Saturday, July 16, 2005

Forty steps to jannah

Photo: Street vendor selling miswaks and other knick knacks outside the Prophet's Mosque. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

They have postponed the all-day trip to the site where the Battle of Badr took place. Most Rihla participants are trying to complete the forty consecutive prayers at the Masjid-in-Nabi. It is said that the hellfire will not touch those who are able to pray forty consecutive prayers in congregation (from the first rak’aat) at the Prophet’s (صلي الله عليه و سلم) mosque.

I had never heard of this before until a briefing last week when a few participants raised concerns that the long trip to and from Badr would break their consecutive forty because we wouldn’t be back in time for the next prayer.

I made my intention started my forty that evening with Isha.

It’s been such good training. It has taught me to be vigilant about prayer times, to pray every prayer at the mosque, to catch the congregational prayer from the first rakaat, if not sit there and wait well before the adhan or iqama.

I struggle with all of the above back home. It really isn’t that difficult if I put my mind to it. Freedom from the hellfire is enough motivation to get my priorities straight. In the presence of the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) the afterlife seems more stark, more urgent…but also more hopeful.

Prophet Muhammad (صلي الله عليه و سلم) was sent as a mercy to us. Allah has promised that He will not abandon those who love and continually say salaams upon His beloved Messenger (صلي الله عليه و سلم).

If the Badr trip hadn’t been postponed to allow eight clear days for everyone before we leave for Makkah, I would have been willing to skip the trip altogether (as much as I want to go).

- f -

Planet Madinah

Photo: Worshippers praying in the courtyard of the Prophet's (saw) mosque. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

In class, we are reminded of the bloodless conquest of Makkah. In our field-trips, we are informed of the many expansions of the Masjid Nabawi.

The vast tide of souls pouring in, through and flooding out of Madinah suggests, Inshallah, a new sort of expansion; Madinah’s non-violent conquest of the world as her borders envelope more and more lands where people’s characters are shaped according to the Prophet, upon him be peace.

Then, any who choose might live and die in Madinah, Inshallah.


Eight days are what I need to make the forty prayers in Masjid Nabawi – Allah willing, of course.

I am now profoundly embarrassed that my thinking could have been so abstract, and my understanding so inadequate. I can only say that every single prayer that I have been blessed to make in Masjid Nabawi has been experienced as nothing less than a miraculous mercy from Allah. With every prayer I become increasingly aware of the truth of the dua:

In the name of Allah, I depend on Allah, and there is no power [to do good] or restraint [to do evil] except with Allah.

I am still hoping, Inshallah, to complete that forty prayers and increasingly aware that there is no help or hope save in Allah.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Janazas in Jannah

Photo: A model of Madinah as it was 100 yrs ago, at a local research centre we visited with Shaykh Abdallah Al-Qadi. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

Not a single person died in Madinah last night.

I know this because there was no Janazah prayer at fajr. All who die within the boundaries of this blessed city are prayed over in the mosque of RasulAllah (صلي الله عليه و سلم) and their bodies then whisked away to be buried at Janat ul-Baqi’. There, in the earth amongst the Companions, the Umm al-Mumineen, ‘Awliya and righteous people, I can only imagine what kind of radiant grave awaits them.

The Blessed Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) has said of Baqi’, “Do you see this cemetery? Allah will resurrect seventy thousand from it on Resurrection Day, [their faces] like the moon on the night when it is full, who shall enter the Garden without prior judgement.”

The people of Baqi’ will be the first to be resurrected after RasulAllah (صلي الله عليه و سلم), Abu Bakr and Umar - their place in Paradise guaranteed.

People are known by their end, and what a blessing to end in Madinah. I pondered this as I made my way to the Rawda – that piece of heaven on earth – and as I prayed a quick two rakat, squished and stepped upon, I was grasped with fear that that moment was the only part of Paradise I would ever know.


Photos and women

Photo: The Shaykh meets with our Saudi guides before we proceed to visit Jannatul Baqi. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

Photo: Jannatul Baqi taken from outside where the women were briefed by a local guide. In the distance, see the Rihla men gathering around their guide. The green arrow points to the rock which notes where Hazrat Uthman Ibn Affan (ra) is thought to be buried. The specific locations of other graves are not know, we are told by our Saudi guide (who, being a well-meaning person, also felt the need to tell us that our primary obligation as women was to make our husbands happy but let's not get into that right now)

Take your cameras everywhere, said Sh Abdallah, except where it is not allowed. He wants us to pool all our photos together and create a photo essay together and create a photo essay at the end of this journey.

It turned out, there are very few places where cameras (and women, for that matter) aren't allowed because we are guests of the Governor of Madinah and special arrangements had been made. The exceptions so far, have been the Prophet's (صلي الله عليه و سلم) mosque, inside Jannatul Baqi and a part of the massive publishing company that prints all those free Qurans.

I for one, even take my massive tripod everywhere. The photograph taken at Masjid Quba (below) would not have been possible without a tripod and a remote control.

This Rihla has been dominated with field trips to historical sites, loads of free time to perform ibadah at the Prophet's (صلي الله عليه و سلم) mosque and the study of texts that nurture love and understanding of the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم). The organisers have what it takes to make radical decisions like calling off all fiqh classes so as to free up time for other actions more appropriate for short stays in Madinah.

The group is not lacking in capable teachers. We are walking amongst masters - Shaykh Hamza (Maliki fiqh), Shaykh Abdallah Al-Qadi (Shafi'i), Shaykh Jamal Dhahabi (Hanafi) and Shaykh Muhammad Yaqoubi (Hanafi). They have so far been accessible and approachable by those with specific fiqh questions (including, should we enter the hotel elevator if it means we will be alone with a member of the opposite sex? Answer: You may. The elevator isn't secure and doesn't really fulfill the conditions of khalwa. Besides, you're either going up or going down. [Laughter from the class] -- Fab. Now people can stop missing the jamaat at the masjid while waiting for single-sex elevators.)

It is decisions based on nuanced understanding of how a Rihla to Madinah should be like, that has made this stay so special so far. For example, a number of sisters missed the private time at the Rawdah last Friday because of menstruation. The whole lot of us are therefore, being invited to the Rawdah again tomorrow night (Friday).

90 more private minutes on a piece of Paradise. Allahu Akbar.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Far, far away from London

Photo: Masjid Quba. This is the first mosque in the history of Islam whose foundation stone was laid down by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself on his migration to Madinah. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

The morning we arrived in Madinah, we decided not to rush to see the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم). Someone told us it is better to do ghusl, put on some new clean clothes, recite some salawat on the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) and then visit him. The British gang were weary (and probably a little stinky) after a 5 hour flight and another 7 hour bus ride from Jeddah to Madinah - the anticipation was spiritually uplifting but we all know what happens when the first blast of hot, humid Jeddah air hits you.

As we stopped for a drink at the hotel cafeteria, our dear friend Aftab rushed past me. He said, "There's been a terrorist attack on London. Several bombs went off on the tube."

I froze. Bombs. Terrorists. Tube. Central London. Home. My home. My husband. My sister.

I ran upstairs to my hotel room, desperate to find my mobile phone so I could speak to my husband. Who cared about exhorbitant Vodaphone charges for global roaming calls. I flicked the TV on as I struggled with the dialing codes.

And then, my heart sank. The CNN ticker at the bottom of the screen said "Bus explosion at Tavistock Square" - just outside our home, as footage from the Russell Square and Kings Cross Tube Stations (both local to us) flashed across the screen.

My husband's phone was dead. I kept trying and at some point, I began to weep.

When embarking on a journey as momentous as the Rihla in Madinah, all the 'big questions' pop up. What if I never come back? What if I die in Madinah (Alhamdulillah, everyone who dies in the Radiant city is buried in Jannatul Baqi)? What will happen to my husband and my family?

To learn that something disastrous has happened in my home city and that my husband is unreachable was too much to deal with at that point. I am generally an optimist but am capable of moments of sheer paranoia. My mind raced. How should I deal with this pain if my worst fears come true? I should lose myself in Madinah. Allah will nurse my heart.

Suddenly, my husband's voice came through the phone. I lost it at that point. I was so grateful.

After I had calmed down, the anger grew within me. We had no idea who the perpetrators were at that point. Muslim (most likely) or not, I was furious and I felt violated. How dare they. I was furious at all the half-baked rhetoric we hear from sections of the Muslim communities - "Islam is about peace... but look what they're doing to us in Iraq"... "Muslim youth are some of the most disenfranchised in British society" - so flippin' what? Are these justifications for blowing oneself up while trying to kill as many other civilians as possible? Call me sick but I sometimes wonder what the culprits in our community, who encourage their impressionable followers to become suicide bombers, would say if their own wives and children were blown to pieces as collateral damage. After all, these people have no trouble living in the UK while they peddle their myopic agendas.

I was a little miffed that I was here in Madinah and not in London where I could have been of some help in my area. With over 50 dead and 700 injured in the four bombs, there were requests for blood donations, etc. If a leaf does not fall from its tree without Allah's order, I grew certain I was in Madinah for a good reason. I did not fancy the thought of dealing with all the calls from the media.

Later that week, at the Rawda, I cried relentlessly as I asked Allah and the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) why our people have reached this low point. I asked Allah to instill love, mercy and patience in our hearts. I asked Him to increase our remembrance of our Prophet Muhammad (صلي الله عليه و سلم) - in whose name these criminals misguide our young men.

Fellow Muslims may be suffering in Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir, Chechnya but Allah has not made us His vicegerants on this earth so we can learn from the perpetrators of injustice. They are not our teachers. We do not stoop just because they stoop.

- f -

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Treated like royalty

Photo: Masjid Jum’a. This mosque was built at a place where the Prophet (peace be upon him) offered his first Jum’a prayer in Madinah. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

I am so happy to be here, Alhamdulillah. I feel like Allah has chosen and invited me out of thousands that wanted to come. We are being treated like royalty. We are being taken on tours that dignitaries are taken on. It started out bumpy with flight issues but Subhanallah, it is by the wisdom of Allah because such trials bring us closer to Him. Anything worth experiencing is indeed worth being trialed for. The visit to the Rawdah was a real treat and the Saudis areproving to be wonderful hosts. I pray that those reading this blog can also experience this wonderful trip. Ameen.

Danya Shakfer

The barakah of Madinah

I have come to realize that the beauty and blessings of Medina include: the little sleep that feels like hours, the little food that keeps you full, and Zamzam that takes care of everything else.

Nadia Saif

No better place than Madinah

Photo: The minarets of the Prophet's mosque. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

There is no city better than Madinah for the Deen Intensive Rihla. I had been here just a day when I felt a softening of my heart, the dhikr easier on my tongue and the spiritual satiation overwhelming. Like previous Rihlas, we were in the company of our teachers, Shaykh Abdallah Al-Qadi, Shaykh Muhammad Yaqoubi, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Shaykh Jamal Zhahabi but it's different this time.

Even if the schedule for the classes were to fall apart, it's no big loss. The participants are happy enough spending hours praying and engaging in dhikr at the Prophet's صلي الله عليه و سلم mosque. So far, the program has focussed on learning the Seerah, studying the Shamail and visiting places of significance.

May Allah bless Shaykh Abdallah Al-Qadi. We have been given special access and tours to some of Islam's holiest sites in Madinah (and Inshallah, Makkah between 21st-26th July). We have visited Masjid Quba, Masjid Qiblatayn and Mount Uhud. We have been given a full tour of the underground command centre that oversees the smooth running of the Prophet's صلي الله عليه و سلم Mosque. Did you know that the conditioned air that keep pilgrims cool in the masjid is piped from an air conditioning system 7 km away? Any closer, the noise from the system would be too loud to bear. We were shown how the sliding domes work, how many tonnes of zam zam are consumed everyday (3000), how many people tirelessly upkeep the masjid (it is spotless at any given time) and so on.

At every place of visit, we were thoroughly briefed by Shaykh Hamza who either spoke to us himself or eloquently translated from a local guide.

The highlight of the Rihla so far has been our visit to the Rawdah. We were given the opportunity to visit the Rawdah privately one evening after the mosque had been closed to the public. I can safely say people wait a lifetime for opportunities like this. We spent 90 min there... Most of us were awed... shocked actually... we said very little. We forgot anyone else was there as many of us wept quietly and uncontrolably. I missed the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) so much that evening. I wept out of thankfulness. I was there because Allah and His Messenger had invited me. What an honour. I was not deserving of this gift but Allah gives from His infinite Mercy and Love for us, and not according to what we deserve. We were given time to pray on the beautiful green carpet that demarcates the area which is literally a piece of Jannah.

What has been consistent during this Rihla, and really, at most Rihlas is that the womenfolk are treated very well. The field trips, and the visit to the Rawdah are always well-managed so that the women don't feel left out. At the Rawdah, the women were given the first opportunity to pray on the left hand side - closest to the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) and his companions, while the men were given the opportunity to pray on the right hand side, at the Prophet's Mihrab (صلي الله عليه و سلم) and where the palm tree (which wept when he stopped using it as his mimbar) was. Then we swapped. The women then prayed at the Mihrab and behind Aisha's (ra) pillar.

The two groups were also alternately taken to the front of the grave where we stood between the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) and the Qibla and conveyed our salaams (we recited after a Shaykh who works for the Haram). This was unprecendented, of course. Women are never EVER allowed in that part of the mosque. We are ever so fortunate... the fruits of keeping the company of good people, no doubt.

I made dua for everyone I could think off once we returned to the green carpeted area for the last few moments. For my family, parents and ancesters to my friends, everyone who asked me to make dua for them, people who have been good to me, those who have been not-so-good to me. At moments like that, your heart is filled with such intense generosity and love for humanity, even those who have hurt you immensely. Allah's mercy is so vast, it is not too much to pray He forgive even the worst human beings. Who knows, I may be among them on the Day when I will have nothing more than my love for Him and His Messenger (صلي الله عليه و سلم).

More later. I actually love getting up for tahajjud prayers now but a girl needs her sleep.

- f -