Tawaf and Sa’ii – the Umrah of Hajj Qiraan – Hajj chronicles 2

Dear readers, Assalamu alaikum warahmatullah (peace be with you and the blessing of God),

To continue from the previous post, we reached Makkah after a day’s travel from Madinah. In the time of the prophet (peace be upon him), traveling on foot, this journey would have taken about a week. And what a journey it must have been, to be all together in ‘ihram’ (=sanctified pilgrim state, see previous post for detail) along with the blessed beloved messenger of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him) and making that long walk (it was encouraged, and still is, to walk as much as possible during the Hajj) chanting the talbiya together.

When we arrived in Makkah, we performed the ‘umrah’ (=visitation, the lesser pilgrimage). Performing Umrah can be done at any time of year, but it too like Hajj, requires that one be in ihram. There are three methods to perform Hajj, which I won’t go into now. Suffice to say, one of them is Hajj Qiraan. This is the Hajj the blessed prophet (peace be upon him) performed and the one we chose to do (the other two methods may be considered easier). It is where you perform an umrah as soon as you enter Makkah and then remain in your ihram waiting till the 8th of Dhul Hijjah to begin the rights of the Hajj.

It was the night of the 4th of Dhul Hijja when we entered Makkah. Umrah can be completed in a few hours and so we performed this before the 8th of dhul Hijja with ease. An umrah entails two main rituals and some minor ones. The main ones are that you ‘circumambulate’ (- a terrible English word translators have been fond of using for the right called ‘tawaf’ in Arabic. It means ‘circling’ (!), so I will just say to circle or stick to tawaf) the ‘ka’ba’, the cube shaped structure that is the holiest place for all Muslims. It is a structure built by the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) and venerated for centuries from way before the time of Muhammed (peace be upon him), as a place for pilgrimage, as a ‘house of God’.

Indeed many of the rights of the Hajj are closely linked to the establishment of Makkah as a place of habitation. In the Quran, and in the Bible, the valley of what is present day Makkah, where the ‘ka’ba’ (=literally meaning cube, it is cube shaped…we say the mathematical ratios of the sides have significance in how we understand the Divine. Also, the four corners of the ‘ka’ba’ point to the four directions; north, south, east and west) is, is referred to by the more ancient name ‘Bakkah’

إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنّاسِ لَلَّذي بِبَكَّةَ مُبارَكًا وَهُدًى لِلعالَمينَ
ʾinna ʾawwala baytin wuḍiʿa li-n-nāsi la-lladhī bi-bakkata mubārakan wa-hudan li-l-ʿālamīna
Indeed the first house to be set up for mankind is the one at Bakkah, blessed and a guidance for all nations.
Quran 3:96

The Biblical reference is Psalms 84. , though there is difference of opinion among Biblical scholars as to whether this is present day Makkah or not.

Makkah or Bakkah was a nondescript location in the stark and barren Arabian dessert. Abraham (peace be upon him) was commanded to leave his wife Hagar (=’Hajara’ in Arabic. Arabic, along with Hebrew, are still existent languages that are closely related to the ancient Sumerian or Syriac languages that it is likely Abraham peace be upon him, spoke. Certainly Arabic is closely connected to Aramaic, the language the blessed Isa (Jesus), peace be upon him, may have spoken). I find it interesting that her name is so linguisticaly similar to the word ‘Hajj’. The meaning of ‘Hajara’ is ‘to be independent/not in need of anyone/to avoid others’ (root word used in Quran 73:10), and indeed what an apt description of the strength and courage of our mother Hajara (and indeed of the pilgrim state itself). She is, in my opinon, one of the bravest women of all time, with a faith as giant as that of her husband.

According to Muslim scholarly tradition when Abraham (peace be upon him) left Hajara and her little baby in the dessert and turned to go, Hajara ran after him questioning him as to what he was doing. She is supposed to have asked him several times ‘Ya Ibraheem (=O Abraham), what are you doing, are you leaving us in this barren place…’ (I put this in my own words). Abraham (peace be upon him) did not reply, but walked on. We know that the prophets (peace be upon them) are the best of humanity, chosen to be messengers, due to their strength of character, their moral uprightness and their vast compassion and wisdom

[the Quranic narrative and Muslim scholarly tradition does not allow any blemish of character attributed to a prophet – male or female – many Muslims hold Mariam, the blessed virgin Mary, as a prophet. How can we look up to them, take them as role models or follow them otherwise? In general Muslim tradition holds that prophethood is too heavy a weight to be placed upon female shoulders by a loving God, so they are predominantly male. However the great female leaders in our tradition, are highly revered, and are our role models in every sense of the term. They are our mothers, peace be upon them all. The prophets (peace be upon them all) were the most tested of mankind, all of them without exception were driven out by their people and faced untold persecution. In Muslim tradition all of their endings though are good and every story has a ‘happy ending’. This is what Muslims believe also in respect of the blessed Isa (=Jesus), peace be upon him, and Muslims look forward to his return and then a happy ending. Something most non-Muslims are surprised by]

..So it is impossible Abraham (peace be upon him) would do something so cruel- a complete antithesis to what a loving husband would do, and certainly to the actions expected of a prophet of God. So Hajara (peace be upon her) followed him, asking him this and he did not reply. She finally asked him ‘Ya Ibraheem, is it your Lord that commands you do this?’, at this, Ibraheem (peace be upon him), still did not turn around…but stopped, and nodded his head. (I often think, that had he turned his head and looked at his wife and baby, his resolve would have failed him. Surrounded by the harshness and barrenness of the dessert of Makkah, this feeling was deeply re-enforced).
..When Hajara (peace be upon her) realized this, then she said ‘Go, Abraham, our Lord will not forsake us’. Her strength and faith still takes my breath away!
..He left. In sometime, her baby, also destined to be a prophet, Ismael (=Ishma’el) began to cry. She must have run out of milk by this time. A desperate mother…she ran seven times between two hillocks called Safa and Marwa located about 400m apart, scanning the horizon for anyone and shouting for help. Her struggle is forever honored by God, as a central right of the Hajj. It is also a central right of the Umrah. On the seventh trip, she comes back to where she had placed her dying baby and finds by him water was spouting from the ground. She shouted ‘zam zam’ (=’stop,stop/hold it, hold it’, basically not wanting the water to run off into the dessert sand) and quickly fashioned earth around the spout to collect the water. The water saves her baby and herself. Soon after a passing trade caravan stops by. And now, where there is water in the dessert, people settle, and soon the town/city of Makkah is born.

That water is still there, it is called ‘zamzam water‘, it tastes very different as it has a unique mineral composition. It is a small well that has been supplying water to all of Makkah for centuries. Muslims believe this is a miracle. The water is found everywhere in Makkah, not just in the grand mosque, it is supplied to all the hotels for pilgrims to drink and also trucked to the Masjid Nabawi in Madinah. Muslims know the healing properties of ‘zamzam water’ well, and it is a prized drink among us. There is a Zamzam studies and research center, part of the Saudi Geological Society, worth checking out. It is interesting that the Bible contains a story that has several similarities with the Muslim tradition (Genesis 16:3), though there are several differences as well.

Here is a picture of the old well, that is now in a Musuem. Nowadays, the entrance is not open to the public – due to fears of overcrowding perhaps.


According to Muslim traditin, Abraham returned often to visit this branch of his family, now settled and living in Makkah. On one of those visits, he (peace be upon him), along with Ishma’el (peace be upon him), built the ka’aba. And during another visit he (peace be upon him) was ordered to sacrifice his son. Muslim scholars differ as to whether the son was Ishma’el or Is-haaq (=Isaac), peace upon them both. The stronger opinion is that it is Is-haaq actually, though most Muslims don’t know this. More about this story later – it is a central part of the Hajj, but not the Umrah.

To get back to the chronicles, the Umrah consists of two main rights – the tawaf(=circling) and the Sa’i’ (=struggle). These are done consecutively and one symbolizes one has completed them by cutting a lock of one’s hair after which one can ‘exit the ihram‘. As we were doing the Umrah as part of Hajj Qiraan, we remained in Ihram after the Umrah.

The tawaf is performed as seven circles, and during each one the pilgrim goes around the ka’ba anti-clockwise. This motion (you’ll see it on TV if you’ve watched anything to do with the Haram – the grand mosque in Makkah), we say mirrors the motion of the planets around the sun (planets orbit anti-clockwise). And there are other meanings and intentions. More about this in other posts inshaallah (=God willing).

After the tawaf, the next major rite of the umrah is the ‘Sa’ii’ (=literally ‘hardship’ or struggle). The Sa’ii is our going in the footsteps of our mother Hajara, when she made that desperate search for water. We walk in her footsteps, between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa. Each time, when we ascend a hillock we too pause and pray for help. Safa and Marwa used to be outside the mosque in the time of the prophet (peace be upon him), now the grand mosque is so large it has absorbed what used to be the city of Makkah in the time of the prophet (peace be upon him), and therefor both Safa and Marwa are now within the mosque complex.

As in the Tawaf, several prayers are made during this walk, and there are spiritual meanings and intentions too much to go into here. But the Sa’i is a very special rite for one reason – it symbolizes the desperate search of a mother for help for her dying child. It is the epitome of the love, faith and courage of a woman and celebration of motherhood.

There is a section of the Sa’ii, where it is required that men run. This is required of men, but not of women pilgrims. This is the way the blessed beloved, Muhammed (peace be upon him) taught us. When we were beginning the Sa’ii our group leader told us that our mother Hajara had run for all of womankind so women were excused, but now the men must run! I loved that, and truly it was very emotional to witness men from all countries of the world, all walks of life, all ages…yes even the very old.. running in the footsteps of our beloved mother Hajara.

The Sa’ii is not too easy to do, even now, with all the air-conditioning and the smooth marble. What then, when it was done in the open, under the dessert sun. Up until about 60 years ago, it was still like that – one performed in the open and could climb the hillock of Safa and Marwa. Now, one can climb Marwa but Safa is enclosed behind glass. It is nevertheless powerful to be there, knowing Hajara was here, and so many who have honored her search, by running in her footsteps, over the centuries. Indeed, including the blessed beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him).

Safa and Marwa have been honored by mention by name in the Quran, where Allah subhahana ta’aala (=exalted and high), calls them from among the ‘signs’ of Allah. That is a great honor indeed, and should not be taken lightly. We recite these verses whenever we are on the hillocks, while doing the Sa’ii.

إِنَّ الصَّفَا وَالْمَرْوَةَ مِن شَعَآئِرِ اللّهِ فَمَنْ حَجَّ الْبَيْتَ أَوِ اعْتَمَرَ فَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِ أَن يَطَّوَّفَ بِهِمَا وَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَإِنَّ اللّهَ شَاكِرٌ عَلِيمٌ (2:158)

Transliteration – Inna alssafa waalmarwata min shaAAairi Allahi faman hajja albayta awi iAAtamara fala junaha AAalayhi an yattawwafa bihimawaman tatawwaAAa khayran fainna Allaha shakirun AAaleemun

Translation – [Hence,] behold, As-Safa and Al-Marwah are among the symbols/monuments set up by God; and thus, no wrong does he who, having come to the Temple on pilgrimage  (i.e., Hajj) or on a pious visit (i.e., Umrah), strides to and fro between these two: for, if one does more good than he is bound to do-behold, God is responsive to gratitude, all-knowing.

Quran 2:158

Below are pictures, and also a documentary of the Hajj of a beloved scholar of Islam in the Western tradition – Dr. Martin Lings (Allah irhamhu, God have mercy on his soul). An Englishman who wrote a masterful biography of the blessed beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him), an authority on Shakespeare, and a Muslim spiritual luminary. If you watch this, you will see the purity of his soul shine through in the way he speaks. He made the Hajj in 1948 and again in the seventies. It is very impressive to hear his experiences.

In 1948 the hillocks of Safa and Marwa were as they had been for centuries, and he is one of the very few native English speakers who must have made the Hajj when the Sa’ii could still be done that way. He says of the transformation ‘I find it very hard to forgive the Saudi’s ‘… for how they have covered up half the hillocks and marbled/built over the sand track between them. How I wish it had not been done so. But as Dr. Lings says at the end of this documentary, “the baraka is unchanged”.

‘Baraka’ is another Arabic word hard to translate – roughly it means ‘blessing’. Indeed the immense spiritual gifts that come of being there, of walking in those footsteps and being a pilgrim, that has not changed. Indeed, the closeness to the Divine and to the giant spiritual role models, fathers and mothers of humankind, that has not changed.



The rock behind the glass is the hillock, ‘Safa’ at which end we begin the ‘Sa’ii’. It is very jagged rock. A prayer is made here. If you can see behind all the construction scaffolding, there is the ka’aba..the top of the black cube with the gold writing is seen.


A better image showing Safa. The caligraphy on the ceiling includes the ayat from the Quran (2:158) given in the blog


Making the ‘Sa’ii’. A still picture doesn’t capture the feel of the place, the energy, the motion and the many groups making ‘dhikr’ out aloud. It is a beautiful experience


This is also taken close to Safa, you can see the ‘ka’ba’ more clearly in the background here… in the old days, it must have been clearly visible when doing the Sa’ii. The black lines on the floor, are the lines for prayer -that orient us to the ka’aba. Makkah is a place where the direction to prayer changes every 10 yards! – the only place on earth like this. Muslims face the ka’aba during prayer, wherever we are on the earth.



Standing on Marwa and praying..or contemplating. It is a place when one sits down, it is hard to stand up…hard to leave. Time stands still.

And the documentary, I hope you can watch it…beautiful footage of the Sa’ii in 1948, and going by boat to do Hajj.

Ihram – Hajj chronicles 1

Dear readers, Assalamu alaikum warahmatullah (peace be with you and God’s blessing)

Alhamdulillah (=thanks and praise to God), I am safely returned to Vancouver after successfully having performed all the rituals of Hajj. I pray my Hajj is accepted and that of all the hujjaj (=pilgrims). I pray also that all who lost their lives in the tragic accidents and events of this Hajj are elevated by it to ‘shuhada’ (=literally those who witness, often translated as martyrs, meaning those who are elevated to a very close state in/with the Divine presence, certainly their place in heaven assured), and I pray for strength, forbearance and fortitude for their families and friends.

Though none in our group was affected, we had a tent-mate from a different group who lost a relative that day…so the tragedy was brought close. Also close due to proximity and the near misses we ourselves had. But I will leave talking about this for later…the Hajj is such a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with so much it teaches, so much you learn about yourself and about people, about humanity and human nature, about the Divine presence and about life, that it is hard to find any words to synthesize one’s thoughts and emotions accurately. Therefore I thought to try to write a series of shorter articles, that each focus on a ritual or aspect of the Hajj and this way try to communicate some of what this journey is about, to my dear readers.

I will begin with the ‘Ihram’ (=pilgrim state, meaning both the dress and the demeanour a pilgrim must enter into in order to perform the Hajj. the word comes from the root word – ‘harama’, which carries the meaning of sanctuary. The grand mosque in Makkah is called the ‘haram’ meaning sanctuary, and in the way of life that is Islam, all things forbidden to a practitioner are called ‘haraam’ which though often translated to mean ‘forbidden’ actually means something more akin to ‘protection’). Ihram for men is that they wear two white untailored pieces of cloth and nothing else. Ihram for women is that they wear clothes that cover their ‘awrah’ (all except the face and hands, interestingly in the Hajj, women who wear a face-veil are required to remove it), and that it be un-figure revealing and in sombre shades, preferably white. Ihram for both includes, that hair and nails cannot be cut in that state, no perfume or any sort can be used, and that any act of intimacy is disallowed. Finally once in the Ihram state, one is not allowed to harm anything – one cannot pluck a leaf from a tree, nor step on an insect, and therefore of course, one is not allowed to harm another human being in any way or form – no pushing, shoving, no yelling, loosing one’s temper etc. One is also encouraged not to talk about worldly things…so the pilgrim focuses their thoughts and speech on being in dhikr (=remembrance, remembering God, being conscious of the Divine presence at all times), reciting Quran, contemplation, sending blessings upon the blessed beloved messenger of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him) while in Ihram.

The dress, the state one enters, the sacred places one is in, and unchanged rituals practiced since the time the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) instituted the Hajj, and the fact that one is doing this in unison with millions of other human beings from all around the world and all walks of life, combine to make it a powerful state where one is helped abundantly to go ‘into ihram’. Others who have made the Hajj told me you forget everything else but where you are, what you are doing, and who you are going to, i.e., the final return to the Divine. I didn’t understand it, until I was in it. And it is true, no matter what is going on around one, you do forget everything else. Family, home, the work you left behind, all fade away and you feel a strong connection to humanity – a connection running through thousands of years, all the way to father Abraham (peace be upon him). You feel his greatness, his purity of worship of the One God, and the tremendousness of his faith. You are both crushed by it and elevated by it. You feel the strongest sense of gratitude to Abraham (in Arabic, ‘Ibraheem’, peace be upon him) and an immense sense of strength and guidance coming from him, through our beloved Muhammed (his heir and the final messenger, peace and blessing of God be upon him), and you feel that all of life has fallen into place. You feel the strongest connection to God, you feel the fragile nature of your own life, and the immensity of the Divine presence, and yet at the same time, you catch a glimpse of the greatness it is to be human and you are grateful and humbled by that.

Once in the ihram state, the pilgrims also constantly chant aloud ‘the talbiya’ – it too a chant that has not changed even by a syllable since the time of Muhammed (peace be upon him) who taught it to us. I don’t know if it was sung before then. It goes like this;

“labbayk, Allahumma labbayk

labbayka, la sharikalaka labbayk

inna al-hamda, wa al-ni’amtha,

laka wa al-Mulk. lasharikalak”

= ‘Here I am O God, here I am (answering your call)

Here I am, No partner do you have, Here I am

Verily, all praise belongs to You, verily, all good comes from You

And Your’s is the Dominion/Creation/Sovereignity/Ownership of all. No partner do You have’

We chant this non-stop through all the days and nights we are in Ihram, wherever we are. It is a very moving experience, when the chant begins, first in the plane, as all pilgrims chant it aloud once we pass over the ‘miqaat’ (=literally rondezvous point, it is the place where once you cross it, now you are in the pilgrim state), and then in the bus as we travel from one point to the other, then as we are walking, sometimes all of us seated in our tent, or you hear refrains from people sitting in solitary contemplation or walking alone. So I heard this call, and made it, from the bottom of my heart all those days I was in Ihram (about 8 or 9 totally) and I miss that state very much.

There are five ‘miqaat’ that Muhammed (peace be upon him) set out for us. kaartje miqaat

They mark the points where pilgrims from all around the world are allowed to enter ‘Ihram. And they are positioned around the holy sights where the Hajj take place. When we first flew into the port city of Jeddah, (from where we took a bus to Makkah), our plane flew over the miqaat of ‘Yalamlam’ to the South of Makkah. The pilot makes an announcement that we are so many minutes away from the miqat, and once over it, we all make the intention out aloud that ‘O God, here I am to do the Hajj for You’ and then we have entered the state of ihram. We begin the talbiya then. It is awesome when the whole plane erupts into chanting talbiya! So we have done all the physical acts of Ihram (wearing the special clothes etc) before we board the plane, and we then ‘enter the state of ihram’ when we make this intention. Now, until we complete all the rights of Hajj, we are not allowed to remove the ihram.

In the way we did the Hajj, we entered into Ihram twice, first to perform the lesser pilgrimage, called ‘umrah’ and then on the 4th of dhul Hijja (Islamic 12th month of the year, Hajj takes place from 8th to 13th of dhul Hijja) to perform the Hajj. We entered into Ihram on the 4th of dhul Hijja from the miqaat north of Makkah, called Dhul Hulaifa. It is very close to the city of Madinah, where Muhammed (peace be upon him) spent the latter portion of his life. It is from this miqat that Muhammed (peace be upon him) entered his ihram when he performed his Hajj. So we were blessed to follow in his footsteps.

Dhul Hulaifa is about 450 km north of Makkah, and so the blessed prophet and his companions (God be pleased with them all) would have been in ihram a long time, as they went on foot from Madinah to Makkah. We traced the route, but traveling by bus. Nevertheless it was a beautiful feeling, to go along that same road. I was blessed to take the recommended shower before wearing the ihram, and then offer two units of voluntary ‘salat’ in the mosque of the prophet (peace be upon him), where he is now buried, in the city of Madinah, and then to go from their to Dhul Hulaifa where I ‘entered the state’ of Ihram. From this point onwards my Hajj had begun.

I will leave you with some pictures, inshaAllah more to follow in the days to come. It is now exactly two weeks since we left the tent city of Mina. Hard to believe, but glad I can finally begin to update this blog. Alhamdulillah!

One of the entrances to the prophet's mosque in Madinah, 'Masjid al-Nabawi'. The second holiest place for Muslims, after Makkah. No photographs are allowed inside. It is the most beautiful, serene, peaceful mosque I have ever been in. The feeling of 'rahma' (=love, mercy, compassion, kindness) there is palpable.

One of the entrances to the prophet’s mosque in Madinah, ‘Masjid al-Nabawi’. The second holiest place for Muslims, after Makkah. No photographs are allowed inside. It is the most beautiful, serene, peaceful mosque I have ever been in. The feeling of ‘rahma’ (=love, mercy, compassion, kindness) there is palpable.

The courtyard of Masjid Al-Nabawi, bustling just after a salat. The awnings unfold and retract as per the weather.. it is very beautiful to be under those large white canvas canopies, like you are in a cool date plantations with the palm trees shading you from the sun

The courtyard of Masjid Al-Nabawi, bustling just after a salat. The awnings unfold and retract as per the weather.. it is very beautiful to be under those large white canvas canopies, like you are in a cool date plantations with the palm trees shading you from the sun


The courtyard of the prophet’s mosque in Madina, ‘masjid al-Nabawi’, before dawn on the day we left on the Hajj

Just after dawn, I have changed into my Ihram and ready to go.

Just after dawn, I have changed into my Ihram and ready to go.

The mosque in Dhul Khulaifa, where we made the intention and entered the pilgrim state

The mosque in Dhul Khulaifa, where we made the intention and entered the pilgrim state

Finally, here is a rendition of the talbiya I love, from an artist who is close to my heart – Dawud Wharnsby, a Canadian folk singer, very gifted. He captures the ‘feel’ of the talbiya in a very beautiful way. The way the talbiya is chanted at the start is how it is done during the Hajj. The group leader will begin, and we follow.


My dearest sisters and brothers,

Alhamdulillah I have some of the best news a Muslim is ever blessed to share – yours truly has been invited to make the Hajj. Alhamdulillah! This great news has kept me very busy, as you can imagine, there are several preparations and arrangements to make. My Muslims sisters and brothers will know what this means. For my dear non-Muslim readers, I wish I had time to write more about it. But I leave in the morning and at least I want to gather a few links here before I leave.

So here are a few choice links for both my Muslim and non-Muslim readers. For the former, a beautiful expounding on the internal and external dimensions of this great obligation the One who made us has placed upon us, by a dear teacher, and a well-known guide of this day and age – Sheikh Mokhtar Maghroui (his physics PhD background often comes out in his talks, and I particularly love that :))

And for my non-Muslim readers, a few selected documentaries made by reputable sources. They are not Muslim sources, so the material, though watered down, is God willing easier to understand. And as a scientist – I prefer to share for my non-Muslim readers, from non-Muslim sources – to eliminate ‘ascertainment bias’ as we say. Forgive me if this often means deeper meanings are not communicated. But this post gathers from all sources, so you are free to chose what to enjoy!

Sh. Mokhtar on inner and outer dimensions of Hajj. As a personal preference, I think the inner takes precedence over the outer (think about the Meccan period coming before the Medinan period in the lifetime of our beloved, sallalaahu alaihi wasallam…), though both are important. I will therefore link the inner dimensions first and then outer dimensions as good ‘adab’ (=etiquette). I am sorry I can’t translate the beautiful and exalted du’a (=supplications/prayers) Sh. Mokhtar starts and ends with. He does often translate the Arabic words he uses in-between.

And a series of lesser-known tastefully made documentaries on the Hajj

Finally my dear readers, I ask that you pray for me for an accepted Hajj (from my Muslim readers) and that you forgive me if there have been any errors on this blog in what I’ve written or communicated. May God accept from me and guide me!

Peace be with you all

Ramadan Mubarak!

Assalamu alaikum dear readers, peace be with you,

I haven’t been able to blog at all since this beautiful and precious month began. And now we are in day 18 already! Trying very hard to hang on to this amazing time…but it goes so quickly. We say about Ramadan, ‘The days are glorious and the nights are magnificent’!

So for my Muslim readers – let’s make the most of the last ten days which we will soon enter. The honored guest now with us, needs to be treated with the most reverence and love we can show her before she departs our company, inshaAllah (God willing) to return to us next year. I blogged this last year about the special significance of the last ten days, sharing the link again. It’s called ‘looking for laylathul Qadr’

And two more old posts on laylatul Qadr…they bring back nice memories. On this one, yes this year too, my same jasmine plants that gave me nary a bud the whole year burst into bloom with the arrival of Ramadan. And then this magnificent du’a for these special nights (for my non-Muslim readers, du’a is usually what people understand to mean by ‘prayer’…it is a sincerely spoken supplication to God)

I saw this nice clip on CTV news and since it is so rare that the media reports any nice thing about Muslims (I am seriously considering a page just to capture news items that don’t paint Muslims as terrorists or what not – For example, I am not sure how much people know that a mosque group raised 5000$ in one day to help a Catholic church that had been vandalized, or that Nigerian Muslims last christmas linked hands and stood in front of church on christmas eve to prevent any ‘Boko haram’ types attacking the congregation insde, or about the crazy person who was arrested a few weeks ago in a US airport for carrying a machete in his bag – only after he killed a security guard (God rest the soul of this security guard and help his family) – he was not Muslim, imagine the news coverage if he was!!, and I can go on. But I will stop now, it is Ramadan), here it is.

To end as they say in Indonesia –
” it is as if one’s life is a series of Ramadans, with only a moment passing between them”

How strange it is, that with no food and no water, I feel more alive than when I am satiated. As our spiritual masters teach us, it is because now the stomach is shrunken and the heart has room to breathe! The heart is alive and so you feel more alive than at other times. Thanks and praise to God for giving us Ramadan.

Here is the clip. Unfortunately I can’t embed it. Please click here

Many flavours of Qasida Burdah

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you) dear readers,

We are almost at the end of Sha’ban and Ramadan almost any day now! (O Allah give us life to meet Ramadan!!) -surely the excitement, anticipation and preparation grows every hour. But still a few days left where the focus is also on sending salawat upon the prophet (peace be upon him), so as promised here is continuing the clips of the many flavours of the Burdah, as a way to introduce the diversity of the musical tradition in Islam. Please see last post for introduction to the Burdah


A recent version of a classical/traditional style of singing it using only voice. The burdah starts at about sec 24 mark…it’s only a small part of it of course. I love the collage of images in the video, and a translation of the lyrics is given in English.


This given in a Yemeni style, it opens with a famous verse in the Quran, where God commands the believers to send prayers upon His chosen messenger (peace be upon him). Quran 33:56-



Inna Allaha wamalaikatahu yusalloonaAAala annabiyyi ya ayyuha allatheenaamanoo salloo AAalayhi wasallimoo tasleema

English interpretation by Shakir – Surely Allah and His angels bless the Prophet; O you who believe! call for (Divine) blessings on him and salute him with a (becoming) salutation.
This a traditional way it is sung in India and Pakistan. Part of it is sung in Urdu, being the translation of the Arabic into Urdu


This by the famous ‘Fez singers’ – a traditional group of singers in Morocco, who have been singing in this style for centuries…the style is handed down father to son and so on. This is the version I listen to the most :)


Something more colourful, a recent version by Pakistani artist, Maya Khan…very soothing to hear it from a female voice. She intersperses prayers in Urdu as well.


This is a version in Arabic, English and Turkish sung by a Turkish choir – it is actually a rendition by the well known nasheed artist Mahar Zain


And a very popular video in the Muslim world, by Turkish artist Mesut Kurtis. He too is singing a part of the Burdah. The video depicts a scene from the past – seafaring traders… a scene that must have been quite common in the Muslim world a few centuries ago.


There are more, but that will give you a taste to its popularity. To end, a long version with a video showing clips from an old movie of the life of the blessed beloved, peace be upon him. I am not sure which film it is, but it may be ‘The Message’ (?). As per Muslim rules, the prophet (peace be upon him) and his close family members are not shown on screen in person. Where he is, is always inferred by the scene.


“Maula ya salli wasallim da’iman a’badan, ala habeebika khairi khalki kulli himi” (=O God send your blessings and peace forever and ceaselessly, upon your beloved the best of creation that ever was)

The month of Sha’ban and Qasida Burdah

Assalamu alaikum, peace be upon you my dear readers,

With the new moon reported last week, we have entered the month of Sha’ban, the 8th month in the Islamic calendar and the month preceeding the month of months- Ramadan, whose arrival all Muslims around the world are counting the days to eagerly. We make the du’a (=supplication, a prayer) “O Allah grant us to meet Ramadan” (meaning ‘prolong our life so we can meet Ramadan’) since roughly about the 3rd month of the year, i.e., during the six months before Ramadan. The rest of the year, i.e., the six months following Ramadan, we make the du’a “O Allah accept all our worship during Ramadan (our fasting and special salat=prayers, charity and hosting family and friends and so on). This was the habit of the prophet Muhammed (peace and blessing of God be upon him) and of his companions (God be pleased with them all) and so we follow his example in this as we try to in every other aspect of our lives. So you can imagine now that Ramadan is almost around the corner, the frequency with which Muslims make this prayer increases exponentially :)

The month of Sha’ban is sandwiched between Ramadan and Rajab, which is the month we just exited. Rajab is considered one of the four sacred months. These four months were a  time when warring was forbidden in the Arabian peninsula since before the time of the prophet (peace and blessing of God be upon him) and Islam upheld that tradition. The other three months are the 11th, 12th and 1st months of the year, traditionally the time when the pilgrims for the Hajj pilgrimage would be traveling to Mecca, perform the pilgrimage (which happens in the 12th month) and return. You can imagine, had tribal war been allowed during that time, the pilgrimage would not happen – hence the importance of them being ‘sacred’. Rajab stands alone and therefore is given a great deal of importance.

Ramadan is actually not one of the four ‘sacred’ months. It is however one of the holiest of the year, and unlike the other four, whose sacredness predates the time of the beloved messenger (peace be upon him), its status as the month of fasting was instituted by the messenger (peace be upon him). It is the month in which the Quran was first revealed. More on Ramadan in the coming weeks inshaAllah (God willing). There is so much information available online on Ramadan, I am not sure I need to write a post. Here is a good link gathering a lot of information in one place (I haven’t read all the information there, but the site is generally reliable).

It is said that Rajab is the month of God, Sha’ban the month of the messenger of God (peace be upon him) and Ramadan the month of his community! Rajab is generally a time Muslims spend a lot of time in reflection and ‘returning’ to God, then in the month of Sha’ban there is an emphasis on sending prayers upon Muhammed. We call this salawat and I gathered some types of salawat in this post. Of course ‘salawat’ can be done without any music, and done alone as many of us do.

In that post, I introduced some forms of salawat. Here I want to introduce a ‘salawat’ so famous in the Muslim world, I doubt there are many Muslims who have not heard it. They may not know what they heard (such is the sad state of Muslims divorce from their tradition and heritage – due to a large part to a catastrophic period of colonial subjugation – but I am digressing), but they would have heard it! It has been rendered into every musical form contained in the vastly diverse Muslim world, sung in so many different languages in so many corners of the world. It is the famous ‘Qasida Burdah’

Qasida (=elegiac/laudatory poem) Burdah, or ‘The poem of the cloak’ was written by a great scholar – Imam Buseeri (raheemahullah alai = God have mercy upon him), who lived in Egypt in the 13th century CE which would be 6th century AH (=After Hijri). The real name of the publication is “Al-Kawakib Al-Durriyya Fi Madh Khayr Al-Bariyya” (=The Brilliant Stars in Praising the Best of Mankind), but the poem has come to be most known as simply ‘Al-Burdah’ (=the cloak) or the ‘Qasida Burdah’. I could go on a long time about both Imam Busiri and Qasida Burdah, but I will limit myself to telling you about why the poem’s popular name is what it is. It is said Imam Busiri suffered a grave illness and was paralyzed for a long time. No doctors could cure him. He wrote this poem as way of praying to God, by praising the beloved of God, His final messenger, Muhammed (upon whom be God’s peace and blessing). One night he saw the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) appear to him in a dream and convey his pleasure with the poem – the blessed prophet took his cloak and put it on Imam Busiri. The next day Imam Busiri (rah) was miraculously cured and his paralysis lifted. Hence the naming of the poem by the populace, and the name that stuck. Beautiful detail about Qasid Burdah can be found here and audio of the recitation of it in entirety with translation.  I will quote a few sentences from there below;

It reached unsurpassed fame, where it was taught, copied, distributed, recited, transcribed on mosque walls, memorized, commented on, studied, and considered required reading by countless scholars. The Burda was engraved on the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, where it adorned the walls for centuries before being erased by people who could not comprehend it. There is still one line left that has not been removed: “He is the beloved, whose intercession is hoped for….to overrun every terrible horror” (on the day of resurrection)

The poem is usually given as ~300 lines arranged in 10 sections, and each verse ends with the letter ‘meem’. In Arabic poetic forms this is called a ‘meemiya’. I want to collect several renderings of Qasida Burdah to introduce the variety in the Muslim world, but this post is too long already. And I have just found a wonderful interview online with the author of the best English translation of Qasida Burdah currently available, and a person I am honored to say I have studied briefly with.

So below is an interview with and a recent ‘recital’ of the Burdah by the western world’s well known scholar Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad, also known as Dr. Tim Winter, professor of Islamic studies at Cambridge University (and one of my favouritest scholars – such a purely scholarly soul in every sense of the word. If you ever have the time youtube one of his talks, I promise you, you won’t be bored!). He sings in an ‘olde English’ style I grew up with and love. I don’t know the technical term for it though.

In this interview, he beautifully explains the traditional Muslim civilization’s celebration of poetry and the qasida tradition as well as the metaphysical realities to do with Quranic recitation.

And his rendition of it in ‘olde English’, which I love

Stay tuned for future posts with other renditions of the Qasida Burdah ‘bi ithnillahi ta’ala’ (= with the permission of God, the most high).

God’s blessing be with you.

Spring in Vancouver

There are those who are said to *know* God, who we call ‘a’rifeen-billah’ (=those who *know* God). Of course it is not possible to ever *know* God according to Muslim theology, at least not in this realm (what will happen in the next realm Muslim theologians prefer not to talk about as it delves into the area of speculative knowledge. It is preferable to stay within the bounds of logical and revealed knowledge). Because to say one knows means one has encompassed a complete meaning and if something can be encompassed that would logically imply that something has been bounded or a limited. Now if something were bound or limited it would not be completely able, for its ability would be limited. And that whose ability is limited cannot be Divine. Because the definition of Divine naturally implies no limitation. The Divine is not limited or bound in anyway, the power of the Divine is not limited or encompassed by anything. Completely able, the unsustained sustainer of all…the uncaused cause, the Divine is not like the creation, for, in whatever way you like to ponder upon whatever part of the creation, you will come across a limit in it. So we say, the Creator is not like the creation. Things are often ‘known’ by their opposites… so pondering upon the creation gives us a *glimpse* in to the Creator. So when I say *know* I say it with these caveats in place.

The ‘knowledge’ the a’rifeen-billah have is yet only a minutae of knowledge, that too a gift from the Divine, and an atom in comparison to infinity…

So it is said by the a’rifeen-billah that were the human heart to be unveiled to the true nature of Divine beauty, it would burst out of sheer ecstasy! These beautiful spring days in Vancouver, it is easy to understand why it is so said…for surely the beauty we are blessed to witness all around us takes our breath away. If so much can be unveiled in such a short time that is so breathtaking, then who can even imagine the Divine, who is ‘Al-Jamal’!

Al-Jamal means ‘The Beautiful’, it is one of the *names* or attributes of God, and the attributes of Allah (=God, Allah is preferred by Muslims to use as a term as it is devoid of gender-connotations, exalted be God from such) are of the same nature as Allah’s essence – meaning they are unlimited and unsustained but sustain all. So then imagine that Beauty! The Beautiful! Subhahanallah (=Glory be to God)




Peace be with you my dear readers, and may you also be blessed to witness great beauty in your lives

University of Karueein – oldest university in the world

Dear Readers, Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

It was a dream come true to set foot inside the famed Karueein, the oldest continually operating university in the world (Guinness, UNESCO). I will use the English form of the Arabic name, as that is more familiar to me, Al-Qarawiyyin. It was founded in 859 CE, which would be 244 AH (hijri calendar), so 234 years after the death of the blessed beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him).

It was built by a woman, Fatima al-Fihri. And what a lady she must have been. She was wealthy and endowed her wealth to build this institution. It is said, such was her piety, that she continuously fasted for the duration of the building of the institution. Indeed, as per a classical Islamic understanding of success…her intention and good deed was surely accepted by God, for it has been rewarded by the benchmark of divine acceptance – longevity! She is given the affectionate title, Al-Fihriyya – Allah be well pleased with her!

From the ‘1001 inventions exhibit’ – fatima


We entered the mosque of the Qarawiyyin through one of its 14 gates. In the old Muslim world (and indeed to this day, though it remains as only a slight shadow of its glorious past), mosques were a center for learning and community. Education was free in the Muslim world, the Sultan supporting the scholars, or more frequently, their work would be supported by rich endowments, called ‘waqf’ in Arabic. Awqaf (plural of waqf) would be established by wealthy families, so that scholars would be supported and could work independently from state sponsorship – ensuring free thinking. So scholars would stay behind after one of the canonical prayers and stand at a pillar of the mosque (rarely there would be chairs on raised daises – you can still see some in old Turkish mosques) and give a lecture. Anyone who wanted to was free to listen or go. One can imagine serious students keeping a timetable of talks times and scurrying from mosque pillar to mosque pillar! As well as busy merchants, housewives etc. wandering in and out catching a talk here and there as they go about their daily business.

So the mosque is an essential part of the University. The university complex grew around it, and included many amazingly beautiful dormitories (another post inshaAllah) and buildings. The mosque is not used as a lecture hall anymore, though we were treated to a glimpse of the past…when the imam came by, he sat down on the carpet by a pillar, we sat in a circle around him and he gave us a mini lecture on the history of the Qarawiyyin. Beautiful, simple, and easy – devoid of all the trappings of a modern classroom. The teacher is fully exposed and the student has full access to him. What a teacher one has to be to take this place confidently!

Before stepping into those hallowed halls of the Qarawiyyin mosque we stopped to imagine the footsteps that must have gone over the same door-sill we were stepping over; the Qarawiyyin was famed for studies in theology, jurisprudence , philosophy, mathematics , astronomy, geography and languages. It was open to students of all faiths. Maimonides, one of the most famous of the Jewish scholars (well worth looking into the Jewish golden age of scholarship that flourished in Muslim Spain in the past – a strong proof that the present Muslim-Jewish conflict has little precedent historically, as well as negating the orientalists assertion that Islam is an intolerant faith. Please look at this link from jewishhistory.org) was said to have studied there. Indeed there was a rich caravan of scholars going to and fro between the Maghreb (Muslim lands in North West Africa) and Andalucia (Muslim kingdom in Spain) in those days, a bit like scholarship travel between Canada and the USA of today if I may. Here is an excerpt about other famous scholars at the Qarawiyyin, source here

Pioneer scholars include Ibn Maymun (Maimonids, (1135-1204) who was taught at Al-Qarawiyyin by Abdul Arab Ibn Muwashah. The famous Al-Idrissi (d.1166 CE) is said to have settled in Fes for considerable time suggesting that he must have worked or studied at Al-Qarawiyyin. Sources also list a number of peers such as Ibn Al-‘Arabi (1165-1240 CE), Ibn Khaldun (1332-1395 CE), Ibn Al-Khatib, Alpetragius, Al-Bitruji, Ibn Harazim, and Ibn Wazzan are said to have all taught in Al-Qarawiyyin[7].Some historic accounts also spoke of Ibn Zuhr (d.1131 CE) spending a great deal of time travelling between Andalusia, Fes, and Marrakech.

Among Christian witnesses of the contribution of Al-Qarawiyyin is Gerbert of Aurillac (930-1003), famously known as Pope Sylvester II, and who is credited with introducing the use of zero and Arabic numerals to Europe, studied at Al-Qarawiyyin[8] . More recently the Belgian Nichola Louvain settled in Fes in 1540 and studied Arabic at Al-Qarawayyin, to be followed later by the Deutch Mathematician Golius who also studied Arabic there

N.B. – Al-Idrissi is the famous cartographer, whose maps contributed greatly to the Portugese and Spanish naval conquests. The world-map as he drew it, had what is now considered North, at the South. That is, Europe appears below Africa! This was the order of the world-view pre-Renaissance apparently. He was commissioned to do this by the Norman king of Sicily at the time, Roger. His finished product, ‘Al-kitab Al-Rujari’ (=Roger’s book). Source here

Ibn Khaldun, for those not familiar, wrote one of the most comprehensive world-histories…it is a masterful compendium of global events and civilizational analyses. Still studied to this day in the Muslim world.

I will stop myself going on about the scholarship there (this junior scientist finds it very easy to indulge in long digressions on this topic) and post pictures below. They are mostly of the mosque…where we were privileged to join several congregations and then just ‘hang-out’.



Inside where the mihrab (=prayer niche) is. The mihrab is a distinguishing characteristic of a mosque, it faces to Mecca and is where the Imam stands to recite. The hollow niche acts to echo his voice so the congregation can hear him. The niche was a few degrees ‘off’ from the direction of Mecca…but to me that only spoke to how old the mosque is and I was amazed they could calculate the direction to so close to accuracy ~1200 years ago!



sacred space still echoing the purity of lost knowledge…


One of the functions of the ‘work’ on the ceiling it was found recently was that the angles created prevent the formation of cobwebs… sorry about the poor focus


Courtyard, that features the fountains to make ‘wudu’ (=lumination, mandatory washing prior to entering the salat or prayer)


One of two sundials found in the courtyard…this one must have been touched up with the numerals (?). The sundials were used to calculate the times for the canonical prayers -which are based upon the position of the sun in the sky



Second sundial…unfortunately I am not able to read the Arabic around it yet…it is most likely Quranic ayat (=verses, literally ‘signs). In the center portion is ‘Allah’ right on top, below that ‘Muhammed’ and the four circles on either side have the names of the first four ‘rightly guided’ caliphs of Islam, ‘Abu Bakr’, ‘Umar’, ‘Uthman’ and ‘Ali’ (God be pleased with all of them)



One of the two fountains in the courtyard is under this beautiful and intricately decorated roof. Truly breathtaking to make the ‘wudu’ under…


Finally, the doors being opened by the beautifully dignified caretaker…what a feeling when those giant ancient wooden doors swing open and we step over the sill. A feeling of awe and being deeply honored to enter.