Rabbee Zidnee

"And convey to my servants that surely I am the Ghafoor (the Forgiving) and the Raheem (the Merciful)". -- Suratul Hijr, Verse 49

Sunday, October 07, 2012

15 spiritual and practical tips for those intending to perform the Hajj

  1. Purify your intention. Having sincerity of intention (ikhlaas) is very important. The pilgrimage should be 100% for the pleasure of Allah - not so that others can address you a special title of haaji / haajah or that in some gathering you will be spoken about or that someone will reprimand you for not going even when you could have gone.  
  2. In order to prepare, it's important to cleanse yourself of the trace of any sins which may otherwise weigh you down and prevent you from taking benefit from the experience. Write down any rights of Allah and rights of people that may have been violated. If possible, address these rights before you go. For example, ask those you've definitely or even likely wronged for forgiveness, and restoring misappropriated wealth and property. If you don't have time to do so, at least write these things down so you can address them when you return. Your father, mother, spouse [if applicable] and friends should not be unhappy with you (especially the first three).
  3. Carefully calculate any outstanding khums that may be due and pay this off before going, or else it can cause problems in the a'maal of hajj. For example it can cause one's ihraam to be nullified.
  4. Before departure perform tawbah for all of the past sins. This can be done by performing a ghusl of tawbah [see the instructions on how to do this under the a'maal of the month of Dhu'l Qa'adah - there it specifies it should be done on a Sunday in the month of Dhu'l Qa'adah, but for this purpose it can be done at any time]. Also give one sadqah for past mistakes and one for the special assistance of Allah in the upcoming trip. This second sadqah is to help prevent any obstacles along the way, and so that you can come to understand the a'maal and perform them well. If you don't find someone to give the sadqah to you can even put it aside until you find someone needy. During the trip, regularly set aside some sadqah and either give it to the needy along the way or collect it until you find someone needy.
  5. During the journey be thinking about the special spiritual station of the Prophet (s), Sayyida Fatima (a) and the four Imams of Baqee`. Think of them and how they have a reality which goes beyond just their physical body. Their reality is one of divine light (noor) and they have a special station in this regard. This may be something new for you but you can ponder upon whatever you understand of them and their role in this universe, and how they are very much alive despite having passed away and how they have their attention upon you. The shaytan will perhaps distract you from remembering them but try not to be distracted.
  6. During the trip, tolerate the difficulties you will face from your traveling companions or from other sources, such as delayed flights or hot weather. Don't react to any provocation. For example in tawaf people will press against you and will try to go fast. They will push you back and they might step on you. Usually be trampled like that causes someone to get angry. Instead, bear it gracefully. In fact, if such difficulties happen to you not only is it not a cause to be unhappy, but rather it's a cause to be happy. Embrace difficulties that arise with all of your heart and soul and look forward to them with anticipation. The reason is that you are the guest of One whose special attention to you is worth more than all of this. For example if you are at someone's home and you get injured in his home, as a means of apology your host will be apologetic and give you even more intention. Usually those who present difficulties don't intend to do so. Even if they do, we should forgive them and pray for them, and in return will be given something even higher. It might even the source of our hajj being accepted.
  7. We should not trouble others during the trip but rather check ourselves before any troubling happens. We should control our language, and speak softly and gently as perhaps someone next to us might want to rest.
  8. As much as possible, during the trip busy yourself with dhikr. Take advantage of every moment and assume you won't get another chance to go. Don't say things that are empty, trivial, and just to pass the time. [Of course in order to be cordial and create a pleasant atmosphere the occasional humorous comment can be appropriate.] It is mustahab to recite Qur'an. If you are going to be in Madinah for a lengthy amount of time, and you are able to read Qur'an at a good pace, try to recite the entire Qur'an in Madinah. Even when doing tawaf, if it's not too crowded you can recite Qur'an. In general, busy yourself with worship and reflection as opposed to just looking at people and at the physical features of the mosque. Remember that this is the place where the Prophet (s) used to walk around, where he used to stand and sit. This is the place that used to be filled with idols but the Prophet (s) caused them to all be destroyed. Such reflection will yield rewards. Let it be a journey with reflection and perform your worship with reflection. When in masjid al-haram, try to do as much tawaf as possible (as long as it's not too crowded). If you can't do tawaaf or don't feel like it, do salaat, and if you can't do salaat then just look at the Ka'abah. We're told in hadith that in that area there are 120 mercies: 60 for those who tawaf, 40 for those who engage in prayer and 20 for looking at the ka'abah.
  9. From the onset, make the intention that whatever reward you receive, all those who have a right on you should share in this reward - your father, mother, teacher, etc. This doesn't mean that there won't be any reward left for you. Rather, for however many people you include in the niyyah, all will partake, and you will even be given more than you would have before.
  10. When in the haram of Prophet (s), if time allows, recite a two rak'ah salat al-hadiyyah (prayer of gifting) for each of the Prophet (s), Sayyida Fatima, and the 4 Imams who are buried in Jannat al-Baqee` (total of 6 such prayers). These should be recited in a place where you find peace of heart and as close as possible to the actual graves. After reciting the prayer normally as you would any two rak'at prayer, gift the thawaab of the prayer to the ma'soom and tell him/her: Along with this gift I am depositing my faith (imaan) with you as well. At the time of death i will request this back from you. The faith that they will give us at the time of our death is such that even the Shaytan won't be able to steal it away. The condition of course is that we fulfill our pledge to the ma'soom (a) and not do things that make the ma'soom unhappy such as cutting off relationships with believers and sinning.
  11. Pray for all Muslims and the removal of their difficulties (such as loans, marriage, etc.) and especially all those who asked for duaa. The more such duaa for others the better.
  12. We should be careful not to overeat during the trip. Sometimes the Shaytan incites people to eat more and makes them think that well, since we're paying for the food they're giving we should take more. Such overeating will prevent us from obtaining a haal (special spiritual state) in the haram. We shoud eat enough to take care of our hunger but eat less than the point where we are full so we can spend more time in the haram and experience better spiritual states.
  13. You might see friends in the haram who are not part of your group and they might want to spend a long while chatting about their experiences thus far. In such circumstances, try to cut the conversation short by exchanging a few pleasantries and tell them you have something to attend to. This is of course is not a lie as you can intend to attend to yourself. There is plenty of time after the hajj when you return back home to connect with such people. This however is a special time which is to be made the most out of.
  14. Before performing the rites of hajj, listen carefully to the scholar who is leading your caravan especially if he someone who has been for hajj previously. Try to take the manasik hajj law book of your marja' with you. In any area you have any doubts be sure to have them clarified according to your marja's rulings. The a'amaal of hajj are difficult to perform correctly.
  15. Be helpful to others on the trip. For example help those who lack strength with their bags if the opportunity arises. The stoning of the shaytaan is a place where you can often be helpful to others. 

Source: A teacher of ethics and spirituality of the Hawzah in the Holy City of Qum, Fall 2012


Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Shaykh Who didn't Forget

One of the pitfalls of knowledge that is acquired is that it can be forgotten. The Ahlul Bayt (a) were aware of this and guided us with a number of strategies on how we can avoid this pitfall. One of these strategies is to act upon what you know, which leads to the knowledge we learn becoming entrenched within our being.

The late Ayatullah Behjat (qs) was heard narrating the following story about the legendary Shaykh Ansari (may Allah sanctify his soul) a number of times. When the Shaykh was nearing his departure from this world, his near relatives who were gathered around his bedside began to rotate the bed so that his feet were facing the Qiblah, which is a mustahab act according to Islamic law. They saw however that whenever they tried to do so, he would roll himself away from the Qiblah. When he saw their surprise, he assured them that indeed they were performing their responsibility according to the Law and they should continue to do so. But he knew his responsibility as well and was acting upon it. It turned out that in this late stage of his life, he was affected with a bladder condition, and it is prohibited to relieve oneself when facing the Qiblah.

There are many who in less dire circumstances who would be unwilling to act on what they know or temporarily forget about the responsibility they have to act upon. Yet after a lifetime of learning and acting upon the responsibilities of a slave of Allah (swt), the Shaykh wasn't about to forget what he knew at his death.

Narrated by a teacher of the Hawzah in a weekly dars-e-akhlaq, September 22, 2010

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Why are supplications recited at particular times and places?

Answer: The basic principle of supplicating to Allah (dua) and engaging Him in whispered conversation (munajaat) does not have any time or place restrictions. Any time or place that someone has the necessary spiritual prerequisites is a good time for him/her to communicate his desires with Allah.

However, some times and places are more effective for establishing and strengthening our relationship with Allah. For example the Qur'an tells us the the night of Qadr is better than a thousand months in terms of its excellence for worshipping Allah. Similarly the ka'abah is a special place for communicating with Allah. Such differentiation is not a phenomenon limited solely to the spiritual world. The Qur'an instructs us to observe how date palms, despite drawing nourishment from one source (rain) , differ in that some grow from one root while others grow from diverse roots (in a V-shaped) [Surat al-Ra'ad 13), 4].

There are several reasons for why the Imams have specified certain times and/or locations for the recitation of some supplications:

1. In order to draw importance to reciting that particular dua. When someone knows something has to be recited in a particular time or place he/she is more likely to do it then just leaving it open ended.

2. They are helping us by informing us of the best things to say at these special times and places in order to benefit the most. This is a bit like a shopping list for someone who is walking through a store not knowing what to buy.

3. By specifying a time or place they encourage us to have the mentality and culture of doing dua and to incorporate this culture into our day-to-day routines.

Even though there might be a specific time and/or place specified for some duas, these duas can be recited at any time or place with the intention of "rajaa" (hope) that we should benefit from the reward that was promised to those who recite it at the specified time/place. This is as opposed to reciting the dua as an established action with a promised reward that has been identified by the Ahlul Bayt (a). For example you can make the intention that you are reciting so-and-so dua with the possibility that it is desirable in the eyes of Allah (swt) and that I will be rewarded for it, qurbatan ilallah.

With a request for your duas in this holy month.

Source: Paraphrase of translation of response I received to a question posed to porsojoo.com along with some additional modifications.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Performing Hajj Multiple Times

Question: Someone who has not yet performed the hajj but seeks to please Allah will naturally desire to perform the hajj. But those who have already performed the hajj have the same desire compounded multiple times, as those who have seen the house of Allah and visited the graves of the Prophet and Ahlul Bayt (a) will feel they have left part of themselves behind in the holy land. But there are those who criticize people for performing hajj multiple times. They say that the money should instead be given to charity, or that it should be gifted to others who don't have financial means to peform hajj on their own. Is this criticism valid?

Answer: We have multiple traditions from the Ahlul Bayt (a) that state that the reward for performing hajj is more than the reward for giving money in charity (sadaqah). On the other hand we have other traditions which state that the reward for helping a fellow believer (mu'min) in severe need is more than the reward for performing hajj multiple times. These two sets of traditions can be reconciled by saying that performing hajj multiple times is desirable (mustahab). However, if there is fellow believer in severe need who approaches you and asks you for help, and the only way you can help him/her is by using the money you were planning to use for hajj, you should do so and not go to hajj. Helping someone to perform their wajib hajj does not count as severe need, as hajj is not wajib on someone until they have the financial means to perform hajj (please refer to your marja's risalah for details).

Source: Question posed to a teacher of the hawzah, Shawwal 1427, November 2005

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

To Eat or Not to Eat?

We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve had extra food on our plate yet our appetite has been satisfied. In such a case, should we go ahead and eat the food even though we’re full, or should we leave it and in doing so perhaps it will go to waste (israaf)? I posed this question to a teacher and his answer is paraphrased below.

Answer: First of all, in many cases the choice between wasting food and overeating is not an either-or situation ((مانعة الجمع. Many times we can avoid both of them by following some steps outlined below.

  • Through our life experience we can learn to serve ourselves that which we need in order to reach the point of contentment. Someone who is observant for some time about the amount of food he/she eats will come recognize how much he/she really needs to eat.
  • Sometimes people fear that if they don’t take a lot of food at the first go at a buffet there won’t be enough left over and they will go hungry. This behavior stems from forgetfulness that sustenance (rizq) comes from Allah and not from the buffet. In such a situation someone should for example just take a small portion of all of that is available.
  • Mistakes happen and sometimes we might end up taking too much food. Or we don’t have control over how much we are given. If we have extra food left on our plate after reaching the point of contentment, there is nothing wrong in asking for a container to take the extra food back home.
  • After eating to our full, sometimes the thought may occur to us that we’ve lost an opportunity [hayf = a غنيمت that you don’t make use of] to not have eaten more even though we are content. This happens particularly when the cook has outdone him/herself. We then use this as an excuse to overeat. Being able to recognize this trick of our soul (or the Shaytan) is important.

However, sometimes find ourselves in a situation where we have to choose between not eating extra and protecting ourselves from the spiritual harms of overeating vs. eating and protecting the food from being wasted. In such a situation, clearly the choice to look out for ourselves. If it someone else’s fault for serving us too much to eat, the sin for the wastefulness falls on the server and not the person who is eating. If we made the mistake and took too much to eat, we should seek forgivness of Allah (istighfar) for having taken too much, but we shouldn’t go ahead and eat. We need to choose the lesser of two evils.

What are the spiritual harms of overeating? This warrants a separate discussion, but they include needing to oversleep, and serving as a barrier for the light of Allah to enter the heart.

It’s important to apply this advice in moderation. We shouldn’t be overly rigid about not taking more to eat when the host will feel bad if we don’t eat at all once we reach the point of contentment. In that case we might be trying to perform a mustahab act but in doing so causing so much unhappiness in others that we clearly should take a little more in order to please the opposite party. In general we ought to go about all of our actions in a pleasant, soft manner that doesn’t offend others.

Source: Q&A with a teacher of the howza, the holy city of Qum, Iran, July 2006

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sayyida Fatima's (a) Concern over the Journey to the Hereafter

In His Name, the Most High

According to a tradition from Imam al-Sadiq (a), on her deathbed Fatima al-Zahra (a) made the following requests of Imam Ali (a):

(O Ali) you yourself
take charge of performing my ghusl,
conduct my funeral rites,
recite my funeral prayer (salaat al-mayyit),
lower me into my grave,
bury me,
and level the earth over me.

(Then) sit (beside my graveside) at the position of my head, facing my face,
and recite much Qur'an and make much du`a for me,
For indeed it is a time when the one who has died
is in need of familiar company from those who are living.
And I leave my children with you and I urge you to take care of them...

[From Bihar al-Anwar as quoted by Shaykh Abbas Qummi in Bayt al-Ahzan, page 177 - see http://www.shialibrary.info/books/htm1/m025/29/no2927.html]

The deep concern that Sayyida al-Zahra (a) shows for the moments after death despite her lofty status is a lesson for us never to imagine that our deeds alone will be a means for salvation from the difficult times that lie ahead of us as we make our way to the hereafter. Our only hope lies with the special favor of Allah and the intercession of the Ahlul Bayt (a).
My condolences to all the lovers of Sayyid al-Zahra (a) in these difficult days of mourning her martyrdom.

(Inspired from a lecture delivered in the Holy City of Qum during the period of mourning for the martyrdom anniversary of Sayyida Fatima (a), Jumadi al-Thani 1427, June 2006).

Thursday, November 10, 2005

About the Moving Finger

The supplication “يا من ارجوه لكل خير” (ya man arjoohoo li kulli khayr) is commonly recited after prayers during the holy month of Rajab and consists of a first portion that begins with yaa man and a second that begins with "يا ذا الجلال و الإكرام" (yaa dhal jalaali wal ikraam). This supplication was gifted to us by Imam Sadiq (a). While reading out the supplication in order to instruct his companion Muhammad b. Dhakwan Al-Sajjad, the Imam also performed some accompanying rites. Here are some common questions that may arise about the rites of this supplication along with answers:

When do I hold my beard and move my index finger during the du'a?

Examine the tradition carefully. The narrator says that the Imam Sadiq (a) extended his left hand and grasped his beard with it. He then recited the first portion of the du'a while moving his index finger in a gesture of humility. Then, after reciting the first portion he continued with the rest of the du'a. This means you should perform the rites of moving your finger and holding your beard at least during the first portion. Since the narrator doesn't say that the Imam (a) stopped moving his finger and holding his beard in the second part, we can assume that he didn't, and therefore you can can continue these rites throughout the second part as well.

How do I move the finger?

Position your right hand as if you were to shake hands with someone. Then curl your fingers slightly, and move just the index finger back and forth but keep the rest of your hand still. Swinging your arm around left and right doesn’t fit with what the tradition says.

What if I don't have a beard?

Well, if there is a bearded man next to you, you can always grab his beard :). But in case that is not an option :), and you are a woman or you do not have a beard, you can recite the du'a with the niyyat of rajaa' (hope that it will still be accepted) and either keep both hands in the same position you use for qunut, or hold your chin with your left hand and move your right index finger as described above.

What is the wisdom behind the accompanying rites?

Overall the rites are a sign of dhillat - humility, lowliness, and poverty. In previous times, when a poor Arab wanted to attract the attention of a rich Arab, it was not appropriate for him to approach the rich Arab directly. Instead, the beggar would raise his right hand in the air in a begging position (the same way you would raise your right hand for qunut) and move his index finger (as described above) as if he were indicating, "Me, me" or "Pay attention to me!" The beard is a sign of reputation and honor. In order for him to beg of the rich Arab while still upholding his honor and have the rich Arab treat him with some respect, the beggar would hold his beard in his left hand.

It seems that the Imam (a) adopted this particular custom of begging for this supplication, except that there is no indication that he raised his right hand in the air. Also, he (a) teaches us both through the beautiful words of the supplication and through the accompanying rites that the truly rich and independent entity (الغني المطلق - al-ghanee) is none other than Allah (swt) in front of whom we are all in utter need and poverty.

Answers provided by a teacher of the Howza in the holy city of Qum in the proximity of Sayyidah Fatima al-Ma'asumah, daughter of Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a), November 2005.