By the mercy of Allah, family members were the most supportive but, there were friends, brothers and sisters in faith, who rallied round in practical support when others had simply disappeared into the shadows. One of those friends I’ve known for many years and I was so heartened to learn that he’d been there, along with his own family, to assist mine in times of great hardship
He’s the kind of person who spends in the way of Allah without any broadcast and performs good deeds for the benefit of others without recollection.
There is another friend I have who travels up and down the country with me assisting the work of Cageprisoners, Hhugs and generally anyone who needs help. He’s always there to assist prisoners, former prisoners, their families, orphan projects or just collecting me from the train station in the middle of the night. After many years, I have finally told both these friends that I love them for the sake of Allah, especially because they’re going on a journey and had tried so hard to take me with them.
By the grace of Allah, they’re both going for ‘umrah [lesser pilgrimage] this week, to spend the last blessed nights of Ramadhan making ‘itikaaf [religious seclusion] in the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah and, though I didn’t know it until much later my friend had paid for a ticket for me as a gift so that I could accompany them.
The last time I visited the Haramain [the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah] was during the Hajj in 1997, the year of the great fire when over 1,500 people were killed. I’d not planned to go again after that knowing the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) only ever performed hajj once in his life and, I’d felt uncomfortable at the thought of making numerous repeat journeys for hajj and ‘umrah while so many Muslims countries were suffering occupation, poverty and natural disasters. Thus, from that time until my abduction by US/Pak agents in 2002 I spent my time in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Pakistan and ultimately paid the price for it, for which I have no regrets, only the fear that I did not do enough to assist those in need.
Nonetheless, I was (and still am) in need of spiritual uplifting and mental space for ‘ibaadah [worship], so I concluded that there could be few better places to try to locate laylatul Qadr [the night of power, when the Quran was revealed] and agreed to join my worthy friends. I was actually looking forward to it.
I should probably have not informed others of my intention to do a good deed– ‘umrah, thereby perhaps losing some of the reward but, in the excitement I couldn’t help myself and ended up telling family and friends about it. In turn they all wished me well and expressed healthy jealousy that they were not joining me. I felt particularly guilty telling some of the brothers about my plans as they were either on restrictive control orders, without papers or without means. One of them was Faraj Hassan, whose janaazah [funeral] prayer I attended with thousands of others this week, who also dreamed of visiting the two holy cities. In sha Allah, he is in a place that exudes far more tranquillity and mercy than anything that this temporal world has to offer.
Perhaps it was Allah with HIs name and attribute of al-Haseeb [the Reckoner] reminding me of my previous reluctance to make ‘umrah – and the reason for it or, al-Muhaymin [the Protector] preventing me from falling into a greater harm that I could not envisage, but two days ago I was told by the travel agents that for some unknown reason mine was the only passport returned from the Saudi embassy without a visa. They told me they would reapply but I finally came back down to earth – I’m a terrorism suspect and will remain one for the foreseeable future.
The reply came back as expected, no visa, no explanation, no Makkah or Madinah. Al-hamdu lillahi ‘alaa kulli haal [praise be to Allah in all events]. If Allah wills there may be another time but, this was a sobering reminder for me to remember my priorities - which I thought I’d understood.
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Ramadhan is the month of sabr [patience] and the reward for true patience is Jannah [paradise].” It is also however, as he added, “the month of muwaasa [sympathy with others]”.
At the Friday sermon this week, the Imam recounted a story regarding the great ‘aalim [scholar] and mujaahid [warrior] ‘Abdullah ibn Mubaarak that has stuck with me since I first heard it many years ago and had quoted to a brother just this week knowing how I’d felt about ‘umrah and hajj at the time of calamities. The Imam opined that at the time of calamities, referring to Pakistan in particular, one should abstain from performing supererogatory pilgrimages and use the money instead to help those in need. I found myself agreeing with him entirely and yet my ticket to travel had been booked and paid for. It was as if the message had been intended directly for me:
‘Abdullah Ibn Mubaarak had set off one year from Kufa in Iraq with the intention of performing the hajj. En route to Makkah he encountered a girl sitting on a rubbish-heap plucking a dead bird. Ibn Mubaarak stopped on his mule and asked the girl, “Is this duck dead [carrion] or sacrificed?” She replied, “Carrion.” He asked again, “Then why are you plucking it?” She answered, “So that my family and I can eat it.”
Witnessing the abject poverty of this family he decided to give all the money and provisions he had for the pilgrimage, except for the little required to return home, to those more in need of his wealth than he was of performing hajj. ‘Abdullah ibn Mubaarak did not continue his journey to Makkah but returned home and remained hidden from the people until the hajj period was over. When he came out people greeted him believing he had also returned from the pilgrimage. In a dream, however, he saw that his hajj had been accepted.
For me this story has resonated yet again and this latest experience has made me question myself, not in relation to visiting the Two Holy Places but, how so easily we forget about those in distress, as long as it does not upset our own schedule. If this is how ‘Abdullah ibn Mubaarak, unanimously one of the greatest scholars Islam has ever produced, compared people’s hardships against hajj then what would he have said, or done, with regards to ‘umrah?
The Prophet (pbuh) told us: “The blood of the believer is more precious than the ka'abah.” If we, myself included, truly believed this would we be flocking to make hajj and ‘umrah in our millions while the blood of innocents flows like sewage water in neighbouring countries, while their prisons brim with men and women facing humiliation, torture and execution without charge, trial or evidence? Something worth reflecting upon before any of us decides where to go next.
We are entering the most precious third of Ramadhan: the month of nasr [victory], rahmah [mercy], maghfirah [forgiveness], muwaasa [sympathy] and sabr [patience]. I ask Allah that he makes us deserving of it all.