>> Wednesday, June 30, 2010
This will be an interlude post. As you all know I went on Umrah recently. I was not planning on sharing my experience because I didn't know what to write. However I received a special request asking for my experiences, so I decided this post would be about my Umrah. It will be in a list format to record all my memories inshAllah (Hoping that people inshAllah will see advices that will help them inshAllah).
When I first entered the plane and was wearing my thobe because if you are flying Saudi Arabian Airlines they have a small prayer room in which you can change into your ihram.
About an hour into the flight I decided to pray Duhr and Asr. There is a compass in the prayer area showing you where the Qibla is and during prayer there was an announcement which I did not catch (because I was obviously praying). In the middle of my Asr prayer, the Qibla actually changed 180 degrees and I heard the last part of the announcement that they were dumping fuel. I went back to my seat, which was next to the wing and saw them just pouring out fuel (ironically this was just hours before the whole BP fiasco which I didn’t hear about until I had spent one week in Mecca). I immediately began to pray because being the bad flyer that I am, I was scared witless. So I am already a bad flyer and now we need to turn around and land in JFK because the engine is freezing. There was some problem with the anti-ice machine and we could not cross the Atlantic. For some reason the plane kept turning left and right and circling and sitting by the wing and looking out the window scared me even more (They should really let us close the window shades during landings).
Alhamdulilah the plane landed and right away, while still on the plane, food was served. Then they told us to leave the plane and wait at the gate because they still could not find the problem. Then five hours later they let us have free food at the Turkish restaurant in JFK. After 3 more hours they finally let us back into the plane and then took off an hour and half later.When the plane landed, even in my Ihram, I could feel the heat right away. My uncle's brother-in law-picked me up and I stayed at his place for the day. My Ihram belt broke and it was very annoying so I wore the belt I usually wear with my jeans. Then at night he took me to Mecca to do Umrah. First however he booked a hotel for me, when I got settled in I went to the Haram. It was great seeing it for the first time in person and not just in pictures. That Umrah was very easy Alhamdulilah and I finished 5 mins before fajr. I had to quickly get my head shaved run home to shower because I was sweaty and I usually shower when I get a haircut and change into my regular cloths. I quickly ran to the masjid and joined the fard jammat.
In Mecca I stayed mostly in the Masjid and walked around in the masjid when I got tired of reciting. My hotel was literally right outside of the masjid so at night when I was tired I would not need to walk very far and because of that I was able to do Tawaf nightly, Alhamdulilah. During all this time I wondered what did people complain about when doing Tawaf and Umrah. It was pretty simple. Then I did my second umrah and because I did tawaf every night the soles of my feet were bruised. When I did this second umrah the laps between Marwa and Safa were very difficult. I literally was fighting to finish those laps. I realized then what shoes were for.
Lessons I learned in the Haram were:
- Keep your sandals with you; they WILL get lost (they will not get stolen, you will most probably forget where you put them).
- Birds love to defecate on you and not just when you sit outside. They will travel inside the masjid and regardless of whether or not you are below a chandelier or not they will somehow sit on a ridge and aim for your head (know the fiqh of bird droppings before going to the Haram).
- Try not to look like a foreigner; there are no fixed prices and taxi drivers who usually charge 10 riyals charge you anywhere from 20-100 riyals. They overpriced me specially because they thought I was Egyptian. (How I know this is because later I would complain to my friend about cab drivers ripping me off and he would make fun of me. Then I happened to mention people kept asking if I was Egyptian and then he told me that cleared up everything). When taking a cab make sure your driver is Bengali, if he is not make sure he is a Pakistani and try to avoid Arab and specially Saudi drivers at all costs. Saudis are the laziest people I have met and if you ask them to turn the corner because it is closer or use a different gate in the university or to help you find where you need to go on the specific street, they will get angry and tell you they were only paid to bring you here.
In Medinah it was very difficult to find my hotel. Everyoen is a tourist so it is hard to ask for directions to your hotel. Plus the cab/bus stattion was on one side of the haram (the back of the masjid) and my hotel was by Bab-Asalam (the complete front where the graves are). Another problem was the name of my hotel was Golden Mubarak and there were many hotels with the word Golden in them and others with the word Mubarak in them but only one had both "Golden" and "Mubarak". Plus the sign that says the hotel's name is not facing the main road and is hidden which from a business and marketing point of view is terrible. Alhamdulilah I found the Hotel then went to the haram to give my salaams. The next mronign I realzied all the shops (like the very important bin dawood) and places to eat were on the other side of the masjid. We (I had a roommate who arrived 2 hours after me because he took the bus) then changed hotels to Sufra al Huda. This hotel's room was amazing. The bathroom was huge. And they had room service and it only cost a few more riyals. Plus it was very close to not only the Masjid but to bin Dawood and not one, but two wifi spots. The wifi spots allowed me to use my Skype app on my iPhone to call home. One wifi spot was between gates 16 and 17 outside of the masjid and another was in one of the Tayyiba hotels.
In the Medinah masjid there were many study circles where you can just sit and study with the Imam, most of them were Tajweed classes. And most of the Imams I met knew both Urdu and Arabic. Also at night in front of the masjid there were speeches.
One strange thing I notice was that people would push and shove to touch the black stone because it is from heaven and they believe you get more hasanaat for touching it. But in reality you do n tget more hasanaat and the Prophet (PBUH) said you can merely point to it. Now if you can go ahead and touch it, however Muslims have no concept of making a line (even in bin Bawood a girl threw her items over my items on the register belt) and furthermore they push and shove to touch something that is neither mandatory to touch nor gives you "blessings". However in the Medinah Masjid people would like up at the rawda and when they finsihed praying woudl stand up look for someone to take their spots call them over and then leave the rawda. People actually made room for one another. The Rawda is said to be a peice of heaven and you do get extra blessings in there. Basically what I want to say is be courteous. If you see an Aunti who wants to touch the Black Stone let her through and do not push her. It is a superficial display of piety where you cry and moan to touch the black stone and when you do touch it scream, "GOD IS GREAT," all the while pushing and shoving an old lady who is in the winter of her life.
I then flew to Jeddah and arrived there at 11 hours before my flight to NYC. I basically just slept in the airport and almost missed my flight even though I arrived 11 hours earlier. When I arrived to NYC, Alhamdulilah, everything went smoothly and I did not receive special treatment like some Muslims do.