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Living Hajj
Dr Rizwan Haider


Why does a vast majority of Muslims not perform H~ajj? Do they not realise its importance? What are they doing here after all? Why are they wasting time? Don’t they know that the most unreliable partner in life is life itself? These were the kind of questions that always bothered me ever since I returned from H~ajj but then, I recalled, I also started working on the plan after four decades of mundane struggle. It dawned on me that undoubtedly ‘The King’ of kings is generous, forgiving and kind beyond our expectations but He is very very selective in hosting people in His Haram. Its living examples are scattered around us and people with all the worldly resources have not been able to make it to that place, for one reason or the other. The very birth of the thought that one should perform H~ajj is an honour and implies that one is in the list of those whom the Almighty wants to bless. It is no coincidence. Nobody but ‘He’ could generate the thought and nobody but ‘He’ is the R. S. V. P. So, if you find your name in the ‘list of quests’ stay put in the queue and don’t let the opportunity slip away because a second call is even more unpredictable than the first one. If you have been blessed with the thought you have the foundations, and the rest is a pleasant journey, though uphill. The thought will lead you onto the road of applying for and then getting a visa (hopefully), making preparations, both physical and mental and finally embarking upon the journey. But things do not appear to be happening until the visa is actually granted. No real enthusiasm, no heartburn and no sense of reality. However, the visa endorsement news and removal of the biggest hurdle in one’s way virtually causes palpitations and suddenly, every move one makes becomes enriched with emotions. One seriously starts to read the guide books, asks questions from senior pilgrims and if, fortunately, gets hands on the literature explaining the philosophical background of this great event, starts to stagger with the thought of what is forthcoming. Every step has its own meaning and leaves an unforgettable impression, something that one cherishes later.

The first incident of realisation is putting on ‘the Ihrām’ and probably the most explosive one; it symbolises the dress that one wears after death to present himself in the court of his ‘Creator’ on the Day of Judgement. It means that his worldly life is all but over; the test he had been given is finished and the final bell has tolled; no more writing on the paper and its time for the result!!! Truly speaking, this is the first time that one sees the writing on the wall. He has no doubt about what he deserves. He doesn’t need to be given the charge sheet; the cine is already in motion and ‘now’ he knows too well where he faltered. In a few moments, he will be shown the final abode.

…The fire! The torture! The suffering! Forever! No, Lord, No. Please. Give me just one last chance and I’ll undo all my wrongs; I know its only me; Iblīs had no authority on me but I opted for his friendship and this time, Lord, I assure you, I am not going to be the same…

The cine stops; one comes out of the trance but knowing too well that he has been heard. He has been granted another, may be the last chance. The nightmare was as good as true and will be there again if ...

With these feelings, one kneels in front of ‘The Creator’ to express one’s immense gratitude and acknowledge that he treasures the opportunity. The two Rak‘ats of Nawāfil that one says at this moment have no match in all of one’s previous prayers as, for the first time, one feels conversing with his Master absolutely directly. He knows that ‘He’ is there and listening. One, almost certainly, has never been exposed to such a ‘living contact’ before and though new to it, prays that it remains with him forever. He knows that from now on prayer is his need, not a duty.

This experience serves as the basis of the whole expedition and hence sets the objectives to be achieved at each stop. One leaves home in Ihrām with the feeling that one may never see ones belongings again. Airport presents a totally alien picture this time; almost every traveller is in the same dress and social disparity is non-existent. No VIPs, no escorts. No laughter, no tears. There is a vivid ‘can’t care less’ attitude in the air about worldly accessories. Checking in queues are quieter and the usual Pakistani temperament more or less under control. Even within the aircraft, rows on window seats and quality of food are not encountered. Mīqāt announcement suddenly causes a stir in the crowd and the Talbiyah chant grips the entire space. ‘O Lord, you granted me the opportunity and I treasure it; I am on my way; I have left my home, my children and my everything, just for You because I know You are my master, the only one. Praise is for you, Gratitude is for you and Power is for You and no one shares them with You.’ These verses are small but beautifully integrated and one feels that nothing could have expressed one’s innermost feelings any better at that time. Jaddah Airport and travel to Makkah are difficult to get over as the apprehensions build up, fuelled by emotions. Most of the passengers are new to the area so, in spite of everybody asking the other, no real satisfaction is achieved. Road travel eventually ends; the bus drops the entire group ‘somewhere’ in Makkah with only the driver knowing how close to the Haram, but it usually is within walking distance. From here on, you don’t even need to ask someone for directions; just follow the crowd and you will get there. Congested streets suddenly widen into wide arenas surrendering their identity, in respect to the holy place. And then one gets the first, real life look at the majestic, grey-stone building that serves as the boundary wall of the ‘House of the Lord’. The entire space between this and the buildings across the road (over a hundred yards approx.) has been cleared of structures in recent past and is now covered only by white marble to serve as extended prayer area when the inside fails to accept anymore pilgrims. The unique quality of a special white marble is that it maintains a very comfortable temperature even in hot summers and hence compensates to a great extent the exhaustion caused by the blistering sun.

The grey-stone building that surrounds the Haram has many entrances which allow equally smooth access to people from all sides. The largest of these entrances is called the Bāb ‘Abdu’l ‘Azīz that faces the Ajyād area and is decorated by two superb minarets. These minarets also house the state of the art sound and lighting system; the former can be experienced at all prayer times, and just the ‘Adhān’ sounds so unbelievably different. The very pure Arabic accent and valley affect of Makkah no doubt add to the beauty of verses and for the first time, one realises what ‘Allāh-u-Akbar’ actually means; what it takes to say ‘Ashhadu an lā ilāhā illalāh’ and how ones deeds reflect his faith in ‘Lā ilāha illalāh’. Extensions from the main sound system have been laid into all the streets around the Haram up to almost one kilometre radically to provide the same super sound quality to the millions who throng the streets at prayer times in Ramadān and H~ajj. The job has been extremely well done and one owes tribute to the master planner / designer who brought dreams to reality.

So much for the sound system. Now if you happen to have arrived in Makkah in the morning, you will get a chance to say your Zuhr and ‘Asr prayers in Haram and it takes no time to discover that getting a reasonable place for the prayer inside the building in only possible if one arrives well ahead of time (may be 20-30 minutes before the actual time of the congregation). Later than that, you may be able to get in but most likely are going to end up saying the entire prayer while standing in the stream of people who don’t know where to go once the Imām begins. The problem aggravates a shade further at Maghrib time as relatively cooler temperatures attract people from far and wide and these will go only after the ‘Ishā prayer is over. So places once taken are seldom vacated. I take an opportunity here to advise you to say at least your first Maghrib prayer on the marbled area outside the main building. This, on the one hand, will take you through the sensational experience of dusk gradually merging with the florescent lights and on the other, will allow you to witness the incessant flow of humans into the arena.

As the prayer time draws closer, the human influx begins. All the streets around the Haram that were merely crowded with people involved in various activities suddenly change character and turn into vibrant streams with a unidirectional flow, everyone moving towards the Baytullāh, mesmerised. The scene is unbelievable as one sees hundreds, no … thousands, no … millions, or maybe more rushing towards it and first the marble and then the concrete of the roads as far as one can see is replaced by a brilliant white cover; without hesitation one acknowledges that nothing on this earth but the House of God could deserve this. It is no ordinary ‘building’, it is the place that reminds you that the Master is actually closer to you than your life vein and one better be there quick to register one’s apology lest the opportunity is lost.

The lighting system is as superb in quality as that of the sound and in spite of extravagant, high energy equipment one never appears to feel the existence of light source (as against the lights in a stadium). The lights are put on well before the Maghrib prayer, and at that time one is not even aware of them. The Maghrib prayer lasts for about ten minutes and this is exactly the time that the hand-shake of natural and artificial lights takes place, and when one comes back to the world at the end of the prayer, one in fact holds ones breath in. I wish that this be your first Jahrī prayer in the Ka‘bah and I wish that you understand what Imām Sudays is reciting; if you do, then we are in the same boat and know that whatever words I may use they will not be able to express a fraction of our heart when he reads through ‘Hal Unabbi’ukum Bilakhsarīna A‘amalā’… Me?

H~ajj, as you may eventually appreciate, is a process of endless retreats; one leaves for H~ajj as ‘someone’ and after arriving in Makkah one is perpetually faced with experiences that defeat one’s self esteem, one’s own principles, one’s nature and one’s ego. This ‘experience’ is alien, perplexing and sometimes frustrating but this is, in fact, the blessing of a pure H~ajj which reduces one from ‘someone’ to ‘no one’, but from a loser to a victor.

As the days go by in Makkah, you will appreciate how intelligently Imam Sudays selects the verses for recital in the prayers. He knows, it appears, the change of heart that his followers behind him are going through and digs out all the verses from the Book that most precisely express their sentiments. So you will find him reciting ‘Rabbanā mā Khalaqta Hādhā Bātilā’, ‘Rabbanā Lā Tu’ākhidhnā In nasī’nā aw Akhta’nā’, ‘Innama’l Hayātud Dunayā La‘ibun wa Lahaw’ and many more, and if you are still able to maintain composure, you are a superhuman.

Now is the time to get inside the building that I have taken so much time to describe from outside and you must have realised that words are at a loss to capture what the eyes actually see. You may enter through any of the entrances called ‘Bāb’. It is quoted that a prayer at the first glance of Ka‘bah never goes unheard and one usually prepares for the occasion so that nothing is left out of the list. But I tell you this is not going to work, for two reasons; one, it all happens so suddenly that plans are shelved and two, the sight of the Holy House leaves one absolutely overawed. I am sure this is not the only article that you are going to read in preparation for H~ajj and like me, you are making a fantasised picture of what you expect to see; a huge, rounded open space with a relatively small Ka‘bah in the middle; see, that is the problem with an aerial view which most photographers resort to. But quite contrary to one’s imagination, one sees a relatively smaller open space with a very dominating square in the centre which one sees almost immediately, at point blank range as one enters through the gate. You will stop, I know that, as I did and as almost everyone coming there for the first time does; this happens under the sheer grace of the Holy House. It is only four walls and a roof built with extreme simplicity but, honestly, one is perplexed by the impression it casts. It is out of the ordinary, man can make empire state buildings and world trade centres but most certainly he can not make another one like this. Ask yourself (when you are there, Inshallah) and … there go your preparation and plans of first look; hands go up in prayer, almost robotically; eyes close… dampen ... and then overflow. One tries hard to come up with some words but the mind refuses to help; frustrated, one looks towards the heart for (help) but it appears alien too, arrogant to be more precise. ‘You wanted to be here, so here you are; you were happy that you were called, so be happy; why ask me? But did you really deserve to be here? You know how mean you are but you want to be the Kings guest! Go ahead, He is right there’. One immediately realises that this is the way one day, exactly in the same manner, testimony will come forth, not only from heart but also from hands, feet, eyes and even the skin. Another moment of remembrance; Yā ayyuha’l insān mā gharraka bi rabbika’l karīm. Transition between the Herein and the Hereafter appears unrealistically quick but it remains real, however.

Were it not for the strategic importance of the occasion and fear of missing the opportunity one would, almost certainly, take an about turn and come out, known now fully well that one’s soul is too polluted to be presented and will have to undergo thorough overhauling before one can ask to be there…. But then one will never achieve that satisfaction about the soul’s status and also what better than this place for ‘overhauling’. With these mixed feelings one moves on, passes through the hallways, descends through the stairs and, finally, lands on the white marble floor which maintains an extremely pleasant, cool temperature all through the day and the year; There are various stories about what lies under the floor but irrespective of what these actually may be, the very first contact of bare feet with this surface is a heavenly experience. No matter whether one has travelled all night long to get here or has been up to say midnight prayers, the ‘cool’ in the stone miraculously revitalises the soul and one feels fully charged for the exercise ahead. From here on, if you just follow the crowd you will be through with most of the ‘Umrah proceedings. You have never seen the Hajr-i-Aswad so you don’t know where to begin; you may be looking for the green light that points towards it or the black line in the floor but much before that you see a more dense crowd within the huge crowd raising their hands in the air and you know what it is for. Similarly, you need not remember whether to go clockwise or counter, the crowd movement drags you in the right direction. Rukn-i-Yamānī, will not to be searched again; it becomes obvious when the crowd mechanically points towards it. Coming now to the actual proceeding: it was the Prophet’s way to actually touch the Hajr-i-Aswad and say the prayer to begin the Tawāf but this is not mandatory; during busy days especially in Ramadān and H~ajj, it is virtually impossible for everyone to get as close to the stone as that so the Holy Prophet (sws) allowed the raising of the hand from a distance symbolising an attempt to reach the stone. Similarly, it is not true that one has to stop at the line marking the position of the stone, turn towards it and then say the Takbīr. One is permitted to look towards the stone, raise the hand, say the Takbīr and keep moving; this is much required in peak rush hours as a very rhythmical crowd motion comes to an abrupt halt as it approaches the stone causing serious problems for the frail and elderly. Last but probably the most important aspect of this gesture is that the Holy Prophet (sws) declared the stone to be the right hand of God Almighty and one begins the proceedings by holding it as we do even in our daily lives to make a solemn pledge with each other. But this one is different, for two reasons; one that it is no ordinary hand and two that it is no ordinary pledge. Sitting in an office or in one’s bedroom may make it a little difficult to imagine but in there, it is as true as broad daylight that holding the Almighty’s hand is no joke; if performed with clear perception, this is probably the most difficult part of the entire proceeding. Picking up courage to hold that hand implies that from here on you mean what you say, may it be a confession or a promise and this itself is a huge responsibility. Its repercussions are great. It really surprised me how lightly most of the crowd takes it and how mechanically it just rolls over this ritual; certainly it is absolutely ignorant of the monumental task that lies ahead. Every word that one utters from here on will be regarded as a pledge and every move one makes later in life will be judged accordingly; emotions are uncontrollable and hence, prayers incessant but, one must realise, they may serve as the FIR against him eventually. That by no means implies that one should not spell one’s heart out even there, but, on the contrary, one should be fully conscious of what one says as this will be the guideline when one is ‘back to work’ Remember what we concluded earlier on … this may well be the last chance.

After this Istilām of the Hajr-i-Aswad, comes the most beautiful part of ‘Umrah proceedings, the Tawāf. We all have seen this countless number of times in pictures and videos and have made an image of it in our mental library but, like most other things on this expedition, its real life experience is shockingly different. If ever one could understand the feelings of poets exaggerating about their sweethearts, and acts of ‘malangs/sūfis’ at the shrines, this is the occasion but with one big difference; this is what our Lord had ‘ordered’ us to do and we do it, only for Him. Circumambulating the Baytullāh is a human’s spiritual zenith, and while whispering to the Almighty one appreciates what a grand gift this is for mankind. We normally do not realise the importance of a means for conveying our feelings of gratitude or guilt to our Creator, but we can see its ramifications in alternative religions in the shape of various man made gods and rituals. Now, when you go round the Ka‘bah with a soul as ‘satisfied’ as a neonate and without the apprehension of ‘misdemeanour’ you wish that the time just halted, the counts lost their worth and you carried on with the Tawāf endless number of times. This is truly the time when metaphysicals becomes physical, flesh and blood cease to exist and you feel all alone, even in that sea of humans, in front of your Master. You hear no voices and see no one, as if the crowd was never there; what a gem of an opportunity; imagine, a few moments in total seclusion with thy Lord; tell Him everything and ask for everything, yes everything… even that what you think is impossible. Don’t feel belittled by your poor performance in Arabic; use the language you are best at; in fact, this is the time to score even with those who have spent their lives learning Arabic verses and are uttering them at full speed now, themselves or following a leader. Remember, He prefers quality over quantity and sentiments over language; two hundred verses an hour or a dozen of ‘Umrahs  may not match a few tears shed with pure gratitude, tongue remaining still notwithstanding.

Some say that the Tawāf is the most difficult part of H~ajj because the crowd is like a roaring, untamed beast, pushing, pulling, shoving, dragging; but very few realise ‘what else do we deserve?’ Going round the Ka‘bah seven times completes the Tawāf and one proceeds towards Maqām-i-Ibrāhīm to say two Nawāfil and then move on towards the Zam Zam to drink from the source. The Saudi government has, in the recent past, made two improvements in the supply of this holy water to the pilgrims; one, ladies and gents have been assigned separate entrances to avoid unnecessary communion of gender and two, hundreds of taps scattered in a large hall carry the water to facilitate easy availability. There are narratives whereby the Holy Prophet (sws) was witnessed to have drunk water while standing and then pouring some on his body; many are seen following this practice and the area is drenched as a result.

This brings you to the next ritual of the ‘Umrah proceedings: the Sa‘ī. As we read in the books, Sa‘ī is carried out between two hill tops, the Safā and the Marvah approx. 500 yards apart. It used to be uninhabited initially and the movement between them was quite easy but as the Makkan population and the number of pilgrims grew, it gradually turned into a busy street with shops and houses at either side. This made Sa‘ī very difficult; lately the area has been reclaimed, shops and houses raised down and a grand, 100 feet wide corridor constructed that stretches between the two hills which is further subdivided in two to cater for one way traffic. To further ease the proceedings during peak H~ajj and ‘Umrah, seasons this corridor has now been made three storeyed and the Sa‘ī can be carried out at any level to avoid overcrowding.

One may ask at this stage: ‘What is Sa‘ī after all and why has it been tagged as a permanent feature of ‘Umrah/H~ajj; The Sa‘ī symbolizes the effort and struggle of Abraham (sws) as he frantically searched for an appropriate place between the two hills to sacrifice his son. Abraham (sws) had no ambiguity in his mind as to what his Lord expected of him. So with unparalleled zeal and fervour he has set out to fulfil His Lord’s directive. Now, if one places ones self in that situation and only imagines what was to come to ones son (the posture, the knife, the tender throat that one has kissed innumerable times, the fresh pink skin whose mere abrasion one could not withstand and…..), not actually planning to carry it out, the shiver in the spine is too obvious to hide and one acknowledges without hesitation that there could only be one Abraham (sws). No wonder God Almighty praised him so dearly in the Qur’ān; he earned it the hard way and that is what makes Sa‘ī so very meaningful. And the Lord made sure that human race does not lose sight of this event as long as He plans to let it live. This appreciation completely changes the complexion of an otherwise ordinary stroll and one gears up for yet another exercise, forgetting the exhaustion caused by the earlier proceeding, just to win his Master’s pleasure.

There are only a couple of Prophet’s prayers verifiable through the Ahadīth which one has to learn; one is read at Safā and the other at Marvah. In between, one is at liberty to address one’s Lord’s attention any way one likes, as is the case with most of the ‘Umrah and H~ajj rituals, not forgetting though that the message he wants to get across is that he will leave everything and everyone in the name of Allah and will strive relentlessly when his religion requires him to.

At the end of the Sa‘ī, after a long spell of hypnosis, one returns to one’s native world. Spell bound still, one makes his way out, through the millions who don’t want to leave that territory, for obvious reasons. Get a haircut, total or partial, and you are allowed to change from Ihrām into normal dress. Nevertheless the restrictions of being in the limits of Haram will remain enforced as long as you stay in Makkah. This completes the ‘Umrah.

Next few days in Makkah are going to be an eye-opener for those who can ‘see’; the routine involves getting up in the middle of the night to get to the Haram for the Tahajjud prayer, stay there until after Fajr, come home for breakfast, take a little nap and set out again to be in that heavenly atmosphere. You may recite the Qur’ān, do Tawāf as many times as you like, offer Nawāfil and join the regular prayers and come home after ‘Ishā. The interesting aspect of all this routine is that the otherwise most important things in our daily life appear to completely lose their value; no selection of clothes, no big hassle for food, no desire to get into the best of lodgings and no real lust for world rankings. One now realises very clearly the absurdity of these goals and moves around in un-ironed clothes, eats whatever is available at the nearest shop, doesn’t complain about its quality, doesn’t try to score even if someone misbehaves and earnestly wishes that this becomes his routine. As in Ramadān, one rehearses to organise one’s schedule for the next eleven months, these few days in Makkah allow one, for the first time probably, to review one’s attitude towards life. The only goal in front of him is ‘vying for the Master’s pleasure’ and this eye-opener is no small a blessing.

Living in Makkah has such a mesmerising effect that one, at least temporarily, loses sight and, perhaps the desire, of what one actually set out for, and wishfully thinks that the time never passed. Communicating with his Master, in whispers or aloud, through words or through tears, in solitude or in a crowd, is something that one has never been exposed to and he doesn’t want to part with it. But this is only because he is unaware of what his Lord has for him in store.

On this whole trip, you will repeatedly hear and probably experience first hand as well, some very unusual sometimes supernatural happenings. They are no hallucinations, no mirages; they are facts, simply implying that the Host is personally looking after His guests, guiding them, encouraging them and in fact exposing His unending Mercy to them individually. One of these unbelievable events, however, takes place so regularly and many times during each H~ajj every year that no one actually feels its happening. It is the mass movement of a crowd of over two million from one destination to another within a few hours, four to six to be precise, and invariably without any catastrophe. One can witness this when one sets for Minā, and then from Minā to ‘Arafāt and then back to Muzdalifah and finally back to Minā. Keeping in mind the fact that it takes over a month for all these pilgrims to gather in Makkah and now their movement en bloc is accomplished within a few hours and that too with extreme reliability, over and over again, it requires no Plato to see the writing on the wall… It is Him and only Him, because they are all here for Him. Even the most developed countries in the world cannot cite an example to match it, notwithstanding the fact that the crowd here is not one nation; it is multicoloured, multiracial, multilingual and mostly comprises illiterate to semiliterate people.

8th of Dhu’l-Hajj sees everyone putting on Ihrām once again and moving out of Makkah towards Minā, on feet or on wheels, and within a few hours after the Fajr prayer the Ummu’l-Qurā regains its holy quiet. This journey symbolises a Muslim army on Jihād which will pass through different stages and will be tested at every step for its dedication, perseverance and patience; hence ever member must remind himself of the forthcoming event lest the opportunity is lost.

Minā is a valley just like Makkah, but lodges only a few built structures including hotels, a hospital, telephone and telegraph office and a couple of official residences. Rest of it remains bare most of the time and only during the H~ajj days temporary tents are erected to accommodate the pilgrims. Lately, the Saudi govt. has started installing fibreglass tents which are semi-permanent and hence designed to stay even after the H~ajj. The Khayf mosque occupies the centre of this valley and is surrounded by a small market where food and utility items are made available for the Hājī’s. If one stands facing the mosque, Makkah lies to the right and one sees the three Jamarāts at that end of the valley; towards the left is the Muzdalifah end and the entire tented city spans on this side. This place gets inhabited with almost the same speed at which Makkah is vacated and hence within a few hours all the hotels and tents are occupied.

One must appreciate the fact that the journey of H~ajj actually symbolises an expedition of Jihād against evil and hence one leaves home in Ihrām hoping to reap the highest reward -- the Shahādah. While on this expedition one will, time and again, have the opportunity to prove his sincerity to the cause. The stay in Minā is one such opportunity. Minā is the Muslim army’s first camp and also the headquarter for the entire H~ajj proceedings where it reorganises itself, its members reiterate their pledge, acknowledge their Master’s supremacy and seek His forgiveness and help, lest they should falter. It obviously requires phenomenal concentration which is not easy to attain in that sea of humans and not uncommonly one has to put up in the company of tens or twenties of other fellow pilgrims many of whom are unaware of the subtlety of this opportunity and hence carry on with their worldly routines of eating, gossiping and roaming. What a tremendous difference it would have made if they understood a verse that Imam Sudays recites so many times in Makkah, just to remind them of the forthcoming, but it probably just echoes through the valley as the addressees have somehow discovered that the Book is primarily recited for Thawāb and attempting to understand its text serves a lesser purpose. The verse is:

So when you have accomplished your holy rites, celebrate the praises of Allah, as you used to celebrate the praises of your fathers – yes, with far more heart and soul. (2:200)

Another distraction in the streets of Minā is an abundance of vendors from various countries selling products ranging from Tasbīh to imitation jewellary. One may justifiably point out here that this was the routine during the H~ajj in the days of Holy Prophet (sws) and he never recommended against it. But one must not forget that Arabs were primarily warriors before Islam and would survive on booty from trade caravans travelling through their territory, all round the year. H~ajj season, that spanned over three sacred months, however, was the only period when such caravans were not attacked and hence the natural inclination of traders to make a religious cum economic journey is these months. Now, with evolution of society and development of an international trade charter, the circumstances have completely changed; trading carries on all the 365 days of a year and through means other than the land alone. One therefore sees no real excuse for the activity especially in the place where it is least required, in the days that are priceless.

First day in Minā involves no real activity and, if not adequately prepared, one doesn’t know how to spend it. But those who know the purpose of their stay in the valley will only be complaining of shortage of time, since they know that no effort is good enough to have ensured a berth in the heavens. Next day (9th Dhu’l-Hajj) is virtually the most important day of this expedition when the army takes off for ‘Arafāt and hence has been labelled ‘the Hajj Day’ by the Prophet (sws). Mass movement is witnessed once again with all the glory and grandeur that one can dream of in spite of the extreme simplicity of its participants -- just a pair of white sheets as dress, a couple of books in hand, a pair of rubber slippers in the feet but ready to face any challenge to please their Lord. This is the day that the crowd grows to its largest as natives and people from bordering countries also join in and one can see from a glistening Lands Cruiser to a junky Dodge aiming in the same direction. But it remains to be seen who will eventually be riding the best, at the end of the day.

‘Arafāt is, like Makkah and Minā, another valley where the army now camps. It is always good to be there early as one cannot get even close to the mosque to attend the H~ajj sermon if late. Also the space around ‘Mashā‘ar-i-Haram’ gets occupied very quickly, a spot selected by the Almighty for us to register our prayers. But the entire valley serves as the praying area and the Holy Prophet (sws) is reported to have said that anyone present within the valley may consider to have accomplished his H~ajj. You will have a 6-8 hours stay here, of which approx. 3-4 hours are available for one’s personal prayers. It is extremely important therefore, to select your final platform where you can find some relative solitude. The crowd in general restricts itself to the tents and does everything in small groups following a leader. But ideally this is the day of ‘privacy’ and it is best to converse with Him through your own tongue, eyes and heart rather than letting someone else do the job. If you can’t do it, no one else can. There are innumerable low peaked mountains in the valley which are very thinly trecked and it is best to use one of them as a platform where you can sit in peace, facing the setting sun, for at least a couple of hours. Before you actually sit down for prayer take a good, long look at the spellbinding scene of the valley as you will not be able to catch it once you started off.

‘Arafāt witnesses the best of relationships a creation can have with its Creator as both vow to outreach for each other; the Almighty knows very well that everyone down there has left his home, his business, his family and even children, only to seek His pleasure so He is not going to disappoint them. He has been overwhelmingly kind even to those who don’t even believe in Him, so how can He ignore these who are asking for His blessings. ‘Why have these people gathered here?’ He asks the angels proudly and, if one realise that the Creator is actually pointing at him, in person, the barriers break; one cries out ‘Only for you my Lord, and no one else. Only for your pleasure. Only to seek your forgiveness.’ And from here on the dialogue begins.

‘But you have not remembered me for ages…’

‘Yes, Lord, yes I ignored you. I admit that and I would like to die of shame for what I did…’

‘And you swore on oath the day I created you that you will not bow to anyone except Me but you know what you actually did…’

‘Yes, my Master, yes. I made my ambitions my gods and surrendered to them. I served them all my life. I deserve the worst of punishments, the one I’ll give to those who cheat me but I know You are not me. You are my God, everyone’s God, everything’s God and the Kindest…’

‘And I gave you the Book to read so that you won’t slip and what did you do to that…’

‘I threw it behind my back my Master. I found mundane affairs more rewarding. I was wrong, I acknowledge…’

‘But I reminded you so many times! Remember when you set up that glorious empire of yours and then lost it all, and then, when your son was so desperately ill, and again when he topped in his exam. But nothing moved you…’

‘Yes, I remember them all, my Lord and I know what I thought then. I thought that disaster comes to everyone but forgot that it also comes from someone. I thought that all the success was my own and I was a genius so I owed nothing to nobody…’

And the dialogue is endless; there is nothing to defend as there is nothing to hide. There are only confessions, admissions, regrets and apologies. One dares not tender any demands as one knows very clearly how unhappy his Master will be on his ‘achievement’ and one’s best chances lie in attempting to win back His pleasure. And if one is able to accomplish that at the end of the day one doesn’t need the rest of one’s life.

Treasuring this opportunity, one really doesn’t want to get done with apologies lest one may remain short of the goal and the biggest driving force in that frame of disappointment and frustration is ‘Hope for Forgiveness’. This is one thing that one has been promised provided one is sincere in his effort and shows an earnest desire to undo his past. Unaware of ones surroundings, one carries on relentlessly, virtually losing contact with time. It is usually the quietness resulting from the departing crowd or a friend looking for you around sunset who brings you back and one finds that all the time allotted to him is over. ‘No! No! I am not finished yet. I have so much more to say. How can...?’ But the time is actually finished and one has to leave; and one leaves the deserted valley as one leaves a house full of his loved ones, hung between hope and fear but very clear about one thing: I have to change. Change my thinking, change my lifestyle, change my attitude and this will change … my destiny, Inshā Allāh.

The army moves, once again and without saying the Maghrib prayer although the sun has set. And it will be late when it reaches Muzdalifah. How strange? After having spent all the time in apologies, the first thing one does is omitting the prayer. But the Prophet (sws) guided us like that and we owe no apology for this. This is, in fact, surrender.

Muzdalifah is a valley that one passes while enroute to ‘Arafāt but stops here only on the way back. It is usually ‘Ishā time when the army lands here and says Maghrib and ‘Ishā prayers together. After that there is not much to do as the Holy Prophet (sws) is reported to have rested all night, the only night in fact when he did not get up for the Tahajjud prayer. The valley has no built structure and the army spends the night under bare skies on pebbly, uneven ground. Some use plastic prayer mats and others simple bed sheets for sleeping. Most of them are accustomed to luxury style beds but tonight they choose to give it up because their Creator wants it that way. Lying flat on the ground one ponders over the havoc the day has played with his soul. One was never prepared for that, yet it came on so naturally as if one was always looking for such an opportunity. The morning in Minā when one had set out for ‘Arafāt appears a matter of remote past and finds no real link with the soul returning from ‘Arafāt.

The Muzdalifah night, like most other experiences during H~ajj, is a beauty and the revelations are mind-boggling. One realises that in simplicity lies the secret of creator-creation relationship and that is why He stresses so hard on it. The clutter of accessories around us tends to mute the cry of one’s soul at every misdemeanour until it gives up and from thereon the journey is smooth, brisk and downhill and doesn’t take long for one to hit the bottom. One recollects how gradually one has, on one’s own, shed off the ‘necessities’ that were a part of his physical being. One had left home with a couple of suit cases, leaving behind the entire wardrobe, the multimedia and the battalion of servants and to one’s surprise, didn’t miss them at all in Makkah. From the stay in Makkah, one found that even this was an unnecessary collection so he reduced it to a hand bag and still did not feel deprived of anything in Minā. And finally when leaving off in the morning today one discovered that it would be a shame to present in the court of his Lord clutching onto these; so even that hand bag… And then, one discovers the transition from one’s, own private bedroom back home to a communal living room in Makkah, to the tents in Minā and then the naked earth in Muzdalifah… Does this need a scholar for interpretation? Could any other example have been more impressive?

One wants to carry on thinking staring at the sky and not let a single moment go unutilised but nature is far too kind than one has ever imagined it, being aware of ones exertion during the day and again tomorrow, drags him into the blanket of a blissful slumber.

After the Fajr prayer, the pebble collection begins which usually does not take very long as they are abundant. The crowd then takes off to get back to Minā. This is actually the Eid day elsewhere in the country but the army carries on with its mission. The government now completely controls the animal sacrificial activity to help the pilgrims and has therefore created a huge network whereby one can have a goat slaughtered in ones name simply by paying a fixed amount of money at one of the government. outlets (Al- Raji Bank, to be precise). This sacrifice begins early and is usually accomplished before mid-day. So as the pilgrim’s return to their camps in Minā and are through with breakfast and other daily activities, the sacrifice has already taken place. Now they go through yet another ritual: the hair cut; some get a partial and others a total shave but very few know what it actually means. Ever since man started making his brethren his slaves he devised ways of assigning them ‘Recognition Stamps’ so that they could not ‘abuse’ the privileges of the elite, free men. One of these stamps that became almost universal later was to shave the head of anyone acquired as a slave, through war or through market. Growing hair was a crime for slaves and they used to live with this stigma, all their lives, unless freed. Very similarly, in Hajj, it signifies one’s position in comparison with his Master. But with one great difference; it is voluntary; an announcement made to everyone that one has surrendered ones rights to Him and accepted to carry out His orders, whatever it takes. Now, in the light of all this, if one is asked to make a choice between a haircut and a total shave. ‘... Shave it, and shave it so that it never grows again, ones heart yells. I don’t ever want to part with this bond of slavery. I have found Him after all these years and now, I don’t want to lose sight of Him again. I know I am careless, and ungrateful, and devious so I need this as a constant reminder.’ But one knows this is overdoing and the Master does not like crossing the limits set by Him.

Getting the head shaved is the last ritual one performs in Ihrām and as one goes in to change one finds that it takes some heart to part with the two sheets one had been wearing for the last three days. Who knows when again he will be awarded an opportunity to be his Master’s guest, if at all? …Yet another moment when one wanted the time to stop so that one could somehow seize the opportunity.

The Jamarāt are three concrete pillars erected approximately The Jihad symbolized in the Hajj proceedings reaches a befitting finale in this event. It appears to be a very simple and rather lackluster tradition after all those emotional explosions in ‘Arafāt and Muzdalifah but quite contrary to one’s perceptions it turns out to very similar to them all and therefore fits beautifully in the entire setting. It does not dawn on one what one is going to do until one gets out and finds millions of his colleagues streaming through the main street of Minā towards the Jamarāt, holding small stones in their hands and chanting Takbīr. So, finally it is combat time and the army is going to take on his Master’s and his own biggest enemy. What shall I do in a situation like this? one asks one’s self. I’ll not think even once and join them, and fight my Lord’s enemy, with anything that I have or even if I have nothing, and fight until one of us remains. If I remain, I’ll have something to present to my Master, and if he remains I’ll be a martyr, and what better than that. After all I have found what this life is all about. And with these feeling one loses one’s self amidst the charging brigade, trying harder than ever to take lead lest someone else steal the opportunity. The Jamarāt are not stone pillars to him anymore, they are a whole army in opposition to his Master, and he starts to throw stones at them, one by one, and every time he hits he knows he has got one of them. What a feeling? Can I always carry on like this? he asks himself again, not knowing then that the answer is in the affirmative. Only he will have to be in uniform all the time, as the battle is to carry on until the Big Day. Fought with such zeal and that too with the support of God Almighty that battle can be nothing but won. The army knows very clearly who it owes all the gratitude to and hence it marches on towards the Haram for the Tawāf-i-Ziyārah, triumphantly but most humbly acknowledging at the top of its voice ‘Power is to Thee, Glory is to Thee, Praise is to Thee and Gratitude is to Thee’. Each member bows in front of his Master in admission of His immense help and mercy without which this could not have been possible. The movement around the Haram this time is, however, rather brisk to allow every member a chance to present himself before his Master. By the end of the day the entire two million plus have registered their attendance and in fact have rediscovered the secret to success: Gratitude, to the One who reigns supreme and blesses the one He wishes. No one can now claim the credit of even putting on his shoes, what to speak of successes. One knows that more success means more blessing and hence a more difficult test, more thorough accountability. Catastrophes! Well, they also remind one of his Lord’s everlasting mercy as they come and go. One knows what crop his deeds are eventually going to harvest but He, through His shear mercy and forgiveness, only sent a warning so that one could get back on track. And if one knew that He only sends reminders to those who He cares about, one would actually be looking forward for the next one lest his Master counted him in the forgotten ones.

This, in effect, completes the Hajj and the next 2-3 days in Minā are spent actually in prayers. Stoning of the Jamarāt is carried on on all these days, in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Prophet (sws). He preferred to stay for three days in Minā after Hajj but did not stop others who wanted to return so one sees most leaving by second day and only a few thousand are left for the last day, taking care of themselves as most hotels and shops have also been deserted.

On one’s final return from Minā and most likely from Makkah the same day, one owes a last visit to the Haram: the Tawāf-i-Widā‘. It is quite strange how different each visit to this place is. One was here the first time when one landed for ‘Umrah (and knows what happened then) and then came back from Mina for the Tawāf-i-Ziyārah and now for the final see off … it is no less tragic than the parting of a neonate from her mother, primarily because one could not make the best use of the time allotted. Who knows if there will be another chance and will he have better credentials even if there was? Will he be able to keep his promises? Give up that routine, that habit, that company and everything that comes in between him and his Master. ‘But how will I know? On wonders’. Yes …. you will know my friend; the things that you used to rollover so smoothly are going to pose nagging problems for you from hereon. Whether it is making an abrupt excuse to refuse an invitation or making false statements filling up an application form or thinking of jumping a queue using your resources or planning a building violation, a small window will open inside you and an alien (your new face) will look into your eyes and ask: You know that is going to offend ‘Him’ ? and you know the answer. ‘But this is going to cause a lot of problems if I don’t …’ you argue with your alien half. ‘I know, but this is only a small test. What will happen to the bigger ones you promised to pass?’ he replies. You think for a while and then ‘But you know I can justify this …’. The alien smiles ‘ you can justify that in front of me but think of Him: will you be able to speak then?’ And you feel so helpless but this time the alien comes to help rather than object ‘I tell you one thing; these tests are mirages. The more you defy them the bigger they grow. And once you gear up to take them on they disappear. Remember what happened to Abraham (sws) when he laid down his son, and when they plotted to throw him in the fire. Your God is not cruel; in fact He is very very gracious and He only wants to see how you react. Go ahead my dear, take them on and you will see most of the tests will not even get started. And you know what? You will still get A+. Good luck.’


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