In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate

Hajj 1417: One Brother's Journey

    Mir Mohammed Assadullah
    Ever since I got married, I had the desire to go for Haj. A little before Ramadan 1417, I thought of either taking the vacation time for I'tikaf of the last ten days of Ramadan or for Haj. Considering my financial position and my financial forecast, it seemed less likely that I would be able to go for Haj 1417, so I opted to take the vacation for the I'tikaf. All praises to Allah, the I'tikaf went well. I enjoyed staying at the Danbury masjid. The entire community supported me. They joined me for some of the nights, they cooked food for me, Dr. Shagufta Hasan treated me and brought me medicine when I had some fever. May Allah reward them all for their efforts.

    As the Haj season approached, knowing that I did not have money and little vacation time left, I prayed to Allah to "Make it happen". The Most Kind and Generous granted my wishes and I am forever indebted to Him for it. I wanted to take out a loan from my retirement account, but the money would not have come to me until after Haj. My youngest sister Mahrukh offered me a loan until then. May Allah bless her. I did not have enough vacation time, since I had already taken out a significant chunk for I'tikaf. I talked to my boss, Vane Lashua, about taking some more time off. He was himself on vacation in Florida at that time; he agreed. May Allah bless him. All things worked out, all Praise to the Almighty! So just a few days before they stopped giving out visas for Haj, I sent in a request to the cheapest group that I could find. Hasan Ali and his friend Abdul Kamil helped me find this group. May Allah bless them. My visa was probably issued on the very last day of issuing Haj visas. I was uncontrollably excited. I kept jumping and couldn't wait to go for Haj.

    Mother and sonOn the day I left for Haj, I went to my mother's place and put on the Ihram there. My aunt Hoor and her brother-in-law Abdul Aziz took me to the JFK airport. There I was the only one wearing the Ihram. It was a little nippy with some wind blowing. The guard at the Egypt Air terminal would not let me in since I did not have my ticket with me. I waited for Inshirah, who had my tickets. Soon Inshirah arrived along with other reverted Muslim brothers and sisters. I was the only Muslim among them who was born to Muslim parents. I felt that it was my responsibility to teach these reverted Muslims about Islam and Haj. Later on, I found out how wrong I was. There was plenty that they knew and they could have taught me for a long time.

    It was a pleasure to say the Talbiyyah on the way to Makkah. The Talbiyyah is: "Here I am - O Allah here I am. Here I am - There is no partner unto you - Here I am. Verily all the praise and all the bounty are for you and the dominion. There is no partner unto you". I was embarrassed being the only one on the plane saying the Talbiyyah. However, Talbiyyah being a special worship performed in the state of Ihram, it was my privilege to say the Talbiyyah. Some people thought I was too much in a hurry to put on the Ihram from New York. They were planning to take a shower in Cairo and put on an Ihram from there. Some did not have an Ihram and were planning to purchase one from Cairo. It turned out that there were no shower facilities and no Ihram for sale at the Cairo airport. Many of the brothers had to put on the Ihram from Jeddah, which some scholars consider is within the Meqaat. All thanks to Allah, He let me put on the Ihram from New York!

    Cairo was a mess. We never got out of the airport, it still was a mess. Outside the building, it read ".. Enter Egypt, if Allah will, in security." [12:99] I got yelled at almost as soon as I entered the building, as I asked the official which room to proceed to. A lot of the hajis were put in two rooms. Officers were inconsiderate and the people were indifferent. There were two scholars from Al-Azhar university who were teaching the hajis about Haj. They gave a long lecture in Arabic while we waited for our passports. After the lecture they led the prayers. Instead of one imam leading the congregation, there were two. First the first one would say "Allaho Akbar", then the second one would repeat, and so on. Although this was within the realm of Islam, I felt that they distinguished themselves from the rest of the believers and thus an un-Islamic act. I also noted that the Egyptian government had influenced them to shave their beards but leave their mustaches, something against the tradition of Mohammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Later, I saw a woman dressed in a skirt showing her legs. She has the civil liberty of wearing whatever she likes but the Muslim scholars apparently do not have the liberty to wear a beard.

    At Cairo I met a brother who said to me that Haj is a big lesson in patience and perseverance or Sabr. That was a very good advice. I tried to stick to it as much as I could.

    Jeddah was a bigger mess. We were given a booklet about performing Haj as we were shoved into a small room which had welcoming statements in various languages written on the wall. I did not get the same welcoming messages from the staff at the airport. Many of the elderly people were sitting on the floor, some of us were standing. It was not clear what for were we waiting or where the line should start for any processing. Inshirah said that he had spent nineteen hours in that area on one of his previous Haj - that was depressing. Remarkably it took us only two to three hours before we were completely done with the processing. One officer to inspect the visa, the other to take a money order of $245, the other for customs, the other for yet another purpose. One of the officers did not like the fact that I had filled the form in Arabic. He yelled "English. English." to me and threw the passport back at me. When I explained to him that I like Arabic because it is the language of the Qur'an, he was more congenial.

    Once done with those officers, we were told that there were no more buses going to Makkah for the night and so we had to sleep on the floor until the buses started the service the next morning. The Haj terminal at Jeddah airport looks like a collection of big tents. There were people from all over the world. They had different colors, different languages, different cultures, but believed one God. There were flags of different countries. I spotted Pakistani flag right away. It appeared Indians were more prominent and organized than Pakistanis. They had a dispensary there, the Indian officials were organizing and taking care of their citizens and so forth. We found a spot on the floor to sleep and left for Makkah the next morning.

    On the way to Makkah we stopped at a "Haji Reception Center" where we were served with cold Zam Zam water. That was a very pleasant surprise. I was very excited when we got to Makkah.

    In Makkah, I saw several Western icons. I saw someone wearing a T-shirt with Michael Jackson on it and one with Calvin Klein written on it. I saw about half or more of the houses with dish antennas. It appeared as if the society their was inclined towards the West. When I got to the bus stop in Makkah, we were greeted by two brothers. One of them, Abdur Rahman, was wearing a turban in a very traditionally Eastern style. It was a relief to see some Eastern tradition left. They both spoke fluent English. The other, Talib, spoke fluent Arabic too. I was surprised when I found out that they were both reverted American Muslims. Sometimes an adopted son is quicker to defend the family, because he knows what it is like to be without a family. These brothers had realized what the Western icons stood for. They had also realized the truth when they saw it.

    There were signs all over the place directing people to the Masjid-al-Haram. I asked Inshirah if we were going to go to the Masjid-al-Haram directly, in accordance with the tradition of the prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him. He said that we have to. I was absolutely delighted. Unfortunately, the leaders of our group in Makkah, took us first to our residence where we unloaded our belongings. One of the first things that I noticed, when I got to our lodging, was that there was no bus service to and from Haram for the Asr prayer. This was not my understanding when I left from New York. I was told that there would be bus service for every salat. I also noticed that the cafeteria was charging money for food, even though I was told that the food was all paid for. From the long travel, I had swollen feet. Although at the time of writing these words it sounds as if many things went against us, but believe me, I was more excited at that time than when I left from New York. The love for Ka'ba was strong, all praise be to the Almighty.

    After unloading our belongings, we soon left for Masjid-al-Haram for our first Tawwaf. It was time for Asr prayer when we got there. After the prayers I told the group that I wanted to make the Tawwaf alone and would come back via the bus service provided by Munafi. Munafi was a Saudi firm which was contracted to provide services to the entire group.

    I was very excited to see all those Muslims swarming the place. I greeted a number of them by "Assalamo Alaykum" and then with "Hajji Mabroor" or "May your Haj be accepted". On one such occasion, an elderly Turkish brother gave me a string of seven beads, to count my Tawwaf around the Ka'ba and Sa'ee between Safa and Marwah. Not everyone was receptive, but that did not put a dent in my enthusiasm to greet the guests of Allah. All praise be to the King of Ka'ba, the One who chose to make His house on the earth, He gave us a great bounty by making His house near us. I walked in the masjid feeling like a teen-ager who was late coming home. There was some feeling of guilt, there was hope of meeting and peace, there was fear of getting caught, there was love of Allah and Ka'ba. Ka'ba looked beautiful, absolutely splendid, magnificent. Tears ran down my cheeks as I made my invocation to Allah. Glory be to Allah, the Lord of Ka'ba.

    At the Masjid-al Haram, I saw a lot of people sitting and waiting for salat. Most of the people walked right in front of another brother praying. This is against the teachings of the prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him. People had put down their personal belongings, such as a water bottles, slippers, prayer rug, etc., next to them and awaited for salat. When it would be time for salat, many times there would be gaps in the rows ahead of them. This was because people would not leave their places even if there was space in the row in front of them, for the fear of loosing their belongings. It is a pity that people travel such long distances to the House of Allah, but stop inches away from where Allah, had commanded them to be - next to their brother, filling the first rows first.

    While making Tawwaf around the Ka'ba, I found slippers, plastic bags, prayer notes, and other objects lying on the floor. It appeared that the people were so concerned about loosing their slippers that they had carried those with them while making Tawwaf. Allah made them loose those anyway! I noticed that a lot of unnecessary pushing was done by women. I suppose they were afraid to get lost and were carefully following their Mahram. I saw a sister jumping onto the Muslims making Tawwaf to make way for herself. I saw a brother making Tawwaf and shoving people left and right to make way for himself. At one time during a Tawwaf, I was pushed so much that I landed on top of the brothers sitting. I saw a man grinning as he was pushing along. It appeared as if he was proud that he was able to push and shove people around and make way for himself. All this was happening right in front of the Ka'ba, the holiest of holy places in the entire world!

    After making my first Umrah, I wanted to make another one. So I hired a cab for forty riyals to go to the Masjid Ayesha at Tan'eem, take a shower, pray two rakats, be in Ihram, and be back. By the time I got back, the taxi driver informed me that I had taken too much time and that I owe him fifty riyals.

    After the second Umrah, I was too tired, so I decided to sleep a little in the masjid. The cleaning crew promptly got me up. After Fajr, I waited for the Munafi bus for fifteen minutes before and fifteen minutes after the six o'clock pick up time, but I did not find the bus. So I went back to the Haram. I found out that there was a public bus which left for the Masjid Ayesha fairly regularly and charges four riyals round trip. I got onto one of those and put my Ihram on for the third Umrah. On the way back to the Masjid-al Haram, the entire bus was chanting the Talbiyyah.

    When I got off, I found Bilal. I remember Bilal from the JFK airport. He was a tall Caucasian member of our group, who wore a turban. He told me that he was lost. We stuck together for some time before we got separated due to the crowd. We went together to make phone calls home. When I called my sister Umbrine, she was surprised to hear from me. She asked me, "How did you find out Assad?" I was confused by her question. She told me that my sister Mahrukh's Artereo-Venous Malformation in her brain had bled and that she was in the emergency room. Then I talked to my mother and she asked me the same question "How did you find out Assad?" This time I said, "Allah told me", since He was the One who put it in my heart to call home.

    I tried to call Mahrukh at the Emergency Room but they would not let me talk to her. I left a message for her to keep her faith strong and that I would be praying for her. This time when I entered the Masjid-al Haram, I had a lot of different emotions. She was in my mind all the time I made the Umrah. By the time I got done with the third Umrah, I was limping. I went to a nearby Zam Zam dispenser and started to serve Zam Zam to the guests of Allah. I loved doing it, I absolutely loved doing it. With all the distress, agony, and pain, this was a very pleasurable time for me.

    While I made these Umrahs, a few Pakistani brothers approached me and asked me for money. They said that they had been robbed. I did not believe them. At one such occasion, a man and his sister came to me and asked me for help. This time I gave them a long lecture. I told them that many thousands of years ago when this place was a desert with no inhabitants, a woman and her infant son who were left next to where the Ka'ba now stands. She put her faith in Allah. Of course Allah took care of her and the infant with great honor. He gave them Zam Zam and made the running of the woman between Safa and Marwa a ritual for men and women until the end of time. I asked this man to put his trust in Allah and ask Allah instead of asking humans. He asked my leave by saying that he had taken too much of my time. I wonder if it was he who had taken my time or was it that he had spent too much time on me with no hope of money coming from me.

    By the time I got back to my residence, it was about ten at night. There was a meeting of all the people of the building on the roof . By this time I was noticeably limping. I went there to ask the administration publicly to keep their promises. I had a particular verse of the Qur'an picked out. When the brothers in administration talked, I felt that they were trying their best and I chose not to complain to them in public.

    When I was finally shown my bed, my room-mate Mr. G. A. Khan suggested that I should see a doctor for my foot. Dr. Tamkeen Ahmed had his bed right next door. When I showed the foot to him, he thought that I had a fractured bone. He suggested going to the hospital the next day. I asked one of the organizers, Talib, to take me to the hospital. He generously agreed to take me to the hospital the next morning. After looking at the x-rays, the Pakistani doctor at the hospital said that I must not use my foot. He believed it to be tendenitis. He advised me to keep up my plans for Haj. He gave me some pills. A Muslim Filipino nurse wrapped my foot with a bandage. All this went on at no charge to me, as all was paid by the Saudi government.

    I did not want to spoil my Haj, so I did not make any more Umrahs. I went to the Masjid- al Haram several times after that and met people from all over the world. I mostly communicated with them in broken Arabic and gestures - more gestures than words. Throughout my stay I met people from Bangladesh, Bosnia, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Syria, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and many others that I did not ask about their nationality. One brother from Iran was curious about life in the US. He perhaps did not believe me that I could take the Qur'an to America without upsetting the American authorities. At the very least he was very surprised. The brother from Bosnia with his left arm missing was one of the happiest persons I have ever met. He spoke Arabic more fluently than I could speak English. When I asked him where from he learned Arabic, he told me that he learned at his school. He told me his nation is working on getting organized. The brother from United Kingdom told me that the Muslims in UK have formed factions. The brother from Turkey told me that during the times of Turks, the building around the Ka'ba were lower than Ka'ba, in respect of Ka'ba. Pakistani brothers were having a discussion about Jihad. Whether jihad should be done with oneself or with the enemies. It was like a world wide conference. There were plenty of representatives from all walks of life, from all corners of the world.

    One night I was waiting in the Munafi office to fax a letter to Mahrukh, when a Saudi Airlines personnel walked in. He started to talk to the Manager named Mansoor. I didn't understand the conversation very well. It seemed as though this person was a Sales Representative of Saudi Airlines. At one point Mansoor said that prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, has forbidden certain kinds of trades. Then he listed those kinds. The Sales Representative agreed with Mansoor. Later, they shared a meal together. I was impressed that the Sales Representative changed his ideas and agreed with Mansoor after hearing the Hadith.

    At another occasion, I noticed that when two people would get into a deadlock argument, one of them would break the deadlock by saying, "Send prayers to the messenger (of Allah)". Then they would both send prayers to the messenger of Allah. This would calm the other down and there would be more chance for a mutual agreement. These were different kinds of dealings than in the West.

    The night before the eighth of Zul Haj, my room mate Abid, an African-American chaplain at Riker's Island, said that it was only play-offs until now and the next day was the "Super Bowl". We were all excited and "pumped-up" for the "Super Bowl". The next day was the day of Tarwiyah, marking the beginning of the several days long Haj rituals. We were supposed to be in Mina before Zuhr. We got to Mina, without any problem at around ten o'clock. I expected a big traffic jam and having to travel on top of the buses. There was none of that. We got onto an air-conditioned bus, less than half an hour later we got to our tents in Mina. We simply had to pick one of the tents there and stay there for the day. Our group found several available tents. The tent, where I was staying in, luckily, had an evaporative cooler. We hooked it up and it worked! This was much more comfortable than I had imagined. The cooler of the neighbors in front of us did not work. I tried to help them and in doing so, I messed it up and the fuse went off. Now no one in the neighborhood had any electricity! Oops! One of the brothers in our tent, told me that I should not have messed with the system. Now, they, as well as us, did not have any cooling.

    Later we got into this discussion of wealth distribution, riba (interest), and zakah. I took it upon myself to explain the relationship between zakah and riba to these newly reverted Muslims. While we were discussing, two of our neighboring tent residents started to make Talbiyyah alternately. When this conversation did not go anywhere, we decided to look for food. Mikal, Abdul Wahhab, and I went searching for food. We went to the street, right outside our tents. We saw a strange environment. It looked more like a fair or a flea market rather than a religious congregation. We did not find anyone making Talbiyyah. I thought it had just slipped the people's minds and if they would hear us making Talbiyyah they would certainly join us. I was wrong. The three of us made Talbiyyah. Few people joined us and that for a brief time. Talbiyyah is supposed to fire up people and they too should join in Talbiyyah. It was as if we were making Talbiyyah next to stones. In fact worse, they looked at us as if we had gone crazy or astray.

    We did not find any one selling food. We did find a Pakistani brother cooking food. We asked him to sell us some food. He refused saying that the food was being prepared for a particular group. Abdul Wahhab wanted to ask for food without money. I resisted, as I did not want to beg. He said that he was curious to know what the man would say. So I asked the man who was cooking to give us some food for free. He refused again. So we left the place.

    On the way back to the tent we found someone selling food and purchased it for 8 riyals a lunch. We also noticed a lot of smoke at a far distance. There was a chopper trying to put off the fire with buckets of water. We wondered if the fire was in Mina. Someone said it was in the mountains. I was afraid that people may be caught in this fire and wondered if I could help, but there didn't seem to be a way to do so since it was far away. When we came back to our tents, our companions also wanted food. We gave that food to them and Abdul Wahhab and I went out to get some more food. This time we ran into another brother from Bangladesh selling food. He wanted to sell a lunch for 10 riyals. I bargained him down to 8. I proposed that I would buy five lunches if he would sell for 7 riyals each. Apparently he agreed. When I gave him 40 riyals, and asked for a five back, he was puzzled. Apparently it was not his understanding that he was selling it for 7 riyals. But he still agreed generously to sell for 7 riyals each. On the way there and back Abdul Wahhab and I chanted the Talbiyyah. Again it was a lonely feeling. On the way back we saw the fire getting closer. We asked a few people if the fire was getting closer. They said that they could see the flames earlier but not any more so it must be getting under control.

    When we got back we surveyed the area for fire exits and planned a fire exit strategy. We advised other brothers to do the same. I advised my companions that there was no reason to worry about the fire, since it was too far from us. Just to make sure, Mikal and I left to check on the fire once again. That time I suggested to evacuate the tents. That was a good time to leave without panic. I felt that if it turned out to be a false warning, there was no harm in it. We opened the fire exit and started to leave. After telling the companions in my tent, I started to tell the brothers in other tents. Some of the brothers started to leave, some of the brothers wanted to check the fire first, and some of the brothers wanted to wait for a police officer to come and tell them. When people are warned of a greater fire - the fire of Hell, some people believe the messenger, some want to check the fire, and some ask for an angel to come down and tell them that there is a fire.

    Well soon enough I heard that the police was asking people to leave. So I started to tell the people that the police was now asking to leave. Some were still puzzled! During this evacuation time, I met a few people I had known before. They were concerned about me but hastened to leave, just like people would care about themselves on the Judgment Day, and not their loved ones.

    I saw a woman of about fifty years age sitting alone in a tent. I called her several times at the top of my lungs, but to no avail. Finally I went around to get to her. She was very nervous and crying. She was complaining that someone had left her there and it appeared that she was waiting for him. It was just like the Judgment Day - when those who claim to love each other would care about themselves more - when indiscriminately people who acted wrongly and those who did not act in time of need, would be the fuel for the Hell-Fire. This woman could have gotten burned if she would have stayed in her place. It was not her fault that the fire was raging, but it would have been her fault if she would not have saved herself.

    The fire exit led to a street, but it was a rather large step. I helped people get off from the fire exit. Some women did not want my help, since I was not related to them. Sometimes they realized that there was no choice but to get my help so then they would change there minds. One such elderly lady was more concerned about touching me and she took the trouble of making sure that there was a piece of cloth between her hand and mine. It surprised me that she would rather do that than save herself from fire or clear the fire exit so that other brothers and sisters could also exit safely. Sometimes we lose the sight of a bigger danger for the sake of petty issues.

    Someone told me that people had to jump from a nearby building in order to save themselves from the fire, even though it broke there legs. I am surprised that they do not do the same and go for jihad to save themselves from a bigger Fire. There are plenty Muslims in the world being oppressed and plenty Muslims in peace. Why do the ones in peace do not go for jihad to help their oppressed brothers and sisters? Have they forgotten the Hell-Fire?

    I found several people collecting their belongings. When I told them to leave those all and save themselves from the fire, to some it was the right advice, others looked at me with contempt and suspicion, and continued to gather their belongings. When people are warned about the Hell-Fire they think more about their worldly possessions. These possessions keep them involved until the Fire is upon them. Some of these people were old and could not carry the load and run, but the love for their worldly belongings was strong. "Your wealth and your children are only a temptation, whereas Allah! with Him is an immense reward. So keep your duty to Allah as best as you can. and listen, and obey, and spend; that is better for your souls; and whoso is saved from his own greed, such are the successful." [64:15- 16]
     
    Those are fire trucks on the bridge; people looking at the smoke.After the people came out of the tents they watched the fire coming at them while standing in the streets. They had to be told every step of the way to save themselves from the fire. When I yelled at the top of my lungs to exit, some started to move, some were yet doing other things. The fire was not too far behind us. We could hear the gas cylinders exploding into pillars of fire, the tents burning and the flames raging. We could see that the fire department was desperately loosing the battle.
     
     

     
      The scene above was just to the left of here.

    Later I'll go to the middle of this mountain and take pictures of Mina.

    The red boards on the right and left of the picture are fire exits.The wind had certainly picked up. I did not want to leave Mina. Allah's messenger, peace be upon him, had taught us to stay in Mina starting from before Zuhr until after sunrise the next day. I was determined to stay in Mina for as long as I could. I went all the way next to the mountain. I had reached a place where the mountains cupped. At that time I realized that I would get trapped if I stayed in Mina and climbed the mountain. The winds were heading directly to the cupping of the mountains. Beyond the mountains it was not Mina and to right it was not Mina. I chose to leave Mina and go to the right.

    On my way out of Mina, I met many people waiting for the fire. I recited to them the portion of the verse "O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you ..." [4:59] and told them that the police, which has authority over them has asked everyone to leave, so they should leave too. Some were thankful and started to leave, some stayed where they were - waiting for the fire. It reminded me of the times when people are reminded from the verses of the Qur'an and they pay little attention to the verses - waiting for the Fire.

    On my way to the mountain on the right, I met an elderly Chinese couple. The man said that he could not go any further because his heart was not feeling good. They too were carrying way too much load for their age. All this did not stop them from throwing away their worldly belongings and saving themselves from fire.

    A fire truck and the tents of Mina before getting burned.There was a highway between the tents and the mountain that I was on. The fire reached all the way to the end of the highway. It consumed tents until there were no more tents to consume. It reached the cupping of the mountains and made the hajis run for their lives to the other side of the mountain. It burned the tents and trees on the mountain at that end. The smoke was thick and a lot of it. It went over our heads, covering the sun. The sun had less light than a moon. It was all covered with dark thick smoke. I could look directly at the sun without any problem. There were gas cylinders exploding into pillars of fire, much smaller than the pillars of Fire in the Hell-Fire.

    "In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. Woe to every slanderer and backbiter. Who has gathered wealth and counted it. He thinks that his wealth will make him last forever! Nay, Verily, he will be thrown into the crushing Fire. And what will make you know what the crushing Fire is? The fire of Allah, kindled. Which leaps up over the hearts. Verily, it shall be closed in on them. In pillars stretched forth." [Chapter 104]

    Devouring fire.I could feel the heat of the fire across the highway, it was hot. The Fire of the Hell-Fire is going to be seventy times hotter than the fire of this world.

    When the fire had finished consuming the Mina, it suddenly stopped raging. There was no wind to speak of. It seemed as if the sole purpose of the fire was to consume all worldly goods in Mina and drive us out of Mina. When the fire had consumed all the tents and it was satisfied, one brother started to chant the Talbiyyah. You would think that after such a clear warning from Allah, people would pay heed - few joined him in the Talbiyyah.

    After the fire - nothing more left to burn.

    I was terribly sad. I was totally devastated and depressed. I felt as though Allah had kicked us out of the holy Mina. Instead of feeling like a guest of Allah at Haj, I felt like an intruder in His space. I felt as if my entire Haj was ruined. We were supposed to be in Mina at that time but we were out of Mina. We could see Mina, and it was very close to us, but we could not be in Mina. I considered not following up with the rest of the Haj rituals. After all, I was unable to perform the very first ritual of being in Mina from before Zuhr until sunrise the next day. I cried and cried and asked Allah if we were that bad as to deserve to be kicked out of Mina with fear of fire. The answer to that question, as I learned in the days to come, was a resounding "Yes!". This realization was even more depressing.

    People were keen to go back to their burned tents. It was too dangerous to go at that time. The police kept them away from going there too early. When we did go back, we saw the tents, the fans, the evaporative coolers, the food, the baggage, everything burned, except what Allah had protected. I did see one brother's luggage almost completely intact. He had put his trust in Allah. "Allah! There is no god but He: and on Allah, therefore, let the believers put their trust." [64:13] The evaporative coolers which did not work earlier, were all useless now. The food that I had bargained long and hard for, was all burned up. It was good that the Bangladeshi brother sold it to me cheap. He probably had his food all burned up too. Allah blessed his generosity in two ways - he got some money by selling food before it all burned up and good deeds were written for him for his generosity. His material belongings were gone but his deeds remained - just like we would leave everything in this world, only our deeds would accompany us to the hereafter. The Pakistani brother who refused to sell or give us food had all of his food burned up too - watermelon, cheese, rice, everything inedible. His material belonging were all burned up too, his deed were written too.

    I wanted to call my mother and let her know that I was all right. On the way to the pay phones, I ran into my high school friend Anees. We both went to make phone calls together. On the way, we wanted to drink some soda. The soda which was one riyal before the fire was now four riyals. Is the price increase all that the fire gave to people?

    At the phone booth, a couple of brothers were asking the person making the phone call to hurry up. I asked them to let the man make his phone call in peace. They were a little upset at me for it. When it was my turn, it turned out that my AT&T card did not work from there. So I had to use Anees' Saudi pre-paid "Battaka". There were a couple of other people who did not have calling cards and we all used Anees' card to make international calls, telling our families that we were all right. Those two brothers and a police officer got very upset at me for taking a long time. At that time, I lost my temper. I yelled at them in English and at the end I said "Wait" in Arabic. The officer promptly left for another pay phone. The other two brothers calmed down too. I don't believe they understood my English. I believe they understood my yelling. I know I was wrong in yelling. Sometimes wrong things happen when I am angry.

    Anees and I used to get a dozen bananas for three rupees near Adamjee, my high school, and split them for lunch. We got some bananas from a store and split them in remembrance of old times. We then went to our respective burned tent locations.

    A couple of elderly brothers from Pakistan came to us and wanted help getting back to the Pakistani camp. I did not know where the Pakistani camp was, but I volunteered to take them there. The Pakistani camp was right where the fire started, on the other side of Mina. Since I did not know where the Pakistani camp was at that time and neither did most of the people I asked, I ended up getting a tour of Mina. I went through camps from all over the world. I was surprised that no one was making Talbiyyah even after the fire. People looked fairly calm, perhaps untroubled, and going about their business as if nothing happened earlier that day. There was no grief for the ones who had died in the fire. Many of them were out on the street having fun with toys, gadgets, or other products for sale. I did not see people reflecting upon the fire, nor did I see them making invocations or remembering Allah. I did find a group of brothers making Salatul Isha.

    Almost all of the tents up to where the fire started were burned down. I did not see any dead bodies. That made me feel a little better. When I got to the Pakistani camp, I met a Pakistani brother who had seen about a dozen dead bodies. That made me think that probably fifty to a hundred people had died. It turned out that about 350 people died in that fire.

    There was garbage and litter all over the place. Filthy water was also all over the place. I felt like I had come into a filthy ghetto. If someone came to my property, even on my invitation, and treated my property like these people were treating Mina, I would certainly kick them out of my property - with fire if necessary! I had thought that our neighborhood in Mina was filthy - it was the cleanest in Mina. Our neighborhood had people from the US, Europe, and Australia. Muslims from those countries had learned some hygiene from the non-Muslims. But Muslims today did not learn it from their prophet, Mohammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, who taught it centuries before the West learned it from the Muslims.

    There was a careless and arrogant attitude towards littering. A brother, who was originally from Pakistan but was living in the UK, was pealing an orange and throwing the peel on the ground. I offered him a bag to throw the garbage in. He said, "They will come here tomorrow to pick up the garbage" and continued to toss the peels on the ground. I believe he would never do that in the UK. Altogether, there was more than 47,000 tons of garbage picked up by the officials. I believe, ninety percent of the garbage was tossed outside the garbage containers.

    Most of the people spent the night out in the streets. There were no tents, no evaporative coolers, no fans. Now that the tents were all burned, in some of the places where there were tents, I saw burned bathtubs too. Did we gather in Mina to relax in the bathtubs or to remember Allah, our grave, our resurrection, our judgment, and our final abode?

    The tents were on top of this steel mesh. Hajis wearing white in the background.Abdur Rahman and I spent the night at where used to be our tent. He had come to Saudi Arabia to teach English. He accepted Islam there. We were both very sad about the entire affair. He was more optimistic than I. He saw people wearing white sheets walking on black ashes and considered them coming out of ashes. I was too depressed to support his theory. I felt that all of us, including myself, did something terribly wrong for which we were all deprived the privilege of staying in the Mina for the Day of Tarwiyah. Later, the brother who told me that we would have been better off if I would not have messed with our neighbor's evaporative cooler, agreed with me. He said that everyone had done something to get themselves kicked out of Mina. He said that he had been "nasty" when he said something about the evaporative coolers. Blessed are those who see their mistakes and attempt to correct them.

    "O ye who believe! save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who flinch not (from executing) the Commands they receive from Allah, but do (precisely) what they are commanded. O ye Unbelievers! Make no excuses this Day! Ye are being but requited for all that ye did! O ye who believe! Turn to Allah with sincere repentance: In the hope that your Lord will remove from you your ills and admit you to Gardens beneath which Rivers flow, - the Day that Allah will not permit to be humiliated the Prophet and those who believe with him. Their Light will run forward before them and by their right hands, while they say, `Our Lord! Perfect our Light for us, and grant us Forgiveness: for Thou has power over all things.'" [66:6-8]

    The next day we went to Arafat. Again, there was no problem getting there. There were no traffic jams, no one riding on the roofs of the buses. This is the place where the prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him prayed Zhur and Asr together, so that he could concentrate for the rest of the day on making invocations to Allah for his followers - for us! He stood on the Mountain of Mercy from after his prayers until Maghrib, praying for us! This is the place where he gave his last memorable Haj sermon. This is the place which reminds us of the Day of Resurrection. Men were dressed in two sheets of cloth - on the Day of Resurrection we would be lucky to have even that. Everyone for him or herself, just like the Day of Resurrection. This is the place where I started to form my opinion on why we were kicked out of Mina.

    I went to Masjid Nimrah for the Zuhr and Asr prayers at Arafat. This masjid was originally built by prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him. As I got closer to the masjid, it seemed that everyone was going to the masjid. When I got to the stairs, people started to push and some of us had no choice but to follow the crowd. I saw people sitting in the walkways waiting for prayers to start. Did they not learn that prophet Mohammad, peace and mercy of Allah be upon him, had taught us to not sit in walkways as to block the walkways? People had umbrellas propped up, but the corners of the umbrellas were at the eye level and a danger to the eyes of fellow brothers and sisters. Did prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings be upon him, not teach us to be considerate to others? Finally, one brother let me sit on his mat. It was right next to a bunch of cold water fountains. There were a lot of people making wudu at that place. The water dripped all over the place and it formed a small stream. Did the prophet Mohammad, may I be sacrificed for him, not teach us that cleanliness and purity is half the faith? One woman came to these water fountains and got a bottle full of water. Then she proceeded to urinate in front of all the people and washed herself with that water. She then tossed the bottle on the ground. Later on, someone picked it up. Did the prophet Mohammad, may my parents be sacrificed for him, not spend a lot of time teaching us about modesty and hygiene? What have we done to all of his teachings? Have we become like the people of Ignorance? Or have we gone worse? Would the world have lost anything if we would have all been burned in the fire?

    I shall remember the time I waited for the prayer that day, for the rest of my life, Allah willing. My sweat had made my garments all wet and translucent. The sweat penetrated into the pouch that I was carrying and made my prayer notes and the Qur'an wet. The marks on the Qur'an should help me remember that day. I got sunburn for the first time in my life. I must remember that day, so must my body. On the Day of Resurrection, the sun would be a lot closer and hotter. In the Hell-Fire, when one layer of skin would get burned, another would be grown to take its place. I must fear the harshness of the Day of Resurrection and the torment of the Hell-Fire. May Allah please protect us all from that. Ameen.

    I had not slept well the night before and I was very tired. So I decided to go to my tent and sleep a little after the prayers. But Allah had great mercy on me that he led me to the Mountain of Mercy. I took short walks on the street around the Mountain of Mercy to keep myself from dozing.

    It was at this place 1407 years ago the prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him said: "O people, lend me an attentive ear, for I don't know whether after this year I shall ever be among you again. Therefore, listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.

    "O people, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord and that He will indeed reckon your deeds. Allah has forbidden you to take interest, therefore all interest obligations shall from now on be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer inequity. Allah has judged that there shall be no interest and that all interest due to Abbas ibn Abd'al Muttalib (the uncle of the prophet, peace be upon him) shall from now on be waived.

    "Every right arising out of homicide in pre-Islamic days is henceforth waived and the first such right that I waive is that arising from the murder of Rabiah ibn al Harithibn.

    "O men, the unbelievers indulge in tampering with the calendar to make permissible that, which Allah forbade, and to forbid that which Allah has made permissible. With Allah the months are twelve in number. Four of them are holy, three of these are successive and one occurs singly between the months of Jumada and Shaban.

    "Beware of Satan for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.

    "O people, it is true that you have certain rights regarding your women, but they also have rights over you. If they abide by your right then they also have the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with anyone whom you do not approve, and never commit adultery.

    "O people, listen to me in earnest, worship Allah, offer you five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your wealth in Zakat, perform Haj if you can afford to.

    "All Mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black has any superiority over white, except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother of another Muslim and that Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim that belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustices to yourselves.

    "Remember, one day you will appear before Allah and answer for your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.

    "O people, no prophet, or apostle will come after me and no new faith will be born. Reason well therefore, O people, and understand my words that I convey to you. I am leaving behind me two things, the Qur'an and my example (the sunnah), and if you follow these you will never go astray.

    "All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to them directly. Be my witness O Allah, that I have conveyed Your message to Your people."

    At Arafat, I saw garbage and litter all over the place. It seemed like I had come to a garbage dump instead of a holy place. This was "fasaad" or mischief. Did Allah not tell us Himself that He does not love those who create fasaad? "But seek, with the (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on thee, the Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this world: but do thou good, as Allah has been good to thee, and seek no (occasions for) mischief in the land: for Allah loves not those who do mischief." [28:77] I saw rows of beggars all over the place. Many of them had mutilated limbs or other parts of their bodies. Many of them were children. I remember a boy of perhaps seven years old, who had only stubs left instead of his legs. Some children were fake crying to get attention and money. Some of the beggars were wearing Ihram just like myself - apparently they were there to perform Haj too. I was at the Mountain of Mercy and asking for the mercy of Allah, the Most Merciful. I felt that I should be merciful to these beggars, so that Allah would be merciful to me; although I did not believe that the beggars were genuinely in need of money. I told myself that giving them money would be getting tricked and it was un-Islamic to get tricked. So I did not give them anything. Did the great prophet of Islam, Mohammad, peace be upon him, not teach us not to cheat? Did he not tell us to take our provision when we go for Haj? There were many other distractions at the Mountain of Mercy including camels. You could take a Polaroid picture of yourself with a camel.

    I made invocations to Allah at the Mountain of Mercy until before Maghrib. My soloist activities were earning me the reputation of a lost person. So, I left a little before Maghrib to be with the group. As it turned out, the bus did not leave until after it was dark. I did manage to sleep a little sitting on the ground, waiting for the bus.

    A little into the night we reached Muzdalifah and offered our Maghrib and Isha prayers and then spent the night there open to the sky on the ground. Next morning we had to go to Mina again. We found an empty bus going in that direction and we tried to get on that. The driver of the bus, who was also wearing Ihram, became almost violent. He was greatly upset that we got onto his bus. People hadn't learned much from the fire!

    I was surprised to see that most of the tents in Mina were back up! They must have worked day and night to achieve this huge work in less than 48 hours. This time we found a different tent. No one complained about the evaporative coolers this time.

    That day we were supposed to stone at the Jamarat al-Aqaba, in remembrance of the prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, stoning the devil. I volunteered to take care of an elderly Bangladeshi brother, Mohammad Ali, who spoke Urdu. He and I went to Jamarat together. He was excited to go there and so was I. I wanted to stone, albeit symbolically, my avowed nemesis. Mohammad Ali treated me to grapes on the way there. It was a long walk. When we finally got there, I saw more devil around the stone markers than in the stone markers. People were shoving each other like I had never seen before. Two brothers brought a group of women to stone. When they had finished stoning, one of them led the women and the other followed the women. Then the entire herd ran mercilessly into the crowd. This time even my yelling in English did not work. The stones people were throwing were falling on their fellow brothers and sisters. I had a tough time performing the ritual of stoning at Jamarat. Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, was an excellent example of patience and consideration. Did he not teach us that too? "Surely Allah enjoins the doing of justice and doing of good (to others) and the giving to the kindered, and He forbids indecency and evil and rebellion; He admonishes you that you may be mindful." [16:90]

    Like Mina and Arafat, there was garbage at Jamarat as well. The same beggars that were at Arafat were there too. There I saw a woman begging and breast feeding her child so that her breast was openly exposed. I suppose that was yet another way to get attention and subsequently money. What happened to the discouragement of begging and concealing of Sitr as taught to us by the prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him?

    From Jamarat, we proceeded to make Tawwaf of Ka'ba. On the way, Mohammad Ali told me that he got robbed of his money while making Tawwaf. I had a hard time believing him. In the holy month, in the holy city, in the holy masjid, performing a holy ritual, in front of the holy house of Allah - Ka'ba, someone robbed him by slicing open the belt styled pouch. He was not lying. When I tried to buy him some cold water, he insisted that he would pay for it - he told me that he had borrowed some money from his companions. Mohammad Ali had to go to UK the next day. Somehow, we decided to part right outside the Masjid-al Haram. As I proceeded to the masjid I saw an old Pakistani brother of about seventy years of age slipping due to the water on the floor and fallen. He was in deep pain. He kept saying that he lost his leg. I did not believe him. I thought that he would be all right soon. As it turned out he did have his leg broken close to his hip. His wife burned her feet during the fire. His son was very nervous. He kept blaming his fate and apologizing to his son for ruining the son's Haj. At the hospital, I found out that there were many such cases and the orthopedic ward was overflowing.

    I could not make Tawwaf that day so I went back to Mina after getting rid of my hair. I did not find Mohammad Ali at the camp. The next day it was Jamarat again. I dreaded it. Luckily I went to the upper level and went around the Jamarat and stoned from the rear. It turned out a breeze this time. Later that day I was able to make Tawwaf and Sa'ee. That day I saw the authorities using bull-dozers to pick up garbage from around Jamarat.

    The last day, I had this apparently smart idea that I would go right after Zuhr to stone Jamarat and then I would be done for the day. That was a real bad decision since everyone else was also in a hurry to leave Mina and a great crowd had gathered. I went to the upper level with brother Tamkeen. The police was trying to control the crowd and so we had to wait. I didn't mind the waiting. It was the environment that was repulsive. We were all pressed against each other. Some brothers were objecting that I was getting too close to their women. I told them to bring the women at Asr time if they were so concerned. They were stuck and could not go out. Several brothers had umbrellas which protected from the sun but created a suffocating environment. That was the only time throughout my trip that I was afraid of getting run over. When we were let to proceed, we all ran like a herd of donkeys. One pathan brother from Pakistan was shoving people left, right, and center. When I confronted him, his excuse was that it was "no dance", implying that there was no need to be sophisticated, with complete disregard for other brothers and sisters.

    On the way back, brother Tamkeen and I bought some water. When I returned the bottle to the storekeeper that he would put it in the garbage, he threw it out the door! Lucky for me that I caught it in mid-air. I then asked him to throw it in the garbage. He took the bottle and threw it again right out the door onto the street. I wasn't lucky enough to catch the bottle this time. I suppose they wanted to live in garbage. But that is not the teaching of my beloved prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. He liked cleanliness and preached it to his followers.

    With all praise for Allah, the Lord and Cherisher of worlds, the Haj rituals ended. I saw deception, corruption, selfishness, lewdness, ignorance, filth, robbery, broken promises, indulgence, name calling, back biting, yelling, pushing, arrogance, and more during these few days. I did get the answer to my question, if we were really that bad to deserve fire in the holy Mina. We deserved it. We deserved it well.

    After Haj, we were told by our group leader, that we would leave for Madinah on a certain evening. So, I went to make my farewell Tawwaf that day. When I got back, it was announced that we are not leaving that night after all. That made me get up after everyone had spoken, and talked. I told the management that they should keep there promises as reminded to us in the Qur'an, "O you who believe, fulfill (your) obligations ..." [5:1]. I reminded them of their broken promises of paid food, reliable bus service for all salats, and going to Madinah that evening. Many of the brothers later came to me and told me that they felt the same way as I did and they were glad that I spoke out.

    A major contingency at Munafi residential area left soon after Haj. As soon as this contingency left, the cafeteria downstairs closed. There was no manager on the property and the director disappeared as well. Two days later, at the complex, I met this lady from France who was about eighty or more years old. She told me that she hadn't had anything to eat for two days! The cafeteria was closed and the management had forgotten all about her. The nearest restaurant was about three fourths of a mile away; out of walking distance for the old lady.

    Eventually we left for Madinah by bus. On the way there, the authorities have put up signs by the roadside saying, "All praise be to Allah", "Glory be to Allah", and some other messages like it. This made me remember Allah and His messenger in my free time, instead of thinking up silly things. My gratitude to the authorities who put up the signs.

    There were two signs written in the bus: "It is forbidden to give money to the driver" and "No Smoking". The bus driver insisted on getting a tip from me, despite my refusals several times. I told him to read the sign. He did not get a tip from me. One of the passengers came next to the driver while he was driving the bus and started to smoke and talk to him. Bilal, who was sitting next to me, brought the "No Smoking" sign to the passenger's attention. He mumbled something and then referred him to the driver. The driver was himself smoking and he said, "One minute". I suppose we were supposed to hold up our breaths while they smoked.

    Madinah was like a healing ointment on cuts and bruises. The people there were a lot more peaceful and accommodating. Abdul Wahab, Bilal, Abdul Hakeem, and I stayed in a small hotel room for three nights. The hotel was at a walking distance to the masjid of the prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him. It was very beautiful to just walk to the Masjid- an Nabawy for salat. Masjid-al Haram and Masjid-an Nabawy breathed people. Before salat, people would come to the masjid, like water in a whirlpool, like light in a black hole, or like air molecules in our noses. Everyone had their faces turned towards the masjid. After salat, people would similarly leave the masajid, like air molecules from our noses.

    Abdul Hakeem, a young African-American brother, who had reverted to Islam only seven months before coming to Haj. He told me that when he found out that Muslims are supposed to go for Haj, he said, "I'll go." For him it was just fulfilling his obligation. He said that some of the "born Muslims" then started to discourage him! They were very surprised at Abdul Hakeem's decision. They said that one has to make invocations at Arafat in Arabic and asked him how he was going to do that. I believe that they were merely jealous that they hadn't fulfilled their obligation of Haj and that this young brother is availing the opportunity at the first Haj that he gets being a Muslim. May Allah bless Abdul Hakeem and may Allah guide us all to the straight path. Ameen.

    Right after the first Zuhr prayer I prayed at Masjid-an Nabawi, my old time neighbor and friend Shahzad Razi found me. I was very glad to see him - and what a beautiful place to meet. We hung around for the next three days.

    Right after the last salah Shahzad and I prayed at the Masjid-an Nabawi, we run into a very small library right inside the masjid. It has old manuscripts of the Qur'an. Some manuscripts were written on the date-palm leaves, others were written on paper. Since the paper was much thicker at that time, than what is available these days, I saw a manuscript of a single surah in one volume binding. None of the other brothers that I went with had seen the library. It is not very well marked and so you may have to ask for it, if you want to see it.

    We left for Jeddah three days later. For Salatul Maghrib on the way back we stopped at a wayside masjid. Bilal gave the adhan and Inshirah led the salat for a group of various travelers from different parts of the world - one a Caucasian American reverted Muslim and the other an African-American reverted Muslim. After my experiences in the past few days, I felt that the reverted Muslims deserved the leadership of the ummah, just as in that Maghrib salat. I did not see a single reverted Muslim who had his or her faith shaken by all the injustices of the "born Muslims". They really believed in Allah and His messenger, peace be upon him, and not those who merely claimed to follow Allah and His messenger, peace be upon him.

    As expected, we spent another night at Jeddah airport. Inshirah and his wife had some trouble getting a seat while their daughter got a seat. It was a problem for them since this would have separated the family. The Egypt Air official told them that they should check an hour after the check-in starts. Inshirah said that he trusted Allah and that Allah would take care of him. By the Grace of Allah, they got first class seats instead. Sometimes what we think is an upset, it is actually a setup of Allah.

    There was a quick stopover at Cairo and we were soon off to JFK airport. As I got to my seat in the airplane, I saw a young Egyptian woman dressed in a skimpy tight T-shirt and tight pants, sitting close to me. She started to ask for attention from men nearby and she got plenty of it. Apparently she did not know where the volume and channel controls were and it took one man to show her that. Apparently she did not know how to put the seat belt on and it took another man to almost put the belt on for her. Apparently she did not know how to use the pillow. It took the first man to fold the pillow and put it behind her neck. One of these two men was carrying Qur'an in his left hand and helping her put her belt on with the right hand. I was appalled at this hypocrisy. I got their attention and recited in Arabic "Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments; And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss." [24:30-31] One of the men calmed down a bit, the woman started to mumble in Arabic, the other man, who still had finger stuck in the Qur'an that he was holding in his left hand, started to argue with me. He knew the verses very well - he even corrected my Arabic recitation. He said that he had performed Haj before I did and that I should be quiet after giving my advice. Later I found this man and the woman talking in the back of the plane. It did not appear that the Qur'an had made any impact below their ears or their throats into their hearts, even though it was in their language. Later I found out that this woman was "Miss Egypt". There was a world of difference between these "born Muslims" and the "reverted Muslims" who gave adhan and led the prayer at a wayside masjid between Madinah and Jeddah. They were certainly not equal.

    When I arrived at JFK a remarkable thing happened. The people who had behaved like a herd suddenly became civilized! They all lined up neatly in front of the US immigration officers. Compared to the immigration officer at Jeddah, it was a much more pleasant experience. At Jeddah, it was hajis behind walls against immigration officials. At JFK, it was mostly foreigners in peace and in a neat line. At Jeddah the officials were yelling at the hajis to be patient, at JFK the officials were directing people to the next available immigration officer. At Jeddah, I was wearing an Ihram, an obvious indication that I was a Muslim going for Haj in a Muslim country. At JFK, I was wearing shalwar qameez, an obvious indication that I am a foreigner coming into a non-Muslim country. At Jeddah, I was yelled at "English. English." At JFK, I was greeted first, before I greeted, with "Good Morning." At Jeddah it took from two to three hours to get through all the processing, at JFK it took between thirty to forty five minutes. It seemed that Muslims were following the West in all sorts of ways, including its icons of Michael Jackson and Calvin Klein, but not in organization, courtesy, greeting first, hard work, and consideration.

    At JFK, my family brought many gifts when they came to pick me up. Among them was my sister Mahrukh. By the Grace of the Most Kind One, she appeared as if nothing had happened to her - she had had a brain hemorrhage and had spent several nights in the hospital. All Praise be to Allah, the Lord and Cherisher of the worlds, the gift of Allah is the best gift of all.

    Everyone who goes for Haj has a certain amount of commitment to Islam. Everyone spends time and money to go for Haj. If the people that I met at Haj were the best that the Muslim world has to offer, then the enemies of Islam have nothing to fear. It is no wonder that Muslims are treated like cheap dirt the world over. It is no wonder that the Muslim blood is the cheapest blood to shed all over the world. It is no wonder that little is left of the Muslim honor. Today in this ummah, there is no Mohammad bin Qasim, the 17 year old general who delivered Muslim prisoners when an Indian prince invaded their ship. There is no Salahuddin Ayyubi, who said that he would not smile until he delivers Jerusalam. There is no Mohammad Fateh, the 18 year old general who pushed ships on land around Bosphorus to conquer Constantinople (Istanbul) because of a prophecy of the prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him.

    It is also no wonder that there is little progress in the ummah towards the advancements of various sciences. Today in this ummah, there is no Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Abd Allah ibn Sina the great physicist and physician whose books were used as medicine text books all over the world up until mid seventeenth century, no al-Khawrzimi the inventor of Algebra, no al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham the great scientist in Optics, no al-Battani, a reverted Muslim and the pioneer of his time in Astronomy and Trignometry who invented sine, cosine, tangent and cotangent. We do not have the discipline nor the patience to wonder about the signs of Allah. It is no wonder that there are few like Abu Bakr, Umar, Outhman, and Ali. We do not have the passion and the selflessness to serve the creation of Allah; today the politicians and leaders merely fight for power and wealth, and then they oppress people. We have become a dead ummah. An ummah of mere talk, if that at all. "Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon" - Verily we belong to Allah, and to Him is our return.

    All my life I had dreamed about the revival of Muslims. I had hoped that my nation would wake up to the call of the Qur'an, given fourteen hundred years ago. I had prayed to Allah to help us and give us the will-power and the strength. But Allah has written down fourteen hundred years ago: "... Verily Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition; and when Allah intends to a people, there is no averting it, and besides Him they have no protector" [13:11]. We have forgotten the message. It seemed only a few people I met at Haj had any desire to change themselves. The number of these very few people was so small that it doesn't appear to me that the ummah will have any appreciable revival in my lifetime. This was the most depressing and thought provoking realization during my entire Haj.

    The overall picture of Haj that I received was quite gloomy. The state of the ummah is pathetic. My message to you, gentle reader, is to start educating people where the population is already Muslim. Tell them about organization, hygiene, trust, piety, humbleness, selflessness, modesty, consideration, compassion, truthfulness, honesty, and other Islamic treasures that our beloved and honored prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, taught us so diligently and practiced them in his life.

    Tell them to stop following the Satan and falling into the popular sins of today. Today, you may find many who do not adhere to the very basics of Islam, for instance Salat. The most difficult salat for a hypocrite is Fajr and Isha. Tell them that dealing with interest is forbidden by Allah and whatever is forbidden by Allah does not have blessings of Allah in it. Also remind them to pay zakat and that what Allah has ordained has great blessings in it. Tell them to cover themselves up as Allah has ordained us in His book, if we do not, we would be spending time in sin. Today, it is considered admissible for men to wear shorts and for women to uncover her hair; but this is not the practice of our beloved prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. Tell them to consider others as worthy creations of Allah, and other Muslims as their brothers and sisters and be considerate to all of them whether Muslim or not. Tell them to stop backbiting and slandering each other. Today it is a very popular sin. Listen and obey the Qur'an: "The believers are nothing else than brothers, so make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy. O you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter are better than the former nor let (some) women scoff at other women, it may be that the latter are better than the former, nor defame one another, nor insult one another by (offensive) nicknames. How bad is it, to insult one's brother after having faith; and whoever does not repent then such are indeed the wrongdoers. O you who believe! Avoid much suspicions, indeed some suspicions are sins; and spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting); and fear Allah; verily Allah is the One Who accepts repentance, Most Merciful. O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another; verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is the one who is pious" [49:10-13]

    To those who do not know the blessing of Islam, we must take the word to them. I found the newly reverted Muslims most energetic and enthusiastic about Islam. This is because they come to Islam after understanding it. I believe that they will take the lead of the ummah, Allah willing. If we are unable or unwilling to lead the ummah, the least we can do is bring the message of Islam to the ones who are able to lead the ummah. By doing so, we share in the reward of their leadership and hard work, without diminishing their reward. This is the most important realization I had during my trip to Haj - to spread the message to those who are able and are going to lead the ummah.

    If we do not educate our brothers and sisters and do not spread the word of Allah, we would be falling short of fulfilling our obligation to the All Powerful. Of course The Most Generous has prepared beautiful gardens for those who fulfill their obligations and burning fire for those who do not fulfill their obligations. Remember, we must start from ourselves, our families, our relatives and our neighbors. We must change our ways for the better, so that we may receive the Mercy of the Most Merciful.

    "Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity." [3:104] In order for me to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, I must judge the actions around me. If I see the need for something right to be done, I must command it and if I see something wrong being done, I must forbid it. But before I can do that, I must first judge the action, if it is right or wrong. The above narration of my experiences of Haj is in the same spirit. I do not judge the people for that is reserved for Allah alone, only the actions that I see. May Allah please, with His Great Mercy and Generosity, accept the Haj of all the believers and grant them all a high place in the highest paradise. May Allah please forgive my forgetfulness and mistakes and of all the Muslims. Ameen.

    Narrated Abu Hurayrah: The prophet, peace be upon him said: "The believer is the believer's mirror, and the believer is the believer's brother who guards him against loss and protects him when he is absent." (Abu Dawud) We must all tell each other what is good and bad in the other, so that we may continue to do the good and stop doing the bad. So that we may grow our own faiths.

    In the end I'll mention some of the lessons I learned regarding the logistics of performing Haj. The average age of the hajis was probably more than 55 years. It was difficult to make Haj for many of the elderly people. One should plan to make Haj as soon as one can, preferably before forty years of age. Once one can afford to make Haj, Haj becomes an obligation to Allah. One may be held responsible if he or she was able to make Haj for a short period of time in his or her lifetime but he or she did not avail it at that time. Later on, he or she may never be able to afford Haj again. Offering Haj at an early age ensures one that he or she would be in a good physical condition and in a spiritual state that he or she can mend his or her ways easily and earlier.

    It is probably easier and better to make Tawwaf by yourself and not with someone else. This lets you concentrate on your worship and not worry about following someone or making sure that someone is following you. My recommendation to the women would be to decide on a meeting place and time. A gate would be a good place, since all the gates are numbered and named. The best place to make Tawwaf is, of course, as close to the ka'ba, as possible, if you can do so without hurting others or yourself. I found it better to make the tawwaf on the roof. There are fewer people there, especially after Fajr and also when the sun is hot. This way you make bigger circles and under the hot sun, but you do not run into the risk of injuring, physically or emotionally, another Muslim brother or sister or yourself.

    Women have a leave to go to Jamarat at night time, they may want to utilize it. There are a lot of people at Jamarat during the day time and it may be difficult for the women and children. Men may want to perform the stoning at day time for themselves and then accompany their women at night time.

    Out of all the salats that I prayed in the Masjid-al Haram and Masjid-an Nabawi there was only one salat which was not followed by a funeral prayer. You may wish to learn the salatul janazah. Narrated Abu Huraira: "Allah's Apostle (peace be upon him) said, `(A believer) who accompanies the funeral procession of a Muslim out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah's reward and remains with it till the funeral prayer is offered and the burial ceremonies are over, he will return with a reward of two Qirats. Each Qirat is like the size of (mount) Uhud. He who offers the funeral prayer only and returns before the burial will return with the reward of one Qirat only.'" [Bukhari 1.2.45]

    Under the new system, everyone is given a wrist-band. The name of the office which is responsible for the lookafter of the individual is written on that band. If one simply shows the band to any official he or she will arrange for the person to reach his or her place. This system is followed through in Makkah, Mina, Arafat, and other places. I have met a few people who were lost and the information on the band was incorrect. You may want to make sure when you get the band that the information on your band matches with your companions. There are information offices in Mina and Arafat as well and people should feel free to get directions from there.

    Medical care is free for all hajis. I have come across people who were sick or wounded yet they did not go to the medical clinics. There are clinics in Mina and Arafat and people should feel free to utilize these facilities.

    I had some difficulty cashing my traveler's checks. The lady who sold me the checks in US told me to keep the receipt separate from the checks. The officer at the Al-Rajhi Bank in Makkah said that they would cash it if it is accompanied with the receipt and my passport. Of course, my passport was already taken into "custody" by the Saudi officials. In this situation I called American Express. They said that I can cash them in Al-Khobar or Riyadh - both closer to the East Coast of the kingdom, while I was closer to the West Coast. I found out that one can get cash from ATMs from a particular bank. I believe the name is "Arab National Bank". Their ATMs are connected to the same network that most of the American banks are connected to.

    Many vendors there sell a leather belt which has many pockets to protect valuables. It is a fact that people pick pockets of Muslims making Tawwaf. These pick-pocketers are well aware of the construction of those belts. I saw a Turk brother crying out aloud in front of the Ka'ba and asking for money because he was robbed. His belt was cut open from the back, while making Tawwaf. I do not know if he was a victim or a con-artist. In any event, my recommendation is not to use such belts and find different belts or pouches, perhaps from your home town.

    In Egypt, all of our passports were taken to get stamped. I did not get my passport with the rest of the passports of my companions. It was lying in a pile of passports of similar color. Rizwan Shah, an old time Adamjee friend of mine who went for Haj before I did, had advised to put a bright colored sticker on the spine of the passport so that it is easily identifiable. It was a great help - I was able to recognize my passport right away.

    You may want to take a flight which goes directly to Jeddah. You may also want to make sure that your stay in Makkah and Madina is at a walking distance from the Haramain. It may cost you more to do so, but it may be a better solution than waiting for a bus each time you want to pray there.

    Food is not a problem at all. One can get a good meal for less than ten riyals, about three dollars. There is enormous variety of food there - Arabic, Pakistani, Indian, Indonesian, American (McDonald's, KFC, Dairy Queen), and many other restaurants are abundant. However, I suggest to eat less at the restaurants and eat fruits and drink zam zam so that their may be less chances of stomach problems and consequently you may concentrate on your worship.

    Take more money than you have estimated that you would need - say, $300 more per person. It is always better to lend than to borrow; and you may never know when you might run into a need for money. Divide your money into smaller amounts and keep them separate. i.e. Don't put all the eggs in one basket.

    There is a huge barber shop opposite to Jamarat. It is run by the Saudi government. One may also find men around ready to shave your head by the street. It is illegal for them to do so. Also, it is not hygenic to do so. If the shaving blade is not sterilized before shaving each head, the blood may get exchanged via the shaving blade. You may end up with a serious disease, if you are not careful. You may want to take your own razor or charged electric shaver. In any event, it is much better to have your head shaved at the government run barber shop than by the men on the street.

    The Saudi government has put in a lot of effort to make Haj a smooth process. There are ample restrooms and wudu facilities all over the Haramain, Mina, Arafat, Muzdalifah, and waysides on the highways. There are ample buses for transportation. There is a large contingency of police. Some of them very helpful. One of them took me to my camp from one side of Mina to the other when I asked for directions. All the Hajis are supplied with zam zam water everyday at their residences, although the Munafi management did not give any to us. The medical facilities are free of charge to the hajis, paid by the Saudi government. At the Mountain of Mercy, there are poles which spray out cool mist, so it does not get too hot for the hajis. There are some areas where there is room for improvement. For instance, for stoning Jamarat, the administration could set times for different camps so that the place does not become over-crowded. They may mark some safoof or rows closer to Ka'ba on each floor to be reserved for making Tawwaf. Making the tents in Mina from fire retardent material was another suggestion given by Mikal.

    Most of all, Haj is a time for Sabr or patience. It was difficult for me to not fight, not even argue while I was at Haj. But this is exactly what is required of us. I suggest to start practicing not to fight and argue long before it is time for Haj.

    May Allah take you, my gentle reader, to a Haj which is accepted by Allah, rinses you of your sins, is a source of spiritual growth for you, is a reason to get you a high and blessed place in the highest heaven, and a generous blessing of the Most Generous One. Ameen.

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