Who is the Ultimate Leadership Institute?

Are you a member of Toastmasters International (TMI)? If not, this post will inspire you to become one.  Here is their website: www.Toastmasters.org

Are you a business leader? If so, this article will show how to grow leaders in-house.

The Ultimate Leadership Institute

The role of leaders in today’s society could never be overstated. The following quotes confirm this simple fact:

  • “Leadership can be thought of as a capacity to define oneself to others in a way that clarifies and expands a vision of the future”- Edwin Friedman.
  • “I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers”, Chirps Ralph Nader.

Nothing can define Toastmasters movement better than the above statements. We are the best in the business of identifying, coaching and delivering leaders on to the world stage every where and all the time.

In October 2007 Issue, Fortune magazine published a newly created list headed: “Top Companies for Leaders“. Alas I wish they would create a similar listing for non-profit organizations too.  Toastmasters International will definitely top this list beating all other non-profitable organizations in the area of leaders’ development

Toastmasters International is “The Ultimate Leadership Institute“. I say this with conviction because Fortune magazine used nine best practices companies use in grooming their future leaders, for evaluating the companies and guess how many practices we use from these nine? All nine! Yes, TMI scores 9 out of 9 points.

Below is a brief outline demonstrating a few of these practices and shows how they are applied through Toastmasters International.

Invest Time and Money:

Toastmasters invest plenty of time developing other Toastmasters. This is done through a mentor-mentee relationship where the mentor coaches the speaker in creating and delivering a speech and guiding the mentee in performing different assignments.  In addition, Toastmasters conduct, lead and present different workshops for other Toastmasters throughout the course of the year to support them in becoming better speakers and leaders.

Toastmasters also invest time in writing articles for different newsletters whereby they share their knowledge and experience with other Toastmasters.

You might think: “Where’s the investment of money?” Well, time is money. Toastmasters who invest their time in Toastmasters’ activities could easily invest this time somewhere else and get paid for it. An Opportunity cost, as called by economists.

Identify Promising Leaders Early

According to Fortune magazine, “Spotting leaders early means working on their development early.” Toastmasters with a high level of potential are identified right from their initial entry, in all leadership levels, whether it was the club or district level, and given the opportunities to shine during their membership in the Toastmasters’ movement.

We could do this by observing the passion, performance and preparation of new members and offering them opportunities to conduct different projects assignments inside and outside the club to learn, grow and be a role model to other Toastmasters.  This measure makes new members more engaged and more productive in the Toastmastering process because they feel appreciated and much needed within the organization.

Choose Assignments Strategically

In Toastmasters, future leaders are given development opportunities to learn and grow. After identifying potential leaders, we entrust them with the best possible assignments within the club meetings so that they could develop different leadership skills.  From conducting and leading a Speech Craft Program to chairing a Division Conference, the Toastmasters’ movement offers a plethora of leadership opportunities.

Toastmasters do not wait to be offered these opportunities; on the contrary, they are encouraged to take a proactive approach in grabbing these opportunities.  For example, I’ve always offered to participate in activities beyond my club, Bahrain Toastmasters Club.  That’s why I received the honor and privilege of becoming the PR Committee Chairperson for the Past International President, DTM Johnny Uy, visit to Bahrain in April 2006. This in itself was a fascinating experience.

Few years ago, Toastmasters International introduced a great tool that helps in developing more leaders – The Competent Leader Manual.  This manual helps in identifying the weaknesses in your skills and abilities and aids you in developing them. This manual helps in developing Toastmasters, at all different levels, and also secures different Leadership Awards in the Leadership Track for the mentors.

Be Passionate about Feedback and Support:

Our organization is the only entity that places evaluation and feedback at the heart of its learning programs.  We all receive feedback on all the assignments we conduct in the Toastmasters arena.  You can easily notice this if you examine our different programs and feedback mechanisms. Positive, constructive and honest feedback is a very important component of toastmastering. The “Effective Speech Evaluation” and the “Competent Leader Manual” are both submitted to every new Toastmaster to ensure they make the best of the available feedback opportunities.

The Evaluation Session during the club meeting is a rich learning experience for both the evaluators and the performers/speakers. All speakers come to know how they performed; they get to know their strengths and areas for improvement. Through the feedback given to performers by mentors and evaluators, improvement plans to achieve higher levels of excellence, are designed.

The evaluation process goes well beyond the club level.  Any performance within the toastmastering arena gets evaluated.  For example, if you deliver a keynote or a training session you will get evaluation forms collected from the attendees after the event to help you improve your future performances.  On another hand, if you conduct a High Performance Leadership Program (HPL), you are provided several manuals to guide you through managing the project assigned to you and a committee that guides you and evaluate your progress during and after the project before you can file it with Toastmasters International.  The HPL program offers instruction and practice in vital leadership skills and activities such as developing a mission and vision, goal-setting, planning, identifying values and building your team.

Encourage Leaders to be Active in their Communities:

Toastmasters are encouraged to contribute to their communities by teaching the values of Toastmasters International —integrity, dedication to excellence and respect for the individual.

In addition, you can use your public speaking and leadership skills in local events by becoming an event’s Chairperson or advisor.  In summary, you as a Toastmaster could become a knowledge transfer agent in the community.

One remarkable method of getting involved in your community is to conduct Speech Crafts Programs and lead Youth Leadership Programs to help young and adult people develop better public speaking and leadership skills to become successful people in their personal and professional lives.

Make Leadership Development Part of the Culture:

Leadership development is at the heart of the Toastmasters’ culture, and also reaches up to Toastmasters International’s vision. All Toastmasters programs revolve around providing members opportunities to become better speakers and leaders.

The Past International President, DTM Chris Ford, believes that through Toastmasters program we can shape our world. His Presidential Theme was: “Shaping Ourselves, Shaping Our World.” Being Toastmasters, we’re half way through. We’re already shaping ourselves through Toastmasters International, and now it’s the role of every Toastmaster to shape the world.

The above brief outline illustrated clearly how Toastmasters International use internationally established best practices to develop its members in the area of leadership.

Isn’t Toastmasters simply amazing?

Hopefully someday we will be recognized officially as the “The Ultimate Leadership Institute”. Whether this becomes a reality or not is totally up to us, to the Toastmasters of the World. As Mahatma Gandhi once said “Be the change you want to see”.

Let’s continue shaping ourselves and shaping our world.

Posted in Business, Coaching, Life Lessons, Public Speaking | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Here is the secret …

So far, I have published six posts on my Hajj experience.  The total word count is exactly 5,821 words.  I hope the posts were insightful and entertaining to you.

Many people asked me:  How did you come up with this idea: writing about your Hajj experience?  Well, here is the secret.

I never thought about it.  All the credit should go to my good friend Bu Adam.  He called me one day before I left to Hajj.  The conversation went something like this:

Salam Mohamed.

Alikum Al Salam.

I apologize for not being able to visit you tonight as I am tied up with a prior commitment.  I replied:  It is ok.  Don’t worry about it.

He then said:  I have a small request from you.

I said: Sure, go ahead.  I’ll do anything for you.

I want you to update us with what is happening in Hajj through Face Book feeds.  Everyday if you write a small update, it will be fantastic.  We will love it.

I retorted:  No way, I am going to Hajj, I am not going to become a journalist.  Besides, I will need time, a laptop and a connection to do all this.

He said:  Please Mohamed.  I know you can do it.

I said:  I’ll do my best.  But deep inside me, I thought this idea will destroy my Hajj Journey Devotion.

After I have finished the Umrah Rituals, I found out that the Hajj Agent Management made available to us four laptops and a Wi-Fi connection.  When I saw this, I thought, man, now, you do not have any excuse.  Just write few updates to make your friend wish come true.

Accordingly, on 8 November 2010, after the morning prayers, I sat down in the reception area and typed in the first Hajj post entitled:  The Journey Begins.  It was 1,000 plus words so I could not upload it in one Face Book entry.  That’s when I remembered that my good friend Steve uses WordPress.Com to publish his blog entries.  I immediately signed up and learned its basics to publish my first blog ever.

And this is how it all started.  Thanks a lot Bu Adam and Steve for the inspiration.

As soon as some Pilgrims knew about the blog, they got very excited.  Some people started reading it and some asked me whether I mentioned their names in the Blog!  The Scholars liked the idea and encouraged me to write more articles.  I will never forget the Scholar who told me:  If the laptops downstairs are busy, you could use mine to write your articles.  Another Scholar encouraged me to translate these articles into Arabic to achieve the maximum reach in terms of prospective readers.

With all this encouragement, I was fully charged.  I was fired up.  I was resolute to encapsulate my Hajj experience through these articles to serve as: My First Hajj Journey Diary.  It is my habit to record significant happenings whenever I travel.  This time, I took it a step further.

Now, the second question is:  How this writing about Hajj will finish?

This is a very interesting question and I hope to give you a very interesting answer.

I will stop posting more entries on Hajj.  Instead, I will continue to write several Hajj articles to document my Hajj experience for future references.  The idea of writing about Hajj is more developed now.  My plan is to publish an entire book about Hajj.  I have been thinking about this for some time.  The book will be different from the posts in many ways:

  • It will be more detailed of what happened before, during and after Hajj.
  • It will be sharing the names of the Pilgrims.
  • It will include more pictures.
  • It will be more educational, especially for non-Muslims who are interested in knowing more about Rituals of Hajj.

My target is to publish the English version of the book in the third quarter of 2011.  In addition, I will target publishing the Arabic version in the first quarter of 2012.  I pray to God that He gives the strength, patience and the inspiration to achieve these targets.

If you have ideas to be included in the book, please leave me a comment.  Likewise, if you know any company that could sponsor the design and printing of the book, please do let me know.

I will keep you posted on the development of the book.

May God bless you.

Posted in Hajj, Life Lessons | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Securing the Stones (#Hajj)

When was the last time you went out collecting stones?

When we were kids, we collected countless stones with different sizes for different purposes.

We collected stones to throw them at trees in the neighborhood to get some fruits.  We would compete to see who would get more fruits than the rest of the group. We loved the sweet taste of the raw dates, yellow, red and green.  At times, we paid the price for our naughty acts.  The neighbors would complain to our parents and when that happened, we got into big trouble! My father was so rough … his gaze was enough to make us cry and weep.  I used “us” because my little brother got his share of the beating as well.

I still love dates so much, that is why I have three tall palm trees in my garden.

At some other times, we collected stones to catch some birds.  I was very bad at using the slingshot. I never caught a bird in my life.  To compensate for this inability, I became a Master in hitting empty Pepsi cans and scaring off cats!  I know what you are thinking: “Mohamed, we never thought you were naughty as a kid.”  Wait, it gets better.  Please remember, I was just a kid.

Sometimes we collected stones to stone each other when we got mad.  I will never forget the time when my little brother chased me to throw a big stone at me.  He threw the stone and I ducked. I wish I didn’t duck because it hit a man who was walking by in his arm.  I still remember how loud he screamed.  Again, he complained to our father who apologized to the man and then said: “I assure you this would not happen again and these two kids will be disciplined immediately.”

My father smacked us few times and told us to go to our room.  On that night, we didn’t have dinner and we didn’t point fingers at each other arguing about who started the fight.  We, the big brother and the little brother, made a pledge that we will never hold another stone in our lives.

I had to break this pledge during my Hajj trip.  One of the rituals of Hajj was to stone the Devil Symbols in Mina and to do that we had to secure some stones.

I should mention one thing here, not all Hajj Groups has this practice.  Some Groups would collect the required stones using their staff and then hand it over to the Pilgrims.  Our Group wanted us to secure the stones ourselves because we had plenty of time before the Hajj Rituals started and besides this activity would warm us up for the stoning ritual.

My wife and I left the residence around 15:00 in the small white Toyota Bus to go to the mountains to secure the stones.  We arrived at the designated location in about 15 minutes.  There were so many rocky mountains in the area and there was one big white Masjid as well.  We dismounted the bus and pulled out our green bags to start the process of securing the stones.

Our set target was to collect 200 qualified stones for both of us.

Some Pilgrims decided to go to the mountains top to collect the stones but we decided to collect the stones from the ground.  We collected a sample of stones for the stoning of the Devil Symbols based on the description that was given to us in one of the lectures.  I went to the Scholar and asked to examine our stones sample.  He started picking them up one by one.  “This is not good, this one is not good either, this one too”, at this time I thought “oh my God, it seems we will start from scratch” but he interrupted my thought by saying “the rest are good.”  I was relived.  I went back to my wife and explained to her the criteria of a qualified stone:

  • Its size should be approximately the size of a little marble,
  • It should be a virgin stone, not a processed stone like concrete stones used in construction,
  • And the best ones are black with white dots

Sample of Stones

I took one big stone and started digging in the ground in search for qualified stones.  They were very easy to find on the ground.  I was wondering why most of the Pilgrims climbed the mountains while the stones were abundant on the ground!

While I was in the process of digging, the Devil paid me a visit.

“Look at you; you are fully grown up, digging in the ground looking for stones, shame on you, don’t you have better things to do.”  I stopped digging for a moment and started thinking about what the Devil said.  I smiled and said to myself: “Nice try Devil, I’ll see you in few days and throw all these stones on you.”

We collected so many stones.  I felt it would be wise to start counting the stones.  I told my wife to count the stones while I searched for more.  In Hajj, it is all about teamwork.  Without teamwork, it wouldn’t be possible to do all the Hajj Rituals smoothly.

Many companies spend endless amounts on teamwork training on their employees to improve their operations to achieve higher profits.  I think they should seriously consider sending their employees to Hajj to learn what is really meant by teamwork in this great spiritual journey.  You will see teamwork everywhere.  In the Residence, in the Bus, during the Rituals and even during the meals!

My wife and I collected more than 200 qualified stones; which was way above what we required for the stoning ritual.  We split them in half and put them in the green bags.

We started taking pictures of the mountains and other Pilgrims for our Hajj Photos Collection.  It was amazing how all the Pilgrims were engrossed in the process of securing the stones, some were on the mountains, some on the ground and, some talking to the Scholars to make sure they have qualified stones.

We felt great because at that time, we were ready to stone the Devil Symbols.

I hope that you will be blessed with this feeling in the near future after finishing securing the stones.

Posted in Business, Hajj, Life Lessons, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Getting Unstuck (#Hajj)

Pilgrimage (Hajj) was a great personal transformation platform.  There are a plethora of opportunities to grow personally, professionally and spirituality.  It is up to the Pilgrim to decide how to get the best out of these opportunities.

Think about it, there were more than two hundred Pilgrims in our Residence in Azzizia; a great mixture of people.  We had Doctors, Engineers, Marketers, Financiers, HR Professionals, Teachers, Islamic Scholars, Volleyball players and Bodybuilders!

We were fortunate to be close to the room of the Scholars.  In fact, the distance from our room to theirs was only 2 meters!  Because of this proximity, we exchanged frequent visits and we chatted on different matters.  We were amazed by the kindness and humbleness of the Scholars.  We liked them so much.  We will forever cherish these memories.

One of the Scholars is unique.  I am sure he is more unique than what I think because I only knew him for two short weeks.

One of his unique attributes is that he records extensive notes during the lectures of other Scholars.

When I asked him: Why do you do this?

He replied with the most satisfying answer:  “I never stop learning and I like taking notes because these notes will trigger many ideas for my future lectures.”

I love this attitude.  I am a firm believer in Life Long Learning which will be an interesting topic to talk about in the future.  The Scholar follows the advice of Prophet Mohammed (PBUHAHH):  Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.

The other unique feature I noticed about him is the use of PowerPoint Presentations and the Data Show Projector for delivering his speeches.  He has some great contents and graphics.

One day I invited him to our room to give us one of his famous and creative lectures entitled: Don’t Get Stuck in the Mud.  In Arabic: La Tegharez.

I invited few Pilgrims to our room so that we all benefit from the lecture.

So here is some of what we saw and learned.

He started his presentation by revealing a slide showing a car stuck in the mud.  Then, he showed another slide where another car was trying to pull the first car from the mud.  Then, he showed us one more slide.  Guess what, the second car got stuck in the mud too!

He continued showing slides of bigger cars and trucks which wanted to pull the first car from the mud.  Guess what, they all got stuck in the mud.

He looked at us and said: What did you learn from this?

Think about it for a minute and share your thoughts with the group?  (By the way, this is a good method for keeping the audience highly engaged and connected).

We all shared our thoughts and then he proceeded with his slides to reveal the lessons learned from this ludicrous situation and here they are:

Lesson # 1: History is a great teacher.  Learn from it.

Are you a student of history?  The World is full of insightful incidents, learn from them.

Lesson # 2: For every move you take, there is a knowledge you must acquire.

  • When was the last time you connected the cables of a DVD player without reading the User’s Manual?
  • In the age of internet, you can get useful information on any decision you are planning to make.  Make use of this powerful tool.
  • Will you invest in a company before researching its operations, performance and management team?
  • Can you get married to someone you just met five minutes ago?

Lesson # 3: Learn from the mistakes of others.

The cars and trucks drivers should have known better on how to approach the situation.  The total of cars and trucks stuck were five!  Can you imagine that!

Lesson # 4: The danger of getting stuck in the Mud of Sins

He who steals an egg will steal a camel.  There are no small or big sins.  When you commit a sin, don’t think of it size but instead think of the size of God you are disobeying.

The scholar then shared with us few reasons on why people get stuck in the Mud of Sins and here they are:

  1. Going out with bad friends.  One bad apple spoils the bunch.
  2. Ignorance.  Someone once said:  “We are all ignorant, only on different matters.”
  3. The lust for Worldly Pleasures.  Don’t be a slave of your fantasies.
  4. Not listening to the advice of their parents.  God bless us parents nowadays, it is very challenging to raise kids with the so many forceful factors of this age.  Satellite Channels, the Internet and globalization.

You might say the lessons learned are just common sense.  This might be true but the other truth is common sense is not common practice.  This is what some people refer to the Knowing-Doing Gap.

This was our fascinating lecture on how not to get stuck in the mud.  I wish you a safe life journey away from the muddy roads!

Posted in Hajj, Life Lessons, Spirituality | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Super Spirituality #Hajj

What came to your mind when you read the title of this post?

This is how I describe the culture of the Residence and the trips to the Holy Harram – Super Spirituality!

Now, let me explain how.

Let’s first examine the spirituality of the Residence. When we arrived to the Residence, I was amazed by the many posters posted on the walls in the Reception Area, elevators and in the Main Gathering Hall.  They deal with matters pertaining to the duty of Hajj, health tips, morals from the Prophet & His Family Members (Peace Be Upon Them) and some fundamental life principles.  Each poster is worthy of a separate blog entry; maybe I’ll expand them in future entries.  To examine examples of the posters, go to the end of this blog entry.  However, I can’t resist inserting this cartoon about the bad habit of backbiting!  It is so true.

Now, let’s focus a bit on the daily activities of the Residence.

The first activity is the Group Morning Prayers.  All of us will gather in the Main Hall to pray after an old Scholar.  After the prayer, someone will recite a supplication that will make you think, think and think more about the blessings of God and asking for his forgiveness.  The supplications have deep meanings and very often you will see attendees moaning or at least shedding tears.

The second activity happens at 11:00.  Another Scholar will teach us and guide us on how to perform the Rituals of Hajj.  He would not only teach us, he would also explain the philosophy of performing the rituals as well.  We would then, have Question & Answer Session with the Scholar.  The session is highly interactive and informative.

Then, we would perform another Group Prayer, followed by various speeches by different Scholars on topics pertaining to Hajj until lunch time.

At 16:30, we would have different group activities such as more lectures or a group recitation of the Holy Quran or group recitation of certain supplications.

At night, we gather again for Group Prayer.  After the prayers, we would listen to different speeches by the Scholars on a variety of topics.  This is, usually, when most Pilgrims cry most in the Residence.  The Scholars are so adept in making you think about your life priorities, your family, your relationships and the most important relationship – your relationship with God.

This is in a nutshell the daily Residence Activities.

Now, let’s move to the nightly gatherings in the Holy House of God.

We usually gather at the rooftop of the Holy House opposite to Makkah Clock Tower.  From here you could see many things; the dark sky, the glowing stars, the Makkah Clock Tower, thousands of Pilgrims walking around the Ka’aba, the construction cranes and the high-rise Minarets.

Our gathering starts around 22:30 and ends at around 1:00. So we are talking about 2.5 hours full of prayers and supplications.  The supplications are usually led by someone who knows his trade very well.  He does not only recite the supplications, he explains them to us.  And the explanation is what make us cry, moan and weep like a mother who lost his beloved child.

Our crying intensifies when we look up into the sky and think:

Is God watching us?

Then, we start talking to God.

If you are watching us, please forgive us.  Maybe we are bad slaves but you are for sure a Generous God.  Do you see our tears flowing on our faces, cloths and the white floor marbles; we desire your mercy.  Please don’t take us to Hell, instead take us to Heaven.  Please.  Please.  Please.

You can read an excerpt from our nightly supplication at the end of the entry.

I hope these small snippets are enough to prove we experienced – Super Spirituality.


Let’s examine some of these posters:

  • Kiss your children very often.
  • Never belittle other people.
  • Giving charity will bring the blessings of God upon you.
  • An erudite person should not brag about his vast knowledge of life but the one who apply this knowledge to set an example for others to emulate.
  • The Pilgrimage is great course in the worship of God and a life changer.
  • Don’t get angry, be tolerant.
  • Be aware of the Devil.
  • We should never become servants to the Devil.
  • Respect the time of others; be on time.
  • A faithful is known by his manners and morals.
  • Smiling and helping others will make you likable and get you to Heaven.  However, frowning and being a miser will distance you from God and take you to Hell.
  • Choose your friends carefully.
  • Cleanliness is an attribute of a true Muslim.
  • Hajj is a great opportunity to quit Smoking.
  • Dress well when you meet fellow brothers.
  • Think deeply about this one:

o  If you are in your 20’s, work very hard,

o  If you are in your 30’s, don’t get lured by the Worldly Pleasures,

o  If you are in your 40’s, you are about to harvest what you planted earlier,

o  If you are in your 50’s, reflect on what you did and did not do so far,

o  If you are in your 60’s, do not make up excuses for God.

o  If you are in your 70’s, get ready for the Day of Judgment.

  • Time flies.  Hours, days, and years have passed in your life.  Have you invested those unrecoverable moments?
  • There are three saviors to the Faithful:  refraining from backbiting, being busy with useful matters, and the continuance crying of repentance.
  • Do good deeds and encourage others to do the same especially your family members.
  • When you go to bed to sleep, reflect on what you did in your day.
  • Death of others is a great teacher in terms of examining life priorities.

Note: Please keep in mind the Arabic statements have a deeper meaning; some of the meaning is lost in the translation.

Excerpt from a supplication

Allah, verily I beseech Thee in Thy name: Oh Allah, Oh Most Merciful, Oh Most Compassionate, Oh Most Generous, Oh Self-Subsisting, Oh Greatest, Oh Eternal, Oh All-Knowing, Oh Forbearing, Oh Wise.  Praise be to Thee, there is no God but Thee, The Granter of all Succour, Protect us from the Fire, Oh Lord.

Master of Masters, Oh Acceptor of prayers, O Elevator of rank, O Guardian of good deeds, Oh Forgiver of evil deeds, Oh Granter of requests, Oh Acceptor of repentance, Oh Hearer of voices, Oh Knower of attributes, Oh Repeller of calamities.  Praise be to Thee, there is no God but Thee, The Granter of all Succour, Protect us from the Fire, Oh Lord.

Best of Forgivers, Oh Best of Deciders, Oh Best of Helpers, Oh Best of Rulers, Oh Best of Providers, Oh Best of Inheritors, Oh Best of Praisers, Oh Best of Rememberers, Oh Best of Dischargers, Oh Best of Benefactors.  Praise be to Thee, there is no God but Thee, The Granter of all Succour, Protect us from the Fire, Oh Lord.

Note: Please keep in mind the Arabic statements have a deeper meaning; some of the meaning is lost in the translation.  The beautiful rhyme and the rhythm of the supplication are lost too.

Posted in Hajj, Life Lessons, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

The First Real Day in Makkah (#Hajj)

Let’s catch up from where we ended in my first post (http://wp.me/p1bx2F-3). 

We arrived at the residence at 4am.  The Pilgrims helped one another to take the baggage to the designated rooms.  After that, I went to my room # 9 in Flat # 2 to meet my pre-selected roommates who I knew long time ago plus one unknown Pilgrim.  6 tall men sharing one room.  Can you imagine?  Our feet crosses the edge of our beds!  We have to bend our legs to avoid kicking the bed edge.  But I cannot avoid one thing: the snoring syndrome.  Oh my God, I need some sleep !

This was another patience test.  We all live with certain luxury/comfort level.  Here, we learn to adapt to a new situation.  6 (Six) men sharing one room and sharing 2 (two) bathrooms with another 14 (Fourteen) Pilgrims.  Timing is everything ! I won’t go beyond this description.

I met sleeping bodies.  They must be tired after performing the Umrah rituals which are the subject of this post.

At around 10pm, we headed to the Big Bus which would take us to the Holy Masjid in Makkah.  After we made sure everyone was around, the bus doors were closed and we started performing the Talbiya (The Pilgrims Recitals): Oh God here we come, Oh God, we believe you are the only God.

It is worth noting that each Prophet had a different recital.  Here are some examples: 

  • Prophet Jesus (Isa): Oh God, here I am, I am your servant and the son of your servant, here I am God
  • Prophet Moses (Mousa): Oh God, Oh Gracious, here I am God
  • Prophet Jonah (Younis): Oh God, the anguish reliever, here I am God

May the blessings of God be placed upon all his Prophets.

We drove on the roads and in the tunnels of Aziziya City to the Grand Masjid.  All of us were eager to reach to perform the Umrah Rituals.  In no time, we saw the tallest and biggest standing clock in the World and we realized we are very close to the Harram (Masjid).

My eagerness level was so high because the last time I performed Umrah was back in December 2003.  The moment we dismounted the bus, my eagerness turned into happiness.  I felt so happy to back to the House of God.

The entire landscape of the area surrounding the Harram changed completely due to the continuous expansion projects of it to accommodate the increasing number of Pilgrims.  This year they are estimated to be around 4 (Four) million Pilgrims from around the World.  On one side of the Harram, there were 25 construction cranes and on the other side there were 13 cranes!  I no longer recognize the many places I knew before because I used to perform Umrah frequently when I used to live in Jeddah.

But there was something that did not change at all.  The multi-nationalities of the Pilgrims.  India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Turkey, Germany, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Britain, and the list goes on … all of them were wearing white cloths.  Some of them were young and some very old.

Whenever I see old Pilgrims, I thank God for giving me the opportunity to perform Hajj this year.  I know that millions of Muslims around the World are longing to be here but they cannot come due to several reasons.

We walked towards the Masjid and then reached one of its gates … since it is a Holy place, we entered bare footed, the level of our spirituality increased with each step we took.  Then, there it was … the glorious Holy Kaaba.

We reached the area surrounding the Holy Kaaba and we experienced some unusual feelings … Only God knows what we experienced and I find it difficult to put these feelings in black and white.

We began marching around the Holy Kaaba starting from the Black Stone Corner.  I was guarding my wife with my arms because the place was filled with Pilgrims.  We marched 7 (Seven) times around the Holy Kaaba and then we went to perform the mandatory prayer of Marching.  During the march, we recited and chanted different supplications to be more engaged in the process.  Each supplication is carefully worded to make you weep and think again about your entire life aspects.

We prayed behind Prophet Abraham (Ebrahim) Site.  Ismail is the son of Prophet Ebrahim (Abraham); they are the ones who built the Kaaba after receiving a revelation from God.  When we pray, we begin with Neya (Intention), the intention of praying to be closer to God.  After that, we say Allaho Akbar (Go is Great).  This time my prayer was different.  When I raised my hands and placed them on my ears to say Allaho Akbar, I said it with a shaking, broken and trembling voice.  My eyes shed tears …  It was a totally different experience.

We then drank from the Water of Zam Zam.  This water has an amazing mix of minerals and tastes fantastic !

Then, we went to perform the March between Safa and Marwa.  We have to do this for, again, 7 (Seven) times.  The total distance of the march is around 2.8 Kilometers.  Again, we recited some thought-provoking supplications.  

After that, we performed the last ritual of Umrah: Taqseer.  Here you cut a little bit from your hair and clip your nails.  To me, Taqseer was the toughest part of Umrah.  I struggled to cut some hair on the side and the back of my head because I have very little hair.  That’s why I resorted to Plan B, I clipped two nails to finish the rituals of Umrah.

After Taqseer, all the worldly pleasures that were specifically prohibited by wearing the white cloths are yours to take.

You must be wondering:  What is the significance of the number 7?  Seven marches around the Holy Kaaba? Seven marches between Safa and Marwa?

Only God knows about this mystery.  We believe in Tasleem or the complete Submission to God.   It is something beyond our comprehension.

Maybe it is a test of obedience.  Are you familiar with the story of the slaughter of Prophet Ishmael by his father Prophet Abraham?  Think about the similarity between the two situations … keep on thinking …

Posted in Hajj, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Every Thing Happens for a Reason (#Hajj)

When was the last time you heard this statement:

Everything Happens for a Reason !

I have heard it and said it so many times.  In my previous post I talked about our delay in the Hajj Terminal due to three reasons.  Do you remember them? They are the following: The Immigration Process, the Baggage Collection and the reason for writing this post; the missing passengers.

I was talking to a Pilgrim about my post and I mentioned that we learned how to be patient because of the delay.  He retorted:  This is not all, there is another thing you need to know and write about “Everything happens for a reason.”  I asked him what do you mean and he told me this beautiful story.

When we realized that we have missing passengers, we did the following.  We asked all female Pilgrims to sit down and don’t go anywhere.  The male pilgrims were divided into three groups:  the search group, the baggage group and the men in the middle group monitoring the Terminal exit and the women.

The baggage group went along with the large bags trolley to the buses area to make sure no one takes anything from the trolley.  While they were waiting for the rest of us, a Persian man who looked very anxious, perplexed and tired, his cloths were trenched by sweat, jumped on the trolley and dove into the bags.  The Bahraini Pilgrims stopped him and he started talking in Persian, no one understood anything … He jumped again into the bags and pulled one bag that had a name tag on it … in Persian … so the Pilgrims realized his bags were put to our trolley by mistake.  He then pulled three more bags belonging to his wife and daughter!

Now, imagine what would happen if we did not encounter the delay? Put yourself in his shoes, what would you do?

It would be a complete disaster! No money, no cloths, no nothing!

I could relate to him easily.  Last night, I lost my back up wallet.  Let me explain, whenever I travel, I take two wallets, I spilt my money, ID and Credit cards in them.  Last night, I thought I lost the backup wallet which ironically has a bigger sum of money.  I was annoyed.  Not about the money, but the possible consequences of my Credit and ATM cards abuse or in a worse scenario a possible identity theft. 

I felt relieved when I found it today.  I felt happy.  Can you imagine how the Persian family felt when they found their baggage?

Do you know why I wrote this post? Yes, you are right:

Everything Happen for a Reason !

Posted in Life Lessons, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment