For the first time, I am short of words; I have been wondering how to express in words the special journey to the two of the holiest cities for Muslims, Madina Munawarah and Makkah Mukaramah. Can words do justice to the feelings, observations, thoughts, ambience of such sacred places as these? Hard feat indeed, but I will try my best. In this effort if I transgress somewhere, I seek pardon of my Creator and my spiritual guide, beloved Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] and all the Muslims who read it. My intention is to objectively present everything as it happened and not gloss over some undesirable things that were observed during the course of the journey. Secondly, I want this account to be a helpful guide for the ones intending to make this journey to sacred lands.
This was not the first time I went to Haramain Kareemain but the fact that this second visit was after a gap of 11 years, had made every feeling new. There is not a Muslim in the world who does not have this pronounced desire of visiting these extraordinary cities and it would be true to say that this holy journey is an unlimited blessing of Allah upon Muslims. Sadly, not everyone is able to reap the benefits of these boundless blessings, but will come to that later.
When finally you go to Baitullah after coming to Makkah, the sight of it gives such pleasure that you forget all your woes and your tiredness disappears. But this pleasure is not without a sense of majesty and grandeur of the House of the Lord of the Worlds. One can sense the all-engulfing might of Allah in Baitullah and the over-powering realization that one is just His humble servant and is present in His court to say Labbaik to His every order. One truly understands the meaning of ‘Labbaik Allahuma Labbaik’ when one is sweating out there in 52 degrees C temperature and doing ‘Tawaaf’ in an over-crowded place just for the sake of Allah. This is the journey of your mind, body and soul. Every iota of your being is on a holy pilgrimage. This is a labour of love for one’s Benefactor and this arduous task can be the most pleasurable thing for the ones who feel their connection with God.
This connection is only felt by the ones who are able to close their eyes to the world they have left behind, and close their eyes to the world which is around them even at that moment. In fact, the onslaught of huge crowds of vibrant humanity is not greater anywhere else than in the Kaaba. One is overwhelmed with it all; so many faces, so many people from different nationalities and races; but you go there to renew your connection with Allah.
One miracle that everyone witnesses in Khana Kaaba, and even in Masjid-e-Nabwi, is the constant provision of Zam Zam water. Hundreds of years have passed since Bibi Hajra [AS] made that ‘Saee’ for her son Ismaeel [AS] and even now, the spring that sprung up for that blessed family, has not stopped. Cool and refreshing Zam Zam water is available to Hajis in Baitullah and in Haram-e-Nabwi as well. After a Tawaaf in scorching Sun, a glass of Zam Zam not only quenches the thirst but also seems to magically erase the effects of excessive heat as well. Credit must be given here to the Saudi govt. for constant availability of cooled Zam Zam water to the Hajis in Haramain Shareefain, not to forget the cleanliness, that is maintained actively around the clock at a place which is heavily crowded day and night.
Then the traveller of this sacred journey reaches the city of the beloved Prophet [PBUH], Madina Munawarah. The ‘air’, the ambience of this city holy is different from Makkah Shareef. There is a feeling of awe in the air when one is in Makkah but in Madina that feeling is replaced with love. The sight of the Green Dome brings uncontrollable tears to the eyes of the those who have not seen the beautiful visage of the Holiest of Prophets, Muhammad [PBUH] as they associate Gunbad-e-Khizra with him. Even those who consider themselves ‘weak’ Muslims, feel the utmost love and reverence for the Messenger [PBUH] of Allah and they are entices by Masjid-e-Nabwi. The exact resting place under the Green Dome is not easily accessible as it is heavily crowded all the time. Women especially have limited time to pay their respects to the Prophet [PBUH] as they are only allowed to go near the resting place of Prophet [PBUH] after 10 pm at night.
Muslims also say Salam to the two Khulafa-e-Rashideen, Hazrat Abu Bakr [RA] and Hazrat Umar [RA] buried beside the Holy Prophet [PBUH]. Adjacent to the gate of Masjid-e-Nabwi which faces the Green Dome, lies the most sacred graveyard, Jannat-ul-Baqee. Here rests the blessed daughter of the Prophet [PBUH], Bibi Fatima Zahra [SA]. It is also the resting place of some members of Ahlulbayt [AS] and Sahaba [RA] of the Prophet [PBUH]. Women are not allowed to enter but they also recite Fatiha and Quran near the boundary wall of Al-Baqee.
At the times of the Ottomans, no building taller than the Green Dome was built near Masjid-e-Nabwi out of respect for it. Now a days, one sees a lot of sky-scrapping five star hotels surrounding Masjid-e-Nabwi from all sides. The Clock Tower in Makkah facing Khana Kaaba though takes the cake for tall buildings. Personally, I don’t like a titanic sky scrapper towering above Khana Kaaba. It reminds me of a hadith of RasulAllah where he mentions the advent of tall buildings in the End of Times. It seems highly disrespectful to me, but people may differ from me on this point.
The place near the resting place of Prophet [PBUH] is called ‘Riyaz-ul-Jannah’ [a garden of paradise] and it is recommended to offer two rakkahs there. But one should be careful not to push others or block the way for other pilgrims and only do so without being irksome. It is a great feeling to know that the Prophet [PBUH] used to offer prayers there, lived there and walked those blessed streets of Madina Munawarah. The close proximity of his physical body is a great gift for the pilgrims who come to Madina especially for saying Salam to their Prophet [PBUH]. The Hazari in Madina Shareef is not a part of Umrah or Hajj but who in their right mind would come to the House of Allah and then not go to the House of Prophet [PBUH] near it? The worshippers find solace in Baitullah and the lovers find peace in Masjid-e-Nabwi. Two wonderful Holy Cities, indeed.
This journey is made in this world and not in heaven; that is why one is tested by some problems as well. After all, this is what life is about. Therefore, mentioning a few things I observed during my trip in the hope that the concerned people will try to become better. Without going into details, the passengers, especially Pakistanis, were made to wait for long, indefinite periods of time without any indication of their time of exit from the Jeddah Airport. People who had Saudi ‘Iqamahs’ were given swift exit, while the pilgrims, ‘the guests of Allah’ were made to wait. Despite being a huge international airport, it was ill-managed, especially the bathrooms were a mess. Also there was nobody was available on the counters to guide the passengers arriving on the airport.
The main thing I learned from Umrah trip and which I also want to suggest to others is to never go to Umrah through an Umrah Agent. Most of the things they tell you about the arrangements of your trip are lies. From our tickets, the date of flight, to the hotel that he booked, our Umrah Agent lied about everything. Then there is a ‘Mandoob’ assigned to you through the Umrah Agents and you become dependent on the Mandoob sahib the moment you set foot in Saudi Arabia. The Mandoob guides you to your hotel and also manages your transport from Makkah to Madina and back. The attitude and lies of the Mandoob were also deplorable but let’s not talk about that.
One thing which I definitely want to talk about is the importance of lowering the gaze for men in Islam and how it was emphasized by our Holy Prophet [PBUH]. People spent a lot of money to make this holy pilgrimage but fail to follow this simple instruction in the Haramain. It’s a spiritual journey, a time to look in your heart and find Allah; not a time or place to sit and stare at female pilgrims. Just like each good deed in Baitullah is rewarded manifold, similarly, every sin committed there is colossal in nature. Women being naturally modest try their best to avoid coming in contact with men while doing ‘Tawaaf’, but most of the men on the other hand are careless during Tawaaf of Kaaba and roughly graze women in their unheeded stride. They should be as careful in avoiding contact with women as women are in avoiding contact with men. In this way, this holy duty can become easier for women folk.
Another amazing thing I observed during my Umrah, right from the beginning when I was boarding the plane, that majority of the people going for Umrah belonged to the lowest class of our society! The elite were rarely to be seen. Somehow these poorest of people had gathered enough money for pilgrimage due to their sheer passion and will. I find this really commendable. I also observed that almost half of the passengers were extremely old people. This was a painful fact, to be honest. Somehow this has been ingrained in our collective psyche as a nation that one should only go to Umrah when one’s life is spent and one is retired, old and haggard. This is something that should be changed because the argument that these people are gathering funds all their lives for pilgrimage is rebutted by the fact that every year lot of poor people also go for Umrah! It is about the will and desire to go there and only then Allah makes it easy to make this sacred journey.
It is difficult to cover all the aspects of Umrah and things related to the two holy cities in one article. The essence of this journey to the two holy cities is love and ‘adab’ of Allah [SWT] and RasulAllah [PBUH]. The important thing is to have firm faith and belief that Allah will make it easy to travel to Harmain. I do hope and pray that all Muslims get this blessed opportunity and are also able to make themselves worthy of it. Aameen.