We were here. In Madinah.
After a tiring flight, we finally landed at Madinah Airport at around 1:40am. The airport seemed very quiet, and we cleared security in no time. The Arab lad sitting behind the counter checking my passport asked me 3 times if I was a Pakistani. He wasn’t quite convinced when I told him I wasn’t! After a few checks and stickers and stamps, we finally got to baggage claim where our luggage came really quickly. It honestly felt like we were the only flight that had come in to this airport. Maybe we were…
Mustafa Mama and Mehbub Uncle, who had flown in a few days prior, were waiting for us at the airport in the arrivals lounge. Despite a long flight, and a stopover in Cairo, I still felt quite fresh and awake. Around 3:00am we boarded the bus that was going to take us to our hotel, but because our group had carried boxes of medication from UK, they would take a while to clear customs. In the meantime, we socialised on the bus and took short power naps. It was tough…not knowing how long the wait would be! It was more of ‘take the moment as it comes’, which I definitely was not used to! At around 4:10am we saw Imran coming out of the main entrance. This meant meant we would soon be on our way, since he was in charge of ensuring the medications all cleared customs successfully.
The bus began to move, and the anticipation of seeing the Haram began to erase whatever remains of tiredness there was. Our hotel was 20 minutes away, and quite near the Haram, which meant that as we got nearer, we would be able to see the Haram. Just as that thought crossed my mind, A volunteer pointed out that we could see the Minarets of the Holy Mosque of the Holy Prophet (s) in the distance. My heart skipped a beat and I felt butterflies. I was in Madinah! I just could not wrap my head around that!
Time was little for reflection or contemplation as it was nearly time for Fajr prayers. The volunteers made a general announcement that if we had the strength and were not too tired, we should go pray at the Haram. There was not a doubt in mind that I wanted to go, but I had no idea how to get there. Just then, Abbas Mama said that he would wait 10 minutes in the lobby, whilst we freshened up, and then he would guide the way.
I entered the room assigned to me and noticed that my roommates from Canada had already arrived and decided on their beds, which left 1 bed empty for me. I put my bags on the bed, quickly refreshed my wudhu, and made my way downstairs. Asif had made his way down too. This was a wonderful feeling, because just a few hours prior when we were on flight to Madinah, we were discussing how we wanted to maximise every opportunity we got during the next 3 weeks on our journey.
The walk to the Haram was quite easy and only about 7-10 minutes. It was just stifling hot! We could hear that the Adhan for Fajr had begun as we neared the Haram.
Gate 6 was the one nearest to our hotel and the one we would be entering from. Here we had a clear view of the Green Dome above the grave of the Holy Prophet (s). Seeing this was beautiful, but I couldn’t just stand there and soak in the moment because the prayers had already started. My overwhelming train of thoughts would just have to wait. Asif went ahead with the other men to their side to pray, and a few of us girls decided to head to where we saw the majority of ladies, and find a space to pray. Asif and I coordinated that we would meet by meeting point 5, nearest to our gate. I didn’t know if we would end up meeting, as it was our first time and we didn’t know how long the prayers would take or where we would end up after. 5:30 was our time to meet, and if by 5:45 we didn’t see each other, we would meet back in the lobby. It was the best way to coordinate meeting times and locations.
After praying, I made my way to the meeting point but Asif wasn’t there. I waited a few minutes and then decided to go along with the girls from our group around the front of the Masjid where we could see the Green Dome clearly. All I wanted to do was sit there, and so I did. So much ran through my mind. When I later met Asif in the lobby that afternoon, he said that Abbas Mama decided to take the few guys that had gone with him to Jannatul Baqi. What an amazing opportunity!
This was the Haram where the Holy Prophet (s) was buried!. Where I was sitting, the Holy Prophet (s) may have walked. This was the place where Imam Husayn (a) came to bid his final farewell before leaving for Makka and then on to Karbala. This was the place where Sayyida Zaynab (a) came to grieve after returning from Karbala, narrating the perils of their journey to her grandfather. What a place! And this was the place where my heart felt most at peace. I did not want to get up from here. But I got snapped out of my thoughts quite quickly when one of the guards requested we move back as we were in the way of the men.
‘Breath, Rumina’, I reminded myself.
We had been warned, that women would get moved around a lot both in Makkah and Madinah. After 10-15 minutes we decided to head back to the hotel. It wasn’t that any of us were ready to go, but having just arrived just an hour earlier, it was a wise choice to take care of ourselves and ensure we followed a routine and rested. This way we could maximise our time in these holy lands and not overdo it.
Breakfast hours were typically 6:00am – 8:30am and served on the 8th floor where there were separate rooms for gents and ladies to eat and socialise. I don’t know where I had all this energy from as I clearly had not slept enough. After a hot cup of tea, I made my way to what would be my ‘home’ for the next 6 days; room 711.
I set an alarm for 11:30am as I wanted to give myself sufficient time to get ready for Dhuhrain prayers. Only a few hours of sleep, but I felt so refreshed. I was hoping Asif would be in the lobby but I hadn’t met him since morning and we hadn’t made any specific plans to meet. Neither of us had intended to get a local SIM, hopefully we wouldn’t need it. He wasn’t downstairs. Maybe he had gone ahead to the Haram? Or maybe he was still asleep? I was hesitant to go to the Haram on my own but then I felt ‘how could I pray in the hotel when the Haram was so close?’
I decided I would make my way, and picked up a business card from the lobby, just in case I got lost. Every visit to the Haram was unique. I didn’t feel like looking for somebody I knew; rather I just enjoyed getting lost in the swarm of people I didn’t know. These were all Muslims who had a love for the Holy Prophet (s), from different parts of the world. It was interesting to see how they interacted, hearing the different languages, and observing their character and culture.
Our schedule showed afternoon lectures schedules for 1:30pm, followed by lunch which would be available from 2:30pm – 3:30pm. All activities usually took place on the 8th floor. However, because it was the first day, there was no lecture today in the afternoon.
I met Asif outside the dining lounge after lunch and he told me of his experience going to the Haram for Dhuhrain prayers. We decided to meet downstairs in the lobby around 5:00pm to head back to the Haram for Maghribain prayers. Asif had coordinated to meet his brother, who was with a different group, prior to the time for prayers.
I really wanted to go into the Masjid so after meeting Mohsin, I told Asif I would meet him after the prayers and I made my way. There was an hour left until Maghribain but the Masjid was jam-packed and there was absolutely no space inside. I managed to find a really tight spot to sit and recite Qur’an for a while but as time for prayer came closer and people began taking space to pray, I realised I had to go back to the area outside of the Masjid as there was nowhere I would be able to pray.
That evening, we had our first lecture; a join session by Abbas Mama and Akil Mama on the overview of Madinah and the importance of significant places inside the Masjid. They discussed the actual shrine encasing the grave of the Holy Prophet (s), the house of Sayyida Fatima (a), the dedicated piece from Heaven that was between the pulpit of the Holy Prophet (s) and his grave, and more.
As the spoke of each unique area of the Holy Prophet (s)’s mosque, I felt really emotional. We were so close to the pulpit where the Holy Prophet (s) gave sermons from, the seating area where those who needed assistance from the Holy Prophet (s) would sit, the grave of the Holy Prophet (s), and yet so far. Why? Because ladies could not access these places, and some of them were blocked off even for the men.
We went back to the Haram after the lecture and dinner, and just sat in view of the Green Dome for a while. It seemed like so much had happened that day, that it was hard to believe we had just arrived that morning!
It was relatively cooler now, and it seems just as busy and lively at night as it was in the day time. I could not be more thankful to be here and to be blessed with this opportunity. Really looking forward to a new day with new experiences tomorrow Insh’Allah