Thursday, February 09, 2017

Anecdotes of the Holy Land

26 Jan - 5 Feb 2017

Madinah and Makkah, Arab Saudi

It was my second time here, back after almost 8 years. Some things have changed: There were so many more people now, perhaps because of the extension of the masjid area - but now the Umrah visa is only limited to 10 days. We had to set out for the masjid earlier, at least 1 hour 15 mins before prayer time as the main road leading to the masjid will be closed 1 hour before. Most of the time, we prayed at the first level as the ground level were always already full (for women only; for men there seems to be space still).

The clock tower was our landmark to indicate the street back to our hotel (Ibrahim Al Khalil street)



I didn't see any blonde, blue eyed mat salleh (Caucasian) this time around. But there were more Turkish people now, and some North African nationals such as Algerians and Tunisians (it was based from their uniforms / flags on their bags / clothes). Yes, more people came in wearing uniforms this time around - not just Indonesians, but also from the Indian continent.

some of the uniforms

We see more technology now - smartphones are allowed inside both Masjid Nabawi and Masjid Al Haram, but you are not allowed to take pictures inside, although everyone was doing it. I was caught once by a woman police , but she just told me no, didn't confiscate my phone though. If you wanted to take pictures, just do it discreetly / make sure the police is not around, and only after you have completed your rituals (tawaf or saie). I did see people making video calls at Raudhah (Masjid Nabawi) and on the way to Masjid Al Haram. It was humbling to see a man of Indian descent skyping with his mates in bunk beds, showing Masjid Al Haram live to them. You wonder how much sacrifice and funds they had to raise to be able to make that journey to the Holy Land. Not everyone have sufficient funds / are physically able to perform the Umrah, let alone the Hadj.

Masjid Al Haram now has escalators



That delicious ice cream near the entrance at King Fahad gate cost 3 riyal now



Some things remained the same: the women police in the masjid were still as garang (stern) as before; you couldn't see their facial expression as their faces are veiled, so I've always wondered if they were constantly annoyed or perhaps they are just merely doing their jobs. One thing for sure, you do not stand around waiting for people in the masjid before prayers. I was shooed away after 3 times being told to move (I was waiting for partner in crime to perform his ablutions). Alhamdulillah, I managed to find him back after making 1 round outside the masjid area.

Strangers around you in the masjid shared their food with you - dates, breads, tea, fruits etc especially if it was time to break fast on Monday or Thursday.

There is still no coins transactions - my balance were rounded up to the nearest riyal and I received them in riyal notes. No chewing gums as substitutes for the cents balance this time around.

A few things I've learned - there is no jamak (combining) prayers at Masjid Al Haram, only wajib/tunai (compulsory) and sunat (optional) prayers. You need to come very very early for the Friday prayers - we weren't able to pray inside Masjid Nabawi in Madinah (but there are carpets at the outer area where you can pray) as we came 1 hour before. So for Masjid Al Haram, we were already in the masjid 2 hours before Zohor time. (This is for the Women prayer area only). Bloodshed is also haram (forbidden) in the Holy land.

At the end of the journey, I appreciated that the Holy Land became a congregation place for millions of Muslims, regardless of race, age or creed. We were all unified in prayers despite the differences.

a depiction of old Masjid Al Haram and Kaabah at the Haramain museum


Read here also of my anecdotes from my first visit in 2009

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