In my two days travel to reach Medina—the first stop for my pilgrimage—I was surprised to discover numerous families making the long journey from Fremont, South Africa and Pakistan to do Umrah. My children are complaining about our upcoming summer rafting trip in the Grand Canyon—I wonder what they would say about ten-days of praying, visiting mosques and holy sights halfway around the world.
In talking to Sahar, an affable fourteen-year-old Afghan American girl from Fremont, I found out it has been her dream to do the pilgrimage. I asked, why not Disneyland or Hawaii? She shrugged and said she doesn’t know. Sahar was traveling with her parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles to do Umrah.
Seeing that it’s not yet Spring break, I asked, “how about school?” She noted that she completed her schoolwork in the fifteen-hour flight to Dubai.
“And your friends,” I asked, “do they think it’s weird you’re going on a pilgrimage for Spring break?” She said her friends are very happy for her.
Unless you have a relative or local contact in Saudi Arabia, all pilgrims must travel with organized tours with similar itineraries for Umrah—first stop in Medina and then off to Mecca.
Medina is the capital city of the Medina Region in Saudi Arabia with a population of 1.2 million. At first glance the city is quite unremarkable—with monochromatic khaki colored crumbling buildings, unruly traffic and garbage-strewn sidewalks. What brings millions of visitors to this city are the various holy sights, mosques and historical locations where Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH) fought for survival and advancement of Islam.
The crown jewel of the city and the main attraction for pilgrims is the Al-Masjid-Nabaw, also known as The Prophet’s Mosque. Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, is buried in this sight, making it the second holiest place in Islam. The spectacular mosque glows like a flawless diamond as light emanates from genuine gold light fixture perched high on ornate, tiled towers. This breathtaking sight countered my vision, prior to this visit, of a gloomy edifice where women are draped in black hijab reciting the Quran solemnly and praying for forgiveness.
What I found is a place of joy, where children are playing chase, families are gathered around a picnic between prayers and around a million Muslims gather for Friday prayer.
Through these photos I hope you will get a sense of the beautiful energy surrounding this holy sight and a glimpse into the lives of authentic Muslims.