“The one that comes from your heart.”
That couldn’t be the right answer…at least not in my mind. Not to a question that I found to be the most profound and fundamental question on a person’s mind during the sacred pilgrimage of Hajj. I was thunderstruck by the answer that my teacher gave me on that cold morning on the way to Arafah during Hajj of 2004.
Hajj is an amazing experience – one in which an individual seeking to find solace with Allah can do so even amidst a sea of millions of pilgrims. Oftentimes the media coverage of Hajj is more concerned with the numbers of attendees or the potentially fatal bottlenecks that can occur. But on that Hajj in 2004, my first time in the Holy Sanctuaries of Makkah and Madinah since I was a child, I wasn’t so concerned with the millions of others who were around me. I was more concerned with ensuring that my Hajj was accepted – that was my ultimate goal.
I approached that goal in the best way that I knew how. I read books about Hajj; I went to classes about Hajj; my wife and I planned out every step of our itinerary including where we would be after Hajj was over just to make sure we covered all of our bases. And needless to say, much of my focus was on the mechanics of it all – the proper way in which to make Tawaaf, the proper surahs to recite in the Rakahs, the proper haircuts to get done, and the appropriate places to be at the appropriate times, etc. All in all, I had read just about every Hajj Manual out there and was pretty sure I knew most of the fiqh rulings that would come into play while I was on this most sacred of journeys.
But nothing prepared me for seeing the Kaa’ba for the first time. In fact, it wasn’t even the Kaa’bah that I saw in that moment…we were on a bus coming into Makkah from Madinah to complete our Umrah for the first time and dancing between the Arabian night sky and the buildings along the highway were the green lights for the minarets of Masjid al-Haram. The lights seemed to play with me – showing themselves but for a moment before disappearing behind the buildings and structures that our bus was driving past. But I knew they were there. More importantly, I realized what those lights were actually enlightening – the Holiest of Sanctuaries in Islam. This was in a time and a world before there was a massively lit clock-tower that shot up towards the Heavens from below. In that time and age, the minarets were the only lights that confirmed that one would soon be in the presence of the Divine Sanctuary.
For me, however – my concern was on the fiqh – What should I say? What should I do? How should I act? What prayers should I make? Ultimately – how do I ensure that my Hajj will be accepted, even in this moment of coming nearer and nearer to the House of Allah? With my mind racing a million miles a minute, I was overwhelmed with emotion and confusion. I didn’t want to mess anything up, not in this moment, not in this place.
With a look of complete despair, I turned to my teacher and I told him about my anxieties. I told him that I really wanted my Hajj to be accepted but every book I read was telling me to do something different and now it was all garbled in my head. I was afraid that I was going to mess something up and that my Hajj would be null and void, or at the very least, not maximized. I told my teacher that ultimately, I just wanted to know the answer to one question,
“What is the best dua that I should make while I’m here?”
My teacher replied, “The absolute best dua?” And I anxiously said, “Yes.”
He calmly looked at me and said, “The one that comes from your heart.”
And just like that my entire focus changed. In many ways, I couldn’t believe the answer to what I thought was an incredibly profound and important question could be so….simple? I mean, I was expecting the Shaykh to give me a dua of our Beloved Messengerﷺ, or perhaps a dua of one of the sages of the past. But this was different – his answer shook me; in fact, it did more than shake me…it re-oriented me.
This whole time I was worried about doing all of the appropriate actions – and to do that I was immersing myself in the breadth of Islamic scholarship written in English about Hajj. But my teacher’s answer taught me something new – instead of breadth, it would be better if I focused on my depth. This was a moment and a place in which I could refine that ever-elusive connection with my Lord – all I needed to do was to focus on my heart. The magic formula for acceptance was actually quite simple – its major ingredient was sincerity. I had to be sincere – not just in my actions, but with my heart.
For the remainder of that Hajj, I took my Shaykh’s advice. I made the duas that came sincerely from my heart – the ones that I could feel from deep down inside me. I put away all of the books of duas that I had taken with me. I stopped questioning every different opinion I heard from our scholars during the lectures. In a way, I gave myself up to my Lord – sincerely and willingly. I wasn’t interested in saying random Arabic phrases whose meanings eluded me, even though they were melodious to listen to. From that point forward, I was most interested in making duas, doing my Tawaaf, saying my prayers, and making my dhikr in one way and one way only – from my heart.
It was a liberating (and yet simultaneously unnerving) feeling. The power to “feel” my Hajj was not written in the pages of the books that I took with me on the journey; instead, it had been with me the entire time – I simply had to focus within myself, to focus on filling my heart with sincerity. And, God-willing, from that place of sincerity would come the acceptance that I so deeply longed for.
Staring back at the lights of the minarets of the Haram on that bus ride, I felt as if I could really make dua for the first time – sincerely from my heart. I turned to my teacher and asked,
“If the best duas on Hajj are the ones that come from my heart, then will God accept my Hajj?”
He smiled and replied, “My son…He is the One Who Answers our Prayers (Mujeeb ad-daawat) so what makes you think that He won’t?”
“On the Day (of Judgement) wherein neither wealth nor children will benefit them, the only thing that shall benefit (someone) is a Sound Heart.” (Surah Shu’ara, Verses 88- 89)
During these blessed days of Dhul Hijjah, we ask Allah, sincerely and from the depths of our hearts, to make us people who meet Him with Sound Hearts. Ameen.
By Shad Imam , 09 Sep 2016