I recall Hamza Ji as an elderly man of Gujurati descent. He was dark-complexioned, short and slightly plump as elders do sometimes become. His prominent feature was a beautiful white beard, some hand-span long, which matched the similarly-colored kufi on his head. On our flight to Medina, he sat a couple of seats behind me; his son, Salman between us. The only conversation I had with Hamza Ji was during our stopover at Istanbul earlier that Friday afternoon. The airport Musalla was crowded with both locals and travellers jostling over space for Friday prayers. Looking at the chaos of bodies cramming the Musalla before me, I expressed my disheartenment to Salman who stood, with his father, beside me.
“The travellers on whom the Friday prayer isn’t Fard are preventing the locals from praying”, I remarked. Salman remained silent. His father, however, prompted, “Should we just pray our Dhuhr then?”. I stated that I was going to. That was the first and last conversation I had with Hamza Ji. Later than Friday evening, Hamza Ji would take a shower, exit into his hotel room, greet his family, and collapse to the floor passing away. He was buried in Jannatul Baqi.
Understandably, after the passing away of his father, Salman was deeply preoccupied with attending to his family’s needs. I finally had an opportunity to talk to Salman at length after Hajj. We shared a couch in the lobby of the building we were residing in. Each of us briefly reminisced about our lives in Toronto – our jobs, homes, the mosque we frequented and so on. Having been immersed in the intensity of the Hajj experience, it felt uncomfortably weird, almost distant and surreal discussing our lives back home.
At some point in our discussion, his father came up. Feeling curious and with sensitivities in mind, I cautiously asked, “Salman, your father… he received the honour of dying during Hajj masha’Allah. I am wondering what you know of him that may have earned him this status?”
Salman couldn’t recall any exclusive acts of worship that set his father apart from other worshippers. However, he did think there was one act that may have led to his father dying the way he did – his father gave Salman up as a child. Salman explained that his father’s brother and sister-in-law couldn’t have children. So when Salman was born, Hamza Ji and his wife decided to let Hamza Ji’s brother and sister-in-law raise the child so that they felt like the child was theirs.
“I think this is the deed that earned him such a death,” Salman remarked, half smiling and half lost in thought.
I thought deeply about what he said. Of course, only Allah knows why Hamza Ji died the way he did. But the point still isn’t loss – it was Hamza Ji’s and his wife’s selfless act of compassion, empathy, and service towards the creation that may have caused Hamza Ji’s beautiful ending and Allah knows best.
“…And they give others preference over themselves even though they were themselves in need….” (Quran 59:9).
“Verily, there has come unto you a Messenger from amongst yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He is anxious over you; for the believers and is full of pity, kind, and merciful” Quran (9: 128).
During my Hajj, I noticed many people focused on personal piety. It was amazing seeing the level of personal discipline these brothers and sisters had when it came to their worship. One sister managed to finish the entire Qur’an during her Hajj. Others stood countless hours in Nawafil prayers. This was all in addition to ensuring they completed the arkaan of Hajj, topping it off with recommended acts of worship. I, for one, couldn’t come close to their discipline in their acts of worship.
I also saw another group of people. They were those who who were guiding lost people back to their tents, pushing elders they did not know in wheelchairs, deciding to walk from Muzdalifa to Mina so that others could fit on the bus, handing out water bottles, spraying their brothers and sisters with water mists to keep them cool, and encouraging others with a kind word. Theirs seemed a different type of piety – one that took into consideration principles of compassion, empathy, care, and just helping others for the sake of Allah.
There is no “versus” here. The actions of both groups is equally important and arguably one cannot be present in the absence of the other. The truth is that the Hajj experience is beautiful and can be an intense experience for some. And when faced with such intensity, it is human nature to become very self-centred, thinking only about ourselves, our needs, and our acts of worship. Feelings of annoyance, frustration and anger are not uncommon. And thus we may end up sacrificing basic morality towards our fellow beings because of our self-focus.
During Hajj, I remember trying to find a place to pray for Asr and couldn’t. Every inch and iota of the haram was packed. Every prayer place was filled such that I eventually decided to sit close to three brothers, hoping to find some space between them when they rose for prayer. Two of them seemed annoyed by my presence, but the third smiled at me, encouraged me to keep sitting, and seemed to (he was speaking in a language I couldn’t understand) advise his friends to be patient. And so when it was time to pray, all four of us were able to stand feet to feet, should to shoulder and pray. I still feel the warmth in my heart for that brother and his friends who made me feel included.
My advice to the Hajjis this year is that make sure you read up on Hajj and its rites. Make sure you know the obligatory and recommended acts of worship during Hajj. Supplicate much. And perform recommended acts of worship as well (if you can but make sure you save your energy for when it counts). However, remember you are in Jamaa’ with brothers and sisters from all around the world, of different ages, ethnicities, cultures, languages, and socioeconomic status. Make sure you fight against your ‘nafsi nafsi’ nature if the experience gets intense. Take care of yourself but don’t forget basic akhlaaq and morality to your brothers and sisters in faith. Help someone when you can. If Hamza Ji’s story taught me something, it was that an act of selflessness, compassion, and empathy goes a long way insha’Allah.
May Allah accept your Hajj. Ameen.
Note: Names changed to protect identities.