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Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

Day of Emotion, Day of Grace

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

Today is a most special day of the Hajj, the day of Arafat. It is said that, on this plain, Adam and Eve were first reunited after their expulsion from the garden. Standing on the plain of Arafat is the most important part of the Hajj. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was reported to have said that, “Hajj is the day of Arafat.”

On the plain of Arafat, pilgrims spend the entire day in prayer, meditation, and reflection. Then, from about late afternoon until the sun sets, pilgrims begin to beseech their Lord for forgiveness for all of their sins. It is a dress rehearsal for Judgment Day, when everyone will stand, alone, before their Creator and be called to account for their actions.

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I remember this day as if it was yesterday. We stayed in a big, carpeted, and air conditioned place. It was sort of like a large warehouse, but it was actually quite comfortable. Food, drink, and tea was served throughout the day. From the morning through the afternoon, we spent the day praying, reading Scripture, and quietly reflecting. After the late afternoon prayer, however, the real emotion of Arafat came at me in full force.

A number of the pilgrims in our group got together and made a communal prayer to God for His grace and forgiveness. I preferred to be alone, all alone, with my God to talk with and beseech Him for His mercy. I could not stop the tears from falling. I thought about all the things I had done wrong; all the sins I committed; all the times I fell short of the Lord’s standards; and all I could do was weep.

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The Plain of Arafat

I thought about how Beautiful the Lord had been to me, and how ugly I had been in return to Him. I thought about how Merciful He had been to me, and how ungrateful I had been through my sins. I thought about how Perfect He is, and how flawed and broken I was. And all I could was weep.

I bowed my head to the ground and begged my Creator to look past everything that I done wrong and take me in as I am: weak and flawed. I bowed my head to the ground and laid all my faults and shortcoming before the Foot of the Lord. I bowed my head to the ground and made no excuses for what I had done in the past. And I appealed to the Lord for His undying Mercy and Grace, for that was all I could do, and that was all I had left to do.

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And as the sun set, elation set in because, as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told us, all of our sins would be forgiven. We would be born anew. In fact, the first sin one can commit after the day of Arafat would be to think that God did not forgive you for your sins. The power and emotion of that moment would stay with me forever. I felt totally rejuvenated, and my bond with God became even stronger.

When I first went to Mecca, I was quickly overwhelmed by the Awesome Power of God, fully symbolized by the Ka’aba. Yet, that feeling went away quickly, and He became a near and dear Friend and Companion. This strengthened to the greatest degree after Arafat, and I have leaned on that Friend and Companion ever so much  from that day forward.

I will never forget that day on the plain of Arafat: it was a day of powerful emotion and a day of powerful grace.

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Anticipation Growing

The tent city of Mina

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

Today marks the official first day of the Hajj. We had come back to Mecca from Medina (more about that later) and did another minor Hajj or umrah upon re-entering the city. Then, we headed to the tent city of Mina, where the pilgrims stay during the Hajj. It was a little strange, having to sleep in a large tent with at least 25-50 other people. But, on the Hajj, you learn to get accustomed to situation with which you are not familiar. So, I picked a small space on the carpeted floor, took my pillow, and slept.

There was major anticipation in my heart over what was to happen next.

To be continued…

 

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My Hajj

 

This is the Ka’bah, the central shrine in Mecca.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

The decision was almost totally spontaneous: my wife and I simply looked at each other and said, “Let’s go to the Hajj this year.” That set in motion a series of events that culminated in the most powerful spiritual experience of my entire life. That was back in the fall of 2002; yet, the memories and feelings of the Hajj which took place in Februray 2003 are as fresh as if they had happened yesterday.

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In the coming days and weeks, Muslim pilgrims – like me  all those years ago – are descending upon the Arabian peninsula to perform the annual Hajj, or pilgrimmage to the holy city of Mecca. It is a trip that every able bodied Muslim man and woman must perform once in his or her lifetime. It is a living re-enactment of the ancient drama of Abraham, Hagar, and their son Ishmael. I will recount my Hajj experience here on my blog, so you can get a taste of the awesome experience that millions of Muslims have each and every year in Mecca.

Back in the Fall of 2002, there were a lot of things that needed to fall into place for my wife and I to go: we had to get babysitters for our two children; I had to get coverage at work; we had to find a travel agency that will take us. Thankfully, everything went smoothly, and before we knew it, we were on our way to Frankfurt, Germany on the first leg of our trip to the holy city of Mecca. After we arrived in Germany, we prepared to go to Mecca, and we got dressed in the ihram, or the ceremonial dress of the pilgrim.

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The ihram consists of two white and unstitched cloths with which we wrap ourselves (it is a little different for women). It the ultimate equalizer, as prince and pauper look totally alike. In this garb, we are stripped of our worldly rank and status and return to God and His House as servants and worshippers – nothing more, nothing less. In the plane, we started chanting the greeting that pilgrims since the time of Abraham have chanted as they approached the Holy House: “Here we are, O Lord! He we are, Here we are! There is no rival unto You!”

Our path to Mecca first took us to Jedda, where the all the pilgrims must first stop and get processed by the Hajj authorities. And there we learned the first lesson of the Hajj: patience. Everything in Jedda moved very, very slowly. We waited at least 12 hours for the buses that will take us Mecca. But, the wait was well worth it because, at the end of the wait, was the thing we all longed to see for our entire lives: the Ka’bah, the shrine – built by Abaraham himself – dedicated to the One God.

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As the bus drove closer to the Ka’bah, I was struck by how “normal” Mecca seemed. It was like any other ancient city of the Middle East: dusty, cramped, and full of narrow streets and alleyways. It looked a lot like Cairo, to which I had been a few times before. But then, almost coming out of nowhere, I saw it: the Grand Mosque which held the Ka’bah. The mosque was the most beautiful I had ever seen. It seemed to glow, even though it was in the middle of the day. From where the bus was, I couldn’t see the shrine itself, and that only enhanced my anticipation and eagerness to go and see it.

My wife and I left our baggage at the hotel at which we were staying and almost ran to the Grand Mosque. And then, I saw it: the Ka’bah. The black cube stood there in front of my eyes, and I was struck with tremendous awe. Tears were streaming down my face as I walked closer to the shrine, praying to God for His grace and mercy the entire time.

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It was so very beautiful, and it literally took my breath away. This was the thing to which I turned five times a day for decades; this was the thing which the Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael built; this was the thing around which the Prophet Muhammad had walked all those years ago. And it was right before me, being my companion as I walked around the shrine – in the tradition of the Prophet Abraham – seven times in a counterclockwise direction. This is called the tawaf, and it is the special way in which this shrine is greeted.

After I finished my circumambulation, I walked seven times between the two hillocks of Safa and Marwa – just like Hagar did centuries ago – and finished my ‘Umra, or lesser pilgrimmage. It is not a requirement of the Hajj, but since we were already there – several days before the actual Hajj was to begin – we figured, “Why not?” Once we finished these rituals, I went back to the hotel and proceeded to shave my head as a symbol of my servanthood to God. It hurt…and bled, a lot.

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Yet, despite this, the whole experience was awesome, and we spent several days thereafter in Mecca as “tourists”: eating, shopping, and praying in the holiest spot on earth for Muslims. Yet, for all the greatness of those days, the things we were about to experience were even greater.

To be continued…

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Lamenting the Children of Abraham

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

The angry and, sadly, often violent protests that have erupted in several Muslim countries in response to the anti-Muslim video that surfaced on the Internet has left me terribly saddened. First, it always bothers me when I read or hear about or see the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) being maligned and attacked in a very vicious manner.

Yet, I get the same disquiet when any Prophet of God – Moses, Jesus, Abraham, Noah, or others – is maligned or attacked. Yes, people are free to say and believe what they want, but that doesn’t mean I have to either like it or be silent about it. Yet, I am very upset at the fact that seemingly devout Muslims reacted violently to the film: attacking the Embassy in Egypt and Yemen; attacking KFC and Hardees restaurants in other countries. I mean, come on, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would never condone such violence, even if it is out of love for him.

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Throughout his ministry, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was attacked, maligned, and mocked. Yet, he never reacted violently or told his followers to do so. His response was kindness and compassion, and it was this kindness and compassion that eventually won over his most bitter enemies. He was only following the commands of God in the Quran:

But [since] good and evil cannot be equal, repel thou [evil] with something that is better and lo! he between whom and thyself was enmity [may then become] as though he had [always] been close [unto thee], a true friend! (41:34)

That is the example we should follow as Muslims. Yet, sadly – and for a variety of social, economic, and political reasons, as well as a sheer lack of faith – some Muslims frequently do not follow the Prophet’s example.

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Having said that, however, it is to be noted that the Muslim protesters that garner the headlines are a very small minority. For example, in Cairo – out of more than 9 million people – a few hundred protesters at best attacked the US Embassy. The TV cameras may have made it seem that the entire city came out – like during the Revolution – but it did not. The few do not, and must not, reflect upon the whole, just as the filmmaker who produced the anti-Islam film does not represent America or her people.

It has since surfaced that the filmmaker, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is an Egyptian Coptic Christian who apparently deceived the actors into thinking they were filming a “desert action” film, and not an anti-Islam diatribe. And this made me reflect, and lament, over the frequent tension and enmity between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Why?

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We are all children of Abraham, the blessed Patriarch from whom all of the Hebrew Prophets and our Prophet Muhammad is descended. We all worship the same God, the God of Abraham. No, Christians and Jews may not accept the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a Prophet. But, that is fine. They are free to choose whatever faith they want. We Muslims accept, love, honor, and revere Jesus, Moses, and all the Prophets of God, peace be upon them all.

All we ask is that we respect our Prophets and not attack and malign them: all of our Prophets, not just the Prophet Muhammad. And, truly, this should not be so difficult, given the extensive commonalities between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Yet, all too often, we children of Abraham forget these commonalities and focus on the differences, seeking conflict because of them. Why?

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The Quran says this:

Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto, you. Compete, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ. (4:48)

It is part of God’s plan that there will be different faiths and different spiritual paths. What does God want us to do? He wants us to compete: not in the number of converts; not in the number of conflicts; not in the number of times we attack or malign each other’s holy Prophets (which Muslims would never do). No, He wants us to compete in doing good for the sake of all.

Why can’t we heed the call of God?

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