International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Religion
2009 A wish fulfilled after 42 years
In April 2008 my husband and I went to prepare our income tax returns.
Our accountant had photos of himself and his sons in Makkah on his
computer as a screen saver, he told us they go for Umrah every year,
and for a reasonable cost one could go for a week. That was the
catalyst to set me onto a path that started 42 years earlier.
In a school history
course we studied world religions, and I made the intention to become
Muslim and go to Makkah. In the intervening years I covered a lot of
territory and converted to Islam officially in 1998. Having harbored
the wish to do Hajj for years, friends advised me to go for Umrah first
partly as an educational venture, to get the feel of the ground before
joining the phenomenal crowds of the Hajj.
I departed New York on 16th April 2009, the Saudia flight was impressive
as there were audio/video Islamic programs and an area cordoned off
for Salat. As we neared our destination, many male passengers donned
the Ihram and all around the chatter was about Umrah and Hajj. This
environment was the perfect launch for my journey of a lifetime.
The Jeddah-Madinah flight provided my first view of the bleak landscape
of rolling stone hills through which our Prophet (PBUH) with the Sahabah
and his Muslim soldiers marched, and I mused about the difficulties
they would have faced in this inhospitable place.
Having just missed Salat Al Juma in Madinah, I ventured out with an
air of expectation and awe, stepping into the gleaming marble compound
of Masjid An-Nabawi. Hardly believing I was really there, I followed
other females and found a Ladies area in the courtyard, shaded
by giant umbrellas. I prayed with tears streaming, trying to comprehend
I was really there, and was so distracted I forgot the last Ruku.
Inside the masjid, one jostles for a spot and tries to retain it, as
thousands of women from all corners of the earth converge on the holy
precincts. A friend told me to choose a spot along a wall or column
so I could not be pushed out of itproved to be invaluable advice.
There are numerous movable shoe racks just the height of a chair, and
so they are commandeered, generally at the last minute before the Qadaqamat
by healthy (read "heavy") ladies who are unable to sit on
the floor. So as comfortable as one may get after arriving early and
settling down in a serene spot, the shoe rack requisitioners can upset
the moment entirely. I was reminded Allah sends such trials of pushing
and shoving to try our patience, and it is essential to keep ones
In the first Salat Al Fajr a realization struck me: In that huge crowd
of Muslims from everywhere, speaking all sorts of languages but praying
together in Arabic, it felt like Yaum al Qiyama. Each and every one
of us was desperate desperate to get a good spot, desperate to
pray in our Prophets (PBUH) mosque, desperate to make the most
of our pilgrimage, desperate for blessings, desperate for Allahs
forgiveness. It was a taste of the fear of Yaum al Qiyama I sensed and
carried with me throughout my brief time in Madinah and Makkah and now
back in the NYC rat race try to hang onto.
On the morning of the second day in Madinah we were escorted on a tour
of the Battleground of Uhud, Masjid al Qiblatain, the Quba Masjid and
the date market. At the Qiblatain Mosque there were escalators leading
to the ladies prayer area on the upper level. The down side was
running but empty, while the up side was stationery and packed with
women descending as well as ascending. Many of the women were afraid
of the toothed monster. A friend and I braved the rush and made our
way up and prayed two rakats, recalling the story of how the Prophet
(PBUH) received the order to change the Qibla half-way through the Dhuhr
prayer in that very spot and changed his orientation precisely from
Jerusalem to Makkah.
At Quba, the first masjid built in Madinah after the Migration and frequented
by the Prophet (PBUH), we prayed two rakats and were reminded by a wall
plaque that Salat at this mosque is equal to the benefit of performing
And at the date market we bought the fresh dates for which Madinah is
renowned, while one of our members assured us we would be allowed to
enter the U.S. with our dates and the Zam-Zam water because they are
for religious purposes despite the restriction on agricultural products.
My venture to Rawdah Sharif (the Graves of the Prophet (PBUH) and the
first two Caliphas) was like a dream. I entered Gate No. 25 of the Masjid
an-Nabawi in a mental state best described as glowing fog. Joining the
crowds of Hajjas, I walked and walked with my palms up making dua and
an expression of wonder and confusion on my face for what seemed like
blocks and blocks through the cavernous, elegant confines, at times
with tears streaming trying to realize where I was.
When we came into sight of the Prophets (PBUH) Qabr, there were
signs in various languages stating not to push and shove but to take
ones time in order to pray there. Much of the area being cordoned
off by screens, the Guards controlled the flow through a narrow passage
leading to the actual Grave-site and the Minbar areaas near as
one could approach it. I performed two rakats in a quiet area to the
side, then joined the crush trying to touch the gate of the Qabr. Everyone
was crying and reciting duas and it quickly escalated to a crush in
which headscarves were inadvertently pulled off and I was carried along
with no control.
One Hajja clung to a pillar in order to keep from being swept away as
the weight of the crowd bore down on her. It was quite frightening and
reinforced the impression of Yawm al Qiyamat an infinitesimal
glimpse of the terror and helplessness we will all face. Eventually
however I managed to extract myself and prayed in front of the Minbar.
As people realised where they were, some of the Indians started shouting
" Rawdah Sharif!" and a heightened air of excitement took
over the crowd. A young Arab women asked me "Esh?", and I
wanted to tell her about the part of Jannat that the Prophet (PBUH)
said exists somewhere in there and that anyone who gets to that spot
will never reach hellfire, but since we did not have a common language
I could not explain.
All the photos and other representations of the Masjid an-Nabawi only
give a hint at the intensity of the real thing. Walking in the courtyard
at night is like stepping on a huge pane of glass illuminated by moonlight.
The female guards in the masjid are truly phenomenal. Clad completely
in black including naqab and gloves, they looked like numerous Darth
Vadars and felt as ominous as they deftly directed traffic and kept
the throngs in line shouting a steady stream of Arabic with an occasional
Urdu phrase thrown in.
On the third afternoon I took the flight back to Jeddah, and was whisked
from the airport by car the 50 kilometres to Makkah. Madinah is a quiet
provincial town and all I saw of Jeddah was a carpet of white stone
buildings along the sea, but as we whizzed into Makkah I felt that this
holiest of earthly places is the real metropolis of the area. Swooping
across flyovers and through tunnels, I was deposited several stories
underground at the hotel entrance, as there is no vehicular traffic
around the Haram so all comings and goings are subterranean.
I had been told that one should make all ones duas upon first
sight of the Kabah, so I wanted to be ready to seize the moment. As
I prepared for the focus of my journey, an indescribable feeling of
apprehension, excitement, even real fear was upon me, always with the
element of disbelief that I was actually there in Makkah and about to
enter the realm of Allah Subhana wa Taalas House, the Kabah,
the geographical vortex of prayer for the millions of Muslims, human
and jin, in the universe, and the place I had mused about visiting when
I was a young teenager. It was overwhelming and I wondered whether my
feet were touching the ground as I made my way and entered the King
Abdul Aziz Gate at 23:15 on April 19, 2009.
A kind of numbness gripped me at first sight of the Holy Kabah, and
the duas played on in my brain as I performed two rakats and then joined
the throngs in the Tawafthis was clearly more unbelievable than
ever. I stepped methodically with the flow, at times reciting duas or
ayahs, at times joining recitations of individuals or groups as I passed
through. My husband had enjoined me that if I did not get in to catch
the cloth of the Kabah and make my duas relentlessly, then I had not
gone to Makkah, while others told me it had become impossible to get
in because the crowds of Muslims are increasing year by year. But Allah
had mercy on me and I was able to catch the cloth and even prayed two
rakats at the Station of Ismael.
After completing seven circuits, and two rakats at the Station of Ibrahim,
I headed for Safa to start the Say. One had to be watchful for
the wheelchairs, which even though they have a special lane, they enter
the pedestrian lanes at times; some of the helmspersons give a warning
as they approach whereas others just plow through. Large containers
of Zam Zam for ready refreshment line the passage. As I trod back and
forth between Safa and Marwah, I felt like a serurhinocerosa
solitary animal whose epithet is used to describe persons who are loners.
Since that first Fajr Salat in Madinah, the feeling of Yawn al Qiyamat
struck me often, and I felt that being alone on my Umrah journey was
a benefit rather than a liability, as it reinforced that feeling of
I completed the Say and requested a young woman who was clipping
her husbands hair to clip the requisite strands from mine to complete
the Umrah ritual. It was 1:15it had taken me just two hours to
do the Umrah. Returning to the hotel, I was exhausted like never before
in my life, with leg joints and bones aching. Another day I performed
a second Umrah after taking the Ihram afresh at the Masjid al Tanaeem
on the outskirts of Makkah. I spent three days in Makkah, but it seemed
like 10, as I hardly slept, and the disbelief that I was really there
never left me.
On departure day, it was perhaps 40C and the sun most brilliant when
I went to do my farewell Tawaaf. I felt great sadness at leaving, exhausted
and hoping Inshallah to come again next year and soon for Haj as well.
As I joined Salat with Muslims from all corners of the earth, we were
unable to converse in words, but stood together before Allah, reciting
the same words in Arabic, and all desperate for Allahs mercy and
for our duas to be answered duas for our families, friends and
every person who asked us to make dua for them, and I felt an obligation
to remember each and every one of them.
Now people keep congratulating me on my Umrah, and I feel so privileged
to have done it, especially because there are so many, even those living
in close proximity to Saudi Arabia, who have not been able to do Hajj
or Umrah, and I have known many who passed away without making it. I
had also passed up opportunities earlier because my priorities were
wrong or it just was not the right time for me. When the time is right,
Allah will arrange, and I am so fortunate that I lived long enough to
reach that point. Inshallah my time for Hajj will also come, and Inshallah
everyone who reads this article will determine to go as well.
© K Fatima September 2009
marwan asmar <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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