AlhamdulilAllah, just got back my first visit to Makkah and Madinah. Armed with prayers and sincere advise from friends and family, I went expecting a spiritually uplifting and relaxing vacation. I didn't get exactly what I expected, but alhamdulilAllah, I think I got something even better.
The plan was to spend the first 2 days of our 5 -day trip in Madinah and the next 3 in Makkah, and alhamdulilAllah all went as planned. We got to our hotel in Madinah just before the time for a'sr (afternoon) prayers and I rushed to make wudu` and head to the Masjid of the Beloved (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Suddenly seeing the masjid in front of me and realizing that, alhamdulilAllah, I was finally there was overwhelming.
The masjid itself is a work of art, even more so on the inside than on the outside. Pictures definitely do not do it justice. Even with the crowds of people (and sound of screaming children), it is hard not to focus in prayer and in remembrance at the Masjid of the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him). As much as I tried mentally preparing myself, it still took me a good day to internalize the fact that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was buried a few meters away.
One of my dear sisters gave me some very good advise before I left: while in Madinah, remember your adab (manners) as you are in the presence of the Prophet (peace be upon him). I tried my best to follow her advise.
My favourite Madinah moment came after fajr as the dawn was "breathing" [Holy Quran, 81:18] during our last day. One of the wonderful features of the masjid are the sky roofs that open as soon as the sun begins to rise. I was directly under one of them, enjoying my favourite time of the day (staying up that extra hour really pays off - I try reminding myself) and I happened to be reading the following passages of the Holy Quran:
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.
[Such niches are] in mosques which Allah has ordered to be raised and that His name be mentioned therein; exalting Him within them in the morning and the evenings [Are] men whom neither commerce nor sale distracts from the remembrance of Allah and performance of prayer and giving of zakah.
Those verses meant so much more to me at that time and place.
A few hours after leaving Madinah we were entering Makkah, also just before a'sr prayer. The whole trip I was trying to anticipate my feelings upon seeing the ka'bah for the first time. As I was making my way through the mosque I got my first close look at the ka'bah. Unlike what I expected, I didn't cry right away. A feeling of awe and humility was what first struck me.
AlhamdulilAllah, we did our umrah right after asr prayer when the crowds were less (due to the heat) and were able to get close to the kabah. It was not easy to comprehend that I was so close to the ka'bah, and from my very first visit. It was an honor I felt I didn't deserve.
Frankly, I was somewhat uneasy during the first tawaf. I tried to follow my parents' lead, focus on the prayers and avoid getting trampled by the wheelchairs. The heat and travel fatigue didn't help either. I wasn't sure what I should be feeling. I was expecting the peace and serenity of taraweeh prayers in Ramadan but it wasn't exactly that. I kept on trying.
It wasn't until the third time I did tawaf (after maghrib prayer the second day) that I began to understand the purpose of it all: submission.
I had heard hajj lectures previously which explained hajj rituals as being about remembering the struggle of Prophet Ibrahim and his family, and submission to Allah (swt) without necessarily understanding the exact purpose of the physical rituals, but somehow I hadn't thought about umrah the same way.
My favourite Makkah moment was also after fajr, as the sun was coming out. I had just finished tawaf and had sat down not too far from the ka'bah to say my morning thikr (prayer):
"I am pleased with Allah as a Lord, and Islam as a religion and Muhammad peace be upon to him as a Prophet."
I had never meant this statement the way I meant it that day.