Diary of a Pilgrim 2 – A Trip

This diary is a translation of the writing of my dear brother and teacher Dr. Muhammad Saad Faris Al-Mahdy
Hajj is a trip, one of the soul and body
Hajj is a trip, one of the soul and body

Hajj is a trip, a trip through belief and history, two things intertwined during Hajj. Hajj is a trip, one of the soul and the body. It is a trip of the intellect and the heart. Hajj is a trip through which you learn, and you feel as well. During this trip, we do not stop at the physical ritual. We, rather, dive deeply into its philosophy. We live in this trip with the most fundamental objective of it. We live with whom we intended to travel to in the first place; that is Allah (swt)

We spend time with the main figures of the trip: Adam, Ibrahim, Hajar, Ismael, and even the Shaitan. We spend time with locations and places, deciphering its symbols—and names: Al-Ka’ba, the Sacred Mosque,  Al-Safa, Al-Marwa, Mina, Arafat, and Al-Mash’ar Al-Haram. We learn meaning through looking deeply into rituals. We go though the state of Ihram, circulating around the Ka’ba, going between the two mountains: Al-Safa and Al-Marwa, throwing stones, shaving out heads, and sacrificing an animal.
We will learn lessons from the stories around Hajj. We associate rituals as they are performed with the laws of this life. We link this trip that summarize the history of humanity with the current status of our Ummah; so we can help it rise. We impersonate the main figures of this sacred trip; so we follow their footsteps, something through which we understand the meaning of our existence.
In summary, we do all that to arrive at the main objective behind Hajj.
If you do not know what you are aiming for, or you are aiming for what you do not know, what would you come back with?

Diary of a Pilgrim 1 – Introduction

This diary is a translation of the writing of my dear brother and teacher Dr. Muhammad Saad Faris Al-Mahdy

اني ذاهب إلى ربي سيهدين
اني ذاهب إلى ربي سيهدين

You may ask: what is the point of scribing those daily thoughts about Hajj? Well, let me use this episode to answer this question explaining what I would like to accomplish through this diary.

Let this diary be my contribution to the Hajj trip especially of those who did not perform Hajj before. Or, in other words, it is to allow those who did not make Hajj to participate in its meaning, and to prepare their hearts and souls to perform it. This diary depicts what a pilgrim may feel during this unique trip. It is an archive of my emotions and those of people who accompanied me. You can think of it as the outcome of what we acquired during this amazing experience. This diary is my Hajj gift to my beloved preparing them for their future trip. As others bring back prayer rugs and Misbaha, I bring this diary with me instead.

I do not claim all the thoughts in this diary. Rather, I learned some trough reading for geniuses and through previous Hajj experience in the company of people of high caliber. Some thoughts may have come through deep reflections or inspired by the presence in sacred places. Those thoughts may have come to me through the abundant emotions of others who were full of love and affection.

In the end, undoubtedly, I expect this diary to be more than just a diary of a pilgrim. Rather, it is a serious attempt to bring back Hajj as an experience to teach us the deep meaning of Islam. It is a practical study for one of the pillars of Islam, a pillar that is made mandatory on the Muslim community every year, and once in a life time on the individual. When we talk about Hajj, we, in fact, talk about Islam in its entirety exemplified in a trip, a trip that you travel, up, to Allah (swt)

Are you ready?

On the discovery of Old Pieces of a Written Quran

Which one is more trustworthy?
Which one is more trustworthy?

We all shared excitedly the recent discovery of a few old pages of the Quran as University of Birmingham researchers, using carbon dating method, claim it is written at a time close to the death of the Prophet (pbuh). I thought I’d share a few important points as a reminder of how the Quran reached us and a warning against excessive excitement of such findings. I hope as we all get excited to see such an old written piece, we remember the effort of those who preserved the Book of Allah and do not be subject to doubt in case another ‘discovery’ emerges with text that is different 🙂

Here are my points in brief

  • Muslims have paid an extraordinary attention to preserve the Quran. Please see below for a list of examples of this effort
  • Muslim scholars do not consider a word to be part of the Quran unless it satisfies a few conditions. The two most important ones are:
    • To be written in a verified authenticated copy of the Quran that matches one of the copies distributing by the 3rd Calif, Othman (r) (see below)
    • It has to be recited (transmitted verbally) through a chain of many narrators in all generations until the time of the Prophet.
  • Anyone who comes up with a copy/piece (old or new) claiming it is part of the Quran, it must go through the same process. As a matter of fact, we all, unconsciously, started verifying the old copy against the one at our hands, and, interestingly, not the other way around. This is a sign that those of us who understand this process trust the Quran at our hands more than any unknown piece that is discovered.
  • Dr. Ayman Sewaid, one of the well known scholars of the Quran said (Arabic here) that Muslims’ way of verifying any text is not how old. Rather, it is: 1) who wrote it and 2) where did he copied it from. This guarantees that no one can introduce things to the scripture of Islam except that we discover it. Therefore, this found piece, even though it may very well be an old written one and a nice scientific discovery, represents no evidence to the authenticity of the Quran.

Rigorous Effort

These are examples of how Muslims preserved the Quran through generations since the time of the Prophet (pbuh)

  • The Prophet (pbuh) ordered a well-known group of his companions to write it down as he recites it to them even though writing wasn’t a popular skill or a known method of keeping text.
  • Many of his companions memorized the Quran and reviewed their memorization and writings with the Prophet on yearly basis
  • < 1 year after the death of the prophet, Abu Bakr (r) ordered the compilation of a master copy through a very rigorous process to guarantee its authenticity (not a single word is put into this master copy unless it is verified by those who write and those who memorize)
  • < 30 years after the death of the prophet, Othman (r) ordered copies of this mater copy and sent them to different locations where Muslims lived. He also ordered that all unauthenticated writings to be burned and that the Quran should only be recited/taught/copied from these master copies
  • Muslims continued to make copies of the Quran after these copies (and hence calling the text of the Quran “Othmanic Writing”. No copy of the Quran is official until it is reviewed and proved to exactly copy one of those copies Othman originally distributed.
  • Writing the Quran in different font or using modern standard Arabic is not permitted.
  • Millions of Muslims memorize the Quran in its totality and trace their memorization back to the Prophet through a chain of so many teachers/recitors.
  • Many committees, organizations, print facilities are established to print, verify, review any text claimed to part of the Quran in any form or medium including electronic media.


Envy is one of the most dangerous diseases. It can lead to actions people never imagine they would do. Here is a quick list of stories that came to mind when I was reading the Quran and reflecting on story number 2 below:

1- What made Iblis disobey the order of his Lord and refuse to prostrate to Adam is envy: “… see this one whom You have honored above me; if You give me respite to the Day of Judgement, I will seize and mislead his offspring, all but a few”

2- What made the son of Adam to kill his brother is envy: “… when each offer a sacrifice, it was accepted from one but not from the other; he said, I shall kill you …”

3- What led the Brothers of Yusuf (pbuh) to get rid of him was envy: “They said: Yusuf and his brother are dearer to our father than we, while we are a strong group … Kill Yusuf or cast him out to another land …”

4- What drove the Israelites to object to the assignment of Talut as a king, despite his knowledge and strength was envy: “They said, how can he be a king over us when we are fitter than him for the kingdom and he is not given enough wealth …”

5- What made the Israelites reject the message of Muhammad (pbuh) was envy: “Do they envy men for what Allah has given them of His blessings?”

6- After the people of the book were sure that the message the Prophet (pbuh) is the truth from Allah, the wishes of many of them were not to believe in it but to deviate those who had already believed, “Many of the people of the Scripture wished that they could turn you away as disbelievers after you have believed, out of envy from their own selves, even after the truth become manifest unto them …”

Search deeply in your heart, you will probably find that the source of most of your problems is envy. It is not that people envy you. That you have no way to search for. It is about YOU HAVING ENVY IN YOUR HEART TOWARDS OTHERS. 

One solution?, Well, keep in mind the following paragraph:

Others really do not have to lose what they have or what they achieved for you to get it. As a matter of fact, it is better for you to think of how to be as good or better than others by climbing up to their level as opposed to working deliberately to bring them down to yours.

Fishing for an Ideology

We have to be extremely careful in dealing with a legacy as old and as comprehensive as that of Islamic knowledge, a legacy that dealt with many aspects of life, one that was employed by many communities to deal with all sorts of circumstances. I see different people, groups, and ideologies that are somewhat opposite yet they are all relying on the very same legacy to support their views. For example, one can scan this large body of knowledge, note all the aspects that talks about spirituality, and come up with an ideology that Islam is but a spiritual recipe. Another can follow the political involvement of such knowledge and focus more on its involvement of wars for example, and arrive at an ideology of violence. A third can follow the many mentions of encouraging peace, forgiveness, and patience, and form a pacifist ideology from the same body of knowledge.

Isn’t that weird? What wrong do we do for that to happen. Well, let me share a couple of important points that we should keep in mind to be able to understand this legacy the way it should be understood:

  1. Know that what is considered the guidance of Islam is 1) what is in the Book of Allah, the Qur’an, and 2) the AUTHENTIC tradition of His Messenger. Anything else–even though it is important to study especially that which is closer to the prophet’s time, is still people’s views and interpretations and should only be attributed to them not to Islam.
  2. Having a pre-conceived ideology, THEN scanning the legacy of knowledge to support it is definitely the wrong way to go. Rather, one should form his/her ideology based on Islam and not the other way around. (very tough I know)
  3. It is very harmful to focus on partial knowledge and, intentionally or unintentionally, ignore other parts that address the same subject at hand.
  4. Be very mindful that context plays a major role: what applies to certain times, societies, or cultures can be quite different from what applies to others. Simply taking a society’s understanding of Islam and borrowing it to another society is very problematic to say the least.
  5. Scholarly opinions under certain political and social circumstances may not be accepted when these circumstances change.

I wish I have time to swamp you with examples of each points. I also wish I have time to show how these examples can be very harmful to us as Muslims and to the image of Islam itself. But I don’t 🙂

However, I will conclude with my view of a very famous hadith in which the prophet (pbuh) said that Allah sends to this Ummah every century that who will renew its religion. This religion and its pure source of guidance (mentioned in 1 above) interact with societies, cultures, and peoples, and get understood within those societies, interacting with those cultures, and applied by those peoples. This cause the pure message of Islam to be covered by people’s interpretations and understanding, which is acceptable. Someone (or some people) will come every now and then (every century as the Hadith said) and remove those layers and dig deep to the pure source (that is preserved and protected from alteration) and bring it to life in the current context and circumstances.

A Bird’s View – #aWordAboutHadith

One of the most important advice I received regarding dealing with the Sunna (and the Qur’an for that matter) is to put my hands on different pieces of the Sunna that talks about a subject before deducing conclusions on this subject.
A little simple, yet very telling, example is praying while injustice is committed against you. I have heard someone telling another who was praying against an unjust tyrant, “You can’t pray against him. You should pray for him. The Prophet prayed for his people even though they oppressed him and his companions.”
Even though the prophet prayed for his people even though they oppressed him, but he also, according to authentic reports, prayed against them when they harmed him. In addition, there are many reports about the prayer of the person whom injustice is committed against and how definite it is that Allah accepts it.
Now that these pieces of Sunna are in front of you, it becomes clearer what would the right choice be–at least the decision is not as it is had you only focused on one piece.