She gave me a friendly smile as she spread her prayer mat next to mine that evening in the cool comfort of Masjid Nabawi, Madinah Al-Munawwarah. A comely Arab woman in her early 30s, she had exceptionally beautiful eyes and an unusually pert, upturned nose.
We salaamed and introduced ourselves. Her name was Seham; she spoke flawless English, was very articulate and came across both well-heeled and well-educated. I was struck by her humble demeanour as we chatted amiably while waiting for the muezzin’s call to Maghrib prayers.
She had just flown in from Riyadh with her husband to pray at the Prophet’s Mosque. It had been a tradition of theirs, she said, to spend a few days in Madinah immediately after the Hajj season, and at the beginning of Ramadan.
Upon learning of my nationality, she enthusiastically informed that her family had holidayed in Malaysia twice. “I always developed a headache after three days in Kuala Lumpur; the city is very busy and noisy!” she said ruefully, quickly adding, “But we know we’ll be back many times in the near future because we like Malaysia!”
She asked for my preference between Makkah and Madinah, and why. I told her Madinah won hands down because the city, with its tall, modern buildings, shopping malls, boulevards, avenues, plazas and wide open spaces, seemed well planned and organised.
[Pak Abu had, upon arrival, likened downtown Madinah to San Franscisco, saying this second holiest city of Islam ironically had an “American” feel about it].
Madinah was well-maintained, thus very clean. Despite the teeming crowd, traffic was less chaotic than Makkah. Even the bazaars and shopping arcades were neatly laid out.
Further, one could actually sense the friendliness of its people; the shopkeepers definitely more pleasant and the food a notch above, in comparison to Makkah.
“My sentiment, exactly,” said Seham, beaming broadly, when I finished waxing lyrical about this charming city that had offered refuge to Prophet Muhammad (saw) and his followers in the early days of Islam.
I simply loved the weather in Madinah; mornings greeted us with blustery winds (reminiscent of winter mornings in London), the evening air was cool and crispy and noontime was pleasantly warm. On the other hand, Makkah a mere 447 kilometres away seared under an unforgiving sun.
We were to be in Madinah for nine days before going home. Pilgrims from our group, Maktab 78-KT 73, were comfortably lodged, three to a room, in five-star Hotel Dar As Salam adjacent to Madinah Hilton and 150 metres away from Masjid Nabawi.
The day after arrival we were taken on a tour of the Prophet’s Mosque and its surrounds (ziarah dalam) which culminated in the highly anticipated visit to Raudah (literally ‘a garden’), a hallowed area in the Prophet’s mosque that lies between the Prophet’s house and his pulpit.
For the uninitiated, Masjid Nabawi was built on the site of Prophet Muhammad (saw)’s house and his burial place (which was his bed, for the Prophet died on his bed).
And the Prophet (pbuh) had said (as narrated in the hadith by Al-Bukhari): “What lies between my house and my pulpit is a garden (Raudah) from the Gardens of Paradise.”
While male pilgrims could visit the Raudah at any time of the day, visiting hours for women, for some reason, were regulated. It took us two hours of waiting to finally get into Raudah.
It was only 11 o’clock in the morning, but already thousands of women amassed there, waiting for their turn.
Upon reaching the Prophet’s mausoleum, I greeted him with “Assalamualaikum Ya Rasulullah”, and then I broke down and cried.
It was a strange feeling; one felt as though he, Allah’s Beloved, was watching and listening and that he answered one's salaam.
We also salaamed the two Sahabahs (Companions), Abu Bakar and Umar, who were buried alongside him, after which we quickly prayed and said our supplications before leaving.
We were advised by our Tabung Haji ustaz to say our doas while prostrating; that way the mutaweens (mosque guards) would not hurry us through for they would not disturb a prostrated pilgrim. If we did it the conventional way i.e. with palms upturned, the mutaweens would not be so considerate.
With the demands of the Hajj over, we found ourselves less stressed, thus more accommodating towards each other.
Before leaving for the Holy Land, we had been cautioned time and again by well-meaning relatives and friends (who had done the Hajj) that no matter how loving and tolerant one was, the Hajj would inevitably offer numerous opportunities to bicker with one’s spouse. It couldn’t have been truer.
We did squabble over a few issues (strangely enough, issues so minor we wouldn’t even bat an eyelid about under normal circumstances), but nothing that a forgiving hug could not cure. A couple we knew didn’t speak to each other for days, over the ludicrous issue of buying souvenirs!
Breakfast time saw us at a corner shop about 500 metres from the hotel, beyond a major traffic intersection. The shop offered deliciously crispy roti canai and we lost no time telling others about it. Soon enough, some of our friends also began patronising the place.
Tabung Haji’s caterer in Madinah did an excellent job with our main meals (lunch and dinner) and the cute-looking twin boys, no older than 18, who served us were eye candies indeed!
The duo were Madinah born and raised, but their parents, long-time Madinah residents, came from Pattani Province in South Thailand. As such they could speak Malay, but with a heavy Kelantanese accent.
One evening Pak Abu and I got together with his golf buddy Nik Faizul and his wife who were also on pilgrimage. We decided to have tea al fresco at a foodcourt nearby. We regrouped a couple of days later, this time for lamb curry dinner.
Three days before leaving Madinah we went on one final ziarah, to visit the historical mosques of Quba and Qiblatain, the site of Uhud War and the final resting place of the Prophet’s uncle Syaidina Hamzah and the other Syuhadahs (those who died in the war), as well as a date plantation..