Friday, July 29, 2005

An opening in the house of Allah

Photo: Worshippers saying their last duas and their farewell to the Prophet (saw) outside his mosque. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

Although the entire Rihla had a significant effect on me, I believe each one of us had that one epiphany that we will probably remember for the rest of our lives.

I had expected a whirlwind of emotions, but I was not prepared for the intensity of them. I don’t think I could have sufficiently prepared for what I felt when I first saw the green dome, when I first walked toward the Masjid un Nabawi, during my first prayer there, and definitely not for what I felt in the Rawdah. Subhanallahil Adheem. And this was just in Madinah. What was to come in Makkah was a whole different story.

When departing Madinah for Makkah, the weather had taken a turn, and was overcast with the threat of rain. Although there was no downpour, I felt a drizzle on my face, and I’d like to think that I was fortunate enough to catch a few drops of blessed Madina rain. After seeking the Prophet’s (صلي الله عليه و سلم) permission to leave his blessed city, it hit me, how attached I had become to this beautiful place in a relatively short space of time. As we rolled out, I caught my last glimpse of the green dome, and unable to hold back tears, I sought comfort in the words of the beautiful farewell dua…..

Farewell O RasulAllah! O beloved of Allah! May Allah not make this visit to you the last one; except with goodness, security, health and peace. If I live, by the will of Allah, I will come again, and if I die, then I keep in security with you my witness, my promise and assurance from this day, to the Day of Judgement, that ‘There is none worthy of worship except Allah, the One who has not partner and I witness the fact that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger’. Praise to the Lord, the Reverend, Who is free of what the infidels ascribe to Him, and peace be upon the Prophets, and All praise is to Allah, the Sustainer of the Worlds. RasulAllah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Whoever visits my grave, his intercession becomes compulsory on me” and the Prophet, peace be upon him, also said, “Whosoever visits me after my death, it is as if he visited me during my life.”

At some point during the journey, my sadness turned into excitement and slight nervousness as I turned my thoughts to Makkah and what was yet to come. Labbayk Allahumma Labbayk…

My first glance at the Kaaba... Subhanallah, the tears just stopped and I felt like someone had reached into my chest and gripped me tightly. It took a few seconds for the du’a to start pouring out, but when they did, I felt like I could stand there all night….They say the duas made when a person first sees the Kaaba are always accepted.

Photo: The rihla group stop at the miqat to make their intention for umrah. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

Before I knew it, I had completed ‘Umrah, Alhamdulillah. It was only after this that I started to feel things I had never imagined that I would feel at the House of Allah.

I had expected to feel a heightened sense of awe in Makkah, compared to Madinah, which I did initially, but anxiety and a strange fear took over me. I just wanted to go and sit in a corner away from everyone, like a frightened child. I was deeply disturbed by this reaction, as every other person I spoke to was in complete awe of the place, and loved it. I made dua to Allah to let me realise the reasons for my discomfort at His house. I began to worry that my heart had been blackened so much by sins and hypocrisy that I was incapable of feeling close to Allah even at His sanctuary.

In the quiet of my hotel room, I was still reeling from what I had experienced at the Haram. Sleep was out of the question, and I began to think about the difference between Madinah and Makkah. My mind took me back to the Rawdah, the peace I felt there, the gratitude, the humility.

Then it dawned on me…

Madinah reminded me of Jannah and Makkah, of the Day of Judgement!

Memories of Madinah were filled with the presence of the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم), his closest sahaba, his family; and prostrating in Riyadhul Jannah, an actual piece of Paradise, and all those warm, welcoming feelings.

The scenes I had witnessed in the Haram in Makkah were reminiscent of what I had learnt about the Day of Judgement. During tawwaf, I witnessed people circling the Kaaba at different paces, some struggling, some running, others walking, calling out to Allah in different languages, different tones, some crying, some shouting as if in desperation, some reciting as if in a trance, people hanging onto the Kaaba door as if their lives depended on it, people pushing, pulling, climbing on top of each other to get to the black stone…..

During sa’ee, I noticed the muffled wailing of people in sujood, and those rocking back and forth in a daze, calling out to Allah, some with their hand raised high.

Between Safa and Marwa, some pilgrims were sweating profusely and I remembered the description of Yamul Qiyamah, where people will be sweating, some up to their knees in it, others drowning in it.

At the top of each of the mounts, I saw children bringing cool water to their exhausted parents, and once again it reminded me of the Day when children who had died before puberty will be looking for their parents amongst the chaos and confusion to give them a cool drink.

Strangely I felt a huge sense of relief, which was quickly replaced by gratitude. I was so grateful to Allah for that experience, even if it represented only a tiny fraction of the reality of the Last Day. Since coming to Islam, I had belief in the Day, but this was the closest I had ever come to believing in the reality of it, and for me this was an immense opening.

After this realisation, the rest of my experiences at the Kaaba were awesome, and I wanted the images to burn into my memory, so that when I returned home, and tried to make those sacrifices that would bring me closer to Allah, the memories of the 'reality' of the Day of Reckoning would hopefully make them easier.

A. M.

They come from afar to be in his presence

Photo: The shiny marble surrounding the Prophet's (saw) mosque. © The Baksh family. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

They Come From Afar To Be In His Presence, To Die Where He Rests (Sal Allahu Alaihi Wa Salaam)

We journeyed from our respective homes to be with him (صلي الله عليه و سلم), to send him peace, and to beg for his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) intercession. What I realised immediately in the Blessed Madinah was that pure love for him (صلي الله عليه و سلم) resonated from all those surrounding him (صلي الله عليه و سلم).

What struck me the most was the plethora of grasshoppers scattered upon the cool marble floor of the Masjid in the moments after fajr prayer. They would come each day, traveling to the marble from wherever they may have resided, knowing very well they would be trampled on by crowds of pilgrims leaving the mosque.

Yet, each day they returned to his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) peace and warmth. They must have prayed as did Syedna Umar (Radi Allahu An), “O Allah, grant me martyrdom in Your path and let me die in the city of Your Messenger”.

Zainab Khan

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A legless pilgrim richer than I

Photo: Rihla participants outside the Haram in Makkah. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

Today was our last day in Makkah. Zakia Aunty and I decided to go to the Masjid al-Haram to pray and to do some last minute shopping in the area. Once there, Zakia Aunty suggested that we do a farewell tawwaf (seven circumambulations) of the Kaaba. Now, it was burning hot and the last thing I wanted to do was stand outside in the glaring heat, smothered by the crowd. But I was ashamed to realise that here I was, ready to brave that same heat, for the sake of a few riyals worth of shopping, yet not to make tawwaf of the Kaaba... especially as there was no knowing whether I'd ever be able to come back to Makkah again. So I made du'a and started. Alhamdulillah (all praises are to Allah (swt), it was made easy for us...there was a cool, gentle breeze that would always greet us at the Station of Ismail (at a particular place near the Kaaba), sent, no doubt, by Allah (swt).

At first, my concentration was divided between making tawwaf and counting down the numbers so that I could get out of the heat, as well as trying to make dhikr. But Subhanallah, my attention was caught by a one legged man, making tawwaf on crutches. I thought, "Mashallah, good for you!" and smiled as I said salam to him. But then, later, I saw something that will stay with me forever - If I am lucky. There, on the ground was a legless man, slowly making tawwaf by using a block of wood to propel/lever himself forward around the Kaaba. He didn't look impatient, or hot or resentful; he looked happy and focused on what he was doing. This man loved Allah (swt) so much, was so sincere in his iman (faith), that the powerful heat, the suffocating crowds, and the lack of legs to walk on still couldn't stop him from making tawwaf.

Subhanallah, here I was, with two perfectly healthy, strong legs and yet I had come half-reluctantly... thinking that I had already done three umrahs and that that was quite enough. I have never been more ashamed of myself as I was in that moment. What must Allah (swt) have thought of me? And Subhanallah, what a difference there was in that man's faith and mine! Watching him struggle to make Tawwaf, I questioned whether I have ever struggled with that much passion for anything to please Allah (swt). For any form of worship? When did pleasing Allah (swt) and worshipping Him ever seem as important to me as making tawwaf was for this legless man?

I knew that I had a long, long way to go before I could come even a little bit close to being loved by Allah (swt). What I needed to do was perfectly obvious: I needed to ask Allah (swt) to allow me to have the type of iman possessed by that legless man in Mecca. He was dressed in rags, and I in a beautiful new outfit, but there was no doubt as to which one of us was richer.

Now, as I sit here on the plane back to Miami, I feel afraid of falling back into the same state that I was in before I left for Madinah. Insha'allah I pray that these two weeks will allow me to be a better person, a better Muslim, for the rest of my life.

Yesterday, as I was making Saee (part of the umrah where you must walk back and forth between Mount Safa and Mount Marwa, seven times), I was feeling tired because of the heavy bag I was carrying. Going back and forth between Safa and Marwa, I suddenly realized that this is similar to what I imagine it will be like for us in the Hereafter, crossing over the Bridge of Sirat. Some of us will cross it so fast; it will be like we flew faster, even, than the speed of light. While others will travel at different speeds, proportionate to the amount of sins weighing us down - just as my bag was, in that moment, weighing me down.

My friend Danya asked repeatedly to take a turn holding my bag but I refused and insisted on lugging it around myself. Because when I am on that Bridge, there won't be any way to ask someone else to carry my "baggage" for me... and I wanted to think about just how awful and tiring this earthly experience was in the hopes that the memory will stay with me, and make me remember the Bridge of Sirat - and, accordingly, "pack lightly". Insha'allah Ameen.

Allah (swt) has been so incredibly kind in allowing me to have these two blessed weeks. It makes me think of the strange parallel between my life and that of Rasoolallah's (صلي الله عليه و سلم), in this particular regard. When he (صلي الله عليه و سلم), was feeling disheartened and saddened, Allah (swt) blessed him (صلي الله عليه و سلم) with the Isra' and Mi'raj in order to heal his spirits and to comfort his soul. I wasn't given a chance to visit Allah (swt), but was brought by Him (swt) to visit His house instead; I wasn't blessed with the Mi'raj but was granted the blessing of Madinah instead. But the end result was exactly the same: a beautiful, soothing healing, and a sense of being comforted by the love and kindness of God.

Subhanallah, it is true what Allah (swt) says in the Qur'an: "Never will you be able to count the blessings of your Lord." Alhamdulillahi Rabbil 'Alameen. O my Lord, truly Thou art the most forgiving, the most kind.

Feiza Naqvi

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The coolness and hospitality of Taif

Photo: A welcome meal, Taif-style. And raiding the blackberry bush in the adjacent garden. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

Once in Taif, the air turned pleasently cool. It must have been the altitude, Alhamdulillah. It was so welcoming after that long bus-ride up.

We were surprised (actually not that surprised because the Saudis have been so welcoming to us throughout our stay) by an invitation to dinner from the Mayor of Taif. We are the fortunate beneficieries, nay, stragglers who benefit from the high regard shown to Shaykh Abdallah Al-Qadi and Shaykh Hamza.

Alhamdulillah, the meal, we were told, was in keeping with the tradition of the people of Taif. We were seated on carpets in an open area right next to a large garden. While we waited for what turned out to be a delicious roast lamb meal, we were served cool grapes and figs. Subhanallah, it did not escape us that when the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) sought shelter in an orchard during the Taif saga, he (صلي الله عليه و سلم) was served grapes by Adaas, a Christian servant who later embraced Islam at the Prophet's (saw) hands.

While we waited, we explored the garden and were granted permission to raid a gorgeous blackberry plant. Oh the fruit was so full of flavour! We couldn't stop eating from it.

Living proof of a successful mission

We are on our way to Taif and our bus has just broken down in the middle of nowhere (or rather, at a gas station in the desert, in the middle of nowhere). Many of us came back to the hotel after Fajr, after having done umrah, and went straight to bed, thus missing both breakfast and lunch. I woke up at Dhur time with about 20 minutes to shower, get dressed, pray and board the bus for our trip to Ta'if. We aren't going to return to Makkah until Maghrib (or well after if our past trips are any guide) and many of us are starting to feel hungry. I have been among the lucky few able to snack on an apple, but I am still feeling weak and wilted.

Alhumdulillah, it makes me think of Rasoolallah (صلي الله عليه و سلم) and how there were times when all he had to eat were a handful of dates. The way I am feeling now, I could never gather enough energy to walk around outside in the desert heat for long, much less walk to Badr or battle or lead an army or fight like he, Rasoolallah (صلي الله عليه و سلم) did - on a handful of dates, no more.

Subhanallah, where did his strength come from? How was he (صلي الله عليه و سلم) and the sahaba (ra) able to remain not only patient but active in their struggle to establish Islam even while having eaten so little? Just being on this bus, air conditioned and comfortable is still a bit of a hardship for me because of the hunger - and I've had an entire apple and just need to sit here in comfort.

If I had gone to Taif like he (صلي الله عليه و سلم) did, hungry, tired and weary from the heat, and had been treated like he (صلي الله عليه و سلم) was stoned and chased out of town like some detestable vermin, I would have either broken down crying and tried to quit, or made an entirely different du'a that what he (صلي الله عليه و سلم) did.

Even when he was bleeding and chased by people whom he (صلي الله عليه و سلم) had really thought may have been receptive to Islam, even then he (صلي الله عليه و سلم) was so patient. And not only patient but forgiving and compassionate. Anyone, if they try hard enough can succeed in being patient but it takes something extra, something more, to be compassionate and forgiving as well.

Everytime I hear about the Taif story, I wish that I could have been there to comfort Rasoolallah (صلي الله عليه و سلم) and to tell him that I am living proof of the fact that his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) mission would succeed - to do what I could to ease his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) sorrow and pain. But I can't travel back in time and hug Rasoolallah (صلي الله عليه و سلم) or say any words of comfort. All I can do is hope that one day, Insha'Allah, I'll be able to him and see him (صلي الله عليه و سلم) smile with joy as crowds upon crowds upon crowds of his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) ummah enter Jannah. Insha'Allah Ameen.

But until then, I have to remember that the path to that moment, that meeting lies in the here and now, on this bus, with me being patient and thankful for the apple I was blessed with.
Alhamdulillahi Rabbil 'Alameen.

Feiza Naqvi

On the road to Taif

Photo: The harsh terrain leading to Taif. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

Aside from our farewell to Madinah, the roadtrip to Taif is, for me, definitely the most painful. How many hopes did our blessed Rasul (صلي الله عليه و سلم) carry with him as he traversed this land on his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) way to Taif? How heavy his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) heart must have been with worries and fear of rejection, and how truly alone he (صلي الله عليه و سلم) must have felt in this barren land, with Abu Talib gone and no other human strength to support him (صلي الله عليه و سلم) ...

We read about how the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) was eventually turned away from Taif. We read about how deeply disappointed he (صلي الله عليه و سلم) was at this point, and about his poignant prayer at the end of this trip, where he expressed his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) absolute dependence and need of Allah's help. For us, these are the climactic parts of the "Taif story".

But to actually traverse this path ourselves, to retrace our Beloved's (صلي الله عليه و سلم) heavy footsteps to Taif, brings on a pang of deep sorrow in the depths of our hearts, and helps us understand more truly how meaningful that climactic really was. The first thing that strikes me is the terrain - it is mountainous, brown, sun-baked, craggy mountains, with nothing green and hopeful in sight. Looking out from an air-conditioned bus, there's no way really to fathom how difficult this journey must have been for our Beloved (صلي الله عليه و سلم). With our pampered Western selves, we can barely stand for ten minutes in the heat to hear the stories of how Badr and Uhud were fought. How did he (صلي الله عليه و سلم) travel so far from Makkah, on such boiling and unwelcoming terrain? What was going through his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) mind as he trekked this long and tiring journey? If Taif were to reject him (صلي الله عليه و سلم), where then would he go?

I wish I could have been there, if only to offer cool water to his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) thirsty lips, to carry whatever of his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) burden my small hands could have, to hold his blessed hand and offer any shred of reassurance that I possibly could.

Perhaps this journey towards an eventual rejection from Taif was part of Allah's wisdom - to remove from the Prophet's (صلي الله عليه و سلم) heart any shred of reliance he (صلي الله عليه و سلم) may have had on the hope of support from other human sources. If only I could have been there to see his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) blessed smiling face when Allah (swt) finally rewarded him with the coolness of Madinah.