Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Travels in foreign lands-XLIV (Journeys to Saudi Arabia-V)

Next day we did not get up for “Sehri” (the early morning meal) as it was very hot and we had to travel about five hours through scorching heat. We decided to forego fasting for the day. Even though the vehicle was air-conditioned yet it was stuffy inside. The window panes were hot to touch. Even in early May the temperatures were in forties! Before starting for Makkah on the motorway, Salah-ud-Din wanted us to see some important mosques. These were the Masjid Quba, and Masjid Qiblatain. The first is the oldest mosque in the world and the second one is where the direction for prayer was changed. We drove straight from the hotel to these mosques which are adjacent to each other. Quba mosque is very elegantly designed. We offered prayers there. I would like to quote the description of these mosques given in Wikepedia. “The Quba Mosque (Quba' Masjid or Masjid al-Quba), in the outlying environs of Medina in Saudi Arabia, is the oldest mosque in the world. Its first stones were positioned by the Islamic prophet Muhammad on his emigration from the city of Mecca to Medina and the mosque was completed by his companions. Muhammad spent more than 20 nights in this mosque (after migrating) praying qasr (a short prayer) while waiting for Ali whose house was behind this mosque. According to Islamic tradition, offering two rakaāt of nafl prayers in the Quba Mosque is equal to performing one Umrah. Quba Masjid is the first mosque built in the history of Islam and was built as soon as Muhammad arrived on the Hijra. Muhammad used to go there, riding or on foot, every Saturday and offer a two rak'ah prayer. He advised others to do the same, saying, "Whoever makes ablutions at home and then goes and prays in the Mosque of Quba, he will have a reward like that of an 'Umrah." This hadith is reported by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Nasa'i, Ibn Majah and Hakim al-Nishaburi.” “Masjid al-Qiblatain (Mosque of the two Qiblas) is a mosque in Medina that is historically important for Muslims as the place where the Islamic prophet Muhammad, leading the prayer, is said to have been commanded to change the direction of prayer (qibla) from Jerusalem to Mecca. Thus it uniquely contained two prayer niches (mihrabs). Recently the mosque was renovated, removing the old prayer niche facing Jerusalem and leaving the one facing Mecca. The Qiblatain Mosque is among the three earliest mosques in Islam's history, along with Quba Mosque and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi.” After this visit we went outside Madina to another small mosque where pilgrims can put on Ahram, the white cloth wrapping prescribed for performing pilgrimage to Makkah. The Ahram has to be put outside the jurisdiction of Makkah. Most of the people coming from Madina and other places in cars do it in this mosque. There are quite few bathrooms and the Ahrams are sold outside. We took showers and put on the Ahram and then drove back on the highway to Makkah. The drive was very smooth. In spite of full air-conditioning we were feeling hot and thirsty. We did consume lot of water and juices while driving towards Makkah. Finally, we reached there around four in the evening. After parking the car, we walked up to the Masjid Al-Haram within the precincts of which is the Kaaba. After taking off our rubber sandals, we stepped on to the marble floor around Kaaba. I was apprehensive that the marble would be too hot and we might burn our feet. However, to my utter surprise the marble floor was cool! Subsequently, I learnt that the white marble has been specially imported from Italy and it has the property of not absorbing any heat from the Sun! There is also a cooling system underneath consisting of huge chillers as otherwise the stone cannot remain cool in such high temperatures. In earlier times people used to wear canvass covers while walking on the floor during tawaf (circumambulation) of the Kaaba. Saudi rulers are spending massive amounts to improve these places. After tawaf we kissed the Hajra Aswad (the black stone) embedded on the side of Kaaba. There was a queue to reach the spot. However, it was not very long and we got a good chance to observe the embedded stone. It is blackish in colour with small greenish stones embedded in it. It is considered to be of heavenly origin and was put there by Prophet Ibrahim who first built the Kaaba. Next we offered prayers at Muqam e Ibrahim (place of Ibrahim) where the foot marks of Prophet Ibrahim on a stone are encased in glass. After this we went down to see the spring of Zum Zum and drank the water which was very cool and sweet! Those days one could go near the spring and see it behind a glass wall. Now, it is not allowed. Moreover, one would not see huge crowds at the Kaaba but now during the month of Ramadan, it is as crowded as during the annual Hajj pilgrimage! Next we performed the ritual of Safa-Marwah. It is making seven rounds of two rock outcrops in remembrance to the search for water performed by Hazrat Hajra, wife of Prophet Ibrahim who had been left in the desert with her infant son by the command of God to test their faith. The place where Hazrat Ibrahim left them was between Al-Safa and Al-Marwah. When their provisions were exhausted, Hazrat Hajra went in search of help or water. To make her search easier and faster, she went alone, leaving the infant Ismail on the ground. She first climbed the nearest hill, Al-Safa, to look over the surrounding area. When she saw nothing, she then went to the other hill, Al-Marwah, to look around. While Hajra was on either hillside, she was able to see Ismail and know he was safe. However, when she was in the valley between the hills she was unable to see her son. Thus Hazrat Hajra would run while in the valley between the hills and walk at a normal pace while on the hillsides. Hazrat Hajra travelled back and forth between the hills seven times in the scorching heat before she returned to Ismail. When she arrived, she found that a spring had sprouted forth from the crying baby kicking at the sand with his feet. This spring is now known as the Zum Zum Well. The final part of the pilgrimage was shaving of head but we only got a small lock of hair cut as is done by quite a few people during the lesser pilgrimage of Umra. During Hajj it is obligatory to completely shave off the hair! Having performed the Umra we went to my sister’s house who had been waiting for us. She lived very near to Masjid Al-Haram in a flat next to her hospital. She was working there as a paediatrician. She was very glad to see us. As she was fasting so we joined her in breaking the fast. It had been a very hectic day! (To be continued….)

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