Saturday, July 23, 2005

I touched next year's Kiswah

Photo: A visit to the factory where the covering of the Kaaba is made. The entire process costs US$5 million and takes 8 months. A new kiswah is made every year. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

The visit to the factory where they make the cloth for the Kaaba was my favourite field trip. When we walked in, the workers were already sowing and embroidering the cloth. They first sewed on yellow stuffing onto the letters. Then they covered the stuffing with real gold and silver wire. It was awesome to see each letter embroidered by hand.

Then we walked over to the next room where they weave the black cloth. Everywhere around the room were pieces of black silk. They used to weave this cloth by hand but now they use a really complicated looking, self-automated machine. Turn it on and it automatically weaves the beautiful black fabric with words in praise of God.

As we left, most of us were given a little piece of yellow thread or gold or silver wire, or even a piece of black silk.

I got to touch the Kiswa that will cover the Kaaba next year. Most people don't get this opportunity even if they have been living here for years. For this opportunity, I am truly grateful.

Reema Lateef
Age 11

I can hear it in my sleep

Photo (top): Worshippers walking to the Haram in Makkah for Asr prayer. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

We arrived in Makkah a couple of days ago and I have to say, I feel like I'm in another world. Makkah and Madinah are very different cities. Subhanallah. Madinah was cosier and I felt more at home. When I left Madinah, I really missed the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم). I feel like I had gotten to know him and that I had left a piece of my heart in his home. Despite the awesome decor and architecture of his (صلي الله عليه و سلم) mosque, the little green dome is so humble and very befitting of his character and the mark he left behind.

Makkah feels very big. It's not so snug. I feel awestruck. I look at the Kaaba and wonder, "Whoa, is it really in front of me?" All those pictures I've seen just came to life. This morning, the tawaf circle was almost as big as te court area around the Kaaba. It's really larger than life. I walk around the Haram and I just hear all the pleas to our Creator and Sustainer. It rings in my ears and I even hear it in my sleep. Subhanallah.

Alhamdulillah, I got to do Umrah twice now. The best time to go is between 1 - 4 a.m. It's pretty cool and not terribly crowded.

Wa sallahumma ala sayyidina Muhammad wa ala wa sahabihi tasliman kathira.

Danya Shakfeh

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Allegiance to Islam

Photo: Masjid Baiyya, just on the edge of Mina, where the early Muslims pledged their allegiance to the Prophet (saw) - a move that changed the course of history. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

This masjid is a small, yellowed fortress on the side of a dirt path in a secluded area barely visible from the main road. It's a simple, understated building, the significance of which we did not even begin to fathom until Shaykh Hamza began to explain. The early Muslims swore their allegiance to the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) right here and they never broke this trust. This solidarity changed the history of Islam, providing a strong foundation which helped Islam to grow. Shaykh Hamza's talk inspired us to pledge our allegiance to Islam here, during these trying time for Muslims. We have to try to practise Islam the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) and his companions (ra) did.


Farewell Madinah

Photo: The humble green dome that lies directly above the Prophet's (saw) grave. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

The time has come to leave Madinah. Since the moment of arrival, we knew departure was inevitable and yet, this foreknowledge has done nothing to lessen the sadness of going nor decrease the longing to stay.

During one of our first lessons here, it was mentioned that Madinah is a city that purges itself of impurities and that not a single person leaves Medina except that they are replaced by someone better. Which leads one to realise that the Best of Creation (صلي الله عليه و سلم) resides still in Madinah and that those considered worthy, stay here with him till the Day of Resurrection. They are irreplacable. At rest in Madinah. At home in Madinah. Blessed to stay in Madinah.

As for myself. I go with a heavy heart. My time here is up and I must give over my space. My invitation has run its course I have tried to be a good guest. I pray that my host, pleased with my company, rushes to invite me round again soon.


The lava of Madinah

Photo (top): The Rihla group are taken on a short walk on the hardened lava. Photo (above): Satellite image depicting the expanse of the site. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

Last week, we visited the Lava of Madinah. I was unable to take down the exact details so I'm going to refrain from writing more. All I can say is that the miles and miles of rock hard lava from hundreds of years ago is surely a sign from Allah. Enjoy the pictures...


The lava tracks are amazing! It's such a beautiful sight - all this lava that's been here for so many centuries and so well-preserved.The heat was unbearable - we were told not to wear flip-flops because they might burn, but it was worth it.

On the way there, we were told by the shuyukh of a Prophetic (صلي الله عليه و سلم) prophecy about the coming of Judgement Day. The prophecy was that one day there would be such a great fire in the land of the Hijaz (Makkah and Madina) that the light from that fire will be seen from the Shaam (Greater Syria) - hundreds of miles away.

True enough, in the 12th Century, there was an earthquake in Madinah which caused a fire to rage for almost two days. The light from this fire was seen by numerous witnesses in Syria, thus fulfilling the prophecy.

Additionally, the earthquake caused incredible amounts of lava to rise forth. The molten rock flowed for miles and miles and was threatening to overtake the city of Madinah. At this point, the people of Madinah - certain this was the end of their lives, prayed intensely for Allah's forgiveness. Even the Amir set about righting all the wrongs in his city. And then suddenly, the lava flow changed direction and Madinah was saved.

A Welsh geologist who dedicated his life to researching this area, joined us on the visit to the lava tracks. He, a non-Muslim, said, "The course of the lava flow was redirected abruptly 8km from Madinah. The only explanation for such a change in the flow is the intense prayers of the people of Madinah. We honestly have no other explanation."


Monday, July 18, 2005

Talking to the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم)

Photo: Masjid Qiblatayn where the Prophet (saw) was ordered, mid-prayer, to shift the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Makkah. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

Until three hours before the flight to Madinah, I was on my computer trying to meet a deadline. My husband did my packing and we flew out the door, rushing to meet the rest of the British group at Heathrow airport. As is evident, I hardly prepared for this journey. I did not get a chance to read the Seerah again, nor engage in increased salawat on the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم).

In retrospect, not being prepared isn't all that bad. I came with no particular expectations and I wasn't comparing my experience with someone else's.

I realise now that in Madinah, I am in the process of finding myself. My relationship with God. My relationship with the best of creation (صلي الله عليه و سلم) with whom most of us don't have nearly the close relationship we should have.

What gave me profound guidance is the one thing my husband advised:

"When you get there, spend as much time as possible confiding in the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم). Talk to him like he's your best friend. Tell him everything...all your hopes, your fears, the things you did, the things you did not do."

I know I am not alone when I say that in my quietest, loneliest moments I have realised that no matter how much other people love you - and many of us are infinitely blessed with loved ones, Alhamdulillah, I know there is no truer friend than Allah and His Messenger (صلي الله عليه و سلم). They know your inner soul. They will not judge your intentions. They will not betray your best interest.

The shuyukh have strongly advised against reading off books here when making dua, but rather to speak from the heart. It's harder than it sounds. Everything sounds cheesy but you get on with it.

- f -

No praise is high enough

Photo: Worshippers leaving the Prophet's mosque after Asr prayer. © Fareena Alam. Please do not re-use without permission and proper credit.

I didn't do as much as I wanted to prepare for my visit to Madinah, other than increase my salawat and re-read the Seerah. Alot of it was about mental preparation for me.

We were so fortunate to have had the private time at the Rawdah. Women don't usually get proper access to the Rawdah. Our hosts managed to arrange this for us, not once, not twice but inshallah, thrice (this coming Wednesday evening before we leave Madinah).

Once in the Rawdah, I kept asking myself, who am I to be here? Most of us were completely overcome with emotion but after all that crying, a sense of peace overcomes you. It is almost as if the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) is comforting you and assuring you that he will keep his promise to intercede for you on the Last Day, Inshallah.

I was at both the 2002 and the 2003 Rihlas in New Mexico. Such programs are always very spiritually uplifting but this one is different. We don't have the same class-heavy schedule. Our purpose here is to focus on ibadah - not just personal but collective. It is almost as if you cannot help but increase your level of ibadah here. Even the classes we do have, have a different tone to them, compared to the other Rihlas.

When we sing Qasidas here, the sense of joy, love and connection with the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) is very heightened. This is the land where people who loved the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) sang Tala Al Badru to welcome him. I feel inadequate in praising him. How can my praises for the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) be adequate when Allah Most High praised him?

I don't think I'll have any trouble convincing my friends back home that they should come to Madinah...if not for the next Rihla then just on their own. Muslims know the significance of this city. My only advice is that people spend longer periods in Madinah, than the usual 3-4 days. Our souls time to recharge and re-nourish. Come for 8-10 days.

It was an honour to be invited. The application process for this program was tough - all those forms and so on but those were nothing compared to the realisation that I would not be here unless Allah's most beloved hadn't invited me.