This is the Part 2 of #Hajj2015 Recap series. You can check out the other installments here:
Seeing the Kabah for the First Time
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.
Touching Maqam Ibrahim
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.
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.
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."
Pano view of the courtyard taken from "Floor G" of the Hilton Suites hotel
Courtyard full at prayer time. There were a couple of times where even that was full and we had to pray in the street.
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.
Grand is the only word that comes to mind.
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.
More expansion behind the expansion.
More construction around the Kabah
The roof is really peaceful, and I got to see those 3 minarets that are in every aerial shot of the Kabah up close.
Added bonus of going up to the roof was seeing these signs. Watch out your abaya.
No really, watch out your abaya.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 khatimah. For 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.