What’s Mecca Like? (The Hajj Journal)

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If Las Vegas is the city that never sleeps, Mecca is the city that never stops praying. At all moments in the downtown core, you can find people heading to Masjid Al-Haram (or just “The Haram”), the mosque that contains the Ka’bah. In addition to that, it’s also a bustling economic powerhouse with international franchises setting up shop just a short walk from the holiest site in Islam. It feels surprisingly close to a metropolitan city in Canada, like Toronto; people are always moving, always trying to get somewhere or get to something. Mecca never stops.

One of the people I met summed up Mecca brilliantly: “Medina is tranquility; Mecca is the power.”

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20. “Clothes” (The Hajj Journal)

Me after umrah

September 16, 2015

I went back to wearing my Canadian attire. Jeans, cargo shorts, t-shirts, hat. I feel like I can just present myself as I am now. God doesn’t look at the clothes you wear, or the colour of your skin. He looks at your heart. You can have the nicest thaub with the most rotten heart; you can wear rags and have a heart of light. Perhaps my Umrah had something to do with that. Sheikh Tamir said something powerful: with ihram, you can have the nicest hair, but for a while, you have no hair at all. You can wear the nicest clothes, but for a while, you’re wearing the simplest and most humble clothes imaginable. Ihram puts everyone on the same level. It lowers you into that state to remind you that you are a servant. Continue reading “20. “Clothes” (The Hajj Journal)”

19. “The locus of humanity” (The Hajj Journal)

The Ka'bah in Mecca

September 15, 2015

When I woke up the morning after [Umrah], I was afraid to go outside. I was afraid of the crowd. But more than that, I was afraid that I would look at the Ka’ba with an empty heart.

[However,] I knew that sitting and stewing in my hotel was not only a waste of time, but wouldn’t help me find the answers or understanding I was seeking. So I got dressed and headed out. I went into the [Haram] and found a spot to pray… I felt like I was having a crisis of faith. After prayer, I walked over to the railings overlooking the Ka’ba (I was on the third floor). And this is what I saw: people. People moving steadily, as if the crowd was water, all at once fluid and solid. I continued walking around the second floor, the Ka’ba always on my left, like I was performing another Tawaf. And as I walked, I kept glancing to my left. It’s not like I was expecting it to be gone, but everytime I did, I could see it from a different angle. And always, always the people. Continue reading “19. “The locus of humanity” (The Hajj Journal)”

17. “Five-Star” (The Hajj Journal)

 The Abraj Al-Bait Towers (Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel) in Mecca

September 13, 2015

So here I am. In Mecca. Just a few moments away from seeing the Ka’bah and doing Umrah.

But first: dinner.

We’re staying at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. And I must say, this is probably the classiest and ritziest hotel I’ve ever been to.

I don’t really know how to feel about that.

I mean, on one hand, the presentation/décor is fantastic (and it’s great to be at a buffet where I can finally eat everything). On the other hand, is it excessive? Is it the kind of excess Islam condemns? Continue reading “17. “Five-Star” (The Hajj Journal)”

16. “Ihram” (The Hajj Journal)

Aaron wearing ihramSeptember 13, 2016

Today we also put on our ihrams and are on our way to Mecca. Ihram is a dress specifically for Umra and Hajj. It consists of a single, white sheet wrapped around the waist, and another wrapped around the body. Something one of our group guides said stuck with me: “this is your shroud.” That keeps repeating in my mind. I’m wearing my shroud. A Muslim is buried in white sheets. However, the end result of Hajj is, as the Prophet (p) said, is that we come out as the day we were born: free of sin. A rebirth. A new beginning. The ihram is a double reminder of both death and rebirth. We are all born, all die, and are all resurrected in the next life. The deciding factor is complying with God’s commandment. And as with every reflection about death, it’s not about getting mopey and upset; instead it is about life. How to life your life, according to God’s will.

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15. “One foot in the grave” (The Hajj Journal)

Baqi graveyard in Medina

September 13, 2015

I started this day with a reminder of death. After Fajr prayer there was a janaza (funeral) prayer. I then made my way to Baq’i, the graveyard near the Prophet’s mosque. It’s so big; you could probably fit West Edmonton Mall in it. The graves are marked by gravel mounds, with a bare rock at the head of the grave. Some graves have 2 stones, one at the head and another at the foot. I went to where the grave was dug. There’s a section of empty plots pre-dug with boards over the top. I joined the group who gathered silently to pray for the deceased. I’d never met them, and didn’t know if the person was a man or woman, adult or child… After saying my prayer, I stepped off the first mound surrounding the grave and onto a board. A man in front of me said to stop. I looked down. The board was sagging where my foot was. I literally had one foot in the grave. I stepped off and the red dust covered my feet. I looked out at the barren field of graves, at the stones marking each one.

Somewhere out there, my stone is waiting for me.

“…and no one knows in what land he will die.” (Surah 31: 34)

Continue reading “15. “One foot in the grave” (The Hajj Journal)”

14. “Josh” (The Hajj Journal)

September 13, 2015

On my first day here I spotted another convert. He was pretty easy to spot, since his shorts and t-shirt and stubbly facial hair and white complexion were about similar to my own. Also, his backpack had the name “Joshua” written on it. And based on that alone, I assumed he was a new Muslim, perhaps sponsored to go for Hajj like some new Muslims are. Last night I actually got to talk with him. And for once I, in my khurta, felt like I as the one who became Arabized. He’s a really cool guy. He’s been Muslim almost as long as I—7 years—and is here with his wife and father-in-law. He’s planning on doing Umrah for himself first, then on behalf of his mother-in-law. His sister converted before him, and she lived in Edmonton (and I may actually have met her.) He was actually the mahram (male representative) for her wedding, and even though her parents were against [her] marriage, Josh did something amazing: he interviewed her suitor, spoke with his boss, co-workers, friends and others to get a feel for who he was. Then he took all this information and spread it out in front of his Dad. His Dad looked it over and said, “This is exactly what a father-in-law would want.” So he successfully convinced his Dad of the Islamic marriage process by actually doing the Islamic marriage process. [Josh] came to Islam by studying different religions, studying the Qur’an, and writing down questions. He took his questions to an Islamic conference and [spoke with] Zakir Naik. Josh said he spent months coming up with these questions, and Zakir Naik’s responses were just bullet-quick, in his usual style… [A] few months later, [Josh] accepted [Islam]. Pretty much everything I mentioned above has humbled me.

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13. “Small gestures” (The Hajj Journal)

On the rooft of Masjid An-Nabawi

September 13, 2015

When I went to maghrib prayer I decided to go up and pray on the roof. I was running a bit behind for [congregational prayer], and didn’t want to go through the crowd inside—and the courtyard was blocked in certain areas—so I decided to go up, knowing fewer people would be there. On the way up, I passed by a brother who said salams. Then he gestured that he needed help. He had his sandles in one hand and was trying to open the plastic bag they give you to put your footwear in, while also holding a tablet. He had a friendly, thankful smile. I tried to open the bag, but it was a dud (I got a few myself, [where] the plastic just does not open). I took the plastic bag I had on my sandles and gave it to him. He looked so thankful. We walked out on the roof together. He pointed at his tablet and mimicked taking a picture. [He gave me his tablet] and I pulled [it] out [of its case] and took a few pictures of him on the roof. Then he pointed at me, then him, then towards one of the custodians. I quickly knew that he wanted to take a picture with me. We gave the tablet to a custodian and got our picture taken together. We repeated the same process with my camera. We didn’t speak. The only full conversation we had was this:

Me: “Canada.”

Him: “Egypt. JazakAllah khair. (May God reward you)”

Me: “Waiekum. (And you as well)”

And then we parted with a smile.

The city is full of these small gestures. Whether it’s a simple “salam alaikum”, sharing your prayer rug with the brother beside you, giving an orange to a poor child, or buying a brother you just met some tea.

And we are told, “Any good you do, God is fully aware thereof.”

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12. “…Without seeing me.” (The Hajj Journal)

The grave of Prophet Muhammad in Medina
The graves of Prophet Muhammad (p), Abu Bakr and Umar

September 13, 2015

After Fajr, I decided to stay behind and gradually make my way to the graves of The Prophet (p), Abu Bakr and Umar. I had no idea where they were in the mosque. I saw a large hall across one of the inner courtyards and surmised that must be it. The gathering throng of people confirmed my assumption. However, the security guards were blocking the area off. One of the guards, a mustachioed fellow in the standard beige military garb, directed us to go to the west side of the mosque. I followed the river of people, not able to understand what was being said, but only knowing that they were all going towards a common goal. It was a good practice for Hajj. Continue reading “12. “…Without seeing me.” (The Hajj Journal)”