Hajj: One Year Later


How to know if your Hajj has been accepted is to see how your life is a year later.

So said one of our Hajj teachers.

It’s been nearly a year since Mr. Rafia and I embarked on that journey of a lifetime.

There have been ebbs and flows, I will not lie.

Going to Target for the first time after returning from Hajj was a bit of a jarring experience. I had not heard music in over three weeks. It felt so unnecessary.

But I haven’t stopped listening to music completely.

Ramadan, in many ways, was a good time to reboot. Since then, I’ve become more restrictive about what I listen to. I’ve also stopped running in April, so it has not been that difficult (as much as I dislike this whole Beyonce-worship craze that has permeated into popular culture, her music is great to run to). I think most of the lasting positive changes I have made have been since Ramadan. I haven’t been able to keep up with a juz a day, but I’m doing my best to do more than I did before. And if it weren’t for Hajj, I don’t know if I would have felt that compulsion.

In December, we started seeing advertisements to go for umrah. At that time, we weren’t sure if we were ready to go back again so soon. But as of today, I can say that I am ready. I would love to go back to Mecca and Madina. To be able to pray in the haram more than I did during Hajj. I think the tremendous weight of Hajj had really gotten to me. I felt so weak and spiritually depleted the days before, so I didn’t make the best of my time in Mecca. Although in hindsight, perhaps it was for the best, because my actual Hajj experienced ended up making up for it. My days in Madina felt like a culmination of being a Muslim. A real, tangible physical locale to which to pin my heretofore intellectual and ritualistic commitment. I would love to go inside the Rowdah one more time.

But I don’t know. It’s hard to assess how I am as a person. I know I have changed. But have I changed for the better? I can still be a recluse. I still struggle with praying with khushoo (full concentration). I still worry.

And yet, at the same time, I feel like I have become more confident in my faith. Not that it was tentative before. But I feel more at peace with saying No to things that make me uncomfortable or to things that frankly don’t interest me. My interests have certainly changed. And I feel less compunction about not wanting to justify why.

And subhan’Allah, some duas I have made have come to pass, way quicker than I was expecting. Others will require continued patience and reliance on my part. I call to mind the concept some academics would render “magical thinking,” but I feel confident in its provenance.

Having faith is not easy. And yet, I cannot imagine my life without it. When I feel low, Hajj is a reservoir to which I can go back to replenish myself. And what a gift that is!

22 thoughts on “Hajj: One Year Later

  1. I’m so glad you had the chance to perform hajj. It is one of the single greatest journey any Muslim can embark on. May Allah (swt) continue to shower you with his blessings, Ameen. Please keep me your duas sister <3

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  2. Geeky!!! You are alive!!! It’s so nice to hear… err, read from you. I’ve been thinking of you a lot lately. I’m currently reading Talal Asad’s Geneology of Religion. Haha. Ameen, dear. Insha’Allah I will keep you in my duas. How have you been? Hope things are going well for you, Insha’Allah.

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  3. Salamu Aleikum Rafia. It’s been a while lol. I just got super busy with family and school. Time flies, I feel like I blinked and another year went by. I’m planning on blogging more consistently again. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of Talal Asad.

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  4. Yay! I’m glad to know you will be blogging again. I have missed learning from you and just you in general. I’ve read a lot of works citing Talal Asad and his work on the anthropology of Islam. This is my first time reading his own work and I gotta say, it’s a difficult read. When you need to refer to a dictionary every page it can be frustrating. But I’m also coming at it as a novice really. I suspect I may need to do a second more careful read. Too bad there ain’t no spark notes for this one ;)

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  5. LOL, Talal Asad’s writing can be particularly convoluted. I also have to read his stuff a few times to really get the gist of it. He reminds me a lot of Gayatri Spivak (Can the Subaltern Speak). They both write in such a way that I often wonder if they are purposefully trying to confuse us loool.

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  6. Oh, man! You feel that way too? Alhamdullilah I feel a bit better now knowing that it might not be me. I’ll check out Spivak too, although based on what you wrote, perhaps I should wait. What are your thoughts on Asad’s scholarship though? I’ve been reading a bit into the history of anthroplogic thought and how Asad’s work has been groundbreaking in problemitizing a lot of the theories of its founders, like Geertz for example. I do worry about liberalism though and being able to stand my ground within academia. Lol

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  7. He definitely did a lot to showcase the shortcomings of Western academia when it comes to studying/analyzing non-Western societies. So, his input in Anthropology is undeniable. But, he is also very much someone who ascribes to Western Liberalism, and that at times makes him quite problematic. While he rejects the existentialist outlook found in Anthropological analysis when it comes to Islam, some of his own positions on the subject can be troubling.

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  8. Hmmm, I suspected as such. Are there any potential landmines you can think of that I should be cognizant about? I get the feeling that most active Muslim Western academics are prone to this. It was a major concern of mine in not pursuing Islamic Studies (in academia) any further than I did. But I suppose no field is safe. And yet, the influence on Muslims has been pernicious and that’s why I want to study this phenomena, while praying that I am kept safe from the corrosive effects myself. Any tips on that?

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  9. You’re right about most Muslim Western academics falling into that category. When you are a part of Western academia, your main audience is Western. So, in many ways you find yourself having to cater to their sensibilities, even when you ascribe to postcolonial theory and are actively questioning how Western academia approaches the topic of Islam (or really anything related to POC). You still are a part of a broader cultural and intellectual tradition that is Western in essence, and in doing so you are inadvertently reinforcing the very Western hegemony you are questioning.

    Most of these Muslim Western academics adhering to liberalism is not an accident. It is the direct result of Western colonialism and its historical, cultural, political, and economic aftermath. We are all the product of this colonial project. We were educated in systems that elevate Western culture and thought above all else, and we came from communities that struggle with an inferiority complex vis a vis the West. We are all struggling with a deeply entrenched colonial script that makes us gravitate toward all things Western; because we see it as valuable. It is also far more familiar to us than Islam, unfortunately. Most Muslims know the strict minimum about Islam (usually the rituals), but when it comes to Islamic political thought or Islamic economy, we are usually very much ignorant of it.

    The only way of keeping oneself safe from this is, in my humble opinion, by keeping ourselves accountable for our actions. As long as we are keenly aware of this colonial script, and we are willing to question ourselves, analyze our own motivations, and operate from a place of sincerity (by remembering that we will have to answer for our actions and words in front of Allah one day), I think we can avoid some of the pitfalls that so many of our brothers and sisters are falling into. I would also add that as long as you are ok with never achieving popularity or becoming a darling of Western academia, you should be ok. I’ve noticed that a lot of Muslim academics fall prey to their desire to achieve recognition and be validated by their peers within Western academia.

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  10. “We are all the product of this colonial project. We were educated in systems that elevate Western culture and thought above all else, and we came from communities that struggle with an inferiority complex vis a vis the West.”

    So true. Even though I often take a critical stance towards narratives that are force-fed to us, to some extent, my epistemology has been shaped by Western-style liberalism. But the fact that I can recognize that I hope and pray will keep me grounded and humble.

    That’s good advice, thank you! With all this current emphasis on public scholarship, I’ve been seeing a lot of advice for academics to engage on Twitter and the like. I’m happy to be off social media but have wondered whether I am closing myself off because of this. But perhaps that’s for the best. I don’t mind being an obscure figure within Western academia. My hope is for my research to be useful for Muslim communities in this country. How (and if) that will happen, I do not know.

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  11. Ah yes, the whole social media thing. I often feel the same as you, wondering if I’m not closing myself off to opportunities. These days, it is all about branding and getting your name out there. But, then I see how that too often leads to useless debates and bickering. Social media (and especially Twitter with its limited word count) is not conducive to thoughtful and balanced conversations. It often leads to a lot more misunderstandings.

    Come to think of it, engaging in public scholarship via Twitter is like a billboard where people advertise themselves by showcasing their “deep thoughts.” It is the antithesis of what an academic endeavour should be about. The Muslim scholars of the past where keen on avoiding popularity because they saw it as a source of fitnah that leads to arrogance. They were afraid this would endanger not only their faith, but also the quality of their scholarship. The vast majority of them were keenly aware of their shortcomings and always sought to learn more. Instead today, scholars (both Muslims and non-Muslims) behave as if whatever knowledge they’ve acquired somehow makes them the seat of knowledge, and gives them the right to comment on every possible subject. Modern scholarship is breeding arrogance, where Muslim scholarship is meant to breed humility.

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  12. May you retain that personal well of faith as long as possible, and return there soon – and regularly thereafter.

    Going on 8 years now for me, and it’s all so distant. The feelings have faded so much over time, though I still make dua for another opportunity.

    In hindsight there’s lots we would do better, but the experiences we had were as such for reasons…

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  13. Ameen! I do agree with the last part of your comment. Everyone has his or her own unique experience and thus lessons to glean from Hajj. Even “not feeling it” is a lesson or even blessing in a way, as long as we learn from it. Have you done Umrah since Hajj?


  14. Haha, you’re so right. I actually had to unfollow a couple of academics I really respect and like working with. Every second it was something. And oh Lord, please don’t get me started on LinkedIn!

    “Modern scholarship is breeding arrogance, where Muslim scholarship is meant to breed humility.” That’s a pithy line right there! May Allah (swt) keep us humble.

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  15. Not feeling it…I wrote about that. In Madinah (we were there first), my emotional connection was delayed. But once it came, it was beautiful.

    In Makkah, the Kabah looked like a giant Lego building at first. No feeling of awe or reverence. Fortunately, my wife felt the same so I didn’t feel alone in that numbness. It came over time, though.

    We’ve not been back since. I think for me, it’s more wishful thinking than ‘planning’ – because I’m not in a position to make significant savings towards going back. The pessimism is strong in me….but I still maintain hope, because I know anything can happen.

    If I could afford it, though, I would want to go every year. This is a journey far more important than any holiday…it’s what the soul needs. But until then, we just have to make the best of the environment we have – which in Cape Town, is amazing for Muslims, given that we’re almost like a majority population here. (Not statistically…but it feels that way. You’d never guess we’re a minority in this city.)

    My annual practice every Day of Wuqoof is to spend that afternoon in i’tikaaf in the masjid. It’s just my way of trying to connect to what is the greatest few hours of the year for those who are invited… I may not be on Arafah, but I can still make a lot of dua and try to make it a spiritually productive few hours insha-Allah.


  16. You know, I had the opposite reaction. We arrived in Makkah first and seeing the Kabah the first time and not crying I thought, “Am I doing this all wrong?” But when I went to Madinah, after having completed Hajj, I felt different. I wanted to go back to Makkah and have a re-do, but unfortunately, it was time to head back. I’ve heard Cape Town is great. I think Dr. Muneer Fareed is there. Are you familiar with him? He was one of my teachers during the ALIM summer program (https://www.alimprogram.org/) a few years back.

    I think that’s a great practice. Prior to Hajj, I just allowed the first 10 days of Dhul Hijjah to pass me by like it was any other set of days. I’d fast because mom and dad would tell me to on the 9th, but now I yearn to do more. I’m glad the 9th will be on Saturday this year!


  17. We actually have controversy here because our moonsighting was a day after Saudi. Si Arafah is Saturday, but our Eid is Monday.

    I’m not familiar with Dr Fareed, unfortunately. It appears he’s teaching at the university I work at, but I haven’t had contact with that department since I studied many years ago.


  18. Lol, I feel you. I just saw an article about Neil DeGrass Tyson twitting something absolutely tone deaf and quite frankly cruel about the recent mass shootings. Of course, Twitter is doing what Twitter does so well, and having a meltdown. The more that man talks about things that have nothing to do with his expertise, the dumber he sounds. It’s a pity really, because when he sticks to physics, he is actually an excellent educator that got people excited about science.

    Ameen to your dua, my dear Rafia..

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  19. I guess that’s what happens when academics/scholars become celebrities… I just read the tweet, and I get where he was coming from, but yeah, not the medium and also not the time to be sharing statistics of that kind. In this need to be “objective” people can sometimes come across as heartless.

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  20. Exactly. Timing is everything, indeed. That same tweet sent just a week or so later wouldn’t cause this kind of reaction. But, right after the shooting, while people are still reeling from what happened, is not the way to go.

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  21. My initial inclination would be to ask, “Can we just ban social media?” But social media is not the source of this problem – it is merely a tool – the problem lies within us. Even otherwise well-adjusted and respectable people can become someone else with the power (i.e. instant gratification) that comes with social media. That’s why I have to fight to limit what I am exposed to. Even watching a simple television show can be corrosive. I’m going off on a tangent here, but everything in “mainstream” culture that comes my way, I have to be critical of.

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  22. You are absolutely right. Social media is not the problem. Sure, it laid bare our profound need for validation and instant gratification, but it is our own actions that are the driving force behind the toxicity exuded by these platforms. Mainstream culture is very much a conduit to a lot of things that are detrimental to our Iman as believers. It is necessary to remain critical and vigilant if we want to preserve our sanity.


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