Monday, May 3, 2010

Umrah - Memorable Medinah

Looking at this neverending range of rocky peaks and vast plains of rock-filled nothingness, we couldn't even begin to imagine the plight of Prophet Muhammad (saw) and his Companion Saiyyidina Abu Bakar from Makkah to Medinah, escaping the Quraisy by crossing the desert on their camels, with barely enough provisions.

Although we had learnt about the story in school, and had heard it retold time and again over the years, the Prophet's perilous journey as related by our ustaz guide that afternoon took a whole new meaning as we crossed the very same steaming desert in our air-conditioned comfort.

That we were looking at the same bleak landscape as the Prophet and his Companion did during their 10-day trek 1,400 years ago was without a doubt. It was the fact that they soldiered on in great difficulties whilst we were transported with such ease, that made us feel ever so guilty.

Medinah lies 447 kilometres to the north of Makkah, in the region of Hijaz. Our overland journey took about 5 hours with one pitstop for lunch and prayers. Apart from the occasional Bedouin encampments and the odd wadis, there was nothing much to see along the way.

An R&R in the middle of nowhere. This small convenience store sold drinks, tidbits and odds and ends but carried the grand name of Yaman Marketing Centre. They do think big in this part of the world.... :)

It's one of the three buildings at our halfway stop enroute to Medinah, the other two being a diner where we got down to eat our packed lunch, and a mosque where we performed our Zuhur prayers. The coach was parked next to this lorry (pix below) ferrying goats.


There is something to be said about Medinah, the second holiest city in Islam after Makkah. One could feel the underlying vibrance of this charming city known for its friendliness, this oasis of great historical significance where Prophet Muhammad (saw) spent the last decade of his life.

After chaotic, cramped Makkah with its narrow roads and winding alleyways and the accompanying din of construction, sedate Medinah, with its ample boulevards and wide open spaces, was a welcome relief.

More than 1,400 years ago Medinah (then known as Yathrib) opened its heart to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw), who was forced to leave Makkah with his meagre band of faithfuls to escape persecution from the Quraisy.

That historical migration in July 622 formed the basis of the Muslim calendar, the Hijrah. The Ansars and Muhajirins of Medinah not only provided refuge to Muhammad (saw) and his followers, but also embraced Islam and helped spread the word.

It goes without saying that I like Medinah. After the hustle and bustle of Makkah, the family was waiting to be seduced by marvellous Medinah. She didn't disappoint. There was a marked degree of calmness here. The serenity was profound.

We arrived in the late afternoon and immediately checked in at Al-Haram Hotel located about 70 metres from Masjid Nabawi, before trekking to the mosque for Maghrib.

I remember this hotel well because it was Tabung Haji's Medinah operation centre during our Hajj two years before. Back then, we were housed in Hotel Dar-As-Salam just 5 minutes walk down the road.

Our room, on the 10th floor, was spacious and comfortable. Best of all, the bathroom sparkled!

That was Joe, sprawled on his bed upon arrival. Poor Joe felt the fatigue of a five-hour road journey across a desert, albeit in an air-conditioned coach.

These umbrella-like structures, a recent addition to Masjid Nabawi, offer a respite from Medinah's afternoon heat. The shade had yet to be built two years ago. In the evening the umbrellas would be closed electronically so congregation could pray under the open sky. Medinah, even at its hottest, wasn't as stifling as Makkah.

A beautiful decorative ceiling and chandelier in Masjid Nabawi.

One of the passageways leading to Raudah, the 'Garden of Paradise', the very spot where Prophet Muhammad's (saw) house, pulpit and courtyard once stood and where his mausoleum is today, within the Nabawi Mosque.

Naj in a contemplative mood, while waiting for prayers to begin. The architecture of Masjid Nabawi is simply awesome. This mosque was built in September 622 AD using mud bricks and trunks of palm. Completed 8 months later, its original area was only 1,022 square metres.

It was extended and restored by subsequent rulers of Medinah over the centuries. The biggest renovation and expansion project in the mosque's history took place between 1984-1994 under the current Saudi dynasty. It brought the area to over 200,000 square metres covering two floors.

Yet another view of the mosque interior. Joe was fortunate enough to be able to bring his camera inside without a hassle. The male guards here made sporadic and cursory checks on male pilgrims; if you were lucky, you'd pass through with your camera (like Joe did).

The female guards (mutaween) however, were very thorough; they tried to frisk each and every female pilgrim for cameras and handphones, thus causing neverending congestion at the mosque's multiple entrances. I still don't understand the conflicting rule applied.

I was caught with a camera that very evening as I entered for Maghrib prayers. In my haste, I had forgotten to remove it from my prayer bag (usually I'd leave it at the hotel before going to the mosque).

The mutaween asked me to leave, so I did the next best thing - I removed the memory card before putting the camera inside my shoebag and placing the bag at the shoe rack outside.

It was either that or pray in the courtyard. There was nothing much else to do but keep faith in Allah swt that the camera would still be there when I was done.

Because our stay in Medinah was quite brief (only two nights), our time was fully occupied, with regular visits to Masjid Nabawi for prayers interspersed with pre-planned ziarah (visits) to places of interest, one of which was to the date plantation (pix below).

The Abus having sweet Arab tea during a visit to a date plantation. It must be said that dates sold at such plantations were dearer than what you could find at Pasar Kurma (something like a wholesale market for dates) located adjacent to Masjid Nabawi in the heart of town.

Still, we bought a token amount at the plantation (we were told the driver earned a bit of cash if we spent ours). But we saved our real shopping for dates at the market later in the day. Nawwar had a long list of date & preserved fig purchase to make anyway - all those pesanan & kiriman (requests) from so many people.

Mama's girls, dateless for now but happy enough nevertheless, at the date plantation.

Dates, dates and more dates; nougat-covered dates, dates dipped in chocolate, mixed nuts date bars, date candies, plain ordinary dates, super-expensive Ajwa dates (kurma Nabi) of various grades costing between SR40 and SR80 per kilo, Yemeni dates, Maryami dates.. you name it they have it; fresh, frozen, preserved.

Pak Abu and I have a thing for semi-frozen dates; they were so crispy. This pix was taken at Pasar Kurma and the candies above were sold by weight, although one could also find gift-packed ones. Whatever their presentation, in true pasar borong (wholesale market) tradition, these dates were a whole lot cheaper.

Boys will always be boys. Because the signboard clearly says "No Photograph", they must take a photograph there. This picture was taken at Masjid Quba', the oldest mosque in Islamic history. I have no clue why the sign was such; I don't remember seeing anything similar anywhere else in Medinah (or Makkah for that matter), not even in the vicinity of the two great mosques.

These two pictures (above and below) were taken at Masjid Quba', some kilometres outside Medinah. The original mosque was built on this very site by Prophet Muhammad (saw) himself not long after settling down in Medinah. The one that we have today has been rebuilt, extended and renovated time and again to meet the demands of an increasing number of pilgrims.
A marble monument outside Masjid Quba', I believe detailing its history and significance to Islam. (I'm only guessing because I don't read Arabic.)

One of the more profound visits was to the battlefield of Uhud, fought on March 19, 625 AD at this valley located in front of Jabal Uhud (the rocky range in the background).

This was the second military encounter between the Quraisy of Makkah and the Muslims of Medinah, the first being the Battle of Badr the year before.

The Battle of Uhud became infamous for one reason; the Muslims (who were smaller in numbers from the Quraisy attackers) were in the clutches of victory when their archers breached the Prophet's order and vacated their post up a hill to grab the spoils of war left by a fleeing Quraisy army.

This allowed a surprised attack by a Makkah cavalry; many Muslim warriors died including the Prophet's own uncle Sayyidina Hamzah. The Prophet himself was badly injured, causing a rumour to race through the Muslim camp that he had perished in the battle, thus demoralising the Muslims further, until it was proved otherwise.

Within this fenced area lies the grave of Prophet Muhammad's (saw) uncle, Sayyidina Hamzah and those of many other Syuhadahs who perished in the Battle of Uhud. When I first visited this site two years back, I couldn't hold back my tears. The impact of standing here, on this sacred grounds where the faithfuls died in jihad was too much to take. This time around, I had better control of my emotions, but the feeling of sadness and awe prevailed.

This is the hill abandoned by the archers, not to pursue a fleeing army but to collect the spoils of war, with disastrous consequences. The Quraisy claimed victory and returned two years later to engage the Prophet and his men in yet another battle, the Battle of the Trench (Peperangan Khandaq). They were soundly defeated by the Muslims through wit and ingenuity, and that was the last of the wars between them.

For our last dinner in Medinah we gave our hotel-prepared food a miss and took the kids to Sameer Restaurant down the road (beyond the traffic intersection) for lamb curry. We had a similar dinner with Pak Abu's golfer friend Nik Faizul and his wife two years ago during the Hajj.

Sameer's was not Arab per se; in fact it was a Pakistani restaurant but the food was a mixture of both, so was the clientele. Located in the basement (one had to walk a few steps down), the place may be cramped and dinghy but the lamb, delicious and tender and eaten with plate-sized pita bread, more than made up for it.

The six of us polished off three plates of lamb curry, three plates of chicken curry, 14 pieces of pita bread and two jumbo bottles of coke, and the bill came to SR66. It was worth every riyal.

Hours before our departure for the airport, we made one last visit to the food court near our hotel for some kebab. Here's the eldest and the youngest looking savvy in their jubbah and shades, carrying provisions.

Nawwar, as usual, still managed to squeeze in some last-minute shopping for jubbahs. Just as in Beijing earlier in the year, she successfully haggled her way to halving the prices offered. If she could wear those Chinese and Arab shopkeepers down, I dont' know what else she could do..

Approaching the Jeddah International Airport. This tent-like structure is the Hajj Pilgrims Receiving Centre. Upon arrival and after customs & immigration clearance, pilgrims congregate under these open-air 'tents' to wait for their respective transportation to Makkah. The wait usually lasts 3-4 hours.

Checking-in. Inside those "Safewrap" plastic bags were containers of zamzam water, given free to all pilgrims (20 litres/pax). Each container was rather heavy; thankfully they weren't considered baggage, thus needed no weighing in.

KLIA, here we come, it's home sweet home! They say home is where the heart is. Now, here's the tough part because somehow, we feel our hearts have been left behind.


AuntieYan said...

Salam Kak Puteri,

Alhamdulillah dah selamat sampai dan dah selamat mengerjakan Umrah....I yang tak pergi ni rasa sangat teruja dengan pengelaman yang dilalui...Insyaallah doa I siang dan malam untuk ke sana dimakbulkanNya juga satu hari... :-)

Wan Sharif said...

Salam Puteri,
Somehow I got the feeling you all are also well prepared physically (not only spiritually) for the Umrah and Ziarah. I noticed you have covered some distance in your ziarah and not to forget.. the necessary "shopping".
Envious of successful Umrah & Ziarah.. saya do'akan semuga Allah membarakahi (memberkati) usaha usaha yang telah dan akan dilakukan.. Amin

mamasita said...

Awwh..what a very beautiful, fruitful and extremely admirable documentary of your Umrah trip.

So nice that I too got some tears and a sniffling nose after reading the whole entry.

Cat-in-Sydney said...

Aunty Puteri,
Lain kali pi ajak kita ye? I think my Mama and Dad are planning another trip too. Brad & I? Ke rumah baby sitter lagi lah.... purrr...meow!

ninotaziz said...

I really enjoyed your commentary and the frankly, I was teary whenever you juxtaposed today's Medinah and what actually took place one thousand four hundred years ago.

Thank you for sharing and welcome back.

madam gold said...

Salam Kak Puteri.
Thanks for sharing the pics.
Ahhh...terasa begitu rindu utk ke Medina apabila melihat gambar2 yg dipaparkan..
We stayed in Al Haram too during Haj..good clean hotel..

Mrs.A said...

So love this entry .. Thank you. Madinah brings back lots of memories with my arwah MIL. Must visit her grave soonest. . Rindu pulak.

3yearshousewife said...

I've enjoyed every lines and pictures of your umrah entries and am inspired. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

During the 2005 Haj I too stayed at the 10th floor at the Al Haram in Medina.Kak Putri the mutton kurma n cucumber looks delicious!Insyallah will land at Sameer restaurant when in Medina soon!


Raden Galoh said...

lovely entry that brings back feeling of subdued, awe and longing kak...

you wrote beautifully and what am I blabbering is your gifted talent anyway! hahahaha...

thanx for sharing sis!

Kama said...

Yan - Insyaallah one day sampailah tu, and you'll experience satu nikmah yg tak dapat diceritakan seronoknya, Insyaallah..

Wan - Actually we ought to be fit physically too for umrah & ziarah as per hajj. this is because we hv to do a fair bit of walking (pi balik masjid alone dah berapa batu over the days). tu belum masuk tawaf and sae'i.. kalau ditotalkan mau berpuluh2 batu.. very good exercise). Spiritually, selalunya one will get into the groove naturally bila dah sampai.

Mamasita - Insyaallah your day will come. masa tu you will experience soem of the most beautiful moments of your life, percayalah..

Cat - am happy to note Mom & Dad are planning to go again..ask them to visit Dakwah Corner.. buku2nya murah compared to Sydney!

Ninot - glad you enjoyed my little note and tq for the kind wishes.

MG - Good hotel, kan? I came here a few times to withdraw my $ from Tabung Haji counter..

MrsA - Al-fatihah untuk arwah. She must be a wonderful MIL for you to hv such kind thoughts of her. And you are one good DIL, MrsA, Alhamdulillah..

3YH - tq dear for your kind words.

Wawa - Al-Haram's location is also wonderful sebab on the lower ground floor ada rows of shops selling jubahs and stuffs. Hari2 we stop by bila balik dari masjid.. hehehe

Dalilah - tq dear.. and I pray that you will recover fully to live life as normally as possible once again, Insyaallah. Semua yg berlaku ada hikmahnya...

Al-Manar said...

All that is modern is of necessity. But at times I do wish these places were as they were a thousand years ago to capture the atmosphere and appreciate what belief in Allah meant to people of that era, and how fivolous are the many things we value today.
Salaam from Pakcik.

Mrs.A said...

Thank you for your kind words. I can now never repay her in worldly goods for bringing me to my first umrah 5 years ago. The only DIL she brought. Why me? I will never know, even after all our ups and downs. (mostly downs in the beginning , she being mom of 4 dilligent boys, me the first DIL! ) I repay her by remembering to doa for her. InsyaAllah.

pakmat said...

..thank you, a way, you lived out this old coot's dream..:)

Kama said...

Al-Manar - Modernisation is indeed a necessity. at the same time I share your wistful sentiment about the ways of old. how I wish people can strike a perfect balance between the two; it's not easy.

Mrs.A - I hv a thing about mothers-in-law, perhaps because I used to have a gem of an MIL once upon a time. His son and I may hv been divorced for over 2 decades, but my relationship with her remains as tight as before. the unfortunate thing about my present marriage is that I will never hv the opportunity to serve my husband's parents; both had been gone for a long time.

pakmat - am glad to know you enjoy this rambling of mine as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Quran said...

Salam Kak Puteri.
Thanks for sharing the pics.
Ahhh...terasa begitu rindu utk ke Medina apabila melihat gambar2 yg dipaparkan..
We stayed in Al Haram too during Haj..good clean hotel..

Kama said...

Quran - nice hotel, kan? and so close to the Mosque.

ajwa said...

Madina is the sacred city of the Arab.Our Holy Prophet PBUH spent His last decade in this city.The Rouza e Rasool is also there.We can not ignore the importance of this sacred city.

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Indeed Ajwa, it's the second holiest city after Makkah Al-Mukarramah.. the very thought of Medinah makes me feel restful..