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Dew Point

This blog is dedicated to sharing my every-day discoveries of how the light and beauty of Islamic spirituality can be part of a modern, well-rounded way of life.

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Holy cities

Seeking the Kaaba Within

I was fully aware that within seconds my body would be drawn into a mass of humanity unlike any other in the world. “Surrender to the experience,” I thought while stepping into the overflowing main courtyard surrounding the Kaaba. The barriers that divide us in our daily lives are lifted here at the seat of the holiest site of Islam.

No honorary titles or entitlements have worth or function, there’s no distinguishing based on whether you are a woman or man, whether your income bracket is high or low. Rather, the bracketing qualities that contain us outside–our nationality, ethnicity, age, or skin tone–are shed at the door. Wherever our outward journeys have started, we all walk barefoot inward into a single circle, devoid of these unnecessary parenthesis appended to our identities.

“The goal of all is the same” no matter what road we took to get here or what quarrels we fought on the way, Rumi writes in Fihi Ma Fihi, It is What It is.

kaaba-night

We are both universal and singular, each worshipper an equal soul before the Creator of all humankind and all being. Here we consciously move together in a unified mass, circling seven times around this stone cube as our prophets, peace and blessings be upon them, and our predecessors have for centuries. It’s become a timeless procession connecting us to the scattered cosmos. With the right kind of openness, the pilgrimage is a truly humbling, enchanting and purifying act of dedication to God, The Gracious One.

The ritual starts at the eastern corner, where the Black Stone is situated, a stone that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, said was blackened by the sins of humankind after descending from heaven as white as milk. I’ve certainly swerved from the path since I was last graced by the opportunity to visit the Holy City five years ago. My soul yearns now for nourishment as I circle the four corners of the central cube draped in black.

I yield my body to the crowd that surrounds me in every direction, letting it move my limbs. I’m here for my soul, after all, and as we give thanks and make prayers to the Infinitely Compassionate One, drawing our attention to the Kaaba as birds circle above us, I concede any claim to the personal space that I normally protect.

Sometimes I find my body being drawn inward with an uncontrollable force, and it is suddenly so close to the edge of the Kaaba I can almost touch it.
Continue reading “Seeking the Kaaba Within”

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Enlightened City in photos

Outside of the Prophet’s Mosque in ‘The Enlightened City’, Madinah

I spent the last two days in Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah, Arabic for ‘the Enlightened City’ or ‘the Radiant City, located in Western Saudi Arabia. It is the home of the Prophet’s Mosque, Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi, dedicated to Prophet Muhammad and the site of his burial. Prophet Muhammad is the last of a long line of Prophets within the Abrahamic tradition, and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque in Al-Madinah is regarded very highly by those who have embraced Islam, an Arabic term meaning ‘submission to God’.

Al-Madinah is the second-holiest city in Islam after Makkah, site of the Kaaba, which is located about a four-hour drive away. Millions of Muslims from around the world visit Makkah each year to perform the hajj pilgrimage that takes place once every year, or umrah, a smaller pilgrimage that can be conducted throughout the year. During their visits, Muslims typically spend time at the Prophet’s Mosque in Al-Madinah as well, to pay their respects and pray in congregation at a mosque that can easily accommodate a million worshippers at a time.

Exquisite interior view of the Prophet’s Mosque in Al-Madinah

It was immensely relaxing and humbling to be at the Prophet’s Mosque, which unites people from around the world who have a common aspiration – to express their love of the Almighty. The Prophet once said: “For everything there is a polish that taketh away rust, and the polish of the heart is remembrance of God”. There are few places in the world where one’s heart is able to feel more at peace than at this mosque. I was overwhelmed by the level of emotion and dedication many believers hold.

Worshippers gather outside the mosque ahead of early-morning prayer, Fajr

On my first day, I went to the mosque 40 minutes before the call to prayer for the early-morning prayer, called Fajr, which is currently about 4:30 a.m. local time. When I arrived, the mosque was already teeming with people offering optional prayers, giving supplications for family and loved ones, reading from the Quran, Arabic for ‘the Recitation’ – a series of admonitions from God delivered through His Last Messenger .

The following morning I went even earlier and it was a similar experience; watching the streams of people walking from nearby hotels was truly uplifting and inspiring. As you walk through the mosques massive courtyard and within its magnificent walls, you hear an array of languages being spoken. I sat with, prayed with and befriended people from all over the world – Turkey, Morocco, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, South Africa, Europe, Iran, Egypt – and so many others. The days in Madinah revolve around prayers and dua’a (supplications for loved ones), reflection, contemplation and giving thanks.

I also visited Al-Rawdah, the small area situated between the location of the Prophet’s last house and the pulpit where he would lead prayers prior to his death, an area which the Prophet described as “one of the gardens of Paradise”. It was a humbling, meditative, calming weekend – excellent way to rejuvenate my faith. I hope you enjoy my photos!
Exquisite interior design of Prophet’s mosque

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Slightly pointed arches atop white marble columns throughout the mosque
The massive mosque can accommodate a million worshippers
Women walking toward Al Rawdah, a garden from Paradise
Rows upon rows of beautiful arches
Exterior of Prophet’s Mosque after the evening Isha prayer
Three of the mosque’s 10 minarets
After the evening prayer, Isha
At prayer times, tens of thousands gather inside and outside for worship
People gather in the courtyard between prayers
Elderly man sells siwak, a teeth-cleaning twig, in courtyard
Minaret appears through umbrellas in courtyard
People walking and sitting in courtyard between prayer times
Another mosque in Al-Madinah, which means ‘Radiant or Enlightened City’

Visiting the Enlightened City

It is nice on occasion to escape from one’s routine and take a relaxing weekend getaway. I decided last week I would embark on such a trip to clear my thoughts and unwind somewhere peaceful, quiet and beautiful. So, earlier this week I booked a ticket to Saudi Arabia. I know, I know, Saudi Arabia sounds like it is probably the worst place to want to get away, particularly for a young, single woman. But sometimes one finds the greatest beauty in the most unlikely of places.

Outside the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, Dec 2010

God willing, I will spend this weekend in Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah, a city in Western Saudi Arabia, which translates from Arabic as ‘the Enlightened City’ or ‘the Radiant City’. I first visited Al-Madinah in December. My mom had performed the Islamic pilgrimage, Hajj, a month earlier and we took a family trip to Madinah in order for her to ensure her pilgrimage was complete. Madinah played a decisive role in the establishment of the Islamic faith during the life of the Last Prophet .

I often heard relatives describe the people of Madinah as kind and the city as serene, more so than Makkah, location of Islam’s holiest site, the Kaaba. I had visited Makkah twice prior to my first visit to Madinah five months ago and one time afterward. It is glorious to visit and perform umrah, a shorter pilgrimage that can be undertaken throughout the year. But of all the places I have been in my life, I had not encountered anywhere more peaceful than the Enlightened City.
Muslims, humans who strive to achieve a state of submission to God, are drawn to Madinah out of reverence for Prophet Muhammad . Born in 570 AD in Makkah, the Prophet began receiving the first verses of the Holy Quran, Arabic for ‘the Recitation’, in 610. Islam, based on worship of One Almighty and Absolute Creator, rejected the idolatry widespread in Makkah at the time. As such, the Last Prophet became regarded as a threat to the power of Makkah’s ruling tribe and those who embraced Islam were harassed, persecuted and threatened.
When he learned of a plot to murder him, the last Prophet left Makkah for Yathrib, which he later renamed Al-Madinah Al-Munawarrah, arriving in 622, an event known as Al-Hijrah (the emigration). There, he established the first Islamic community, spent the last years of his life and it is where he and many of his companions are buried. As such, Madinah is regarded as Islam’s second-holiest city.
It is home to the three oldest mosques in the world. The one where I will be spending most of my weekend, God willing, is the Prophet’s Mosque, Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi. The Prophet’s Mosque has undergone numerous extensions to make room a growing number of believers, and is now able to accommodate well above 500,000 worshippers at a time, some say as many as a million.
Intricate columns of white marble built as part of expansion of Prophet’s mosque

On my last visit, there was a great calming effect from concentrating on the mosque’s long lines of symmetrical, brown and beige arches supported by columns of white marble topped with brass capitals. They enabled me to focus my mind in prayer, to listen to the words of God being recited from the Quran and leave the world behind. For the two days in December I spent in Madinah, life revolved around the prayer times, remembrance of God, reflection and contemplation.

Sometimes when I am at home attempting to focus in prayer, I try to bring to mind those columns in the Prophet’s mosque, and remember that state of meditation I found myself in quite by surprise. Lately, I have been having a bit of difficulty keeping my mind from wandering as I pray at five times during the day. That’s why I am anxious to take a short retreat in Madinah, to draw myself back to that state of sincere concentration.
“There are only three mosques that travelling specifically to them is recommended: The Holy Masjid in Makkah, and the Prophet’s Mosque and the Farthest Masjid in Jerusalem,” the Last Prophet is cited as having said.
Outside the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, Dec 2010
At the moment, I have a multiple entry visa for Saudi Arabia, and my sister and brother in law live in a university compound about a three-hour drive away from Madinah, so it is possible for me to take such a trip on a whim.
While in Madinah, I also hope to visit the other two important mosques if time permits, as this really is only a weekend trip. Quba Mosque was the very first mosque in Islam’s history. When the Prophet emigrated to Madinah he stayed in Quba for three days and erected a mosque there which is about three kilometres from the Prophet’s Mosque.
The other is Masjid Al-Qiblatain, literally the mosque with two qibla (the Arabic word meaning prayer direction). It was so named as it was in this mosque that the direction of prayer was first changed from Jerusalem to the Kaaba in Makkah.
What I most wish to do again this weekend is to visit a special section of the Prophet’s mosque called Al-Rawdah, the small area distinguished by a different colour of carpet, situated between the location of the Prophet’s last house and the pulpit where he would lead prayers prior to his death.
“The space between my house and my pulpit is (Rawdah) one of the gardens of Paradise,” the Prophet said.
During busy times of the year for religious tourism in the kingdom, Al-Rawdah is packed and it can be difficult to find a small crevice on which to pray for 10 or so minutes. I was quite lucky on my first visit because tourist traffic after the Hajj slows down considerably, so I spent more than an hour in total on Al-Rawdah on two separate occasions.
I was told by one of the female guides last time that the prayers one says on Al-Rawdah hold particular significance since the area is a garden that has either come down from Heaven, will be lifted up to Heaven or, she said, prayers given in this area reach Heaven.

I can’t imagine many better place to spend this weekend.

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Look forward to your comments!

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