Visiting Mecca and Medina for Umrah or Hajj: Traveling for a "lifetime dream" of Muslims
Iranian writer Marziyeah Ebrahimi tells of a trip to Mecca and Medina for the Umrah - a place only Muslims are allowed to visit - the holy cities of Mecca and MedinaSaudi Arabian. Hajj and Umrah religious mass gatherings take place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and are attended by over 10 million Muslim pilgrims from over 180 different countries each year. Below is an account of their recent trip there. –Ed
By Marziyeh Ebrahimi
As a Muslim, this trip to Hajj becomes your first dream; to see the place which is the home of Islamic history and Holy Quran, where many Islamic holy and religious sites are located and many important Islamic events took place.
Saudi Arabia is the homeland of the Prophet Mohammed. All of the effort for this journey lay in visiting the "Ka'ba", the first house ever built for the worship of Allah.
Why I loved living in Saudi Arabia as a woman
The pilgrimage gives you the feeling of having had a life-changing spiritual experience.
During an Umrah journey, I traveled to Medina and Mecca as a pilgrim to worship God.
Before the trip to Mecca
Although insideIranPeople sign up and wait years for their turn to take part in this sacred journey, things were kind of different for my journey as I went with a tour of our university without having to wait.
About all the students at my university enrolled and it was a gamble for only 20 lucky students. Surprisingly, me and my close friend were among the lucky 20! It was a tearful day at uni for both groups, especially the 20, we cried with happiness!
We and other happy students from other universities were traveling together. We the girls would wear white from head to toe in a country where all female citizens wear all black clothes, in a country where women still don't have the right to drive their cars but very friendly nonetheless are.
On the plane
We took an Iran Air flightTeheranto Jeddah; turned off the phones and tried to forget everything, even the final exam for two weeks of traveling and thinking about Islam. It was July and Tehran was very hot but bearable. It took about two and a half hours to arrive by plane.
It was around noon and as I got off the plane I felt toasty in a few seconds. Soon we were brought into the airport hall and waited for baggage and visa control. We're all used to annoying Iranian tourists at airports. So we sat in silence on chairs and looked down.
Masjid-al-Medina-Moschee in Saudi-Arabien
This is what our tour guide asked us as he was traveling to Saudi Arabia for the 17th time. When visa control was over, we went outside again in the terrible heat. Anyway, we wouldn't stay inside very longJeddah.
We said our midday and afternoon prayers and soon we got on a cool tourist bus with lots of frozen water bottles and fruits that went to Medina, the paradise of Muslims!
From Jeddah to Medina
Although Iran and Saudi Arabia are in a similar geographic region, it was very strange for me to see deserts covered in rocks; a scene I have never seen in Iran.
This beautiful desert covering roughly the entire way from Jeddah to Medina made us take lots of photos out of the bus windows!
Then the tour guide played a CD on the bus about the depth of Hajj and its social and personal impact. Some students listened, others read the Koran, some cried; They were still shocked to come to Umrah!
We arrived after a five hour drive through the vast Saudi desert. The first thing that got our hearts beating was theMasjid-al-Nabi-Moschee,which made many students cry.
worship and prayers
There are many pilgrims from different countries in the prayers. They came from Lebanon, Egypt, Malaysia, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the coastal countries of the Persian Gulf, many African countries and even the USA.
Calls to prayer can be heard in all parts of the city and those who hear it leave their workplace (including shops) without locking their doors and without fear of things being stolen and run to the mosque.
There is no theft in Mecca or Medina. Shopkeepers leave their shops open and simply run to prayer. I saw a young black girl running to the prayers, she had run so far that she could hardly breathe; she just wanted to be in prayer.
The prayer in Medina
Prayer in Medina is very soothing and makes the heart and mind sweaty. After the prayers, people start reading the Koran; It is very soothing in the mosque, the beautiful architecture of the huge mosque makes you feel something different.
Nothing disturbs and you don't feel any stress, the environment is perfect.
I also sat next to one of the beautiful pillars and started reading my Koran silently, after a while a Saudi woman came and sat next to me and we started talking in Arabic.
Although learning the Arabic language is compulsory in Iranian schools and I have been studying it for more than seven years, it was very difficult for me to understand her heavy accent at first.
She kindly tried to tell me, “Read your Quran out loud”, so the angels are writing kindness on your shoulders for your sake!
Shopping in Medina: Free Taxis!
Around the city of Medina there are large shops and malls; Medina is a beautiful modern Arabic city where the weather is always nice even in July. An interesting thing in Medina is free taxis that go to big malls!
All major malls have an agreement with all city taxis, the mall will pay for each taxi that takes foreign tourists there, and when you finish shopping, the mall will provide you with another free taxi to take you to the hotel.
In shopping malls the prices are surprisingly different than in Iran, I bought a nightgown for $15 and this dress in Iran is around $90-130! It is good to mention that in Iran it is a custom that everyone who visits Mecca and Medina must bring home souvenirs for all relatives and family members, hence the shopping of Iranians in Saudi Arabia is famous.
They also accept Iranian currency, even those selling on the street. Many Arabs can speak Farsi. As an Iranian, you never have language problems in Saudi Arabia.
life in Medina
Medina is a very safe city. I was very relaxed and left my hotel room at 3:00 am to attend morning prayers. In addition to a large number of pilgrims who dream of praying in the holy mosque "Masjid-al-Nabi", many citizens also take part in this early morning service. So the streets are busy even at three o'clock in the morning.
Before sunrise you can even buy cheap little souvenirs from little girls and boys whose job is to sell things on pieces of paper by the streets; Many of them speak Arabic, Turkish and Farsi and easily convert your money into Saudi currency!
wear white; From head to toe
On our last day in Medina we went back to the Masjid-al-Nabi for our farewell prayers, then we went back to the hotel. The tour guide asked us to wear our white clothes as tonight and tomorrow morning are very important days in our trip.
It will be usMohremwhich is not only wearing specific clothing, but also a sincere intention to perform the pilgrimage. We were very happy and sang“Labayk, Allahuma Labayk, Labayk, La Shareeka Laka Labayk, Innal Hamda, Wannimata Laka Wal Mulk, La Shareeka Lak”meaning "Here I am at your service, O Lord, here I am - here I am. you don't have a partner Here I am. Verily, the praise and the favor are yours and the dominion. You don't have a partner."
Prayers in the "Shajare" Mosque
We got on the bus in white when we arrivedShajare-Moschee; We saw that there are many other tours as well. We have to say a prayer and then we become Mohrem. It was very busy and very difficult to make friends when you lost them because everyone looks the same in white.
No difference between people, men and women equal and simple! Me and my close friend walked together and sat getting ready for prayers. After this prayer everything is serious.
There are many things people should not do like saying a bad word, lying, teasing animals, scratching their body, hunting, cutting hair, covering face, looking in a mirror, wearing sewn clothes (for men) and many other things.
If an ant sits on our face, we should not tease the ant and let it go on its own. We should take care of everything. We have said the prayers, people are very happy, there is a calming feeling everywhere. We went to the bus and now we are going towards Mecca, we stay in the hotel until 3:00 in the morning and go to visitMaybethen to fulfill the pilgrimage duties that we must fulfill in order to become a Hajji!
We sang “Labayk” together on the bus and some cried, others read the Koran, some wrote their memories in notebooks. There was a sign along the way that said "Entry by non-Muslims is prohibited' since only Muslims are allowed to enter the city of Mecca. Being a Muslim means believing in the one and only God and the Prophet Muhammad.
Look at Kaaba and Tavaf first
We woke up early in the morning and changedMasjid-al-Haram, where the Ka'ba is located. Our tour guide asked us to just look at the ground as we believe that the first glimpse of Ka'ba will grant our wishes. So we moved forward and just looked locally, there are many groups from different nationalities.
Even though it was about 4am it was very busy. The tour guide asked us to sit down and then put our heads on the floor as a sign of worship; then he asked us to ask what we wanted and asked us to look up. We were right in front of the Ka'ba, the beautiful holy house we've all dreamed of seeing.
Worship at Kaaba is different. It is said that we should circle the Ka'ba seven times while keeping the Ka'ba on the left (counterclockwise).circumnavigationThe people moving around the Kaaba never stop, any season, any day, any hour, any minute, it is always very busy.
Men and women walk around this peaceful house and all animals are allowed to enter as well, as God is for all creatures. The mosque that is as clean as a mirror.
My chance: The door of the Kaaba opened
Rajab is one of the Hijri calendar months which on its 13th day is the birthday of the Holy Imam of Muslims, the birthday of Imam Ali (peace be upon him). Our trip to Mecca coincided with this holy day. Imam Ali was born in Kaaba.
We were sitting in a corner reading the Koran, suddenly we heard people screaming with happiness, everyone ran. We also tried to be part of the crowd. I saw the King of Saudi Arabia and the President of Pakistan enter the mosque.
They are accompanied by several women. They went up a flight of stairs and entered the Kaaba and soon came out again. Everyone wants to be in their own skin.
The people watched and were very happy to see the door of the Kaaba open. Many people dream of experiencing this moment. It was the highlight of my trip!
Besides the famous mosque in Mecca and Medina, there are many other mosques and places that the tour showed us. The strangest part is the cave in a mountain, which still after the time of Prophet Muhammad emits the very good smell of his body, which is like a great perfume.
This smell is so strong that even your clothes as a visitor will take on the same smell you leave there for hours. The environment around this cave and mountain is very quiet and not every tour can visit it.
The Saudi government has not yet built a road for it. another is"Hara Cave"is a very famous place in Mecca and a place where Quran was sent to the heart of Prophet Muhammad. All tours go there, the cave is on a very high mountain and is a bit difficult to climb, but all pilgrims climb it.
Farewell to Ka'ba with tears
Two weeks are enough to get used to this environment and made saying goodbye difficult. We all made friends with many Saudi and Malaysian women and afterwards we felt different. We love Ka'ba and it was difficult for us to say goodbye, but there wasn't much time left until the flight back to Tehran.
We should go to the hotel soon and drop off our luggage for the tour. They will send them separately, we only keep our passports and white clothes; because we want to enter Iran with our white clothes. Our families waited for us at the airport for hours as there are usually delays on Hajj flights. They love seeing us in white. Can't stop the tears, we've left the Kaaba.
Back home in Iran
It is customary for relatives to come to the airport when people return from Hajj or Umrah. They also write a greeting on a cloth hanging in front of the house. Tonight we have many guests, we prepared dinner for them and they all brought me presents. And I should give them their souvenirs. They call me Haji!
Hajj & Umrah
The pilgrimage is the religious culmination of a Muslim's life and an event every Muslim dreams of. Umrah, the minor pilgrimage, can be undertaken at any time of the year; However, Hajj is performed during a five-day period from the ninth to the thirteenth of Dhu Al-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Muslim lunar calendar.
Entering the state of Ihram and removing Ihram is done in the same way as for the full pilgrimage. During this trip I was on an Umrah.
The focal point of the pilgrimage is the Kaaba, which was rebuilt by the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) about 4000 years ago. Today the Kaaba stands in the center of a large courtyard of the Masjid-el-Haram, or Holy Mosque. The courtyard of Masjid-el-Haram contains, in addition to Ka'ba, the Muqam-e-Ibrahim (place of Ibrahim) and the fountain of Zumzum. Kaaba is the first house built for the worship of the One and Only God, Allah.
It is also called "Bait-Ullah" (House of Allah), "Bait-ul-Ateeq" (the oldest house) and Baitul Ma'amoor (inhabited house). Muslims around the world turn to the Kaaba to offer their prayers. This house and the places around it have several signs revealed by Allah
Surrounding the Kaaba is a mosque that is rectangular in shape with rounded corners. Pilgrims pray in this mosque by forming circular rows and facing the Kaaba.
Marziyeh Ebrahimiis an Iranian young journalist with five years experience as a journalist at ISNA. She received her B.A & M.A in Journalism and now works as a freelancer for many magazines and newspapers. She is also a researcher and has participated in many international conferences. She enjoys writing about travel, music and the visual arts.
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