Ramazan diaries – From Makkah and Medinah

Published: July 31, 2013
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The millions are just tiny specks of people trying to get closer to the Ka'aba. PHOTO: REUTERS

Sitting in a lounge for the privileged, waiting to board a flight to Dubai and then another from there to Jeddah, I find myself texting away. I have a million things on my mind. I have a life.

Four hours later…

I’m at the Dubai airport, about to board a flight to Jeddah; the only words on my lips are:

Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik

(I am here, my Allah (SWT). I am present.)

Prior to my flight, concerned friends had been warning me about a viral infection that is widespread in Makkah, and the unbelievable rush in Ramazan especially due to the underway expansion of the Masjid-ul-Haram.

“You should not have gone in Ramazan.”

I am going anyway. It is my ‘calling’. I have been called, right? He who has called me will manage.

A seven-day detox:

Paradigm shift within hours, change of heart within minutes, priorities falling into place within seconds – this is precisely what a visit to Makkah and Madina does to you.

Here I am, one amongst millions. It’s suddenly clear. I may be important in my comfort zone but here, I am just one of them. And the millions, from a bird’s eye view, are just tiny specks of black and white, men in white and women mostly in black, all scurrying to get closer to the Ka’aba.

When the props fall off and masks wear off, I have nothing to hide behind. I am as real as it gets. In hordes of people and thousands of heads, I am only searching for my family. Perspective becomes clearer.

I go around in a pair of chappals (slippers) that I wouldn’t even dare to wear at a grocery market in Karachi. I have no access to the internet, which means I have no way of succumbing to moments of vain indulgences where I tweet about my achievements. Most of my suitcase remains packed as is. I learn to survive on basics.

My DSLR camera rests in the hotel room. I’m lapping up images through the lens of my eyes and heart. And these images are not Photoshopped, nor Lighthoused. This is hardcore spirituality – a reconnection of souls with their Creator.

Each step of this ‘ritual’ as we like to call it has been carefully designed to help us grow and cleanse to the fullest.

Yet, they say ‘I believe in spiritual but not rituals’? Nothing makes the spirit evolve and soar like these rituals. They were designed by the One who created the souls, right?

I can feel my system being flushed out of anger, resentment, pride and negativity, if any. I am also not taking as many medicines as I usually do, apart from the occasional Panadol. Food is simpler. Walks are more. Squatting in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque with my family and extended family, life is beautiful – simpler. I am happy.

The funeral prayer:

A unique act of worship that women don’t get the opportunity to do usually is praying the namaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer). In Makkah and Madina, after each namaz, it would be called out:

“As-salaat ‘ala al-amwaat-i yarhamukumAllah”

(Prayer for that the dead [so that] Allah’s (SWT) mercy be upon you).

I selfishly join in. When my time comes, I want that many prayers for me.

Makkah the powerful; Medinah the soothing:

Makkah is intense, and comes on strong. Its landscape is dry; its people are strong and goodhearted but tough. How did my beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) manage to plant faith and compassion in the hearts of Makkah’s people? I wonder. But it was this very toughness that enabled the people of Makkah to give the sacrifices they did and endure oppression and migration.

Medinah will always have oasis in sight. Promising date palms give away the hospitality of the people of this city from a distance. The land of the Ansaar (the helpers). Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) chose to be here till his last day.

En route to Madina, the farms and farms of camels are a lovely sight – camels of all colours – fawn, brown, dark brown, white. Much like the diversity of people we meet in Makkah and Madina, they are all different, yet the same.

The clock tower makes me sad:

I am here after eight years. Taken aback by the sight of the humongous high rise structure in front of the first gate to the Ka’aba, this is my first meeting with the Makkah clock tower and the adjoining towering hotels. It looms higher than any of the minarets of the Haram. With millions of pilgrims visiting all year round, it is understandable that Makkah will need high-rise hotels. But so high and jarringly juxtaposed opposite the Haram? I cringe inside.

Without judging those who can afford and stay in these elite hotels just next to the Haram, the “towers” make me sad on another level too. Now, only the rich can afford to live right next to Haram. The poorer you are the farther you stay, the tougher it is for you to commute to the Masjid.

I prefer the earlier more eclectic mix of hotels all around the mosque, allowing both rich and poor to live close to it for the days they are there.

Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

Afternoon siestas:

Makkah’s relentless summer heat is at its peak in the afternoon. If you’re fasting, the body’s reservoir of energy that we get from food is depleting, and a sluggish wave of drowsiness engulfs you. You lie down on the carpets or on the marble floor of the Haram, depending on where you get place, and doze off with your eyes fixed on the Ka’aba. Bliss!

The world’s best “all-you-can-eat”:

Iftar in both the holy mosques of Makkah and Madina is a unique and beautiful experience. I am at the receiving end of charity. It is something I will probably never get to experience in my homeland. Around Asar namaz, one sees people competing with each other and talking to the organisers to allow them to distribute Iftar in a certain part of the mosque.

At Maghrib time beautiful children appear from nowhere, distributing a variety of dates, laban (butter milk), zamzam water, and traditional Arabic kahwa, delicately scented and instantly refreshing.

Boxes of traditional Arabic saffron-treated rice and roasted whole chicken, with dates and small packs of juice are the popular menu in Masjid-e-Nabawi. The hospitality of the people of Medinah is not overrated. No one goes hungry.

Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

That moment

We all have our special moments. This time, I had my moment at Masjid-e-Nabawi on our last evening in Medinah. I had gone to pray at the Riazul Jannah (the place the Prophet (pbuh) called one of the gardens of paradise) and to offer Salam to my beloved Prophet (pbuh). It hit me where I was in that moment…and that I was going back home soon.

But there is so much I am taking back with me. When life pulls me down, I know now, more than ever, Who is there by my side, watching out for me – none other than my Allah, my Creator.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets on @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Anon

    Sounds like a blessed trip .

    Hope you can retain the feelings of peace you experienced on your trip,through the wear and tear of daily life.Recommend

  • rehan

    you said it all.. good write up.Recommend

  • Muhammad hammad

    may ALLAH SWT blees us to visit his home frequently , Ameen ,

    Very well , written , plus i would like to add one thing , i dnt feel like coming back from makkah and madina :).. it was so peaceful Recommend

  • AF

    Hajj and Umrah are only farz on those people who can afford it. if anyone cannot afford it then its not farz on them. if you ask any saudi official what they are increasing its worth poor people cannot come for hajj and umrah they simply say, “who is asking them to come its not farz on them”Recommend

  • Laila Essa

    Wow! You just brought all the beautiful memories back in just one article. Some moments which you have described like sleeping while eyes on Kaaba, all gadgets packed away and realizing that you can live without social media, the small kids giving out laban with smiles on their faces during Ramadan and of course the glory and the heavy impact you feel when you enter Makkah compared to the cool and soothing effect of Madinah; just amazing.
    Right now as a girl born in Makkah, I am feeling highly blessed that I know and have experienced these feelings more times than I can count. And I pray that every Muslim gets to experience this once in their lives. Ameen!Recommend

  • choclet

    many had such an experience. so?
    sounds like a convert or what she couldn’t express the first time when she went there. Recommend

  • afza siddiqui

    beautiful beautiful.may ALLAH bless us all with an opportunity to be there.Recommend

  • Muhammad Ishfaq

    May Allah accept your visit and of all those who have been there… and may Allah enable me and all those who still haven’t been there to visit the holy cities as soon as possible…
    Aameen!Recommend

  • Ahalan

    Iftar is really at its best. The host will be very pleased if you agreed to take iftar from him. And this is not only associated with ramadan but also on each Thursday and Monday they arrange for iftar but of course not as same as ramadan iftar.
    @AF, Umerah is not Farz its a nafil Eibadat.Recommend

  • Adil

    Masha Allah. Loved your read. May Allah accept your worship. I was there too a couple of weeks back, and lived through exactly how you’ve described it above. It is amazing – the hospitality, the brotherhood, selflessness, and of course, the spiritual high. May Allah accept all our prayers and invite us to His house ever more frequently. Recommend

  • Akif

    Physical closeness doesn’t matter what matter is your spiritual attachment. As if it is the case, poorer even can’t get to the Makkah from many other countries. He listen to you from next to one’s heart and an unfortunate soul might not get noticed even sitting in the Baitullah. Nothing to be worrisome about, we the muslims have many reasons to be Thankful to Almighty if we really want to. Recommend

  • Claude

    Please try offering Iftar to poor of karachi slums. Smile on the face of the children will take you to heaven directly. no need to pay for the privileged class flights, lounges, hotels etc. no stop over in hotels of Makkah.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Wonderful wonderful article!!! brought tears to my eyes!!!Recommend

  • Gingo

    Your feelings at beholding the makkah clock tower is spot on. The Arabs having no basic aesthetic sense have destroyed the scenic beauty and the backdrop of Haram Shareef. They could’ve build the hotel at some distance away rather than so in-your-face.Recommend

  • Aima

    God has given me the privilege to visit his house mannier times and Alhamdulillah I can connect to everything that you have mentioned above.
    Brilliant article. I spent part of Ramazan there the last year and am missing that time terribly now.
    Thank you for jotting down all the beautiful memories a Muslim spends there in your article. May God call all of us to His and His Prophet’s(s) home again and again.Recommend

  • I.

    I almost cried! Spot on writing (Y)Recommend

  • Manahyl

    Farahnaz, this is beautifully written. I hope we all get to visit time and time again.
    Very correct what you wrote about spirituality without rituals, it’s the hardwork we put in that gets us closer to our religion. How can the goodness of two people be the same if one just believes in the existence of God compared to someone who physically kneels 5 times a day?
    Lovely read Recommend

  • Rohail Aftab

    MashAllah….although i have never been to Makkah and Madinah….but your writing gave me a vivid picture of the place and i wish that one day i will visit it In Sha Allah.Recommend

  • H

    Such an accurate article. Alhamdulillah i am in Madinah right now. Its amazing how much people give here. Recommend

  • Parvez

    You managed to paint an excellent verbal picture.
    The photo of the big clock tower looming over the Ka’aba showed it just like you described it.
    Recommend

  • khadija

    wonderfully written, reminded me of my trip 5 years back. the presence of clock tower surely depresses you !Recommend

  • Insaan

    @Claude: Please try offering Iftar to poor of karachi slums. Smile on the face of the children will take you to heaven directly. no need to pay for the privileged class flights, lounges, hotels etc. no stop over in hotels of Makkah

    Recommend

  • MAD

    Trips to the Haram are always amazing although the clock tower is a monstrousityRecommend

  • Yesra

    Sighhhhh thank you sooooooo much for the beautiful flashback of memories :) I have been there recently for the first time in my life Alhamdulillah. May Allah bless all of us to be there at-least once in a lifetime ameenRecommend

  • mecha

    It seems my comments never gets published. Any reasons?Recommend

  • Zubair Ali

    MashaAllah. You are truly fortunate and blessed to have been invited.
    I also went around 10 years ago and from what I’ve heard from friends and family the vicinity of the holy masjids have become heavily commercialised. It’s also sad that the immediate perimeter of the masjids is 5 star accomodation only – meaning its out of reach for many people around the globe.
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful experiences, indeed it feel like you got out the visit what I would have wanted.
    Next year is Hajj-Al-Akbar.. as it falls on a Friday InshaAllah. I have made niyyat to do hajj with my wife inshaAllah. Well over a year left and I am nervous already.
    SubhanAllah!Recommend

  • Ahmer

    I went for Umrah during Ramadan alone for the last 6 nights when I was 28, a couple of years back. I missed my flight, credit cards stopped working etc etc. But it was an amazing experience. And the two Ramadan that have followed I miss every moment of the time I spent in Makkah and Madinah. I read somewhere after spending Ramadan in Makkah/Madinah, Ramadan at home won’t be the same any more. This is so true. I just yearn to go back there again.

    I wanted to go this year but couldn’t get visa. I hope Allah invites me again soon inshaAllah. Farahnaz you are very lucky!Recommend

  • M. Shariq

    Mam,

    U r Lucky……Recommend

  • Ali S.

    I don’t usually comment on blogs but this enlightening piece of writing stimulated tears in my eyes- you are very blessed MashaAllah! May Allah bless everyone alike!
    All the best and keep these spiritual feelings alive within you!Recommend

  • http://moxetkhan.com Moxet Khan

    Outstanding explanation and feelings. I went for Umrah in Ramzan as well this year. Thank you for rewinding the tap and remind me the day and nights i spent there.Recommend

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    strong textRecommend

  • Nooria

    This article has been opened in one of the many tabs in my browser since the day you might have posted it.
    I’m totally speechless. Splendid and picturesque!

    May Allah bless me with this opportunity to visit His house – Makkah the powerful and Medinah the soothing.

    Remember in prayersRecommend