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Be Your Own [Health] Advocate

By now, some, if not most, of my family/friends know that in the early months of last year[2014] I faced a pretty terrifying health scare — a possible/potential c-word diagnosis. 99.9% of the time referring it to as the c-word because it’s just that real still. Many tests, several biopsies, and months of uncertainty later: I had to go through the surgery route to find out with a 100% certainty. In fact, tomorrow marks one year since my surgery.

I can’t tell you how thankful/blessed I was to find out, post-op, that it was benign– that it wasn’t cancer. It was, for me, a stark reminder, to count your blessings, not your problems.

In the days leading up to the surgery, someone reminded me that God doesn’t give you more than he is certain you can handle and that He tests you only to your limits.

Allah does not place a burden to a soul greater than it can bear.” [2:286]

You just don’t realize it. Although, I won’t lie: sometimes, I feel like He gives me credit for more than I think I am capable of handling.

“Verily with Hardship comes Ease”.

While facing the uncertainty, in the months before the surgery, I’ll be honest: I couldn’t keep my mind off the possible “what if” scenario. It’s just not something you ever think could happen to you, unfortunately, until you are thrown into it. Especially at my age! Ironically enough, thyroid [c-word] is most likely to occur in twenty-something-year-old females. Me in a nutshell

One thing I knew for sure from day one: I wasn’t going to be just another statistic. I did my research. I asked questions [after questions]. I prepared myself for both of the outcomes. I was [and continue to be] involved 100% in my health[care]. From day one, I was my biggest health advocate. I’m detail oriented, a planner… and hate the unknown!

Without our health, we are nothing; and yet, most of us take it for granted and not care for ourselves nearly as much as we should. The time you spend on your external physical self [hygiene, makeup, grooming, etc]? That and more of a focus needs to be given to you internally and as a whole. Most of us, especially the younger generations, just don’t make our health a priority. Whether it’s not eating right, exercising [enough/at all], or making the trip to the doctors to make sure everything is alright. I can’t stress enough: preventative care beats the alternative a million times over.

Be your own advocate: make time for your periodical check-ups. Do your research and go in informed. Ask questions. Question them. And best of all? If you aren’t satisfied, seek a second opinion.

I avoided doctors [and OTC medicines] for the first 22 something years of my life like the plague, and then saw more doctors in a year than the rest of my life combined.

I was lucky mine was benign, but if it had been god forbid the alternative– think of this: I was asymptomatic. It was discovered by chance because I already had a thyroid issue that was closely being monitored.

Then which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?

***

On a side note: leading up to the surgery last year, I can’t tell you how many times I was blatantly told [by doctors, surgeons, and/or their nurses]: “honey, if anyone had to choose a cancer type, this is the one they would choose without a second thought”. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll choose to have NO type. Or “honey, this is the best type of c-word to get”. Yeah, no. Still sticking to the none. So thankful that He, above, agreed with me too.

I understand that this type has a great treatment plan, but cancer is cancer. The last thing anyone that is [potentially] facing it needs to hear is something like the aforementioned mindset. I can’t tell you how upsetting it was to hear that: a direct punch to my stomach. A stomach that was already in knots of nervousness, stress, fear and so much more. I’m not sure if they thought it was supposed to comfort me and put me to ease, but all it did was upset me even more than I already was facing everything I was.

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Moon Sighting

Let’s start off this post first and foremost with a “Ramadan Mubarak” to all the fellow Muslims. May Allah (SWT) guide us all in the right path, and accept all our prayers, fasts, & good deeds during this blessed month. Ameen.

For my non-Muslim friends: the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar so the start of each month/year, therefore, is based on the [new] moon. Thus, the days in each month can vary by a day as a result.

The significance of the month of Ramadan? The holy Qu’ran was revealed in this blessed month.

Now onto the topic itself that is eating away at me today. It’s actually been eating away at me for years.

So, each year, when it’s time to figure out when the month of Ramadan is going to start and/or when Eid will be based on the moon sighting… well, let’s just say the days before every Ramadan/Eid [for as long as I can remember] is always full of controversy, debate and even, perhaps, arguments.

A moon is a moon. If it’s been “sighted” by one, then as a collective ummah we need to unite. The earth has but one moon.

Yet every year, without a shadow of a doubt, there is at least one group of people that decides to vary from the pact and do it a different day. There have been times in the past when the difference in days has been two days. How that is even possible, I don’t know, considering a month can have either 29 or 30 days in the Islamic calendar.

For there to be different days of Eid, or to argue which day is the first day of the blessed month of Ramadan is to essentially accuse the other half of the ummah of deceit and lies. That “we know you say you saw the moon, but we don’t believe you”… which in itself is something major and something for you to ponder.

There is an hadith that says something to the likes of that:

“Whenever you sight the new moon (of the month of Ramadan) observe fast, and when you sight it (the new moon of Shawwal) break it, and if the sky is cloudy for you, then observe fast for thirty days.”

Which is very ironic because so many times the argument made in previous years is that it was too cloudy for the moon to be visible so Ramadan doesn’t start tomorrow.

Which brings me to my next point. Technology. Technology has come a long way. We now can very easily figure out when there is [or will be] a new [visible] moon. We need to come together and create an Islamic calendar based on the help of indisputable astronomical information and all of the advancements in science and technology over the years.

I read a quote online by the national coordinator and moon sighting consultant to ISNA that said:

“Today, Muslims have expertise and access to technology to understand the calculations of when and where the sighting occurs. Recorded data shows how the science of moon sighting is compared with the actual observations. The results show that calculations of sighting and observations have matched every month since 1993. Calculations of moon sighting and actual sighting are not two different things for an Islamic Calendar when it was found that they both match.”

Don’t even get me started on the argument that back in the day, there wasn’t all this science and astronomical information. Because most of the people who argue this are the ones who open their fasts based on the exact time of maghrib down to the minute/second as listed on the prayer schedule [and are not so particular about prayer times the other 11 months of the year]. Never mind the fact that back in the day there weren’t cell phones, computers, TVs, and all these other technological advanced things available either.

Religion isn’t meant to complicate your life, rather it’s meant to simplify it. If you dig deep enough, it will always help you find an answer to every single one of your questions.

I am not sure if I completely agree with leaving it all completely to science. Some part of me believes that there needs to be a reliance on a physical sighting IF it’s not cloudy because of the hadith. I think science and technology should be used to help, not hinder. I think we need to establish and follow a universal “moon sighting” at the very least [that if it’s visible to one, then it’s as if it’s visible to all]. I think we need to get our acts together and work on establishing an Islamic calendar.

Again, these are my thoughts and thoughts alone. I’m not an expert by any means… and I don’t claim to be one either.

Allah knows best.

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Verily with Hardship comes Ease

2014, in essence, thus far has proved to be the worst of times and the best of times.

It started off as [relatively] horrible as it possibly could, with the c-word scare and surgery soon thereafter [and the not so fun recovery]. It started off with the many “what if’s”, “how could this be” and “why” questions. Not to mention the most stressful months of my life.

I often had to remind myself that this, too, shall pass.

And in the midst of all this chaos… in the way both spectrums intertwined at the same time… there is truly no other way to explain it in my mind other than: He, above, once again proved: Verily with Hardship comes Ease – [94:5-6]

Most of my family and friends, by now, know that  I am engaged as of early March.

In the days after, someone jokingly said to me that I apparently don’t do anything the normal/typical way. But that is my life. So why would this be any different? For the first time since leaving Pakistan 19.5 years ago, I will travel back to Pakistan mid December. And not just to visit, mind you; to get married there. Why not, right?!

Never in a million years would I have imagined traveling back to Pakistan, let alone to go back for the first time after so many years to get married AND move to Australia immediately afterwards.

 

But alhumdulillah. He is the best of planners.

 

Last year at the this time, it was all about planning/preparing for hajj. This year? Wedding/Pakistan Trip.

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Janaza

This past Sunday, I attended a janaza prayer [AKA salat-ul-janaza] for the father of one of our family doctor’s. Janaza prayers are the Islamic funeral prayers.

Now I’ve attended quite a few funeral prayers. My first memory of attending one, unfortunately, [for a close family member] is back in 2001 for my 15 month old baby girl cousin Aliya. And before today, that was the most packed one I remember attending. The day of Aliya’s was also  jummah-tul-wida so the crowd was a combination of family/friends and mere Muslim strangers that happened to be at the mosque for the holiday.

This past Sunday, at the very same mosque, subhanAllah, there was the same large crowd, if not an even larger crowd. All the side rooms, the offices, and the library were packed with people besides the main congregational prayer area, yet there was still not enough room to accommodate everyone– there were still people outside the mosque.

It hasn’t left my mind since.

I had never met the person who passed away. It speaks volumes to me, however, to see the community turnout for this man’s funeral prayers. Including several imams from local mosques. It says so much about this man’s character and how he must have lived.

We so often let the daily mundanes get the better of us and worry about the frivolous tangible possessions. We focus so much on the now– the this very moment in our lives. We worry about the past. Janazas are just the very real throw-in-your-face reminder that we all need more often that everyone must die one day. It should make you refocus and think about what is important in your life, and let go of the trivial nonsense. It should make you want to better yourself and your iman [faith].

It’s inevitable that we must all die one day. But what do you want to be remembered for? Are you maximizing your good deeds while working on improving yourself in the areas you aren’t too happy with? Are you leaving a lasting impression? Is it a good one? Are you making a difference with your life? 

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Misconceptions and General Thoughts [Hajj]

Click here to read my last hajj-related post [from the day after arriving home]. It also links to all my other hajj trip posts. Click here to read my next post, about our travel group– Dar el Salam.

It’s been ten days since we got back, at this point, and I can’t believe it’s already been ten days since we got back!

Now that I have [finally] finished chronicling my days while overseas, I thought I’d continue on my posts about hajj, by doing a separate post on common misconceptions [I was quite surprised at how much wrong information was given to me] or things that surprised me while I was in Saudi Arabia… along with some general thoughts to close things up that I didn’t mention yet in any of the previous posts. After this, *I think*, the only hajj-related post I have left to do is one about the program/group we traveled with– Dar el Salam.

FYI, in case you were wondering [I was], they drive on the right side of the road in Saudi Arabia just as we do. The driver sits on the left side of the vehicle, just as it is here. And seat belts are worn by the drivers [at least by our bus driver(s)]. They just drive absolutely insanely to go with it, which is probably why they use the seat belts in the first place…

Before leaving for the trip, from the [many] stories, I thought I would have to deal with very gross and dirty eastern style bathrooms a lot. While the bathrooms weren’t always clean, I didn’t have to even see an eastern style bathroom until our stopover on the way back in Dubai. Score! There were eastern style bathrooms, like in the “service area” [a term I use very loosely] we stopped at along the way from Madinah to Makkah, but there were also western style bathrooms available. I think Muzdalifah was the only place to only have eastern style bathrooms available but I was able to avoid going altogether.

In fact, to be honest, the only time I faced dirty bathrooms was in the service area, as that was the only truly “public” bathroom I faced. For all the other times that we were not in a private hotel room or the Aziziya apartment [5 days in Mena and Arafat], Dar el Salam had fortunately arranged for them to be continuously cleaned as they were exclusively being used by the Dar el Salam program.

Mena camps, in general, too were described to me as less than favorable… and in all honestly: it wasn’t that bad. At all. Going in, I didn’t even know what to expect based on what was described by others. Ultimately I figured that when the time came, I would just deal with it… what other choice would I have anyways? Once again, however, all my worries were proven to be over nothing. I will say, however, that I know we went with a very good and reputable group and others definitely didn’t have it so good.

I have said it many times: we have/had a very luxurious hajj compared to others [who come from other countries]. So the minimal pitfalls? Something has to make it feel like hajj, doesn’t it? I can’t count the times I wanted to remind people that this wasn’t a vacation they were on.

Before leaving, some of the reading I was doing to prepare [along with some people] told me to memorize this dua and that dua for this and that. You can imagine my relief when what I thought myself turned out to be true: it needs to come from you and your heart. Make duas in your own language and make the duas you want. Repeating  a memorized dua [when you don’t know what it means]… is just that: meaningless. This misconception was cleared up way before I left as I did deeper research [and reiterated by the imams in our group as well]. One of the main disturbances I faced during tawafs and both of the Sa’ee, in fact, were groups of people following behind their leader and repeating/chanting duas very loudly. Not only were they not doing themselves a favor by just blindly repeating words, but it made it hard for others [me!] to concentrate. 

Hajj is a very spiritual time between you and He above. And He knows and understands every language so speak from your heart and make it meaningful.

One more thing that everyone seems to make a big deal about: stitched items during the state of ihram for men [belts, certain sandals, etc.]. It is more about the fact that you cannot wear pieces of cloth that are sewn together to wrap your body, such as a shirt, pant or undergarments [things you would normally wear]. Just think about it: the cloth of the ihram itself is stitched… just not stitched to be a clothing item.

Another good point: during one of our lectures/Q+A sessions, someone asked a question about the validity of their tawaf or prayer without a verbal intention made. It’s a product of a desi mentality coming out again… as one of the imam’s reiterated, there is no reason for you to verbalize before each prayer that you are praying X amount of rakats for X namaz facing the kibla, etc. You don’t need to make a verbal intention– it’s again from your heart.

A couple of other nitpicks I don’t think I have discussed yet:

Independence. Prior to leaving, many [wrongly] told me that I would basically need to be around my dad to go anywhere or do anything there. Growing up in the west, we just aren’t accustomed to being dependent on men.  While I did need a mehram to travel to the KSA for hajj [due to my age foremost], and numerous times at the airports it was confirmed that I had a mehram present with me [as I couldn’t go for hajj at my age without a mehram]… it was not as big of an issue once we were there as I had expected. While I certainly didn’t wander around too far without my dad [for safety reasons foremost], I easily explored the area on my own and went from point A to B [in close vicinity] by myself without it being an issue. Of course it helped that our hotel was less than a minute away [just around the corner] from the Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah and similarly in Makkah our hotel led directly to the courtyard of the Haram from an internal path that housed many shops [four stories of shops in fact].

Before leaving, I was also warned about not speaking to men there as it’s looked down upon and what not … and so I naturally would let Abu do most of the talking there. I was surprised to notice, however, that wasn’t the case most of the time. They were just [equally] rude to everyone! One would be asking them a question and they would just blatantly ignore it and continue doing whatever they were doing or talking amongst themselves.

What I did notice, however, was that [and I don’t remember if I mentioned this in one of the previous posts already] a lot of the stores/restaurants have separate lines for males and females. Never mind the fact that it isn’t followed very well and men frequently enter the women-only lines [but not vice versa! … yet again proves women are better at following directions!]. The benefit? The women lines tended to be shorter, which meant I usually stood in line for things [ironically enough]. The negative? Being squished like sardines and fighting for your life to get to the front and ordering [for example]. Let me tell you, it’s not for the weak. Attempting to get Al-Baik one day and I learned the hard way: these women are intense and shoving and pushing and whatnot is not atypical. Whatever happened to a single [and orderly] line?! Yeah, not here… there is no concept of a orderly waiting line here apparently.

They, again, had separate lines for men and women to pass through security at the Jeddah airport. Of course we were all using the same security screen to pass through and our possessions were going through the same belt… so it was a mixed thing anyways. I guess you can’t say they don’t try?… you know except that they don’t [or at least only half-way.]

Feeling of one. It was such a neat feeling to be constantly surrounded by Muslims. Everywhere you go, especially within our hotel, you were greeted with “assalam aleikum”. I have gotten so used to it, I feel like I’ll continue to do it here back at home by accident initially. This trip was my first experience, memory wise, in a predominantly Muslim country– I was a mere child when I moved Pakistan and have never gone back to visit… and it was something special for the soul indeed.

One of the things I will miss most about being in a predominantly Muslim country is the azaan (call for prayer) five times a day and the crowd from all directions rushing towards one direction– the masjid. It’s such a unique feeling and an uplifting one. Everything else just stops and just doesn’t matter the second the azaan starts. I hope to be able to continue to implement that in my life back at home. For most, the regular day-to-day life makes one barely squeeze in a quick/rushed prayer, so it’s amazing how different life is there.

Living in the west, where Muslims are constantly put in bad light and each wrong action of a SINGLE Muslim person is given so much emphasis… it was nice to see we are better than that. We, as an ummah, have so much potential… if only we would use it for more good to diminish the attention the bad among us receive un-deservingly. Is that a word?

Now to some other general thoughts and tips for future hajjis:

Do some research before you go. It’s just always better to be a little prepared and the little tidbits of information come in handy at the most unexpected times. Also, if you are a planner/worrier like me: it gives you a peace of mind for sure.

Choose a reputable hajj group. It makes all the difference having the peace of mind and having one less thing to worry about knowing all the logistics are well taken care of. A story to prove my point: while we were there, someone I know was donating money/food [I don’t remember which and it doesn’t matter] to the poor/less fortunate that were outside. Approaching one, amongst a group, she remembered thinking that they didn’t look they belonged there [based on what they were wearing]… and when they embarrassingly turned town the donation they told their story: they were from North America and apparently the “group” they traveled with was a fraud and just left them hanging without any accommodations or food… or anything else.

Let go and let God. Things [that are out of your control] happen. Just deal with it. Stressing out about it won’t resolving it. And oh yeah: have patience. Lots and lots of patience is needed. Patience may probably be the only thing you need to take with you: everything else [that is tangible] you can find easily once you are there.

While we [North Americans for example] definitely have quite a luxurious hajj when you compare to others: remember one thing [and remind yourself often]: hajj is not a vacation. I can’t tell you the number of times or the number of people I overheard complaining about frivolous things.

Lastly, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t pass this along: you really should fulfill this Pillar of Islam as early in your life as you possibly can. It’s physically challenging at times, and you don’t want ill health taking time away from such a tremendously blessed opportunity in your life. Make the most of this blessed invitation… who knows when [or even if] you will get to go back.

Click here to read my final hajj-related post — what you need to pack!

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Post-Hajj

Alhumdulillah, with the grace of God, my parents and I returned from hajj Saturday [yesterday] morning.

It was, indeed, an experience/opportunity of a lifetime and I am so fortunate/thankful for the chance. And to do it with my parents was the icing on the cake.

I also want to make note of how thankful I am for the group [group 19] I was part of and I am especially thankful for a handful of people in it that became like family. I felt like I have known some of these people my whole life. Speaking of family, I can’t forget my actual family that was there. Would you believe besides my parents and I, five more extended family members were also part of our 2MB program? Including my dad’s sister. Plus 2 more part of our broader program. AND 2 more family members that went for hajj not in our program. Alhumdulillah.

I tried my best to write up the day’s worth each night while I was away so I would have it for my record. I want to remember as much of the 21 days as I possibly can. This blog, is after all, my [very public] journal. The next few many posts will be them. As I recuperate and start feeling better, over the next few days I’ll post them to be published on the actual day they correspond to, so they will be post-dated. At the end, I’ll try and post all the links on one page, perhaps on this post, for convenience.

Going in, I did [a lot] of research, but no amount of research is enough– it’s the actual hands on experience that is the best teacher. And quite honestly, there is no way to describe it all and give it true justice– you truly have to experience it.

I also want to take some time down the road and discuss the misconceptions, the lessons I learned, and just some general thoughts. I can’t forget the “what you really need to pack” post I mentioned even before I left.

I can’t believe we made niyat [intention] for hajj 11 months {December 2012} before leaving, and the amount of time that went into everything… and it came and went in the blink of an eye.

Updated – Post-Hajj Trip Notes:
[October 6] – Before leaving for Hajj
October 8 – Arriving in Madinah.
October 9
October 10 – Ziyarat/Mazarat tour around Madinah.
October 11 – Jummah in Madinah/Leaving for Makkah/Umrah
October 12 – Arriving in Makkah/Umrah
October 13 – First day of Hajj
October 14 – Day of Arafat
October 15
October 17
October 19
October 20
October 21
October 22 – Ziyarat/Mazarat tour around the city of Makkah
October 23
October 24 – Last full day in Makkah/Jummah at the Haram
October 25 – Leaving Makkah/Traveling [back home]
October 26 – Arriving home!
Misconceptions and General Thoughts [Hajj]
Dar el Salam [our travel group/program]
Hajj Packing List

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Hajj Trip: October 26

Posted on a later day, 11.04.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day’s post and then click here to see my next post on misconceptions and some general thoughts.

Saturday October 26.

We’re home. Home sweet home.

Oh, how I missed my bed.

We left Dubai about an half hour late, landed at JFK around 9:10 am (45 minutes late). All the logistics didn’t take too long at the airport, but waiting for some of our luggage took forever. I was thinking it would be the customs that would be the time consuming portion. 

Side note: many people who didn’t box their zam zam water at the Jeddah airport like they were advised to received the unpleasant surprise of the water leaking [through the bottle and at times even through the sealed plastic bag]. As you can imagine, the workers at the airport weren’t thrilled. So all of you future hajjis’ [inshallah]: have it boxed even though it’s already sealed in the plastic bag!

Greeting us at the airport? My brothers, Chotti Anna, and Anjum Khala!

FYI, long flights aren’t for everybody. Definitely not me. I cannot for the life of me just sit there for so long. Neither can I just fall asleep instantly like my brother Faraz. The long plane rides, both ways, were uncomfortable to say the least. Even more so on the way back since I wasn’t feeling well either. It was like a coughing competition on the flight back. I may, or may not, have been one of the top contenders. Making the long plane ride back home a little more bearable: I bought wifi to keep me entertained!

By the way: my mom and I both wore a mask throughout our three weeks overseas. My dad didn’t. Guess which two came back sick?!

Anyhow, before driving back home, we made a [very quick] pit-stop at my aunt’s in NY to visit my maternal grandfather, Papa. I can’t even describe how happy I was to see him. Just being in his presence makes me smile and make the most of every moment together. To see him this day, and to see him so well alhumdulillah was the icing on the cake. Before I left for hajj, I was upset FOR him. Praying to God for Papa from THE house of God, I can honestly say I feel more at peace than I did before I left. Like He heard me.

Everything will be okay. Everything, indeed, happens for a reason. You just have to keep faith.

New York wouldn’t be New York if it didn’t greet us with [a lot] of traffic. Typically I would have been very annoyed very easily, especially since I wasn’t feeling well. Except I just got back from a place where a 10-15 minute bus ride often took us 4-5+ hours. For once, New York traffic didn’t even phase me.

We finally got home around 12:30 PM where we were greeted to a decorated house by my brothers, Chotti Anna and Imran. How very sweet of them!

Saba chachijan made and brought lunch for us [and some food for later too!], which everyone enjoyed together. Anjum Khala sent some food home with us [when we stopped earlier to see Papa], and Chotti Anna made a lot of food too! Including fish for me! All day we had family visit before I knocked out for the night relatively early. I can’t forget the flowers and mithai everyone brought!

There is no place like home… but can I go back already?

Click here to see my post-hajj post from the day after we got back home [it also includes a link to all my hajj days’ posts at the bottom]. Also, click here to see my post on some misconceptions and some general thoughts.

Posted on 11.04.13

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Hajj Trip: October 25

Posted on a later day, 11.03.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day’s post and click here to see the next day’s post.

Friday October 25.

I finally started antibiotics last night. I just couldn’t tolerate it anymore. The fever, the intense coughing, whole body ache, runny nose, throwing up, and upset stomach… I am done. Right before a full day of traveling. As you can imagine, most of the last day has involved resting as much as possible.

There is no better place to be than here, but when you are sick: all you want is the comfort of your bed.

Bright and early our luggage was, once again, picked up/taken care of… we would get it at the airport later in the day. I don’t know if I have mentioned it, but Dar el Salam took care of our luggage transport from point A to B throughout the three week stay.

I bid farewell to Anna, Arshad Chachoo and Dadda around 10:30 AM as they boarded their bus for the airport. Oh how the time has flown by!

As I was sitting in the masjid waiting for jummah prayers in the Haram, I couldn’t help but ponder over how blessed of a chance we were getting. Looking around, there were very few recognizable people from our program still here. Most groups from our program had left already and some even had left just an hour or so before jummah. Who knows when, or even if, we will get this chance again? If I am remembering correctly, we also left Madinah on a jummah as well. To get to pray Jummah in Madinah and Makkah in this time frame within this trip… alhumdulillah!

What a better way to leave this holy land of Makkah than immediately after jummah prayers? I couldn’t think of a more ideal way to complete this trip, especially because it came as an unexpected surprise! Our original itinerary indicated we would leave in the morning for the airport! Even though I didn’t understand the khutbah at all since it was in Arabic [here in Makkah and Madinah both], I am so grateful that we got to pray jummah prayers both in Masjid Al-Nabawi [in Madinah] and the Haram in Makkah here today.

The plan for us was to leave our hotel immediately after jummah, and we ended up leaving our Fairmont hotel around 1:40 pm for Jeddah airport. We could have easily left by 1:10 at the latest if it weren’t for three geniuses who stayed in their hotel rooms, for whatever reason, and held us up an extra half hour– of course all three were from our group 19. We got our passports back as well on the bus (so we didn’t have to make a pit-stop to pick that up) and finally got to the Jeddah airport at around 3:20 pm (at its hajj terminal). Lucky for us, we got no traffic [for once]– they had warned us to expect a lot of traffic! Antsy about the expected traffic and whatever else the rest of the day would entail [remember: everything goes], we were probably a little more anxious about the three men who caused us to leave later from the hotel than needed given the fact that we got to the airport with no traffic.

When we got to the “hajj terminal” at the Jeddah airport, it was something. In no way did it seem to be an airport [there was no indication it was one… except for luggage we saw everywhere]. The majority of the waiting seats were outside (in the heat). The mere minutes we spent waiting there made me think OMG, how am I supposed to spend the next almost five hours here?! Thankfully, the yellow-shirt Dar el Salam men that I have mentioned countless times came quick enough to guide us to the entrance.

Would you believe our luggage was again waiting for us in front of the entrance where we would check in our luggage, get our boarding pass, and whatnot? I don’t know how they do it, but they do it: luggage is one thing we didn’t have to worry about throughout the three week stay.

While we collected our luggage through the pile, Abu [and most of the other men] went to get the zam zam water sealed in box. Dar el Salam provided us each with a 10 L bottle of zam zam [also waiting for us at the airport] that was already sealed in a plastic bag… but we had been advised from day one to have it boxed.

Next, the yellow-shirt Dar el Salam men guided us inside to a set of check-in counters, indicating these were for our Emirates flights. He could have definitely been making it up for all I know because there are no signs and every worker just seems to be all over the place. Maybe if enough people for the same airline/flight crowd onto the same counter… it becomes one for that?! Whatever works.

When we went in, it didn’t even seem like an airport. It was just one room with a lot of check in counters that worked sometimes and not others (and no one monitoring weight of luggage because they probably didn’t have the means to do so… at least in the hajj terminal), no belt for luggage movement (so I guess/hope/pray some of the workers manually move luggage and we get all our luggage in one piece), and workers who just jumped around from one area to the next without any means of organization. I, for one, was worried whether we would get all our luggage once we arrived home. The next room over was security that led to one small terminal that was crowded beyond belief. Add oh so many sick people (with the infamous “hajji cough”) and its like a petri dish of germs.

I was born in Pakistan, but moved from there [and have never gone back] when I was a young child and this was my first experience in an environment like this. We travel within the US and Canada mostly and my brother and I went to Norway once. I know for a fact I live a very sheltered life: living in the USA, we live a very luxurious life and take so much for granted. We are accustomed to so many luxuries and “ways of life” that is definitely not the norm for most of the people in the world. This trip was about so much more than the religious/hajj aspect of it, when I think about it, it was an eye opener for so many things.

I also have to mention that, ironically enough, this hajj terminal at Jeddah airport did not have a prayer room inside. I don’t know how it’s even possible — in a Muslim country… let alone in a hajj terminal. There were open prayer rooms outside  but who would possibly consider leaving only to enter through security again with this crowd? For maghrib, people crammed to pray right by the security screens. As people were praying, more people were still entering with their possessions going through the security belt… and in the process being dropped on top of people praying.. again… you can’t make this stuff up.

Then we got to wait there, in this small crowded [for now being considered as an Emirates’] “hajj terminal” for a good four hours I think before being the lucky ones to be on the first shuttle to take us from the terminal waiting area/gate 14 to the actual airplane waiting in the middle of nowhere at the airport. This hajj terminal is, of course, used but once a  year [obviously during hajj season] and doesn’t have the means to connect directly to such huge planes.

First stop: Dubai before the longer leg of the plane trip a couple of hours later from Dubai back home. Three something hours of a layover/plane change in Dubai, and we were on our way home finally. At last. It’s about half way into the flight from Dubai to JFK when I am writing this and so far all you hear is coughing. Everywhere. Here, there, everywhere. And crying kids.

Also, one of the things I was worried about most prior to leaving was having to use an eastern style bathroom. Would you believe, this day, was the first time I even saw one?! That at Dubai airport too. No way did I use it, merely glance it, freak out, and leave.

I can’t believe how quickly the three weeks flew by! Prior to leaving, I had kept on thinking that three weeks was a long time and that we should have stuck to the two week package for numerous reasons… but the days just flew by. I wish I didn’t fall ill right at the end and could use that time more efficiently.

I am so glad I got to come for hajj, especially at my age, alhumdulillah. Never in a million years did I imagine I would get this chance at this stage of my life. Like I mentioned earlier, we made niyat for it last December, and it’s unreal how fast it approached… and now it’s over just like that. I would absolutely love to come back for umrah, in an off-peak season, to thoroughly enjoy everything about being here without all the choas, running around, and logistics that need to be taken care of during hajj. It’s physically exhausting, for sure, so every able body should attempt to fulfill this pillar as early as possible and not wait until they are older.

It’s been an eye opening experience, for sure, in many ways… and inshallah I never lose sight of any of it.

Click here to read the next day’s post, from October 26: getting home!

Posted on 11.03.13

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Hajj Trip: October 24

Posted on a later day, 11.02.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day’s post and click here to see the next day’s post.

Thursday October 24.

This day, around 2:30 AM, my dad and I went to do a tawaf. The crowd doesn’t seem to be dissipating at all (and seems to actually be more of a crowd), and we have found that around 2 AM seems to be the time where the crowd is somewhat manageable on the lower floor. While transport time and manageability dictates that it is best to go to Madinah before Makkah for ease and convenience, I think going to Makkah first would, in fact, allow one to make the most of their time in Makkah in the most beneficial way, crowd wise. International flights arriving at the Jeddah airport ahead of hajj take upwards of 8 hours… talk about a test of patience.

I finally got to see inside “maqam-e-Ibrahim” during this tawaf too! All I saw, and I think all that is visible, is a deep imprint of footsteps. Maqam-e-Ibrahim refers to the stone where Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) stood on while building the upper walls of the Ka’aba. As he stood on this rock, an impression of his foot was made on said rock. It’s now located at the place where Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) offered two rakats of prayer after finishing the Ka’aba, which is why Muslims do the same at this spot after completing a tawaf.

Considering we are leaving tomorrow, I don’t think I’ll be able to see the black stone [Hajar al-Aswad].

Before I forget to note it down again, one of the most amazing [that you have to see to believe] that has been astonishing is that while there are birds flying all over [of course], they never seem to do their business over the area of the Ka’aba. Now that I think of it, I didn’t notice any of it at Masjid al-Nabawi either… which is amazing to think considering both are open areas.

I think I have talked about how rude people can be here. It’s a culture shock and such a contrast coming from Madinah especially. Oh, what I would do to go back to Madinah. In Madinah, there is just a sense of peace and belonging and… it just felt right… I can’t explain it. I don’t know how many times I have said “I can’t explain it” or “it’s indescribable” in these hajj posts… but it really is… wait until you get the opportunity, inshallah, to go and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Anyhow, I wouldn’t be doing justice to this gentleman if I didn’t mention him. Early this morning, after my dad and I did tawaf and prayed, we couldn’t figure out how to get back to the gate (Abdul Aziz Gate 1) we habitually use to get back to our hotel as it was the closest and the most direct route back to Fairmont. We asked one of the workers, expecting a broad point in the right direction, and instead: he went out of his way to walk us to the gate a good distance away. It was like a sign from Him above to remind me not to forget that there are good people here too all the same, considering how regularly our group discusses the contrast in personalities of people in Madinah and Makkah.

This morning, before Zuhr, my dad, aunt, uncle, cousin, cousin’s wife and I also went to this library at the back of the Haram where it is believed that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born. Whenwe got there, however, there were signs saying there is no such proof. Not to mention the fact that people aren’t even allowed inside the library.

One of the things that has gotten to me the most throughout this trip is that they don’t seem to be preserving any of the historical/religious points. Construction/lack of planning seems to be taking over. It’s something that has bothered me about many things in Madinah and here in Makkah as well.

Between asr and maghrib, my dad and I again decided to physically feed people– workers in the Haram today– and it literally brought me to tears. Not for the reasons you would think of typically, but because of the reaction of one of the 20. He was worried about a co-worker/friend and wanted to make sure he got a share as well. Even in his state, he was worried about others. Talk about a lesson in humbleness and humility. Thankfully, we had approached his friend right before as well. Would you believe that in the equivalent of $40 US, you could feed 20 people a decent sized wrap? I keep saying this, but I really do mean it: this experience/opportunity has been an eye opener in countless ways.

Plan for tonight is to do our tawaf al-wida [farewell tawaf]. We also found out that we will, inshallah, be able to do jummah prayers here at the Haram before leaving for Jeddah for the first leg of the plane trip back immediately after Jummah prayers. The original itinerary indicated that would not be possible so it’s a pleasant and welcome surprise indeed!

Slowly our group has been departing for their respective homes over the last few days. We said bye to a few more tonight and then we are next, tomorrow, inshallah. I have mentioned it in past posts as well, but some of the people in our group have become like family and I truly feel like I have known them forever. I am so thankful they were put in my life, especially through this blessed opportunity, and even more grateful that a handful of those I have become so close to are actually from New Jersey as well!

We have a busy month ahead with family events once we are home, but I can’t wait to get our hajj group together, inshallah, soon after things settle down. Multiple events each weekend until December including a trip to Canada for a 50th Anniversary party (inshallah) and a road trip to South Carolina for my cousin’s valima reception (inshallah)… and of course the wedding in between.

This day, so soon before departing for home, was also when I got most sick. Since yesterday it was a downward spiral, but right when I woke up around 2 AM Thursday morning to go do a tawaf with Abu, I knew immediately today would be a challenge. Quite unfortunate considering it’s our last full day, but alhumdulillah at the same time: how fortunate I am that I didn’t get sick until the end and was able to make the most of my days here!

Freshly homemade soup is definitely on the agenda as soon as we get home. And my normal food. I may or may not have ate my weight in fast food this week- halal Burger King one day, Hardees another and KFC three days. My fruit salad and fish sound absolutely perfect right about now…

Click here to read the post from the next day, October 25: leaving Makkah [after jummah at the Haram].

Posted on 11.02.13

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Hajj Trip: October 23

Posted on a later day, 11.01.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates from our Hajj trip for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling downClick here to see the previous day’s post and click here to see the next day’s post.

Wednesday October 23.

Poverty level is incredibly high here and it is quite devastating to see. For the most part, we have been sheltered from witnessing it because of the proximity. Our hotel has an internal path that leads directly to the courtyard of the Haram. When we do see it, however, it is incredible. It is something that doesn’t leave you easily– and it shouldn’t.

When opportunities present themselves, we have been donating regularly. Today, however, we thought to do it a little differently and actually bought food and give fresh and warm food to people. One thing is for certain: their reaction is something that will be hard for me to lose sight of, that’s for sure. It makes me wonder how often they are able to feed themselves and their family and how much they have to stretch their income to make ends meet. Oh the things we take for granted on a regular basis.

Tomorrow is our last full day here in Makkah. Our flight leaves Friday night from the airport in Jeddah, but because of the process it entails, we have to leave from Makkah at least eight hours before our flight departs for our stopover in Dubai [where we change planes for the remainder 13 something hours of flight time]. Blah. I think “hajj flights” require you to be at the airport five hours prior to your flight departure time. Oh, and I think it takes around two hours to get to the Jeddah airport from here in Makkah. I don’t know if that two hours accounts for the inevitable traffic time or not.

After dinner, they had a celebratory cake for all of the Hajji’s, which was a nice touch I thought. It was also when most of us started saying farewell to one another as the majority of people start leaving soon on various flights at various times. I have said it repeatedly, but I really and truly can’t believe how quickly the time has flown by! It’s an experience and time, undoubtedly, that I will cherish forever.

Click here to read the post from the next day, October 24: our last full day in Makkah.

Posted on 11.01.13

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