Sunday, July 29, 2012

Thursday, 26th and Friday, 27th July, 2012: Madinah

It was time to eat some food for the next day’s fast, but I first made my way to the area where there were budget hotels in the company of my new Dubai-based friend. He had made some prior arrangements, and I thought it might be prudent to go with him since he would probably help me get accommodation too at this unearthly hour. It turned out to be a good decision. He and I got separate rooms in the same hotel (Hotel Qasr-e-Gurbani, or the Gurbani Palace Hotel). I took the room for two nights, at SR 200/= per night. It was a 5-bed room on the second floor, and was much like the rooms I have stayed in at Mecca on my previous trips. Thankfully, though, the room was fairly clean and decently appointed. I took a bath, did my ablutions, and then went down to a Bengali restaurant to eat something for the next day’s fast. 

After this, I proceeded to the Haram of the Masjid-e-Nabawi. My first look at this magnificent mosque humbled me no end. It really was a great structure, befitting the great Prophet of our times. Over the next one and a half days, I saw more and more of this and as I write this, I am overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this mosque.

I first joined in the morning prayers (the Fajr’), and then awaited the opening of the door that would take me for the first look at the tomb (the resting place) of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). There were huge crowds and a lot of pushing and jostling, and it was some time before they actually opened the doors, so that I was being gradually crushed by the pious and eager men around me, all here to pay their respects and pray before the Holy place. The policemen had a tough time controlling the crowd, but, at about 5.55 a.m., they finally stepped aside as we all rushed in to file past the grave of the Prophet and his Most Favoured Followers, Hazrat Umar and Hazrat Abu Baker.

We got seconds to gaze at the tombs with reverence and then, the policemen urged us to move forward. Past the exit, I was guided next to the main entrances of the ancient grave yard where the family members and others of past ages are buried, viz. the Jannat-ul-Baqi.

As I ascended a ramp to reach the main gate of the graveyard, I had mixed feelings: what, after all, could a visit to the graveyard achieve? And yet, I moved on. My first glimpse of the graveyard was of a level piece of ground with small mounds of soil topped with pieces of stone at one end. The area covered by this looked so small. There was a huge board here with messages to the faithful in several languages. The gist of these messages was to ponder about Death and about the Holy people who had gone to Allah before us. It (the message) implored us NOT to kiss or fall at the feet of the graves, and exhorted us to simply send our “salaams” to the Dead Ones. It taught us not to pray through dead people as they had no power to grant us our wishes. It told us that Allah alone had such powers.

I moved to where a spiritual teacher was addressing a crowd of men in chaste Bengali. I could not understand him and moved on. Just a few feet ahead, and as I climbed a little, the panorama changed from this being a small graveyard to being a HUGE one with more than 25000 graves all spread out over an area of more than 5 sq. km.  According to Wikipedia, the graveyard was annotated as such by the Prophet himself, and continued to expand as the years went by. Several of his family members including sons, grandchildren, wives and others, and his companions are all buried within the graveyard. Before 1925, there were several mausoleums here, but they were demolished by the ruling King of Saudi Arabia in accordance with the tenets of Islam as it is practised here.

I suddenly, and inexplicably, had a moment of epiphany, and before I knew it, I was mourning the Dead along with the other faithful devotees. I cried for a while, then moved out, and walked back through the Mosque to reach my room, where I went to sleep for the next several hours, only to wake up after noon.
The rest of the afternoon I spent visiting the mosque once again, and praying the other salahs. At about half past four, I hired a taxi (for SR 100) to take me to all the places to visit in Madinah. The taxi driver, a kindly Saudi soul, was very co-operative, and took me to see the Jabal-Uhud, the Jabal Reemah, the Masjid Quba, the Masjids of the Trench (six of them in one spot, including the Masjid Dhul Fatah), the Mosque of the “New Qiblah” (Qiblah-tain), and the Masjid of Hazrat Hamza. My tour of these places took up about 2 hours. It was interesting. The first two were adjacent hills where battles had been fought against the Qurayshi warriors. There was a holy ground here where about 70 warriors laid down their lives for the Prophet. There are no graves, but the area is cordoned off and surrounded by a steel and iron enclosure. I had a prayer book with me which assisted me in praying special prayers at some of the mosques I have listed above.

We returned to the Masjid-e-Nabawi half an hour before Maghrib. I saw something here that I will remember always: the immense preparations for the breaking of the fast of thousands of devotees. People sat on huge plastic sheets, and were served by people with water, food, fruit, drink and dates. The devotees sat patiently, and the servers came one by one, bringing with them packets of the various afore-mentioned items. When the Azaancame on the air, thousands of us broke the fast, and partook of the food and water etc. served to us. In about ten odd minutes, the entire congregation was through with the “iftaar”, and all moved towards the mosque interiors or other areas to line up for the Maghrib prayers.

After this, I went out, back to my room to relax, and returned for the Ishaa prayers after an hour and a half. I skipped dinner as I had already eaten my fill at iftaar. I roamed around the mosque, and finally returned to my room by half past ten to go to sleep early in order to get up in the morning for the next day.

The next morning saw me go again to the Mosque for the Fajr’. After this, I entered the Rowdah area of the tomb of the Prophet (PBUH) and did my prayers in accordance with my prayer book. This was accomplished by joining, once again, the hundreds of devotees clamouring to go in to do the same as I. Prayers accomplished, I moved out and visited the Jannat-ul-Baqi once again. This time, I lingered on for a longer time, taking photos and doing prayers for the Dead.

It was nine o’clock when I returned to my room, and after this, I changed into my street clothes and checked out of the hotel. I walked the short distance to the local bus stand, but, upon being invited by a taxi owner who was looking for one passenger to go to Jeddah, I accepted his request and boarded his cab. My co-passengers were a Nigerian family of husband, wife and their two children, who all sat in the back seat of the SUV. We reached Jeddah uneventfully at around 1.40 p.m. 

The purpose of my diversion to Jeddah was to pick up a small parcel sent by Nishrin through a lady passenger who had arrived in Jeddah from Mumbai the same afternoon. I got off their taxi near Juzer’s residence, but on the opposite side, and I called him to share with him my arrival. Next, I called up the number given to me by Nishrin of the person I was supposed to collect the parcel from. Imagine my horror when the recorded voice told me that the number I was trying to reach was out of service.

I called Nishrin, and after some frantic calls by her, I was given the information that the number I had been given was wrong. A fresh number was given to me, and I then called up one Mr. Uzair. He asked me to take a cab and guided the driver to his place. We picked up the package, and with this, I then asked the driver to take me to the Saptco Bus stand at Corniche. 

I got into a bus at 4.00 p.m. After a long and tortuous journey of nearly eight hours (instead of the printed 5 hours and twenty minutes), I finally reached Al Muwayh just before midnight. The reason for the delay: the driver took us all to a restaurant on the OPPOSITE side of the road for iftaar. After having the food, etc. he drove us BACK towards Jeddah … almost a hundred km, before finding the bridge that would allow him to execute a U-turn to go back towards T’aif!  

Thus ended my three day pilgrimage.

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