Silently uttering a prayer as the plane started to take off, I was excited beyond words. I looked out of the oval-shaped window and saw the sun setting in the pink horizon, far across the desert dunes of Sharjah. ‘This same sun would greet me in the morning’, I thought with a smile, ‘in the city of the Prophet, sallalahu ‘alayhi wassalam.’ The thought made me restless with anticipation, and though I had planned to sleep in the plane to get some rest, I couldn’t. Instead, I read the Umrah guide book that I had brought along with me, which I have already been reading for the past couple of weeks as part of my preparations for this important journey of my life. In the seat behind me, I could hear a woman softly sing an Arabic nursery rhyme to keep her baby from crying.
Less than two hours later, I looked out of the window and saw, thousands of feet below us, lights. ‘This is it!’, I thought aloud, making Masood look out of the window as well. I quickly took a blurry picture of my first glimpse of Madinah. The plane then took a turn and the city appeared more clearer from the left window instead. I sighed.
Appearing to be right in the center of the city, The Masjid al Nabawi, or the Prophet’s Mosque, glimmered like a giant star amidst million smaller ones in the black night. I coudn’t take my eyes off this spectacular sight. However, moments later, the plane prepared for landing and the view was gone. Soon, at around 9 pm local time, the plane landed at the Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz Airport.
The moment I stepped out of the aircraft, a warm breeze blew across my face, and I felt it envelope my soul, welcoming me to the City of the Prophet, sallalahu ‘alayhi wassalam. The temperature was 31 °C, as opposed to 28 °C in the U.A.E. I climbed down the stairs and the moment my right foot touched the ground, my heart skipped a beat.
Madinah’s airport is small and there wasn’t much crowd. First, we were handed Umrah Arrival Cards to fill in. We then queued up to the immigration officer, had our visas checked and passports stamped, and then another officer took photocopies of our visas. Masood went to collect our luggage. I waited for him at the other side of the security check. When he went to get the suitcase, after it had gone through the xray machine, the officer told him in Arabic to open it. Apparently, he noticed from his monitor the two rods behind the suitcase, the ones that support the handle at the back. He checked and let us go.
Outside, a friend of Masood greeted us. He was kind enough to pick us up from the airport and drive us all the way to our hotel. In the darkness of the night, Madinah felt peaceful. I also noticed that most of the cars on the road were old. And yes, there were no female drivers. I smiled when men impatiently honked their horns the moment the traffic signal turned green. ‘Just like home’, I thought. I lost track of time, too busy observing the city when, from somewhere out from behind the old buildings, I saw the minar of the Masjid al Nabawi glisten. My heartbeat quickened as I realized we’re moving towards it.
The hotel lobby smelled strongly of bukhoor. I sat on the huge sofas covered in golden velvet while Masood and his friend walked over to the reception to check us in. The lobby was full of Iranians. Looking up from the center of the lobby, I can see the next floor. People, men and women alike, were sitting and listening attentively to a man making du’a in Farsi on the microphone. A man was kind enough to offer us orange juice while we waited. I don’t remember the name of the hotel, but it was very good. The staff was courteous and they had done a fabulous job maintaining clean rooms.
In Madinah, I never ate out. Masood had always brought food to the room, where we all ate together. ‘I didn’t notice women eating in restaurants,’ he mentioned. ‘Good,’ I thought, ‘It’s already too crowded outside.’ We offered all our prayers in Masjid al Nabawi, Alhumdulillah, and Fajr was a very lively time. ‘It feels like Eid,’ said Masood. After offering our Jummah prayers and having lunch, Masood’s friend took us around Madinah.
I found Madinah to be a simple, clean and peaceful city. Most importantly, there wasn’t much construction work going on so that was definitely a refreshing change. There wasn’t much traffic either. Also, I noticed that the people were friendly and accommodating. Everyone I know who had been to Madinah have the same impression. As a matter of fact, the people of Madinah were the ones who had welcomed Prophet Mohammed, sallalahu ‘alayhi wassalam, with open arms when he migrated from Makkah. That is probably why the prophet mentioned in the following hadith:
Abdullah bin Zaid bin Asim reported Prophet Mohammed, sallalahu ‘alayhi wassalam, as saying:
“Verily, Ibraheem declared Makkah sacred and supplicated for blessings to be showered upon its inhabitants, and I declare Madinah to be as sacred as Ibraheem declared Makkah to be sacred. I have supplicated (to Allah for His blessings to be showered) in its sa’ and mudd (two standards of weight and measurement) twice as did Ibraheem for the inhabitants of Makkah.” (Muslim:1360)
Known by different names, Madinah al Munawwarah or ‘The Enlightened City’, lies 250 km east of the Red Sea and is surrounded by mountains. This city also produces the country’s finest dates. Among the first things I noticed was that a lot of women come out in the morning, in full niqaab, and would sell stuff, like prayer rugs, scarves, slippers, and other small items. They either push a cart along the streets of Madinah or spread a blanket on the clean floors of the city and put the items on display. Business looked specially good after prayers, specially on Fridays. They end up blocking the entire area in front of the Masjid al Nabawi, prompting the police to come and force them to leave.
The mountain of Uhud, where a battle was fought in March 625 between the Muslim community of Madinah, led by the Prophet Mohammed, sallalahu ‘alayhi wassalam, and a strong army from Makkah, led by Abu Sufyan. Due to the mistake of some of the Muslim archers of abandoning their positions despite the instructions from the Prophet, sallalahu ‘alayhi wassalam, to remain in their places regardless of what happened during the battle, seventy Muslims, including Hamza, the Prophet’s uncle, were martyred. Prophet Mohammed, sallalahu ‘alayhi wassalam, sustained several wounds himself.
Prophet Mohammed, sallalahu ‘alayhi wassalam never forgot the martyrs of Uhud nor the occurences in Uhud; he visited the tombs of the martyrs every year and revisited them during the last days of his life. The battle of Uhud was commemorated by Muslims in later periods to remind them not to make the same mistake again.
The picture above shows a small mosque just across the graveyard, where the unmarked graves of Hamza and other martyrs are located. Women aren’t allowed near the graves, nor photography is allowed. One thing I’d noticed was that some people supplicate while visiting these graves. This is shirk and should not be done at all.
We then returned back to Masjid al Nabawi in time for the Maghrib prayers.