Mention the name ‘Madinah’, and the first descriptions many Muslims will use involve words like ‘peaceful’, ‘calm’, ‘tranquil’, etc. Our arrival there was anything but that – but such is to be expected when we had to deal with the chaos of Madinah’s airport at Hajj time: thousands of pilgrims arriving, long immigration queues, and a luggage collection area that was hectic, to say the least.
When we finally got out of there, we felt the air of the Holy Lands for the first time. It wasn’t suffocating, but was very hot – especially since it was after 9PM already.
If I didn’t yet feel the sanctity of the place yet, the wait on the bus would make it clear that this was no ordinary place. The radio was on, but this wasn’t the kind of radio station we get back home. In our Westernized societies (and even some Eastern), music is everywhere – from shops to waiting rooms, elevators to outdoor events, cars driving by, and even in the masjid – when people forget to turn their phones off. And of course, let’s not forget the people who blast their favorite tunes in public spaces via their cellular phones – as if they’re doing a public service by sharing their musical taste with those around them.
But this was Madinah, and what played on that radio station brought sharply into focus that we were now ‘safe’ from the perils of Western popular culture. No music, but Quran recitation instead. That, and narration after narration of hadiths. It was all in Arabic (not English), of course, but that didn’t matter. What counted was that in this sacred place, the pollution of violent, vulgar, and sexually-suggestive lyrics would no longer reach our ears. This was especially significant for me – as a former music addict; knowing that there is a place on Earth where I wouldn’t be subjected to such things anymore.
The drive to the hotel was especially emotional for much of the group, with salwaat being recited, and many tearing as we approached Masjid an-Nabawi – the main attraction of the city, and resting place of the Prophet Muhammad. But for us, it would only be the next morning that we actually went to the masjid – being exhausted from the last two days’ travel, plus a tiring week at home before that.
Making my way to the masjid the next morning – with the group – I spoke with some of the other guys in the group, with topics centering around travel and worldly things. I soon realized that I needed to politely break away from such talk – otherwise the brothers would probably remain engaged in conversation with me, wasting precious time here. You see, I wasn’t totally opposed to socializing, and I didn’t want to be rude. But on this journey – and in this place – I didn’t want conversation to take up a lot of time, especially if the topics weren’t spiritually beneficial. So if I started – on Day 1 – setting a personal standard of letting such conversations happen often, it would mean missing out on the peace, solitude, and atmosphere of this place – which, I believe, is best enjoyed alone.
For me personally, spirituality and feeling closeness to Allah is something that doesn’t come often when there are others around. And so on this first trip to the masjid, because I was in a group, I felt a bit emotionally disconnected from the experience. I did still feel that acclaimed peace that many speak of – but I couldn’t enjoy it much with the others around, having to stick with the group members and move as they moved. I suppose I knew that it would only be when I came alone that I’d get to fully immerse myself in the experience; and there would be plenty of time for that in the coming days.
Another lesson – which I think reinforced the previous one – was a piece of advice I received about the time in Madinah: from that early stage, try to imagine the time when you’ll be leaving the city. Thinking of that should help you appreciate how precious the time here is, which will help motivate you to use the time wisely. And I think that’s a general advice that can be applied to any special experience one goes through: early on, and throughout, allow yourself to think of the time when the experience will end; and this, insha-Allah, will help you to make the most of it.
After the relative disappointment of the morning visit, I went back later for my first obligatory prayer in the masjid – Dhuhr. Starting out, it was very special – and I felt a kind of ‘magic’ in that first rak’ah. But the experience was cut short when a cellphone went off, snatching the moment away. As I was to find out, in both Madinah and Makkah, this happens a lot – so don’t be under the illusion that the sanctity of these places causes people to be extra careful about putting their phones off.
Later, I reflected on what happened and remembered great advice by a scholar who spoke of this exact thing – where your worship in these places will be interrupted by cellphones and other distractions. But if your heart is really with Allah – you’re really into your worship, and your connection is strong – it won’t bother you. So it’s important to make dua to achieve that state, and try to achieve it via patience.
After that prayer, my turning point of the day came. With time on my side, I stayed after prayer to make dua. And it was during that dua that something in me finally clicked. The floodgates opened, and my connection to Allah suddenly emerged as strong as ever. It was this experience – even if it was just a few minutes – that changed my mood completely from the morning’s disappointment.
And I realized the importance of that very act of dua: this was actually a journey of dua. As a traveler, duas are accepted. And in this blessed place, as someone on the way to Hajj, the feeling is intensified because you’re there for Allah alone – and not on holiday or business. I had already made a comprehensive dua list before leaving home, and this was the time to start using it – taking it with me wherever I went, so that I could make all those duas while in these precious moments. And while I would usually be self-conscious about consulting a physical list like this with others around, that fear was allayed here – because the reality was that most people in Madinah (and later Makkah) didn’t speak English; so there was little chance of them reading it.
Next up, Insha’Allah: Reflections on the first 24 hours in Madinah.
- When you’re in a special situation – such as visiting Madinah – use your time wisely and beware of non-beneficial activities that can waste your precious moments.
- In these situations, early on and throughout, imagine how it’ll be when the experience ends; and use this feeling to help you appreciate it and make the most of it.
- Distractions will often be present while you’re trying to engage in worship. Instead of complaining about them (when you can’t change them), accept the reality and try to focus your heart on Allah instead – building a strong connection that won’t let these minor things disturb you. Make dua to achieve that state, and try to achieve it via sabr.
- Hajj is a journey of dua and constant connection to Allah; so use your time to make all the duas you want, and strengthen your bond with Allah via acts of worship pleasing to Him. After all, back home, you’ll probably never get this kind of chance to focus 100% on such activities – so embrace and use the chances while you have them on this trip.
- If you didn’t already make a written dua list (both for yourself and other people), do so – even while you’re traveling, or in Madinah or Makkah. That list is critical for this journey, because you probably can’t store everything in your head – so when the times come to make those duas, you don’t want to be so overwhelmed by emotion, tiredness, or other factors, that you forget all the duas you intended to make.