Friday, May 24, 2013

Hajj Preparation Package



I know I’ve been teasing about this “BIG REVEAL”, but I’ve been working on this for some time and I’m really excited to share it with all of you!

Looking back to when we first made our decision to make Hajj, I remember the feeling of being overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge that was available and the amount of preparation that was possible. Masha Allah, there are so many sources of knowledge for the spiritual and practical preparation for Hajj, I didn’t know where to start! It took me time to get my bearings and develop a plan for my preparation. I knew this might’ve been a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wanted to make sure I took full advantage of every possible blessing.

Alhamdulillah, there are SO MANY lectures, youtube videos, books, travel agency seminars, checklists, and tons of helpful advice from friends and family, it would’ve been easy to stay overwhelmed and drown in the piles of information, but I decided to get organized. Based on information from scholars such as Sh Yasir Qadhi, Sh Muhammad AlShareef and many other resources, I prepared some simple checklists (packing, duas, to do, etc) to help get us on track. Masha Allah, they really helped! So I’ve taken that initial attempt, refined it, simplified it and added some more info that I wish I had during my prep time, and voila!

A Hajj Preparation Package! Click below for this simplified, easy to follow, step by step resource for preparing yourself for Hajj. There are 3 simple parts (an introduction document, a resource template and a youtube video) and it is mostly a compilation of several other excellent resources. But instead of going to several different places, it’s all in one spot! With 3 easy steps you will be on your way insha Allah!

1.       Read the Intro
2.       Download the Template
3.       Watch the Youtube video

That’s it! Get started and send in your feedback. I hope it helps and I ask Allah to make it useful and beneficial for you! Ameen!

What are you waiting for?! Read, download and watch!

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Making the Decision and the Big REVEAL!

Shaykh Alaa is walking in front of us, leading the way through ISNA’s hallways, to his office in the corner of the expansive masjid. His height and stride keep him quick masha Allah, and while my husband is keeping up, I’m almost running behind them. With a swiftness, we enter his simple, serene office, his desk and chair along one side and a cushy sofa against the other wall. I try to regain my composure after that brisk walk as my husband and I settle into the couch. Shaykh Alaa’s time is valuable and his schedule is packed, so we jump right into our reason for meeting. We’ve come to ask him to help us make a choice.

Like most others, our finances are limited and we need to decide where our money should be spent. Our choice is between spending on progressing our family or making the Hajj, both noble causes in my opinion. Explaining our circumstances and our options, we  left it all on the table for Shaykh Alaa to give us some honest and sincere advice. I had made istakhaara already, so although my desires would lead me to certain conclusion, I knew we had to leave it Allah’s hands to decide our path and know what was best for us.

Shaykh Alaa, in his caring and endearing way, didn’t mince any words. There was no option. Hajj was mandatory – our desires were not.

Our decision was made alhamdulillah. Later that night, when I was explaining our encounter to Naila, my sister-in-law, it dawned on me that going to Hajj should’ve been so clear. But it took a jolt to get that clarity and my heart and mind were now content. In fact, I was overcome with a feeling of gratefulness and euphoria for being guided to making one of the best decisions of my life. Our first step to Hajj had begun.

Many of you might be at the first step or still trying to decide. May Allah make it easy for you to seek His Pleasure. Ameen. For those of you that are on the fence or have already made that first step, then the BIG REVEAL is for you!

And insha Allah, it’s coming in the very next post!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Day 20 - Leaving Makkah (Going Home)

I’m sitting on the bus. The bus that begins our travel back home to Canada. This bus will take us to Jeddah, where we will get on plane to go to Turkey and then head back to Toronto.

There’s not many people on this bus – just us and the Libyan doctors. I’m grateful for the space and the coolness of the AC, after the heat of the day. After settling into my seat, I call my mother and my mother-in-law to let them know we are on our way. When I call, neither of them can hold back their tears and it makes me miss home. On the phone with my mom, I can hear her gulping for air on the other end and it’s tough not to wipe away my own tears. But as my mother quietly sobs about some good news that we had received last night, I knew that one of my biggest duas had already been answered. Throughout all the heartache of leaving, Allah truly makes it easy.

The last few hours have been a whirlwind of last minute packing, a final tawaf, a quick dinner with Sahar, Ahmer and Farah’s parents, an attempt to squeeze in every last salah in the Haram and taking one last long, drawn-out look at the Kabah. The crowds have yet to subside, and there are masses of people in between me and this beloved place of Allah. I wish I could say that it all fell away and that I didn’t notice any of the people and that I only saw the Kabah in front of me, but it wouldn’t be true. I wish I could I say I forgot about the heat and humidity and just felt the coolness of an unknown breeze and that my thirst was quenched, but I couldn’t say that. I wish I could say that I knew my Hajj was accepted in that moment, but I knew I couldn’t be sure.

But what I did know, was that even though we hadn’t left yet, my dua is to come back. Come back to where everything else is secondary to your relationship with Allah and that nothing can distract you from your one and only purpose. A purpose that we are reminded of, in the very last ayah of Surah Al-Hajj:

"And strive for Allah with the striving due to Him..."

In this short time, every instant has been a reminder, every experience has provided a lesson and every step has been a harsh reality. The reality that each moment we don't strive for the pleasure of our Lord, is a moment wasted. And that each moment used in the way of worshipping Him, could be the one that tips our scales and enters us and those we love into Jannah.

The bus begins to inch its way through traffic and my mind starts to wander before I doze off to the slow rumble of the engine. Although my body is tired, my mind is buzzing about the last 3 weeks and the many memories I have written, shared or just kept to myself.

But to end these entries about this journey, perhaps I will go back to the way I began them. So I remind myself that the Lord of the Worlds is giving us an opportunity. An opportunity to rectify ourselves, not only in this journey of a lifetime, but in every SINGLE MOMENT of our lifetime. The question of whether or not we seize these opportunities should haunt our dreams and motivate us in our waking hours. Time is running out, and only Allah knows if it will be enough.

Insha Allah, it will be.
Day 16-19 (Days in Makkah)

From our room at the Swiss Hotel, we can see the Kaaba. We arrive at night, but the lights and the whiteness from the Haram flood our room. Our next Salah won't be until tahajjud so we enjoy some solitude and time for reflection in our quiet abode. The room is so luxurious and after the days and nights at Mina, Arafah, Muzdalifah and Shisha, having your own washroom is the ULTIMATE luxury!

Our time in Makkah is almost a routine. Starts with tahajjud, then a reminder from Sh Alaa, then fajr. An after tahajjud halaqa with one of our favorite shaykhs on the roof of the Haram, a slight breeze and a stillness in the night - can it get any better, subhan Allah?!

After fajr, we head for breakfast which consists of meeting my "dhaal/bhaat" (lentils/rice) craving. Next, we return to the hotel room to get some precious rest before Dhuhr. The afternoon is spent trying to squeeze in last minute shopping and a delicious Hardees lunch by the time Asr enters. But our purpose is to spend the rest of our day and as much time in the Haram as possible, with the millions of other worshippers. And of course, we try to perform tawafs whenever we can.

Tawaf, or the circumambulation of the Kaaba, is an amazing act of worship and is unlike anything I could have ever imagined, subhan Allah. As I watch the millions of people perform tawaf, each one with their own story and their own duas escaping their lips, I can't help but pause. Their voices create a loud hum, distinct but somehow uniform. It would be impossible to hear any one person.

And yet, by His Power, Allah hears us all. Every single one of us. From the man with the tear stained beard, shaking and crying, to the one-legged uncle who refuses to use the wheelchair, to the sister with barely any space for herself but still shifting to give space to another, to the brother handing out cups of zamzam for hours, so that people don't have to stop.

Here, we can barely hear ourselves make dua, yet Allah hears every single voice amongst us for He is truly the All-Hearer. You cannot help but get a lump in your throat. You cannot help but hope that your duas are sincere and accepted. And you cannot help but increase your love for your Creator with every step that you take.

Our days in Makkah are coming to an end, and tomorrow will be our last.

Video of Tawaf 
Day 15 - Leaving Shisha (Going to the Swiss Hotel in Makkah)

Salah, reminders from Dr Muneer and Sh Alaa, and last minute packing and preparation to leave the Shisha building fill our last day here. Doing laundry at the hotels is expensive, so yesterday, I had decided to give our laundry to one of the tiny, sweet Indonesian caretakers to wash for some extra money. A lot of our building had the same idea, so the tiny, sweet Indonesian ladies were busy!

The sister helping me - her name is Centa. I gave her a couple of bags of laundry plus the heavy ihrams from my husband to wash. I asked her how much, but she refused to answer. Whatever we wanted to give, was what she was saying. I had no idea how much, so I asked around to find the going rate. The laundry was ready in the afternoon. The caretakers share a room, so I walk up a flight of stairs and knock at the door. The door is ajar and the room is dark, and I can hear sobbing inside. I nudge it further to find Centa crumpled over and crying on her bed. After my pitiful tries at asking what was wrong, our attempts at communicating left much to be desired, but we both try our best. She tells me she left Indonesia 7 years ago, leaving behind her family so that she could send home the much needed income. She has been back only once, 5 years ago. She hasn't seen her kids since then and she just got a phone call.

One of her kids was sick and it was serious.

That's all I can gather. But her heartbreak is clear and that doesn't need explanation. Her desperation is deep and even through the tears, her eyes are pleading. It would be impossibly hard to conceive the idea of not seeing your own child for 5 years. Our #firstworldproblems is that I only get to see my sisters and my parents at least a couple times a year, and even then the heart wants a mother's touch and to share a sister's laugh.

Sh Alaa had told us earlier that you will know when someone is truly in need of your charity. They won't have to ask, you will just know. And Centa's is just one story among millions in our Ummah of oppression, injustice and poverty. So I fear the Day that I will be held to account for the nothingness I have done to help.

After some time, Centa dries her tears, packs up my laundry and hands me the bag. I return to my room, with high hopes that I would remember her story when any difficulty approaches. Only Allah knows if I will.

We leave for Makkah after Maghrib.
Day 14 - Last Day of Tashreeq (13th of Dhul Hijjah)

Unlike the other days of Tashreeq, the Jamaraat would be after Dhuhr today, not Asr. The fear of the heat is palpable. A few short hours are the only difference between Dhuhr and Asr, but the difference in temperature, now that's another story. During our days in Mina, we've spent time worshipping Allah and increasing our sisterhood with our Hajj companions, but we've also spent time figuring out how to stay cool, retain energy, minimize washroom time, etc. But now, despite the worry about the heat, there is a bittersweet moment as this will be our last official act of Hajj. After all the years of wondering if this was even possible, all the months of preparation, the countless moments of anticipation and of course, the journey itself, the pilgrimage of our lifetime will end today.

After our last Jamaraat, we return to the Hajj building at Shisha. Faces are weary during the short trek back through the tunnel, but after a quick shower and a change of clothes, the atmosphere is almost electric. I'm not sure if the expressions are relief, accomplishment, excitement or a combination of all 3, but the dinner room is celebratory and jovial. Each round table is nearly encompassed by the largest platter of meat and rice I think I've ever seen in my life and small groups form to sit around each table and share this enormous meal.

I think about the many meals and moments I've shared with my new companions in these past weeks. The bonds that are formed during Hajj feel unbreakable. There was Sr Najma and Sr Rabia, from Regina, who gave the best and most sincere advice at the time I needed it the most. And Sr Sarah from London, our roommate in Shisha with a spirit and smile that was contagious, who made you feel like you were her best friend, even though you just met. Of course, the lovely Sr Aneesa from Markham, felt like we had known each other forever when she shared her stories of her family back in Canada. And then the many Libyan doctors/wives from all over Canada. Each time you encountered one, they were better than the last! The tight knit group welcomed us and loved us with open arms and they made us feel like family, subhan Allah. And this is just to name a few...

The quick companionship and the sisterhood that was built on loving each other for the sake of Allah, penetrates the heart and is reminder of the companionship that the Prophet (saws) must have shared with the sahaba. We know the stories of their sacrifice and love for each other and we know how each companion felt that they were the one who was closest to the Prophet. The hardships they endured together, the poverty, the difficulties, the boycotts, the way they would be slandered, the fear-mongering against them, all of this didn't break them, it unified them and increased their love for each other and for all of humanity.

As we end our last day in Shisha, Sh Riad provides us with some practical advice about how to maintain our steadfastness after Hajj when we return back to our day to day lives. His words are heartening and meaningful. Focus on salah, the root of our relationship with Allah. Keep up with voluntary fasts on the Mondays, Thursdays and 3 middle days of the month. Develop a relationship with the Quran, read 1 Juz a day, so that you complete 1 recitation per month. Busy yourself with dhikr and add baraqah to your rizq by increasing your istighfar. Make lots of tawbah so that Allah will hide your faults and wipe them from your records. But his very first piece of advice? Check your friends. These are the ones you will be raised with on the day of Judgement.

And insha Allah, if we are raised with the likes of sisters such Najma, Rabia, Sarah, Aneesa and the countless others, then insha Allah we will also sit by the stream of AlKauthar with the Prophet (saws) and his companions. Ya Rabb, you are Ar-Razzaq, so provide us with righteous companionship in this life so that we can meet each other in Jannah, with no account. Ameen.

Day 12, 13, 14 - Days of Tashreeq (11th, 12th, 13th of Dhul Hijjah)

It's the days of tashreeq and the only real item on the agenda is jamarat after dhuhr each day. So it leaves ample time for people to perform extra ibadah. It also leaves time for people to release their frustrations and exhaustion.

So unfortunately, people do complain. Perhaps they are tired or sick. Maybe they are older or in pain. All you can do is gently remind them that it is all about perspective.

The perspective that it's uncomfortable sleeping on floor cushions...until you see the people sleeping under the buses with their infant children amongst the building piles of garbage.

The perspective that it's inconvenient sharing a washroom with 7 other women...until you are sharing 10 washroom stalls with approximately 200 other women.

The perspective that it's boring when the menu has very little veggies...until the street children run up to you for 1 chicken nugget from your box of AlBaik.

The perspective that it's hot at night when the AC doesn't seem to be enough...until you see the cute, little Indonesian female workers sleeping on the footsteps of the washroom floors.

The perspective that it's annoying to see cleaners just standing around waiting for tips/sadaqa...until you see one of them finish the leftover drink that was meant for the garbage.

The perspective that it's exhausting to wait for a train for 1 hour...until you see the people walking from Mina to Arafah with barely a semblance of a pair of sandals on their feet.

The perspective that it's infuriating when people are constantly pushing you during tawaf just to stay with their group...until you realize they probably can't read/understand Arabic and will be completely lost and on their own if they are separated.

A sign that your hajj is accepted is that you refrain from complaining. When you step outside the protected gates of our Mina tents, everything else seems insignificant. And you remember that perspective is everything.