Ever since I got married, I had the desire to go for Hajj. A little before Ramadan 1417 a.h. (1997 c.e.) I thought of taking the vacation time either for itikaf (seclusion in the mosque) in the last ten days of Ramadan or for Hajj. Considering my financial position and my financial forecast, it seemed less likely that I would be able to go for Hajj in 1417, so I opted to take the vacation for the itikaf. 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, and Dr. Shagufta Hasan treated me and brought me medicine when I had some fever. May Allah reward them all for their efforts.
As the Hajj 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 Hajj. 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 Hajj, 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 Hajj visas. I was uncontrollably excited. I kept jumping and couldn’t wait to go for Hajj.
It was a pleasure to say the Talbiyyah on the way to Makkah. The Talbiyyah is: “Here I am at Your service, O Lord, here I am. Here I am at Your service. You have no partners. Yours alone is all praise and all bounty, and Yours alone is sovereignty. You have no partners.” 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 it. Some people thought I was too much in a hurry to put on the ihram in New York. They were planning to take a shower in Cairo and put on ihram there. Some did not have an ihram and were planning to purchase one in 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 at Jeddah, which some scholars consider is within the miqat. All thanks to Allah, He let me put on the ihram in New York!
Cairo was a mess. We never got out of the airport, it was such a mess. A bus took us from the plane to the main airport building. Outside the building, it read “…Enter Egypt, if Allah will, in security.” (Yusuf 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 Hajjis were put into two rooms. Officers were inconsiderate and the people were indifferent. There were two scholars from Al-Azhar University who were teaching the Hajjis about Hajj. 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 “Allahu 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 performed 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 Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Later, I saw a woman dressed in a skirt showing her legs. She had the civil liberty of wearing whatever she liked but the Muslim scholars apparently did not have the liberty to wear a beard.
At Cairo I met a brother who said to me that Hajj is a big lesson in patience and perseverance or sabr. That was very good advice. I tried to stick to it as much as I could.
Arrival in Jeddah
Jeddah was a bigger mess. We were given a booklet about performing Hajj 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 we were waiting for or where the line should start for any processing. Inshirah said that he had spent nineteen hours in that area on a previous Hajj-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 out 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 service the next morning. The Hajj 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 all believed in One God. There were flags of different countries. I spotted the Pakistani flag right away. It appeared that the Indians were more prominent and organized than the Pakistanis were. They had a dispensary there and 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 Hajji Reception Center, where we were served with cold Zamzam 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 there was inclined towards the West. When I got to the bus stop in Makkah, two brothers greeted us. One of them, Abdur Rahman, was wearing a turban in a very traditional eastern style. It was a relief to see some eastern tradition left. The other brother, Talib, spoke fluent Arabic. They both spoke fluent English. 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 Al-Masjid Al-Haram. I asked Inshirah if we were going to go to Al-Masjid Al-Haram directly, in accordance with the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). He said that we had 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 Al-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 salah. I also noticed that the cafeteria was charging money for food, even though I was told that the food was all paid for. I had swollen feet from the long travel. Although at the time of writing these words it sounds as if many things went against us, believe me, I was more excited at that time than when I left New York. The love for the Kabah was strong, all praise be to the Almighty.
First View of the Ka`bah
After unloading our belongings, we soon left for Al-Masjid Al-Haram for our first Tawaf. It was time for `Asr Prayer when we got there. After the prayers I told the group that I wanted to make the Tawaf 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 with “As-Salamu alaykum” and then with “Hajj mabroor” (may your Hajj be accepted). On one such occasion, an elderly Turkish brother gave me a string of seven beads to count my Tawaf around the Kabah and Sai 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 the Kabah, 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 teenager who was late coming home. There was some feeling of guilt, there was hope of meeting and peace, there was the fear of getting caught, there was the love of Allah and the Kabah. The Kabah looked beautiful, absolutely splendid, magnificent. Tears ran down my cheeks as I made my invocation to Allah. Glory be to Allah, the Lord of the Ka`bah.
At Al-Masjid Al-Haram, I saw a lot of people sitting and waiting for salah. Most of the people walked right in front of another brother praying. This is against the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). People had put down their personal belongings, such as a water bottles, slippers, prayer rugs, next to them and were awaiting salah. When it would be time for salah, 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 losing 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. I also saw women praying next to men, something against the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
While making Tawaf around the Kabah, I found slippers, plastic bags, prayer notes, and other objects lying on the floor. It appeared that the people were so concerned about losing their slippers that they had carried those with them while making Tawaf. Allah made them lose those anyway! I noticed that women did a lot of unnecessary pushing. I suppose they were afraid to get lost and were carefully following their mahrams. I saw a sister jumping onto the Muslims making Tawaf to make way for herself. I saw a brother making Tawaf and shoving people left and right to make way for himself. At one time during a Tawaf, 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 Kabah, 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 MasjidA’ishah at Taneem, take a shower, pray two rakahs, put on 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 owed 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 Al-Haram. I found out that there was a public bus, which left for the MasjidA’ishah fairly regularly and charged four riyals round trip. I got onto one of those and at the masjid put my ihram on for the third `Umrah. On the way back to Al-Masjid Al-Haram, the entire bus was chanting the Talbiyyah.
When I got off, I found Bilal. I remembered 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 Al-Masjid Al-Haram, I had a lot of different emotions. She was on my mind all the time I made the Umrah. By the time I got done with the thirdUmrah, I was limping. I went to a nearby Zamzam dispenser and started to serve Zamzam water 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. On 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 were left next to where the Kabah now stands. She put her faith in Allah. Of course Allah took care of her and the infant with great honor. He gave them Zamzam 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 limping noticeably. 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 the 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 roommate, 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 tendonitis. He advised me to keep up my plans for Hajj. 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 the Saudi government paid all.
I did not want to spoil my Hajj, so I did not make any more Umrahs. I went to Al-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, the United Kingdom, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. I met many others whose nationality I did not ask about. 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. A 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 he learned Arabic, he told me that he learned at his school. He told me his nation is working on getting organized. A brother from the United Kingdom told me that the Muslims in the UK have formed factions. A brother from Turkey told me that during the time of the Turks, the buildings around the Kabah were lower than the Ka`bah in respect of it. Pakistani brothers were having a discussion about jihad, whether jihad should be done with oneself or with the enemies. It was like a worldwide 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 employee 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 Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) forbade 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.
On another occasion, I noticed that when two people would get into a deadlocked argument, one of them would break the deadlock by saying, “Send prayers on the Messenger (of Allah).” Then they would both send prayers on the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him). This would calm the other down and there would be more chance for a mutual agreement. These dealings were different than in the West.
The “Super Bowl”
The night before 8 Dhul-Hijjah, my roommate Abid, an African-American chaplain at Riker’s Island [Prison], 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 of Hajj rituals. We were supposed to be in Mina before Zhuhr. 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, and 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 that 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 this, two of the residents of our neighboring tent started to make Talbiyyah alternately. When this conversation did not go anywhere, 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 should join in. It was as if we were making Talbiyyah next to stones. In fact it was worse; they looked at us as if we had gone crazy or astray.
We did not find anyone selling food. We did find a Pakistani brother cooking food. We asked him to sell us some. 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.
Fire in Mina
On the way back to the tent we found someone selling food and purchased it for 8 riyals per person. We also noticed a lot of smoke at a far distance. There was a chopper trying to put out 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 might 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. 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 it 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 about it. They said that they could see the flames earlier but not anymore, 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 evacuating 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 were asking people to leave. So I started to tell the people that the police were now asking them 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 as people will care about themselves on 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 will care about themselves more-when people who acted wrongly and those who did not act in time of need will be the fuel for the Hellfire. This woman could have gotten burned if she had stayed in her place. It was not her fault that the fire was raging, but it would have been her fault if she had not 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 their 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 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 their 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 of Muslims in the world being oppressed and plenty of Muslims in peace. Why do the ones in peace not go for jihad to help their oppressed brothers and sisters? Have they forgotten Hellfire?
The wind had certainly picked up. I did not want to leave Mina. Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) taught us to stay in Mina starting from before Zhuhr 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 and reached a place where the mountains cupped. At that time, I realized that I would get trapped if I stayed in Mina. 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 …] (An-Nisa’ 4: 59) and told them that the police, who have authority over them, had 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 farther because his heart was not feeling good. They were carrying way too many loads for their age. All this did not stop them from throwing away their worldly belongings and saving themselves from the fire. 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 to consume. It reached the cupping of the mountains and made the Hajjis 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 there was a lot of it. It went over our heads, covering the sun. The sun had less light than the moon. The sky was 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 Hellfire.
[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.] (Al-Humazah 104:1-9)
I could feel the heat of the fire across the highway and it was hot. The Fire of Hellfire is going to be seventy times hotter than the fire of this world.
When the fire had finished consuming 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 the worldly goods in Mina and drive us out. 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-but few joined him in the Talbiyyah.
I was terribly sad. I was totally devastated and depressed. I felt as though Allah had kicked us out of holy Mina. Instead of feeling like a guest of Allah at Hajj, I felt like an intruder in His space. I felt as if my entire Hajj was ruined. We were supposed to be in Mina at that time but we were out of it. We could see Mina, and it was very close to us, but we could not be in it. I considered not following up with the rest of the Hajj rituals. After all, I was unable to perform the very first ritual of being in Mina from before Zhuhr 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, but 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] (At-Taghabun 64:13). The evaporative coolers that did not work earlier were still useless now. The food that I had bargained long and hard for was burned up. It was good that the Bangladeshi brother sold it to me cheap. All of his food most likely burned, too. Allah blessed his generosity in two ways-he got some money by selling food before it burned up, and good deeds were written for him for his generosity. His material belongings were gone but his deeds remained-just as we will leave everything in this world, only our deeds will 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 was now inedible. His material belongings were all burned up, too; his deeds 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’s Saudi pre-paid card. There were a couple of other people who did not have calling cards and we all used Anees’s 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, but sometimes wrong things happen when I am angry.
When we were boys in school, 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 had 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 `Isha’ Prayer.
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 50 to 100 people had died. It turned out that about 350 people died in that fire.
There was garbage, litter, and filthy water all over the place. I felt as if I had come into a filthy ghetto. It did not look like a holy place. 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, but 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 Muhammad (peace and blessings 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 peel 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 that 99 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, and 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?
Abdur Rahman and I spent the night where our tent used to be. He had come to Saudi Arabia to teach English and had 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, had done something terribly wrong for which we were all deprived the privilege of staying in Mina for the Day of Tarwiyah. Later, the brother who had told me that we would have been better off if I had not messed with our neighbors’ 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”] (At-Tahrim 66:6-8).
The Day of `Arafat
The next day we went to Arafat. Again, there was no problem getting there. There were no traffic jams and no one was riding on the roofs of the buses. This is the place where the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) prayed Zhuhr andAsr 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 memorable last Hajj sermon. This is the place that reminds us of the Day of Resurrection. Men were dressed in two sheets of cloth. On the Day of Resurrection we will be lucky to have even that. Everyone for himself 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 Namirah for the Zhuhr and Asr Prayers atArafat. Prophet Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him) originally built this masjid. As I got closer to it, 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 Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) had taught us to not sit in walkways so as not to block them? People had umbrellas propped up; the corners of the umbrellas were at eye level and a danger to the eyes of fellow brothers and sisters. Did Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) not teach us to be considerate of 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 formed a small stream. Did the Prophet Muhammad (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 Muhammad (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 got worse? Would the world have lost anything if we had burned in the fire?
I will 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 will be a lot closer and hotter. In the Hellfire, when one layer of skin gets burned, another will be grown to take its place. I must fear the harshness of the Day of Resurrection and the torment of the Hellfire. 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 that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings 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 ibnAbdul Muttalib [the uncle of the Prophet] 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 Rabi`ah ibn Al-Harith.
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 Sha`ban.
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 your five daily Prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your wealth in zakah, perform Hajj 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 have any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a 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 messenger 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. (Reported by Muslim)
At `Arafat, I saw garbage and litter all over the place. It seemed that I had come to a garbage dump instead of a holy place. This was fasad or mischief. Did Allah not tell us Himself that He does not love those who create fasad? [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] (Al-Qasas 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 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 Hajj, 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, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) not teach us not to cheat? Did he not tell us to take our provision when we go for Hajj? 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 while waiting for the bus.
A little into the night, we reached Muzdalifah and offered our Maghrib and `Isha’ Prayers and spent the night there on the ground under the open sky. Next morning we had to go to Mina again. We found an empty bus going in that direction and tried to get on. 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!
In Mina I was surprised to see that most of the tents were back up! They must have worked day and night to achieve this huge task 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 Jamrat Al-`Aqabah in remembrance of the Prophet Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him) stoning the devil. I volunteered to take care of an elderly Bangladeshi brother, Muhammad 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. Muhammad 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 Muhammad (peace and blessings 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 kindred, and He forbids indecency and evil and rebellion; He admonishes you that you may be mindful.] (An-Nahl 16:90)
As in Mina and Arafat, there was garbage at Jamarat as well. The same beggars that were atArafat were there, too. 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 observance of the rules satr (or covering) as taught to us by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)?
Back to Makkah for Tawaf
From Jamarat, we proceeded to Makkah to make Tawaf of the Kabah. On the way, Muhammad Ali told me that he had been robbed of his money while making Tawaf. 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, the Kabah, someone had robbed him by slicing open the belt 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. Muhammad Ali had to go back to the UK the next day. Somehow, we decided to part right outside Al-Masjid Al-Haram.
As I proceeded to the masjid, I saw an old Pakistani brother of about seventy years of age slip and fall due to the water on the floor. He was in deep pain. He kept saying that he had 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 had burned her feet during the fire. His son was very nervous. The old man kept blaming his fate and apologizing to his son for ruining the son’s Hajj. At the hospital, I found out that there were many such cases and the orthopedic ward was overflowing.
I could not make Tawaf that day so I went back to Mina after getting rid of my hair. I did not find Muhammad 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 to be a breeze this time. Later that day I was able to make Tawaf and Sa`i. That day I saw the authorities using bulldozers to pick up garbage from around Jamarat.
The last day, I had this apparently smart idea that I would go right after Zhuhr to stone Jamarat and then I would be done for the day. That was a real bad decision because 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 were 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 allowed 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 so 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 Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). He liked cleanliness and preached it to his followers.
With all praise for Allah, the Lord and Cherisher of the worlds, the Hajj 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 Hajj, our group leader told us that we would leave for Madinah on a certain evening. So, I went to make my farewell Tawaf that day. When I got back, it was announced that we are not leaving that night after all. That made me get up to talk after everyone had spoken. I told the management that they should keep their promises as the Qur’an reminds us: [O you who believe, fulfill (your) obligations] (Al-Ma’idah 5:1). I reminded them of their broken promises of paid food, reliable bus service for all salahs, 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 had spoken out.
A major contingency at the Munafi residential area left soon after Hajj. 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 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 an old lady.
Eventually we left for Madinah by bus. On the way there, the authorities had put up signs by the roadside saying “All praise be to Allah,” “Glory be to Allah,” and similar messages. 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 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 Wahhab, 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 Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). It was very beautiful to just walk to Al-Masjid An-Nabawi for salah. Al-Masjid Al-Haram and Al-Masjid An-Nabawi breathed people. Before salah, 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 his or her face turned towards the masjid. After salah, people would similarly leave the masjids like air molecules from our noses.
Abdul Hakeem, a young African-American brother who had reverted to Islam only seven months before coming to Hajj, told me that when he found out that Muslims are supposed to go for Hajj, he said, “I’ll go.” For him it was just fulfilling his obligation. He said that some of the “born Muslims” had 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 Hajj and that this young brother was availing the first opportunity of Hajj on becoming Muslim. May Allah bless Abdul Hakeem and may Allah guide us all to the Straight Path. Ameen.
Right after the first Zhuhr Prayer I prayed at Al-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 together for the next three days.
Right after the last salah Shahzad and I prayed at Al-Masjid An-Nabawi, we ran into a very small library right inside the masjid. It has old manuscripts of the Qur’an. Some manuscripts were written on 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 bound volume. 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 Maghrib Prayer on the way back we stopped at a wayside masjid. Bilal gave the Adhan and Inshirah led the Prayer for a group of 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 preceding few days, I felt that the reverted Muslims deserved the leadership of the Ummah, just as in that Maghrib Prayer. 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 and blessings be upon him), unlike those who merely claimed to follow Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him).
As expected, we spent another night at the 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 try an hour after the start of check-in. 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 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 husband’s sons, their brothers, or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s 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] (An-Nur 24:30-31).
One of the men calmed down a bit, the woman started to mumble in Arabic, and the other man, who still had a 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 Hajj 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 one at Jeddah, it was a much more pleasant experience. At Jeddah, it was Hajjis 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 Hajjis to be patient, at JFK the officials were directing people to the next available immigration officer. At Jeddah, I was wearing ihram, an obvious indication that I was a Muslim going for Hajj in a Muslim country. At JFK, I was wearing shalwar qameez, an obvious indication that I was 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 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 although 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 Hajj has a certain amount of commitment to Islam. Everyone spends time and money to go for Hajj. If the people that I met at Hajj 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 Muhammad ibn Qasim, the 17-year-old general who delivered Muslim prisoners when an Indian prince invaded their ship. There is no Salah Ad-din Ayyubi, who said that he would not smile until he had delivered Jerusalem. There is no Muhammad Fateh, the 18-year-old general who pushed ships on land around the Bosphorus to conquer Constantinople (Istanbul) because of a prophecy of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
It is also no wonder that there is little progress in the Ummah towards the advancement of various sciences. Today in this Ummah, there is no Abu Ali Al-Husayn ibn Abdullah ibn Sina, the great physicist and physician whose books were used as medical textbooks all over the world up until the mid-seventeenth century; there is no Al-Khawrizmi, 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 trigonometry who invented sine, cosine, tangent, and cotangent. We do not have the discipline or the patience to wonder about the signs of Allah. It is no wonder that there are few like Abu Bakr,Umar, Uthman, andAli. 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 revealed fourteen hundred years ago: [Verily Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition; and when Allah intends punishment to a people, there is no averting it, and besides Him they have no protector] (Ar-Ra`d 13:11). We have forgotten the message. It seemed only a few people I met at Hajj 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 Hajj.
The overall picture of Hajj 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 Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) taught us so diligently and practiced in his life.
Tell them to stop following 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 salah. The most difficult salahs for a hypocrite are Fajr and `Isha’. Tell them that Allah forbids dealing with interest and that whatever is forbidden by Allah does not have the blessings of Allah in it. Also remind them to pay zakah 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 will be spending time in sin. Today, it is considered admissible for men to wear shorts and for women to uncover their hair, but this was 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 to 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.] (Al-Hujurat 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 Hajj-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 will fall 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. 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] (Aal `Imran 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 Hajj is in the same spirit. I do not judge the people, for that is reserved for Allah alone; I only see the actions. May Allah please, with His Great Mercy and Generosity, accept the Hajj of all the believers and grant them all a high place in the highest Paradise. May Allah please forgive my forgetfulness and mistakes and those of all the Muslims. Ameen.
Narrated Abu Hurayrah: The Prophet (peace and blessings 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 in our own faith.
Practical Advice for Hajj
In the end, I’ll mention some of the lessons I learned regarding the logistics of performing Hajj. The average age of the Hajjis was probably more than 55 years. It was difficult to make Hajj for many of the elderly people. One should plan to make Hajj as soon as one can, preferably before forty years of age. Once one can afford to make Hajj, Hajj becomes an obligation to Allah. One may be held responsible if one was able to make Hajj for a short period of time in one’s lifetime but did not avail of it at that time. Later on, one may never be able to afford Hajj again. Offering Hajj at an early age ensures that one will be in good physical condition and in a spiritual state to mend one’s ways easily and earlier.
It is probably easier and better to make Tawaf 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 Tawaf is, of course, as close to the Ka`bah as possible if you can do so without hurting others or yourself. I found it better to make the Tawaf 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 the risk of injuring-physically or emotionally-another Muslim brother or sister or yourself.
By deciding on a meeting place, the women will be more in a position to make an effort to pray with women and not with men. Men and women should pray separately as taught by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
Women have a leave to go to Jamarat at nighttime. They may want to utilize it. There are a lot of people at Jamarat during the daytime, and it may be difficult for the women and children. Men may want to perform the stoning in the daytime for themselves and then accompany their women at nighttime.
Out of all the salahs that I prayed in Al-Masjid Al-Haram and Al-Masjid An-Nabawi, there was only one that was not followed by a funeral Prayer. You may wish to learn the Janazah Prayer. Narrated Abu Hurayrah: Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings 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.” (Al-Bukhari)
Under the new system, everyone is given a wristband. The name of the office that is responsible for 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 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 that of your companions. There are information offices in Mina andArafat as well, and people should feel free to get directions from there.
Medical care is free for all Hajjis. I came 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 the US told me to keep the receipt separate from the checks. The officer at Al-Rajhi Bank in Makkah said that they would cash it if it were accompanied by the receipt and my passport. Of course, the Saudi officials had already taken my passport into “custody”. In this situation I called American Express. They said that I could 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 could 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 that has many pockets to protect valuables. It is a fact that people pick pockets of Muslims making Tawaf. These pickpockets are well aware of the construction of those belts. I saw a Turk brother crying out loud in front of the Ka`bah and asking for money because he had been robbed. His belt had been cut open from the back while he was making Tawaf. I do not know if he was a victim or a con-artist. In any event, my recommendation is not to use such belts but to find different belts or pouches, perhaps from your hometown.
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 had gone for Hajj before I did, had advised me to put a bright colored sticker on the spine of the passport so that it would be easily identifiable. It was a great help-I was able to recognize my passport right away.
You may want to take a flight that goes directly to Jeddah. You may also want to make sure that your lodgings in Makkah and Madinah are at a walking distance from Al-Haramayn. 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-Arab, Pakistani, Indian, Indonesian, American (McDonald’s, KFC, Dairy Queen), and many other types of restaurants are abundant. However, I suggest that you eat less at the restaurants and eat fruits and drink Zamzam water so that there is less chance of stomach problems, and, consequently, you may concentrate on your worship.
Take more money than you estimate that you will 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. Don’t put all the eggs in one basket.
There is a huge barbershop opposite to Jamarat. The Saudi government runs it. 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 hygienic 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 a charged electric shaver. In any event, it is much better to have your head shaved at the government-run barbershop than by the men on the street.
The Saudi government has put in a lot of effort to make Hajj a smooth process. There are ample restrooms and wudu’ facilities all over Al-Haramayn, Mina, `Arafat, Muzdalifah, and waysides on the highways. There are ample buses for transportation. There is a large contingency of police. Some of them were 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 Hajjis are supplied with Zamzam water every day at their residence, although the Munafi management did not give any to us. The medical facilities are free of charge to the Hajjis, paid by the Saudi government. At the Mountain of Mercy, there are poles that spray out cool mist so that it does not get too hot for the Hajjis.
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 could mark some rows close to the Ka`bah on each floor to be reserved for making Tawaf. The tents in Mina could be made from flame retardant material (a suggestion given by Mikal).
Most of all, Hajj is a time for sabr (patience). It was difficult for me to not fight, to not even argue while I was at Hajj. But this is exactly what is required of us. I suggest practicing not fighting nor arguing long before it is time for Hajj.
May Allah take you, my gentle reader, to a Hajj that 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.
By Mohammed Assadullah