Umrah: A Pilgrimage of Peace
Florida to Saudi Arabia. A thirty-hour journey that was, to say the least, exhausting. But as soon as I stepped foot onto the bus that would be transporting our group, a fresh burst of energy and vigor swept over me.
We were here, along with millions of other Muslims, to perform Umrah, one of the two pilgrimages that are essentially “pillars” of Islam. It is imperative that Muslims visit the two holy cities, Makkah and Madinah, and perform either the Hajj or Umrah; we were here to fulfill that requirement.
My first look at the Prophet’s Mosque, or Masjid-al-Nabwi as it is called in Arabic, was absolutely breathtaking. I was blessed to be standing in the very area where the Prophtet himself had spread Islam into all aspects of life. Madinah, the second holiest city in Islam, holds the Prophet’s Mosque in its center. Millions of Muslims from all corners of the world make the journey here. No matter what time of day, the mosque shines like a star in the midst of a bustling city. The light that illuminates the mosque reflects off the white marble to create a gleaming sanctuary that embraces all worshippers.
Five times a day, the azan (the call to prayer) is given by the muadhin, a leading figure of the mosque that calls the azan. Numerous speakers are tucked away within the corners of the building to let everyone know that it’s time for prayers. People slowly fill the mosque and sit on the floor, reading the Quran or simply sitting in peace. Once prayer starts, rows form one by one from the front to the back and even outside the doors onto the marble. The movements of the prayer are performed in perfect harmony creating a sense of balance, knowing everyone is there for one purpose; to worship.
One could spend all night in the mosque admiring the architecture and design; from the gleaming white marble to the Quranic verses engraved into the columns. But one might not notice that the mosque contains remnants that still exist today.
The Prophet Muhammad himself had built this mosque to house all of Islam’s adherents. Although the mosque has expanded well beyond the original size, the dimensions of the original mosque are marked by green paint at the top of the columns. Another example is the Rawdah, or Prophet Muhammad’s tomb. The area where the Rawdah is today contained houses of Muhammad, his wife, and a few of his companions back during his time. Another prominent example are the accounts of a piece of heaven being located in the mosque. Accounts that have traveled through the lineage of the prophet have stated that there is a piece of heaven known as Riyadh-al-Jannah located near the tomb. This area has been indicated by surrounding it with a green carpet, while the rest of the mosque contains red carpeting.
From the remnants of Prophet Muhammad’s time to the current expansion directed by the recent kings of Saudi Arabia, Masjid-al-Nabwi will always stand as an icon of Islam and a building revered by the adherents of Islam.
Four days quickly passed and our time in Madinah had come to an end; it was then time to travel to Makkah to perform the Umrah. A six-hour bus ride put us in Makkah around 12am. Yet with the amount of people that were walking around, it felt like 12pm! Makkah truly is the city that never sleeps.
We immediately headed to the Sacred Mosque, or Masjid-al-Haram as it is called in Arabic. This is Islam’s holiest mosque, as it contains the Kabah, the House of Allah, in it’s center. Muslims face towards the Kabah when performing prayers, making it a focal point in the religion.
The process of Umrah consists of four steps; entering the Ihram (a state of cleanliness), performing seven circumambulations of the Kabah, walking between the mountains of Safa and Marwah seven times, and cutting of the hair.
Over the course of the four days we were in Makkah, we were blessed enough to perform the Umrah twice. Each time I entered the mosque, I stood in awe of the Kabah, thanking God for allowing me to visit His house. I would insert myself into the crowd and perform my seven rounds. The energy and vigor which I had felt in the beginning of the journey renewed itself every time I stepped foot in the Haram; knowing that you are actually there is truly amazing.
I think back on our journey almost every day. The smallest of memories come back to me and put a smile on my face. But the thought of possibly visiting again drives me to become a better Muslim. Makkah and Madinah had reinforced the true spirit of Islam within me and I will truly never forget this experience.