The defining moment.

Living in Connecticut, I have the opportunity to experience all four seasons, the new beginnings of spring, the lush greens and abundant vegetation of summer, and the fresh cleanness from new fallen snow in the winter. But my favorite time of year is the fall…. Autumn in New England!

When I was  young, I used to call fall “crunchy leaf season” because of the sound the leaves made as I walked through them, kicked them, jumped into the big leaf piles. The crunch as I stuffed handfuls of leaves into old jeans and shirts for scary Halloween decorations to be placed outside on the porch to scare trick or treaters coming to the door in search of candy.

Today, I still love the smell of  the autumn air and the fallen leaves, the change in the air from the summer heat and humidity to a nice crisp coolness. I love to watch the trees changing colors and I love to drive through the hills and hike through the many trails I grew up near, to see the foliage.  And, I love to being able to experience the most amazing sunsets of the year.

                              Subhan’Allah. (How glorious and amazingly perfect is God)

It was during the fall season, when I was in my first semester of graduate school heading from one end of the campus to other end for class with fellow students, when my outlook on life began to change. The day was gorgeous. The wind was blowing lightly causing a “whirlwind effect” of leaves spiraling down to the ground. “It’s such a beautiful day, I love this time of year”, I said to my classmates. “Just smell the air, feel the crispness. Its sweatshirt season again! I love this!”

Just then, a fellow student, a Muslim brother said to me:

“You know what is beautiful? “What?” I asked. His response was “it is beautiful that not one leaf falls without the permission of Allah (SWT).”

“And He knows whatever there is in (or on) the earth and in the sea; not a leaf falls, but he knows it” (6:59)

I stopped suddenly, unable to move. I looked up towards the sky as I watched one leaf break from a branch and slowly fall to the ground ever so gently. Then, another gust of wind came along and hundreds of leaves came down.  I thought, “Oh my God……what?  What was that he just said? That was so beautiful.” I was suddenly filled with an emotion that I had never experienced before. I felt a sense of overwhelming gratitude and awe and I actually began to tear up.

What just happened? Why did that statement have such a profound effect on me? What did I just experience?

Alhamdulillah. (All praise is for Allah)

You see, I had been struggling with my beliefs, or non-beliefs, for several years. I was raised Catholic, but it never made sense to me. What I was learning seemed to contradict itself all the time and I never got any clear cut answers to my questions that made any sense to me.  I stopped going to church as soon as I could figure out a way to do it without my parents catching me (although, I am sure that they figured it out).

I wasn’t kidding anyone, especially myself.

As I grew and matured, I continued to have this feeling that I had a purpose in life, and that this purpose was definitely not linked to what I was doing, or how I was living during that particular period of my life.

What was my purpose? Was it to be a good mother, a good wife, what was it?

I, along with most of the other people I hung with, was not concerned with anything but that very moment in time. I was not concerned with what occurred yesterday, or what may or may not occur tomorrow. But, I still had this undefined “feeling.” The feeling that this life, the here and now, today, is not what it is all about.

I started to notice that the people I surrounded myself with would simply do the same things over and over again (having fun doing stuff of course), but there was no purpose other than to catch up with one another to do the same thing again. “I soon began to view things from outside of this cycle of “sameness” or “purposeless.” What I once considered fun did nothing for me anymore. I would rather sit home and do nothing than go out and party with friends.  I struggled with depression and often felt alone and sad.

Through all of this, I had this inner drive to find my purpose, but I was too wrapped up in my own stuff to even know where to begin. I often brushed off my feelings as “being to analytic” or I would have the “come, on, just snap out of it” attitude.

But…….I knew that there was this “truth” out there somewhere. I just didn’t  know where or what it was. I knew that there was something to believe, some purpose, some truth, but what was it?

Well, believe it our not, the remark that the Muslim brother said: “Not one leaf falls without the permission of Allah (SWT)” was probably THE defining moment of when I began to realize that this emotion, this “feeling” that I just experienced, has something to do with my purpose in this life.

If something so simple, so insignificant (or so I thought) as a leaf does nothing without the permission of Allah, then what is my purpose? What am I supposed to be doing?

It was that day, that one brief moment in time, that I began to understand the Greatness of Allah (SWT).

Allahu Akbar. (God is the Greatest)

I began to listen to this brother talk a bit more. Things he said made so much sense, yet they were so simple! How could something so simple and easy to understand be IT, be part of my purpose?  I began doing some research, and was encouraged to seek information from someone with much more knowledge.  I met with a local Islamic scholar, each time learning more and more about the pillars of and basic beliefs of Islam.  Each time being given things to read and opportunities to ask questions. I continued to ask, to research, and to learn.

With all of this information, this new knowledge, I had to make a choice. I could:

(a) go on living the way I had been, rather recklessly and with no clear direction or purpose, or

(b) based on my new knowledge, embrace the fact that there is No deity worthy of worship but God (Allah), and that I am a servant of God. That was my purpose, to worship Allah SWT alone.

If I wanted any chance of true peace, of success in this world and the next,  I had no choice but to embrace Islam.

Alhamdulillah. (All praise is for Allah)

So, I took my Shahada, which is the testimony of faith that one says when they embrace Islam.

“Ash-hadu An La Ilaha Illallah Wa Ash-hadu Anna Muhammadur RasoolAllah.”

“I testify that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and I testify that Muhammad is the final messenger of Allah.”

I began to realize that the feelings that I have always had when I experienced the beauty of this world, was my way to begin to learn about Allah SWT.  I have always loved to observe all of the natural beauty that surrounds me. I have always been in awe over the sighting of an animal in the woods, the sound of water as rivers flow past, the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, the sweet smell of fresh rain, the clean smell of snow, and all of the beauty that lies within this world.

It is when I am experiencing these natural wonders, that the Greatness of Allah is so apparent.

As a child, I was naturally attracted to nature. Since I was little girl, I have always found little treasures that I would bring home. Some piece of nature would find its way home with me. I could had a pocket full of sea shells from the Cape, a pocket full of rocks from a hike in the woods, a piece of driftwood or a bag of sand from a beach in Maine, a bouquet of wildflowers, or a snapshot of something beautiful I stumbled upon on my hike.  I now know that these items are my small tangible representations of a much larger truth.

I look at all of this beauty with absolute amazement and thankfulness to Allah (SWT). Every ant that crawls through the grass, every butterfly that soars by me, every step that I take on this earth that sprouts vegetation, every rain drop that falls from the clouds, every animal searching for food in the early morning hours, every waterfall, every mountain, every gorge, every leaf that falls……..all here because of the Greatness of Allah (SWT).

Allahu Akbar

All of this beauty that is found all over this earth, beautiful waters, beautiful forests, beautiful deserts, beautiful scenery, the many animals, the sky, the stars, the sun, and moon, all beautiful creations, all on a set course.

All of these creations of Allah SWT are in perfect harmony and there is no disorder. Each has a purpose, to obey and worship Allah (SWT).  And…we are able to experience this beauty because of Allah (SWT).

 Subhan’Allah

All of this vast beauty…which also has a purpose! The same purpose as me! To Worship Allah (SWT)!

He provides all that we need, Alhamdulillah.

The beauty of this world is just a small glimpse of what is to come for those of us who truly have faith and knowledge and follow the guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and worship Allah (SWT) alone.

“Those who believe and do righteous deeds, they are the best of creatures. Their reward is with their Lord: Gardens of Paradise beneath which rivers flow. They will dwell there in forever, God well pleased with them and they with Him. This is for those who hold their Lord in awe.” (98:7-8)

 

“Ash-hadu An La Ilaha Illallah Wa Ash-hadu Anna Muhammadur RasoolAllah.”

I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah. I testify that Muhammad (PBUH) is the final messenger of Allah.”

I call upon Allah every day in my prayers. I seek His forgiveness and I seek His assistance. I know that He provides for me and I trust in Him alone.

 I am truly a life long student, seeking as much knowledge of this beautiful deen as I can so that I continue on this beautiful path.

The blessed days of Dhul Hijjah and the pilgrimage

It is believed, by some,  that The Holy Ka’bah, located in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, was first built by Adam (Peace be upon him), the first man, first Prophet in the worship of One God, that it was forgotten for many years, and was later found by the Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ishmael (Peace be upon them both).

However, most scholars are of the opinion that the Ka’bah was first built by Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismael, and not by Adam, as commanded by Allah.

“And remember when Ibrahim said, “My Lord, make this city (Makkah) a place of security and provide its people with fruits, such of them as believe in Allah and the Last Day.” He (Allah) answered: “As for him who disbelieves, I shall leave him in contentment for a while, then I shall compel him to the torment of the Fire, and worst indeed is that destination!”

“And remember when Ibrahim and his son Ismail were raising the foundation of the House saying, “Our Lord! Accept this service from us. Verily, You are the All-Hearer, the All- Knower.” (Surah al Baqarah: 126-127)

Makkah is also the birthplace of the last prophet, Prophet Muhammad (SAW). For years after Prophets Ibrahim and Ismael (AS) had passed, people who did not accept Allah as the One and Only God, continued to worship idols and these idols were worshipped within the Ka’bah. After many years of idol worship and lewd behavior taking place at the Ka’bah, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), reclaimed the Ka’bah as the House of Allah, and today, all Muslims pray (at least 5 times a day) towards the Ka’bah. The Ka’bah is also known as  “Bait -ul- Athey” (the oldest house)and “Bait Ullah” (house of Allah). (http://www.scribd.com/doc/7035704/The-Holy-Kaaba-in-Mecca)

The Ka’bah was the first structure ever built solely for the worship of the One God, Allah SWT.  Thousands of years later, Muslims from every corner of the Earth turn towards the Ka’bah 5 times a day (at the minimum) to perform their 5 obligatory prayers. This week, marks the beginning of the Holy Month of Dhul Hijjah. It is during the first 10 days of this month, each and every year, that thousands upon thousands of Muslims visit the Ka’bah as part of the ritual of performing Hajj.

Hajj is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, along with Shahada (declaration of faith), Salat (5 daily prayers), Zakat (Charity), and Saum (Fasting during the month of Ramadan).

Hajj (pilgrimage) is incumbent upon all able bodied Muslims once in their lifetime. Muslims are free to perform Hajj more than once, however once is the obligation. To perform Hajj, one must be physically and financially able to go which includes being sure that your family is provided for, and not suffering, while you are gone.

Woman must be accompanied by her husband or a Mahram to perform Hajj. If she does not have a husband or a Mahram , Hajj does not become obligatory for her. A mahram is a male, whom a woman can never marry because of close relationship such as a brother, a father, or a sibling.

“And pilgrimage to the House (the Ka’bah) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who can afford the expenses; and whoever disbelieves (i.e. denies Hajj), then he is a disbeliever of Allah, then Allah is independent of all creation.” (Surah Al Imran: 97)

As one can see from this Ayat from the Qur’an, if someone has the ability to perform Hajj and they choose not to, they are seen as disbelievers by Allah. No Muslim should take this lightly! Start putting money aside, start a “Hajj fund”, save your pennies, plan!

Just last week, I was assisting with a recent Sunday school Islamic Studies class and the subject was the importance of performing Hajj. A student shared that she knows a recently married couple who chose to go to Hajj for their “honeymoon.” SubhanAllah, May Allah accept this couple’s Hajj. They could have easily spent their money on a traditional honeymoon, as many young couples do, travelling through the Caribbean or Europe, but they chose Hajj instead. May Allah continue to guide them. Ameen.

Hajj happens once each year, however, Ummrah (the “Lesser Hajj) can be performed at any time of the year. The holy month of Dhul Hijjah is now upon us, and it is during these first most blessed days of Dhul Hijjah that pilgrims from across the globe make their way to Makkah to perform the rites of Hajj.

I was able to perform Ummrah during a brief stay in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and as I think about all of the Muslims currently making their way towards Makkah and towards the Ka’bah, I can recall my own emotions as I visited the Ka’bah for the very first time and I know what Muslims visiting the Ka’bah for the very first time will experience over the next few days.

It is hard for me to find the right words to express the emotion that one is overcome with when they see the Ka’bah in Makkah for the very first time. It is hard to convey the emotion, especially to a non-Muslim. How can a building in the shape of a cube draped in cloth (The  Ka’bah), this simple concrete structure, evoke such emotion?  You see, it is not the structure itself, it is what this structure represents.

“Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. Labbaik la sharika laka labbaik. Innal-hamda wan-ni’mata laka wal mulk, la sharika laka.”

The experience is profound. As you enter the Mosque, you are first struck by the columns and arches that you pass by as you make your way towards the Ka’bah. You feel as if you have stepped into a different space in time, you notice people ahead of you, people on both sides of you, and people behind you, all there with one shared belief.  A feeling of intense awe begins to overcome you as you are struck by the realization that millions of people have walked the very same path as you. The same path that Prophet Ibrahim (AS) walked, the same path that Prophet Muhammad (SAW),his family and his companions all walked so many many years before us. And, each and everyone of us is there for the same purpose, to worship Allah (SWT).

“Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. Labbaik la sharika laka labbaik. Innal-hamda wan-ni’mata laka wal mulk, la sharika laka.”

As I walked towards the ka’bah, my emotions were intense. I was walking and searching for the first sight of the Ka’bah. My eyes were intent on seeing it yet I wasn’t sure if I was ready.  My dear friend Amina who, along with her husband and young child,  brought me there for my first experience, said to me “Ok, get ready, you are going to to see it soon.” And then……it happened.  My eyes filled with tears, as I caught a small glimpse of the black covering which drapes the Ka’bah, I began to tear up and shake with emotion, intense happiness, intense awe, intense sadness that I wasn’t able to share the experience with my loved ones at home, along with intense overwhelming gratitude.  I was not yet ready to fully experience it, I quickly looked down and stepped to the side to let people pass as I made du’a to Allah and to let the tears flow. I felt as though if I looked up towards the ka’bah again, I would realize that I was in a dream. I took the chance…I looked, and it was still there, I could still catch a glimpse of the black cover. I quickly stepped to an area to pray 2 rakah as a prayer of greeting for the Mosque and to  thank Allah SWT for allowing me the opportunity to be there, and to make du’a and seek forgiveness.
“Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. Labbaik la sharika laka labbaik. Innal-hamda wan-ni’mata laka wal mulk, la sharika laka.”
As I began to walk towards the Kaa’ba once again, I continued to experience intense emotions, the experience seemed almost surreal. Was I really there? Was this really happening? So much to take in….and then….there it was. The Ka’bah, this beautiful structure, draped in black cloth (Kiswah) with Qur’an verses embroidered in gold. The very first building to be erected for the sole purpose of worshiping Allah (SWT) so many many years ago. The Ka’bah, where 24 hours a day, each and every day of the year, people are there in worship. A place where at this very moment, people are making the pilgrimage there for “the largest temporary gathering of humanity on the globe.” (Shalabi,2001)
A place where many people will experience what I experienced.
Once you have taken it all in, performed the rituals of Hajj or Ummrah, and are able to begin to observe others, you share in their experience. You see, as people walk towards the Ka’bah and suddenly catch a glimpse…the emotion!  The tears, the amazement, the awe! You quickly remember that feeling. The feeling that I am experiencing right now as I think about the millions of Muslims who are going to experience this feeling right now.
Alhamdulillah.
A bit on Hajj:
When preparing for Hajj, pilgrims enter a state of ihram where they make their intentions to perform Hajj to Allah SWT and exchange their everyday clothes for two pieces of white cloth as their clothing (men only) just as Prophet Ibrahim (AS) did during earlier pilgrimage. Men are no longer seen as a businessman, a wealthy person, a prince, a poor person….all appear the same, equal under the eyes of Allah (SWT). They are all humble servants of Allah.
SubhanAllah.
Once one has made his intention to perform Hajj and is in the state of Ihram, he begins the journey towards Makkah. He will begin to recite the Talbiya:
“Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. Labbaik la sharika laka labbaik. Innal-hamda wan-ni’mata laka wal mulk, la sharika laka.”
(I respond in obedience to You, O Allah – I respond. I respond – no partner is there to You – I respond. All praise and favor is Yours, and sovereignty. There is no partner to You.”
This is happening right now, as I type, many Muslims are reciting these very words as they make their way to Makkah.
“Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. Labbaik la sharika laka labbaik. Innal-hamda wan-ni’mata laka wal mulk, la sharika laka.”
“Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. Labbaik la sharika laka labbaik. Innal-hamda wan-ni’mata laka wal mulk, la sharika laka.”
“Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. Labbaik la sharika laka labbaik. Innal-hamda wan-ni’mata laka wal mulk, la sharika laka.”

 

 

 There are several rituals that are performed during Hajj, they include:

1. Putting on Ihram

2. Circumambulating the Ka’bah seven times

3. Walking between as-Safa and al-Marwah near the Ka’bah

4. Visiting and staying at Mina, Arafat, and Muzdalifah

5. Throwing pebbles at three fixed places at Mina

6. Shaving or trimming hair

7. Sacrifice of an animal

InshaAllah, I will be able to go back to Makkah to perform Hajj at some point. However, even though many Muslims are unable to do Hajj, there are many things that we can do in observance of these blessed first days of Dhul Hijjah.

The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said,  “There are no days of the year in which righteous deeds done in them are more beloved to Allah than the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah!”What are good deeds that we can do during these first 10 days?

  1. Fasting on the day of Arafat (9th of Dhul Hijjah)  If  you fast on this day, your sins will be forgiven for the year before and the year after.
  2. Dzikr. Remebrance of Allah. Saying  “Allahu Akbar”   “La illaha illAllah”    “Alhamdulillah” often throughout the day.
  3. Repent to Allah SWT with sincerity
  4. Extra voluntary deeds of prayer, charity, and Reading Qur’an
  5. Tahhajjud
  6. sacrifice an animal for the Sake of Allah SWT. After Eid. It can be done on the 10, 11, 12, or 13.  Whoever sacrifices an animal, all sins to the amount of hair on the animal will be forgiven.
  7. Pray the Eid al Adha salat (10th day of Dhul Hijjah). Eid al Adha is to commemorate the end of Hajj and to remember the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim (AS) to sacrifice his son to Allah SWT.
  8. Appreciate the blessing of Allah and come close to Him during these 10 days through all of these acts with intention, thought, appreciation, prayer, and seeking forgiveness.

May Allah SWT accept everyone’s Hajj, Du’a, and acts of worship. Ameen.

“Allahu Akbar”   “La illaha illAllah”    “Alhamdulillah”

“Allahu Akbar”   “La illaha illAllah”    “Alhamdulillah”

“Allahu Akbar”   “La illaha illAllah”    “Alhamdulillah”