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January 19, 2008

Hajj Reflections: 2007

Posted in: Hajj and Umrah Stories

My heart yearns for Makkah. I want more…

This year Allah swt blessed me and my parents with the humbling opportunity to make our hajj, and what an experience it was.

Words cannot fully describe the way I felt about my trip, what it’s like being there, what I saw, but if I had to choose a word, it would be “magnanimous”. Everything about it was magnanimous, in a way that could only be created by God. If anyone had any doubts before, they fell over backwards the minute they step foot into Makkah.

Alhumdulilah, our flight there, Jeddah airport, luggage, all that went smoothly. All along, I had been mentally preparing myself for all the horror stories other people had told me about. We arrived safely at Jeddah, and while getting our luggage, one of the sisters tripped over a pole and fell down, landing on her outstretched arm. I scrambled to remember anything I had learned from my rotations, trying to help. But alas she had broken her arm. Her arm was casted and alhumdulilah, she remained in good spirits then and throughout the trip.

On entering Makkah Friday morning around 8am, I looked around at the other faces on our bus. All the same. All looking out the window, curious, anxious, for that glance, for any sight of the Kaaba. It’s like we couldn’t help ourselves. Before departing on this trip, shazia had mentioned something to me that stuck. These are the same streets that Rasul (S) had walked so many years ago. This city is sacred. Would it be like what we imagined it would be, like the pictures we’ve seen? I always thought it’d be all deserty- with sandy streets, safa/marwa as mounds? lol boy was I wrong. As we drove around, I could not see the Kaaba. I had to look closely just to figure out, that in the distance was the Haram in the midst of all those tall buildings and hotels galore.

We got to our little ghetto hotel room and took a few hours nap before trying to be alert enough for jummah. It’s friday. I was in Makkah. And I was going to have jummah at the Kaaba. SubhanAllah. They told us we’d have to go an hour early at least, but I didn’t realize how true that statement was. We only went a half hour early… and we didn’t even get close. Mom, dad and I found this little space on the street, that would normally fit just one person, but we three squeezed. And then soon after, more people squeezed with us. People squeeze in the most unlikely spaces. I guess that’s the barakah of the city, everyone has a spot. There’s space for everyone, and if not, you make space. It’s not just yours, its everyone’s masjid. That was the first time I had prayed next to some strange guy, and though it was odd at first, I adjusted. But otherwise, it was HOT. That was also the first time I had heard that beautiful recitation of quran in salah. And wow. I mean we listen to all these recitations at home on our mp3 players and are in awe. But hearing it in real life, and even more, during your salah?! Wow. It knocked me breathless. The tears just flowed. Is this what it’s like for people who live here, pray here everyday? They get to listen to this recitation in their salah everyday? I’m jealous.

After jummah, we debated whether to go do our tawaf right then or wait, our decision was made for us as the thousands of people walking out of the Haram pushed us along with them. We went back to the hotel to rest a little; we would do our tawaf at night.

As the sky darkened, we headed out at night for our tawaf, two young Iraqi sisters in our group asked if they could tag along. So we headed out together, all of us newbies, unsure of what to expect, but excited and almost anxious. As we walked, I noticed how even at night, this city is lit up like its day time. My mom loved that.

We got to the Haram, found the wheelchair station, arranged for this dude to push my mom in the chair and we all headed to the top floor to start our tawaf. The wheelchair dude was awesome mashAllah. As we went up, all of us first timers were little nervous. When will we be able to see the Kaaba that we always dreamed to see? Will it be there as soon as we get off the escalators? Unsure as we were, we followed the wheelchair dude carefully as he started the tawaf. We did not yet see the Kaaba.

As we did our rounds, the wheelchair dude said dua, and we said them too. More dua than I could have imagined. It was amazing. I mean, I had my ‘hajj made easy’ book hanging around my neck, all ready and what not, but this dude was awesome. After our 7 rounds, he took us closer to the railing, so that we could see that sight we’d all been waiting for. As we peered closer, I could feel my heart racing. And out of the blue, it sprang up on us. There it was. Faintly similar to the pictures, but at the same time nothing like I had imagined. Suddenly I felt light, watching that simple black cube down there in the middle, as millions of little dots circle it. It was bright, lit up, and it felt surreal. As if I was floating, something about that sight was not this-worldly. It was from somewhere else. How could something so surreal, so light, so majestic, so magnanimous be on this earth?

I don’t know what I was feeling, because I had never felt it before. And I cannot really put words to it. But I did think one thing at that moment. All day, consciously, or subconsciously, my eyes had searched here and there to see this sight, without success. So much surrounding it, all the tall buildings, the hotels, the outer perimeter, the Haram. It’s like this secret. A sacred secret. Hidden safely in the middle, not for all unready eyes to see casually as you pass by. It’s only for those eyes who are ready, who are searching, longing to see it. You have to make the effort, and you are rewarded with that sight. This hidden secret safe in the middle. Surrounded by such beautiful and intricate architecture, high arches, marble floors, chandeliers galore. Yet the hearts of those millions of people do not long to see the arches or the chandeliers. They swiftly pass by the fancy architecture. They are drawn to the center of it all. They are drawn to the secret. All the attention is focused on this simple black cube, ancient and majestic, in the midst of the intricate architecture that surrounds it. That became a profound thought in my mind throughout my trip.

Soon thereafter, moved by what I had seen, watching my mom being pushed in this wheelchair, I saw light where I had not seen it before. I’ve always been at my mom’s side for as long as I can remember. Frail as she is, with all her health problems, I’ve always been the one holding her hand. People would always see and make comments like, “You’re such a good daughter” or “Allah swt will reward you for all you do for your mother”. I never thought anything of it. I thought, hey, I’m just doing my job as a daughter, its not like I have a choice. If I don’t do it, who will? I never expected anything from it. I never expected reward. It was my duty. But that day, at that moment, all those comments flooded my mind. Allah swt will reward me. Allah swt is rewarding me. Right now, right here. Just by bringing me here, being here. SubhanAllah. My parents brought me with them, because my mom needed me to be with her. And that’s where my blessing lies. My reward IS the opportunity to come along, to this blessed city, to see the sights I was seeing, and to be awestruck by it all. That is my blessing. That was my reward. I am grateful, and I ask for nothing more. Any good I have ever done in my life, I took this as its reward. Anything more is just pure mercy from Allah swt.

As we finished, drank our zam zam, prayed our two rakah, the wheelchair dude prayed too. What a cool job that would be. How many tawaf had he done in his life? Tons, I bet. May Allah swt reward wheelchair dude. My dad got his haircut, and we walked back to the hotel, lighthearted, giddy, but definitely humbled by the events of the night.?

On our last night in Makkah before leaving for Mina, me and the two Iraqi sisters I had met, decided that we were going on a mission to try to touch the black stone and see maqam ibrahim. So around 1 am, after I put my mom to bed, we headed out. Our genius thinking behind the plan was that, since everyone was leaving for Mina, the Haram would be empty… or at least less crowded. We were quickly proven wrong the minute we walked in. I think others had the same idea we had, because it was super crowded, but we had to try. So we set out, holding on tight to each other. We got to maqam ibrahim, and we got to look inside. Prophet Ibrahim (a) had huuuge feet!!! It had to have been a size 13 at least. As we stood there, some dude nearby took out his camera to take a picture of it, and quickly a guard came and took the camera away.

Once we were done there, we merged back into the crowd circling the Kaaba, moving closer and closer with each round. Finally we got to the innermost circle, right against the hateem, and then right against Kaaba. We were almost there. I traced my fingers against the stone wall of the Kaaba to keep my spot in the first row. As soon as the corner of the black stone came, it was chaos. I quickly lost my spot. People were pushing and shoving, stomping. Somehow in the craziness of everything, I was turned around and was flowing, but backwards. The men around us were looking at us like we were weirdoes, as in, what are these young girls doing here? They’re going to get hurt. One brother signaled with his hand that we should probably head out before we did get hurt. So that’s what we did. We finished our tawaf and prayed our two rakah.

Praying at the Haram specifically on the ground floor is a captivating feeling. It puts the term “face the qiblah” at whole other level. Being able to see the Kaaba in front of you as you perform your salah is definately mind-blowing. We prayed that day on the ground floor saddened by the thought of leaving the next morning. But we still had the high of the experience we just had, sooo close to hajr al aswat. Maybe next time inshAllah.

Mina was a whole other experience. Difficult yes, but not undoable and definitely an experience worth remembering. There in those tents, I was able to bond with some great sisters, and chose not to bond with some others. I learned not to be picky about bathrooms, or showers for that matter. I slept very little, ate mostly fruits and fell in love with the laban. Of course I had to add about 6 packets of sugar in my laban to make it a lassi!

The next few days passed, eventful yes, but captured well in my pictures. Arafat was something else. And yes, anyone who asked me to make dua for them, I was able to alhumdulilah. May Allah swt accept my duas, the duas of my fellow hujjaj and all the muslimeen.

My time in Makkah, doing tawaf, the days of Mina, walking to the jamrat, carried this certain aura with it. Millions of people from all over the world, from all walks of life, from the richest to the poorest, the strong and the weak come here for this trip. And let me tell you, it’s no vacation. Hajj is no piece of cake, rewarding, but trying. And even still, the millions still flock to this sacred place, year after year, enduring in the struggle together. 4.8 million Muslims, doing the same thing, at the same time, walking to the jamrat from their tents in mina, chanting the labayk together, begging for forgiveness in the valley of Arafat, spending the night under the stars of muzdalifah. It’s no piece of cake, and yet they endure. Why? As I saw the people tawaf around the Kaaba, or the millions of muslims walk to the jamrat, I saw in them conviction. This is conviction. Conviction for The Truth. Belief like no other. There has got to be something divinely powerful about this to create such a movement. Only this deen has the ability to draw so many people to enjoin in this journey, through the hardship and ease of it all. Magnanimous. Only Allah swt can create this type of force. The One,True Lord. And I wonder, why isn’t everyone muslim?

My heart started aching the minute we left Makkah for madina… and it hasn’t stopped. My eyes flowed as I stared out the window of the bus inching out of this majestic city. When would I be back? Why did it take me so long to come here, to realize the possibility? There was so much more I had to do, so many more salawat I wanted to make, so many more tawaf awaiting my return. When would my eyes once again encounter that brilliant sight that had knocked me breathless that first night? How can I leave this blessed city of Rasulullah, and go back to… Albany? Ew. How would I ever be able to return to normal life? I don’t want normal anymore. I want to return to Allah swt. I want peace. I want serenity. I want to surrender with complete submission. I want forgiveness and humility. I want jannah. Im just waiting for my return and I’d like to think, its waiting for me.

Throughout my stay in Madina, I kept longing to go back to Makkah. So perhaps I didn’t get as much out of it as I should have. One thing was for sure, the date markets and I felt this natural immediate attraction to each other?. That was one thing I didn’t get in Makkah. Regardless I made sure to make my last night in Madina worth it. Around 10 pm, I set out for the rawdah. It’s open for sisters between 9 pm and 12 am. I waited patiently as the female guards, dressed in full black, set us in groups according to countries. After about an hour of waiting, it was our group’s turn to pray in the green carpeted area. I got my good two rakah in, and I made sure it was special. As soon as I salaamed out, I quickly got up to leave, so that the sisters behind me would have a spot to pray also. I went to the back of the masjid, found a nice empty spot behind a pillar, and prayed some more. I made dua. It was like the dua in Ramadhan on laylatul qadr, but now, here, in Masjid an Nabawi. I was leaving tomorrow back to Albany, what I once called my home. I prayed, afraid to return, begging Allah swt to forgive me, to make it easy for me, to ease the difficulties I once faced, to give me strength to endure, to guide me and always keep me guided. I prayed for the blessed opportunity to return to the blessed city, as soon as possible. I prayed what now became one of my favorite duas, for goodness in this life, goodness in the hereafter, and to be saved from the punishment of the fire.

And here I am, back in Albany, with my heart yearning to go back. I have not yet settled in, afraid to settle in, afraid to lose this feeling. But something tells me, I will never be able to be complacent here again. I will never be as comfortable as I was in Makkah al Mukarramah.

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