Saturday, 21 November 2015

On a Trip to the Bookstore

This is my view from the car -
Jabal Thawr Mountain range
Whenever I have lived abroad - I have always craved books. There always seems to be a lot more time on our hands here, except with two children time really does fly too. So my husband mentioned a bookstore, he said I would like it - Jarir Bookstore. He said it wasn't far, the north side of Makkah. So I thought nothing of it until our journey became a full tour of Hajj! As usual we passed by our mountain range of Thawr - [where the Prophet pbuh and Abu Bakr hid from the Quraysh as they were migrating for Madina]. 

The thought of going through mountains excites me. There are many tunnels built through the mountain to get you through to other side a lot quicker in Makkah [there were similar tunnels when we drove in south of Spain - it reminded me of passing through them except they were much much greener!]. We spotted the usual signs that we see as we were driving - signs for Ta'if, al-Haram, Mina, Muzdalifah. 

It was when we went through the second tunnel of our journey and we came out on the other side that I was in complete awe! We had landed in Mina! Rows and Rows of white tent tops could be seen as far as the eye could see. As we drove through Mina, I noticed new toilet facilities that were built which I hadn't noticed on my tour 4 years ago. We drove for at least 5 minutes on completely empty roads until the Mina tents seemed to have been behind us. We came across the 3 places for stoning the devil during Hajj - Muzdalifa. It was all completely empty of course but I tried to imagine the scores of people here draped in white sheets, women in black Abayas all walking in the hot sun trying to perform each ritual in time to ensure their Hajj is complete. May Allah swt fulfill our intentions for Hajj and accept the Hajj of all those who have completed theirs. Ameen.  

Again no matter how far north or west of Makkah we were, we can always spot the enormous Clock Tower [which Ammarah now refers to as Clocksy] enabling us to know exactly where we are in terms of the Haram. Jarir Bookstore is near Jabal Noor which hosts the famous Cave of Hira - where the Prophet pbuh received his first revelation. It is pretty high! But we could see people in white climbing to the top. Wouldn't it be awesome to follow in the footsteps [quite literally here] of the Prophet pbuh, to climb to the top and view Makkah as the Prophet pbuh once did in the Cave of Hira? I pray Allah swt can allow me to do this one day inshaAllah - I love mountains!        

My reflections on this journey to the book store have been all about performing Hajj one day by the will and power of Allah. I was also really impressed by the facilities the Saudis have invested in, to improve the Hajj experience for everyone. In my own personal opinion, regardless of the criticism the Saudis receive for their other extravagances, they really are investing into Hajj, into hosting millions and millions of pilgrims to Makkah each year - by extending and expanding the Masjid too. Just imagine hosting a family dinner each year and making one portion of your house completely dedicated to this event - this is what it feels like for me but on a completely different scale and for an even more important cause of course - allowing Muslims to fulfil their pillar of Islam - Performing Hajj.

Makkah really is the city of Hajj, the city of pilgrims, the city of safety and the Mother of all cities - Umm ul Qurra.

"This is the blessed Book, like the one given to Musa (Moses), which We have revealed, confirming what came before it, that you, O Muhammad, may warn the people living in the Mother City (Makkah) and those who live around her. Those who believe in the hereafter, will believe in this (Book) and will be steadfast in taking care of their Salah (prescribed prayers)." [Qur'an 6,92]                                                                                   

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Living with Prayer - Living with Salaah

{Indeed, the first House [of worship] established for mankind was that at Makkah -- blessed and a guidance for the worlds.} [Quran 3:96]

A few days ago, we visited Masjid al-Haram for the second time since we have arrived. We had planned to go the day before, but it rained causing floods in parts of Jeddah. So we tried for the following day. This time we wanted to pray our Isha Prayer. As we left pretty much after our Maghrib prayer, we arrived at Masjid al-Haram in 20 minutes exactly. We had a whole 40 minutes before Isha Prayer began! We drank zamzam water and sat and with the Ka'bah in full view. People were happy. Some were draped in white sheets - they were performing Umrah. Others were taking family pictures, feeling proud, having accomplished something great mA. There were people of all nations, hands up in prayer, crying, begging for their Lord's mercy and forgiveness - You could see it in their eyes! Anyways, after a while, Ammarah and I were ready to make our tawaaf, my husband and Hibah joined us too. It was our first ever family tawaaf - mashaAllah. 

As the mataaf [area you walk or do tawaaf around the Ka'bah] wasn't as busy - we moved in towards the Maqam-e-Ibrahim [the place that is marked by where Prophet Ibrahim stood when making the Ka'bah] which is quite close to the Ka'bah. From there it looks HUGE! Ammarah walked with us through 6 whole rounds mashaAllah and only as we were finishing I picked her up. She loved it! She watched the birds flying around above just like they were making tawaaf too. A kind man was handing out sticky dates to the people in the Mataaf area - he knelt down to give Ammarah one - I think she was a little confused but did recognise that it was a date. During tawaaf, every time I looked at the Ka'bah I'm just in awe! Sometimes I don't know what to say, what prayer to read. That's why I've collated all my prayers, including those requested by friends and family in a book so I remember.

As our tawaaf ended we headed upstairs to the new temporary ring to get ready for the prayer. This was one of the first times I would be praying salaah with the Ka'bah right in front of me! Although I had come for Umrah before, it was in Ramadaan and I always prayed outside the masjid! So this was a pretty special day for me. We prayed on the first floor of the temporary tawaaf ring - it's great for wheelchair uses to make their tawaaf. We waited in our rows ready to hear the Adhaan. My two girls were with me, whilst my husband stood with the men in front. Ammarah recognised the Adhaan [call to prayer] immediately - I was very proud of her, it was loud even for Hibah but she listened attentively [I can tell when she does this]. Throughout my salaah Ammarah remained quiet and observant [ at the Mosque in England, she would usually cry] she tried to entertain Hibah when she started wondering where her Mama was. All praises be to Allah for these countless blessings. May He accept our worship, our good deeds and continue to keep us on the right path of Islam. Ameen!

This is not my own image - taken from Google :)

For all my readers out there who are immersed in their life problems as I was once, and I'm sure will also be in the future, I want to share one really important bit of advice with you all - Live with Salaah. It's like the most obvious piece of advice ever as Salaah is our connection to our Lord, our Creator. But what I mean to say is REALLY live with Salaah.

I know it is so easy for me right now, because I can hear the Adhaan [call to prayer] and actual prayer from my local Masjid through my kitchen window - and I'm forever reminded to pray. But I also know how difficult this is in our busy lives in the West - well I can only speak for London/Luton. It really is so difficult because of daylight saving, meeting deadlines, balancing the work-home life especially for the women and home-makers [can only speak from own experience]. But I know we can still make this possible - and your reward is with Allah for your every effort - Make it such a habit that you cannot let go of it and see the blessings in your life increase inshaAllah!

 Here are a few tips and reminders I've noticed since being here:

1. Our call to prayer - the Adhaan should be heard LOUD and clear - it leaves an amazing impact with children - who will constantly remind you it's Allah time - that's what Ammarah says every time "Come on, It's Allah time!"

2. Planning your day around Salaah - The one amazing thing about being in Saudi is - everything shuts down at prayer time - literally the shops in the malls close, the shutters come down for some! - you see all the women go to one side of the mall for their prayer room and the men the other. It's a country that has really focussed and facilitated for the people's prayer. Yes this is not possible in England - BUT, if we plan ahead which most of us can try at least whilst commuting or planning our days out in town or work, we can make it possible - I have lived that life so I can say too. I have, like many of you, probably prayed in changing rooms in Next :)

3. Be around people and places that remind you of Allah - one of the most important things in life is companionship -and I'm not just referring to the other half. Having friends, family and colleagues that remind us of our Lord - whether they are of the same faith or not. Their actions and their words will remind you of Allah - their kind gestures, their good intentions, their good mannerisms. We all go through ups and downs in our level of Imaan [faith] - just don't ever give up on the Mercy and hope from Allah swt. He hears our every call - whether we live in Makkah or England :)

Click here for a good link to Productive Muslim article/discussion that looks at ways in which to 'Observe Salaah when you're out and about'

Most of all, these posts are reminders for me but iA if you read them and benefit then alhamdulillah. May Allah bless you in all aspects of our lives and accept our good deeds, intentions and worship. Ameen! 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

On Umrah with the Kids

So after all the excitement of getting the visa and getting ready for our move - we caught a bug, a norovirus  - it's horrible! If anyone caught it as we left - I apologise as it's contagious. Unfortunately my girls were feeling poorly and are actually still recovering from it. But, I knew I had to do an Umrah, in fact I wanted to visit the Ka'bah so much to thank Allah for his numerous favours upon us. I wanted to repent, to pray, to feel the peace, to taste that sweetness of Imaan once more.

Mount thawr which hosts Cave Thawr
[We live right near it - south of Makkah]

It is Muharram, the first month of the Islamic Calendar. The Umrah visas are not open yet to International folk so my husband told me it shouldn't be so busy. We went after Isha prayer on Friday evening - the sky is not dark here at all, it's a navy blue  - the kind of sky we get in British summers. We live close to Jabal Thawr [Mount Thawr] on which is a special cave you may have heard of - Gaar - Thawr [Cave of the Bull]. It's where the Prophet [pbuh] and Abu Bakr as-Sideeq hid from the persecutors on their migration to Medina. This is south to the Haram - whereas Medina is actually North of Makkah. So the Prophet pbuh and Abu Bakr as-Sideeq came to the south of Makkah to hide even though they were headed north! I didn't even realise this until now! There's loads I learnt on this Umrah trip actually.

So we drove to Khuday Carpark which is the closest car park for residents, out of towners to park up for free and catch a taxi to the Haram. We did just that. All in all from our flat to the Haram, it's about 15 minutes, depending on traffic. We didn't take the double buggy. Ammarah was happy as usual to walk and my husband held Hibah. It was just surreal being here with my husband and kids! As I mentioned I was here 4 years ago before marraige with my dad during Ramadaan - it was such an amazing experience mA. But, with my children and husband, it was just surreal - felt unreal. As we approached the Masjid - I couldn't recognise it, it looked different - there were so many cranes! but not just that, there were new WC and wudhu areas for the men and women in front of the masjid. Of course it was very much needed too.

I kept trying to remember the street I would walk up 4 years ago - it was Ibrahim al-Khaleel street, which I spotted on the right hand side of the Zam Zam Towers - and there was the clock tower which Ammarah was amazed by when we could see it in the distance as we were driving up. It is HUGE! Some would say it is a bit overwhelming and overpowers the Ka'bah...but I kinda like it now. Makkah is full of mountains, and the fact that the clock tower rises above the mountains, I can actually spot where the Ka'bah is and thus know the direction of Qiblah. It definitely has some benefits.

Our Eid ul Adha Song made up by Ammarah and I.
[to be sung to the tune of 'There was a farmer who had a dog and Bingo was his name-o']

As we went into the Masjid, we walked between a few crowds of people [It was actually a bit busy because of the weekend] through pillars and temporary tawaaf ring pillars I could see the black cloth of the Ka'bah. I felt a sudden excitement inside. I just kept saying to Ammarah 'Do you want to go round and round the Ka'bah?' She was excited too! See, in run up to our move, Ammarah and I made up an awesome song because I wanted her to understand and relate to the vocabulary [yep, you just can't get the teacher training out of me!] So it was amazing, just amazing taking her around the Ka'bah, picking her up a few times because she was overwhelmed by the people at times. Then swapping her for Hibah who was extremely tired by then.  And at Safa and Marwa which I really found more peaceful to do this time, maybe because Hibah had fallen asleep and I could relax by then.

Whenever I walk between Safa and Marwa, I can't help but think of Hajirah and the anxiety she must have felt being all alone. I was walking at a normal pace. I was reminded that she ran between these mountains seven times when men and boys of all ages dressed in 2 pieces of white cloth ran from behind me, some walked at a fast pace. The men are expected to do this between the green light zone! But our dear Hajirah ran between these mountains 7 times looking for water! In my last lap of Safa and Marwa, the girls and my husband walked with me. I showed Ammarah Mount Safa - the excitement on her face was adorable especially as we sang our song.'Hajirah ran 7 times between Safa and Marwa, Safa and Marwa, Safa and Marwa, Safa and Marwa, she was looking for some water.' I discovered Mount Marwa's peak was also preserved - I don't think I ever saw this 4 years ago  - it was a lot busier in Ramadan. See the mountains of Safa and Marwa have the masjid built right around and between them but the peaks of the mountains are still visible as below.

Mount Safa - where the sa'ee begins
With this, my Umrah was complete alhamdulillah. May Allah swt accept our good deeds and intentions, forgive us for our errors and wrongdoings and guide us and our children to continue following the footsteps of the Prophet pbuh. Ameen!

A few important tips:

1. Make a small prayer book to take with you - with your written personal duas and any duas others have requested.

2. Take a drawstring or carrier bag for all the shoes, a bottle to fill with zamzam and even a light weight prayer mat.

3. Take some light weight socks - your feet can start aching especially if the floor is cold as it was between Safa and Marwa.

4. When taking children, pace your Umrah, ie feed them, make sure they are happy so you feel at ease when performing your rituals.

5. Teach your children the vocabulary if they are young as mine, but if older ensure they understand why they are going, what they will be doing etc.

Monday, 9 November 2015

The answer of a Dua...

Say: “Nothing shall ever happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is our Mawla (protector).” And in Allah let the believers put their trust.)
Quran (Surah Tawba, Verse 51)

Getting ready to leave

I began this blog two years ago. Two years ago I thought I would be going to Makkah, but I was still in England waiting, waiting for my visa. Life carried on, my husband was working in Makkah and we were expecting our second child. I was living between my parents' home and in laws, I was socialising with friends and family, but nothing felt the same without my husband and that feeling of still not reaching our destination. My first child Ammarah is now 2 and half years old, Hibah [we named her Hibah - because of the gift we were given by Allah] is now 6 months. We were so close to giving up our move altogether because of the complications in the visa process - but Allah swt really is the turner of hearts and here we all are today together living in Makkah, alhamdulillah :)

Sunset from the air plane

Over these 2 years of waiting I have learned amazing life lessons/reminders that will probably stay with me forever inshaAllah - I wanted to share with you all.

1. Never ever underestimate the power of dua/prayer - even those casual prayers you make when you feel so content - as I was 4 years ago when making tawaaf around the Ka'bah. I actually forgot that I made this dua but I remember uttering 'Oh Allah, [I loved doing tawaaf] I could really do this for the rest of my life!' At the time, I didn't realise I was making a dua - I was simply connecting and conversing with my Lord, as I looked up in awe at the amazing house of Allah and the pretty birds flying around it. Little did I know, my dua was accepted - along the 2 years of waiting, this dua kept giving me hope :)

2. Everything is in Allah's power - when He wants it to be, it will be, because he knows when the time is right for us! The time couldn't have been any more perfect mashaAllah. I travelled alone on a very empty Saudia Airline flight. At Heathrow, I barely had to stand in any queues for security. One of the staff members was so impressed that I was travelling alone with 2 children - At Jeddah airport, a Bengali man came to help as he could clearly see I was struggling with my hand luggage [I didn't have my buggy at this point], he helped me skip all the queues and we made it out with all my luggage with a few minutes to spare before we spotted my husband. I could literally feel Allah helping me throughout this!

3. There's a lesson in every test that Allah tests us with - we just have to contemplate on it! The gist of each test and struggle we go through in life is Allah's way of helping us to reconnect with him. The importance of maintaining our good character and total reliance on Allah swt is reflected in the art of being patient - it is ultimately how we deal with ourselves and others while we are struggling. Afterall, when we have that strong faith in Allah and expect Allah's help then why worry right? Of course in reality, this is difficult at times - therefore constant reminders, good company and a good relationship with Allah are the way forward.

A view from my kitchen window, Batha Quraysh, Makkah

I can hear the Dhuhr Adhan from my kitchen window from the local masjid - Masjid ar-Rahma which I'm yet to visit iA! MashaAllah this place draws you towards prayer - it really is a blessed city! :)

Stay tuned for the next post - on Umrah with kids!