Halal Money Matters
Episode 4: Hajj - 2020 and Beyond
Halal Money Matters Podcast
Episode 04 – Hajj - 2020 and Beyond
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Welcome to Halal Money Matters, I’m Christopher Patton.
MONEM SALAM: And I’m Monem Salam.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: We are... not in the same room.
MONEM SALAM: It’s been a crazy time, Chris. You know, I’ve been actually stuck at home for about... since early March.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Yeah... same. Same.
MONEM SALAM: In my entire life, this is the longest I’ve ever been without traveling anywhere.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: I know you’re quite a traveler. I recently learned you had a goal in the amount of countries you wanted to visit in your life.
MONEM SALAM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, I’m at 72 right now. And I need to get to 100.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Yeah, well... this year’s a bit of a setback, unfortunately.
MONEM SALAM: Yeah. That’s right.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: And that actually feeds into this episode. We want to talk about hajj, not just what is it, what’s the obligation, what does it entail, what does it normally look like, and then what does this year look like? And then, beyond that, what are the financial considerations, saving, and ideas for that and strategies and that type of thing.
MONEM SALAM: Yeah, we have a very special guest that we’re gonna be joined by. Imam Tahir Anwar from the Bay Area. He’s an American Muslim scholar and a preacher. He’s been in the Bay Area since 1983, but he was actually born in London, England. Very active in the San Jose Muslim community. He’s been, you know, a founder and a board member actually of an Islamic school there. He’s a lecturer at Zaytuna College, and more importantly, I think, you know, he’s been on multiple, like I think... for the past decade he’s been on every single hajj. And I think we’re gonna talk to him about this, but this is probably the first time in a long time that he’s actually not gone and actually spending the time with his family. So, I’m really excited about this show.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: And I’m very eager to learn about all the preparation that goes into it and him being an authority on that element of things and hear some of his experiences.
MONEM SALAM: Yeah, absolutely and I think what our listeners will really, I think also enjoy, is gonna be ways that they can actually save for hajj? Towards the end of this presentation. Because... you know, costs are rising very rapidly, above inflation, and not everybody can just, on a dime, just decided to pay $12,000 to go.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Yeah.
MONEM SALAM: So how do we come up with strategies to do that also.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Alright, shall we just dive into that then?
MONEM SALAM: Let’s do it.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Alright.
[MUSICAL TRANSITION INTO INTERVIEW]
MONEM SALAM: Thanks, Imam Tahir, for joining us. Let’s start off and just talk a little from an overall perspective about hajj and just from the Islamic obligation part of it, and what people should be expecting, those type of things.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Sure, bismillah ar-rahman ar-raheem [in the name of Allah, most benevolent, most merciful]. You know, it’s, of course it’s very evident and we all know there’s five pillars in Islam and the last of which happens to be hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca. And when I normally teach my annual workshop, what I end up telling people is that, you know, as far as the shahada, that first obligation, it’s something that we learn and internalize at a very young age. Soon after, we begin to pray our namaz, of course the prayer becomes obligatory much later in life, but you know, in a Muslim family, you’re probably starting to pray or at least making the motions from a very early age, followed by fasting, and then at some point in life you start paying your zakat, your alms. But this last pillar is really a big deal because once... usually you’ve done all the other obligations by the time you get to this one. For most people, and for many people, it could be, you know, after having performed the other obligations for decades by the time they get to making for hajj. Of course, things are a little different now. We get to see a lot more younger people at hajj than, you know, we’ve seen in the past, historically speaking. And even in the modern age. So, you know, it’s a moment of excitement and it’s fulfilling. You’ve always heard about fulfilling this pillar, fulfilling this obligation, and people have so many different circumstances as a result of which, you know, some people are unable to go sooner than later, so when that moment finally does come where you start thinking about it or intending it or preparing for it, it’s a really, really big deal and then of course, the journey to modern day Saudi Arabia and our journey to Mecca and Medina and at the outskirts of Mecca where we perform the actual obligation. And you know, you come back, of course, spiritually speaking, the Prophet, Alayhiṣ-Ṣalātu was-Salām [The Messenger of Allah], peace be upon him, reminds us, that you come back as if the day your mother gave you birth. All your shortcomings and your sins have been forgiven. But, you know, not just that, but most people come back from hajj with a renewed sense of purpose for their own selves, for their families, for their communities, and so it’s a pretty big deal and the reality is that the amount of people that perform hajj every year is well into the millions, so you have, you know, millions of people performing hajj and literally, you know, changing their entire lives. Not just after they come back from hajj, but literally, preparing and going into hajj.
MONEM SALAM: You know, it’s really interesting Imam Tahir. You mentioned this about, you know, going at a later age in your life or going at a younger age. You know, I think in the US, we kind of sometimes take it for granted that we can go whenever we want. When I was in Malaysia and lived there, I kinda found out, they have a hajj fund called Tabung Haji.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Mmhmm.
MONEM SALAM: And people actually start in their 20s when they first start to work, and they start putting money in. And when you start putting in, you get a number on a waiting list. And that waiting list is about 30 to 40 years long. So even if they wanted to go earlier, they just couldn’t do it.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: You know, as an individual from America who gets to organize hajj... we could sit here for hours and I could just share stories with you. But I’ll share two very quick stories with you. We have a Uyghur family in our community, and it has not been possible for them to go for hajj and so this individual, as you know, many immigrants want to come here as students, want to land a job, and then get a green card... This individual’s intent to get a green card and become a citizen was really just one, and it really wasn’t... while part of it was to settle down in America, but he said one of the greatest reasons why I want this is so I can apply for my parents to come to America and then allow them to be able to go for hajj from here. Because they’re not allowed to go... it’s not possible for them to go for hajj from where they are. So, you know, we really take it for granted.
MONEM SALAM: Amazing.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: The other thing is yes, we are able to go really whenever we want and the vast majority of, you know, Muslims, educated Muslims at least, you know, it’s very easy. We’re able to buy cars or lease cars and so on and so forth. If we just kind of put some of that money together within a year or two, you could be ready and on your way to hajj, but you know, I recall, and this is the second story. What I recall is, this was a few years ago I was traveling from Mecca to Mina. After we had performed our tawaf. And you know, we were all just crammed up in the back of a Landcruiser. This is many, many years ago. And I still remember I met this elderly individual from Pakistan. And you know, we began this conversation and he made a very interesting point. He said that, “There’s’ no way that Allah cannot accept my hajj, my pilgrimage.” It’s a very bold statement cause generally we’ll say things like, “Allah, please accept my hajj.” But he was like... “There’s no...” So, I asked him, in Urdu, I said, “How?” And his response was that, “I have worked my entire life and collected my halal income to be able to perform hajj and at a very old age I’ve been able to perform hajj and had I done things otherwise, I could have fulfilled this obligation earlier, but I wanted to make sure that every bit of income that I had used to fulfill my obligation was 100% halal.” So, yeah, you’re right. You know, we do take it for granted where in many parts of the world, either they’re not able to travel, or they’re not financially able to do so, or just like you said, Malaysia... humongous waiting list.
MONEM SALAM: And that’s right. The funny thing about the calculation about how people get visas, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s based on the population of your country regardless of whether they’re Muslim or not.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Correct.
MONEM SALAM: So... 300 million people has a certain formula. We have the same number of people going as Indonesia, and Indonesia is 95% Muslim. We’re like... not even 2% Muslim. That’s the game. Not the game. But that’s how the numbers are run.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: And the number, you know, Allah has been kind enough to me to be able to be a part of hajj preparations for almost the last 2 decades now. What I’m seeing is the number of people traveling to hajj from the United States is definitely growing. And the number of younger people that are going is definitely growing. And this, like right around right now, we would be preparing for hajj, so every day I’m having this conversation with some of my close friends and you know, that this is what we would have been doing. So, two weeks ago, I was on my way to Dallas, briefly, and my calendar had actually said “Hajj Workshop,” and year after year, we hold this massive six-hour, three hundred person hajj workshop along with a massive breakfast and lunch and you know, we go through about 90 slides. It’s a really big deal and the volunteers that have been doing this for the last so many years really look forward to this day. Preparing for it and inviting all the people and seeing the excitement on their faces and all of the questions that they have and sort of the worries that they have and helping alleviate those fears... you’re just there. And kind of reminiscing that, “Oh it’s about 2 weeks before we would have left for hajj.” And so, we would have been in the hustle bustle of receiving those passports and someone reaching out and saying, “I didn’t get my ID?” or “When am I getting my passport? What’s FedEx tracking...” This would have been it. And for me, truly, this is the journey of a lifetime and being able to be a part of people’s journey to hajj. I generally know people in my community through two things: one, I performed their Nikah, or I’ve had the honor of performing hajj with them. That’s literally how. So, this is kind of hard, what we’re going through right now. I’m almost kind of feeling a little teary here. Just kind of missing all of that. But you know, whatever the Almighty has planned for us is best for all of us.
MONEM SALAM: That’s so true, so can you just give a quick maybe a short summary of not what you’d be doing now but what does hajj look like?
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Yeah, so, you know, and this is the beauty of Muslims in America. We like to prepare for things. We like to make sure. Generally, about six months, six to eight months before hajj, people will start reaching out and say, “Hey we’re looking to go for hajj,” start booking their airline tickets, start putting in their deposits, or even slowly giving money towards their payment. By Ramadan, we’re usually collecting all the documents, passports, meningitis, you know, pictures, and so on and so forth. And then about four to six weeks after Ramadan is when we start receiving visas from the consulate of Saudi Arabia to be able to travel. And so right around this time, about two weeks before our departure, scheduled departure, we would be receiving our passports, the workshop, maybe even shopping for certain specific things, you know. I mean, people have different needs, medical needs, physical needs, spiritual needs. You know, you’re trying to get your hands on a certain Mus’haf that you’ve always wanted or a book of Dua that you’ve wanted, or a certain kind of a camping chair or a certain kind of a water bottle... you know, different things, and this is what we would be going through. A lot of questions. This is around the time that I would be fielding just a ton of questions via email on a daily basis from different people. And then, of course, we would travel to hajj, depending on... we’d either go to Mecca first or Medina first, you know, carrying our Ihram, learning how to put on our... just the excitement, putting on our Ihram... it not working out the first time you do it... feeling awkward wearing it... and then of course getting ready for hajj and you know, most American hujjaaj will end up going for anywhere between... with travel time... but 15 and 20 days, that’s usually the norm from the United States, unlike many other Muslim populated countries where you’re probably coming for maybe 4, 5, even up to 6 weeks. So, it’s usually, for us, it’s sort of kind of get in... you know, be prepared, and make sure you know what you’re doing, do hajj, and then immediately come back home. And of course, while we are there in Mecca and Medina, we’re usually preparing, praying, and just a lot of reflection.
MONEM SALAM: It’s interesting you mention this... I also, when I went for hajj, cause again, this is one of those things that we were very blessed to be able to do that. A lot of people actually bring their wares and they have to use hajj as a trading opportunity. To coordinate and do that, to be able to live even during those 2, 3 or 5 weeks that they’re there.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: So, my own cousins, that come from India, their tour operator will tell them things like, “You’re allowed to take two bags per the airline, but you’re only allowed to take one...” and the reason behind it is because the other bag or the other piece is usually some dry food item like lentils or rice or something along those lines that the tour operator’s actually taking with them to Saudi Arabia because in the hotels that they stay in, the tour operators are usually cooking for all of the hujjaaj before the days of hajj. So, our... by the way, our experience and, you know, I’ve compared my experience to that of many others over the years... Our experience as Americans going from the United States is a very, very different experience compared to the vast majority of the hujjaaj there, including locals, right? I’ve actually had locals that are slightly surprised at how much luxury we are afforded, you know, because, and you know, it’s natural, you know, you’re thinking, “It’s my land. I’m the local. I should have all of these privileges.” And there’s nothing wrong with it. This is what Allah has decreed for us. This is Allah’s nasib [fate] for us. And I tell people, “We should not feel that there’s any decrease in our hajj or in our reward. This is just what Allah has decreed for us and we’re very grateful for what we’ve been given.” Now, that said, you know, hajj is no walk in the park. It is a grueling journey. It’s in the summer, these days, so it’s hot there, you know, buses and trains running on time, sometimes food is a little delayed, logistics here and there. You can get ill. And so, ultimately, I think that the way Allah has, you know, planned hajj for everyone that everyone goes through some level of sacrifice regardless of how much luxuries they’re afforded. As Americans, we are so used to taking certain things for granted and some of those are sometimes taken away from us during the journey and so that is our sacrifice and for others, the things that we take for granted would have been luxuries to begin with. So, they have different kinds of sacrifices, but ultimately, you know, anyone and everyone that ever returns from hajj, you know, it’s just the most powerful feeling in the world and most people will say something like, “How come I didn’t do this earlier.”
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: I mean now that we’ve kind of painted a picture here, what do you say to somebody that is dealing with... was maybe all geared up to go this year and is dealing with the disappointment of having that journey disrupted by COVID?
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: So, you know there’s a lengthy conversation around the fact... you know, “Oh my God is hajj going to be canceled?” And some people would use language like “Hajj has been canceled.” First of all, there have been, in our history, and in fact I delivered an entire sermon around this two or three weeks ago... Historically there have been many, many times where hajj didn’t happen at all as a result of wars, as a result of plagues, as a result of diseases, or the amount of people that would be coming to hajj would be heavily decreased as a result of certain diseases and so on and so forth. So, has something like this happened in the past? Absolutely. The steps that the current administration in Saudi Arabia have taken to not allow for, you know, people from other countries to come for hajj, I actually commend them. That is not an easy decision. We are definitely seeing, right here at home and in other parts of the world, that what we thought would be something that we would be able to overcome in a few weeks is only coming back stronger and the last thing we would want is people who are not so used to having hygiene, being on airplanes, masks, and so on and so forth... and so I commend the administration for their decision. While I thought that the amount of people performing hajj this year would be in the tens of thousands, I’m actually being told that it may actually be less than ten thousand in total, which is a really big deal compared to the millions. But to answer your question specifically, Chris, is definitely... disappointment, tears, heartbroken, but you know honestly, we truly believe as Muslims that the Almighty, subhanahu wa ta’aala [glory be to the most high], has a plan for all of us, has a decree for all of us. And this is what was decreed for us, and as a result of our patience, right... because we’re reminded that in times of difficulty, we are to remain strong and we are to be patient and ask God for assistance. And so, as a result of our patience there’s reward in it for us. As a result of our patience, I truly believe that people that had intended to go for hajj inshallah, they’ll get a reward for hajj and in fact, because of their patience, their reward will be increased many fold. And maybe, as a result of their submitting to the will of God, to the will of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’aala [glory be to the most high], will bless them with the opportunity to do more hajj in the future than had been decreed for them earlier on. We don’t know, right? We truly submit to Allah and when we submit to Allah and say, “Allah if this is a part of your plan and if this is your plan, as much as I am upset and angry and feeling heartbroken, I submit to your plan,” we truly believe that Allah will return, you know, that, many fold for us.
MONEM SALAM: I was just gonna say that it’s interesting that you mentioned that because if you made the intention for hajj this year and were not able to go... but then because of that you’re able to go next year? You’ve actually done two hajj rather than one.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Not just that, Monem. I truly believe that as a result of our patience, what if Allah says, “You were so patient and you were so submissive to my decree, that I’m going to allow you to perform ten more hajj before it’s time for you to leave this world.” We don’t know. That’s the beauty of our beautiful tradition, right? That you know, we truly submit to Allah. As I was saying, you know, in our community, specifically, I’ve been telling people, you know, yes, yes, it’s hard. I’m not denying it. But have we thought about the fact that we’re still safe, healthy, in our homes, you know? Things could be so much worse right now. I was at our local graveyard yesterday and we had a COVID-related burial. And the brother who manages the graveyard, who helps with the burials, you know, I asked him, and he said that, “This is only our second...” and this is the larger primarily Muslim graveyard in the Bay Area... He said, “This is only our second COVID-related burial in the last six months. The first one was in January,” So ever since things got really bad in March, this is only our second one. There are many Muslim communities that are battling with COVID-related deaths right here in our country. Let’s not talk about the rest of the world. And our community is still... we’re still so lucky. So yes, it’s hard, but this is by the will and design of Allah and then what are you supposed to do? Go for hajj and God forbit, get sick, you know? Really. And you know, you hear some people who are overly enthusiastic and saying things like, “Oh I would much rather be in hajj and pass away,” you know things along those lines. But, you know, our tradition teaches us to not go into harm’s path when we know that there’s something that may be of harm to you. Then, you know, we’re required, the preservation of life is something that we are required and so it’s just part of that plan.
MONEM SALAM: I mean it’s kinda... we joke around sometimes but really, it’s like... hajj is for two weeks but your recovery period afterward is another two weeks. Everybody gets sick.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: A lot more than that, even.
MONEM SALAM: Imagine having to go in this environment.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: I jokingly tell people, “If you don’t get sick during hajj, you’re definitely going to get sick on the plan on the way back because of all the people coughing around you.” So, can you imagine? Allah forbid, that if there’s one person on that plane ride back home who was ill and while you remained safe all the way through, you know... and so, you know, yeah... we have to be careful.
MONEM SALAM: So, let me ask you a question. You’re from California, Northern California. I’ve visited there many times and a lot of times, you go out and say, “Wow it’s such a beautiful day,” and Northern Californians don’t even realize it because they have beautiful days every single day. You’ve been going for hajj for a very long time. And maybe it’s kind of become something where “Okay it’s another hajj,” but just one story... what is the one thing that you think you’re gonna miss the most about hajj?
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: You know... Monem... you probably understand this a little more than Chris, but you know... a very common question for a lot of people is which one do you prefer: Medina or Mecca? Mecca is where the Grand Mosque is, and Medina is where the Prophet’s tomb is. And while Medina has a very, very special place in my heart and there’s a lot of sukun and tranquility there and I love Medina. I’m not denying it. But over the years I have truly come to accept the fact that I personally am a Mecca person. I enjoy the energy at the Kaaba and just... being there, like, just you know, you feel like you’re in the presence of The Almighty and... I think that’s gonna be... there’s a lot more I can say and I’m gonna add one thing to that but really to answer your question Monem: I’m going to miss seeing the Kaaba and just making Tawaf around it. And then of course, the Dua on the Day of Arafah because the Prophet, Alayhiṣ-Ṣalātu was-Salām [The Messenger of Allah], peace be upon him, reminds us that every prayer you make on Arafah is an accepted one. And when the sun sets on the Day of Arafah, on the 9th of the Hijjah, all of your sins are forgiven, and people who perform hajj fairly regularly, we... People take that for granted. And you know, some of us friends, we’ve been kind of talking, “What are we gonna do this year?” And so... there’s talks of fasting the first nine days of the Hijjah and you know, just kind of making sure that we do our part to continue to remain in gratitude and in a state of submission and obedience to The Almighty but yes... that’s gonna be one. But you know? Honestly, Monem, on a lighter note, I am looking forward to spending time with my family. I’m making arrangements for the Id al-Adha sacrifice and it’s so foreign to me right now. It’s something that, you know, it’s like... I’m looking for the right place, because I haven’t done it, you know? In forever.
MONEM SALAM: It’s been a long time.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: And had it been safe to travel, I would have wanted to go to India to perform sacrifice there because Id al-Adha, in a largely Muslim populated country, is very, very different. You get to be of service to people that are not so privileged. But of course, we’re gonna be at home this year, so it’s gonna be different, inshallah, and I’m looking forward to it. And Alhamdulillah [praise God], I’m grateful.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: I have one question. I watched one of your talks about religious identity and you talked about challenges for this and future generations in terms of protecting traditions. And you talked about the increase in numbers of people making the pilgrimage... but do you think as a practice, hajj is strong, or can you foresee challenges, beyond COVID, in the coming years?
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: You know, I think the greatest challenge is going to be the number of people performing hajj. The infrastructure, you know, the ease, the current administration is very big on the hajj experience. In other words, if a hajji had anything wrong happen to them, even by a menial worker in a hotel, and you pick up the phone and call the Hajj Ministry, which is a very public phone number, the Hajj Ministry and the government takes these things very, very seriously. So yes, I think that the number of people that are going there is going to cause... is gonna be a real challenge. But I also think that, you know, they are working towards alleviating some of those concerns. Building entirely new airports, you know, in the upcoming years, Jeddah Airport, which is where most people fly into, will actually be out of commission for hajjis. It’ll all be directly arriving into Medina airport and then the new train system taking you to Mecca and so on and so forth. So, they’re definitely thinking about this and they have consultants that are helping them do this? So, are there shortcomings? Absolutely. There’s probably many, many shortcomings, but someone who has experienced this for the last two decades over my journeys there personally and professionally, I’ll tell you that, when it comes to the hajj and Umrah experience, you know, they’ve done a lot. And, you know, as someone who believes, as a Muslim who has read about The Prophet, and you know, has prayed towards the Kaaba in Mecca for years and years to be able to just see that, be there, know that there’s history attached to this, is just spiritually very, very powerful. It sort of makes everything real, if you get what I’m trying to say. It’s real. It happened. It was here. This is what it is, So, it’s really powerful. It’s really powerful.
MONEM SALAM: And part of the preparation... just sort of technical issues. I really liked your story about the person that had saved all of his halal income to be able to do that. One question that I had was very technical, but a lot of us in America, you know, have outstanding mortgages. We have our loans, and those type of things. What is the relationship between having debt and then going for hajj?
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: There’s varying opinions as to, you know, what kind of debt you should or should not be looking at when it comes to things like paying Zakat or performing hajj. Generally, you know, I like to remind people that any long-term debt that you have on which you’re simply making your minimum monthly installments, be it a mortgage or a car payment, then that debt should not be taken into consideration as long as you have savings along with it. Now, clearly, if someone has a mortgage and we will assume that it’s a Shariah-compliant mortgage, before someone jumps on this. But, you know, you have a Shariah-compliant house mortgage and every bit of your savings, monthly, annually, you’re putting into your mortgage because you want to get rid of that, you know, that debt sooner than later, and you have very little in savings, then of course, no obligation at all. But ultimately if you end up having savings and many people do, you know, we have... we pay our mortgage, we make our car payments, we make our student loan payments, and despite that, we have savings. In fact, we have a substantial amount of savings because of the way our financial system has been set up here. And people use that money, you know. When you have savings, you’re going on vacation, you are buying a new car—whatever. You know, it’s your money. You can spend it however you like, and so if you are able to have those savings then I personally believe that if you have savings enough for you to be able to perform hajj, then hajj becomes an obligation on you. And this is the opinion of the vast majority of the scholars in the west, that if you have savings despite your loans, then you should go for hajj. Now, someone may say, “Well, I want to be completely debt free before I go for hajj,” then... this would mean that you need to be actively working towards paying off your mortgage and not just making those minimum monthly payments and waiting for fifteen, twenty, or thirty years or whatever it is. Then saying I’m gonna go for hajj then. Right? If that’s the case then you might as well take all your bonuses and all your extra savings and curb down your regular day to day expenses and say, “You know what? I’m gonna pay off my loan in X amount of years, so that I can go for hajj debt free.” That would be the way to do it—but—if that’s not going to be the case then you should definitely, you know, putting together... The average hajj these days, costs around $10-12 thousand. And so putting that kind of money together, for most people who are working and have decent jobs, it is... it’s a decent chunk of money, don’t get me wrong, but if we were to set our minds and hearts towards it, and had a goal towards it, it’s possible. You know, I have a lot of younger couples who will come to me and say, “Can you give us six months to pay the money?” And every month, they become very principled, in terms of their expenses and spending and believe it or not, three and a half of four months later it comes through. Again, I can share so many stories with you of people who made the intention, did not necessarily have the full means but knew somehow, they would make it happen, and they made it happen. Chris, you had a question. I’m sorry.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Yeah, I wanted to ask about the relationship between zakat and hajj and, now, should zakat be paid before the saving for hajj begins, and do you pay zakat on hajj savings?
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Yeah... Are you sure you’re not Muslim?
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: [laughs]
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Um... you just asked a very technical question, but of course you’ve been in this line of work so I wouldn’t expect anything less of you. So, the obligation of zakat comes before the obligation of hajj. Because zakat is an annual obligation and is an obligation on money that you’ve already earned. As far as the obligation of hajj, it only becomes an obligation if you are physically and financially able to perform it. And so... the obligation of zakat definitely comes before hajj. And then of course, hajj is more of an individual obligation, where zakat is a communal obligation. And we are required to look after our community, so that’s another reason. As far as zakat on hajj savings... any savings, whether they be for hajj or otherwise, would be treated similarly as you would for zakat purposes, any other savings.
MONEM SALAM: And then also, the other thing is that, and we’re getting into this now, would be, how do you begin to be able to save for that? And I think that in the stories of... you know, making an intention and trying to save that $12,000 within six months, you know, obviously, probably you have payments along the way that you need to make, so you need to keep that money very liquid. And so, you know, opening a halal bank account, making sure the money is there, being invested, that’s perfectly find, but there are a lot of people who are thinking, “You know what? I can probably end up saving $50 to $100 a month, and it might take them a little bit longer to do that, which is perfectly fine. Now as you begin to save that money, your intention is already there, every month you’re putting in money, your intention is there that you’re going to be eventually doing that whether it takes five years or maybe even longer than that. Then you have other options besides just putting into the bank account. And the reason I say that is because the cost of hajj, over the past, let’s say, ten years, has been far outpacing the inflation rate in the US. And so, you know, if you’re just gonna be putting your money into the bank account, it’s gonna be a long time before you can actually be able to afford it and sometimes it’s gonna be something you’re chasing after that you’ll never be able to reach because your money is really not growing fast enough.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: In fact, you know, what I would urge people to start doing, Monem, is that even if hajj... Like, I think as Muslims, everyone has a desire or plan to go for hajj at some point. I’m not denying that. But for many people who haven’t performed hajj, hajj is nowhere in their near future. So, it’s not like... I don’t see it in my upcoming three, four, five years. It would be smart of them to start putting money into a fund... fifty dollars or a hundred dollars a month... for two reasons. First of all, this spiritually... making this intention with Allah, with The Almighty and saying, you know what? I’ve started a hajj fund. And then Allah says, “Oh, you’ve done your part? Let me do my part.” So, there’s the spirituality. And then secondly, whatever amount of money you have put together. It could be a few thousand dollars over the course of three or four years or whatever. When the time does come for hajj, this becomes a fairly significant chunk of that payment and you would do nothing but thank yourself and really, all you did was start with, like you said, fifty dollars a month or a hundred dollars a month, that we could have been spending elsewhere. You know a lot of people like to give this Starbucks coffee example. I don’t do that. Continue your coffee. I’m not saying stop your coffee. Please, enjoy yourselves.
MONEM SALAM: Maybe the other way to look at it is... I mean, when we’re first starting off, the idea is okay, I want to be able to save enough money to get married. I want to save enough money to be able to get my MBA or to buy a house or buy a car. I mean, I think part of that decision needs to be, I’m gonna start saving money now so that when I have enough, I’m gonna go for hajj, whenever that opportunity comes about.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Absolutely, and believe it or not, in our din, in our faith, in our tradition, we clearly know that intentions, you know... our actions are judged by our intentions. And so, if we are able to begin the intention, you know, The Almighty will surprise you as to what that money would become from the time you have put it in, you know? The amount of money you put in, plus whatever else you made on it, and you know, come the time for hajj, you know, you may just be able to, as a result of your intention, say, “Oh my God, you know what? Not only can I go myself, my spouse can come with me and if we just work a little harder maybe one of our adult children can come with us.” You know, it’s all in the intention, really. And the Almighty would surprise you with his bounties, but making that intention and working towards it, not just making the intention but actively working towards it would be very, very powerful.
MONEM SALAM: Yeah, I think so, and I think just one thing to add to that. I think just from a mechanism perspective, you know, I think, like I said, if you’re planning on going for hajj, saving enough money, to have the wherewithal to do it for this year or next year, you know, leaving the money in a halal savings account is probably your best bet, right?
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Absolutely. Yeah.
MONEM SALAM: But if you’re looking long term, if you’re a younger person, just a regular account where you can begin to save money would be good, fifty dollars, a hundred dollars a month, and you’ll be surprised because the money is gonna keep growing based on the rate of the market. However, if you’re older, one of the things that you can do, and I would recommend that because you can actually get some tax benefit from it, is to actually open up a Roth IRA and put money there to be able to eventually save for hajj. And the reason why I save that is because the contributions into a Roth are actually, when you take it out, after five years, you can take that out whenever you want. And if you’re actually closer to the age of retirement, which is above 59 and a half, and a lot of people do go when they’re older than that, then you can take all of the money out of your Roth account tax-free and be able to perform the hajj. So, it’s actually a good method. If you’re 50, 55 years old, 59 and a half, you can continue to work but after that point, whatever money you take out of it, is gonna be something that’s gonna be tax-free for you to be able to do. The one thing that I did wanna mention, Imam Tahir, is that we do have a hajj calculator on our website so you can actually go and say, “I’d like to be able to go for hajj in ten years,” and based on the rate of whatever the return is, it’ll tell you how much you should be saving...
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Oh, wow, that’s really powerful.
MONEM SALAM: ...you know, on a monthly basis to be able to do that.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: You know, it’s just... facilitating it for people. Facilitating it for people. And you know, we save money for all kinds of things. Why not put our savings to use and, like you mentioned, if you have larger amounts of money that you want to set aside, and you can make a little bit of money off of it, or be able to save in taxes and so on and so forth, why not? It’s always good to be smart with money. And there’s ways around it.
MONEM SALAM: So, we talked about... now we’ve been talking about debt and savings and those type of things, and we kinda always caveat it with this idea that it has to be halal and that type of thing... but what if it’s not? What if you do have a mortgage that’s on a conventional... what if you do try to save in a conventional bank or a conventional fund or something like that?
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: There’s two things, here. First of all, just because you have a conventional mortgage or a conventional interest-bearing loan, your income is still halal. You’ve just chosen to be, you know... You have an opinion different than that of many others and you have chosen to enter into a contract differently. But that doesn’t mean your income is haram. That still means hajj is an obligation. You could have an interest-bearing mortgage and despite that, hajj would still be an obligation, right? An interest-bearing mortgage does not negate the obligation of hajj.
MONEM SALAM: That’s a good point.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Now... maybe the question could be, “What if your income is haram?” So, what if, you know, the money that you’re making comes from avenues that, you know, are... Islamic law doesn’t allow you to be in that kind of a profession. I would still... while it’s very important and crucial that we use our halal income to go for hajj, I would still say go for hajj. Because, you know, being in the presence of The Almighty, being in that state of submission, being in ibadah and that day... you know, most people come back completely renewed and refreshed and you know, you will come back and Allah, subhanahu wa ta’aala [glory be to the most high], will open the doors of his sustenance for you so that the fear that you have of your sustenance in leaving the current work that you are in would become alleviated as a result of your dua at hajj. Allah would open out of his bounty and blessings, doors of risq for you that you never thought or had seen available to you, but as a result of your hajj and your dua on the day of Arafah, Allah opened those doors.
MONEM SALAM: That’s really... I think on the one side we talked about this idea of the non-compliant mortgages and the obligation for hajj doesn’t go away. We talked about this idea of your halal income and I think that was beautifully said, that Allah, subhanahu wa ta’aala, will maybe give you that realization you need to change and then open up the doors of risq. In the middle of it is also the idea that, you know, what do you do with the savings that you have and how do you keep that halal. And there’s many alternatives that are available to do that, so it’s more a matter of kinda halfway and in-between, which is now you’re saving the money. What do you do with that money as far as how do you save it and, like I said, there’s multiple alternatives to be able to do something and save in a halal way to be able to eventually lead you to that goal of being able to perform the hajj.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Absolutely... and you know, just because someone method of income is haram, or doubtful, that doesn’t mean that they can’t do things with their money in the right way. Just because it’s haram income... it’s almost like someone has haram means of income and now they’re like, “Well because my income is haram to begin with, I’m gonna go to Vegas every month to gamble it off...” It doesn’t work that way, right? That person could still be contributing to good works and good causes. As a result of that, you know, Allah would say, you know, you’ve done so much good that as a result of that, here, let me open the doors of my risq for you. So, it’s always, always asking and seeking the mercy of The Almighty and doing good with whatever we have and then of course, praying to Allah. I remember this, seven years ago, I performed hajj with an individual who owned some liquor stores, you know, which unfortunately is common in our community. He owned some liquor stores and he just had this... and he didn’t think much of it at the time, you know? He would just argue and say, “This is my means of income. There’s nothing else that I can do, and I have a family to raise,” and so on and so forth. And he came to hajj and he just had this stark realization one day and said, “You know what? I am gonna make dua to Allah for Allah to change things for me,” and lo and beyond he came back and before you know it, he had opened up almost three dozen cell phone stores. Over time, of course, but it was that prayer. It was that intention.
MONEM SALAM: Yeah.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: We believe in divine assistance and divine mercy. So, this should not negate that you, you know... Yes, if you have the option of using that income and putting it into a halal savings account or a halal investment account, absolutely. If you can go to perform something like hajj, why not?
MONEM SALAM: You know, one thing that we face during this time right before the hajj comes is people call us up and say, “Do you know of a good lawyer that can help me write my will?” Right? Because a lot of people want to take care of their affairs before that. We know from a hadith of The Prophet that you shouldn’t go away three nights without writing a will, so my encouragement... hopefully we’re gonna get this out before the hajj season would be to take care of your will and estate planning even if you’re not gonna go for hajj this year.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Very recently, in fact, ten days ago, I was speaking to a specialist when it comes to, you know, wills according to Islamic law. There’s a lot of questions that need to be answers. There’s a lot of, just, trying to figure out how you’re gonna make it happen and so on. It’s not as easy... a lot of people, and Monem you know this, far better than I do, a lot of people kinda go online... download this template that’s available and just kinda sign it and think that they’ve fulfilled their obligation. Clearly, you and I both know that’s not gonna stand in a court of law. There’s just so... it’s not just about Islamic law but it’s about the laws of the land that we live in. And making sure that it’s done right. As far as the distribution, the distribution is pretty simple, but even the distribution can be managed according to your desires to a certain extent and people should know about this so, you know, our children are well taken care of. So, you’re right. Even if you’re not going for hajj, you should work on it. In closing what I would like to say is that hajj is an opportunity that our generation has been afforded and made easy to us and for us far more than previous generations and in many cases, including that of our own parents and it should not be taken lightly. This opportunity to be able to perform hajj and to do it sooner than later should not be taken lightly. And while it may not be for you in the immediate upcoming years, it’s something that you know, we should all pray for, think about, intend, and begin our preparations. One of the biggest preparations happens to be that of our being financially prepared for it. And so, if there are opportunities where we can begin those, you know, making it easy for us financially, then we should definitely start looking into those so that when the time comes it would be so much more easy for us.
MONEM SALAM: Thank you, Imam Tahir. I think this is... I really enjoyed having a conversation with you about hajj and I really appreciate it.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Awesome. Thank you.
MONEM SALAM: I know we’re living through some unprecedented times, but you know, there is always... we’re a people of hope, so there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Absolutely.
MONEM SALAM: --------- will make this is a success for us in ways we can’t imagine.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Inshallah.
MONEM SALAM: Thank you so much for your time.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Yes, thank you.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Hey, no problem and pleasure meeting both of you.
MONEM SALAM: Okay, Salaam Alaikum.
IMAM TAHIR ANWAR: Take care, Wa-Alaikum-Salaam.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON [outro]: Monem mentioned our hajj savings calculator. You can find that at our website, Saturna.com. More specifically, the URL is Saturna.com/amana/investing-for-hajj. That’s saturna.com/amana/investing-for-hajj.
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