34. “What better place to die…” (The Hajj Journal)

A field of burial mounds, with a small pathway to the left and the Prophet's Mosque in the distance.

September 26, 2015

I’ve been thinking about death quite a bit while I’ve been here. More specifically, I’ve been afraid of death. It’s easy to say you’ll have the attitude of, “what a better place to die than in Hajj”—I know I used to think that way. But almost every day has been a reminder of death. There was the crane accident that happened in Mecca when we first arrived, killing about 80 people, and just 2 days ago there was a major accident at the Jamarat—the cause of which is only hearsay at this point—which ended up with reportedly 700 people dead. Then after nearly every prayer in Mecca and Medina, there has been a janaza (funeral) prayer for someone who has died. Continue reading “34. “What better place to die…” (The Hajj Journal)”

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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)”

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.”

Continue reading “13. “Small gestures” (The Hajj Journal)”

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)”

11. “A garden of Paradise” (The Hajj Journal)

A group of people standing in front of a sign.

September 13, 2015

By God’s grace, I’m still functioning after only about 3.5 hours of broken sleep. I slept for 2.5 hours last night, and woke up early so that myself, Sheikh Tamir, and a group of others could go to the Rawdah. It’s a special section in the Prophet’s mosque where the Prophet (p) said between his pulpit and his house is a garden from Paradise. It was incredibly packed, even at 3:30 AM. People were packing together to try and stand on the green carpet which marked Paradise. And I began to get frustrated, wondering why people were going through such effort to pray inside a space that, to an outsider, would just be a green carpet. But then I looked at it in a different way: this really was an analogy for religion. People of all races exerting themselves, sacrificing their comfort, just to reach a goal that, in this life, they can’t see, with people they don’t know, and what their heart can only feel.

Continue reading “11. “A garden of Paradise” (The Hajj Journal)”

“What’s Medina like?” (The Hajj Journal)

Open roof prayer space in Masjid Nabawi

I know my entries focus a lot on the spiritual side of my time in the holy cities, but that’s not to say my day-to-day life outside of worship was just more worship. The question most people want to know—no matter where you travel to in the world—is “What’s [insert country] like?”. It’s in our nature to be curious, and when we meet others who have seen parts of the world we’ve only imagined, our curiosity is immediately piqued. To satisfy your curiosity, I’m including these entries that describe the day-to-day life in the places I visited. Continue reading ““What’s Medina like?” (The Hajj Journal)”

10. “The hats of Medina” (The Hajj Journal)

A large crowd of people walking through a mosque.

September 12, 2015

[My friend] Adeel said something interesting to me last time I saw him. He spoke about how life was back in Pakistan. Despite his criticisms, he said there was a sense of shared religiosity. People in Muslim countries share the same sacredness of ideals. Here in Medina, it’s easy to see that. Perhaps that’s why it’s always been a sacred place for believers. It’s not out-of-place to say salams to a stranger, or to make wudhu [ablution] in public, or to simply glorify God out loud. And despite what would seem like a homogenous culture, one look at the crowd and you’ll see the spectrum of humanity. I’ve seen jean-and-t-shirt clad North Americans like myself; the marvelous and colourful patterns of thaubs worn by Africans; kurta-wearing Pakistanis and Indians.

And so many hats! I’ve never seen so many different hats in one place. Ball caps, straw hats, kufis, [kefiyehs], square hats, oval hats, berets, turbans and so many others I don’t know the names of. I should have brought a toque to add into the mix and represent (though it would probably be saturated in sweat in an hour).

So many people, so many hats, so many faces, so many clothes. All under the umbrella of Islam.


Continue reading “10. “The hats of Medina” (The Hajj Journal)”

9. “Slower” (The Hajj Journal)

A clock sitting in the middle of a traffic circle.

September 12, 2015

Life moves at a different pace here. It’s almost like time is slower. I’m sitting in the courtyard of the Prophet’s mosque, and almost everyone seems to walk at just a tad slower pace then back home. I recently came from the shopping centre, and even there it’s not nearly as frantic or hectic as, say, West Edmonton Mall. People rarely seem to be in a rush here –even when crossing the street into oncoming traffic.


Continue reading “9. “Slower” (The Hajj Journal)”

8. “The other” (The Hajj Journal)

Aaron wearing a kurta

September 12, 2015

I also experienced how it feels to be “the other”. In my jeans and button-up shirt and hiking shoes, I felt like an oddity among the sea of white thaubs and kurtas. At least 90% of the people wore some form of Arabic clothing. For so long I fought against the notion of having to “Arabize” myself. But now it’s pretty much become a necessity. And I mean that quite literally, because even with my tolerance for warm temperatures, I’m nearly dying in my jeans, shirt and socks. I bought a couple thaubs and a kurtah... [which have] helped me to feel more comfortable (both physically and emotionally –these things pretty much breathe when you’re outside).

Continue reading “8. “The other” (The Hajj Journal)”

7. “A gift from God” (The Hajj Journal)

The courtyard of the Prophet's Mosque

September 11, 2015

I got to pray at the Prophet’s (p) Mosque today. The first time was for maghrib (the sunset prayer), and there was no more space inside so everyone prayed in the courtyard. It is one of—if not the—most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. It’s sprawling canopies cover the courtyard worshippers, and the interior (from what I saw at isha (the evening prayer)) is [decorated with] intricate marble and arabesque designs. I got to pray on the rooftop—a massive white [floor] with domes and giant minarets that unabashedly sound the call to prayer and prayer itself. Then, as we started to pray, something beautiful happened: it rained. I prayed on the roof of the Prophet’s mosque in the rain, and the moment was truly a gift [from] God.

Continue reading “7. “A gift from God” (The Hajj Journal)”