It is a blessing of Allah Subhana-hu wa Taala that more than three million Muslims perform Hajj every year. Tasneem, my daughter, Imran, my son-in-law and I were also blessed to take this once-in-a-life-time spiritual journey, which took us to Dubai, a journey of 8200 flying miles, from Los Angeles to Dubai, during the first phase of the Hajj pilgrimage.
At the shower facility in the Dubai airport, each member of the Hajj group took shower and changed into Ihram garment. Later, we boarded the plane for Jeddah. The tranquillity and peace on the airplane, together with the awareness that we were on our way to Makkah to perform Tawaaf around Kaaba, the House of Almighty God, was so intense and deep that I felt being in the sacred precincts of Masjid Al-Haram. Recitation of Talbiyah and special Dua’s during the flight provided further enhancement to the peaceful ambiance.
Upon arrival in Makkah, we immediately went for Umra after performing Salat el Magrib. Umar Khattab and Dr. Nadir Khattab, our Hajj guides, gave us instructions, received from those controlling throngs of Muslims entering Masjid-Al-Haram, and we ended up on the first elevated Tawaaf structure around Kaaba. I turned my face and kept on looking for Kaaba through the openings in the Tawaaf structure, I could only see the top areas of Kaaba even after focusing my complete attention, finally, ended up settling down to performing Tawaaf.
Next day, once in the precincts of Masjid Al-Haram and passing under the elevated Tawaaf structure, I propelled my quick and impatient glance at the Kaaba, I was struck with awe, Allahu Akbar. Standing less than 70 feet from the Kaaba, I witnessed the glory, greatness, majesty and the dignity of Kaaba – the Bait-Ullah, its splendour and magnificence. I continued to stare at Kaaba, the House of God Almighty that I had always visualised during decades of praying and performing Salat in my house or in a Masjid. The Majestic Kaaba was in front of me in three dimensions, attracting and compelling me to look at it with wide-eyed gaze. I continued my passionate gaze trying to absorb the three dimensional image of Kaaba into the recesses of my heart and brain; to cherish this moment forever, as long as I live. The joy and happiness of seeing Kaaba had no bounds.
One time I was on the top floor of Masjid Al Haram looking down at the Kaaba, making Zikr and watching humanity making tawaaf. While making Zikr, I turned my glance towards the sky, as if attempting to look at the Arsh Azeem in the seven Heavens above. I could only see clouds and the sky. My quick look returned to earth and I continued to gaze at Kaaba. However, during Salat in the precincts of Masjid Al-Haram, while listening to Surah Fatiha and ayaat of the Quran recited by the Imam, I would always focus my gaze on Kaaba and continue to look at it intently.
One of the delightful observations etched in my memory includes listening to the adhan summoning Muslims to come to Masjid Al Haram for prayer. Muslim men, women and children would converge and walk toward Masjid Al-Haram to congregate in its precincts to perform Salat. Men would rush while holding hands of their spouses or relatives to join the congregation in Masjid Al Haraam. I observed women walking with faster paces than men. All women from around the world were in hijab, and a scarf around each woman’s neck showing the name of the country. Muslim women from a country would form a train, holding hands, four or two in a row and perform Tawaaf and later continue the train outside the Haram, single or two in a row.
Faisal Amin, one of the members of our Hajj group, had a heart wrenching experience. Once he was waiting for other members of the group when an elderly Chinese Muslim woman tapped on his shoulder that made Faisal realise, after a few moments, that she was lost. Using gestures he comforted her and started looking for ladies with China scarf. He finally found a group. Upon approaching the group, he discovered that it was a different group, women in the other group did not speak the same Chinese dialect. It took Faisal half an hour to find the right group. The Chinese woman was finally reunited with her Hajj group.
The young boys and girls enthusiastically followed their parents or elders to Masjid Al Haram. Once, I saw a young man sitting with a baby, under one year old, in his lap and rocking him to sleep. Muslims from every walk of life had come with the sole intention of performing Hajj and pleasing Allah Mighty God. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims were walking, riding buses, cars and taxis, and arriving at the Masjid Al Haram, and performing Tawaaf and Salat.
We witnessed renovation and expansion of Masjid Al Haram to accommodate millions of Hajjis coming for Hajj in the future. Once, while on the top floor of Masjid Al Haram, I counted 33 cranes being utilised around 30% of Masjid Al Haram for renovation and expansion. The same area was cordoned off to those performing Umra Tawaaf. During Hajj, only the top floor was accessible for performing Tawaaf and 30% area remained closed. Of course, the courtyard around Kaaba and the two elevated Tawaaf structures were also available for performing Tawaaf during Hajj. Dr. Nadir Khattab, our Hajj guide, told us that the two temporarily installed elevated Tawaaf structures will be disassembled and sent into storage after the completion of the expansion and renovation of the Masjid Al Haram.
Shaikh Mamdouh Mahmoud, our Muallim, arranged for the Hajj group to visit historical places in Makkah, including visits to Ghar Hira and Ghar Thawr. At the site of Ghar Thawr he told us that the future plans include construction of aerial tramway with cabins, control and monitoring systems, for each location, to enable people for getting to the top of the mountain to see these historical caves.
After staying in Makkah for five days we went to Madinah. In Madinah, the mere sight of Masjid-e-Nabawi drew my attention to the history of Islam; recesses of my memory unlocked the information residing in my mind and awakened me to the presence of Masjid-e-Nabawi. I had seen hundreds of pictures and videos of Masjid-e-Nabawi and the Green Dome over the Rawdah of Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be to him) and Khalifah Abu Bakr and Khalifah Umar (may Allah be pleased with them). The beautiful Masjid-e-Nabawi in front of me in three dimensions touched my heart and soul, and reminded me of many ahadīth and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be to him). The sensational and breath-taking feelings, and awe-inspiring moments are now embedded in my memory now and forever. Allahu Akbar.
One time, I prayed near the Mehrab-e Tahajjud on the Tahajjud Platform in Masjid-e-Nabawi. The feeling was too wonderful for words when reading At-Tashhud during Salat, saying “As-salamu Alayka Ya Nabi U, Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu”; praying to Allah and facing Kaaba, while being less than 80 feet from the Hujra of Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be to him).
Dr. Nadir Khattab told us about Masjid-e-Nabawi expansion project, saying that the buildings and the hotels facing the courtyard will be demolished for the extension of Masjid-e-Nabawi.
We also visited Masjid Quba, the first Mosque built by Prophet Muhammad in Madinah. Shaikh Mamdouh, our Hajj Muallim, told us that Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be to him) once stayed near this area on his way to Madinah. A date factory, called Mansa Tamoor in Arabic, is located near Masjid Quba and 50 types of dates are available for purchase; dates with different colours, textures, sizes, softness and taste. More than 60 stalls, selling dates and candy from Arab countries are located in this date factory. I counted 43 date stalls inside the factory and two outside making a total of 45. The factory had a rule: you are allowed to eat as many dates as you want, however, you are allowed to take out purchased items only.
In Madinah we visited historical sites and Masajid, including Masjid Qiblatain and Masjid Quba. We also went to Mount Uhud and prayed for the martyrs who had died during the Battle of Uhud. The cemetery of the martyrs of Uhud is located to the north of a small red mountain known as Mount Rumah (mountain of the archers), a name given to it because Prophet Muhammad appointed 50 archers on it under the command of Abdullah bin Zubair. Shaikh Mamdouh, our Hajj Muallim, gave details of the Battle, prompting my mind to glide into visualisation of the confrontation between the Mushrakeens of Makkah and the Muslims of Madinah. Shaikh continued providing details and I continued to mentally see as to what had happened at Uhud. He pointed at the graves of the martyrs and said that the Muslim army prevailed and defeated the Mushrikeen at first, prompting some archers to leave their position for the booty, resulting in the Mushrikeen approaching from behind and attacking the Muslims, forcing many companions to run up mount Rumah, which resulted in the martyrdom of many companions. Prophet Muhammad ordered burial of martyrs, who had died in the Battle of Uhud, near Mount Rumah. It was a humbling feeling to listen to the details of the Battle. Although we all had read about the details of the Battle of Uhud in books, but to get a reminder at the same location where this historical event took place was spine-tingling. The images of cemetery of martyrs, Mount Uhud and Mount Rumah are etched in my memory.
We returned to Makkah on eight Zul Hijja, we made preparation to perform Hajj by taking shower and putting on the Ihram. We later got on a bus and went to Mina to start the Hajj manasiks. On 9th Dhul Hijjah went to Arafat, we performed Wuquf (standing and praying) and sought Allah’s forgiveness. In Arafat, Umar Khattab, our Hajj guide, told us that the Saudi government had issued a security alert, and later that night, in Muzdalifah, we saw four helicopters hovering over Mina and Muzdalifah.
In Muzdalifah, we prayed Salat Ul Isha and then collected pebbles for the Jamarat. We waited to go to the train station for transportation to Mina valley for the first pelting of the pebbles at Jamraat. During that waiting period in Muzdallifah, lying on the carpet, I looked at the moon, an activity I engaged in after more than 55 years. I had looked at the moon lying on my back as a child in my hometown. I felt the vastness of the heavens and the earth, and the open space all around us. While lying on the carpet it appeared as if I was trying to listen to the voices inside the earth. One of the ayaat from the Qur’ān came to my mind: “All that is in the heavens and that is on earth and all that is between them.” I forgot about the world and whatever is in it (duniya va ma fiha). It seems that the remembrance of Allah and an unexplainable sense of human existence helped me enjoy that moment and filled my heart with joy. Allah Subhana hu wa Taala gave me concentration and power to enjoy and take delight in the vastness of the universe and the heavens.
From Muzdalifah we went to Jamaraat area and pelted the big Jamaraat and returned to Mina camp on 10th of Dhul Hijjah. The next day we pelted all three Jamaraat, and on 13 Dhul Hijja travelled from Mina to Makkah and performed Tawwaf Al Ifaadah. We completed all the Manasik of Hajj and before leaving Makkah performed Tawaaf Al Wadaa.
Later I recalled my moments of peace and tranquillity in Muzdalifah and the humbling experience of enjoying the vastness of heavens and the universe. The blessings of Allah were with all the Hajees in Muzdalifah, as in every other place in Makkah. I remembered that in Makkah, before the start of Hajj, we were scheduled to go to Madinah, our Muallim Dr. Mamdouh Mahmoud gave a lecture, as he did every day during Hajj, and said, “We will go to Madinah, return to Makkah and on 8th of Dhul Hijja, prepare for Hajj, take a shower, put on Ihram and go to Mina. We came from the comfort of our homes in the United States; now living in a hotel with one or two suitcases; will proceed to Mina to start the Manasik of Hajj with a small bag of clothes and would be living in a tent while sleeping on a mattress on the floor; on Youm-e-Arafat, we will travel to Arafat and will stay in a tent without any bed or sleeping place or comfort; after the sunset, we will be moving to Muzdalifah, and here, all of us will be homeless. There is a lesson to be learned from the Hajj pilgrimage, we will be going from a home to a state of homeless and then returning to our homes. This is a test from Allah Subhana hu wa Taala.”
I am praying to Allah Subhana hu wa Taala: O! Allah, forgive my shortcomings and weaknesses; keep my mind alert and sharp and improve my memory. O! Allah, give me strength to continue to remember details of the Hajj activities I performed in Makkah, Mina, Arafat, Muzdalifah and Jamarat. Accept my good deeds and allow me to help others because I find joy in happiness of others. O! Allah, give me courage and strength to do good deeds, which I want to do to help my family, Muslim community, and the entire humanity living on this earth.