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Hajj & Rebirth of My Soul

 

By Jeewan Chanicka

 

I have returned home and I sit now to put the rest of this journal together. Physically I am here, but my heart is very far away. I look for the simple beauty that surrounds us that is sometimes drowned out by the noise, the pollution, anger, the hatred, by war and those who would have us believe that they are acting with the goodwill of humanity in mind.

How far away have we come, when we forget the lives of those who we do not see on TV each day, when the lives of some are of more importance than others, when we are so consumed by materialism and materialistic needs that the universal truths of justice, peace, love, respect are ignored. As those with military might show their will, Hajj has been a good reminder of the power of prayer and the power of the masses of humanity, when we leave our capitalistic trappings, our chauvinistic claims to power and might, our feelings of superiority and pride.

Perhaps the next superpower will not be that of military might and power, but of the masses who stand for truth, justice, love, dignity, respect, and tolerance. It has already been happening, millions of people around the world, standing up and speaking out against the atrocities of occupation and war.

When we feel no one is listening, or feel that there is no hope, we must never allow ourselves to forget that the One Who listens, the Divine Presence is ever near and always ready to answer the calls of those who ask. With this, there is always hope and we will never allow our spirits to be broken.

 

`Umrah - Before Hajj

I arrived at the airport in Jeddah, it was surreal. You look outside and it feels like you are in a star trek movie. It seems like something of the future, tents almost conical and about a hundred feet high, (sorry forgot the metres) with holes in the middle for ventilation. After a couple hours of waiting, the Canadian delegation leaves to Makkah. We are guests of the king (oops did I forgot to mention that to you all) so we have transportation arranged for us. The cool thing with Hajj is that it does not matter if you are guest of the king or not you are not treated too differently (at least this was my experience) from the other pilgrims. Here status is not an issue. I would later find out that we are staying in the same building with the former president of Gambia. He blends in with the rest of us. Unless I read an article, I would not have known who he was.

We are on our way to the K`aba, the holiest site for Muslims around the world. All Muslims face the direction of the K`abah when they pray. We wade through thousands of people sitting in the streets, content and waiting to pray to their Lord. As we wade through, the call to prayer is made:

Allah is the Greatest

Allah is the Greatest

Allah is the Greatest

Allah is the Greatest

There is no god but Allah

There is no god but Allah

Muhammad is the messenger of Allah

Muhammad is the messenger of Allah

Come to prayer, come to prayer

Come to success, come to success

Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest

There is no god but Allah

The crowd comes to a standstill, we cannot move, the doors to enter into the sacred precincts are so close but so far away. We must pray in the street. The crowd stands to pray- men and women all together obeying the call to remembrance. There are so many people that there is no room to bow in prostration so we literally have to pray on each other backs, there is no problem because of this we consider it to be a privilege..

I walk into the precincts, my heart swells inside, the questions that have pushed me through life are at the forefront, who am I? What is the purpose of my life? Will I be ready to die knowing that I did my best in life? I see the K`abah, no words can describe, the sense of awe, there it was, the first house of worship, built by Adam and later by Abraham and his son Ishmael.

Tears well in my eyes, Thank You God for bringing me as your guest; Thank You for Your invitation. I came here to seek Your bounty and favor. As the tears pour forth, I pray Lord, "Answer all my prayers that I make here".

Our group, is in the crowd, circling the K`abah, like the orbit of planets around the sun. I am amazed at how people are careful of each other, and trying hard to protect each other. I had heard stories of pushing etc but it is not about people being violent, it is a natural consequence of the thousands of people there at the same time. Some try to stay in their groups and move around, others may be trying to leave as they have completed their requirements and are moving to the next steps.

As I walk, in awe, overwhelmed, praying for myself, family, friends and peace in the world. I feel an arm latch on to me. As I look it is an older man, walking in his group, in need of support. I don't know him, he does not know me, but he knows that he can count on his "son" to support him. I am happy that he knows this and I continue with my prayer and he continues with his...

We have completed the seven circuits and must now move to the Maqam Ibrahim (station of Abraham) and pray there after which we go to the well of Zam Zam. It is believed to have been a miracle of God, given to Hagar the wife of Abraham and Ishmael as they were in the desert and she was searching for water for her baby. An angel came and struck the ground at the baby's (Ishmael) foot and the spring gushed forth. That spring has fed the pilgrims for the past 1423 years and each year millions come and are fed from it. We next move to do the last component Sa`I, which is where we walk between two hills Safa and Marwah seven times to imitate Hagar's search for water for her baby. We then proceed to get our hair trimmed. I cannot help but to cry, in gratitude for this amazing opportunity, being here, the holiest place for me is like coming home. I feel at peace, despite the hundreds of thousands of people, the United Nations here, the hum of pilgrims in continuous worship, I am at home here.

We have completed the first part of Hajj and must now wait for the 8th of the lunar month when we will again get dressed in two pieces of unsewn cloth and slippers. During that time we will not be able to cut our hair and nails until we have completed the final rituals. I am drained emotionally but feel charged all at once. I could not believe that all this has happened, out of the blue, no plans and it all came together just like that. I am thankful, after the past six months of my life I feel that I really need it. I think of my beautiful wife and sons and pray some more. Other than being here, they are the next people on my mind.

7th Dhul-Hijjah (Month of Islamic Lunar calendar in which Hajj is celebrated)

We must begin to prepare ourselves as Hajj begins tomorrow. I have been asked to be interviewed for several radio, TV and print media. This morning, I go walking with my friends from Montreal and one who attends McMaster. We go for a walk near to a one of the king's palaces. We come to a restricted road and I advise my friends not to proceed. But one of us decides to ask the guards if it is ok. He asks in English, I translate. At first they say No it is prohibited, then they allow us to walk through, as long as we go straight through and not hang around. It turns out that it is a public road from the other side. We walk through, I notice that my throat is starting to feel strange. I have to go to the doctors, I think. When I get throat infections they can get quite bad. I don't even care if l have to take antibiotics. I never want them at home. I wish I had my Apple Cider vinegar with me. I don't want to get sick, not now, not before Hajj. Allah (God) knows best. We return to the building, I head to the doctor. He tells me, to stop using the air condition and no cold beverages. He gives me some antihistamines/decongestants and some vitamin C. I take it right away. I would spend the rest of the day doing television and radio interviews. I did one for radio and print the night before. Many people are interested in knowing why I became Muslim and why when we live in North America, we choose to give up certain aspects of life here to conform to Islamic codes of living. The Canadian group, as well as the American group I would imagine is of particular interest to people. We are all Canadian, but there are many of us who became Muslim with all kinds of backgrounds Polish, Greek, Scottish, French, Canadian etc.

The drugs are strong and as we leave Makkah on the way to Jeddah, I go to sleep. We return home later that night after a couple of interviews. I get home in time to meet one of my Canadian friends in Makkah to film the Hajj for National Geographic. I am happy to see him. I am starting to feel worse. I need to wear an extra top, to keep warm. I pray that I will be well. We have our group meeting, to let us know what is going to happen tomorrow as Hajj begins.

It has been decided by our hosts that we will not go to Mina tomorrow. It is usually the first place that the pilgrims go to as Hajj begins. Because we are quite a large group of people (several hundred people invited from allover Europe and North America) they feel that it will be difficult to get us all to Mina and then leave for Arafat on time, the next day. I think they may have had some problems before but I am not sure. And the most important part of Hajj is going to Arafat. If you miss that you have missed Hajj altogether. Going to Mina is considered to be a practice of the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). It is something that to be done but there is no penalty for missing it. I am sad about this. I want to do the Hajj in the way it was done and the way it should be done. But we are guests and we have to respect that they are concerned about our safety .I tell myself that maybe I can use the time to pray and rest since I am not feeling that great and it may help me to get my strength for Arafat when I will need it even more.

8th Dhul-Hijjah

I get up this morning for Fajr (prayer at the time of dawn before sunrise). The Canadian delegation will be meeting after to iron out all the details. When we all meet, we are told that our bus is 6 and that we have been assigned seating partners. We will be responsible for knowing their whereabouts and keeping tabs on them. I have been seated with someone who is one of the Ontario Human Rights Commissioners. I am not feeling that great. I had a difficult time sleeping last night. We should get dressed in our ihram by mid morning and declare our intention to perform Hajj.

I get ready after breakfast. I have my shower, I pray in my heart that as the water washes my body, that this Hajj will wash my spirit of any sins and misdeeds. I put on my two pieces of unstitched white cloth. Funny, how simple it is. I think of all that I have left behind, the expensive clothes, the trends and fashions that we are often called to. As I think about it, as I put this on, I hope that I am leaving behind the arrogance, pride, chauvinism and the other ills that plague us around the world. The realisation and reminder that life is too important than to be belittled to material items that increase the wealth of a few and leave many others in their state of social distress. How many times we eat and waste food, while there are those on the streets sleeping hungry .We try to justify this, there is no way that this can be right. To realise that God is the only One, truly wealthy and that I am impoverished before Him. That I am in need of God, yet God does not need me. My life can be as significant or insignificant as I attempt, in the end, success is only by God's infinite mercy. After dressing, I proceed downstairs with one of my roommates, he is from Mississauga.

I knew him from before. I had not known he was coming with the same group until I went to the travel clinic for my meningitis shot. As I walked out the clinic, he walked in.. I was so excited.

We go down to the basement level to the prayer level and pray our two units of prayer and declare our intention for Hajj. My throat is hurting even more now and I am coughing now as well. We are now officially in the state of Ihram. We cannot comb/cut our hair or nails or wear or use anything that is scented. In this way, I will approach my Lord in the most humble of states, coming to him in a way I would not approach anyone else and to remind myself of my relationship with Him and my need of Him. Anyone who has been deceived by their wealth or the wealth that surrounds them, this is the reminder of what life is truly about. It is also a reminder that there will be justice on a Final day when no wrongs will go without justice.

Later on I visit the doctor, he tells me that to continue taking the medicine that I was and he added a cough syrup to it. I am thankful that I don't have to take antibiotics but I am wondering if I may need them.

I end up resting through the day, I hardly have strength. I think the medication is strong and wreaking havoc on my system. In the evening when I get up, I walk out of my room and straight into an interview with BBC World. I have lost count of how many interviews I have done now. I do it and then proceed down to the prayer level to listen to a session by a religious scholar who has been famous for speaking out politically in Saudi Arabia with no fear of the repercussions. His speech is good. I leave and go upstairs after the talk, I am not feeling well. I seem to be getting worse. My chest is feeling a bit congested now. I am worried about that. I can't sleep lying down. The guys bring some cushions and I prop myself up a bit and try to go to sleep. At 2am we were all awakened when some of the workers came to our room to take the rug away. Apparently they will use it in our tent in Arafat.

During the night I get fever, my temperature keeps fluctuating and I go from feeling hot to feeling cold.

9th Dhul-Hijjah

The day has arrived, we get up for the dawn prayer and rush to the prayer area. I go early to the prayer area so I can pray before dawn comes in. I am feeling worse than before, but I cannot contain my excitement, hope and prayer for a successful day ahead. I spend some time praying and then sit and talk to some guys who are disappointed we did not go to Mina on the day before, but we understand that they did it with our interest in mind. Ahead of us is the most important day of Hajj. All of the hujjaj (who jaj -plural all the people making Hajj) stand on this day on the plains of Arafat praying for forgiveness and that their prayers are answered. This is where Prophet Muhammad peace be on him stood and delivered his farewell sermon, before his death. It is the day Muslims are taught, that we are forgiven. So we stand on that day and seek forgiveness and beseech the Most Compassionate, Most Merciful Lord, to forgive our wrongdoing and to set our affairs aright.

I see hundreds of faces of those from places allover the world, places I know and don't know starting to trickle into the prayer area. We share the greeting of peace with each other and ask each other to include us in their prayer as well. As soon as we finished praying, we are told to proceed to our buses. I go up to my room and grab my bag that I packed the night before and the umbrella I got as a gift from Egypt Air when I left Cairo. I head down to my bus, as I get on, I see most of the Canadian group there. I shuffle around and find my seat and as I am about to sit realise that we were provided with another umbrella. I run back to my room and return my umbrella and return to the bus. There are about 8 or 9 buses I am feeling ill. Gosh, I did not want to get ill during Hajj, I wanted to be well so I could exert as much effort as I could. Still, I tell myself that this is the will of Allah, as nothing happens except by His will.

We receive our packaged breakfast, small containers with bread, jam, cheese, juice and other small treats. I wish I could lie down. But I have to eat, I need as much energy as I can to be able to make the most of this blessed day. Just as the bus is about to leave, the leader of the group comes on board with a tray full of hot tea. I take my own without sugar, as I need my immune system to work. As the hot tea goes into my stomach, I begin to feel some ease but I can tell it is temporary. Still temporary is better than nothing.

I looked at the leader of our group and the other group leaders and marveled at their understanding of leadership. They would be the first to get up and do the work that needed to be done, first to help any of us out with anything, often would eat last and sleep the least. Leadership in Islam is very different to other leadership styles. It is based on serving others and remembering that it is a big responsibility for which God will hold you accountable. In Islam, no one should desire leadership. I try to busy myself with du`aa’s but I feel very weak. I decide to use my puffers since it is getting a little more difficult to breathe. Whatever du`aa’s I can get out of my lips I say. I lean my head onto the window and try to rest while the driver gives new meaning to the phrase “driving like an Arab”

He is furious and there is a lot of traffic as well. I wonder how he can drive the huge bus in the manner that he is; sometimes I cannot look out the front of the bus because I can swear that he will hit everything in site. This was one morning I felt like we were “guests of the king”. We had a police escort and because of this were able to bypass some of the traffic. After about one hour, we arrive at Arafat.

We descend from our bus and head to our tent. It is huge but thankfully very simple; though I am sure it must be better than others. It is literally a tent and the sand ground is covered with mats from our rooms. We lay on the ground with our pillows and try to get some rest before Zuhr prayer. I am feeling worst than before, I can feel my asthma becoming worse but I refuse to let it defeat me. I pray and ask Allah to give me the strength to make it through my Hajj. I came so far and this was my one desire-to complete my Hajj. I keep thinking about the circumstances under which I came and realise that it only happened because of Allah, He in His Glorious Compassion brought me here. It was only with His help that I came because on my own, I lacked the ability and resources to get here. I find comfort in these thoughts, as I know that I am the guest of Allah. And who is a better host than Allah?

After a small rest, many of us get up to pray, I go to the washroom to make ablution. Every step seems to become more difficult than before but I keep walking on. I get to the washroom and remove the lower piece of my ihram and hang it securely so that it does not get wet or dirty. I am used to the floor toilets by now. It was a fear of mine, being so used to our North American styled toilets. But I know that this way is healthier too. Anyway, I learned over the trip to just “suck it up” and do what had to be done. Many of them are much cleaner than what I experienced before so I am happy about that.

While I am in the bathroom, I throw up. I know I am getting more ill, but I cannot think about it. I know if I say anything that I may miss the rest of my Hajj and I know that I am still strong enough to do what I have to do. I quietly use my puffer and try not to let anyone see in order not to make anyone worry.

In the mean time, I am worried about my friend Polish friend from Montreal, Ali, who has a tooth infection. It is very painful and I don’t want his infection to get worse. He takes some painkillers and says that he is fine. I know that chances are it is worst than he is saying. But I also understand. Asif, on the other hand is also getting worse and whatever it is that I had (beside the asthma) he seems to be developing as well.

We pray nafl or extra prayers, then the noon prayer Zuhr and finally listen to a dars (lesson) by a respected scholar. He speaks in Arabic and it is translated to English. I try to follow in Arabic and occasionally refer to the translation for help.

After this, we eat collectively in huge trays rice and meat. I eat mainly the rice so that my body’s digestive system will not be overworking to digest meat. I need all my body’s resources to focus on my health and well being.

I spend some time talking to Br. Talha, our leader from Canada and the head of WAMY, who is worried about me, I tell him not to worry and that I would be just fine insha’ Allah. Just a little “under the weather”.

It is time to begin praying, the most important time of Arafat, nothing should distract us at this time and we should be busy seeking God’s blessing and bounty and asking for forgiveness for our human errors. Mistakes and transgressions are features of our humanity. No one is free from it, no one is perfect and so this opportunity reminds us to always be humble-never arrogant- and that perfection belongs to God only, and true peace and contentment comes from submission to God. A message that was brought to all people whether it was by Moses, Abraham, Jesus or Mohammed.

I spend some time praying inside our tent, because it is on the plains of Arafat and therefore, this is acceptable. But I am enticed to venture outside and see what it is like. We were told not to go out to pray. So I decide I will simply go and see what it is like. I have visions in my head from media images that I have seen, of a sea of pilgrims, the sandy brown landscape washed by an ocean of white clad pilgrims, standing, sitting and prostrating before their Lord.

I go outside and look around a little, I see people standing all around, and not exactly as I anticipated but still they are there. I want to stay and pray outdoors, despite the heat and dust but I don’t want to break the rules so I return to the tent. As I enter, I hear the group leader talking about the option of praying outside. Many of us would like to because it feels more authentic. Nothing is wrong with staying inside but we would like to do as much as we can, similar to what was done by the prophet peace be on him and his companions.

A group of us leave the tent and find a quiet spot in the shade of a tree and begin to pray and make collective du`aa’ (prayer) for some time. As the brother making the du`aa’ prays out loud and the rest of us following, he begins to cry. A moment when the heart is truly connected to it’s purpose, focused on the reality of our existence and expressing it’s true desire to become a focused servant of God, and a source of kindness and mercy to all of His Creation. It is a moment of recognition of the faults and errors that we have made, the need for the never ending Mercy of the Most Merciful and an awareness that death is a reality and so too, the Day of Judgment.

We stand and pray, for some time after which most people eave except one other brother from Montreal and myself. He is half-French/half-Canadian and he continues praying. I stand and pray, tears streaming down my face, I pray for all those I love, all my brothers and sisters around the world, my friends and for my Hajj to be accepted. I am at peace here despite the illness and inconvenience, and the lack of worldly items to assist me. I am at peace. I know that this is where I need to be.

Eventually my brother Salman (who was also praying outside) comes to tell me that there is a bus running nearby that is spewing out diesel fumes. That is not good for me right now, we should move because the smell is becoming very strong.

I move to another spot, but my walking has slowed down considerably and I decide to stop at another spot to pray. He tells me that he does not want to return to the tent without me- he could tell that I was not in the best of conditions. We begin walking and I stop to pray again. I pray for a small time but I do not want him to feel compelled to stay with me because I need to consider his feelings as well and I know he is worried about me. Brotherhood is an integral part of Islam. As much as he should be concerned about my well-being, and me I was concerned about him worrying too much and being inconvenienced. I knew what he was doing was out of love and an understanding of his duty as a brother, and I thought about the same thing. We return to the tent and continue to make du`aa’ there.

Soon we were asked to take our stuff and return to our buses. I grab my pillow and begin my slow walk to the bus concentrating on each step and trying not to inhale the diesel fumes from all the nearby buses. As soon as I get into the bus and sit down, I have to grab a cup and run off the bus because I had to throw up.

I stand across the street from the bus and try to catch my breath. But I cannot.

Everyone on the bus is worried about me but I keep telling myself that I will get better. I return to the bus and the concerns of brothers, many of whom were initially strangers but we shared the bond of Islam. Through this experience we are becoming closer and I suspect the bonds that are created here will never be replaced by anything else.

Our bus begins to move to the border of Arafat but there is still about 45 minutes before sunset - the appointed time of departure from Arafat. It is prohibited to leave Arafat before sunset otherwise your Hajj will not be accepted. Even the police will not allow anyone to leave until the time of sunset. We sit in our bus and make du`aa’ until we get the time has come.

I hope and pray that all my supplications are answered and that I can be strong enough to complete the Hajj. But I don’t know what will happen, we are on our way to our next stop -Muzdalifah-and it is getting harder to breath. Only Allah knows what lies ahead.

Muzdalifah

We arrive in Muzdalifah about 20 minutes later, of course the bus was driving as fast as a plane flies. I did not mind though, I knew I would need to rest, little did I know what would be next.

We got off our buses at the side of the road at the entrance into Muzdalifah and our hosts started laying out the carpets onto the side of the road. As our group started moving towards the area, we got split up as people were trying to find a space on the rugs to lie down. This would be our “home for the night”, the rugs -our floor, the mountains - our walls and the night sky our ceiling. The night air feels cold, maybe because it is a desert and that is usually what the night is like, maybe because I am becoming more ill.

I make wudu’’ (ablution) and join the prayer, we are praying Maghrib. There are washrooms relatively close to where we are, that has its advantages and disadvantages as well. After prayer, I spot Asif and I make my way towards him so that I can re-join my group. As we start walking, looking for our delegation, I notice both the head of our group and Talha. They motion us towards them and we try to find a place to sleep. I wish I were not feeling as ill as I am right now, life is funny sometimes, the times when you really want to be healthy -you become ill. Well, there is a plan and our wisdom and understanding can never comprehend its divine wisdom.

We get some packages of food, similar to what we got in the bus earlier that morning. I don’t want anything, I have the juice though. I sit and reflect on the day…

“How do you know that Allah has accepted your du`aa’s, your prayers?” As the tears well up into my eyes, I notice our group leader and I ask him this question.

He reminded me that Allah is as we expect of Him. That we prayed and asked for forgiveness and we expect that Allah in His infinite Mercy will be merciful to us and forgive us. We should never doubt that, or never expect less. I sit there and reflect on that and think back to my intentions earlier that day, trying to review if I did my best to be sincere or not.

I find a place on the rug next to Asif. Later, though, I realise that Asif is over a small depression so I trade with him. Although he was fine with sleeping there or I should say trying to sleep there, I knew he would be uncomfortable. I knew he was also thinking of me and trying to make sure that I was ok. But I also knew that he was getting ill as well. I thought to myself that “I am smaller and I can fit there”, so I convince him that the trade is fair and ok.

I literally have to try and curl up into it to try and fit so that I can try and sleep. But I do not mind because I know that I am small enough to contort my body and fit into the area. The other guys are much bigger and I know it will be a fruitless endeavor for them to try and sleep there. This gave new meaning to the phrase “packed like sardines in a can” there was not enough room to turn because someone was sleeping right next to you.

These little exercises only strengthen the brotherhood and feelings of connectedness and love that we feel towards each other. After all only brothers would tolerate to be this close to each other and try to each inconvenience themselves a little for the sake of the others.

As I lay down, I cover my face, we are sleeping on the side of the road and the buses are continuously pouring inn, there is sand and diesel fumes every where. I am still in Ihram and cannot cover my head. I cannot wear anything more, so the cold feels as if it is penetrating through my ihram like a knife cutting cheese.

I sleep in spells, sporadic, the type of sleep you have when you are very ill and you cant find a comfortable way to get some rest. I fall asleep, wake up, try to move but realise that I cant and then just lay there until the tiredness of my body overcomes me and takes me into the quietness of sleep.

10th Dhul-Hijjah - The Day of `EID-ul-ADHA

By 2 Am I can’t sleep, I open my eyes to realise that Asif was not beside me anymore, he and some of our friends were getting ready to go somewhere. The flow of buses and cars has been constant and the smells of diesel fumes are repugnant. The bros. say that they are going to climb a nearby mountain. I figure, I am sick and can’t rest, I might as well just go along for the “ride.”

I get up, and I slowly make my way up. I follow the guys but for me each step is measured by not being able to breathe, as well as the pain I am feeling in my back and chest.

As I start making my way up the mountain, my mind flashes back to my ascent of Mount Sinai when I was in Egypt. That was some years ago, and ironically, I climbed that with some of my friends from Belgium at 8:30 PM with only the moonlight. It was over two hours long and nothing could prepare us for that adventure. But I bring my mind back to the present. I am here, I am making Hajj - me, I am the guest of Allah. What an honour this is, to walk on this path.

I make my way through a Turkish delegation who are all asleep (gee I wonder why?) and finally make my way to the top with the rest of the guys. As I look over the top, down to the ground below, my heart races, I feel my eyes widening and my jaw drop in awe of the sight below. An amazing sea of white, pilgrims of every colour, nationality, everywhere. The two roads that run across each filled with bumper to bumper traffic punctuate this vast ocean of white. Some delegations from different countries have different colour ribbons to identify themselves, so they wont get lost. You can easily tell the Malaysian delegations, the women have ribbons tied to them to identify themselves. Some groups have flags and signs. We withhold our breaths in bewilderment, understanding right then and there that we were just one of millions. One individual who had the honour of being here in the largest gathering on earth, but still one brother of millions of brothers and sisters, despite all the differences, our hearts are united by faith.

My mind flashes to Malcolm X and his descriptions of what he saw at Hajj of sitting with men the blackest of black and others with blond hair and blue eyes. It was the beginning of his transition and transformation. I understand it, I have shared similar experiences, I can feel it running in my veins.

We sit there and make du`aa’, sometimes collectively, sometimes individually. We also take the chance to pray some extra prayer. It is a beautiful time, of connectedness with each other and with Allah. To realise that material possessions, wealth, status, in the end they mean absolutely nothing. As overwhelming and invigorating as it was to think about this, there was another sobering feeling that overcame us. Hajj is the closest experience to the Day of Judgement, the gathering off all of humanity, the crowding, the fear and hope for forgiveness of our Lord.

We decide after some time to go back down. When we get down, the guys decide to pray tahajjud (optional late night prayer) but my body cannot handle it anymore, I have to lie down. So I excuse myself and I lay down near enough to at least hear them praying. I know they are getting more concerned about me; I can see it in their eyes, even when I say not to worry. Our bodies are natural defense mechanisms; I will get over it, I tell myself.

Soon it is time for Fajr, I get up and make wudu’. It is hard to make wudu’ in the cool air but it is not too bad, I have had to do worse in Egypt I remind myself.

As soon as we pray it is time to leave. Asif stays with me and we start walking towards the bus. As fate would have it, our bus was one of the furthest away. As we walk through the crowds, Asif falls. He gets up and dusts himself off and he is ok. We finally make it to the bus and I get on. We are off to Mina.

Mina

The way to Mina is crowded and we have to contend with the traffic. It has been several hours sitting in the bus but we can do nothing. There is no point to being frustrated as there is nothing anyone can do. When you think about getting stuck in a traffic jam where there are millions of people, it can give you a clear idea of what it is like. I am happy because I can use the time to try and rest, curl up on my seat and lean my head on the side and try to rest.

Along the way we see a Canadian flag, we get excited as we all look to see if we can see anyone in the Canadian delegation that we know, but we do not. Seeing the flag evoked many thoughts and sentiments. This Hajj, was a training place that spiritually mentally, emotionally and physically prepared me to return home and serve my society. Despite the ills, the harms, it reminded me of my connection with God, my higher purpose -to serve all of humanity. All the ills of the world, all over the world, some shared by the millions present now, others unique to Canada alone.

Hajj was teaching me to understand my role as a member of humanity for all of humanity- to recognise the distinct beauty of all and the exclusion of none. That superficial classifications in the end, were just that - superficial. I know when I return home I must be prepared to role up my sleeves and help the dispossessed and to not only feel that they will benefit from my help, but truly, I am the one who will benefit. For it connects me to my identity as a Muslim and as a Canadian. It is who I am and when I am who I am, I will truly be happy and free.

The symbolism of Hajj can help to transform the societies in which we live and make this experience of unity, love and spirit be shared by all peoples in all places. The bus driver is getting a little upset; I guess his focus is to get us to our tent as quickly as he can.

Finally, we make it to our tent. We get off on the road and walk in to our tent. It is nice, a huge tent, with the same rugs that we had on the floor in Arafat and Muzdalifah. The workers of our hosts keep picking them up and laying them out in each place that we go to. I am thankful for all their hard work.

Other than that there is nothing else that I can notice, at least not right now. Our group leader decides that we should immediately proceed and stone the Jamarat and return to our rooms in Makkah to have our heads shaven and bathe and change into regular clothes. Once our heads are shaven, we are released from the obligations of Ihram. I can’t wait to have a shower and put on some regular clothes.

Stoning the Jamarat is a symbolic gesture that reminds us of the time that Satan tried to tempt Abraham from sacrificing his son Isma`il. When he appeared to Abraham to try and convince him not to follow Allah’s command, Abraham was steadfast. Because of that, God commanded him to sacrifice a sheep instead of his son. When we stone the Jamarat, it is symbolic of stoning Satan and repelling his temptations away from the path of God.

Sometimes though some Muslims, ignorant of the symbolism, become quite emotional -as if they were really stoning Satan. The area where the stoning occurs is the place where we hear about people being trampled. The sheer amount of people and their movement can at times be quite dangerous.

But I tell myself that I will do what is required and place my trust in Allah. My mind travels back to my thoughts that I had disclosed to my friend Asif earlier - maybe this is where I will die. But Allah knows better than we do and I must do my best. In the end whatever is to happen will happen. I prepared myself before this journey. I wrote my mom and let her know of my wishes in the event that anything was to happen to me. For my wife who was away when I left caring for our son who was ill at the time, I left a long letter. In it I shared with her my thoughts and left her with some advices to keep with her. For my children, I left several neatly wrapped gifts on their beds. And I asked for the forgiveness of all my friends and colleagues. I had done my best to do whatever I could and my fate was placed completely in the safety of the will of my Lord.

My mind frequently flashes to the father of one of my friends who had gone to Hajj the year before. He went with my friend, his son, and one morning he was making ablution getting ready for the dawn prayer. He passed away while making ablution. He was an amazing man, wonderful and kind, I remember him in my prayers, him and his family. If this is where I am taken to my Lord then I remind myself-From God we have come and to Him is our eventual return.

Even though I was not feeling too well, I feel like I have some energy now, maybe it was the time on the bus. I want to go and stone the Jamarat and return to get my hair shaven. We leave with a group from our contingent and start proceeding towards the Jamarat. Each group of us has been assigned a leader, someone who has gone before and we are to follow their directions. Brother Talha gives us some general guidelines and we decide to enter in to the area in-groups of three.

If you could imagine it, it is like a two story parking deck. The ground level and the top level. The area where the stoning happens is at three distinct columns. What was done is at the top level, there are huge openings that were built directly over the columns and the columns were heightened so that they extended above the top level. All that has to be done is to gently throw seven pillars into the enclosed catchment area around the pillars. There is no need to throw too high or to even hit the pillars. It is a symbolic gesture. The pebbles however, must fall into the catchment area around the pillar.

I enter with the other two members of my group, but because of the sheer size of the crowd and the movement we are separated almost instantly. Almost like a huge ocean with a multitude of currents, we got caught in different currents. I make du`aa’ and pray for Allah’s help and guidance.

I get close to the pillar, not to close because I don’t want to have the pebbles hit my head. I say Bismillah (In the name of Allah) and start throwing each pebble one by one. Because I am vertically challenged I cannot see where the pebbles are landing. “I hope they are getting in,” I say to myself. I am tired and trying to keep with the flow of the crowd so as not to fall. The most dangerous thing to do in this area is to fall. Because people will not see and that is how some people get trampled. I wade into the sea of pilgrims, walking over the lost slippers, ihram pieces and other articles that have fallen to the ground. If anything falls there-it stays there, no one dares to try to stop and take it up, it is as dangerous as walking in the middle of a busy highway.

I throw a few pebbles and try to stay focused, I get hit in my head by another pebble. I don’t think about it, it was a mistake. All of a sudden there is a surge in the crowd, all the people around me start falling down to the ground and then without even realising I fall with them onto my back. “Is this my time?” I ask myself. I keep trying to say the kalimah (word) in my head and at the same time I keep trying to stand back up. As I try to stand up I can see the commotion and chaos of the crowd around me. “Keep saying the shahadah” I tell myself.

The people who are standing immediately around us are holding out their arms trying to pull people up and to hold the people from behind from moving forward. The people from behind are oblivious to the fact that people ahead of them have fallen and so keep trying to move forward.

My mind is flashing on all things, getting up; saying the shahadah; hoping that the people over me will not trample me; my family; knowing….that this could be the end. I keep fighting to get up but each time I make myself halfway up someone standing over me steps on my ihram and it pulls me down to the ground. I have lost my slippers and umbrella but I really don’t care, I just want to get back up. The top of my ihram is long though and as I get up slowly someone over me who is trying not to move forward is moved forward due to the inertia from behind. It keeps getting caught under peoples’ foot, I fight to try and get the top of my ihram off, it is the only way to try and save myself from being pulled down again. By Allah’s mercy, I get it unwrapped and let it fall to the ground. At the same time I hold up the lower part of my ihram so that it does not get caught under anyone’s feet again.

I stand up - alhamdulillah, it was a close call. This time is a bit blurry to me, I think I had one or two more pebbles left so I threw it and then made my way slowly out of there. I come out, disheveled, perhaps with some footprints on me, I only have one part of my ihram left- the lower part. It is dirty and I have lost everything else -slippers, sunglasses, identification badge saying that we were with WAMY and guests of the “keeper of the Haramain” and the ihram. But I am alive -alhamdulillah.

I realised that when these incidents happen, it is not always as portrayed on the media, a bunch of barbaric people just pushing and hitting each other that eventually leads to people being trampled. It is the sheer size of the crowd and the result of the current of movements of people. When we fell, the people around us were doing their best to try and get us up and to prevent us from getting hurt. I am sure that at times there is pushing, that goes without saying but no one is trying to hurt people, they are simply trying to get in and out of the area.

As soon as the other see me, they are concerned, I tell them what happened to me. They are relieved that I am out and safe. Br. Shabir rushes over and covers me with the top of his own Ihram, preferring me to himself. He then buys me a pair of slippers even though I am content to walk barefooted. Our group leaders ask us if we were able to do the stoning successfully. I tell them that I am worried that I did not get all my pebbles into the catchment area.

The leader offers for us to go back and do it so that I can have peace of mind. This time however, they are sending me in between two guys. Imtiaz was at the front and Br. Talha was behind me. Amazingly the crowd seems to open up and we get close to the pillars, I say “Bismillah, Allahu Akbar” and begin throwing my pebbles. Each one falls into the catchment area. Soon I am finished and we exit and return to our group who is patiently waiting on us.

We start walking back up to our tent. It is not too far, about 7-10 minutes long. I am tired and very exhausted. We return to the tent and I sit down. I am feeling ill again, not too much though. But I guess I did not have as much energy as I thought before I went to stone the Jamarat. We sit and wait on the buses to come for us. We missed the first one, so we must wait for another one to come by. We are told to take any bus that comes and return to the building. There would be barbers waiting there for us to cut our hair or shave our heads.

I sit quietly, sometimes talking to my friends other times just focusing on my breathing. It is amazing how sometimes we take simple blessings for granted. The ability to breathe is one of them. Simple, we do it all the time without even noticing at times, yet it is essential to our very existence. Thank You Allah for helping me to reflect on this. Which of Your favors can I deny - definitely none of them.

Soon a suburban Truck comes by and can take some of us. Our group leader sends me because he is still worried about my health. I sit in the back with one of the brothers and I rest. We are on our way “home” to complete one of the last rites of Hajj before we can remove our ihram.

I can feel myself becoming more ill or maybe I am not getting more ill, maybe the adrenaline is starting to recede. We get to the building to see some people with completely shaven heads, already showered and changed and others still in ihram. As we get inside, the workers greet us with greetings of an acceptable Hajj and direct us to the basement to have our hair cut.

For our trip back to the building where we were staying, I start to feel the tiredness of the past few days setting in. I marvel at the fact that people come repeatedly for Hajj, despite the hardships that are involved. I don’t know if I could do it.

As we get to the building, I head inside following the directions of the workers who greet us with greetings of an acceptable Hajj. Although our Hajj is not yet complete, I know that they mean well. They direct us to the basement. As I get down, I see several lines, maybe about 50 people waiting to get their haircut. There are three barbers. Everyone is in straight lines and awaiting their turns. I look at the barbers and how quickly they shave peoples’ heads. They are all Indo-Pak and they speak periodically in Urdu and other times in Arabic. Urdu was the language of recourse when they did not want people to understand. But both the English and our own Canadian delegation have Urdu speakers. I wonder about Asif and the others, where are they, are they safe and how long before they come back.

There are some guys who are not shaving their heads though, they are just having it cut. I have only shaved my head once before in my entire life, when I was blessed with going to `Umrah some years before. I had told myself then, that the only other time in my life I would shave my head would be at Hajj.

I contemplate just cutting my hair because I am not feeling well and the nights are cool. In Medina (which is where we plan to go after Hajj) it will be even colder. I know the preference is to shave your head. I tell myself that I can wear a hat. Especially now since we will be released from the conditions of ihram, I will be able to cover my head. That’s it - I am going to take the plunge and shave my head. After all, our sins are said to drop from us as much as our hair falls from our heads. J (I need all the help I can get).

I look ahead in my line and notice that everyone leaving the seat of the barber, whom I’m headed for, looks like their head was a battle zone. There are knicks and cuts every where. I show this to some of the guys and the more I notice, I realise that I need to change lines. So I do. I sacrifice the place I was at and went into another line. The strangest thing happened, the barbers switched places and the same barber ended up shaving the heads of people in MY line. “Great” I tell myself…what should I do?

I change lines back to my original line. At this point the other guys are laughing at me because they realise what has happened to me. Soon after I move over, the barbers start talking and then they switch again …AAHhhhhh. Forget it, I tell myself this is not working. You would almost think it was planned, that he wanted to shave my head, but he could not see me where I was. It was the will of Allah.

I decide that the lines are too long and I could not handle waiting anymore, I was starting to feel worse. So I tell the guys that I am going to leave and go out to get my hair cut outside.

As I am leaving the building, I bump into Talha. He was going to get a haircut outside as well. We both hoped that by doing this we would avert the line up in the basement. On our way, he decided to stop off at the adjacent grocery to buy a Kiffaya to cover his head after he has it trimmed. We looked through the entire section of the grocery superstore to no avail. He decided he would wait until later.

We walked to the barbers only to see a line up stretching down the street and as soon as we got there, I heard the Adhan echoing through the air. Well so much for that. We decided to return to the building. We had our won mussalah there and so I could pray when I we got there.

I lined up in the line to have my hair cut and eventually it was my turn. Guess which barber I got, yup…exactly. But Alhamdulillah for me (not for the guys before), by the time he got to me, he had gotten the hang of it, so I got out with barely any knicks on my now baldhead.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I manage to return to see the doctor in the building. I tell him that I am getting worst and I need antibiotics (I can hardly believe I am requesting it, but I don’t want to get worst). He does not seem to think it is a big deal. He gives me some medicines, none of which I think will be useful but I resign myself to taking it because I have no choice. I wish I could get some medicine that will knock me out, I think to myself.

I went upstairs and showered and then started to layer up, I put on several layers of clothes, unsure of how I made it through the past days with only my ihram. I started to put on clothes and my sweater and then I went to bed. I remembered earlier at prayer, we were told that there would be an `Eid party in the basement after the evening prayer `Asr and that we should all attend. I drank some orange juice and took my pills. I don’t want to eat anything right now, it is too much work to eat. I found comfort in my bed, a real bed and went off into an instant, deep sleep. I slept right through the party and awoke with just enough time to pray and to catch the bus to return to Mina for the night.

Sleeping at Mina is a part of the requirement of Hajj. Many people just stay there for the three days and nights but we were able to return to our place and then return at night.

Trying to get back into Mina was a lot harder than before. There was traffic everywhere and thousands of pilgrims in the streets. After numerous attempts to try and get to our tent, the leaders decide that we are going to have to drop out and walk to the tent. By now I am weak, it is getting harder to walk and the air is filled with dust and exhaust fumes which are only exacerbating my inability to breath. I have a dust mask, which I put on and begin to walk. I start slowly walking, someone takes my bag for me and I begin the trek.

As I begin to feel worse I remind myself that sickness is purification and this is the best time to go through this process. I also remind myself that I rather face the trials of this life than the next. I need to be patient and by Allah’s mercy things will change. I am doing my best, monitoring my diet and trying not to over-exert myself (ok, well…let’s just say that I am not doing what I would ordinarily be doing if I were well J).

One of the guys offers to carry me, “no thanks” I say, as much as I am grateful for the offer, I can do this I tell myself. I continue walking, soon I can barely see anyone from my group except the one brother who stayed with me. I must make small steps because it is getting difficult to breathe and it hurts. I walk through hundreds of people, men-many of whom are bald, women and children. All of whom are here to seek the mercy of God. Many are sleeping in any spot they can get because all of the tents are filled.

The pilgrims are now out of their ihram and are moving around busily, minds still attached and drawn to their primary purpose of being conscious of God and seeking forgiveness for their sins.

Finally, I get to the tent. We make wudu’ and pray `Isha’ prayer and then try to settle down for the night. I am still taking the meds from the doctor in my building. No antibiotics though, just some other stuff he says that will help me. I can feel my body convulsing with pain but I keep telling myself to be positive and know that I can get better. I know that it will be hard to sleep tonight, as I settle myself down some of the guys and I talk for a bit, then we go to sleep.

11th Dhul-Hijjah

I sleep in spurts of one-two hours, but I can’t handle the pain and difficulty of breathing. It was this night that I would see and understand the connectedness of hearts and understand brotherhood from a different dimension altogether. Hassan refused to leave my side, he even slept beside me incase I needed him at night for anything. He would wake up and check on me or when I would stir, check to see if I was ok.

Talha was very worried about me, he would keep asking about me or if I needed anything. He and I were sleeping in different sections of the tent. It was one huge tent that was open and we just set ourselves up in rows and went to sleep. He was in the far right corner, while I was in the middle, closer to the “door” of the tent.

Amazingly, every time I would wake up, Talha would wake up as well. I realised after a couple times. When I would wake up, I would have to sit up to assist my breathing and I would notice that he would wake up as well. I knew he was worried about me and he would often look over to see if I needed anything. One time, he followed me out of the tent as I was trying to quietly walk out, I was going to the bathroom and he came and asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital.

I did think about it, but I convinced him that I was fine and if I did need to go, I promised that I would tell him. By now everywhere was hurting, it hurt when I breathe, especially my back and stomach. I practiced some breathing exercises that I learnt in Egypt to help my asthma. I kept trying to sleep but would continue to sleep in short spells.

We got up for Fajr and prayed. Everyone was becoming more worried about me for some reason J. Soon we would be having some tea and other food that was pre-packaged and then get ourselves ready to go to stone the Jamarat a second time.

This time, I would not go to stone the Jamarat, I asked Hassan or ‘Ala to stone on my behalf, something that is allowed in the case of illness. I got up and collected my pebbles and gave to them and I sat in the tent and prayed for Allah to accept this from me and for them to be safe. Soon, we were outside waiting on our buses, I got on and got back to the building.

We had to get ready to make Tawaf and Sa`i at the K`abah. I was very weak but I was happy because there is no feeling that can compare to being in the precincts of the K`abah. The buses take us to the Haram to make Tawaf. Two of the bigger guys in the group offer for me to come with them because they wanted to make sure that I would not be crushed because of my breathing. So Ali from Montreal walked in front of me and Muhammad from Ottawa walked behind me. Muhammad held onto Ali’s arm and I was between them. The love and concern I felt from these brothers of mine really empowered me to make the best of this experience.

As we entered the Haram and my gaze fell onto the K`abah, a flood of thoughts and emotions overcame me. I looked and I prayed while trying to keep count to ensure that we made the exact amount of circuits (7). As we continued to do so in the midst of the crowds and the people, I begin to feel more and more tired and weak. We finally stop and pray behind the station of Ibrahim, once again, they both look out for me to make sure I am not squeezed. As we finish we move towards Safa and Marwah, the two mountains that Hagar, the wife of Ibrahim ran between looking for sustenance for her child, Isma`il peace be on him. By the time we make it through the crowds and get there, I start to feel exhausted. Still, we make our du`aa’s and we proceed to walk. I cannot jog when we get to the demarcated areas where pilgrims jog, so I walk as quickly as possible. Soon though, it becomes a bit too much, I have to hold on to the arm of Ali for support to continue walking. Near to the end, I needed the support of both of them to finish my Sa`i.

Once we finished and made our du`aa’s, we proceeded to exit, we exited through the wrong gate. That meant that we had to walk all the way around the kaba to get back in time to the buses. That was no easy task at this point. Still by the mercy of Allah, we were able to get back in time and catch our bus back to the building.

There was food prepared for us but I could not eat that much. I made my way up to my room and sat on my bed. I could no longer lie down as I would be unable to breathe. I set up some pillows and slept in an upright position. As per the doctor’s advice, I closed the window and made sure the a/c was off.

As I settled down, I realised that the reason I was feeling cold was because I had started running a fever. My fever brought with it the accompanying pain. It seemed to be like a roller-coaster getting high at times and dropping. I tried to sleep through, but as usual my sleep was intermittent. During the afternoon, Hassan would keep coming to check on me, he would bring damp cloths and put it onto my head and bring me juice to keep me hydrated. I thank Allah for him, because I can’t do this for myself right now. As he looks after me, I pray that Allah looks after him and his family in this life and the next. He is becoming worried, as am I, because I start suspecting that it is more than just my asthma. Finally when I become a bit more conscious, some brothers from the German delegation come to see me. They are physicians and I am not sure if it was Hassan or someone else who called them. They come and check my breathing, and listen to my chest.

As they ask me all the typical questions that doctors ask in Arabic, one of my friends translate for me. Even though I can understand them, I don’t trust myself right now because of how I am feeling. I am scared that I may not understand and answer the wrong questions with wrong answers.

The doctors are convinced that I have pneumonia. When they say this, it all started to make sense, all the symptoms I was experiencing definitely should have clued me off to that. But I kept telling myself that it was the combined stress, dust, fumes and everything else. I had not had an attack for years, since I went to Egypt. The pollution and climate in Cairo had combined to re-ignite the asthma that had left me for some twelve years.

As a child I used to suffer from deathly attacks of asthma. I could recall at a very early age somewhere around 9-10 when I told my grandmother that I wanted to die, because it was so hard to live without breathing. Grandmothers never like to hear things like that. I used to be dependent on my doses of Ventolin and my puffer. Eventually, my mother took me to a homeopathic doctor who radically altered my doctor and while I was not happy with my new diet, it was the last time I would remember having an asthma attack until that chilly night in Cairo.

Once that happened, I decided to keep puffers with me just incase, but I tried my best never to use them. I wanted to train myself to focus on my breathing and calm myself so that I did not panic when I could not breathe. So when I refused to go to the doctor before, I was trying to see if I could gain some control and eventually beat what I thought was an asthma attack. Still I was smart enough to keep my puffers and they did help me. The stresses of the environment along with my asthma had combined forces and I was not able to do much more on my own. I think about how many things we take for granted, the ability to see, hear, touch, feel, breath, think thoughts, see colour…so many blessings that we often take for granted. I thank God for all that I have been blessed with in my life. More than that, I am happy to be here, in the holiest of places - a guest of God.

The doctors decided to give me some antibiotics that they thought would help me but they are worried. They talk to the head of the Canadian delegation and suggest to him, without my knowing, that I be taken to the hospital.

Finally, Talha comes and tells me that I need to go to the hospital. I tell him that I don’t want to go. In my head I am telling myself that I don’t have long to complete my Hajj, I want to do it. But Islamically, my body has a right over me as well and Allah knows my intention was to complete my Hajj. I tell him, I think that the meds that the doctors gave me will help by Allah’s will. He refuses to listen to my pleas. He has made up his mind and even if I disagree, he is the leader of the group, I must follow his instructions. Islamic etiquette is very clear on this.

He informs me that an ambulance is on its way for me. The attendants will come up soon with a tank of oxygen and a stretcher to take me down. I plead with him to let me go down on my own without the drama of a stretcher. He finally agrees. He says that I should wait until they bring me the tank of oxygen and then slowly make my way down. I am at least thankful about that. I go round to the room of the others, all the guys are there. As I stand at the door, they pause and look, I can see the concern in their eyes.

“I am going to the hospital now - please keep me in your du`aa’s.” Hassan is worried. He immediately says that he is coming with me. I am happy that he is coming, I need his support and I don’t know what will happen. My thoughts that this could be the last trip of my life are still in my head. I know Asif is worried about this as well. He is the only one I have told my thoughts.

I get ready and wait in my room and soon someone comes up with a tank of oxygen and puts a mask on for me. The oxygen helps with my breathing, my lungs feel more calmed and I sit there thinking that it would have been great to have this a couple days ago. I start making the trek down the hall. Each of my steps is measured, but I feel slight relief with the oxygen. The man (I am not sure if he is a paramedic or not) who is helping to hold the oxygen tank is also helping me along. As I get down to the main floor, the other people who are there notice what is going on. I can feel their eyes trained on me and I am uncomfortable with the extra attention.

Ala, our group leader is there waiting. Masha Allah, he is a good group leader, looks out for all of us - I pray that he is rewarded in this life and the next. As I get to the ambulance, they open the doors; I tell them that I will get in on my own. As I climb up, just like in a movie, I bang my head. I am ok I tell myself…they ask me to lie on the stretcher. I have not seen Hassan yet, but I really want him to come. I hope we don’t leave without him. There is a sense of calmness that he gives me, something that you feel when you know someone cares.

He just manages to make it before we leave. Ala explains to him that he does not have to come and even if he does he will have to wait in the lobby because they will not let him come in with us. Ala needs to go because he will be translating from English to Arabic and vice versa. Neither Hassan nor I can speak Arabic fluently enough. Hassan still wants to come; he will wait in the lobby if he has to.

They both get into the back with me and the ambulance starts towards the hospital, sirens blaring. I am happy that they will both be there. This is strange…so this is what it is like. As I lay there, I am not crying, but tears are streaming down my face. I am lying in a crouching position, it is the only way I can feel some relief with my breathing and with the pain. The paramedic adjusted the oxygen levels just before we left. The driver uses the siren intermittently to get us through the traffic (I am guessing).

Through my mask, I ask Ala if I would be able to go back to Mina for the last day. I tell myself, I couldn’t have made it this far to miss the last rites of Hajj. Ala smiles and he says, “Do not worry.” For the duration of the ride, the driver asks Ala about me. He explains to him my story of accepting Islam at the age of 11. The driver shares some of his reflections on my story and some connections to stories of the sahabah (prophet’s companions). I say nothing, I just focus on breathing.

Soon we get to the hospital, I am on the stretcher and they take me out and wheel me into the ER. A doctor comes to talk, Ala speaks to him in Arabic. Hassan cannot come in with me and so he says that he will wait in the waiting room for me. I know he is making du`aa’ that everything goes well. The doctor speaks to me and asks me some questions. I answer him briefly, still trying to focus on my breathing. I notice that all the nurses seem to be other than Saudi - maybe from the Philippines, Malaysia or other places.

They send me to get an X-ray, Ala comes with me to the lab where it will be done. Some time after the doctor comes and says that my lungs look fine. The nurse comes and gives me, what I believe was a cortisone shot and gave me some nasty medicine. After this, Ala helps me walk out of the hospital and back into the ambulance. What did I have exactly - only Allah really knows. All I know was that after the shot, it was not as hard to breathe anymore, but I was still very weak. He recommended that I continue taking the antibiotic cipro that the German doctors gave me. Hassan was happy to hear that I would be ok by Allah’s mercy.

The ambulance took me back to the building, where everyone was happy to see me. I pray and go to my bed to rest and sleep. I sleep for the rest of the evening and get up in time to have something to eat and then return to Mina for our final night. As I thought about going to Mina, I wanted to stay and rest, I felt so ill and drained, I did not know if I could make it. But I felt as if my Hajj had already been different in so many ways and I wanted to complete my Hajj badly. So I “sucked it in” and told myself that it was one more night for the sake of my Lord.

As we got back to Mina, we settled down in our rows and tried to sleep. Hassan checks up on me but Asif, decides he will stay with me this time to help if I needed it. Among the chorus of snores, I tried to ease my mind and get some rest. Alhamdulillah, tonight was a bit different, I was able to get some more rest and less interruptions in the night. When I get up before fajr, I can feel some difference. I tell myself that maybe I can stone the Jamarat today. Well I won’t make any decisions right now.

12th Dhul-Hijjah

I walk and line up in the lines to make wudu’, some of the others notice me and they allow me to go ahead of them so that I will not be standing too long. I eat something so I can take my medicine and then we pray fajr. I go back to rest and hope that I will have enough strength to get me to the Jamarat later that day. It is decided by our group that we will go after Dhuhr prayer. We would pray, then there would be a dars (lesson) and then we would go.

When it comes time, I decide that it would be better for me not to go. I realise I am not strong enough. I ask Ala to stone on my behalf and he agrees. I go and collect some pebbles and then give them to him so that he can throw. There are some fears about the crowds today because it is the last day and we are all worried about possibly falling or getting hurt.

We all meet and everyone is assigned into teams. Because I will be staying back I offer to keep peoples things for them like $$ and watches etc. I often marvel at the beauty of Islam in the way that it affects the hearts of so many. People easily handed me (and Dawud who was also not well) many valuable items, identification, credit cards, cell phones, monies etc without even checking. Fully knowing that they would receive every cent when they returned. The fear here is not of the other person knowing that we did something wrong, the understanding is that God sees everything. And God will give all justice if not in this life, in the next. Before they leave, we make du`aa’ and then they disperse.

As I sit with Dawud, a former missionary who accepted Islam, we talk about life and Islam and not going today to stone the Jamarat. We can only imagine what it is like now. I quietly pray for them and for their return.

When they return, we are told that we need to leave Mina before Maghrib or else we have to stay for another night. Everyone gets their stuff and starts walking out to the roads. We should take anyone of our buses to leave. There is a good chance with the amount of people that we may not be able to leave before Maghrib. I am hoping that we can because I am physically drained and I don’t think I can last another night outside.

Everyone moves with speed, many others are starting to complain that their throats are hurting. That was how I started..I pray that they are not getting whatever I had. Finally, we hear a fatwa from one of the scholars that as long as we are on route with the intention of leaving Mina, we can leave even after sunset).

We go outside on to the street, it is crowded with buses, cars, people and more buses. The stifling hold of diesel overpowers your lungs. I hope I don’t have to wait in this too long. While we are waiting, I ask the others how things were when they went to stone the Jamarat. They said that it was the best day yet, there were clear spaces and they were able to go and come easily. In my heart I wished I went with them, but Allah knows best and is the best to plan.

Finally one of the buses comes and we are able to quickly get on. Many of the roads are closed for some reason and so we are stuck in traffic. Every time the driver tries an alternate route, it is blocked. Some of us think that he may be lost. As we continued along, we had to stop and pick up some guys from our group who were on another bus. Their bus shut down and so the only way for them to get back was to get on our bus. They climb on and fill up the aisles. Many of them tired and weary from Hajj as well others are getting sick. I wished I could help some of them but I am too weak to help myself.

Soon I noticed one of the brothers who had a huge recording camera, he was recording some footage from Hajj. I took the camera from him and put it on my lap so that he would not have to hold it the whole way back.

My mind was flooded with many emotions and concerns. I did not have to worry about the sacrifice because I paid for it to be done. Finally, we get back to the building, I want to go and call Sharon (my wife) but I am feeling so ill that I have no choice but to go and lay down. That night, by Allah’s mercy I was able to get some rest.

Now all I had left was to complete the farewell Tawaf. A bitter-sweet feeling….

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