Madinah in brief
The city of Madinah is located in the western coast of the Arabian peninsula – about 340km north of Makkah. It’s the second holiest place in Islam (after Makkah), being the final resting place of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the place where the Muslim community was first established.
I won’t go into detail on the history of the Prophet (you can find a great interactive presentation here and further details here) – other than to say that Madinah was the place he migrated to after enduring twelve years of persecution from the pagans of Makkah – who rejected his message and saw his preaching as a threat to their power and economic standing.
The city itself is loved by Muslims worldwide, being renowned for its serene atmosphere, as well as the site of many important sites in Islamic history. Although visiting Madinah is not a part of the Hajj pilgrimage, I – like many Muslims, visited, the city during the journey – given the religious virtue of the place.
The main attraction
Madinah’s centerpiece is the mosque of the Prophet, called Masjid an-Nabawi in Arabic. The mosque itself was much smaller and humbler in the Prophet’s time – a far cry from the dazzling modern extensions which have extended the building tremendously and introduced majestic adornments that add the aura of the place.(You can have a look for yourself in this virtual tour.) But the grandeur doesn’t seem to make it overly-modern, and just being inside comes with its own sense of magic.
There are numerous spots of historical significance in the mosque, but the main two are the burial chamber of the Prophet, and the Garden of Paradise.
The burial chamber of the Prophet
Here, the Prophet is buried – on the spot where he passed away (which was in the home of his wife Aisha). Muslims stand in front of the chamber and ‘greet’ the Prophet, sending their respect and praying for him. It’s important to note that Muslims do not pray to him. They pray to God alone – and praying to anyone other than God constitutes polytheism, which is considered the greatest sin in Islam.
Also in this area, next to the Prophet’s grave, lies the graves of his two closest companions (and successors as leaders of the Muslim nation) – Abu Bakr and Umar (may God be pleased with them).
The Garden of Paradise
The area between the burial chamber and the pulpit is known as the ‘ Garden of Paradise ‘ (Rawdahtul-Jannah). Its name is derived from the reported statement of the Prophet: “Between my house and my pulpit lays a garden from the gardens of Paradise…”.
Scholars have interpreted this in a number of ways, among them: it could mean that this land is parallel to a garden above it in Paradise; or the land itself will be placed into Paradise in the Hereafter.
The original size is approximately 22 meters in length and 15 meters in width, part of it is in the burial chamber.
For much of my life, I’d seek happiness in the kinds of pleasures that are ‘normal’ for so many of us: movies, music, other forms of entertainment, and food (in my case, junk food – and especially chocolate :)). And while these things did provide some kind of satisfaction, the feeling of fulfillment was always short-lived.
There was this void inside, and none of those indulgences could ever fill it. And when my life changed (as mentioned here), I still held on to many of those habits – though they slowly dropped away over the years (well…most of them). What became dearest to me in those years was my relationship with my Creator – a bond which was previously highly neglected (and that – I believe – was the reason I could never find true happiness in the past). And much of that bond was nurtured in times of solitude – where I’d be at peace, away from people, responsibilities, and all else that would otherwise gnaw at my mind and fill my thoughts.
As time passed, marriage and then fatherhood came my way – and such moments became very rare. That bond which was once so cherished began to lose its strength – due to the reality that I was no longer alone, and had so much more to occupy me now.
But this trip would help renew the strength of that bond, and it all started with my time in this mosque. My first day in the mosque was really special, with an experience of inner calmness and connection to my Creator which I had never felt that intensely before. There was something about being in a religious environment such as that which was unparalleled. A sense that all my worries and responsibilities were in the background, and I could dedicate my complete focus to my relationship with my Creator. I felt pure and alive – free of the worries, and mental and spiritual pollution of the outside world. My soul felt completely at ease because such a place was a natural home for my spiritual side to flourish. It was an utterly awesome feeling – one that can’t be reached through sensory fulfillment or indulgence in worldly pleasures.
Another highlight of Madinah was the sheer variety of people there. Hajj season sees the greatest number of visitors to Madinah and Makkah, as Muslims from all over the world come on this sacred journey.
In South Africa, many people think that Islam is an ‘Indian’ religion – since many Muslims are of Indian racial heritage. Elsewhere, many people think that it’s an ‘Arab’ religion – since that’s where it started. But that’s not the case at all. Islam is open to every single race, culture, and group in the world – from the palest of Europeans to the darkest of Africans (as you may remember from Malcolm X’s description of his Hajj journey, encapsulated in his ‘Letter from Makkah‘).
My days in Madinah showed me – with my very own eyes – the incredible variety there is in the world’s population of Muslims. The people were young and old, and of many different nationalities: Muslims from Turkey, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ghana, Thailand, and us South Africans. And these were just the early arrivals. In the days that followed, people from many more countries would come.
It was interesting to see how the different nationalities identified themselves: the Turks all wore khakis; the Malaysian women wore bright pink hijabs; some Indonesians had bright markings on their clothing; and Africans wore what seemed to be their traditional cultural clothing, which was very colourful.
To me, this was really the ultimate advertisement for Muslim unity. Though everyone identified themselves differently, we all went to the same mosque, made the same prayers five times a day, recited the same Quran in the same Arabic language, and we all prayed to the same God. So often does one hear about Muslims having sectarian differences, religious infighting, and racial and ideological clashes – but in Madinah, there was a mix of so many different kinds of Muslims – and none of those dividing factors mattered. It was truly amazing.
The whole experience brought to mind an image of Paradise. I imagined that Heaven will be something like this: people of all different types gathered in one place. Everyone will be calm, at peace, and forever safe in the knowledge that no harm or discomfort will ever touch them again – because they’ve navigated their Earthly lives successfully and ended up with God’s immense reward. Their Creator is pleased with them, and they are pleased with their Creator.
Next up: More insights from Madinah.
Image sources: Unknown, except for the second image, which was taken by me.