Hajj Journal 2001 by Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer

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I recently came across a personal journal in a one-subject wire-ruled notebook, that I had written when I made hajj in 2001. Rereading was both hilarious and moving. I found that my twenty-two year-old self had some insights that are worth sharing. The journal marks a moment in history, written in March of 2001, that adds to our understanding of our current moment in history, which also makes it worth sharing. And it is my personal contribution to the “hajj journal” genre. Most famous, to me, is what Malcolm wrote when he made hajj, and there are others. These journals are the kind of stuff that history is made of, the memoirs that help us know who we are, and makes sure who we are and what we have done is not forgotten or erased. So I also share in that spirit. 

My memories are vague but I think I was actually asked to send daily entries of my hajj journey to an online publication, Beliefnet, which is what initially motivated my journaling. But in the end I only sent in one entry. 

The entire journal is 16 entries, which are sometimes quite short or half complete. I did my best to make it readable. I also annotated, and added where it seemed necessary. Included (in written, audio or video form)  you will find poems I wrote at the time related to the experience then, and one which I crafted more recently (just a few years back).

So as the hajjis make their journey in 2019, I want to share my journey...18 years later...better late than never.


 

Entry 1 Entry 2 Entry 3 Entry 4 Entry 5 Entry 6 Entry 7 Entry 8 Entry 9 Entry 10 Entry 11 Entry 12 Entry 13 Entry 14 Entry 15 Entry 16


In the name of Allah, For the love of Muhammad, To honor the ancestors, In celebration of my people

Entry 1

2/15/01

It’s confirmed. I have been invited. How I feel, the multitude of thoughts and emotions is indescribable. I wonder if this diary will ever get written at this rate.

How did I get here?

When I paid in full for this trip about 3-4 months ago I was almost 99.9% sure I wasn’t going. Although I had paid the monetary amount my whole trip was contingent on whether or not my mother was going to be able to go. My mother going was a very unsteady variable - as a mother of a young child - a teacher - a caregiver with a moderate income. Originally my plan was simply to pay for her trip; my way of giving her back something for all she has given me - an impossible feat, I realize, and she denied me. Typical of a mother, for her, the greatest gift would be my company - so that through pleasing her I, myself, am allowed the ultimate experience - Hajj. So it was only about 3 weeks ago when I realized that I may very well be going. So I [then]  began to prepare. 

Umi and Me.jpg

I began to search for a book that would break down the rites of hajj simply while giving the historical significance of the rites and places of hajj. I searched to no avail. A book that explained why we spend nights in Muzdalifah and especially a book that did not give separate dictates to men and women that were not on the basis of any scriptural reference but [rather] on the basis of some man’s sense of propriety. That book does not exist. Rather I found 3 books, 2 which focused on the rites and one which tells one hajji’s reflections - Ali Shariati’s Hajj Reflections on its Rituals.

I began to prepare financially - a hajji is not supposed to be in debt and hajjis are required to leave enough money behind to take care of family. Well, as a single 22 year-old the family part was no problem. [But] as a graduate of Georgetown University I definitely have some debt, but I read some opinions and spoke with more knowledgeable folks and they deemed my debt was not problematic because it was incurred for school. Besides, the way I figure, if I die the debt is cancelled (I checked!) therefore I won’t be leaving any unfinished business behind for someone else to take care of. Similarly, the take care of fam part wasn’t too big a deal ‘cause I am my only dependent.  Although, [upon further reflection] I did have more to be cared for than I had realized: my apartment, light, electricity, my plant. But even after beginning to prepare, I still didn't think/wasn’t so sure I was going. Then the next obstacle hit - the Saudi government. It’s the classic case of the tyranny of a minority. Although all the Muslims of the world obviously outnumber the Saudi government, they have power and we, the majority, are subject to it. This is particularly frustrating for Muslim women because they [Saudi] abide by a fiqh interpretation that says women cannot travel long distances without being accompanied by her mahram (a male relative). This is a great difficulty for all women - a woman has to be able to pay for herself [to travel to hajj] or be paid for, and then is dependent on the availability of another person who may or may not be in a financial position to go away and for such a significant amount of time. This is also difficult for a lot of American women, - especially converts, if they are single or their husband can't afford to go, and they don’t always have any male Muslim relatives.


Perhaps I should have begun with the scene at the airport — As I’m entering the terminal I feel a luggage cart being pushed into my ankles; I turn my head and see an Egyptian woman motioning to me to hurry up. As I gave her the common Egyptian signal for patience I thought to myself—but I am still in America! It's started already - the chaos, havoc and disorder of the Arab world, Egypt and the Middle East.

Perhaps I should have begun with the scene at the airport — As I’m entering the terminal I feel a luggage cart being pushed into my ankles; I turn my head and see an Egyptian woman motioning to me to hurry up. As I gave her the common Egyptian signal for patience I thought to myself—but I am still in America! It's started already - the chaos, havoc and disorder of the Arab world, Egypt and the Middle East.

[This later ended up in a essay I wrote for Beliefnet.com]

Entry 2

Airport Scene 2 - It’s hour 4 and we are still in the Jeddah airport…

Entry 3

Ah, Mecca! As I reflect on you I want to offer something new and different. I try, but I fail—the words I use, [the] sentences I form are just like those one could find in any book on hajj or visiting Mecca. Which reminds me of the beauty of this whole experience - the beauty of equality. Equality is not the best word but what I mean is that although I could probably count all the hajjis who fit my peculiar characteristics—being young, female, African-American, Muslim born and raised—[on one hand]; [although I could detail] how diffferent I am from the majority here, how different I am from the authors who have written before, especially some of the newer white Muslim males - [yet at hajj] all my differences are viturally elminated - the part of us that is touched, transformed, and energized by Mecca and the hajj experience is our soul. [The soul] is that part of us that doesn’t differ and the part of us that retains the stuff we were made of and it’s from that part, because of that part that we all seem to speak the same words. 

It occured to me, while praying, this theme of equality... because the Ka’bah is the center toward which Muslims pray— we pray in a circle. [The concept of a ] circle is significant in many ways - for all intensive purposes, in a circle there is no leader. Yes, there is the one who leads the prayer but unlike all other masjids the followers are not all neatly [or] semi neatly [filed] in rows behind him rather, some may be behind him [or] next to him or in front of him depending on where they are praying as part of the large circle of prayer. This circle is great because all of the little things or pretensions that befuddle the community, at least in America, are no longer relevant - men next to men, men next to women, women next to men—not that I am advocating a dismissal of customary gender segregation in prayer. But it seems that the significance of hajj is a similitude for the significance of life: At the end of the day, all that really matters is that you have your spot in the circle of prayer— the circle with no beginning and no end - like the Lord to which we pray.

Entry 4

Jummah at the Haram. Ya Salaam!

I figure it's going to be crowded - so [I thought to myself] let me leave early. I wanted to leave around 11. Didn’t actually get out until 11:10, but the adhan isn’t called until 12:24 and Jummah doesn't start till about one! Well, I probably should have stayed [at the Haram after] Fajr cause at 11:13 there was no room at the inn. The Haram behind the walls is probably already over capacity with thousands [and] hundreds of thousands still trying to get in, SubhanAllah! So I ended up after trying about 5 different entrances sitting outside of gate #84 - outside in the sun at a quarter to high noon—good thing I wore white! I’ll be here a while. With my health not being great and the increasing crowd of (would be) pilgrims—I have yet to pray inside the walls let alone within sight of the Ka’bah…

Shariati talks about the Ka’bah as being only the beginning, not the end as many of us treat it. Since we pray in the direction of the Ka’bah wherever we may be, actually seeing the Ka’bah is a big deal — but not the end all be all. Because chances are, especially during the hajj season you may only see it once while doing tawaf or twice if you’re lucky. 

There is an ayat for the significance of life: At the end of the day, all that really of the Qur’an that talks about the sacrifice made during the hajj. The ayat says it is not meat or blood that reaches the Lord but righteousness. The same with the Ka’bah; although I would like to see it again, pray near it again – I may even try to stay the night. The Ka’bah is really not the point but only the beginning.

Since I started this journey I have learned it is not the hajj that is the real test — it’s what happens before, between and after. For example, the test of my patience has been significant — all the people walking around you, over you when praying, pushing and shoving and the stench the crowd. The test has been being a part of a group and discovering new health problems.  [The test is] The stuff that happens between prayers.

Feet. You see a whole lot of them on this trip.


For Shariati

 
 

Muslims are Poor and Colored

Brown, cracked, dry, worn
feet
are the feet of believers on sacred ground
with each step marking their path
to the One.
Feet of the poor
the laboring
the tired
the oppressed
the weak
and the old 
dominate this holy space
and crowd it with their faith of steel.
The leaders of God’s army do not stand 
on feet softened and shielded
by podiatry’s finest
but rather stand in 
flip flops, sandals or nothing
at all except the cool marble of the Haram,
the rocks and sands of the plains,
and the broken gravel of modern day streets.
The bodies these feet carry
find rest on plastic threaded mats
underneath MIna’s sky
and they circle
whispering, shouting, crying 
ancient prayers
in a tongue foreign to the ear
with a Word universal to the soul.
These pilgrims have little worldly glory,
claim no fame,
and it is their nur reflected in the starry sky.
These, soldiers
carry no guns or knives
nor ride tanks or drop bombs
but only pebbles
as they shoot pebble against rock
pebble against rock 
pebble against rock 
pebble against rock 
pebble against rock 
pebble against rock 
pebble against rock.
Because among them are khulufa
who do not lead to kill
but live to change.

 
 

Entry 5

 
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Entry 6

 
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Entry 7

 
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[I don’t know how we started talking, but while praying in Mecca, my mother and I met a sister from Iran. She spoke English and invited us to a Shi’a religious center in Mecca. It felt like a consulate but wasn’t one. It seemed to be an official homebase for Iranian pilgrims and instruction on Shi’a tradition. She invited us to visit, which we did — my mother (and I) never missed an opportunity to meet new people and learn new things. We sat with a scholar, an ayatollah I believe, at the center who spoke English. These are notes from that encounter. 

Su'ad and Iranian Sister.jpg
Umi with Iranian Sisters.jpg

The first note, is a reference to Ibn Arabi’s text Futuhat al-Makkiya. Chapter 366 of the book discusses the appearance of the Mahdi and his lineage from the twelve Imams. I’m not quite sure who Sha’rani is. And the last note refers to the role of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq, known as the sixth Imam in Shi’a Islam, who all agree played a key role in the Sunni tradition as well. It’s clear that the meeting was basically Shi’a dawah, and that’s all good. I wonder about those people and that center now. Especially considering the religious persecution of the Saudi regime, and the effect of sanctions on Iran—which apparently were on the way to being loosened in 2000 and set to expire in August of 2001. Instead they were renewed after September 11, 2001, about 7 months after we met in Mecca.]

 
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Entry 8

 
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[I was doing listicles before they were cool!]

[This is a reference to an incident in a KFC near the Haram when a brother from the Punjab, tried to holla at ya girl! I remember mostly being mildly flattered, amused and mostly confused. But unfortunately sexual harassment is a concern for women on the hajj]

To what do I owe this great honor to be termed/called the guest/dayoof of Allah

Entry 9

Medina -- One of our hajj guides told us a story. [He is] American born and raised in Egypt. Everytime he goes to Egypt he is detained at the airport because he wears a beard. For Egyptian authorities a beard is representative of political opposition they call Islamic fundamentalism. Once when detained, the Egyptian FBI guy continually asked our guide, “why the beard?” Our guide replied, in a thick Egyptian accent: “You know that guy, Michael Jackson, who used to wear those jackets and everyone wanted to have one because they love MJ so much and they wanted to be like him. Well, we love our prophet so much as well and we want to be like him and so we wear the beard in his tradition. 

Muhammad, Who is this man Muhammad?

As I walk away from the masjid after each prayer I can[‘t] help but feel guilty as if I am literally turning my back on him. But I must walk away, leave, so that I can embrace him with open arms. I do not really turn my back on him — to practice his sunnah, to follow in his footsteps it is necessary to leave him and join the living. It is imperative that we live, because through life-human interaction we find the opportunity to “want for our fellow Muslim what we want for ourselves,” “to love each other for the sake of Allah,” to show or try to show the type of compassion, dignity and responsibility of our prophet, may God’s Peace and Blessings be upon him.

Entry 10

As I glance around the women’s area at Masjid an-Nabawi and look at my sisters all around me, a line from Mos Def’s song “Umi Says” comes to mind: I want my people to be free, to be free, to be free. I want my people to be free, to be free, to be free, that’s all that matters to me. This line came to my mind for two reasons. One is a harsh reality. Masjid al-Haram seems to exemplify humanity in the eyes of Allah whereas Masjid an-Nabawi exemplifies that too, but to a lesser extent because it is encroached upon by the views of the current victors over the debate on what is authentic tradition of the prophet. I say this because of the ways genders are separated there. Not that I advocate non-separation; I am truly neither for nor against because I personally do not know enough about the prayer situation at the time of the Rasul. Although I do believe that way difference - class, gender, race, etc - is not accommodated at the Haram, is rarely, if ever, found outside the holy precincts, which makes it even more special - a lesson for those who reflect.

But at the Prophet's masjid, not only are we separated, but typical of misogyny, we have less space than the men: fewer entrances and high walls. This means not only can we not see the men’s section and therefore the khateeb but the walls are portable, and so they can be and have been moved to give the women even less space and the men even more. 

I wonder what he finds more offensive the pushing and shoving near worship or the sign which reads: 

RESPECTED VISITOR: WAIT FOR ABOUT 20 MINUTES AFTER SALAT FOR ZAYARAH TO AVOID THE RUSH, WHY HURRY, THE ZIYARAH IS OPEN AT ALL TIMES.

But while I recognized the oppression I also feel the powerful charge of energy in the room. That tune also comes to mind as I reflected on the line: my umi says shine your light on the world, shine your light for the world to see. Although we are often held captive behind high walls of others or our own design—be they physical or spiritual; my sisters and I have a light to shine, and I could feel it in that room sort of like pent up energy and I got goosebumps at the mere thought of the day when I our freedom will be returned. When the walls will be torn down not by masculine benevolence but by the grace of God and the light of my mothers, sisters and daughters in the struggle.

 

Water
like silk
coats the floor
and 
like Belquis
we lift our skirts

Water  
gushing from faucets
spilling over sinks
mouthfuls cupfulls handfuls
pour down necklines 
over breasts
wombs
circle thighs
down ankles
dripping off fingertips
making tiny deltas around our toes 

Holy Water 
everywhere.

Women 
fill this space
and the sound of their
silent needs
is deafening
desires and hopes
brushing my elbows
nipping at my heels

Holy Women 
Hagar’s daughters
everywhere.

 

Entry 11

[Gifts and Prayers] 


50 Grandma’s Jilbab
60 Aliyah’s scarf - Gertrude scarf
20 little bag w/masjid
10 prayer rug for Jasirah
Zam zam water
Check balance
Needle and thread
List of dua
Ahmad Courshid
Madame Azhar
Sis Kareema NJ
Karem Said
Maryam and Tamama
Usama - Mecca
Khadijah and Usama and Khalid

____________________________________________________________________

Hajj is not something you do to find God, really or to get started in faith. Rather hajj is what you do once you’ve resolved to be a believer. Hajj is like the ultimate bootcamp for the ultimate battle called life; hajj is more like a confirmation. And this ultimate boot camp is not really epitomized in its rites, which are few. Hajj is the before, the between and, most importantly, the after.

Entry 12

Addresses of people I traveled with [redacted for privacy]

Entry 13

[To do Lists]

Water
Toilet paper
Nuts - dried fruit and raisins
Needle and thread
Water container

Do

Write thank you note to Ahmad Adil ℅ transit services /Egypt Air
“         “   “ “ to Shaheed Tours
Find ayat/hadith about being thankful
Write complaint to Dar El Salaam Tours

July 31, 2001 Deadline

Entry 14

And even in Medina
I am denied
a piece of paradise
only, allowed access
bet. the hours
of 7:30-11:30, 1-3pm
Who designed the separate
but unequal entrance to Qublatain
Who built the walls in Quba

Are dimly lit passageways
or dimwit minds
In the tradition of the prophet

Or do you think that stairs like mountains leading to
the poorly designed sisters’ area add-on 
was more what he had in mind?


Hajar #BlackGirlMagic Since the Time of Abraham

Entry 15


“Arafat, Arafat, Arafat” was the chant of men hanging off the side of a near empty vehicle at dawn. It reminded me of a similar chant, “Utica, Utica, Utica” of the dollar van drivers offering the cheapest ride to Flatbush, Brooklyn. However, today, people are riding, walking, crawling (if need be) to the plain of Arafat - on the most important day of hajj. Standing on the plain of Arafat - on the 9th of Dhul Hijjah is the most important rite of hajj. It is so important that if you missed it - your hajj would be incomplete, and you’d have to come back again. 

Arafat is a non-negotiable. 

So what does that mean “standing on the plain of Arafat?”

To be quite frank, before hajj I wasn’t quite sure and a little intimidated. It basically seemed that you were supposed to stand in prayer for a good ½ a day. And I asked myself, how am I supposed to do that? It’s hard enough to concentrate during the 5-10 minutes that I pray normally. How was I supposed to last 6 hours?!

In the tradition of the Prophet, pilgrims arrive at Arafat around noon. After arriving, the two daytime prayers are performed, shortened, and combined (the ritual length is shortened and the second is performed immediately following the first). Following the prayer a short sermon is given and the pilgrims must remain there until sunset.

During the sermon the speaker recited the hadith in which its said that on the day of Arafat Allah (swt) boasts to the angels about His servants gathered here on that day. About how they faced many obstacles and overcame them all in His honor for His worship. It was at that moment that I realized I could make it the next 4 hrs, and that, frankly, 4 hours wasn’t enough. I realized why this day was special, and why an accepted hajj truly does wipe away all of our past sins. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about the day in which your personal devotion reaches the heights of sincerity. Sincerity, coupled with certainty.

There is no doubt that I have wronged my soul, and there is no doubt that I am pleading for forgiveness. There is no doubt that Allah has honored me with this invitation to hajj and there is no doubt that I will be eternally grateful. And even more amazingly, there is no doubt that I love Allah. There is no doubt that He loves me.

Arafat.jpg

Entry 16

Hajj isn’t just the rituals, but also what happens between them. And hajj isn’t just 5 days in Saudi, it’s a life journey. Labbayka isn't what you say between points, but the chant of the soul of a believer.