Islam

We've Been Preparing For Ramadan All Wrong, Here's The One Strategy To Focus On Instead

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It's that time of year again. During the next couple of Friday prayers we will hear that famous ayah recited numerous times -

You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God (2:183)

It seems every year we go through the same thing. Ramadan sneaks up on us. We hear a bunch of reminders about how rewarding it is, developing taqwa, feeling compassion for the less fortunate, making sure to stay away from backbiting, and then rushing to the finish line. Then once it's done, we hear a bunch of talks about trying to keep up the good work. It works for a little while (or at least until the new season of House of Cards comes out), and then it's back to square one.

To counter this, we start treating Ramadan like a 30 day transformation boot camp. We shun the New Year's resolutions, but make our Ramadan ones. 30 days of no white sugar. 30 days of fasting+paleo. 30 days of no Netflix. 30 days of deleting social media apps from my phone (read this if you want to do social media fasting). We end up turning Ramadan into some kind of bizarre mix of Lent and a juice cleanse.

The reason for this is simple. We've heard all that taqwa stuff before a million times, and nothing has changed. The life hack of tracking the caloric burn of taraweeh prayers on your Fitbit seems cooler, data-driven, and ground-breaking. We tell ourselves it might actually work, so it's worth a shot.

On top of that, we're already disrupting our schedules for 30 days, let's see what else we can get out of it. So we tack on every new habit or routine we've wanted to incorporate into our lives and throw it into the Ramadan mix. We need only to look back at our own 5-10 year history to see how well all these things have worked and the lasting change we have really gotten out of all those Ramadans.

So what do we do instead?

The answer is maddeningly simple. The challenge, as always, is in the execution.

It is to master the ordinary to become extraordinary.

Going back to the ayah above, the goal of fasting is to cultivate taqwa. Taqwa, according to Ibn Hajr, is to create a barrier between yourself and the punishment of Allah by following His commands and abstaining from His prohibitions. In a more general sense, it is the consciousness and awareness that Allah is watching over you at all times.

In the famous Hadith of Jibrīl, the fasting of Ramadan is identified as one of the 5 basic pillars of Islam. Excellence in performing this worship is attained when the servant worships Allah "as though you could see Him, for even though you cannot see Him, He sees you."

The goal, therefore, is doing the worship, and then excelling in the act of performing that worship. Master the ordinary to become extraordinary.

It is difficult to adopt and implement these simple truths because of the distortive nature of social media. Once we know something at an informational level (taqwa, compassion), we tend to discount it. When we are reminded of those things again later, we cast them aside as cliche or recycled. We instead seek out the new and novel. Whether we like it or not, this mentality permeates into our Ramadan preparation. We assume we'll already check off the boxes for things like taqwa and compassion, and then go looking for new boxes to add to the list that other people don't have.

When we step back and look though, success rarely comes from the novel. It always comes from relentlessly focusing on the basics.

Take baseball, for example. Derek Jeter is one of the most celebrated baseball players of all time. He has fame, multi-million dollar endorsement deals, accolades, his jersey retired by Yankess, and much more. His career batting average was .310. An average player, on an average contract, without the fame and accolades bats roughly .250. Over a 162 game season, with 4-5 at bats per game, the difference between a .250 hitter and a .310 hitter is barely 1 or 2 hits per week. People like Jeter aren't superhumans who have a secret keto diet recipe and bodyweight workout that others don't have - they are people who execute on the basics and fundamentals a little better than everyone else.

This is why in a playoff basketball game, coaches say things like - it comes down to the 50/50 balls, or they need to make sure not to make mistakes on their defensive rotations. A lot of winning comes down to the basics like hitting open shots, and executing the game plan.

Ask a dentist about the key to good oral hygiene. It's not in buying a $100 toothbrush, it's in brushing your teeth and flossing every day.

Want to make your car last a long time? There isn't some kind of secret oil to buy, it's getting your oil changed regularly, and on time.

Aisha (r) once asked the Prophet (s) what was the best deed someone could do? He said that which is small, but consistent.

The Prophet (s) told Bilal he heard his footsteps in paradise because he used to pray 2 rakat every time he renewed his wudu. The Prophet (s) once pointed out a companion as being from the people of Paradise - a man who's only distinguishing action was forgiving anyone who wronged him every night before sleeping.

Small, consistent acts. Basics. Basics executed better than anyone else elevate the ranks.

Want to grow spiritually and come closer to Allah? Pray on time, with concentration. Fast. Give zakat and charity. Go on hajj. Be kind to people. And then keep doing those actions over and over and over again.

Let the fasting orient you toward a focus on developing consciousness that Allah is always watching.

How do we know that we are actually practicing taqwa instead of simply acknowledging it at an informational level?

Have taqwa of Allah, perhaps you will be grateful (3:123)

The more conscious you are of Allah, the more it should make you grateful. How much time do we spend a day reflecting on the blessings of Allah? Thanking Allah is basic. And yet -

If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor] (14:7)

The more gratitude, the more blessings from Allah.

If you want to succeed this Ramadan, have a relentless focus on the fundamentals.

Master the ordinary to become extraordinary.

A Fiqh of Social Media Poem

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This is a poem written by poet Ash Shawwa. Check out his books on Amazon. This poem is based off the Fiqh of Social Media presentation that has been delivered around the US, if you'd like to bring it to your community, please request it by clicking here Fiqh of Social Media by Ash Shawwa

From twitter, to Snapchat, to Instagram, to Facebook. Fact is, social media has us hooked. In the year of 1985, The essence of life… Took a leap in time.

As we have progressed through time, times has truly changed; As if the time before 1985 was something strange. There was once a time where one visited a friend and food was offered, But now the time has arrived where when we don't receive the wifi password we feel a bother.

With the internet, a stranger is merely a gaming console away, A PC away, With no doorbell and screening in any way.

We must remember that technology is a tool… To use it, does not make you a fool. And on the other hand it doesn’t always make you cool. What it is, is a choice like a never ending swimming pool.

You can choose to swim on the right side, Or you can choose to swim on the left side.

Our faith teaches us, we are on the religion of our friends. And to many the World Wide Web defines our trend. The sad reality is, you may have thousands of Facebook friends but no real friend.

Social media is a window allowing others to look at your life and peak in. Little do we know, of the fact, that others are opening this window and allowing judgment and analysis to begin. Sins disclosed… And deeds, I suppose.

Islam is a a faith sent down, not only to guide those who came before; But for all of us until time is no more; And this, must make us excel in every subject and shine. We should be the forerunners of our present time.

Our prophet ﷺ never had a Facebook, And yet we read his revelations 1400 years later in our holy book. He ﷺ never made a single tweet, But his words will be felt until the end of time even by the elite. He never posted a picture on Instagram, but his beauty can be felt, Every time we read his story and reflect.

Social media can dilute the mind. Quieting it in time. Social media can drain our mental energy, And has a big influence in our destiny.

Give a child an imagination and then give him a phone. He forgets Allah and thinks to himself if no one replies to my comment I'm nothing but alone. We need to teach ourselves that it's normal to be bored, And that it's okay to be alone.

Because when you’re alone your mind wonders, And with the right direction you begin to ponder; Not realizing this act, makes your very own intellect stronger.

Facebook has a currency, and that currency is not money. That currency is, attention, in forms of comments and likes; And bad decisions sometimes receive more attention. And this makes us feel we need to produce more negative decisions.

But let’s state the facts, social media is a tool, and that tool can be used for good; And like all things in life, every situation we go through can produce good. But, there must be structure; Because whether we like it or not social media is a part of our culture.

Now technology can also be a form of charity. In the form of a FaceTime to family, With a smile, because we all know as prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: a smile is charity. And, with thousands of miles between two people a simple video chat on Facebook can allow you to see them clearly.

But when we see a stranger’s profile we have to realize, this is their public profile. It doesn’t always show their true lifestyle. So, we see a stranger post a picture of their new car; And think to ourselves, "that's what it feels like to be a star," I need that car.

Jealousy is a real thing, and so is envy. So whenever you post something on social media I have advice in the form of three…

Ask yourself these question with honesty.

  1. Is it for attention, or is it beneficial?
  2. Is it important, or is it artificial?
  3. Is there a reward, or is the outcome superficial?

I will end this with five statements of advice

  1. Do not deactivate your social media but ask yourself would I benefit if I delete the simple app
  2. If you don’t want to delete the app stop the notifications and take a step back
  3. Set a time where you can check the updates you lack
  4. Dedicate a certain time where no technology would be used without having to crack
  5. And finally look in your own mirror and ask yourself, when a man from Google switched to Facebook, got a team together including psychologist, and made scrolling down an addiction like being hooked to smack, like any drug, ask yourself, without social media for a few hours, will there be anything in life that will lack

Reflections on Moving Forward in the Era of President Trump

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Here's a glimpse into how my Tuesday evening went. We sat down to eat, with my kids asking if it was true we'd have to pack our bags and leave the country depending on the election outcome. After assuring them that we would not, I took a break to record a YouTube video for my new channel. One of the points I made in that video was that adversity happens to everyone, and we choose how to view it and the action we take in response to it. It didn't dawn on me that I would have to find a way to apply that lesson the morning after the election.

After recording, I headed over to attend Sh. AbdulNasir's seerah class. I thought it would be a much needed break from the election coverage. Except when I tried to listen, I couldn't help but check Twitter. I sat there, watching in real time as class went on the chances of Trump winning go up to over 57%.

Fast forward, and I'm watching Trump deliver his acceptance speech. He looked like the only person who might have been more shocked than the rest of the country. It seemed like the first time he was giving a rehearsed speech someone else wrote, and with the face of someone who clearly would rather go back to running his businesses than taking on the task of governing.

So what now?

I don't have the answers, but I did want to share some reflections I've had in trying to move forward.

Get Busy Planting Seeds

https://twitter.com/ibnabeeomar/status/796232180922019840

This hadith is the first one that came to mind after it became apparent Trump was going to win.

We can't change the fact that Trump won. We can choose how we respond to it.

If we want to know why we didn't have a viable 3rd party option, it's because we never planted the seeds 4, 8, 12, or 16 years ago. Trees don't sprout overnight. They take time to grow, and we are going to have to plant seeds that may not bear fruit until after our lifetimes.

https://www.facebook.com/imamtahir/posts/10155481259422222

Sometimes it takes a crisis to force us into action. This is the time to start voting and being active in our local city/county elections, and finding ways to help third-party candidates gain traction.

The hadith above isn't just about action, it's also about hope. No matter what the situation is, we have to do our part with optimism and compassion. That doesn't mean that things won't be difficult, or that we might not see an increase in Islamophobia. What it does mean, now more than ever, is we have to make a conscious choice to plant the seeds of generosity and kindness in society.

Rethinking Our Activism Approach

The 8 years of the Obama administration has been an interesting time for Muslim activism (see: Obama is Muslim, White House Iftar, MLI, and others). The crux of a lot of the Muslim community's focus over the past 8 years, in my perception, boils down to 2 agenda items:

  1. Having a seat at the table
  2. Normalizing/humanizing Muslims

The microcosm of having a seat at the table was the many images of Muslim leaders smiling for photos with Obama as he waged drone attacks on innocent Muslim people. What this really highlighted was both a lack of principle, and a lack of guidance. Our community is simply not united in what our strategic vision should be going forward. White House Iftar 2017 is going to be an interesting one 😔.

Scholars, activists, media members, academics, and community members are all in need of each other. Problems arise when one operates in a vacuum separated from the others. To understand why this is problematic, Evangelicals voting for Trump is exactly what happens when theology and activism become divorced. People take a single issue (such as abortion), and because of wanting to be on what they consider to be right side of that debate, they overlook other moral issues (such as empowering sexual predators and further subjugating their victims into silence).

As for normalizing and humanizing, this to me is a larger issue. We have seen first-hand the effects of the dehumanizing of Muslims, as Suzanne Barakat explains in her heart-breaking TED Talk:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4CiNvnMtXE

While humanizing is necessary, we need a new strategy beyond trying to show we are cool just like everyone else. We need to change our narrative (as Sana Saeed outlines in this talk on Social Media Activism).

Changing the narrative may seem overwhelming, but it starts at a micro-level. Make sure your co-workers, colleagues, and neighbors get to know you at a human level. We find this example from the life of the Prophet (s). After the boycott when the Muslims were exiled to the outskirts of Makkah for 2 years, they started to re-integrate into a hostile environment. It was at this tense time that the Prophet (s) still took out time to do things like joking and wrestling with the most famous wrestler of their time as Sh. AbdulNasir explains in this video:

https://www.facebook.com/abdulnasirjangda/videos/1163281260375470/

The challenge now is seeing how much we are willing to work over the next 4 years to create change. In other words, how many seeds can we plant?

Race & Economics

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA9aSvHzEIU

There's a debate happening online as to whether Trump voters were motivated by race or economics. I think it's both, but also a little more than that.

A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast episode titled, "‘Secular Rapture’: Trump and the American Dispossessed," which focuses on an author attempting to construct 'deep stories' of families voting for Trump. They talked about how race and economics are easy outs. Beyond this, there is an overriding constellation of fears that are driving this mindset. They are people who are facing tough times (such as economic loss), and they feel everyone else is getting a break (e.g. minorities, welfare, affirmative action). In their eyes, Trump is the only one who is acknowledging them and fighting for them. The other candidates are insiders, elites who make fun of them, call them rednecks, and leave them out in the cold.

Trump found a way to validate them and go to bat for their problems - albeit using a platform of fear, paranoia, and racism. The real question becomes, how do we advocate for policies and candidates that lift people out of economic depression and also bridge the racial divide? It seems Bernie may have been that candidate, but sadly, we won't know.

People Who Aren't on Social Media Swung The Election

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If you only follow the news and social media, what happened was shocking. Just like Brexit. I wrote about this in detail earlier this year - How Invisible Filter Bubbles Shape Your Social, Political, and Religious Views.

This election was decided by rural voters and the silent majority - groups who you do not hear from on social media.

[P]undits are disconnected from a vast majority of voters in middle America. When you live in New York City or Washington, D.C. - as many pundits do - you can become blind to seeing middle America, the south and vast swaths of the country. You must accept that your vision of America, might not match the vision of the rest of America. ....

We focused in the media on the loudest, most vocal and often the most-shocking Trump supporters. We tracked the base for Trump and base for Clinton. We said the base was incredibly stable and unchanging, leading to the prediction that Clinton would be President. While we were focused on the base - a new wave of voters were emerging. The silent voters slipped by, unnoticed until election day. ... America, the silent majority is asking "Can you hear me now?" (Marie Whitaker, NBC)

One of the foundations of social media is that it portrays a false sense of reality. The news industry tacked on top of it caters to the bottom-line of what makes money. I've highlighted some of its effects previously in this article.

Glenn Greenwald tweeted this, and I thought it made an excellent point:

https://twitter.com/ggreenwald/status/795666474249625600

Part of changing our narrative is going to be in helping to support other media outlets that are working to put out good journalistic content (such as AJ+).

Crisis of Leadership

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It's so painful when bad leaders rise to the top.

Leadership is influence, and in an election where one side nominated an egotistical narcissist, the other side nominated ... the status quo.

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There is undoubtedly a void in this country now, and people will be looking for a voice of reason and hope. Leadership is also about creating a vision. If we succumb to the negativity and fear, we can never help uplift people out of the despair they feel.

It is painful when bad leaders rise tot he top, but not surprising. We are the generation that made the Kardashians famous. We are a society that rewards shameless behavior. This is a time, more than ever, that we need morality and ethics in society.

Leadership from the Muslim community should seem like a natural fit on these topics, but we have to be consistent with our values. If race and economics played a role in this election, then we need to take a long hard look at our own communities. How much racism is there in our own households? How much of our donation money is truly going to social justice and helping to lift people out of poverty? What about the economic and racial disparities, and the lack of togetherness, between inner-city and suburban masjids?

These are tough questions we have to tackle, and hopefully this election result becomes an excuse to do so. This kind of leadership takes courage - the same kind of courage that Apple needed to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7.

https://www.facebook.com/FajrLiterary/posts/1117463438290137

Prophetic Method

The Prophet (s) while giving advice to a child, Ibn Abbas (r), said: "Know that if all the people get together in order to benefit you with something, they will not be able to benefit you in anything except what Allah has decreed for you. And if they all get together in order to harm you with something, they will not be able to harm you in anything except what Allah has decreed for you. The pens have stopped writings [Divine Preordainment]. And (the ink over) the papers (Book of Decrees) has dried." (Sahih Bukhari)

One advice that's always stuck out to me has been the concept of tie your camel, and have tawakkul. My hope is that the above reflection points help move us in the direction of tying that camel and working strategically to affect positive change in our communities. The rest, we leave to Allah (swt).

https://www.facebook.com/ShaykhHamzaYusuf/posts/10154592907326544

Inspirational Posts on Instagram Are Ruining Your Life Without You Realizing It #FiqhOfSocialMedia

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It's Sunday night after a great weekend. You got your halal meat shopping done, took the kids to the park, had dinner at a friend's house, watched some football, and even folded and put away the laundry. As you get ready for bed, you prepare yourself for the upcoming week. You have meetings for an annoying project at work. Things are awkward between two of your co-workers because of an argument they had a few days ago and you're caught in the middle. Your manager doesn't have time to look at something important that you keep emailing her about. And on a larger level, you're simply not happy about the prospect of going back to sit in your cubicle for another week and repeating the same charade over and over. So as you lie down to go to sleep, you take out your phone. And you start seeing stuff like this (and it's always on a sunset).

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Then the thoughts start to drift. Am I as happy as I should be? What are my unfulfilled dreams? How do I achieve greatness?

https://twitter.com/ibnabeeomar/status/763602586654023680

This post will explore the impact of the constant influx of unabashed follow your dreams and unrealistic positivity. It is not simply about envy from seeing others' success and combating it with gratitude. It's a level deeper than that. It's how the current hybrid of success as displayed on social media, modern self-help literature, and a culture of entitlement affects us at a deep spiritual level without us realizing it.

The Secret is Visualizing Your Way to Success

The internet has filled our lives with unrealistic positive expectations. It says we can all be happier, healthier, smarter, faster, more popular, have more friends, live your dreams, and so on. To do this, you only need to follow the advice being dispensed everywhere on how to improve.

What starts with a noble intent of helping us achieve more by being positive actually creates a downward cycle. It really focuses on what we lack.The only alternative to being optimized and maximized and happy 24/7 is failure. This is why exercises like visualization and chanting mantras have become so popular. They say if you just keep imagining something positive to you, it will happen (Dave Chappelle mocked this in a brilliant bit you can watch here [warning: vulgar language]).

They make us hone in on what is wrong, and then try to offer a shortcut to fix it. To top it off, every time we get online, we are bombarded with images of people who are succeeding, having seemingly overcome all the shortcomings that hold us back (see: Jealousy, Attention, and the Social Media Highlight Reel).

This creates not only envy, but stress. In the following Ted Talk, Alain De Botton expounds on this concept in detail (I have put the text of a couple of important excerpts below the video).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtSE4rglxbY

Never before have expectations been so high about what human beings can achieve with their lifespan. We're told, from many sources, that anyone can achieve anything. ... we are now in a system where anyone can rise to any position they please. And it's a beautiful idea. ... There is one really big problem with this, and that problem is envy. Envy, it's a real taboo to mention envy, but if there's one dominant emotion in modern society, that is envy. And it's linked to the spirit of equality. ...

The closer two people are -- in age, in background, in the process of identification -- the more there's a danger of envy ... So there's a spirit of equality combined with deep inequality, which can make for a very stressful situation. It's probably as unlikely that you would nowadays become as rich and famous as Bill Gates, as it was unlikely in the 17th century that you would accede to the ranks of the French aristocracy. But the point is, it doesn't feel that way. It's made to feel, by magazines and other media outlets, that if you've got energy, a few bright ideas about technology, a garage -- you, too, could start a major thing.

The consequences of this problem make themselves felt in bookshops. When you go to a large bookshop and look at the self-help sections ... there are basically two kinds. The first kind tells you, "You can do it! You can make it! Anything's possible!" The other kind tells you how to cope with what we politely call "low self-esteem," or impolitely call, "feeling very bad about yourself."

...There is another reason why we might be feeling more anxious -- about our careers, about our status in the world today, than ever before. And it's, again, linked to something nice .... A meritocratic society is one in which, if you've got talent and energy and skill, you will get to the top, nothing should hold you back. It's a beautiful idea. The problem is, if you really believe in a society where those who merit to get to the top, get to the top, you'll also, by implication, and in a far more nasty way, believe in a society where those who deserve to get to the bottom also get to the bottom and stay there. In other words, your position in life comes to seem not accidental, but merited and deserved. And that makes failure seem much more crushing.

Mark Manson refers to this as 'The Feedback Loop from Hell" in his book (which is one of the best I've ever read on self-development). He says we feel sad or guilty about our situation, and then feel guilty about how we feel. Because everything is so perfect (or 'can be' perfect) on social media, we start to think it is not okay to feel any type of sadness, fear, or anxiety.

We get made fun of a lot for having first world problems. Alhamdulillah, we enjoy a large degree of material success relative to others. The problems we have now are more spiritual in nature - and they're exacerbated by what we consume online, often without us realizing it. We live in an age where we can have or know an infinite number of things. Paradoxically, we have an infinite number of ways we feel we don't measure up.

The relationship between material over-abundance and spiritual crisis should come as no surprise. At one end of the spectrum, more and more "successful" people are turning to mindfulness and meditation as a form of, essentially, spiritual heroin to escape savage capitalism. At the other end is entitlement and envy. The commonality on both ends is an obsession with the nafs (self). There is a deep unhappiness underpinning our success, or lack thereof, and it manifests itself as a spiritual crisis.

Alain De Botton explains this in the above Ted Talk:

The other thing about modern society and why it causes this anxiety, is that we have nothing at its center that is non-human. We are the first society to be living in a world where we don't worship anything other than ourselves. We think very highly of ourselves, and so we should; we've put people on the Moon, done all sorts of extraordinary things. And so we tend to worship ourselves. Our heroes are human heroes. That's a very new situation. Most other societies have had, right at their center, the worship of something transcendent.

Manson puts it more bluntly saying that most "life problems" are actually "side effects of not having anything more important to worry about."

We stop deriving our happiness from our values, and instead chase what is fed to us. It becomes almost formulaic. We consume all this material online and conclude that we need to fix certain shortcomings. And then once we fix them, we will be happy. So to fix them, we need a magic bullet - a LifeHacker article, another top 10 list from a blog, an expensive course, a book, a YouTube video, a podcast. We are looking for something, anything, that will 'fix' our problem so we can attain that level of greatness we are destined for. A life where everything is sunsets and rainbows and unicorns (in other words, Instagram).

 

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American Idol Syndrome

The first episodes of American Idol would always be the best because you got to see Simon ripping on a terrible contestant. They would take a contestant, and before the audition, do a bio of them. You would see footage from their hometown and everyone there would talk about how this person was in the school choir and how talented they are. Then they'll talk to friends from the neighborhood also testifying to how amazing of a singer this person is. There's no doubt they were created for this contest and will win. This is their dream, and they've been working every day nonstop to attain it.

Then they get on stage and start singing. The judges cut them off with Simon saying something snarky like, 'do humanity a favor and never sing again.' The person is then emotionally devastated. They can't believe what they're hearing. They legitimately thought they were going to win the entire competition.  They start crying, yelling, screaming. They say the judges don't know what they're talking about, and vow to show everyone that they're the best.

Sitting on the outside, we know they're foolish.

On the other hand, they are following self-help advice to the T. They believe in themselves. They're following their passions. They are working on their dream. They will not accept rejection. They vow to be resilient and bounce back in the face of crisis.

They go back to their friends who will no doubt tell them that the stupid judges on American Idol simply "can't handle how amazing they are."

We can see they're delusional.

Yet, if you were to ask anyone who has achieved fame in that industry how they got there, they would no doubt repeat those same cliches. Never give up, believe in yourself, follow your dreams, live your passions, ignore the haters, and persevere.

The delusion and foolishness is actually a result of an entitlement mentality. The underlying theme here is that this person somehow deserves success, or deserves to feel good. So even when they're not actually doing anything, they keep feeling like they are accomplishing something and are on the pathway to their dreams (sound familiar?). They are confident they will become a multi-platinum star despite what the judges and millions of viewers think. Hence the rise of how-to gurus and, as Manson says, "life coaches [who] charge money to help others, even though they're only twenty-five years old and haven't actually accomplished anything substantial in their lives."

We usually think of entitlement in regards to attaining a certain position or some material gain. The entitlement about needing to feel good all the time is a step beyond that. And by needing to feel good all the time, a person ends up in a cycle of narcissism and selfishness (the consequences of which I wrote about in detail here). They're constantly thinking about themselves and how they feel. When something awesome happens, it is because of their awesomeness, and when something bad happens its because people can't handle their awesomeness.

[The nature of] man is that, when his Lord tries him through honour and blessings, he says, ‘My Lord has honoured me,’ but when He tries him through the restriction of his provision, he says, ‘My Lord has humiliated me’ (89:15-16).

This comes about not because people really truly believe they are that amazing (although some do). It is, as Manson says, "because they feel that they need to be great to be accepted in a world that broadcasts only the extraordinary."

We are only shown the extraordinary because Instagram and other social media outlets bombard us with only those stories. They appear immediately achievable. We only need to do what they did and we can have it too. This is also known as Survivorship Bias.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k7jeQQdqPA

People who succeed tend to look at the past with blinders and ignore many important factors that got there (see: Why Bad Leaders Rise to the Top, and Why We Keep Following Them).

Then when we try and don't succeed in the same way we develop envy. We become insecure. When we combine that with entitlement, we believe it is ok to transgress certain boundaries to get what we deserve.

Manson lays out two types of entitlement that play out in a person:

  1. I'm awesome and the rest of you all suck, so I deserve special treatment.
  2. I suck and the rest of you all are awesome, so I deserve special treatment.

To constantly make yourself the victim requires the same level of selfishness. We want everyone to know about our problems, and how we are uniquely afflicted with these problems, how they make us feel bad, and how we need everyone around us to stop doing the things that are making us feel bad. Cue Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda saying 'Nobody Cares.' 

https://twitter.com/AbdulNasirJ/status/186576334003249153

It's strange that in an age when we are more connected than ever, entitlement seems to be at an all-time high. Something about recent technology seems to allow our insecurities to run amok like never before. The more freedom we're given to express ourselves, the more we want to be free of having to deal with anyone who may disagree with us or upset us. The more exposed we are to opposing viewpoints, the more we seem to get upset that those viewpoints exist. The easier and more problem-free our lives become, the more we seem to feel entitled for them to get even better. -Mark Manson

In short, we've lost the middle ground. We go to the extremes in our opinions and refuse to see the other side.We see only the success stories. We see only the top most upvoted posts on Reddit. We watch only the most viewed YouTube videos. Read only the most highly reviewed books on Amazon. Our Netflix queue is full of only 4 or 5 star shows. The craziest photos, memes, news. We start to believe that being extraordinary is being normal. This, by the way, is why the greatest casualty of YouTube is the local Imam.

We don't realize most of life is actually lived in the middle of the extremes, and so we feel bad and put ourselves through the feedback loop of hell (especially when all the gurus say being average is mediocre). You can either be super successful, or super miserable. We de-incentivize ourselves to live a life of moderation. We need to be super successful (not realizing that if everyone was extraordinary, it would by definition become the new 'ordinary'). And if we can't be successful at that level, then it's better to show how miserable we are, because at least then we can get attention for how terrible our life is.

Inspiration Junkies

The misery, insecurity, envy, and entitlement creates an addiction to motivation. I haven't gotten my life together like the guy driving a Lamborghini on Instagram, therefore, I must not be motivated enough. So in response, I am going to follow 10 more inspirational quote accounts on Instagram to make sure I keep up my positive energy and vibes.

The khutbah below by Hasib Noor lays out the issue in detail. We keep crying over the same problems over and over again, using spirituality as a way to feed the inspiration junkie addiction. We go from conference to conference without making any tangible change in our lives. We share articles without reading them to look woke even though we don't give that much attention to the actual issues.

Don't misconstrue this to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Pay attention to whose advice you follow via their social media, books, podcasts, videos, and so on. If you're still following the same people and discussing the same issues you were 2 years ago, then it's a sign you aren't progressing. You should be in a state of 'graduating' and inching forward.

We let our worries overcome us without taking any action to create meaningful change. Part of the problem is by seeing so much inspiration, we think inspiration is the answer. So you hear people saying things like, "I'm not spiritually ready to make hajj yet" or "I can't concentrate in my prayer, so I don't want to pray because then I will be a hypocrite." There is a faulty assumption that motivation → action. The reality is action creates its own motivation and inspiration. This is why consistently doing good deeds is so vital, as the khutbah here explains.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5izY3xnolc0

 

 

We learn that our focus really should be about the process. What are your daily habits and routines? What do you do each day to actually close the gap between where you are and where you want to be? Many of us are infatuated with the end outcome, but don't want to put in the daily work to get there.

Inspiration to follow your passions is about trying to eliminate pain. "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life" is complete nonsense. When you do what you love, you trade in one set of problems for a different one (just one that you'd rather work on). The real test of what you love is not about the end result, it is about the daily process to get there. The goal is not to eliminate your problems, but rather to upgrade them to a different set of problems.

How many of us want to be Huffaz, but can't put in the work daily? One level of problems is not being able to read every day. Then not memorizing every day. Then it's not revising enough every day. The further you progress, the more you are exchanging one set of obstacles and issues for another. If you can't find satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment in simply reading every day, you will never attain the end result of memorizing no matter how much you visualize it, put it on a vision board, chant mantras, or make a motivational sunset quote your desktop wallpaper.

How many people want to be known as students of knowledge or become famous Islamic speakers, but haven't dedicated the time to actually study for years and years? How many of us want to be entrepreneurs but are more obsessed with having a 4-hour-workweek than actually building a legitimate business? If you don't love the process, you will always fail at achieving that desired result. We want perfect marriages with the exotic vacation photos to prove it, but don't want the daily process of doing laundry, changing diapers, and buying dishwashing detergent in bulk from Costco. It is much easier to say things like, "well I could have done that if I wanted to" than it is to actually dedicate yourself to something.

Who you are is defined by what you're willing to struggle for: People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can benchpress a small house. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who fly to the top of it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it. -Mark Manson

The inspiration trap is not a problem of positive thinking - it is substituting hard work for positive thinking. It is not about eliminating problems, but understanding for what purpose you are working through them.

gettoworkdemotivator_grande

Trust The Process

*Shout out to Sam Hinkie

The process begins with identifying why you want to do something. That should be no surprise, everything ultimately boils down to intention. Take whatever it is that you're seeking inspiration for and ask why. Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to start a business?

The career aspect of life is an interesting one in this regard. Many people are made to feel bad for having a career because they don't have the same lifestyle as an entrepreneur. Conversations around this topic will be about being 'stuck' in a cubicle your whole life, building someone else's dream instead of your own, being a slave to 'the man', moving up the corporate ladder to buy a bigger house, and so on. And so we feel guilty for being stuck with a 9-5 job and try to become an entrepreneur. Then come the thousand dollar courses, hours spent building a business, time away from the family to sacrifice for the dream, and after a couple of years not succeeding and going back to the 9-5 gig. Cue the feedback loop from hell. You feel guilty for your job, you feel bad about not living your dreams, and then you feel bad because you feel like your life is over.

This is what happens when a person doesn't have a strong why. What is the ultimate goal? Which problems do you want to solve? Do you want to solve the problems that come with a cubicle life but include a steady paycheck, health insurance, and open weekends? Or do you prefer the problems of making payroll, dealing with vendors, and working on your business all the time?

See it's not that one is better than the other. It depends on what you value and then acting accordingly. One person might hate the idea of a desk job and want to be an entrepreneur, and for someone else it is the opposite. The problem arises only when you project your value system onto someone else's life and judge them based on it.

What we value is determined by our faith tradition. Take the debate between career and entrepreneurship. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. The more accurate guiding principle would be this hadith:

The Prophet (saw) said about a man, "If he is striving to provide for his young children then he has gone out for the sake of Allah. If he is striving to provide for his aged parents then he has gone out for the sake of Allah. And if he is striving to provide for himself to avoid being dependent on others then he has gone out for the sake of Allah" [Tabarani].

Once that value is established, then the actions follow in whatever way is best suited for you.

The underlying theme with happiness in this regard is the ability to choose our problems. Many people become entrepreneurs and feel shackled and want to go back to a corporate job - and vice versa. We get down most often when the problems we have are things we feel we can't control. When we choose our problems, we feel empowered. The internet, however, makes you think you can just escape the problems altogether. If we feel that we are stuck in a job against our will, then we feel victimized and miserable.

Strong iman (faith) helps significantly in this regard. There are certain things we know are the decree of Allah and we cannot control. For example, when we are born, who our parents are, when we are going to die, and even how much money we make. Our faith demands that we take responsibility for our actions and our response. That is fully within our control. Manson points out that people hesitate to take responsibility for their problems because it would mean admitting that they are at fault for those problems.

You don't get to pick everything that happens to you, but you are responsible for it.

Fault is past tense. Responsibility is present tense. -Mark Manson

One way to take responsibility is focusing on the actions you do every day. The reason we avoid doing that is because it seems insignificant. Or we have more important things to do.

The Prophet (saw) said, "If a Muslim man persists in two actions, he will enter the Garden. They are easy, but those who do them are few.' He was asked, 'What are they, may Allah bless him and grant him peace?' He said, 'That you say "Allahu akbar" ten times, "al-hamdu lillah" ten times, and "Subhana'llah" ten times after every prayer. That is 150 on the tongue and 1500 in the balance.' I saw the Prophet (saw) counting them with his hand. Then he said, 'When you go to bed, you should say, "Subhana'llah", "al-hamdu lillah", and "Allahu akbar". That is 100 on the tongue and 1000 in the balance. Who among you can do 2500 bad actions morning and night?' He was asked, 'Messenger of Allah, how is it that they are not counted?' He said, 'Shaytan comes to one of you while he is praying and reminds him of something he has to do such-and-such and such-and-such, so he does not remember to do it.'" (Tirmidhi)

We're focused on the end result, we ignore the incremental change that goes into each day. Social media makes this worse because it gives us more and more things to be busy with (see: Dua - The Greatest Casualty in a Socially Networked Life).

Death

There are literally a million things we could be working on to improve ourselves. How do we decide what values will dictate our lives? Faith is an easy answer, but there are a million options even under that umbrella.

Once we become comfortable with the fact of our own death - the root terror, the underlying anxiety motivating all of life's frivolous ambitions - we can choose our values more freely...-Mark Manson

In a strange way, reflecting on death is liberating. The Prophet (s) commanded us to reflect on it. It allows us to focus our efforts on what truly matters - not what the internet says we need to care about.

The famous hadith of leaving a legacy, or sadaqah jariyah, talks about a Muslim's goal to live a life that attains good after their death.

When a man dies, his action discontinues from him except three things, namely, perpetual sadaqah (charity), or the knowledge by which benefit is acquired, or a pious child who prays for him (Abu Dawud).

If you look closely at those three examples, all of them are intrinsically linked to your daily process. A child who prays for you must grow up believing, having the consciousness to make dua to Allah, and having positive memories of you such that they remember you. That doesn't come by automatically having kids, it is a daily process to build toward something meaningful.

Why Your Phone is Keeping You From Praying Fajr and How to Fix It

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The Hope.

I know I'm supposed to have a solid daily routine. No matter what I do, it doesn't work, and I'm stuck in a rut. Maybe I'm not meant to be a morning person. It seems like every single morning is an unbelievable exercise in willpower to try and wake up.

If I could wake up on time for fajr every day, read Qur'an, make dua, exercise, have a relaxed wholesome breakfast, and leave for work/school on time - it would transform my life.

It’s been said that the first hour is the rudder of the day. If I’m lazy or haphazard in my actions during the first hour after I wake up, I tend to have a fairly lazy and unfocused day. But if I strive to make that first hour optimally productive, the rest of the day tends to follow suit. -Steve Pavlina

The Reality.

9:00pm Time for a late snack, a cup of tea, and catching up on the DVR.

11:00pm Get ready for bed. Change, brush your teeth, turn off the lights.

11:30pm Snuggled into bed, reach over and plug your phone into the charger.

11:31pm Check email, Instagram, text messages, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter. Leave some comments, like some photos, reply to a few snaps. Read a few articles shared by friends on Facebook. Make bedtime official by sending out your Goodnight Snapchat.

11:45pm Still can't sleep. Watch random YouTube videos. Check email, Instagram, all over again. Check to see if anyone replied to your goodnight snapchat, and remind yourself not to post anything since you're "officially sleeping".

12:15am Still can't sleep. Put something dumb on Netflix and wait to pass out.

3AhjbXF

530am Alarm goes off. And it kicks off a morning that looks kind of like this.

Fajr Alarm

7:00am Finally cognizant. You've managed to actually turn off the alarm instead of hitting snooze. Now you lie awake in your bed upset that you overslept and now have to rush to get to work. So what do you do? Check your email. See who liked and commented on your late night status on Facebook. Check the rest of your social channels and roll out of bed.

Why is it so hard to wake up? We've tried everything. Turn up the adhan app really loud? Check. Multiple alarm clocks? Check.  Put your alarm away from your bed? Yeah.

hY1RgnR

To fix the problem of waking up, we have to get at the core of the problem - or at least nail down a couple of the biggest root causes.

“Hitting the snooze button in the morning doesn’t even make sense. It’s like saying, ‘I hate getting up in the morning so I do it over and over and over again.’” — Dimitri Martin

The greatest impediment to waking up, and hence establishing any kind of productive daily routine, is the phone. Check out this great breakdown of a late night routine by Buzzfeed.

The bottom line is we feel unrelaxed. There is no longer a preparation process for a good night's sleep - we just pass out.

When we wake up it's no different.

https://twitter.com/adamtaufique/status/659378630443724800

There is no morning routine. There is no attainment of blessings (barakah).

The Prophet (s) supplicated, "O Allah, bless my nation in their early mornings (i.e., what they do early in the morning)." Hasan said, "When he sent out a raiding party or an army, he would send them at the beginning of the day." He said, "Sakhr was a man engaged in trade, and he used to send his goods out at the beginning of the day, and his wealth grew and increased." [Ibn Maajah]

While we would all love to attain this, it seems as if we are at a roadblock. Particularly if you have been using your phone in this manner for years, the bad habit can be difficult to break.

Our default state is one of mindlessness.  There is a constant stream of overstimulation - we work our brains to check email even when we try to relax. There is no such thing as unwinding. Not when what we consider unwinding actually includes processing more information. This is multiplied by the rising complexity of technology. Requests are coming at us faster and more relentlessly than ever. We are not meant to operate like a computer or a robot that is at optimized performance for such long periods of time.

In short, we've made a trade-off. The benefit of connection and information has made us overlook how it affects our mental cognition. A consequence of which is our ability to sleep and wake up. It is a trade-off we haven't properly assessed.

The Solution

We previously covered how dua is the greatest casualty of a socially networked life. Here's how to recapture it.

Consider the example of khushoo' (concentration) during prayer. To properly accomplish it requires preparation. It means making wudu properly, clearing your head, relaxing, making dua, and then entering prayer.

Waking up for fajr on time is a lot of the same. The process starts way before the alarm clock goes off. The solution is to nail the going-to-bed-routine.

Here's the action plan. Figure out what time you need to go to sleep, and how long you need to wind down. Let's assume you want to be asleep by 10:30pm and need 90 minutes to wind down.

Set your alarm for 9pm. This is the secret. Most of us don't need an alarm to wake us up, we need an alarm to remind us to go to bed. Once your alarm goes off, start winding down.

You've no doubt heard about not using screens an hour before bedtime - it is tough. But it works. Once your alarm goes off, let yourself do a final check of email and social outlets. Get changed, brush your teeth, and turn off any ceiling lights.

Put your phone across the room and have your alarm set for the morning. Place it as close to the bathroom as possible. This helps you wake up, and it also keeps you from checking your phone mindlessly again before bedtime.

Lie down in bed and read a physical book. Make sure that it is a fiction book. This is essential because non-fiction will make your brain go into motion and start thinking of things. Let the fiction be a way of relaxing and unwinding.

You should start feeling tired fairly quickly, turn off the lamp, and start making the dua and dhikr for going to sleep. Make sure to include this dhikr mentioned by Fatimah (ra),

The Prophet (s) said, "Shall I tell you a thing which is better than what you asked me for? When you go to your beds, say: 'Allahu Akbar (i.e. Allah is Greater)' for 34 times, and 'Alhamdu Lillah (i.e. all the praises are for Allah)' for 33 times, and Subhan Allah (i.e. Glorified be Allah) for 33 times. This is better for you than what you have requested [a servant to assist with chores]" [Bukhari].

When the alarm goes off in the morning, go straight to the bathroom and get yourself ready to pray. Plan out the night before what you are going to do in the morning. If, for example, you plan on going to the gym, then make sure you have your gym clothes already laid out. Your planning at night is much better than the morning, so have a gameplan ready.

Once you wake up and pray, have a set routine that you must do no matter what. It might be making some dua after you pray. It might be reading Qur'an. It might simply be going for a walk. Whatever it is, make it non-negotiable in the sense that you will not check your phone until that routine is done.

This creates the space and margin in your mind to start and each day on the right foot.

How does technology affect your ability to sleep and wake up on time? Leave a comment below! 

What I Learned About My Online Persona from An Indian Movie Tweet

This week marked 20 years since the release of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (#20YearsOfDDLJ). If that doesn't make any sense, think of it like this - it's the desi equivalent of celebrating the 20th anniversary of Return of the Jedi. I posted the following on both Twitter and Facebook.

https://twitter.com/ibnabeeomar/status/656450986957893632

One reply to the tweet said - "lol. The one person I didn't expect this tweet from 😛"

On Facebook - "im very humored that you shared this haha." I also received a few other comments that degenerated into a video titled 'Punjabi Song by White Guy' being shared but that's a different story.

Ironically, had I posted the trailer to the new Star Wars movie, I don't think I would have gotten these replies. So it got me to thinking - what is it about a person's online persona that makes people expect certain types of posts instead of others?

It is of course no surprise that we carefully craft our online personas to convey a certain image. But where do we draw the limits? In this case, it prompted an internal debate about whether the way I represent myself online is authentic or not. Has it been crafted in such a way that even a tongue in cheek post about DDLJ confuses people?

The funny thing is my wife was confused about the post as well. This is a movie we have watched together so she shouldn't have been that surprised - but she said it just wasn't the kind of thing I normally post online.

DXiCnnl

What is the Gap Between Our Online and Offline Personas? 

When social media first started becoming prevalent some years back, there was a huge dichotomy between the two. This was due more to the fact that the two lives had not yet merged. People had their "real life" friends and their "online" friends. People rarely represented their real identities online. Everything was posted with screen names. No one ever had their real photo as an avatar.

Our online activities were disconnected with our real life activities. There was no overlap. In fact, it would sometimes be embarrassing if someone in real life uncovered your online identity. It was treated as two completely different spaces and we never wanted the two worlds to collide.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6w4K3Gt2SWk

Slowly, over time, the two began to merge. We opened Facebook accounts under our real names. We shifted to email addresses that contained our real names instead of pseudonyms like bhangradancer786@hotmail.com. In short, there was more harmonization between our "real life" and "online" activities.

That harmonization grew to such an extent that everything about our lives was documented and put up online. Consequentially, we learned that this started creating felings of envy in people because everyone's online persona now looked like a highlight reel.

But now it's not just about the highlight reel. Women's magazines have long been criticized for presenting photoshopped models as a false ideal of beauty everyone should aim to achieve. Carefully crafted online personas do the same.

There are 80 million photos posted in Instagram a day. Facebook has 1.49 billion active users per month. Twitter has 316 million active accounts; Tumblr 230 million. Pinterest has 47.66 million unique visitors from the US alone and is the fastest-growing independent site in history.

Increasingly, most of us are living two lives: one online, one off. ...

In 2013, scientists at two German universities monitored 584 Facebook users and found one out of three would feel worse after checking what their friends were up to — especially if those friends had just posted vacation photos.

Even smaller details had the same effect.

“Overall,” wrote the study’s authors, “shared content does not have to be ‘explicitly boastful’ for feelings of envy to emerge. In fact, a lonely user might envy numerous birthday wishes his more sociable peer receives on his Facebook wall. Equally, a friend’s change in the relationship status from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ might cause emotional havoc for someone undergoing a breakup.”

A 2014 survey conducted by the Manhattan-based marketing agency Current found 61 percent of millennial moms were rattled by the pressures of social media.

“There is an anti-social media movement on the horizon,” Current executive Amy Colton told Adweek. “Moms, especially young moms, are feeling pressured to present a perfect life . . . and starting to feel overwhelmed and annoyed.”

“The idea came to me when my little sister, who was 16, wasn’t invited to a school dance,” Steers, 38, tells The Post. “She told me about logging on to Facebook the very next day and seeing all these pictures of her friends at the dance, and that actually made her feel worse than not being invited” (New York Post).

Now the pressure is on to craft your online persona to convey what you want it to convey. You can pick any persona and make your online postings fit it.

The article goes on to mention a new fad of having a rinstagram and a finstagram. The 'r'eal instagram is actually the manufactured one the public sees, while the 'f'ake instagram is the real and unfiltered one shown only to close friends.

The Prophet (s) said,

"One of the most evil of people is the two-faced person who shows one face to these people and another face to those people (Mālik)."

This story of a woman who admitted to running up credit card debt to maintain her online image sums it perfectly.

“I’m one of those girls with a pretty Instagram. It’s not technically my job ... but I pride myself on having an Instagram that is pretty to look at and shows the best parts of my life. I’ve managed to get almost 5,000 followers from beautiful pictures of my city (Miami)...

My “real” life is actually pretty boring. I work as an administrator in the performing arts, which sounds cool (and puts you near a lot of cool things), but in practice is just as boring as most administrative jobs. ... My Instagram is where I have followers I mostly don’t know, who think I live this beautiful, perfect life. And I share all the posts to Facebook where I have almost all people I actually know, and I admit that it gives me a little rush to see that they are seeing this life. My collections of beautiful patterned maxi dresses and bright flowers on my brunch tables make me feel successful, especially when I think about people from high school or whatever looking at them. This is absolutely insane, I know!

... I have come to love Miami, but it’s not my dream city. But I base my internet persona in many ways on being the quintessential Miami girl. I never had a tan really before I came here, now I have deep(ish) olive skin and my formerly-dirty blonde hair is now dark, long, and straight. I admit that I like this version of myself, with little gold bangles around my wrists and ankles, and slightly glowy moisturizer on my chest and shoulders.

This isn’t me, though. My real life is just like anyone else’s, doing the laundry and paying the bills and going grocery shopping. But I get caught up in it sometimes. ... I don’t know if I’m “that girl,” but I am addicted to trying to be her. I stop my friends before they can touch their brunch plates, and I take a million hotdog-leg pictures to make sure I have the perfectly right one. I have a side of my apartment that I photograph, and it’s perfect. The other side is always a mess.

And I buy a lot of things to maintain my image. I pay for meals out, new bikinis (I’ve never photographed the same one twice), beautiful printed dresses nearly once a week, fresh flowers religiously once a week, etc etc etc. I even consider it important to always have a fridge full of La Croix and coconut water for my pictures. Writing this makes me realize just how insane it all is, but the truth is that I already knew. I spend money to make my life look a certain way, and I get a rush from looking that way, but my credit cards do not share my enthusiasm.

Over the past year, I’ve started accumulating a little bit of credit card debt each month, and it gets worse bit bit bit. I reassure myself by saying that this is an investment in something that will come together from the following I’m gathering and the “very small” amount of free stuff/attention I’m getting. Right now I have about 3,400 that I cannot pay on my cards, and I’ve slipped into paying the minimum. And as I’m writing this, I’m eating the sushi I bought on my way home, photographed fifty times, posted, and got 231 likes on so far. I plan on telling my parents about this when I go home next weekend so they can yell at me and force me to stop, because I know they’ll absolutely freak out. I know exactly how stupid what I’m doing is, but I just need someone to tell me, I guess.

That’s my life.

This viral video shows the depths some people go to to project a certain image.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxVZYiJKl1Y

The ultimate question here - as always - boils down to intention. Why do you want to be portrayed a certain way? Who are you hoping to show this version of yourself to? What do you get from doing this?

There are no easy answers to these questions. Oftentimes it also boils down to good ole peer pressure. The same way we were taught in elementary school to say no to the peer pressure of drugs, we have to be aware of the peer pressure put on us about the lives we live.

What Should Be Done? 

The gut reaction is to say we should stop posting all together, but that's not going to happen. Try deactivating all your social accounts and see how long before you reactivate them.

Be authentic. The difficulty here lies in posting something imperfect in a world where everyone else portrays perfection. To be authentic means to create your own safe space online. This might mean increasing the privacy levels on your accounts, or simply blocking people with reckless abandon. It also means that we need to stop taking ourselves and our opinions so seriously all the time.

Stop posting to attract a following. I've heard people say that it was easier to post on Twitter and Facebook when they only had a few followers. Once the numbers increased, so did the entitlement of their followers. Don't let the people following you dictate what you post (especially when they're anonymous strangers). Block them.

Incidentally, I believe this is one reason apps like Snapchat are gaining in popularity. Compared to other networks it is more closed off, and the content is not readily archived. It makes for a safer space to share moments - and without the expectation of perfection.

Lastly, when going through your social feeds, view everything with a personal filter. Realize that no one has a perfect life, and no one has a life as good as what they portray online. When you see it, all you can do is make dua for them.

may-your-life-some-day-actually-be-as-interesting-and-awesome-in-real-life-as-you-pretend-it-is-on-facebook--2b769

 

Hajj Recap Part 3 - Mina

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This is the final installment in the #Hajj2015 Recap series. You can check out the previous installments here:

What It's Really Like

Here's the funny thing about hajj. Everyone who has been there before talks nonstop about Madinah and Makkah. No one really tells you about your days in Mina, even though these are the actual days of hajj.

While I was there I took copious notes about my experiences. Things like getting stuck on the bus for 8 hours and having to make tayammum and pray 'Asr. Things like waking up bleary eyed and making a 15 minute walk down a tunnel with fans blaring and people speeding through dangerously on motorcycles while texting. After getting back though I realized why no one emphasizes those things. Everyone has a hundred stories just like it or even crazier.

And that's the thing - going through stuff and having your patience tested is the name of the game at hajj. If it's not one thing, it will be another. To focus on that almost seems to serve as a discouragement or even complaining about what you went through.

A different way of looking at it is this. Imagine the stories you'll tell when you get back. It is inevitable. Everyone will ask how it was and what you experienced. When you encounter difficulty, frame yourself as a character in the narrative. What does this character do when things get crazy and how does he/she react?

This is not to discount the difficulty. Hajj is definitely tough. But here's the thing. Once you're done, the reward insha'Allah is forgiveness for all your sins and entrance into Paradise. From that perspective, it almost seems too good to be true. Put up with whatever comes your way patiently for a couple of days, and your entire lifetime's worth of bad deeds gets wiped away?

2:197

The pilgrimage takes place during the prescribed months. There should be no indecent speech, misbehaviour, or quarrelling for anyone undertaking the pilgrimage—whatever good you do, God is well aware of it. Provide well for yourselves: the best provision is to be mindful of God—always be mindful of Me, you who have understanding— [M.A.S. Haleem Translation].

It's that simple. Just don't fight with anyone or misbehave. Unfortunately, you will see people lose their hajj over the craziest things. I didn't think you would see people lose it over hajj amenities, but then I witnessed someone flip their lid about not having accommodations at Arafat that were VIP enough. It happens. Go in with a mindset of bearing whatever comes your way for a few days. The reward for doing so is immense.

One of our group leaders gave us salient advice. Do what you need to do, and it get it done without harming anyone.

Arafat

Arafat is one of those things that no one really tells you about how it will actually be. In my mind I envisioned everyone being out on a mountain from Dhuhr until Maghrib in their Ihrams. People would be standing and making dua all day fighting the heat. Snacks and water would be whatever you kept on yourself, and your goal was to avoid having to use the bathroom - which I imagined was just a line of Port-a-Potties like at a fair (alhamdulillah, we had real bathrooms). I was expecting this otherworldly spiritual experience where everyone would be teary-eyed crying in dua all day.

Here's how Arafat actually went (at least for us). Get there after fajr and settle into a huge air conditioned tent with rugs spread everywhere. Every couple of feet was a small cushion to denote that this was a place for someone to sit or lie down. We came in,grabbed our spots, and went to sleep. We woke up for Dhuhr, listened to a khutbah in our tent, and then we were on our own.

The most shocking thing for me was that the vast majority of people went back to sleep. Some people were socializing. There was a catered lunch. But for the most part everyone sat quietly in their spot either sleeping or in their personal worship. As it got closer to Maghrib people began going outside and standing to make dua, and that was it.

Expectation:

https://flic.kr/p/7itvPh

Reality:

Our Arafat tent. Blurred for privacy.

Everyone's experience, logistics, and so on will be different. I'm pointing this out because there are many times in hajj where you expect things to be a certain way, and they are totally not that way. It's not inherently good or bad either way - it is just understanding that every experience is different. The important thing is to adapt to your circumstances and make the most out of all situations.

One reason you find people in the tents instead of outside is because of this:

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Before coming on Hajj, one of the best pieces of advice I received was to invest tons of time into a dua list. Most people want to focus on learning the rites of hajj and the fiqh rulings and so on. It is great to learn that. The reality is, once you are there you follow the lead of your hajj group. You may have a certain fiqh opinion on something that you learned in a seminar, but when "stuff happens" you'll need to trust the scholars there.

Invest your time in the dua list. This is advice I got from Farhan Abdul-Azeez in his class Sweetness of Hajj. If you're going on hajj and you have no idea what to do to prepare, just take that class (it is free and online). It will cover everything you need to know. Another friend of mine gave me some more hard-hitting advice. Hajj, as we know from the hadith, is Arafat. This stretch of time that you are there making dua is the core essence of hajj. He said take the amount of money you're spending - let's assume its $10k. Split that up over the few hours you have from Dhuhr to Maghrib (about 5-6). Now divide the cost by those hours. He said to think of it as if your entire hajj journey boils down to paying $2,000/hour for Arafat. This is time you do not want to waste.

I would recommend you get a dua book, or print out duas from the Quran and Sunnah to keep with you. Aside from that, take out time (at least 2 weeks before hajj) and start jotting down duas that are important to you. Everything you can think of for yourself, your family, your friends, the ummah in general, and so on. And try to use the formula given in the ayah, "Our Lord, give us in this world [that which is] good and in the Hereafter [that which is] good and protect us from the punishment of the Fire (2:201)," - one-third for dunya, two-thirds for akhirah.

Make dua for everything, even things like asking Allah to let you fall asleep on long bus rides

The more time you give to making your dua list, the more things you will think of, and the more that requests will flow in. As people find out you are going, they will automatically start making dua requests. Treat these as an amanah (trust). Do your best to make each requested dua as heartfelt as you can with full confidence that insha'Allah it will be answered - and the angels will supplicate the same for you as well.

It cannot be emphasized how serious dua is on this journey. It really hit me as we were leaving Madinah for Makkah and performing 'Umrah. I was waiting for the elevator in ihram when a random brother came up to me and asked me to make dua for him. He specified since I was in ihram and about to go perform umrah to please make dua for him because he was having health issues and wanted to be well enough to perform his own umrah in a couple of days.

The Real Problem With Hajj

One of my friends who has been helping out with hajj groups for the past few years told me that if you boil it down to it's core essence, this is the problem most people have when it comes to performing hajj:

We are simply not accustomed to long and sustained periods of being in ibaadah (worship).

Think about making dua for 5 hours without stopping. Most of us have never done that. Even on the 27th night in Ramadan, if the imam stretches out the witr dua for 15-20 minutes, we start getting antsy and fidgety.

This is one of the consequences of the fast-paced lives we lead. I wrote about this previously in two articles that are relevant to this and go into further detail:

  1. Engineering Patience in an Age of Instant Gratification
  2. Dua: The Greatest Casualty in a Socially Networked Life

The ultimate test of hajj is patience. How long and how far out of your comfort zone can you go? How much are you willing to actually surrender control over your situation and have pure tawakkul?

Sights and Sounds of Mina

Tent city.

Mina

Tents and the Jamarat.

Mina and Jamarat

Street vendors

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It is hot. Alhamdulillah for air conditioning in the tents - especially when it is a luxury many people do not get.

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Mist sprayers are incredible in the heat.

https://youtu.be/owzse_t4AdM

The inside of our mina tent.

Inside Mina Tent

This wouldn't be the Fiqh of Social Media website without a good shot of the charging station inside the tent. Stacks on stacks.

Do extra USB ports count as sadaqah?

Mina A/V system

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And the outside of the tent

mina tent

For the Moslims

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Mina night life is next-level. You'll see all kinds of things. Like a doorknob tied to a lamppost with a hanger - and tied up high on the post. Someone went out of their way to do this.

https://instagram.com/p/8EHUu6JVJ4/?taken-by=ibnabeeomar

 

The key to Mina is to strictly control your diet and stay hydrated. Don't eat any junk. Eat a little. Drink tons of water. Make sure you come packings lots of EmergenC and powdered Gatorade.

Once the main parts are done and you are nearing the end of your stay in Mina, you can relax a little.

We had some street food (egg paratha) - see it being made:

https://youtu.be/TlH3Dwc6pdg

Having fun

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Dessert at Baskin-Robbins after finishing Jamarat.

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Didn't even attempt to try this in Mina. Crazy.

AlBaik in Mina Hajj

Mina nightlife pano.

Mina at night

This is how it sounds.

https://vine.co/v/eQ113rwgrlQ

Ihram Observations

You never really get used to it.

Use your hand to clasp the back and front of the towel between your legs before sitting.

Practice tying the ihram before you have to do it for real.

The bathroom stalls are really, really small. Your ihram is white. Proceed accordingly.

Don't trust that the soap dispensers in the bathroom have unscented soap.

Don't put your foot in the sink to make wudu if you aren't an experienced ihram-wearer.

When I was a kid we used to make jokes about the futility of a solar-powered flashlight or a helicopter ejection seat. There is something far more futile than those. It is called unscented deodorant. Once you are out of ihram, putting on scented deodorant feels like the equivalent of showering.

Muzdalifah

Imagine after a long day at Arafat, you proceed on to rest for the night and maybe collect some stones for the jamarat. Imagine that after the most important day of hajj you get to go out to enjoy a beautiful desert night. Imagine lying down on the ground, looking up at a starlit sky and having the most peaceful night of sleep you have ever enjoyed in your life.

This is what everyone told me to imagine.

I'll tell you to imagine millions of people camped out in one area. Imagine laying out prayer rugs for salah and sleep and then having to protect them from other people trying to take them. Instead of a starlit sky, imagine sleeping between a public restroom and charter buses - enjoying all the smells and noise and light pollution.

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Muzdalifa was the night I was probably most pushed out of my comfort zone. One of our group members had an astute observation. He mentioned that we should really reflect on what life is like for the alarmingly increasing number of refugees around the world. What is a refugee camp really like? This might be the closest some of us get to even a small insight into that experience. Maybe we have one really crazy and uncomfortable night - but it carries with it the promise of a comfortable night of sleep in less than 24 hours. What about those stuck in limbo not knowing if there is ever a return to "normal"?

Muzdalifa

Actual text message I received from a friend:

Made it through Arafat and Muzdalifa without needing the bathroom. Karamat al-Awliyaa. ✊

Jamarat

Given the tragedy that occurred, the jamarat was more a source of anxiety for me than anything else. I just wanted to get it done without any problems.

A sea of people

The best part was walking in. The guards all had water bottles with holes poked in them to spray people as they were walking by. It may seem like a trivial detail if you are just reading this, but it was actually one of the most enjoyable things I experienced.

jamarat

Before going on jamarat, I was envisioning having to duck and weave to avoid getting hit by slippers or a water bottle full of rocks. It was not like that at all. It is definitely hectic, but manageable. The good thing about doing it 3 times is you're able to focus more and more on the spirituality of it. It goes from being simply a ritual to a moment of reflection about battling your inner demons.

Hajji Level 1000

 

Jeddah

Once we finished the days of hajj and our farewell tawaf, we were off to Jeddah for a night.

 

The opposite of tent life

It's like Jeddah has been engineered to make you feel like you're at home after being out of your comfort zone.

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Imagine a state of mind where even IHOP looks gourmet

Can't leave out the halal PF Chang's.

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The single most interesting moment of Jeddah (aside from seeing that crazy fountain thing)  was this.

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Everyone tells you about it, no one prepares you for it. When you land and get off the plane, you hand over your passport to some random dude in a thobe. Then you never see it again. That is, until they get delivered to you in a Ziploc bag. Literally.

Final Advice

There's a lot that can be said here and the usual advices are readily available. I wanted to focus instead on one specific part of the hajj preparation process - picking a hajj group.

Simply put -

Choose your hajj package based on who is leading it, not on the amenities provided.

This is not to say you should ignore the amenities all together, but give it proper priority. The best advice I heard in this regard was to take a package that is in accordance with your standard of living. If you're a college student who lives in a dorm and eats Ramen noodles - then a backpack/walking hajj would be great for you. If you are a hotshot consultant who flies first class and sleeps in upgraded hotel suites 4 nights a week, you probably want a more executive style package.

Once you've done that, I would ignore the amenities promised. It is not possible to perform hajj without some kind of test. Something you were promised will inevitably not be there. It's ok.

It is far easier to deal with that when you have strong group leaders. The company you are in at hajj can make or break the experience. Remember, it usually takes only one guy to ruin it for everyone.

Don't forget istikharah in the process either. Yes, I know you don't need to make istikharah about whether or not you should go on hajj (that's like making istikharah about whether you should pay zakat or not), but you can make istikharah about going with a specific group.

Alhamdulillah I went with the IOK (Institute of Knowledge) Hajj Group. They actually had 2 groups that were together through the days in Mina and the groups were led by Shaykhs: Nomaan Baig, Furhan Zubairi, Omar Husain, and Wisam Sharieff.

Keep an eye on the IOK Hajj and Umrah packages by clicking here.

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P.S. Take all the patience of hajj, and multiply it by 5. That's what you need to get through Jeddah airport :)

 

 

Hajj Recap Part 2 - Makkah

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This is the Part 2 of #Hajj2015 Recap series. You can check out the other installments here:

Seeing the Kabah for the First Time

https://www.facebook.com/AbuAbdissalamOfficial/videos/vb.153848297996307/929762937071502/?type=2&theater

Sitting and looking at the Kabah is mesmerizing. There is no other way of describing it. Then you turn around and you see that everyone else is mesmerized as well.

One of the most spiritually uplifting things was seeing people's reactions when they saw the Kabah. They would drop everything and stand there in emotional dua. It moves you to a point where you start making dua that Allah answers whatever dua that person is making. Even those who see the Kabah daily are taken in by it. One image that has stuck with me was  seeing one of the guards or workers taking a moment to turn to the Kabah and make a tearful dua while on duty.

As much as everyone talks about the overcrowding, there is another perspective here as well. Hajj accommodates roughly 2-3 million people. I heard that their goal is to somehow accommodate maybe double that amount. Regardless, that means in one person's lifetime (hypothetically 80 years), some 200-400 million people will pass through. This seems like a lot until you consider the global Muslim population is upwards of 1.5 billion. That means the majority of Muslims will never get to actually see the Kabah. It is an immense blessing - one that we can sometimes take for granted despite some of the relative difficulties in going.

Tawaf Adventures

Shot of tawaf taken during the days of Hajj from the roof.

Touching Maqam Ibrahim

Maqam Ibrahim Hajj 2015

I didn't even attempt to touch the Black Stone. Not after my experience in the Rawdah. Looking back on it, I probably could have touched the Kabah but I didn't try. I was still scarred from how rough the tawaf was when we did Umrah. Which in reality probably wasn't that bad, it was just my first time and it was of course jam packed.

I did, however, get to touch Maqam Ibrahim. Those of you reading this will probably say so what, big deal. And that was the reaction of pretty much anyone I told about doing this. They said that was easy, and more importantly - there is no specific virtue or blessing associated with touching Maqam Ibrahim.

My response to that is this: I know there is no specific blessing in touching it, but I feel blessed to have been able to touch it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Otm4RusESNU

 

Other Random Observations

-Once you round the Yemeni corner, you will hear 50 variations of people saying Rabbana aatina fil-dunya... It's mind-blowing that hundreds of thousands of people are all following the exact same sunnah at the exact same time - and not just any sunnah, but a sunnah that can only be practiced in an act of worship that can only be performed in this place.

-My next fitness goal is to be as physically strong as one of those tiny and elderly Indonesian women. While in sa'ee, I got stuck in a crowd at the Mount of Safa. Unable to move, I felt someone punch me in the butt. I turned around, and it was a short elderly woman trying to get a wheelchair through and smiling at me, motioning me to move. I couldn't move so I turned back around. Then I got punched again. I turned back again. Then I got punched a third time. Thankfully, by this time space had cleared and I was able to move again.

-Part of the test of tawaf is tolerating everything. It might be pushing, shoving, or getting poked. For some (especially us Americans) just the concept of losing your personal space is enough of a test. When you reach the end of your tolerance - that is the moment patience begins. Tawaf is tough at first because it is something we're not accustomed to. The more you do it, the easier - and more spiritually uplifting - it gets.

-With that said, there is no such thing as difficulty in tawaf. Not after you've seen people carrying babies in those same crowds. And especially not after seeing people well over the age of 80, that can't even straighten out their back, inching along with a cane insisting they complete their own tawaf. That is a "Labbayk" moment. Everyone is here, everyone is in need, everyone wants the same thing. It is humbling to be in such a crowd.

-Some of the best laughs I got at the haram were when I would photobomb people taking pictures. I was hesitant at first because I do not know the acceptability of photobombing in other cultures, but soon got over it. I'm hoping to experience a small miracle and see myself pop up on the internet in some random stranger's tawaf selfie.

-I thought counting takbeerat to lead Eid prayer was difficult. Counting to 7 for tawaf can be difficult as well. Make sure you have a system ahead of time. Are you counting each circuit as you start, or as you finish? The little 1 Riyal tawaf bead counting thing is definitely worth getting to help keep track.

-Take advantage of your time in the haram by always trying to combine two actions. It might be to pray fajr and sit for ishraq. Maybe it is to pray Dhuhr and stay for 'Asr. It could be praying Isha and making tawaf. It might be praying Maghrib and then sitting with a view of the Kabah to make dua.

Sights and Signs Around The Haram

The doors. Wow.

Haram Expansion Hajj2015

Doors at Haram Expansion Hajj2015

This video gives a small glimpse into just how huge the doors are. Someone with me remarked - "Imagine how the doors of jannah must look."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3YYu6Ios8w

Pano view of the courtyard taken from "Floor G" of the Hilton Suites hotel

Haram Courtyard

Courtyard full at prayer time. There were a couple of times where even that was full and we had to pray in the street.

Haram Courtyard at Prayer Time

Who keeps the courtyard clean? It's not the Haram Captor. It's actually the Haram Captor II. I was mesmerized at how they used tape to section off areas to clean and immediately cleared out the crowd. Another "small miracle" that logistically makes no sense, but it works.

Haram Captor II

Pre-Execution

Haram Signs Quranic Ayat Under Execution

Post-Execution

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Grand is the only word that comes to mind.

New Haram Expansion

Some more shots of some of the construction around the Kabah and the new expansion. All I could think of was wanting to come back and visit again when the construction is complete.

Haram Expansion

Haram Expansion Ceiling

After Fajr

More expansion behind the expansion.

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More construction around the Kabah

Hajj 2015

Hajj 2015

The roof is really peaceful, and I got to see those 3 minarets that are in every aerial shot of the Kabah up close.

Roof of the Haram Hajj 2015

Added bonus of going up to the roof was seeing these signs. Watch out your abaya.

Haram Escalator Signs

No really, watch out your abaya.

haram escalator

haram escalator abaya sign

Bindawood across from the Haram (one of many). For the record, Bindawood > Target and WalMart. You can get everything at Bindawood including Ihrams, prayer rugs, toys, exotic imported chocolates, flavors of Lays chips you have never before seen in your life, and a wall full of ice cold flavored sodas you want to taste but know you might regret later.

aka Corn Flakes

Hajj Selfies and Social Media

This was not as big of a deal as I was expecting. There are obvious things that should be avoided. For example handing someone a camera and then making a dua pose in front of the Kabah for the sake of a photo. Aside from that, I would say it is very difficult to not take your photo there. We document and photograph almost everything else, so what about the holy sites for which we have such intense love?

It is easy to be critical of hajj selfies, and there is definitely a conversation that needs to be had about what constitutes riyaa (showing off in worship). But it always comes back to intention - why are you taking the photo, and where do you plan on posting it. That bit of self-reflection goes a long way. One pro-tip - don't take a selfie if it will make you stop in the middle of a moving crowd.

What was actually more interesting than the hajj selfie discussion was the impact of technology on the experience in general. While in our hotel, we had the live feed of the haram on constantly. It was amazing watching people make it to the black stone, trying to get into the hateem area and so on. They also had a live shot of the mas'aa area. People were stopping at Safa and Marwa and looking into the camera and waving while talking to people on the phone. It was kind of like a jumbotron of sorts at a sporting event.

I had intended to stay off social media as much as possible during the trip. But I found there are definitely some huge benefits to being on there. For example, you learn quickly about news (such as the tragedy with the stampede in Mina). It is also an easy way to keep friends posted on what is going on and that you are doing okay.

Perspectives

Al-Baik

A journey of self discovery no longer requires backpacking through Europe. All you need to do is stand in line at AlBaik, order food, pay for it, and get it. It is the type of life experience and self development that cannot be taught.

Strong or Weak?

The best conversation I had was when I was making tawaf on the Donut (or Holy Halo, depending on who you ask). We paused to pray 'Asr and I said salam to the brother next to me. We then carried out an entire conversation without being able to speak the other person's language. It was a combination of broken English and broken Arabic. It was amazing though, because I could still understand everything this brother was saying. He had a huge smile on his face and all he could talk about was how magnificent this was and then kept mentioning different names of Allah. Finally, at the end he asked me with a lot of concern if the Muslims in America are qawee (strong).

It's funny. When we look at the rest of the world from an American lens, we don't realize the depths of our own ethnocentrism. We think other countries are so much behind us in all aspects such as education, wealth, and pretty much everything else. In this case, when this brother (who from my best guess was from a 3rd world country) found out I was American, he was worried that our Islam wasn't strong and that Muslims here are suffering and weak.

Poverty

This is something that smacks you in the face. It is front and center in Madinah, but even more so in Makkah. The common reflection on hajj is how everyone is equal. Everyone is wearing 2 white garments of Ihram. Everyone is blended in making tawaf. But things aren't always equal.

When we need to use the bathroom, we can walk across the street to the hotel and use a clean one. When it's time to eat dinner after Isha, we have a 5 star buffet with 30 dishes to choose from. If we feel like a cold Pepsi (and yes, in Saudi it is Pepsi, not Coke), we can give the waiter 15 Riyals and order one. And at night, we can cross the street from the courtyard and go up to our room and get into a comfortable bed.

Catching sleep in the courtyard

Then you walk around and see people sleeping on pieces of cardboard. You see people who cannot afford hotels nearby camping out all day in the heat. It becomes difficult to reconcile sometimes why exactly we enjoy so much luxury. Alhamdulillah, we are thankful for all the blessings we have. But that's exactly the thing, we need to really take out time and show as much gratitude to Allah (swt) as possible.

I mentioned in the beginning of the Madinah portion of the recap that one of the most common requests for dua oriented around career, finances, and debt. We need to be firmer on our goals that as we are, insha'Allah, able to achieve those goals, our sadaqah increases in proportion. In fact, it should be a goal to be able to increase our sadaqah way beyond that.

The Crane and Death

Picture I was able to get of the crane.

A couple of months before hajj, Sh. Nomaan Baig (whose group I signed up to go on hajj with) was visiting Dallas. I invited him to my place briefly along with my parents so they could meet who I was going with and so on. My mom made the usual motherly requests to make sure that they watched out for me and took good care of me. He said that they would, but then added that he was going to say what he tells everyone - "When it comes down to it, there's no better place to die." My dad started laughing and said, "That's exactly what I've been saying."

The tragedy with the crane happened just before I departed. I'm not sure people realize how much of an effect this one incident had on people who were leaving for hajj. Many people were asking if I was still planning on going, or if the trip had somehow gotten canceled because of what happened. It definitely gave me pause and made me question if perhaps it was wiser to delay a year or something like that, but in the end you have to have tawakkul and go.

Death though, is something front and center on any hajj journey. In the US, we might attend a funeral prayer once every few months. There, you have a funeral prayer literally 5 times a day. It is impossible to stand there with over a million people praying over someone that passed away and not wish in the back of your mind that you have the same.

However, this also creates some unforeseen problems. One hajj group we knew of had some elderly and sick members in their group. We were wondering how they were able to come without anyone to accompany them, and that is when the truth came out. Some people simply refuse to disclose any kind of health or medical issues beforehand because they're truly hoping they can come here and just die.

Going on hajj forces you to confront a lot of things about death. Are all your affairs in order? Do you have a will? How prepared are you? I mentioned the desire of people to pass away in the holy cities - but I think at its core the desire is more for a husnal khatimahFor some, dying in Makkah or Madinah is a shortcut to that. The greater lesson for me is to make sure I am doing the things that would insha'Allah lead to a husnal khatimah. Taking care of the obligation of hajj is a large part of it. Changing your life for the better after hajj is the most difficult part of it.

Final Take-Aways from Makkah

All I can think about is trying go back again as soon as possible.

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Continue on to Part 3 - Mina.

Hajj Recap Part 1 - Madinah

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This is the Part 1 of #Hajj2015 Recap series. You can check out the other installments here:

Getting to Madinah, Dua Lists, and No iPhone

My journey started early in the morning before fajr, with a friend dropping me off at the airport and giving me last minute advice about making Hajj. This was it. The ultimate journey. There are five pillars, this was to fulfill one of them in its entirety.

This trip was significant not just because it was my first time to make Hajj, but it was my first time to visit the holy sites period. No prior umrah, no prior visit of any kind. The moments, days, and weeks leading up to this trip were full of reflection. Was I really deserving of (as almost everyone phrased it) an "invitation from Allah"? What changes did I want to make after? What if I don't make it back?

Then there are the dua lists. What major things did I need to make dua for myself the most? And then my family, friends, and other requests. One thing I struggled with was whether or not to make a formal request if anyone wanted to send a dua list. Friends of mine have done this, and I have submitted dua requests myself. Plus, Arafat is a long day (more on that later) and you need 6 hours of dua to fill it up. One thing that struck me is many people had essentially the same dua requests - finances/debt, and marriage/family. In fact, before leaving, my grandmother specifically told me to make sure I prayed that all the Muslims in the world trying to get married are able to get married (ameen). When someone requests you to make dua for something, it is really a window into the difficulties that are front and center with their lives.

But before getting to the spiritual reawakening, there were some technical difficulties to sort out. I was traveling without my iPhone.

https://youtu.be/tB9lL1Nd4M0

The journey started with a direct flight from LAX -> Madinah.

Saudi Arabian Airlines

I was hoping the flight would be a sign of things to come.

https://youtu.be/tRRz7tl9nHE

The in-flight internet was definitely a rip off. Especially because it stopped working completely just a few hours into the flight.

Saudi Arabian Airlines WiFi

After the long flight (albeit with a full row to myself to lie down in and sleep), we finally landed in the blessed city of our beloved Rasool (saw).

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Small Miracles

Once we landed, I was anxious to just get to the masjid and pray. But first, there was the mini-journey of getting from the airport to the hotel. It was at this time that I learned everything on this trip happens purely by the qadr of Allah (swt). If I was to explain how our bags didn't go to the baggage claim, but instead ended up outside, and then were loaded onto a 1970's model bus, transported to a storage area in our hotel, and then into our rooms - there would be no logical explanation for how it worked without any problems. It just worked. And that is one of the miracles of hajj.

The miracles of hajj are really in the little things. It is when something should go wrong, and something shouldn't work out - but it does. As one of our group leaders reminded us constantly - "Everything that's supposed to happen, will happen, when it is supposed to happen." You just can't plan for it, or explain how it happens once it happens.

Upon exiting the airport, there were a group of porters waiting to help load our luggage and trying to make tips. This was my first time leaving North America in over 15 years, and I forgot about how much cultures and customs may differ.

Old school buses, bags that were magically waiting for us outside, and the porters hustling for tips.

As I was waiting to get the bags loaded onto the bus, two of the porters started fighting with one another. They got up in each other's faces and I was afraid it was about to get physical. There was a tall brother standing off to the side who started filming them with his cell phone camera. He then started giving them naseehah to stop, but they kept at it. Then he just started yelling "WhatsApp! WhatsApp!" i.e. that he was going to post this video to WhatsApp for everyone to see.

Cultural Realization #1: WhatsApp is the WorldStar Hip Hop of the Arab world.

As we loaded into the bus, I was overcome with a severe sense of disappointment. I had been expecting to see cars driving on the left side of the road and the drivers seat on the right side of the car, but no such luck.

While I had obsessed about what it would be like to see the Kabah for the first time, I hadn't put that much thought into seeing Masjid Nabawi. I was excited to pray there and all those things, but I didn't have a striking visual in my head. So it took me off guard during our bus ride when someone said to look up because you could see the minarets of the masjid. The whole time during this trip, I had been expecting something to go wrong. I kept thinking something would happen at the last minute and I wouldn't be able to go (in fact, I got seriously sick less than a week before the trip and had to go to the ER). I thought I might end up being one of those people who gets all the way there and then gets turned back at the airport and sent home. Seeing the minarets for the first time was confirmation that alhamdulillah I had actually made it, and it is a feeling I will never forget.

Shot of the minarets from the roof of the masjid. One of the "small miracles" was finding some quiet moments on the roof in relative solitude.

The first thing I noticed in my time in Madinah is that time stops. You truly do not know what it is like to plan your day around salah until you are here. There is no schedule to anything except as it pertains to salah timings. Everything orients around coming for fajr and staying for ishraq, or blocking out time to sit in the masjid from maghrib to isha, and so on. Everything else like socializing, eating, and shopping fits in around the prayers. We tend to pat ourselves on the back because we delay going to the mall so we can quickly pray dhuhr right when it comes in and head out - this is a whole different level of organizing life around salah.

Since coming back, it has really hit me how much of a true blessing (alhamdulillah) it has been to be able to visit the holy sites while still relatively young. Many times I would find myself sitting in the masjid after prayer and just observing everything around me. It was easy to spot the elderly who made their first trip. You could see it in their eyes. For example, I remember one man simply lying down after fajr, staring into the sky with his prayer beads and just smiling and not moving. It was the definition of contentment.

Hanging out after prayer.

Hajj Uniform

Everyone comments on the amazing diversity you see on this trip. People from every country are represented. I saw hajj groups from Korea, Turkmenistan, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, China, and more. Each country had their own look, flag, or some kind of unique dress indicating where they were from. Americans? We have no hajj uniform. In fact, we stick out like a sore thumb. In the US, I am commonly taken for desi (which I am), Arab, Hispanic, and so on. But in Saudi, it seems everyone had me pegged as an American from the get go.

Cultural Realization #2: Americans need a hajj uniform.

We look like a hodgepodge of people thrown together. It's my proposition that we use the best of America to represent future hajj groups. We can do this by creating a uniform that has the Texas LoneStar with تكساس written across it.

Getting Duas in Paradise

Praying in the Rawdah was one of the things I was looking forward to most. The Rawdah refers to the area between the Prophet's home and his (saw) pulpit - it is a garden from the gardens of Paradise. Naturally, the rush was huge. We waiting in line after fajr, and the crowd was so large that they began using tape to section off the crowd into chunks (darjan, darjan). As we got to the final section, they opened the entrance and everyone rushed in. The force of the crowd trying to get in through one small opening was so strong that at one point I found myself pinned between a mass of people and one of the marble pillars.

Once we made it in, everyone claimed a spot and began praying. I was standing in a place where there was no room. One brother right in front of me was praying. As soon as he finished he started making dua, but I tapped him on the shoulder and motioned if I could pray. I wasn't expecting him to get up, this is Paradise after all and for many of us it may be our only chance to ever visit. He immediately got up and gave me his spot. It was one of those actions that stuck with me and made me remember him in my duas throughout the hajj journey - including in the Rawdah itself.

[pullquote type="right"]One of the amazing characteristics of the Prophet (s) is that he was able to take people who were rough, and make them soft. [/pullquote]His one act of kindness overshadowed all the difficulty associated with the pushing and shoving to get in. I struggled a lot during this trip with why so many people acted with seemingly bad adab. They simply saw themselves and the Rawdah - anyone in between was an obstacle on their path to Jannah.

One of our group leaders mentioned that many people are simply rough and don't know better. Even during the time of the Prophet (saw) we would see the rough nature of the bedouins who would come and ask questions. One of the amazing characteristics of the Prophet (s) is that he was able to take people who were rough, and make them soft.

Why The Elevators Don't Work

The elevators in our hotel regularly had a long wait. Our room was on the 5th floor so we found it easier to take the stairs. Except that the 5th floor really meant the 7th floor when you factored in the random floors before "Floor 1".

At the haram in Makkah, we had a scary incident when a lady who had never seen an escalator tried to get on. She stepped on, but the movement scared her and she almost went tumbling down. I like to think most people in Madinah have never seen an elevator. They would simply get on the elevator and hit the button regardless of if it was going up or down. The added quirk was once the elevator reached the top or bottom floor, all the buttons would reset and you would have to select your floor again. Once someone got on the elevator and hit the ground floor even though it was going up with 5 more stops. We told him that this was going up and to wait for one going down, but he insisted on getting on. It's almost like - I don't really care where the elevator is going, I'm going to just get on and enjoy the journey for the next 8 minutes.

This kind of attitude was an underlying theme in a number of events that happened to me or people in my group. There was a brother who went to Baskin Robbins and ordered a milkshake. The worker there told him he simply didn't feel like making it and to order ice cream instead. There was the time I bought something for 20 or 30 Riyals and handed the guy a 100 Riyal note. He shook his head and told me to give him a 50 instead because he didn't want to break it.

And then there was the lady who bought me water. I walked into a convenience store and grabbed a cold bottle of water. The lady behind me was in a rush and quite upset that I beat her to the register. The water was something like 2 Riyals. Like a tourist, I carefully started unzipping the pouch in my neck wallet and trying to get out a small bill without taking out all my cash. This was apparently too much, so she put her groceries on the counter, grabbed my water and just started saying "Yallah! Yallah!" and had the cashier ring it up and let me go on my way.

Around Madinah

I tried a camel burger for the first time. Camel burgers seem to prompt 2 questions, and in this order:

  1. Does it break your wudu? Ask your local imam.
  2. How did it taste? Like a really gamey version of beef.

https://instagram.com/p/7pmLZqpVLq/

Our hotel's take on Chicken 65

https://instagram.com/p/7tEY9NJVDF/

Dear Saudi Government, if you have any job openings for a guy to proofread your English signage, I'd be more than happy to help.

It's like the sign is written in a desi accent.

It goes without saying but the Masjid itself is stunning.

The one picture I was most proud of taking on this trip.

Retractable domes inside the masjid.

Retractable dome. It was incredible watching this happen live.

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Tourist Vs. Hajji

Myself and another brother were walking through the masjid after fajr and saw a number of small Qur'an circles. These are classes set up for visitors to attend. The teacher recites an ayah, and then goes around listening to everyone recite it while correcting them. In the time we sat there, they went over Surah Fatihah and Surah Ikhlas. When we saw the circle our reaction was wow this is really cool, and wanted to take part. I noticed a number of other people walking by and trying to record the class on their phone, only to have the teacher motion them to stop.

Social media has made it difficult to determine the line between documenting something and experiencing it. There is definitely no easy answer - it is a lot like the Fiqh of Foodstagramming and ultimately boils down to intention. We go there for ibadah, but there is such a strong attachment to where you are that you feel compelled to take photos and document your experience. The struggle going forward will always lie in finding the proper balance.

There is one crazy thing I saw that I should mention though. While in line to pass by the grave of Rasoolullah (saw) and give salams, I saw a number of people taking photos, videos, selfies, etc. Then there was one guy who had his selfie camera on FaceTime with himself situated between the phone and the grave. As he neared the grave he started saying loudly into the phone, "Give salam! Give salam!" so the person on FaceTime could give their salam. I don't know the official fiqh ruling on it, but it just seemed quite distasteful and even dare I say disrespectful.

Final Reflections

The true beauty of the haramain requires reflection that cannot be captured. You can photograph the ceiling (as I did), but a photograph cannot provide the depth and reflection that comes from lying on the floor of the masjid staring off into that same ceiling. A video cannot reproduce the imprint left on the soul.

There is beauty in seeing people from all corners of the globe. It is even more beautiful when you realize every single one of these people is here with a need from their Lord. Everyone is there to fulfill some kind of need, to alleviate some kind of hardship, and to ultimately be showered with forgiveness and mercy. And then you realize, that Allah (swt) is the One who responds to all the prayers, fulfills all the needs, and it does not decrease His dominion by even an atom's weight.

Continue on to Part 2 - Madinah