Friday, May 30, 2014

Selected pictures of Makkah Grand Mosque

Inner court of the Grand mosque

Waiting for Isha prayer

Crowd entering  the Grand Mosque

Cleaning and washing the route between Safar and Marwah

People performing the tawaf (a view from Hijr Ismail)

Praying at the inner court in the midday.

Many people performing the tawaf and in the background many more construction unfinished

People watching the tawaf at the first floor of the Grand Mosque. It looks like one of the recreational activities.

A unique clock in the mosque.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The day I visited Madinah and Makkah (Part Two)

I was overjoyed when I reached Makkah. I know anybody who perform ibadat in the Grand Mosque  (Masjidil Haram), he will get 100,000 virtues. That is a big reward. That is why it is better to perform solat and other deeds in this mosque as you will get 100,000 virtues. Whoever who already arrived in Makkah must ensure they do not miss this golden opportunity!

When I completed my umrah, I visited many historic places around Makkah. They include Mount Thur, Arafat, Mount Rahmah, Mina, Jaaranah, Tanaim, and the prophet's former house site. Our guide explained to us about the significance of these areas. I learnt a lot from this visit because the guide is very knowledgeable and he gave us a lot of relevant information including the history and the Quranic verses which are related to these sites.

Mount Thur is where the prophet was hiding from the enemy who wanted to kill him. The enemy nearly found him inside this cave but the spider quickly made her web around the entrance and the birds occupy some place. This situation made the enemy thought that there were nobody inside the cave. This pushed away the enemy to other areas.

Mount Thur, Makkah

Among the visitors who were at the foot of the Mount Thur.
Arafat is a big field which houses thousands of pilgrims during the haj season. All pilgrims who perform haj must stay here for a moment during the noon on the 9th of Zulhijjah (Muslim calender month). It was made known that all phophet of God had come here during their lifetimes.

Mount Rahmah is a small hill next to Arafah. It was told it was the place where Prophet Adam met Hawa again after being separated for a long time after being discharged from the Heaven (Jannah). I found many grafitis being written by visitors. They wrote their names on the rectangular column walls on the mountain  top. Some believe if they make doa or prayer at the site, it will be granted.

Mount Rahmah, Arafah

Mina is another place where it was a very historic place. This is a place whereby all Muslims who perform their haj have to throw stones. There are three jamrahs (Ula, Wusta and Aqabah). Now, they are properly housed  in a multiple level  building which was constructed quite recent.  In Mina too, there are permanent anti-fire tents are constructed. These white tents can be seen from far. A train station was constructed here. But I was told the train is being used only during haj season and that too for the Saudian pilgrims. Others still use buses for transport.
Jamrah in Mina.

Jaaranah is a village (not far from Makkah) where the prophet Muhamad pbuh once was poisoned by a lady who wanted to test him whether he is the real prophet or otherwise. He survived the ordeal. Jaaranah is also a miqat ( a place where you make niyyah) for performing umrah similar to place like  Bir Ali and Tanaim.

The next day, we visited the prophet's birth place and prophet former house site. It is a common knowledge that the prophet Muhammad birth place is just near the Grand Mosque. However, the management now says there is not much evident to prove it. Well, the site is now developed as a library next to the Palace.

The site of the Prophet's  house

When we reached the former site of phophet's house, our guide just told us to sit down. At first we did not know why he asked us to sit down. When everybody sat down, then he opened his narration. This site is near the Babul Salam entrance and the toilet. This is the first time I learnt about the site although I had been here many times.

Later in the evening, the guide discreetly showed us the pillar in the Grand Mosque that is always emitting good odour. Since they are large crowd around, I did not dare to validate it. We just nod and may be some day, we will validate it.

After Maghrib prayer, I started walking towards the lane that lead to the new mataf. I had to come out of the mosque and walked to the the special lane. This lane is fully dedicated to the people want to perform tawaf on wheel chairs. The mataf is a circular double-deck structure (built around the Kaabah), but now only its upper deck is being used. So I waited for my turn to be allowed by the guards. After all wheel chairs got into this lane and move towards the mataf, non wheel chair people were allowed in. We walked passed the elevated wooden structure into the upper floor in the Mosque.

New Mataf (double-deck ) for the jemaah to perform tawaf.

I performed my sunat tawaf by encircling 7 times and finished a few minutes before isha prayer. It took nearly an hour. Here you get a good view of the Kaabah and jamaah.

Large crowd is very  normal nowadays where pilgrims perform the tawaf.
Talking about Kaabah, some people are determined to kiss the black stone (Hajar Aswad) and pray in the Hijr Ismail. If your niyyat is strong and you are determined, insya Allah you will get it. Find a suitable time to do it and it is advisable to do it when people are getting less especially in midnight and the wee morning. Some people offer pilgrims to kiss the stone at a price. So be careful.

I spent 6 days in Makkah.  In between prayer times, I visited shopping outlets which are below my apartment. Shops now are concentrated in the three towers in front of the Grand Mosque. These include Safwah, and Zam-zam. Basement shops sell products at cheaper price.

There are many hotels in these towers such as Ritaj, Pullman, Al Marwa Rayhana by Rotana, Movenpick, Al Safwah Royale Orchid and Elaf Kinda Hotel.Price may start from RM500 a night.

Clock Tower in Makkah where a few hotels are incorporated within the shopping malls.

At Safwah Tower (on the left),  many Malaysians tried the Malaysian cuisine at Felda's restaurant, D'Saji at the food court.

Since many hotels near the Grand Mosque are being demolished to make way for other buildings and development, only those who can afford can stay in hotels near the Grand Mosque. Those who can't afford, have to be housed 400-800 metres away or even a few kilometres away. This may not be good for the elderly as they have to walk a long way or pushed on the wheel chair to and fro the Mosque. In years to come, when the construction of the Mosque complete, I think new hotels will be built on the other side of the mosque and thus making more rooms available close the mosque.

However, there are other visitors who do not care about staying in hotels. They usually come from the Indo-Pakistani countries. They just occupy unused shopping floor, or around the tarmac outside the Grand Mosque.

As far as food is concerned, most visitors will take their food in the respective hotel restaurants. Some patronise the local restaurants and food courts and some even pre-order packed food to be sent to their respective rooms.

One thing I noticed, on Friday afternoon prayer, there are many people in Makkah, They came from all over the place, jamming the mosque. By eleven a.m., the mosque front doors were closed by the guards on duty. Those who were late have to pray outside the mosque and prayer even extended to the shopping malls nearby.
Friday prayer performed at the Albait shopping mall.

Buying packed lunch from the vendor in Jeddah.

On the last day in Makkah, our guide told us to perform farewell tawaf in the morning as we have to depart Makkah by 11 a.m. By 11 am, all of us entered the coach with our luggage and went to the King Abdul Aziz International Airport at the Saudian terminal. It is the same terminal that we arrived.

In Jeddah, our guide bought zam zam water at a kiosk and this add storage in the coach. Later, our guide bought lunch packs for us at the parked van nearby.

Once we reached the airport terminal, the porters came with the trolleys. They never give you the trolley as they wanted to keep it themselves. So we have no option but to get their services at a price.

As we entered the departure lounge, there were many other passengers occupying the seats. We got our seats at a corner and started to have our lunch.

The check-in time is around 5 pm. So we waited nearly 2 hours. When the check-in counter opened, there was no information of our flight number. We were worried. Our guide had spoken to the Flynas staff and he said we should check-in at other terminal, meaning the international terminal. We argued back saying we came through this terminal and we assumed we go back from this terminal too. Minutes later, the staff spoke to their counterpart. Then, he said it is alright to check-in here. So they started to process our check-in. All our passports and tickets were submitted to the check-in staff. In the midst of the check-in, the system got jammed. The check-in ended at 6.30 pm, barely 30 minutes before departure!

The departure gate was only opened at 7.30 pm (there is no flight information at the information electronic board) when everybody finished performing their solat maghrib. We just followed what the staff said. The bus waited for us down stair and the officer guides us to the bus and later to the awaiting plane.

The bus brought us to a long and winding path to search for the plane. As it was already dark, being an ordinary visitor, it seems difficult to pin point our plane. After a few turns, at last we found our plane. All of us (20 persons) boarded the plane. Once we enterd the plane, I found they were a few passengers inside. The plane crew escorted us to the seats. I noticed the big plane had only few passengers! It looked as if it is a charter plane for us and we enjoyed it as we get many seats and converted it as our beds.

The plane departed Jeddah at 8.30 pm. We reached Kuala Lumpur in the morning the next day.

Thank you Allah for giving the opportunity to visit this place.  I pray and hope the Almighty Allah will give me more rezeki so that I can visit this holy place again in the near future.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Day I visited Madina and Makkah (Part One)

Last April 2014, I had the opportunity to travel to Saudi Arabian cities of Madinah and Makkah to perform an umrah. We took a 9 hr flight from Kuala Lumpur to Jeddah with a Saudian aircraft, Flynas. Flynas ia a Saudian low cost carrier, like Malaysia's Air Asia. We departed KL at 12.45 pm and reached Jeddah at 5 pm (Saudi Time).

Earlier, we were told that we will be exiting at Haj Terminal, however, it turned out, we had to go through a Saudian terminal. By the way, King Abdul Aziz International Airport (KAAIA) has 3 terminals: International, Haj and other terminal is strictly for saudi aircrafts. This imposed problem for us as the guides who waited for us were at haj terminal. It took us 3 hours more to start our journey to Madinah.

The queuing at  immigration counter was not that smooth as there were many passengers from different airlines were also arrived at that time, however we were lucky enough to get speedy stamping of our passports. Collecting our baggage was not that long. However, waiting for our guides to arrive from another terminal and fetched us took a long hours.

Only after 8.00 pm, we were escorted by our guides to the awaiting MPV at the airport parking. There we had our dinner of packed food and mineral water. Then we proceeded to travel northward to Madinah. Since it was dark, we spent our time sleeping and 7 hours later, we reached Madinah. We were housed in the Madinah Mubarrak Hotel for six days. This hotel is a walking distance to Masjid Nabawi.

I for one  had difficulty of adjusting to Saudi time as Saudi's  2.00 am is our 7 am. By 4 am we have to get ready for subuh prayer. While putting the bags in our room at thirteen floor, I found the room has a faulty air conditioner. Phoning the front counter several times earned me to change room to another room at the far end, still on the same floor. If I did not insist strongly, I don't think they will change my room. Well, by 3.00 am, all settled and I also forget to tell my new room to our entourage.

I had barely one hour to be ready for subuh prayer. For that, I thank myself as I had a good nap while on MPV a few hours ago.

At 4.00 am, there were already thousands of people moving toward the mosque. This is quite unique in the sense that here everybody seems determine to pray in the mosque in  congregation. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had said, "Those who prayed in my mosque, will get 1,000 virtues."

Business at the Mosque Entrance (Masjid Nabawi)

Masjidil Nabawi, located in the central of Madinah is indeed a very large mosque. It had been renovated and enlarged many times to accommodate  a rising number of visitors or pilgrims all over the world. At the left front corner, lies the Prophet Muhammad's grave. This area attracts many visitors and sometimes you can not escape big crowd of all ethnics (all Muslims from all over the world) and a big push as everyone is eager to move toward the protected grave and offer some dua. Some even cried during their prayer and duas.


The prophet's grave

Immediate right hand side of the grave is a space called Raudhah. This is one of the areas where Allah will grant your prayers or duas. This make this place a sought after. It is not easy to pray inside this area if you are not determine to do so. It is always full of people irrespective of time.  If you are a women, there is a time reserve for the ladies to pray inside this area. If you are interested, tell your guide to bring you to this Raudhah.

Not far from the mosque is a large graveyard called Baqi graveyard which "houses" holy people and companions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

After finishing our subuh prayer at 5 am, we went back to the hotel for breakfast at level M. Wow, there were many people queuing for the food. This time, we had shared our food with pilgrims from Indonesia. The food caterer is the same. So we ate Indonesian food: tempe, fried rice, fried bee hoon, keropok, gado-gado etc. 

Going into the the lift is a problem. This hotel has a number of lifts (elevators) but small. They can not accommodate a sudden rush of patrons. So, to occupy time waiting, we surf internet on the hotel  free wifi. Free wifi can be reached by a simple hand phone. I found many male visitors here do not care about others when smoke at their floors. I found it a nuisance when I met smokers who smokes in an air conditioned floors.

The room key is in the form of card. I was given a card and this gives problem for 3 of us who occupy the same room. So we requested an extra card which they obliged.

The next day, we were taken tour of Madinah where we toured Uhud, Masjid Quba, Masjid Qiblatain and date market in the orchard. This is a standard visiting program while in Madinah.

We visited Masjid Quba first. Prophet Muhammad says, "Whoever perform ablution at his house and pray at this mosque get merit or virtue of  one umrah". It is just 4 km away from Masjidil Nabawi. Upon arrival, there were already many people performing solat inside. Visitors from Turkey and Indonesia form a large crowd.

Next we visited a date shop in the orchard nearby this masjid. You can all eat whatever dates available in the shop. But I found the price is a bit high compare to the Date Market in the town. However, it is an irony,  the guide can not dictate the driver to bring us to the Date Market.

Dates (Ajwa)

Date Shop at the orchard near Uhud.

We did not spent time here and moved to Uhud. This hill was once a battle ground between the Muslim Madinah and the kuffar where one of the martyred was the Phophet's uncle, Saidina Hamzah. The guide briefed us the history of Uhud and the Uhud war. Around the area now have many petty traders selling all kind of products such as dates, fruits, nuts, clothes etc. They are selling similar products.

At 9.30 am, the heat here is very high, more than 38 celsius, making us very uncomfortable. It may be normal to Madinah  citizens but not us. This make us short cut the visit and proceeded to Masjid Qiblatain. Masjid Qiblatain has two kiblat. Previously, all Muslims in Madinah prayed facing the Masjid Al Aqsa in Palestine, but due to certain reasons, Allah swt asked  Phophet Muhammad to change the kiblat to Kaabah in Makkah. So, all Muslim over the globe now offer prayers facing the Kaabah. Inside the mosque, there is one side of the wall facing Masjid Aqsa and the other one wall facing the Kaabah. This is part of the Islamic history. Our ziarah ends at 10.00 am.

The next day, I joined another group for the visit. We visited the same areas but had an extra visit i.e. visit the largest Quran printing plant in Madinah. The area is situated in the outskirt of Madinah.

Quran Printing Plant
The printing plant is a huge one. Only male visitor is allowed to enter the plant.  As there were many people who like to visit the plant, we have to wait for our turn. The females will stay in the exhibition and selling areas. During the visit, we were briefed that the plant prints 11 million copies of Quran yearly in various languages and distributed all over the world. At the end of the visit, each visitor is given a free Quran.

Those who read Quran and acted upon it will surely get the blessing of Allah swt. Those who read this writing, I like to say that reading Quran is a challenge to all Muslims. Quran can give you  syafaat in the hereafter. So  it is words of God, the Creator. It is from Allah  the creator to His Creations revealed through His Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Quran is for all mankind. A lot of lessons can be learnt from this Holy Quran. Believe in Al Quran is one of the tenets of Islam.

The daily activity here is similar or repeat. Pray at the mosque 5 times daily is a routine and sought after. Here, one should not miss solat jenazah at every solat. It happens every day.

I spent 5 days here which is considered long by a normal package. After spending 5 days in Madinah, we prepared ourselves to go to Makkah for umrah. The last activity  in Madinah is we went to bid farewell to the Prophet.

There were many people at that vicinity. We made dua and say good bye and hope we can come back again in the future.

We started our journey to Makkah at 2 pm after lunch. Ready with our ihram (two-piece white clothes) wrapped our body (for males), we took a coaster and stopped at Bir Ali, an hour journey from Madinah on the way to Makkah. Since the coaster bus is small, all our bags were placed on the roof top and were tied nicely.

Ready for umrah

Bir Ali Mosque

At Bir Ali mosque, we  queued at the toilet to make ablution and went inside to pray. At this hour, there were many pilgrims too.  Stopping here is about 45 minutes and got into the bus again and  make niyyat to perform our umrah. Our guide then guided us in making the niyyat and we started our talbiah ( reciting Labbaikallah humma labbaik......). We reached Makkah at 9.30pm.

The driver parked the vehicles at the basement of the Zam Zam Tower complex. After all baggage were put down and wheeled to the hotel by the hotel porter. We were not sure  where our hotel were actually located. Later, we were told it is at Retaj Suites Hotel. So it took different elevator at 02 to P6. It is quite confusing here. Later, we learnt that it is next to the Grand Mosque.

Once we got our rooms at level P6, the guide gave us the dinner, a packed of rice, chicken and vegetable plus the mineral water. Actually, our rooms are scattered among the floors. I got at level 6, others at level 5 and 8.

The room at Ritaj is really luxury to my standard. The room comes with an attic with 3 single beds and bathroom, tv and fridge  while the lower are bathroom, dining and kitchen, tv plus living. So we were happy to get this room as it has 2 bathrooms.

At 12 midnight, the guide summoned us to the lobby where he will bring us to perform umrah. As we exit our lift, I realised that our hotel is right in front of the Grand Mosque. It took us a few minutes to enter the King Abdul Aziz Gate.

As we entered the mosque, the guide brought us right to the tarmac where the Kaabah is. I noticed the new mataj was properly installed with people on wheel chair performing the tawaf. At least the ground tawaf is not disturbed by the wheel chairs.

After offering solat sunnat, the guide took us to do tawaf 7 rounds complete. It took nearly an hour as there were many people.  Completing the tawaf (encircling anti clockwise 7 times with ablution and with duas ), brought us to perform solat sunnat in front of Makam Ibrahim. Mind you, this area has many people passing in and out and can sometime make you uncomfortable. But you have to overcome whatever your problems. Next is to do sa'e i.e. walking between Mount Safar to Mount Marwah 7 rounds. It takes another 45 minutes and end up at Marwah with tahallul (cutting a few hairs). When you have done the tahalul, you can be free from the umrah do and don'ts. You can change to the normal cloth.

Performing umrah is also to ask God's blessing in pardoning whatever sins that you have committed.

To be continued.