An Umrah Unpacked – Part 3 – Madinah

It’s taken me a bit of time to get back to writing about my Umrah. There are 2 reasons for this. 1: it’s been an incredibly busy time since I got back in January. We’ve been working on giving the website an updated look as well as rebuilding the backend to make it work faster and offer a better user experience. And 2: I wanted to take some time to process my experience. To mull it over a bit more and delve into my feelings and the learnings from this trip.

In my previous post about our arrival in Madinah which you can read here, I focused more on our travelling rather than the actual Umrah experience. In the second post, I detailed the food journey which you can read about here. For some this type of spiritual experience is too personal to share on a public platform. For me, it is personal too, but I try to use my platform to inform and make life a little easier for other people like me. People who have the same needs, and are travelling a similar spiritual journey. No matter where you are on that journey. We are all on a path, just at different places at any given point.


Madinah is known to be a peaceful city. And it is, in relation to Makkah which is busy and crowded at any time of the day or night. Madinah on the other hand, while it is also busy and filled with people, has a calmness about it. Especially at night after Eshai, when the day’s salaah is complete and you’ll find many people walking around the mataaf (the open space outside the mosque). There is an almost festive air akin to the atmosphere in the Cape Town CBD around Christmas time. When vendors line the streets and families come out to see the festive lights on Adderley Street. In Madinah, the mosque is lit up with bright warm light and people stroll about in the night air taking in the sight of the mosque or head to the shops and vendors which surround the mosque and are open till the late hours of the night.


After Eshai is also when the haram is open for the women to go to the Rawdah. The Rawdatul Jannah or Garden of Jannah is the famed green carpet area around the grave of Prophet Muhammad SAW and his two khalifas Hazrat Abu Bakr and Hazrat Umar. It is the site where the original mosque of the prophet was and is now enclosed in the greater building that makes up the mosque as it currently stands. The mosque has expanded with each caliphate that came into power over the last 1400 odd years. Each bringing their own nuances and touches based on the influences of the times or culture. For example, the mosque did not always have the domes that cover the roof of the mosque. These were added sometime in the 20th century.

The technology in the mosque is something to be marvelled at. For instance, the 27 domes on the roof of the mosque slide back to allow light wells in the prayer area. I discovered this one afternoon when I sat in contemplation between Thuhr and Asr. I was sitting in a sunny spot and felt a shadow come over me. Looking up I watched the beautifully engraved dome silently slide back into place, blocking out the sun. Till that point, I had no idea that the domes were retractable.

Another sight to behold is the majestic umbrellas that shade the mataaf around the mosque. At sunrise, hundreds of these enormous umbrellas mechanically unfurl to create a canopy of shade during the day while worshippers pray underneath them. The sound of so many motors made a hum like the sound of millions of birds. I particularly enjoyed praying outside the mosque under these umbrellas as it was usually less crowded and somewhat cooler than inside the mosque.

The Rawdah

Visiting the Rawdah is an integral part of most peoples journey to Madinah for there is a tradition that supplications and prayers uttered here are never rejected. However, the space afforded to the women and the limited times which they are allowed can make the visit a rather stressful experience. The queuing starts as early as possible and the women are allowed through to various sections in batches of a 100 or more at a time. They wait at each point before they are allowed to the next section.

Emotions run high and patience wears thin and inevitably there’s pushing and shoving. When they are finally let through to the final area on the green carpet you will find that the women will run towards it to get a spot on the carpet on which to pray their 2 rakaats. They tend to all try to crowd in at once and end up praying on top of each other. My first experience of the Rawdah was like this. I felt rushed and crowded and could not think while performing my two rakaats. There was no connection to my Rabb at that time. I managed to go again a few nights later and I found that if you hang back a little while the initial crowd charges forward, as the first people finish up and leave, gaps will open and you will be able to pray there in a more comfortable way.

My mom who travelled with us in a wheelchair was also able to visit the Rawdah. They have separate queues for the wheelchairs but I did not find that wheelchairs were given first preference. So be prepared to wait just as long if you are accompanying someone. The female Asgaris, or security people in their full black niqaab, have their hands full trying to maintain order in these crowds. I feel they are given a bad rap which is primarily due to the language barrier. While some did come across harsh trying to maintain order, most I think are trying to be helpful. If they were willing or able to speak English, it would have made things better for those of us who were English speaking, but in truth, there were so many nationalities and most spoke Arabic and Urdu.

The best part of the time spent in Madinah was in solitude in the mosque in-between waqts. It is the only time that the mosque is not crowded and that you find stillness around you physically and in your heart or mind. If I can give one piece of advice to anyone going on this journey, it would be to try and spend time alone, completely alone. Try to visit the mosque without your friends, family or partner. When you’re with people inevitably you start to compare notes and chit-chat ensues. And this prevents you from contemplating and reflecting. It is only when you’re alone with yourself that you can self examine and find connection.


There are moments in the mosque which stand out. At maghrib time the mosque is full to capacity. Even the aisles are full and there is nowhere to walk. You may have come early and had some comfortable space around you but at some point as the mosque fills up you suddenly find yourself off the carpet and on the cold tile and you don’t even know how you got there. It’s always good to carry a light musallah (prayer mat) with you. I had a string bag which carried some small kitaabs (prayer books) and my musallah and which had an outside pocket to slip in my shoes. I lived in flip flops the entire time. Make sure they are cheap ones as mine accidentally got picked up by someone else. This is apparently a fairly common occurrence. A section of the mosque is reserved for women with children. During the silence of maghrib salaah especially during sujud, the sound of children crying from this section sounded like cats wailing in the night.

At every waqt after every salaah, there is usually a janaaza salaah and most would join in the salaah straight after. Mondays and Thursdays are typically days when people fast and at maghrib they would serve soft dates with bread and yoghurt to break fast with. This was usually only at the front of the mosque and unless you made your way to the front to get some only the first few rows would get. It was delicious on the one occasion I got to try it. The bread is slightly sweet and spicy and dates as soft as caramel. Zam Zam water is readily available at various points in the mosque all the time as well. We were advised to drink from the room temperature water instead of the cold water to prevent any illness and sore throats.

Jumuah salaah is huge. The mosque accommodates 750 000 people and can go up to 1 200 000. During the Khutbah (sermon), the Imam was very emotional. And though I did not understand a word of Arabic I too had a knot in my chest. Even more so when after the Fatiha I literally felt in my body the reverberation from the low rumble of the men saying, Ameen.

We visited a few sites during our time in Madinah. The best time to do tours is between Fajr and Thuhr as this is the longest time between waqts. The Museum of Knowledge is a Sunni Museum and focuses on the life of the Prophet SAW. We visited an organic date farm where we were able to buy the Sunnah Ajwa dates. They are a smaller darker date and more expensive than most. Dates are easily found all over Madinah but not likely to be organic. We visited Masjidal Uhud amongst other mosques and the site of where Sayidina Hamza, the Prophet’s uncle, is buried. Standing outside the gravesite one can still get the faint smell of a lovely scent emanating from the earth.

Mount Uhud



Scale models at the Museum brought history to life.


A refreshing drink we were offered at the end of the tour.


The oasis under the palms at the date farm.


After 10 days in Madinah where we completed our 40 salaahs, we set off to Makkah for the actual Umrah. Travelling from Madinah to Makkah was a surreal experience and the holy city was a surprise on so many levels. I will leave the Makkah part of my trip for my next post as there is so much more to talk about.



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