The driver pulled up in front of our hotel as the ithan of Asr echoed across Medinah. My son rolled our suitcases across the sidewalk into our hotel’s opulent marble lobby. Lining the edges of the lobby were cozy plush green couches trimmed in golden brocade. The brass handrail perched on the marble staircase glittered as the light passing through the crystals of the perpetually lit chandelier pinged off its surface. The smell of bokhoor (incense) filled the air as we plopped onto the couches while my husband checked us in. Our hotel was only two blocks from the gates of the Prophet’s Masjid. We got to our room on the 9th floor to find a beautiful view of the 9th floor of the hotel across the street.
What a change Medina had gone through over the years. It’s so sophisticated now. Gone are the quaint privately owned Dars. The Haram was now surrounded by towering hotels. Contrasts such as the Hilton next to an equally large Dar At Taqwa reflect the ever changing world we live in. It had been more than 17 years since I last had Iftar at this special place. I sat under the umbrellas as they closed slowly with the setting of the sun and the call of the Maghreb prayer. I was a tiny dot in the sea of fasting Muslims who sat waiting for the moment to plunge into a cup of dates, yoghurt, sweet breads, fruit, juices and other delicious foods which had been donated by various individuals and companies to the pilgrims who had gather and spread out across the massive marble courtyard that surrounds the Masjid.
It was my destiny to wonder through gate 11. I passed row after row of women who had come to pray A’sha Prayer with their children and extended family members. I continued until I passed into the section at the front which is reserved for women without children. Bouncers, who had no other job but to enforce the statement on the sign scrutinized the line of sisters for any stowaway children. If you get there shortly after Maghreb you will find some spots open. We squeezed into a row and greeted the sisters around us. One was from Medina another from Egypt, yet another from Sudan.
It was after Fajr prayer that I realized gate 11 was the location for the women who wanted to visit the Rawdahhttp://abdurrahman.org/umrah/rawdah-madina.html. The Rawdah is a special place located between the house of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم and the pulpit where he gave his khutbahs. This special place is said to be a little piece of paradise where your duas will be answered. It is located in the men’s section and so they clear out the men three times a day (Fajr, Zuhr and after Taraweeah) and create a makeshift tunnel for the women to enter into the Rawdah.
The Haram has hired several female guides speaking various languages to try to organize the gathering crowds of women. Their aim is to try to manage the sisters into groups according to language. I found the English and French speaking sisters were to collect around the sign for Africa. I took my seat and waited for our guide to explain what we were supposed to do. She gave a very informative lesson about Tawheed and then explained that if we wanted to pray in the Rawdah that we should do it first thing. The neeyah for prayer should be as for any nawafal prayer i.e. Doha, Salat Al Istikarah, Qiyyam etc. Your objective in the Rawdah is to make dua and to send your salams to the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم . We are not to pray to the Prophet but send our salams without involving shirk. Since the best time for dua is in sujud and salams to the Prophet are said in Tashahud, two rakats of prayer would encompass all that we would want to do in the Rawdah.
The groups were of varying sizes and our guides tried their best to quail any stampedes which were always on the edge. All it needed was just one renegade sister making a quick dash to set a wave of sisters racing for Rawdah. The guides lined up continuously motioning us to remain calm. It’s understandable. Sisters, who have waited a life time to come to Medinah, are unable to control their emotions once they lay their eyes on the place where the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم is buried. As we waited for our turn I, looked up and saw through the spaces in the ceiling the famous green dome of the old Masjid. It was nearly invisible from outside. The old decorations on the pillars and the ceiling were traditional hand painted patterns. Except for the electric wires and fans which have been added to accommodate modern times, the old Masjid reminded me of traditional ones lost in time in Egypt. What a contrast to the fancy brass and marble decorations in the newer sections which also sport enormous domes which slide open so quietly that you are unaware they’ve moved until you feel that sweep of air as the heat rises towards the void in the ceiling. Opening the ceiling allows the air in the Masjid to freshen up.
When our turn came, we entered semi-orderly into the Rawdah where the red carpet changes to green. In sujjud, if you have enough presence of mind, you make your duas for family, friends and Ummah. It was a special moment; the kind that stays with you for a lifetime. For a moment, an instant in time, I stood with a mix of women, a global representation of His slaves in a little piece of paradise calling upon my Rabb. Al hamdullilah for the blessing.