Category Archives: Inspiration

A most blessed rooftop

The City of Madinah is a very special place for Muslims, and even though it’s not part of the Hajj itself, most Muslims visit it during their Hajj journey.

Before we get into the actual posts about the Madinah, I thought I’d introduce the effect it had on me – which is encapsulated in the following poem, which I wrote on my last night there.

A most blessed rooftop

I like rooftops because they are freedom.

As I write this, I’m seated on one.
No ordinary one, mind you;
but one in a city of immense peace;
on top of a building so blessed that only one other is greater than it.

Generally, people aren’t aware of rooftops.
They live their lives down below,
never thinking of how serene and peaceful the world above is.

It’s the same in this place:
hundreds of thousands have come to this city,
to this building,
yet only a fraction have ventured up to this rooftop.

Down below, the crowds are swelling –
with new faces each and every day,
from places far and wide,
each with a culture,
a nationality,
a family,
a unique life story.

We meet each other –
all speaking different languages,
sometimes not able to communicate at all,
other than in sign language –
yet our greeting is the same;
a universal greeting of peace –
taught to us by the Messenger of peace,
who established this,
our community,
in this very place
some fourteen centuries ago.

He would be proud
to see his nation gathered here today –
such variety in colour, speech, and manner –
but all committed to the way of life he brought.

All here to visit him,
and honour his resting place –
the ground where he,
along with the giants of his generation,
strove to build a society
based on justice,
peace,
and universal principles of goodness –
recognised by every single soul –
whether they know it or not.

They walked this very earth –
by day and night,
in wartime and during peace,
hardship and times of ease;
knowing that their time here was only temporary –
a short period of tests –
the results of which would determine
their home in the eternal realm.

And some were assured of their success even before their earthly life ended;
yet still they struggled,
still they strove,
still they feared
that they weren’t living up to the life expected of them.

Yet that generation
was the best of people raised up for mankind.

They enjoined what was good,
and forbade what was evil;
and most importantly,
they believed in God.

And our generation today
doesn’t live up to that example –
for if they did,
their lives would reflect more justice,
God-consciousness,
and eagerness to fulfil the responsibilities placed upon them
as stewards of this Earth.

Yet in this blessed place,
this generation –
those who have come to visit –
witnesses the way life should be.

We feel the tranquillity of the way of life we call our own.

We experience it first hand –
in ways we could never experience back home.

We feel spiritually rejuvenated
by this environment –
re-establishing our connection to our Creator,
the Owner of Peace,
the Master of all things –
both worldly and beyond human comprehension.

Grown men break down in tears –
begging their Lord for forgiveness,
and supplicating for all that they need in their lives,
and all that they desire in their existence.

Desperate pleas,
made with such sincerity –
both in private,
and where others can see them –
but without inhibition,
for in those moments,
nobody else matters:
it’s just them and their Lord –
without anyone or anything to break that bond.

And so
this City of Peace
serves as a purifier for the souls that visit it;
helping to wash away years,
decades,
and lifetimes of mistakes –
and giving hope that maybe,
just maybe,
when our journeys take us back home,
we’ll be able to recapture some of the magic we felt here,
and live lives of peace, justice, and submission
to the One we owe everything to.

*This piece was inspired by my time in Madinah, on the rooftop of the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) mosque, a few weeks prior to Hajj 2011.


Rebirth

First life

I was a latecomer to Islam. No – I didn’t convert into the religion. I was born a Muslim, but for most of my life growing up, I wasn’t really one – not the way I should have been, at least. I lacked the proper understanding, knowledge, and, most of all, commitment to the religion. As a result, much of my life was spent without real attachment to Islam – confined to merely ritualistic acts of worship I was expected to do, and not much interest beyond that.

As a child, I learnt Islam’s basics in Islamic afternoon school (madrassah) – like the beliefs, rituals, and how to read Islam’s Holy Book – the Quran. In addition to this, my family acted as a good moral compass in guiding me through the racially and culturally diverse society that was South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. I had a lot of exposure to other religions – Hindu family friends, where I’d see their prayer lamps and idols; a Christian junior school, where every morning’s assembly included the Lord’s prayer; and my Jewish high school, where Jewish Studies was a compulsory subject for a couple of years.

I always had a conscience about Islam, and what my Creator expected of me as a Muslim. But without practical action, conscience can’t lead you very far. In school holidays, for Friday prayers, and on other religious occasions, I’d attend Islamic religious services, and hear the religious advice given by the religious scholars (imams and moulanas). I’d sometimes be inspired to want to be a better Muslim, but the feeling would fade a few hours later, and I’d continue as normal – not really thinking about my purpose in life or how I could better treat and serve my fellow human beings.

Turnaround

That changed ten years ago, when I reached a turning point – a ‘spiritual awakening’ that

changed my entire focus and orientation in life. Such events are common in any religion – not just Islam. Anything could act as a catalyst – from a near death experience, loss of a loved one, a period of desperation, or any other event. Different people have different experiences, yet the end result is the same: a movement from a state of heedlessness to one of consciousness.

Over time, I came to learn more about Islam, and firmly believe in its truth – understanding the wisdom behind its acts of worship and social values, and its timeless message of pure monotheism, which was the message of every prophet, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all). I came to understand how, as a comprehensive belief system, it links an individual to their Creator, without any intermediaries; guiding them to live in the way that would bring true happiness, inner peace, and success – both in life and in the realm beyond death.

Journey of a lifetime

A few weeks ago, I was honoured to perform the Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah – the Hajj. As mandatory religious activities go, it’s one of the most important acts in Islam. It’s a journey that re-enacts the life of Prophet Abraham and his family, and draws millions each year – promising great reward from the Creator; and immense liberation, such that the pilgrim returns from the journey completely forgiven from every sin – spiritually, like a newborn baby.

It’s a journey of sacrifice, self-purification, and great humility. Pilgrims leave their families and comfortable homes to go all the way to the Holy Land, spending days and nights in a simple, canvas tent – where the only physical comforts are a mattress, blanket, and pillow. They leave behind the ease of cars for a journey involving walking for miles and miles on dirty, congested roads, in huge crowds that they’d otherwise run away from. They shed the adornments of plush clothing to wear nothing but two white, unstitched pieces of cloth – wherein they’ll look exactly like everyone else, with nothing to distinguish between a king and a beggar. They go out to a flat, empty plain – in the middle of a desert – to stand in the scorching sun for a few hours, reciting a few words, pleading with their Creator, and crying their hearts out. And they walk around an ancient building, the first house of worship dedicated to the Creator, praising Him and supplicating for all that they desire.

Second chance

The experiences and lessons of Hajj are numerous, but for me, the most important result was the liberation I spoke of earlier – a second chance at life. A person who survives a near-fatal accident may relate, as could a reformed convict who leaves prison as a ‘new’ person.

After repentance on Hajj, the feeling of being completely forgiven – for every single sin you’ve ever committed – is truly amazing, and beyond words. It’s like a lightness of the soul – like there’s no longer this burden on your shoulders, and you literally feel pure and clean. Your mind feels more free, your spirit feels light, and you feel so much closer to your Creator. It’s really the most awesome feeling imaginable.

It’s also empowering, because you now have this ‘clean slate’ – this second chance to start your life again, from a state of purity. And with that feeling, you’re more sensitive to every wrong you do. You can recognize it more easily, and you feel the need to repent or make up for it immediately – because now that you’re ‘clean’, you want to stay that way, and never let any spiritual ‘dirt’ pollute your heart again.

Naturally, it isn’t possible to remain on such a high for a sustained period. And in the few weeks since Hajj, such feelings of spiritual euphoria have decreased. But the effects of those feelings, and that experience, remain with me, and have hopefully benefitted me as I returned to my normal environment and responsibilities.

In Muslim circles, it’s a common cliché to say that Hajj really begins once you get home – meaning that Hajj itself is not the main challenge. The main challenge is what becomes your life’s mission after Hajj: to ‘live’ that Hajj by taking forward what you’ve learnt, and being that better person you were inspired to be.

Thank you for allowing me to share this account with you, and I hope that – regardless of your religious persuasion or belief system – you can take some benefit from these words, and that you yourself will have an experience of such magnitude in your life, if you haven’t already.

Image source: http://stevelummer.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/life-cycles/

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