“Travelling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” -Ibn Battuta
A month after my return to The Holy Land, and back into the mundanity of everyday life, I can’t help but reminisce on my experience of a lifetime. Two weeks of serenity. Three hundred and thirty six hours of peace. Seventy salahs performed in the divinest of Mosques.
A glimpse of paradise.
No form of physical and mental training could ever prepare someone for their journey to The Holy Land, especially in Ramadhan. On top of the physical exhaustion from endless walking, the scorching sun and performing Tawaf amongst the mass of people, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed physically and emotionally by the sheer grandeur, holiness, and amazingness of the place. Even a week into my visit, I found myself in awe at the fact that I was actually in Saudi, and waited for the moment I would be woken up from this dream. Though I had previously visited in my younger years, and frequently saw pictures online, nothing quite captures the surrealism of the first moment you catch a glimpse of The Ka’bah.
Aside the shorter fasting hours, I was more than blessed to visit Saudi and perform my Umrah in Ramadhan. A hadith states that The Prophet (SAW) said: “An Umrah (minor pilgrimage) in Ramadhan is equal to Hajj with me [in terms of reward].” (Bukhari, Muslim)
This alone gave me the motivation to endure through the heat and hunger. To bear with the crowds even if people stepped on my abayah, touched me during Tawaf, sat on my toes in Salaah or I was made to become a photo bomber in somebody’s Ka’bah selfie. I was forced to be tolerant to the habits and characteristics of people I had never met before. To politely let them know it was impossible for me to do Sajdah if they sat in front me, even though we both spoke different languages. To share my prayer mat with someone who squeezed into the Saf at the start of Iqamah. To risk losing my praying spot to fill up a bottle of Zamzam for the old lady sat next to me, because Allah (SWT) says in the Quran: “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colours. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.” (Ar-Room :22)
Undoubtedly though, these little tests of patience were insignificant. I was given the opportunity to find solace in Masjid Nabwi and break my fast in full view of the Ka’bah. To stand in Masjid Al Haram and perform Taraweeh led by Shaikh Sudais, amongst thousands of other Muslims, during the last 10 nights of Ramadhan. I was living a lifestyle where Tahajjud was part of my daily routine and the sound of the adhan could be heard from my bedroom. So I definitely wasn’t going to let anyone push me away from my moments of serenity.
I can’t describe a more spectacular sight than watching the sun rising in the Makkah sky whilst performing Tawaf at 4am. Submerged into this sea of people, in a temperature of 30°C, I wished to have had the perfect paint or the most eloquent of words to sufficiently record this sight and these feelings for an eternity.
I will admit that Makkah definitely shocks you with its relentless energy, stabs you with its constant motion, and bruises you with its hustle and bustle. It picks out your tiniest of faults, prods at your level of patience and pokes fun at your seemingly normal habits and routines, whilst digging at your smallest of irks. Yet amongst it all, it gives you respite from your own self. Your ego and your pride. It blesses you with a form of willpower you never knew existed and turns you into an admirable fighter.
And then you visit Madinah. The resting place of the very Last Prophet (SAW). Embodied by a peace that seems almost tangible, it’s felt in the warm breeze and in the smiles of its people. This city is secluded from the rest of the world like no other, and gradually you can feel yourself detaching from worldly responsibilities and worries. The mere opulence of Madinah isn’t in the symmetrical arches or the grand umbrellas, but in its tranquility. Even amongst hundreds of jostling women, you feel at peace, because Madinah is forever surrounding you with its aura of solitude.
In perspective, this Umrah trip was certainly an eye opener to say the least. It truly made me realise the significance and intricate beauty of Ramadhan. It’s not about the grand spread at Iftar, sleeping in until Asr, sticking with your own ethnic traditions, or the grand preparations for Eid. It’s about sacrifice, brotherhood and generosity. It’s about giving up what you love to gain the love and happiness of a stranger. It’s about realising that everybody is united in searching for their Lord. Every being is willing to give, to get some form of reward from Him. Every soul is yearning for His Mercy, protection and forgiveness.
So when the heart breaking time came to bid farewell to this beautiful country, a quote by Azar Nafisi came to mind:“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way again.” So I pray He accepts all our efforts, keeps us steadfast on our good habits and grants us all the opportunity to visit the Holy Land again and again. Ameen. And if they say home is where the heart is, then I know that I have certainly left mine in the holiest of lands.
Humairah Hanif is a nineteen-year-old English Language and Literature undergraduate, pursuing a career in Journalism.