Too often people get caught up in the trivialities of life. William Shakespeare famously wrote
“all the worlds’ a stage” and indeed, we go about our daily lives playing our roles and reading our lines as we should.
Many times we lose sight of the bigger picture and become swamped with the chores of day to day life. Worship becomes one of these chores as the ornaments of life cloud our vision and delay our spiritual growth. In the Treatise on Rights, Imam Zaynul Aabideen (as) states “The right of your nafs (soul) against you is that you employ it in obeying Allah.”
إِنَّا جَعَلْنَا مَا عَلَى الْأَرْضِ زِينَةً لَّهَا لِنَبْلُوَهُمْ أَيُّهُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا
“Lo! We have placed all that is in the earth as an ornament thereof that we may try them: which of them is best in conduct.” (Quran 18:7)
It is all too easy to become neglectful of our duties as Muslims. Allah (swt) has entrusted us with the duty of being His trustee, His calipha (vicegerent) on this earth and to fulfil the duties given, yet day by day we see that indeed this is not the case. We become disinclined to spiritual growth, our relationship with our Lord is cold and our allegiance to the Imam of our time (atf) is weak.
وَالْعَصْرِإِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَفِي خُسْر
“By time, indeed man is at loss.” (Quran 103:1-2)
How many of us can say that we are aware and seek to treasure and enhance our bond with our Divine Master. How many times a day do we thank Him for the blessings He has bestowed upon us, day after day, through all the sin we commit and ignorance we live in.
Umrah (the minor pilgrimage to Mecca) represents our return to Allah (swt), the Divine Creator. Ultimately, our goal in life is Allah (swt), to reach Him, to worship Him and only Him.
إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ
“Surely we are from Allah and to Him we return” (Quran 2:156)
Through the journey of umrah, we shed away the darkness of our lives, we leave behind worldly desires and we make a vow to become closer to Allah (swt) by yearning to reach divinity, purity and enter the Light. It is a vow of love to our Lord, to become one with Him, in the footsteps of His Holy Prophet (saw), to purify our hearts and souls. To do this we must enter a state of contemplation on our actions and tear ourselves away from the animalistic traits we acquire through every day living.
وَأَتِمُّواْ الْحَجَّ وَالْعُمْرَةَ لِلّهِ فَإِنْ أُحْصِرْتُمْ فَمَا اسْتَيْسَرَ مِنَ الْهَدْيِ
“And perform the pilgrimage and the pious visit (to Makkah) in honour of God; and if you are held back, give instead whatever offering you can easily afford.” (Quran 2:196)
The holy pilgrimage of Hajj (the major pilgrimage to Mecca) is a journey that should be performed at least once in a lifetime. Umrah, is an optional journey that involves less of the Hajj rituals. It is our way of serving our Creator. It is a journey that enables us to become what we should be – a being who worships Allah and follows the teachings of the Ahlul Bayt; a person who shuns the bad and embraces the good; a person who aspires to elevate their spiritual wellbeing to higher stages and to have the same effect on others; a person who does not engage themselves with trivial worldly matters but engages in matters concerning the hereafter and a person who is a role-model for others and is a beacon that personifies the meaning of Islam. For indeed the right of Allah (swt) upon us, is to worship Him and not associate any partner with Him.
Summer of 2011 saw a group of London youth embark on a journey of a lifetime. We were given the divine invitation of Umrah. For many it was their first invitation. For others, it was a humble return.
There were mixed emotions amongst the group, apprehension, excitement, positive energy that buzzed from within us, and an eagerness and determination to make the most of this opportunity in every possible way. The idea of being within the presence of Allah’s (swt) most beloved, the Holy Prophet (saw) was enough to send goosebumps running over our skin.
Our experience in Medina was a mixed one of spiritual beauty and sadness. The fact that we were able to walk, breathe and worship within the abode of our beloved Holy Prophet (saw) was a feeling that was next to none. Masjid Al-Nabawi (The Prophet’s Mosque) was a place of utter tranquillity and beauty. Encased within the heart of the mosque was an area believed to be a Rawda min Riyad al-Jannah (Garden from the gardens of paradise), which we tried to visit whenever possible, to implore to Allah (swt), by His most beloved to Him to accept from us our prayers and supplications.
Within the vicinity of Masjid al-Nabawi was Jannat-ul Baqi’. A burial site that was the final resting place of many of the beloveds of our Prophet (saw) – Imam Hassan al-Mujjtaba (as), Imam Mohamed al-Baqir (as), Imam Jafar Al-Sadiq (as), and Imam Ali Al-Sajjad (as), peace and blessings upon their holy souls. Our beloved Umul Baneen (as) is also buried there. They say Imam Al-Ridha (as) is Ghareeb al Ghuraba (the lonely amongst strangers), however the sadness that welled up within our hearts at the sight of the meagre graves was too much. To top it off females were not allowed access to the Baqi’. Indeed these holy souls felt more estranged here. How we yearned to be able to get close to our beloveds and cry over their holy bodies and recite ziyaraat (supplication when visiting the grave of a person) within close proximity to them. What was even more heartbreaking was the unknown location of the grave of our Holy Sayeda Fatima Al-Zahraa (as). The destruction of Baytul Ahzan (the house of Fatima (as)) added to the pain we felt.
This sadness was appeased during our visit to Al-Nakhawla, a small haven of palm trees, a beautiful and sacred place where we felt at ease amongst the inhabitants. There we felt closer to our Imam Hassan (as) and our hearts and souls were uplifted with spirituality and love for the Ahlul Bayt (as).
Makkah was our destination. After entering the state of Ihram (the compulsory state a Muslim must enter the Holy city with abiding by a behavioural code of conduct) at Masjid Al-Shajjarah, we instantly felt humbled and closer to our Maker. Everyone, regardless of race and background, wealth and status was enclothed within the same material that represented our final outfit or kafan (shroud) in which we shall meet our Lord. We all were chanting the same words “labaik Allahuma labaik, labaik laa sharik laka labaik”
لبيك اللهم لبيك لبيك لا شريك لك لبيك
This translates to “O my Lord, here I am at Your service, here I am. There is no partner with You. Here I am.”
There was no ego or status. We were all Allah’s (swt) servants, and this journey was a reminder of our ultimate and final goal in life:
وَإِلَى اللَّهِ الْمَصِيرُ
“And unto Allah is the journeying.” (Quran 24:42)
Laying our eyes on the beautiful Ka’bah (symbolic house of Allah (swt) to which Muslims face in the daily prayers) was the climax we were anticipating. We were there. Our Master had granted us entry to His Holy House. Our hearts soared and overflowed with love and awe. Some of the group members broke down in tears. Others were in a state of calm, awe-struck by their surroundings and what it meant for them to be there. Reaching the Ka’bah was a sign that our journey had headed in the right direction. Our aim and goal was not the Ka’bah. Our aim and goal was Allah (swt).
إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِي بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِّلْعَالَمِينَ
“Lo! The first sanctuary appointed for mankind was that at Bekka (Makkah), a blessed place, a guidance to the people.” (Quran 3:96)
Completing our first umrah was a beautiful and joyous experience. Many group members over the course of the remaining nights performed the umrah again on behalf of family and loved ones. Performing the rituals helped strengthen our will power and discipline. It was a workout for the soul. Every tawwaf (circumambulation) we completed around the Holy House was a step closer to achieving nearness to Allah (swt). We felt lighter. Cleansed. Free of worldly desires and sin. Our time was spent in contemplation, worship and the recital of the Quran. Nothing else existed or mattered here, except for the relationship between ourselves and the Almighty. Nothing felt more amazing than to be under the night sky, praying with an earnest and genuine heart in front of the Holy Ka’bah and imploring our Lord to accept from us our deeds, strengthen our faith, forgive our sins, to hasten the appearance of the Imam of our time (atf) and to grant us to be of the followers of the Ahlul Bayt (as).
إِنَّمَا التَّوْبَةُ عَلَى اللّهِ لِلَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ السُّوَءَ بِجَهَالَةٍ ثُمَّ يَتُوبُونَ مِن قَرِيبٍ فَأُوْلَـئِكَ يَتُوبُ اللّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ وَكَانَ اللّهُ عَلِيماً حَكِيماً
“Verily, God’s acceptance of repentance relates only to those who do evil out of ignorance and then repent before their time runs out, and it is they unto whom God will turn again in His mercy – for God is all-knowing, wise.” (Quran 4:17)
يَهْدِي بِهِ اللّهُ مَنِ اتَّبَعَ رِضْوَانَهُ سُبُلَ السَّلاَمِ وَيُخْرِجُهُم مِّنِ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ بِإِذْنِهِ وَيَهْدِيهِمْ إِلَى صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيم
“Through which God shows unto all that seek His goodly acceptance the paths leading to salvation and, by His grace, brings them out of the depths of darkness into the light and guides them onto a straight way.” (Quran 5:16)
It was truly a journey of a lifetime and the experience will live with us forever. We learnt, grew and friendships developed that will flourish and last over the coming years. We were immensely grateful to our group leaders and spiritual guides who helped enhance the experience, helped look after us and ensured the journey panned out smoothly. Upon returning, we all felt a part of us was left behind, in Medina and in Makkah. And then we realised. It wasn’t that we had left it behind, it was that it was higher up, away from this life and closer to Allah (sw6). Our hope is in Allah (swt), the Almighty, that He accepts from us our deeds, and that He grants us all the blessing of Hajj to His Holy House, in this year and in every coming year.