Monday, December 31, 2007

Makkah Al Mukaaramah- the mother of all cities; the Most Beloved City to Rasulullah

"By Allah! You are the most beloved portion of Allah's earth to me, and verily you are the most beloved portion of the earth to Allah too. Verily you are the best, spot on the face of the earth. And the most beloved to Allah. If your people did not expel me, I would not have departed from you." (Al-Muatta)

A city with over fifty names. Makkah, Bakkah, Al-Balad, Al-Qaryah, Ummul Qurrah.
A city wherein ,whoever enters it attains security. The city that witnessed the birth of our Beloved, and the beginning of Revelation. That was the city that we now approached at the early hours of dawn.

We began waking up one after the other, and only few among us sighted the famed gates of Makkah. We proceeded to a welcoming checkpoint where we were handed some leaflets on Hajj and free gift boxes of food and drinks, which we gladly accepted. As we moved closer to the city, we heard reverberations of the adhan over the loudspeakers; Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar!

For those amongst us who had never lived in a Muslim country, it was an unbelievable experience. The whole town shook with Adhans from all corners. As one ended, another began, and one could not but pray that Allah makes this possible one day in Houston, and all over the US.
We began dropping several people at their would-be residences, and at one of our stops , we prayed our first Fajr in the Town of Security.

By the time we finally got to the front of our hotel- AlMasa Hotel at about 8 am, we were tired and weary and almost ready to fall sleep. You could barely hear us whispering the Talbiyyah.

AlManasik, you rock!
Then lo and behold, we looked to our left, and what did we see? Masjid al-Haram. Allahu Akbar! Our Hotel was directly across from the Masjid. We were going to be neighbors of the Kaabah. I mean we were so close to the Haram, closer than Jamah Masjid is to Madrasah Islamiyyah, for those who live in Houston. It was almost like the distance from Masjid Farouq to its parking lot. For just $5000?
Even the guys who bought other Super Giant Deluxe Hajj packages could not get closer to the Kaabah than this! I was like; Shaykh Muhammad alShareef and Almanasik, you ROCK!

Our fatigue flew away as we saw thousands of people trooping out of the Masjid area. We quickly got settled into our rooms. I had a quad-room package, so got assigned to a room with 3 other Hujjaj, one of whom was from Texas, and another elderly brother who was a Professor at Purdue University. All my room mates were Egyptian-Americans.

I made for the hotel restaurant to have breakfast, and who do I see at the entrance? , a smiling Muhammad alShareef ! Truly I have arrived in Hajj. I went up to him, exchanged some salams, and also met Bro Mustapha, a student at Umm Qura university, but originally from New York. I learnt he was also going to be with our group.
I managed to eat some breakfast at the hotel buffet which had so much variety of food, that I wondered if we were really in Makkah. Alhamdulillah, I had a healthy appetite.

Sleep or Umrah
After breakfast, I was undecided on whether to take a rest after all the stress of the journey or to go do my Umrah. Remember , we were still in Ihraam at this point. I was tired, but how could I come so close to the House of Allah, the House I had prayed facing its direction ever since I made my first salah, how could I come so close and then go to sleep without beholding it in its resplendent majesty? What if I woke up and found it was all a dream?

Shaykh Muhammad alShareef solved the dilemma for me by explaining that I did not have to do my Umrah right away. I could go to the Haram, pray 2 rakahs of Tahiyyat Masjid, and then later I could go back and make my Umrah!

Al-Masjid Al-Haram the Mosque of 100,000 rewards!

If you prayed all your five daily prayers in Houston , you would have to do this consistently for over fifty five years, six months and twenty days , before your rewards would even come close to a single salah said in Masjid alHaram!
And the five prayers offered over a single twenty-four hour period in the Haram is equivalent to the five daily prayers offered in Houston over a period of two hundred and seventy-seven years, nine months and ten days!
How can anyone ever compare a trip to Makkah to anything else?

I proceeded towards the Haram, took off my shoes, kept them in my knapsack, which I kept on my back. Overlooking the Haram were all these tall buildings and hotels, such beautiful sights. I did the adhkar for entering the Masjid, and joined the crowd patiently waiting to enter the Haram at 10am. By the way, I did not even look for the famed Baab Salam. I made my entry though King Abdul-Aziz (Door 1) as it was the closest to my hotel.

I entered the Masjid, descended the stairs and walked towards the Kaabah, resplendent in its glory, the first House of worship built on this earth.
I paused, gazed, and drank in the sight, repeating the words 'Allahu Akbar several times. I looked besides me, and there were all shades of people, old and young, men and women, able and disabled, white and black! They were gazing at the Kaabah enshrouded in its shining Ghilaaf (cover), and they were crying. It was the culmination of the desires of a lifetime! We had made it!

This was the House they had heard so much about. The House that held so much memories of their Prophet, the House they had prayed towards all their life, and now they were here!

It translated the Seerah from an old fable to reality! You could now visualize AbuBakr raising his voice at the Kaabah and being beaten to pulp. You could almost see Bilal lying out there with a stone laid on him in the scorching sun, and it was as if you could see Rasulullah sharing the message of Islam to the elders of Makkah as they lay around the Kaabah.

Labayka allahumma Labayk. Here we come, Our Lord, Here we come! .......

Here we come O Allah, here we come!- Dhul Hijjah 1

We left JFK Airport, NY at 6:30 pm on Monday, December 10 (Dhul Hijjah 1), aboard Egypt Air. Several of us looked like hajj pilgrims ,while there were a few non muslims apparently going to Cairo. Good enough, before takeoff, the dua of the traveler was displayed on the screens and also read over the speakers.

The flight took about 9 hours and by Tuesday morning, we were at the Cairo Int. Airport. Here we met thousands of other pilgrims from different countries awaiting their flights to Jeddah. Several pilgrims started growing impatient at this point, until we were addressed by one of the Egypt Air reps, who reminded us that we were proceeding on Hajj, where there would be a lot of waiting , so we should just assume we were already in Hajj, and be remembering Allah until our flights, instead of complaining .etc. Very sound advice.

We prayed Dhur, Asr, Maghrib and Isha , and at about 6 pm, it was time to depart Cairo for Jeddah.
We were advised to adopt our Ihraam at this point as we would be passing over the Meeqat very soon after taking off from Cairo, and would not have enough time or facilities on board.Imagine getting stuck in the aircraft's toilet with your ihraam.!

We proceeded to the bathroom facilities attached to the masjid in the airport, took our baths, and then it was Ihraam donning time.

Several of us were not used to tying the ihram, or walking with it, and it took a lot of help from more experienced folks to get the ihraams to stay, and to be able to walk with them. I wonder how some sisters dress like this almost daily!

There were various styles and forms of the ihraam; from cotton to bath towels; from studded ihraams to sown ihraams (we later learnt these were not right), it came in different shapes and sizes, but all white.
Some people even observed two rakahs of sunnah prayer after adopting the ihraam ( there is no proof in the sunnah for this, so I did not do it!)

We boarded and started bonding as almost everyone on the flight was going for Hajj. I noticed there were several teenagers on board too. By the way, the food on board was lovely!

At the Meeqat
Less that 30 minutes into the 90 minutes flight across the Red Sea, there was an announcement that we were about to pass over Juhfah; the Meeqat for the people coming from the direction of Egypt.
At this point we made our intentions; Labayka Allahumma Umrahtan (Here I come O Allah for Umrah) as we were doing the Tamattu' form of Hajj. From this point, we were now Muhrim-no arguments, no marital relations, no disobedience to Allah.

We all began reciting the Talbiyya- "Labbaikallaahumma labbaika - labbaika laa shareeka laka labbaika - innal hamda wan na'mata laka wal mulka - Ia shareeka laka"
"I am present, O' Allah, I am present. I am present, no partners do you have, I am present. Verily the Praise and Bounties and the Kingdom is for you, no partners do you have.

In Jeddah
Finally we got to the Hajj Terminal in Jeddah at about 10pm, and it all looked like a large expanse of white tents. We all descended from the plane , tired but joyful, and thankful to Allah for being among the few given this unique opportunity.

We underwent the processing -which took some time, but by this time I already had my patience balloons in tow, and was not too worried about any delays. One important point here is that you don't want to lose the cashiers check attached to your passport by the hajj agency, or you might encounter some problems at Jeddah.

We were met by some representatives of AlManasik waving their banners at this point. They took over our luggage ,and then we had to go and wait for the buses to Makkah. I wandered around the Hajj terminal during this time (getting very lost at one time) and accidentally met an AlMaghrib student from Houston, who was pleasantly surprised when I told him Shaykh Muhammad alShareef was going to be our group leader.

There were some free knapsacks being given away by Mobily-a Saudi phone company, and trust me, I got one!

Late in the night about 2 am, we finally departed Jeddah in air-conditioned buses, and were finally on the way to Makkah al_Mukarramah; a city that throws its doors open only to the believers, the city that houses the first House built for the worship of our Lord.
We tried to keep our eyes open, but tired and weary, almost all of us dropped to sleep for the duration of the 3 hour trip to Makkah.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Preparation for Hajj

Deciding to go for Hajj
One of the greatest things I learnt in preparing for Hajj is that it is Allah's call,and if He calls you, no matter the obstacles, you will go for Hajj.
I had mentally made my decision to go for hajj at the beginning of 2007. It was my second year working, I had paid off my debts,and felt it was time to go for Hajj. I wished I could go with my wife, but several things were not clear yet.
Could I afford to pay for the cost of our trips? Do we take our 30 months old daughter along?

Which package and which hajj agency?
The year flew along, then come Ramadan, I started to see posters of several Hajj Packages all around the Masjid; Super Deluxe Hajj- $6500 , Extra Exclusive Hajj - $7000 .
At this point, I was not sure I was going to Hajj anymore, because I had been planning on the previous hajj estimates of around $4000.All the packages with different names like car-wash packages seemed way above my budget.

Then, at an Iftar get-together during the middle of Ramadan, a brother shared an email from Muhammad alShareef with me asking; "Do you want to go for Hajj with me?" It was an opportunity too great to miss. An Almaghrib-Hajj?
After Iftar , I rushed off to the website, , chose the cheapest package ,and sent an email off ,indicating my interest. Soon enough, a reply came back asking me to pay a refundable fee of $47 to secure my space,and then go to and register for Program 2. I could not believe it was that simple.
Off I rushed to, and the website said " We are sold out". I had to go back and forth between Shaykh Muhammad and Almanasik a couple of times, before I was able to get permission to register.

Program 2 was going to span from Dec 10-27, and cost about $4650 (Udhiyyah and Hajj visa fees not included). That looked right within my budget, as it included transportation from JFK to Saudi and back, all the in-country accommodation and feeding during hajj. In total we ended up paying $5100 dollars to cover everything.The trip was worth every dollar. Thereafter they sent us a list of things needed to get the visa, which can be found on the AlManasik site . I however had to arrange my return ticket from Houston to New York.

Weeks later, I registered my wife too with the same group, going with Muhammad alShareef, and we decided to leave our daughter with our cousins in Houston. Our decision was based on advice that being our first hajj, and since our daughter was so little, it might be a bit distracting to take her along. Masha Allah, it was very good advice as we were to later find out.

Learning the Hajj Rites
The next issue was even though my wife had taken the Almaghrib Rizq Management class which covered Hajj, we felt we needed to study for the Hajj to make it a good experience.

One of the greatest sources of information we used was the book :Getting the Best out of Hajj By Abu Muneer Ismail Davids . We also found an accompanying video on Google Videos. This was the best material we used,as it covers the logistics and spiritual rites of Hajj,and mentally prepares you for hajj. The book is also fun to read. We did remember to pray for the author during Hajj.

And then came an incomparable yet free source; HajjCoach.Com; a series of videos on Hajj preparation by none other that Shaykh Muhammad alShareef. It was also posted on YouTube. It was so excellent, that I copied it on my mp3 player,and took it along for Hajj. It covered several aspects of the Hajj Preparation; shopping list, setting your goals, and my favorite part; preparing a "Massive Dua List".
We also watched the DVD on Hajj by Shaykh Hafiz Waheed, and read some books from Darussalam on Hajj.

Very soon it was time to go for hajj, and we flew from Houston to New York where we were scheduled to fly via Cairo on Monday December 10 (1 Dhul Hijjah, 1428), and thus the journey began...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Welcome to Hajj Memories

Asalam alaykum,

I just returned from the most memorable journey of my life. I just came back from Hajj- the journey of hearts and souls, where millions of people of all shapes, sizes and colors come together with a single statement- Labayk Allahumma Labayk- Here we are, Our Lord, here we are!

What made the journey even more memorable was the unique opportunity I had to perform the Hajj with Shaykh Muhammad alShareef, the founder of AlMaghrib Institute in USA & Canada, Shaykh Muhammad AlFaqeeh, several students of knowledge from University of Madinah and Umm Qura University, and numerous other Hujjaj.

Over the next few posts I will endeavour to relive some of the moments of the Hajj trip , share some of the eman-rush moments, and invite you to experience the journey once again.

If you went to Hajj or know anyone who did, please encourage them to come here and share their memories too.

If you have not had the opportunity to go to Hajj yet, you are also welcome to have a glimpse into the life-changing journing through this blog.

..And make dua that Allah makes our journey Hajj Mabroor.

Abu Aaishah Idris Bello