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 ﷺ.
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 ﷺ. Born in 570 AD in Makkah, the Prophet ﷺ 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 ﷺ 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 ﷺ 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 ﷺ 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.
Look forward to your comments!