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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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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