only cost the governments of the world the equivalent of what it costs to build two nuclear power plants to do this (according to Avaaz bulletin) !

 

https://secure.aworldatschool.org/page/s/stand-with-malala

Can’t stop

I’ve often said over the years that the only thing certain about life is death. And it is true. So I wonder, why are so many people afraid of what is inevitable? And knowing this, why then worry about all the pettiness in the world when time is short and there is eternity to prepare for. It may sound a morbid statement, but the truth above is a great release and brings about true perspective to one’s life.

 

Today, I drove past a graveyard where a dear friend is buried among many other souls. And as we Muslims do, I greeted those souls with the greeting we have been taught by our beloved prophet (Allah bless and elevate him) ‘Assalamu alaikum ya ahlul kabr’  =  ‘peace be upon you, o people of the grave’ and added the prayer ‘May Allah grant you are in ease’ and also ‘one day I will join you if Allah wills (not knowing in exactly which graveyard in what part of the world my end will come)’

May God bless us all with ease in our graves and an expansion, with peace in our present and joy in our hereafter and that we use this precious time on earth wisely and well. And may He, almightly, the Subtle, the Near, the Watchful, the Witness, the Clement, the Turner, the Loving, the Forgiver, turn to us in His benevolent loving kindness and forgive our countless sins. Ameen

 

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Jewels of the Quran

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

Here is a talk well worth listening to. It is by Sr. Yasmin Mogahed, a noted scolar and speaker with a deep insight and wisdom. It was given at the Being ME conference in Malaysia I believe. the ‘ME’ standing for ‘Muslimah empowered’. Muslimah is the feminine form of Muslim. This conference is about us Muslim women further developing as the type of women the prophet (peace be upon him) developed. Strong, equal, beautiful and with strengths unique to being female. The conference is coming to Vancouver and I am so looking forward to going inshaAllah (God willing). Ustadha Yasmin (ustadha being a title of respect, meaning female teacher basically) explains stories of the prophets (peace be upon them all) in the Quran in profound ways. I hope you get to listen. And if you are in Vancouver, I hope you get to attend and I meet you there! Here is a link to the event.