Jan 10, 2006 - travelogue    1 Comment

Madinatun Nabi

Madinat al-Munawwarah

It’s amazing just walking around the prophet’s mosque or looking at all the people streaming out after prayer. Every Hijab style you can imagine. Dupattas, wrapped African scarves, chadors, all colors and sizes and of course there is the predominant black abaya, with matching scarf or niqab. I was trying to figure out one Hijab style where the fringes end up as triangles down the back.

You can see the differences more markedly among the men. There’s Pakistanis with shalwar kameez. Tall Sudanis with crisp white jalabayas and those huge complicated turbans, there’s tons of Arab men, Malaysians with their long shirt and wraparounds, Afghanis with their black round hats. I’ve now even seen contingents from far off places like Sri Lanka, Mauritius, China and Australia. I think it’s so cool when people wear scarves or bags or jackets with their country. It almost feels like the Olympics :)

We went on ziyarah today to see some of the sights. We visited the 7 mosques at khandaq, Quba and Qiblatain Masjid and finally Uhud. I was so disappointed at seeing Uhud. It has changed so much just from the last 5 years since I have been here.

Behind the hill of the archers, there is a huge parking lot and road. Next to the graves there are stall structures for a bazaar and a big mosque with toilets. There are tons of vendors everywhere. When I came here 5 years ago there was nothing here at all. It was just barren rocky sandy land with one road. There was a gate all around the Shuhada’s graves and far in the distance at the foot of Uhud you could see some houses.It was just so sad.

While waiting, buses of pilgrims came. Russian/Albanian, Sierra Leone, Iraninans. They came, looked, shopped, took some pictures and left. It just didn’t seem right. The archers hill is steadily getting smaller and smaller. And structures keep going up. Perhaps one day there will be houses and buildings and a city all around and just this walled off lonely cemetery where ‘legend has it’ some Shuhada were buried.

The same story with the Haram area. It’s all huge hotels now with more and more being built. You can see construction ongoing everywhere.

I long to find the Madina of the Prophets time. Where are the mud houses, the narrow alleyways, the date palm groves. Where are the people who live here year round.

We pounded the pavement looking for gifts to bring back home. The difficulty is that everything is so spread apart and the rampant price gouging makes us have to ask the price at 3 stores at least. For example, yesterday we were trying to buy some Tasbihs with inlay designs. One store owner said 20 each and went down to 15 , the next place said he’d give 12 for 150 and the third place said 15 at the start and then using his calculator he kept moving up the price to 25! Not to mention the stores where the owners get mad when you try to bargain (ie get a normal price) and grab the thing back and say ‘salam alaykum!’. Again I wondered how they could do this right in front of the prophet (saw).

At another store in the mall an Afghani worker says to the auntie with me, ‘Why are you bothering me baji?’. He then went on to say some harsh words about America once he learned we were from there. The auntie tried to explain to him that there were better Muslims there than here. He said they didn’t even know how to pray and went on to mock and make fun of them. I was ready to just leave and label him ‘jahil’ or worse, but the auntie stayed and tried to talk to him saying if we do dawah then one day all of America might become Muslim, so he says “then make dua for that.” Alhamdulillah auntie had the last word and said, “I have been for these 20 years at least”.

At our hotel we have about 5 groups that eat on one side of the restaurant. There are two buffet tables and the room is packed with tables and chairs. Unfortunately its so crowded and unorganized that some fights broke out the first day and now people try to go early and pile the stuff onto their plates, hoarding desserts. Ironically while at the first expensive hotel with its huge buffets, everyone tried to eat elegantly and sparingly.

You know I never realized this but there are seriously different Hajjs. There’s the 5-star Hajj with the 5 star service – conveniences like space, irons, hot water, hair dryers, washing machines, stores right in your hotel, elegant plentiful buffets. Many bathrooms and showers and less people.

Then there is our Hajj, four women crammed in a room on single twin beds, suitcases stuffed in every corner and even on beds, laundry hanging everywhere. No towels, dirty bathrooms and unmade beds.

And then after that I know there is another Hajj. The Hajj of Muslims coming from African countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan, Hajjis from the subcontinent, Indian, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other poor nations. They live blocks away from either of the hotels we complain about, crammed into hostel type old buildings and motels. They have to walk for a long time and far for each prayer and they also have to buy food off the streets and eat it. I don’t think all the groups go on the ziyarahs either. They tend to camp out around the harams because their hotels are so far. Contrast this with the 5 star group within our own hajj company showing up at Uhud in their expensive American clean clothes, sunglasses, clutching cameras and camcorders.

They looked like well groomed tourists at a European sightseeing tour. Our tour guide told us that a certain sheikh would be with all the groups. He ended up being with the 5 star only. The best English speaking scholar of the history of Madina and we didn’t get to hear any of it. Only a few tidbits of history as we passed. I am disappointed. I thought Hajj would be where every Muslim comes together and becomes the same, but it just isn’t.

1 Comment

  • Aslam O Alicom,
    I read the whole article. It made me sad but at the same time I felt like living the moments in Mecca and Madina that has left me rejuvenated towards my goal. I am living in NY and planning to go back home to Pakistan and on my way to home and back I plan to stay in Mekka and Madina for a day or 2. I pray that I have much more exciting story to share when I am back.

    Allah Hafiz