Experiencing the month of Ramadan in the holy cities is truly a blessing for any Muslim on earth. I have had a chance of spending some days at the holy places during Ramadan, including the last 10 days. Performing Umrah during this month has been encouraged by the Prophet PBUH in a Hadith:
“When the month of Ramadan arrives, go for Umrah, because Umrah in Ramadan is like accompanying me on Hajj.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (1764)]
Those who have visited would agree that spending the days of Ramadan at the sacred mosques, including Majid-al-Haram and Masjid-an-Nabwi, is indeed a memorable experience. Both the places are not any lesser crowded than during the Hajj season. Travel agencies in Pakistan offer special Umrah packages during this month besides the Hajj packages that are offered for the annual pilgrimage.
The spirituality one feels by spending the days worshiping and submitting to the Creator during Ramadan is marvelous. While praying behind Imam-e-Ka’aba, one feels completely captivated by the melodious recitation of the Quranic verses done by the Imam during the Taraweeh.
At both the sacred mosques, the iftar is served by the state to all the individuals separately. Outside the mosques, some people distribute different kinds of consumables to the fasting persons on their own as well. But that food is not allowed to be taken inside the mosques in order to maintain cleanliness.
Considering the fact that the two cities are jam-packed during Ramadan, it is best to have one’s accommodation reservations confirmed before getting there. I unfortunately did not have a reservation beforehand which turned out to be a great blunder; not only because it was highly difficult to find a hotel room after landing there but also due to the fact that the hotel rates skyrocket with every passing day of the holy month. But still at that point, one is left with no other option than taking whatever is available at the earliest.
Language can sometimes become a barrier so it’s better to be familiar with the basic Arabic speaking skill beforehand while planning a visit to Saudi Arabia. Though I did not feel the need to have known spoken Arabic while moving around in the markets (interestingly many shop-keepers do understand Urdu in Saudi Arabia, perhaps due to the fact that a huge number of Pakistani and Indian pilgrims visit Saudi Arabia every year most of whom can only converse in Urdu) but there was this incident when at some point I needed to know the local time while standing at an eatery in Medina but didn’t have a watch with me. I tried asking a local girl standing nearby who couldn’t understand what I was inquiring – which was in English – until I used the word ‘waqt’.
Some experiences were a bit creepy though. Upon our arrival at the Jeddah airport, the entire airport staff was found absent since it was almost iftar time when our flight landed. This was a separate area from the regular Jeddah international airport (the Hajj terminal) where somehow there weren’t even proper sitting arrangements available. Worst was the time when we had the departure flight to Pakistan. For hours, all the passengers who waited for their flights back home had to sit at open grounds, even when the sun was shining to its fullest, with very little shaded place available which made fasting a tough job in the scorching heat.
During Ramadan, there is always a huge number of people busy doing Tawaaf due to which touching the black stone i.e.Hajr-e-Aswad seems one of the most difficult tasks if not impossible. The only time when the crowd is somewhat lesser is between Fajr and Zuhr prayer since that is the time when most of the worshipers get the time to catch up on their sleep.
The biggest crowds are seen in the odd nights of the last 10 days of Ramadan when the residents from across the country also come over to worship in the sacred mosques. Such is the number of worshipers during the odd nights that if one doesn’t reach the mosque ahead of time, they have to find a place at the adjoining roads for prayer.
The Saudi authorities stress that female pilgrims should be properly dressed up i.e. covered accurately like in Abaya. There had been instances in the past when some females – especially from South Asia – had been pointed out and told to correct their dressing styles since they wore quite a see-through fabric.
Ladies are not allowed to visit Jannat-ul-Baqi, also called the ‘Garden of Baqi’ or the ‘Baqi Cemetery’. The justification for that is drawn from Islamic history where females were disallowed from visiting graveyards.
There are specific time slots dedicated when ladies can enter the Riaz-ul-Jannah (Garden in Heaven) and pray there. Riaz-ul-Jannah has been mentioned in one of the Hadith as follows:
“The place between my pulpit and my house is a garden among the garden of the paradise.”
The area is therefore considered highly sacred.
After the month of Zil-Hajj, Ramadan is the month when Muslims from around the world pour in to worship their Lord in huge numbers; one of the motivations being the fact that performing Umrah in Ramadan is declared equivalent to performing Hajj and that too alongside Prophet Muhammad PBUH. Those who can afford must consider having this beautiful and memorable experience. There is a bit of toughness involved but the pleasure one gets from this wonderful journey makes the toughness easily ignorable. And the very feeling of being at the places that are the holiest and the focal points of Islam just overshadows any of the slightest hardiness.
PS: This post originally appeared in ARY Blogs