Seeing Live Haj Coverage, I Can’t Resist Reliving My Own Experience

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M Ghazali Khan 

“Khan Sahib abhi tum wahan gai nahiN ho. TumheN nahin pata keh us jagah meN kaisi kashish hai (Khan Saheb, you have not been there and you are not aware of the magnetic attraction this place has). This was the response of a very close friend I was trying to dissuade, 18-19 years ago, from performing his fourth or fifth Haj.

Aware of his generosity and his participation in various noble causes in a manner in which left hand knows nothing what the right hand is doing, I could not dare advise him to spend this money he was going to spend on Haj on some other virtuous, charitable and deserving causes. So my strongest and real argument was that with the increase of population the number of Muslims going for Haj was also increasing every year and in order to lessen the burden on resources and reduce the crowd no one should perform Haj more than once.

I’ve had the privilege of performing Haj in 2013, along with my wife and son, then 25. Since then on every Haj season when I see pilgrims make the most sacred journey, I feel a strong urge to join them all over again and each year my dear friend’s words resound in my ears. “Khan sahib abhi tum wahan gai nahiN ho. TumheN nahin pata keh us jagah meN kaisi kashish hai”. And this year is no exception.

Rightly or wrongly, I have always believed that like all other obligatory worships Haj should be performed silently. I have never been able to understand and reconcile with the fanfare with which Hajis are seen off and received at airports and the feasts organised in their honor after their return. It was this thinking that prevented me from telling, except my parents, siblings and close friends—and this too once we had our visas and air tickets in our hands— that I was going to perform Haj.

Although my mentor and journalism guru, Hashir Faruqui Saheb, had advised me to share the news with all of the friends as, he thought, it would encourage them to follow me. I realized the weight of his philosophy when I broke the news to my another friend and senior journalist, Jalil Ahmad Khan, only to hear him declare he too would have joined us. This was surely a painful and embarrassing moment. He did perform Haj in 2015 though.

Although I strongly believe, as required by Islam, that all acts of worship should be private and should not be publicized, after coming back from Haj, in order to atone for my mistake of not telling my friends about my Haj and also thinking that it might encourage others to take the holy voyage, wrote a piece in Urdu. But fearing Ria (showing off), I did not post it for publication.

Haj 2016 2

As has been the case in the last two years, as I saw fellow Muslims, friends and relatives leave on the sacred journey this year, the urge to join them became even more intense and the words of my friend echoed in my ears even louder, “Khan sahib abhi tum wahan gai nahiN ho. TumheN nahin pata keh us jagah meN kaisi kashish hai” and few days ago I published my old travelogue on Star News.  But as I watch live coverage of Haj on TV, my desire to share my memories of the most important event of my life becomes become even more irresistible.

Despite my strong desire for many years to be Allah’s guest and not withstanding my wife’s pressure and the zeal, to the extent of obsession, to perform Haj and constant encouragement by mother in law, I could not do so, partly due to lack of resolve and partly personal circumstances. In 2013 the time came when I interpreted the situation as an invitation from Allah and said Labbaik, Allahumma Labbaik (Here I am my Lord, answering your call). On October 1, we started from London for Madina.

As we left Heathrow Airport in a Saudi Airline flight directly for Medina it looked like a dream. As the plane finally hovered over Madina and the captain announced that those sitting on the right hand side could look Masjid-e-Nabavi, our heart beats increased but sitting on the left hand side we could not have the aerial view of the Prophet’s Mosque, peace be upon him.

As we came out of the airport and one of the representatives of Travel Express, the touring company with whom we were travelling, holding a placard of his company said, “Welcome to the city of Prophet (PBUH)”. What a great privilege!  “Are we really in Prophet’s City?” I asked myself and  started reading Darood.

The City presented a rare spiritual scene. The crowds of Hajis in groups along with their guides, Indonesians dressed in what looked like a uniform, perhaps walking to Masjid-e-Nabavi or nearby mosques, filled the streets.

We reached our hotel one or two hours before Fajr. And as we entered the hotel we saw a sign “Way to Masjid-e-Nabavi”. We had no idea that Prophet’s Mosque was next door but looking at the sign I felt like leaving everything and everyone there and proceed towards Prophet’s Mosque. But we had to leave our luggage at our room.

The Prophet's Mosque in the Holy City of Medina.
The Prophet’s Mosque in the Holy City of Medina.

Perhaps only after half an hour we heard Fajar Azan. Little did we know that the call was from Masjid-e-Nabavi. Quickly we did our wadu and followed others to the lift and soon we were in front of Masjid-e-Nabavi, presenting the most beautiful scene a Muslim longs to see, radiant and full of most well behaved and most organised crowed anyone can imagine on this earth. As the congregators had already occupied their places inside the mosque, we had to pray on the street next to the Mosque.

We felt like making our way to Prophet’s tomb and soothe our eyes with the rare sight.  But in the presence of thousands of the lovers of the most Beloved personality ever to come on this earth, trying to do so would have meant pushing others and being pushed by them and cause unintentional hurt to someone. While this is the place where one has to behave in the most respectful manner.

We had had the privilege of offering our Zuhar, Asar, and Maghrib prayers inside the Mosque  and standing in the courtyard of the Mosque were discussing about the possible best time to go to Prophet’s Tomb and say our Salam when a cleaner, a Bangladeshi who had been serving the Mosque for the last eight years, approached us. He advised us to come after one or two hours after Isha.

Accepting his advice we did go after one hour of Isha and were able to pray two Rak’ats at Riadul Jannah without any difficulty. Being present at Riadul Jannah, and the thought that the Holy Prophet had prayed at this place, is itself one of the most amazing experience. But being present at Prophet’s Tomb is the most intense experience, full of emotions and awe.

Riadul Jannah

While trudging in a long queue, several thoughts were crossing through my mind.  I was thinking about how a sinner like me would stand in front of Prophet’s Tomb and say salam to the Prophet (PBUH). I was also being reminded of historical events that had taken place at this blessed place while at the same time I was trying to comprehend and visualize the emotional scenes at the death of the Prophet and the bout of extreme shock, sadness and gloom that must have gripped the companions of the blessed Prophet (PBUH).

How would have those who, upon hearing that Prophet’s tooth had broken in an attack by the kuffars, could be break their own teeth and those who could be so overwhelmed by the news of Prophet’s departure from this world that they (caliph Omar) refused to accept it and threatened to kill anyone who said that the Prophet had died, must have felt at the most tragic day of their lives.

One has to be present at Prophet’s Mosque to see and feel the love and respect Muslims have for the most beloved Messenger of Allah. This is the place every Muslim longs to visit and the life time desire of those who were there had been fulfilled. Some were so overwhelmed by their emotions that, despite being stopped by Religious Police through gestures and by loud voices “Haji Mamnoo!” (Haji this is prohibited) they were kissing the arches and pillars of the area. Some were trying to reach, touch and kiss to the grilled windows of the Tomb.

Next to me was a Haji from Pakistan. The thought of his respectful posture and the tears pouring out of his eyes bring tears to my own eyes whenever I tell about him to anyone. I doubt if he even looked up to have a look of the Tomb. With his gaze lowered, tears flowing down his face, reciting Darood he trudged forward. I envy the love and respect he was displaying for the Prophet (PBUH).

Thinking about my own sins, my blatant violations of Prophet’s Sunnah and my several misdeeds, I just kept reciting Darood. As I came close to the Tomb I said salam to the Prophet (PBUH) and his two Companions, Caliph Abu Bakr and Caliph Omar, buried there. My parents and my siblings had asked me to say their salam to the Prophet. I am not sure about its validity in Shari’a but controlling myself and with tearful eyes what I could say in Urdu was this, “Oh Prophet of Allah, my parents and siblings have asked this sinner to convey their salam to you.”

After the visit to Prophet’s Tomb as we were sitting outside in the courtyard of the Mosque, I said to my son, “Imagine the scenes here at this place when the Prophet passed away.” He agreed adding, “I am also thinking about the pain of the first person who, during the extension of the Mosque, will have used the first hammer to demolish several buildings associated with Prophet’s family and his companions.

“He must have lived with a sense of guilt all his life. I would not have wave wanted to be among the engineers or the laborers who worked in this project.” He said. I agreed adding, “Sometimes one commits acts out of ignorance and lives with a sense of guilt all his life. Imagine about Khalid Bin Walid (RA) because of whom, when he was not a Muslim, the Prophet lost his tooth and Muslims lost the battle. Or imagine the pain of parents who in the last stages of pregnancy are advised to have the child aborted as he could die in the womb, posing danger to the mother, or would die soon after the birth.”

Surely there was a convincing reason to carry out the painful but necessary demolitions of buildings of historical and archaeological importance in Medina but, one wonders, what could be the justification of erasing historical buildings in Makkah and construct hotels there except shameless insensitivity and greed. In Britain we see how even small buildings with not so much history associated with them, are declared as “listed” in which not even minor changes can be made let alone demolishing them. One wonders how those who do not believe in maintaining historical or holy sites feel when they visit the cave of Hira or Uhad? Do these places not remind them of important events that had taken place at these places.

While inside Masjid-e-Nabavi we witnessed and experienced these spiritually rejuvenating scenes, outside the Mosque we encountered what one feels embarrassed even to talk about. A burqa clad lady, with a small baby in her lap, was always there after every prayer begging and chasing people coming out of the mosque.

Muslim pilgrims pray on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Makkah.. Reuters photo.
Muslim pilgrims pray on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Makkah.. Reuters photo.

On one occasion she told me she was a Palestinian, she had heavy Asian accent though. Next time she asked for money for her baby. Even in London I do most of my shopping with a credit or debit card and do not carry cash with me. At that time too I had no cash and gave her an honest answer. “If you have currency from your country, that will do as I will have it changed”. She said. Again I told her that I didn’t have any cash. “Look, you are outside Haram. Don’t lie here.” The lady reminded me.

Next day a man with a flowing white beard approached me in the market outside the Mosque. Upon confirming that I could speak Urdu, he said that he had come to perform Haj along with his wife and a daughter and that he had been pick-pocketed and all of his money had been stolen. One may have to face such a tragedy but it is hard to believe that anyone would go in a market place and ask every passerby for help.

The third day we departed for Makkah. Like Medina, several historical places have been erased here.  Not even the house where the Blessed Prophet (PBUH) was born was spared and a library has been built on its site.

We had put own our Ahram (two-piece unstitched attire of pilgrims) from Medina as the place from where Meeqat starts, despite very good arrangements, we had been warned, was very busy. We reached Makkah two or three hours before Fajr. Having settled down in our room as I pulled the curtain to have a look outside, to my extreme excitement what I saw was the haram radiating with lights and the Holy Ka’ba in the middle. Indeed an indescribable experience!

Like the first prayer in Medina, in Makkah too we had to offer Fajr prayer on the street outside the Haram after which we went straight inside to perform our first Umrah. The first sight of Holy Kaa’ba and the feeling to be physically near it is also a unique experience. One is struck by an overwhelming feeling of awe with nerve-breaking sense of embarrassment and guilt crossing one’s mind about one’s past wrongdoings, sins and laziness and carelessness in following the Commands of Allah from whom nothing is hidden.

One feels like going straight near the Multazim and pray there, repent one’s sins and seek forgiveness from the forgiver whose Mercy has no limits. But in order to do this you will need to push others and may cause accidents while this is the place where killing even an aunt is forbidden and being in the House of the Lord of the Universe one is required to behave in the most respectful and dignified manner.

Former neurologist Dr Khalid Khan, who has dedicated himself for the service of Islam, was our guide. The fact is that he fulfilled this role in a remarkable manner and it won’t be an exaggeration to say that for those of us who had never been there before, either for Umrah or for Haj, he made us walk by holding our fingers.

He was constantly stressing upon unity of the Ummah and Huqooqul Ibad (rights of others) reminding us to be careful, lest we hurt someone physically or emotionally. He repeatedly asked us not to make a train during Tawaf, as some do, as it causes disruption in the flow of Tawaf and may cause severe accidents. He advised us to start from outside the moving circumference formed by those doing Tawaf and keep moving inside slowly with each round and similarly start moving outside with each round.

He kept reminding us that there was no Satan at Jamarat and that there was no need to use big stones and throw these with force. “Don’t be impatient, wait until you reach the rails built around the Jamarat. Start throwing your pebbles when you are as close as your belly touches the rail. Make sure that you don’t have to raise your elbow above your shoulder and your pebbles do not hurt anyone as by hitting someone you might earn a sin.”

As for Haj arrangements, one has to praise the authorities. If someone wants to make criticism for the sake of criticism, it’s altogether a different matter. However, there is always room for improvement, for instance in the condition of toilets. Hope someone who is able to raise this issue with relevant authorities will read this and take up this with them.

Urdu version of this article appeared in Star News

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