By Nasim Hassan, Delaware, USA
I land in Medina after a long direct flight from New York to Jeddah in March 2016. The airport has expanded and we pass the new railway station. The road is lined up with date palm trees on both sides and some places in the median. Your experience of Medina would be different than other pilgrims. Medina has a very unique history starting from the arrival of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). If you are looking for any historical markers then you cannot find them without a knowledgeable tour guide.
Gradually the Saudi government has started to preserve a few things of historical importance. In fact the current area of Masjid covers the whole area of ancient city. Everything in this area has been rebuilt. The current capacity inside the masjid is about half million. However during prayer time, the corridors surrounding the masjid have the same capacity. So during Hajj time about one million people can pray in the masjid. The expansion continues on and additional capacity is planned by year 2020.
It is early morning at 5:30 AM and I am walking towards the masjid from my hotel. I see literally a river of people flowing towards the masjid. I feel a sense of peace and calm as I step inside the masjid. After entering from gate 15, I pass the area specified for the women. My wife Raheela moves on to women section while I continue towards the entrance for men. The whole area is bright like early morning rise. Although there is a shoe rack at every entrance, I wrap my shoes is plastic bag and carry it in my back pack. It is very easy to place the back packs at the base of masjid pillars. Every pillar has a shoe rack. So there is hardly any need to leave the back pack outside.
As the prayer starts there is movement forward to complete the front rows. In fact after the start of the prayers, there are still big gaps. However people start their prayer because the movement has to be stopped to complete the prayer.After the prayer, there is again a procession of people moving out. I linger on at the entrance to see people of various nations in different dresses.
The corridor has shade canopies that open slowly early morning with light sensors. The Saudi government employs hundreds of people to maintain and clean the masjid on a daily basis. The employees are very helpful. There are many people from Bangla Desh, Pakistan and India working in the masjid. Saudi people have left such simple jobs for migrant workers. Outside the masjid there are many ladies wrapped up in Hijab from head to toe asking for charity. This time around I did not encounter male charity seeker. Perhaps the Hajj season is better for them.
Several of my close friends have asked to pray for them at Riazul Jannah. This is a designated place where the Prophet (pbuh) walked from his home to the lectern to give khutba. After Asr prayer I move forward to Riazul Jannah. This area is packed with people. The area is blocked by the police where they allow a few people at a time. The waiting line is very long. I pray as my friends instructed me and continue towards the exit passage where you can see the only the outer grill enclosing the tomb of the Prophet (pbuh). The number of people this time seems more than Hajj of 2012 when I was able to pray in Riazul Jannah.
On the right side of exit I see a group of people from South Asia praying facing towards the masjid Nabavi. A policeman is trying to turn their faces towards Kaaba instead of masjid but they are adamant and continue reciting in Urdu praising the Prophet (pbuh).
As I move towards the hotel I see a number of groups from various countries. I see Turkish, Indonesian, Bangla Deshi, Malaysian people. Some families are taking their meals in the court yard. Nobody disturbs them. There are two cats sitting around them. It seems like Medina welcomes everyone without distinction.
They are very kind and generous and share dates and water with me. Turkish people particularly are very warm even though we do not understand each other. I take photographs with I-phone that in every hand.
I approach a group of three elderly friends sitting in the court yard. They tell me they are from Naroval in Pakistan. They agree to let me photograph them. If one of them said anything then all three came out agreeing with one voice. I ask their names and all of a sudden one said he will not disclose his name and the other two instantly agreed. I leave them with a smile and walk towards my hotel.
There are primarily five sites in Medina that the pilgrims visit during Hajj or Umra season. These are Masjid Nabavi, Masjid Quba, Masjid Qiblatain, Uhad Battle ground and Jannatul Baqi. Although Medina had a large number of historical places, only a few have been preserved. A good guide can point out the location of trench, garden of Salman Farsi and few others. Recently the Saudi state has started to preserve their heritage. There was an exhibition on the Biography of Prophet Mohammed outside Masjid Nabavi. Everything was written in Arabic without any photographs. Some models and maps were on display.
On March 27, 2016, I visited the mount Uhad where the second battle took place after the migration from Makka. It is a bright sunny morning and weather has warmed up. The mountain range is in sight consisting of small hills. The open area has a parking lot and a field full of various shops. These shops have dates, prayer mats and various kinds of tasbihs. These shops must be doing good business because there were so many of them.
There is a small hill is crowded with the people. This hill seems vulnerable as dust is rising around the crowd. The guide mentions that the prophet placed a contingent of fifty people on this hill with arrows to safeguard against the attack from behind. This hill is called Aynayn. Abdullah Bin Jubair was the leader of this group who stayed behind and was martyred on this hill with ten of his companion. This hill will perhaps disappear after a few decades due to erosion.
Fortunately, the Saudi government does not allow the people to visit the mass graves of Sahaba Karam. Hazrat Hamza was also buried here. There is a fence around this site but the mass grave can be seen from a distance.
Our guide continues the narration at a critical moment in this battle. At one time when Musab Bin Umair was killed, the Muslims thought that the prophet has passed away. Then Kaab Bin Malik saw the prophet and Muslims gathered around the prophet. Seven people were facing the enemy and safeguarding the prophet.
Our group continued our journey towards Makka to perform Umra with the memories of Medina where peace continues to envelop the environments.
By Tal Kopan, CNN
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