by A. Mohammad Saleem
In the Name of Allah Most Gracious Most Merciful
The tears of the shaykh
“Then when you pour down from Arafat, celebrate the praises of Allah at the Sacred Monument, and celebrate His praises as He has directed you, even though, before this, you were astray.” Al-Baqarah 2:198.
As I walked through the courtyard and towards Masjid al-Haram in the serenity and stillness of the last third of the night, a time when according to Rasulallah our Lord descends to the lowest heaven and inquires ‘Who will call on Me so that I may respond to him?’, those verses from Surah Baqarah flooded my mind as they had almost two years ago in this very same blessed place.
This was my first visit back to the Haram since 3/11. Six months before 9/11, March 11th, 2001 still resonates more strongly and deeply in my mind than any other day that has followed, for it marked my return back from home after the physical and spiritual journey of Hajj. At the time of Hajj, those verses in al-Baqarah were often recited, not only in a mood of reflection but in a mood of excitement, in anticipation of a unique and glorious opportunity, the opportunity for spiritual purification, guidance and seeking Allah’s forgiveness on the day of Arafah.
Since that day, and in the twenty months that have followed, those same verses have haunted me, and are recited and heard in a mood of fear. One week earlier, back at home, standing in Taraweeh behind a shaykh who had performed Hajj that same year, the shaykh struggled to recite this very verse due to his weeping, and this weeping was greater than any I had ever heard from him.
All of us should weep upon hearing this verse, but perhaps the Hajji, the one who has completed his or her pilgrimage, can really truly understand, and understand with feeling, why the shaykh may have wept.
Those who leave Makkah after Hajj often leave in sadness, sadness from having to leave the most blessed of places in the universe, where their hearts and souls are enveloped in the security and warmth of the remembrance and glorification of Allah. And when they return to their homes and their regular lives, they live in fear, in fear that their Hajj, the pinnacle of their religious and devotional life, was not accepted. Time does not pass without thinking of it and praying to Allah that He accept our Hajj. So whether the physical performance of Hajj was two, ten or thirty years ago, the pilgrim feels a desire to ask Allah for it to be accepted. For if it is, then it suffices to be your only achievement in this world of any merit, and it will be greater than gaining the entire world on the Day of Judgement. Conversely, if it was not accepted, it is as if you had greater than the entire world sitting in the palm of your hand for a split second before dropping and losing it forever.
I continued to walk towards Masjid-al-Haram, no longer looking at the night sky, or the minarets of the Masjid, or the Muslims around me. I simply watched my feet as they shuffled towards the Haram, as that verse in al-Baqarah, particularly its end, continued to echo in my mind.
“and celebrate His praises as He has directed you, even though, before this, you were astray.”
Several days prior, back at home, I had discussed my upcoming journey to the Haram with a colleague. At this time, when he learned that I had already performed the Hajj and after I had told him to expedite his own pilgrimage as soon as possible, he stated his preference to wait until he was much older, as is customarily done in many parts of the world. I explained to him that this is a cultural phenomenon, to which he agreed, but he added that once one performs Hajj, one shouldn’t be sinning or disobeying Allah anymore when they return. That was too much responsibility and pressure for him in his opinion at his young age. The verse haunted me again.
“before this, you were astray”
Some of the commentators on this verse have stated that this being astray is the condition prior to the guidance of the Qur’an and Messenger. One may be astray before the guidance, before the Hajj. Can one be astray after the Hajj? There is no way of knowing if your Hajj is accepted until the Day of Judgement, but some of the shuyookh have mentioned signs of an accepted Hajj, and alternatively, a rejected Hajj. And indeed, amongst them is that, if your Hajj was accepted, one’s behavior and religious devotion is improved and consistently better upon returning. Not just immediately after the Hajj, but years afterward for the remainder of a lifetime.
Perhaps it is this idea that caused the shaykh to weep, and for other Hajjis to be haunted and fearful as I have been since 3/11. For when the Hajjis examine their faith and their character, what do they find? Are all those deficiencies we find within ourselves signs of our being astray, are they signs that our Hajj was not accepted? Has what is greater than the entire universe slipped out of our hands like water seeping through a clenched fist?
Hajj is a discovery. A discovery by definition uncovers that which was covered. Hajj opens up the heart and leads one to a state of the heart which is in turn externalized into behavior that one was incapable of before. And those who have stood on the plain of Arafah on the 9th of Dhul Hijjah have sought to maintain and nourish those states ever since that day.
Ramadan is a means of such nourishment, a consistent opportunity given to the Muslims throughout their lifetime to purify the heart. If Hajj is a discovery, then Ramadan may be a rediscovery for the Hajji. An Umrah in Ramadan, according to Rasulallah, if it is accepted, has the same reward as a Hajj. And an Umrah at any time can erase the mistakes since the previous one.
That is why I found myself, like many others, walking towards Masjid al-Haram, the most blessed of places in the universe, during the most blessed of times in the universe, the nights of Ramadan. If our Hajj truly was a discovery then our visitation to the Haram now, years later, was in hope for a rediscovery of the Hajj, and a reopening of the heart.
The fasting of Hajj and the Ihram of Ramadan
Upon entering the Masjid, I went up to the second floor to escape the bustle of the crowd and find a calm spot with an unobstructed view of the Kaaba, which I had circumambulated several hours earlier as part of the Umrah. Praised be to Allah, the Umrah had been completed, but the rediscovery was, God willing, just beginning.
It was still approximately an hour before Fajr and many people were still performing their Umrah. Others, like myself, were using this opportunity for reading of the Qur’an or Tahajjud. On the journey towards Makkah I had been reflecting on the blessing of any prayer in the Haram for as Rasulallah has said a prayer in the Haram, provided it is accepted, is worth the reward of 100,000 prayers in any other masjid. I thought of all the deficiencies in my obligatory prayers over the years. One of the ways, out of Allah’s mercy, that we may make up for our deficiencies in mandatory ibadah is by doing supererogatory ibadah. I approximated the number of prayers I had performed in my entire lifetime and realized that if they were accepted, only two prayers in the Haram would supercede all of those prayers. Subhanallah. May Allah accept the prayers of the Muslims which are offered in His House!
After several prayers, I proceeded to drink the water of Zamzam, which constituted the Suhoor for the upcoming fast. To partake of the greatest of all food or water, in the greatest of places, during the most blessed of months, as preparation for the fast, the only action in this world done by the children of Adam which is not for them but solely for their Creator as is reported in a Hadith Qudsi, is something which cannot be adequately put into words.
Shaykh Al-Hudhaifi, one of the Imams of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madina, has said that “Ramadan is like a rainy season and the human being is like fertile soil, and every kind of flower will bloom with the rainfall”. Fasting in the Haram brings this to an even higher level, and it complements the Umrah and Hajj. For while Ramadan may bring the rain which allows the flowers to bloom, it is the pilgrimage, in the form of the Hajj or Umrah, that prepares the soil and plants the seeds before they can grow and bloom. If Ramadan is the cultivator then a visit to Allah’s House is the tillage, loosening the soil of sins which constrict and burden the seed of the heart, killing the weeds of spiritual disease within the heart, and improving the circulation and transmission of the water and air of divine guidance to the seed of the heart, allowing it to open and grow.
As we prepared for the coming of dawn and the beginning of a new fast, I looked at the white thawb I was wearing. Just hours earlier I was in the white Ihram, two simple sheets wrapped around the body. Yet the Ihram is beyond the simple dress, it has deeper roots that mold the spirit and character. “Let there be no obscenity nor wickedness nor wrangling in the pilgrimage.” (al-Baqarah 2:197) . It is making an agreement with Allah and His creation to refrain from committing sins which make him deviate from the path of obedience and, among other things, to refrain from disputing or fighting with people.
Fasting, too, has a deeper spiritual meaning. It is not simply the abstinence from food and drink but the higher fast is to refrain from sin, be it from the tongue, the hand, the eye, the ear or anything else. When I had been in Ihram, I had been fasting for part of it, and I thought of how similar its restrictions and its motivations to higher moral behavior were to those of the fast. It seemed so natural to be fasting and to be in the state of Ihram, as if they complemented and supported one another. I believe I always appreciated the pilgrimage and the Ihram, but perhaps I truly did not appreciate and recognize the bounty and grace of fasting given to us by Allah. Indeed, fasting is a shield, and after making the Umrah in Ramadan, one realizes that fasting is the Ihram of the heart, which can be put on at the Meeqat of dawn in any place in the world.
The dhikr of circling birds
The Fajr adhan was soon called and a new fast had begun. Imam Shuraim, my personal favorite among all the Shaykhs of the Haramayn led the Fajr salah, and in the salah he recited the cluster of verses surrounding Ayat-ul-Kursi, the verse of the Throne in Surah Baqarah. Fitting, as it allowed us to reflect on the greatness of Allah and His Attributes as we had begun the action of fasting which is for Him alone. In the second rakah, as the glimmers of sunlight began to color the once dark night sky, we heard of the subsequent verses in al-Baqarah detailing our father Ibrahim’s encounter with King Nimrud and his challenge to make the sun rise from the West. And then we heard of the story of Ibrahim and his request to Allah to see how He gives life and death, after which he was ordered to place the bodies of birds on the mountains at different places and then witnessed the resurrection of these birds as they flew back towards him. Ibn Abbas is reported to have stated that this verse, perhaps more than any other in the Qur’an, gave him the most hope, for Allah accepted Ibrahim’s simple answer of ‘Yes’ as an affirmation of his faith. And as we reflected on this story in the salah, we heard the chirping of birds glorifying Allah and circling the Kaaba in their own way, perhaps descendants of those very same birds that flew to Ibrahim thousands of years ago. As the salah came to a close, the once black sky now took on a deep violet and blue hue.
We live in a billboard culture in this modern day age. These billboards surround us wherever we are and wherever we choose to go, and they are placed as a means to influence and mold our decisions in life. Interestingly, when one makes the drive from Jeddah to Makkah, there are literal billboards and signs on the highway which say Glory to Allah, Praise to Allah, and There is no God but Allah.
Those birds and the sun shown to Ibrahim are the same that we see today. Indeed the creation that surrounds us, the cosmic phenomena that intrigue and inspire us, the beauty of the mountains and rivers that captivates us, and the complexity and design of the animals and plants that astounds us, are our billboards. If we would but only examine and reflect on them, we would find that our hearts are naturally guided towards the proper decision, the decision to turn towards Allah.
A gaze of love
After the salah was completed, I remained sitting where I was, just behind the railing on the second floor, overlooking the Kaaba and the inner courtyard. As often is the case after salah in the Haram on the second floor and the roof, many people go over to lean over on the railing and look upon the Kaaba. I decided to restrain my own impulse to go over to the railing and continued to sit and begin the supplications of the morning.
As I was doing so, I looked not at that Kaaba but at all those in front and on the side of me standing over the railing looking upon the Kaaba and the thousands of people making Tawaf around it. At Hajj the last time I had visited I remembered standing at the railing with everyone else in awe watching the river of people circumambulating the Kaaba. Someone behind me said at that time that all one has to do to recognize the existence of Allah is to stand where we are standing and to see what was before our very eyes.
As I watched the other people watching the Kaaba, I looked at the pattern of their eye movements. And one thing that was readily apparent was that one does not gaze at the Kaaba itself for an extended period of time. Most often people would initially glance at the Kaaba and fixate on it for several seconds, and then move on in their gaze to that which surrounds it, namely the thousands of people making the Tawaf. It is as if the majesty of the Kaaba is deemed so great by the eye and heart, that one is humbled in the presence of such majesty and redirects the prolonged gaze elsewhere. And it is in this prolonged gaze of the creation of Allah which glorifies Allah by circling His House in the Tawaf, where one begins to appreciate the majesty. For the majesty of Allah and the majesty of His House, cannot be comprehended by our senses or our intellect. Yet when we look at our fellow human beings, our fellow creation, making the Tawaf, we can get a sense of this majesty. For we see and reflect that within every single one of these thousands of hearts circumambulating the Kaaba, spiritual journeys are being made in each heart. And in each their hoped destination is something which dwarfs the entire universe as we know it in our own finite understanding.
Beyond the pattern of eye movements of those whom I watched, among all of them one could see the longing in their eyes. There is an Arabic proverb that states that lovers carry a mark between their eyes that no one can miss. One sees that love for the Kaaba and for Allah in their eyes. One sees that spiritual yearning and longing to be in the Aakhirah. Seeing them leaning over the railing and gazing at the Kaaba and those around it, it was like seeing a new parent with their face as close as possible to the glass of the nursery separating them from their child. They look upon their child in sheer awe and with the purest love. And yet the glass prevents them from fulfilling their longing to get close to their child and take them into their arms and embrace them, just as the glass of this world and this life prevents us from fulfilling our longing for the Aakhirah and the Divine presence. And yet how infinitely greater is the love Allah has for us!
Soon enough, though I had not finished the supplications of the morning, I could not resist going to the railing myself and continue the supplications while watching the people making the Tawaf. One thing that is realized when one sees the Tawaf is how truly insignificant one is. We tend to exalt ourselves and feel proud of our actions that we think makes us closer to Allah. Yet in the Tawaf, or on the plain of Arafah, one sees millions of people doing these same actions, and we are filled with this feeling of how insignificant we are and how everyone around us seems better than us. How could we ever compare with those other human beings around us making the Tawaf? It is a truly humbling experience.
One of the supplications made by the Prophet in the morning states, ”O Allah, I have entered a new morning and call upon You and upon the bearers of Your Throne, upon Your angels, and all creation to bear witness that surely You are Allah, there is none worthy of worship but You alone.”. In reciting this while watching this never-ending wave of people circling Allah’s House and glorifying Him, it was is as if this supplication was being partially manifest before our very eyes, seeing all of creation worshiping the Creator, as they were created to do so.
The thousand sleepers
After sunrise had come and gone, I left my perch at the railing of the second floor of the masjid and walked around the enormous masjid. In doing so I saw an amazing sight, thousands of people sleeping, their heads resting in a variety of ways, on rolled up carpets, their hands, their shoes. And their colors and cultures were just as diverse, and Allah had brought them all together and given them the n’imah of sleep. Over fourteen hundred years ago, in this very month of Ramadan, Allah had blessed the believers with the mercy of sleep just before the battle of Badr, giving them calmness and sakeena in their hearts, making their planned sacrifice of their very lives easy for them. Allah always makes the sacrifices of the believer easy for him or her after they have committed to it.
There was a tremendous peace in all their faces as they slept quietly. Ibn Hazm wrote that when a man is asleep he leaves behind the world and forgets all its joys and sorrows. If he kept his spirit in the same state upon waking, he would know perfect happiness.
This peaceful happiness was evident in all of them in their sleep, and it is in sleep that the souls are taken away temporarily and only returned to the body if Allah wills that body to live another day. Sleep can be a frightening thing to the one who does not reflect, the one who disbelieves, for in lying down to sleep one abandons their will, and delivers it to the unknown. But for the Muslims, they are committing their will to their Lord and henceforth sleep in serenity and happiness, in hopes of one day finding rest in the divine presence in the Aakhirah.
I prayed for all those sleeping and wished that I may be like one of them as I had not slept in almost two days of traveling and the Umrah. And praise to Allah, sleep arrived quicker than I would have ever imagined. Glory be to Allah who has given us the n’imah of sleep, in which He takes our souls temporarily from our body, where the body and mind are replenished and rejuvenated, and where we are given a window into our very own soul to help us identify the state of our heart!
The race towards Marwa
It was close to the time of Dhuhr upon waking. I went down to the ground level of the masjid and took a seat amongst the many others waiting for the adhaan.
One feels the anticipation of those surrounding you before the adhaan. It as if a loved one has informed you that he or she will call you at a certain time, and you sit by the phone waiting for it to ring. The preparation before our salah is all of this to a greater and grander scale, in which one goes through both physical and mental preparation. For salah is an intimate conversation for the servant with his most Beloved, the Master of the Day of Judgement.
As we waited anxiously for the adhaan to grace our ears for yet another time, I had the opportunity to watch several children in the row in front of me. One thing that one does not get to appreciate as much during Hajj is the beauty and lessons for us in children. During Ramadan in the Haram, one sees many children and families.
Directly in front of me were two young boys sitting quietly, as if in awe of all the people surrounding them. A large man stepped in front of me and seemed poised to literally step on one of the boys. With the greatest and gentlest manner, he tapped one of the boys lightly, picked him up briefly and set him down softly just beside the place of prayer he had just made for himself. An act of mercy. Yet this was but another infinitesimal manifestation of the one part of Allah’s Mercy which has been sent down to all of creation for all of time and space until the Day of Judgement. On that Day, the other 99 parts will be made evident. And all the mercy in the world that we have seen and will see, and all the mercy that our parents, and their parents, and their ancestors have seen only account for an infinitesimal portion of that one part of Allah’s mercy. Subhanallah!
Just to my left and in front of me there was another group of children, apparently two brothers and their sister. The sister was quietly reading Qur’an, sitting next to her father who was doing the same. The younger brothers were playing around poking each other in the shoulder. Occasionally the sister would disengage from her reading of the Qur’an and poke one of her brothers. Their father’s eyes were fixed on the mushaf he was reading, though he periodically glanced momentarily in their direction to keep them in line.
On seeing these children I thought of a young boy performing Sai’ with his family. He was very skinny, and sickly and weak appearing, and it looked as if he was actively struggling with a gastroenteritis of some sort. Yet despite all of that he was making the Sai’ with enthusiasm, walking ahead of his parents, who were working to keep pace with him and almost amazed to see their son walk with such strength.
Allah has blessed us with a fitra and an inclination towards serving and worshiping him. And He has blessed us with the n’imah of Islam, which is within every single one of us. The young boy was not yet at a discerning age, and the true faith was not yet in his heart, but the natural enthusiasm and inclination to serve and glorify Allah was distinctly manifest as he surged ahead of his family as he made the Sai’. In time, inshallah, he will grow up to be a man, and inshallah he will be a great servant of Allah, performing many more acts of worship with the sincerity of faith. Yet all of that will simply be that initially planted ni’mah within him becoming more manifest.
We often times tend to feel good about ourselves and give ourselves credit in how many good deeds we do, how many prayers we offer, how much Qur’an or ahadith we know and so on. And we often do this as we compare ourselves to fellow Muslims who we see are not doing these same external actions to the extent that we are doing so. Yet instead of exalting ourselves, we should in fact be more humbled, for none of this is from us. We have accomplished nothing. Allah, out of His grace, has given us tawfeeq, and enabled us to begin to recognize and actualize that potential and n’imah which has been within us long before. With this tawfeeq from Allah, one cannot help but perform such deeds, just as that sickly boy could not but help to surge forward in his Sai’, for the n’imah given to him and us automatically propels us in that direction. And for those of our brothers and sisters who appear weak to us in their external actions, weak in their belief, they have not yet been given the grace and tawfeeq from Allah to recognize the n’imah, as it remains veiled from them. Yet if the tawfeeq comes, their hearts and position with Allah may be so much greater than ours, and they may surge ahead of us on the Day of Judgement as the young boy surged ahead of his parents during Sai. O Allah protect the Muslims from self-righteousness and the judging of others, for you Allah are the only Judge and know the hearts of people and their ultimate position with You. Give us tawfeeq to recognize the n’imah of Islam that you have given us! You are the Most Gracious, Most Merciful!
An open grave
After the Dhuhr prayer was completed, it was as if no time had elapsed before the time of Asr came upon us. I moved to a different place in the masjid yet again, back up to the second floor to get a better look again at the Kaaba. As I walked around looking for a spot, I noticed an area almost uninhabited by people. I excitedly sat down in the area, happy to be in the first row which permitted me to see the Kaaba. Soon enough however, I realized that no one was sitting there because it was directly in the sun, and as one looked forward the sun was directly in front of your face. So not only was it hot but your head needed to be kept down to avoid looking at the sun.
But as Asr came and went, this proved to be an advantage, for it allowed for further appreciation of the natural phenomena that surrounds us. Those who later joined me had full view of the sun as it slowly migrated westward towards the mountains of Makkah. In some circles of Islamic thought, the movements of the sun and their relationship with the prayer times throughout the day have been made analogous to our stages in life. As the sun approaches the horizon after Asr and as it sets, it is the death of the day, analogous to our very own death.
Almost after every salah in the Haram a Janaza prayer is performed. Imagine how blessed a person is to be prayed on by so many people in the greatest of places! It proves to be a tremendous opportunity to consistently remember death. And even when there is no Janazah, there are so many opportunities to serve as reminders.
In Madina, for example, there was no Janazah after Fajr prayer one day. I decided to visit al-Baqi, phe graveyard close to the Masjid, where many of the Prophet’s household and other blessed Companions of the Prophet are buried.
The sky remained quite dark though sunrise was close to approaching. As I walked the passageways of al-Baqi, I looked up at the sky and at the stars above. To my amazement, a shooting star, a meteorite, dramatically appeared. Yet its demise and fade into the dark sky proved to be just as quick as its explosive and bright birth seconds earlier. In many ways, our life in the world is like a shooting star: A bright flash of light that draws our immediate attention amidst the greater night sky of the Aakhirah which we cannot really comprehend. A flash which vanishes as quickly as it came and back into the depths of the dark sky above.
Soon after, as I continued to walk, I looked down to my right and to my astonishment saw an open grave. It had been dug recently, as if waiting to hear of news of its guest or prisoner, depending on the merit of the person. The initial thought upon seeing this open grave was surprise and shock, but almost immediately there was this desire within to actually enter the grave. As Abu Bakr RA has said, death is as close to a man as his shoelaces. Indeed, this life, this world, is but an open grave at our feet. Yet as I inched closer to it, fear entered the heart and there was hesitation. It was the dunya tugging on the heart, making it hesitate to go towards the Aakhirah. Upon recognizing this state, I could only shake my head in disappointment, for all those souls buried around where I was standing, all those Muslim men and women who lived and died here, would have raced to enter this open grave as we hesitate. How great their generation was in comparison to our own! May Allah have mercy and shower His blessings upon them!
A cup of dates
As the sun continued to descend before us as we waited for the adhaan of Maghrib, preparations were made around us for the breaking of the fast. It is an amazing sight to see thousands upon thousands of people be all accommodated with dates and water (and even more) for the breaking of the fast. And as the adhaan is called one cannot escape the sheer generosity of your fellow Muslims, offering their very food and water for you. It is said that Rasulallah was the most generous of people and he was most generous during the month of Ramadan. In his city of Madina, one will be greeted by a Madinan even before one enters the masjid. He places his arm around you affectionately and invites and guides you towards his serving area where dates, water and other food will be given to you.
On this day, one brother offered me his date to allow me to break his fast, yet afterwards he continued to offer me three more of his dates. “Tfaddal!” he exclaimed, to encourage me to take his dates. “Tfaddal!” I exclaimed to him, encouraging him to take it for himself, to which he responded “Tfaddal!” We went back and forth in saying “Tfaddal” to one another until I finally lost. Several days later, I would attempt to enact a pre-emptive strike on this immense display of generosity. I took my cup of dates and outstretched it towards those near to me offering them more dates. A brother then subsequently placed a bunch of dates in my cup for me!
The Maghrib prayer was performed under the leadership of the popular Imam Abdur-Rahman Sudais, most popular for the Qunoot that he performs in this very month of Ramadan. He recited short surahs, al-Inshiraah and ad-Duha and the prayer was completed rather quickly. This allows people to leave the masjid and eat if they choose to do so. Others choose to stay and prepare for Isha and the Taraweeh.
Not wanting to lose my spot in the first row, and not wanting to leave the masjid, I decided to stay, surrounded by other brothers who had decided to do the same. They were reciting the Qur’an or making dhikr.
”And if they ask you concerning Me, know that I am near” Al-Baqarah 2:186
The closeness one feels to Allah at certain times, when in dhikr, or salah or in recitation of the Qur’an can be an indescribable thing. But as I joined the others in making dhikr as night began to fall, I was further astounded at the magnitude of it all. We feel so close to Allah, we have such an intimate conversation with Him. When you looks around at others however, you realize they are in fact in that same state, they feel that same closeness as you do, that same intimacy. It is an amazing fact to reflect upon. Truly Allah is the Most High, the All-Seeing, the All-Hearing who hears every single one of His servants as all of creation glorifies him, closer to each one of His servants than their own jugular vein!
The plains of Arafah, the Qiyam of Ramadan
The time for Isha came, and with it came the adhaan of Shaykh Ali Mulla, perhaps the most recognized call from the Haram. It is a call that has had a particular effect on me. There is a saying that “Before you visit Makkah it beckons to you, and when you leave it behind it calls to you forever”. For myself, this calling often comes in the form of this particular adhan, whether hearing it for real or hearing it simply in the mind, it has been a reminder and calling towards this blessed place for years, and now, praise to Allah, we got to hear it again, live. Its echoes throughout the great expanse of the masjid and the night sky over Masjid al-Haram is rivaled only by its echoes in the hearts of those hearing it.
Many people began to make du'a after the adhaan was completed, for one of the greatest times for du’a is between the Adhaan and the Iqaama; it is a time where the sincere supplication is not rejected.
There is a story related by Imam Ghazali of a man who while during Hajj was visited by two angels in a dream on the night of Arafah who told him that of the six hundred thousand pilgrims making Hajj, only six of those were accepted. He woke that morning anxious and in grief, rightly worried about his own standing given that only six people had their Hajj accepted. The next night, in Muzdalifah, the two angels visited him again in his dream and told him for each of those six people, due to their merit and own prayers, a hundred thousand were given to each, so all six hundred thousand people had an accepted Hajj.
All of us, one hopes, can recall of supplications that we have made to Allah that have been answered. We can fall into a trap of thinking that my du’a was answered by Allah. But were those supplications really answered, or was it just the supplication of someone more righteous than we being answered? Could it be that whatever good fortunes have befallen us, whatever we have wished for in the past that has come true, was in fact because of an accepted du’a of someone else rather than our own du’a? Perhaps it was the du’a of our parents, or our friends. Perhaps it was the du’a of a stranger who we have never seen or never met, who saw us in the corner of his eye one day and made du'a for us. Perhaps it was the du’a of one of our ancestors hundreds of years ago praying that good would befall his offspring. Like those nearly six hundred thousand people making Hajj that year in that story, we may never really know. All we can do is work and struggle to find sincerity and humility in our du’a and pray to Allah that we may be included amongst the righteous.
The recitation of the Isha prayer was brief, and consisted of the last three verses of Surah Baqara. In this group of verses, just before the sublime invocation at the end, we are told not to distinguish between the Prophets. And it leads one to reflect on the Prophets, being in the place where several Prophets have walked years ago.
There was sheer excitement within myself, and the others no doubt, as we awaited the Taraweeh prayer. I thought of Hajj and the day of Arafah and being on the bus anxiously awaiting to arrive on the plain of Arafah. The excitement I had now was similar to then. Hajj is based on both physical action and spiritual introspection; its physical rites can be so taxing and numerous, however, that room for spiritual introspection can be at times forgotten. Yet if one talks to any Hajji, they will universally speak of the standing on the plain of Arafah as the greatest part of Hajj. For it is on the plain of Arafah that the physical rites stop, and where one can delve into deep spiritual introspection.
Ramadan is based heavily on spiritual introspection without many rites to be performed specifically, other than the recitation of the Qur’an and the performance of salah, in particular the Taraweeh which is unique to it. In this month, some of the secrets of salah can be unlocked.
While the many rites of Hajj are a celebration and commemoration of the Messengers of Allah, the unique rites during Ramadan are a celebration and commemoration of the Books of Allah. Both of them are commemorating and celebrating that conduit between the divine and humanity, the conduit of revelation consisting of the Messengers and the Books of Allah.
If Ramadan is a celebration of the Qur’an, it is magnified in the Taraweeh in the Haram. For it was here that many of these verses were sent down. It was here that history was made and revelations were sent down juxtaposed to these historical events. To here Shaykh Shuraim recite the du’a of Ibrahim in the surah named after him asking Allah that Makkah be a place of peace and security was an awesome experience for all of us. For we were standing there in serenity, with the brisk night breeze causing our thawbs to billow in the wind, all witnesses to Allah’s answering of Ibrahim’s du’a for it had come to fruition. The evidence was before our very eyes.
Imam Shuraim’s recitation was as magnificent as it always has been. Seven years earlier, I had heard him for the first time in the Haram and since then I have been listening to his tapes, which are recorded during the Taraweeh. And now to finally hear him and stand behind him in the Taraweeh in the Haram!
Appropriately so, as Surah Ra’d (The Thunder) was recited, to hear the beautiful recitation of the words of Allah was like lightning under the skin, as if the heart undergoes a brief moment where it becomes in phase with the rest of the physical body which is constantly glorifying Allah . It is as if the heart begins to receive input and sensation from this perpetual state of constant glorification of Allah that every single cell of the body’s limbs and organs is in. Its effect is as sharp as lightning and as profound as thunder, for those brief moments can begin to shatter the shell of sins and forgetfulness that mask the heart.
"In the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction." Ra’d 13:28
There is a sweetness to salah that when one experiences it, one understands why Rasulallah stated that salah was the most beloved thing in the world to him that brought coolness to his eye. One of the shaykhs in our religious tradition stated that if the kings and rulers knew what we the Muslims had, i.e that sweetness, they would fight us for it.
One finds that sweetness in Arafah in the midst of millions of people, and one sees the magnificence in these millions. So it also is in the Taraweeh of the Haram. As one stands before the Kaaba in the Tarweeh and looks towards it and at all the people facing it in turn, one finds magnificence. And as one lowers their eyes towards the place of prostration, and then into their own heart, one finds sweetness.
After days of physical actions and deeds, the Hajj reaches its high point, and its most crucial point, on the plains of Arafah. Here, physical deeds and actions are minimized, and the Muslim simply stands and raises his or her hands, calling on Allah for forgiveness and mercy. The petitioning for mercy is all we can do, for no one, not even Rasulallah as he has stated, will enter paradise on account of their deeds but only because of Allah’s Mercy.
The culmination of the Taraweeh prayer in the Haram is the Witr prayer. And like on the plains of Arafah, it ends in the same way, with us standing, facing the Qibla, hands raised and asking Allah for forgiveness and His Mercy on the Day of Judgment. And His Mercy prevails over His Wrath.
O Son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it. Hadith Qudsi in At-Tirmidhi.
As the Witr was completed, and as the most memorable of days came to a close as we left the Masjid, no doubt all of us were praying that the Qunoot was accepted. We would be back soon, God willing, back for another chance to converse with our Lord, to fast for His sake, and to visit His House.
The clouds of mercy or punishment?
Just before leaving the Haram several days later, after praying Maghrib and seeing the Kaaba and praying in the Haram for perhaps the last time of my life, dense black clouds began to appear in the sky. The wind gradually began to increase. Many become excited believing that rain would soon fall. Traditionally rain has been understood to be a sign of mercy of Allah.
I thought of Rasulallah and how his wife Aisha had described how concern would drape his face when he would see the black clouds, for he would immediately think of the people of ‘Aad who saw such clouds and assumed rain would come but were then met with the severe disaster and punishment from Allah.
A drizzle did soon follow thankfully, but as the wind became fierce, and the sand began to enter our eyes, and as thunder and lightning illuminated the sky above the Haram, I couldn’t but wonder if this was not just a sign of Mercy but also a warning and a portent for things to come.
When one sees the Muslims on Hajj, or on Umrah, or fasting in the month of Ramadan, one begins to see the potential of the Ummah and strength of this deen. The difficulty however, is that we have been unable to translate the generosity of serving dates to our brothers and sisters at Iftar time to generosity outside the month of Ramadan and to our fellow Muslims and the greater human community. We have been unable to translate the donning of the Ihram of the heart of the fast into the deeper fast in which we reach the highest of moral behavior that is a sign to the rest of humanity of the truth of this deen. We have been unable to translate the physical and spiritual discipline of the salah and actualize its lessons into good character between each prayer. We have been unable to translate our prayers of peace on the Prophet into a desire to bring glad tidings to our fellow human beings and we have been unable to increase our love for the Prophet enough to follow his sunnah regarding dealing with people. And while rites of Hajj, symbols of faith externalized into action and good deeds, are performed, we have been unable to translate them into motivations for good actions that enjoin justice in this world.
As I left Haram, perhaps never to visit it again, I wondered, reflecting on my own self and the Ummah as a whole. The next time the black clouds loom above the Muslims, in Makkah or anywhere else, will that rainfall of Mercy again come, or will it be the thunder and awful cry of Punishment?
One wonders. And Allah knows best.
The journey continues…
For those who visit Makkah and than leave it, it remains within their heart forever. Wherever in the world they may be, the image of it is permanently engraved within them. The only things that prevent us from revisiting it and seeing its magnificence and majesty in our hearts are the veils of disobedience to Allah that cloud our vision.
The Hajj continues long after one has completed the physical rites during that span of several days in Dhul Hijjah. It continues in the heart for the remainder of one’s lifetime. And during that lifetime the month of Ramadan comes as the rediscoverer, reopening the roads towards Makkah within the heart, increasing the wayfarer’s provisions for the journey and easing the way towards the hoped destination.
May Allah accept the Hajj and Umrah of the Muslims. May He accept our fasting during the month of Ramadan and keep us firm on the deen both in the month of Ramadan and outside the month of Ramadan. May He have Mercy on all the Muslims and may He guide us to the path which most pleases Him.
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