Thursday, February 16

Umrah 2012, Day Four: Madinah

By far the majority of people who I ask say that they prefer Madinah over Makkah. My own reasons for agreeing include the better weather, people and food. Everything there exudes peace and tranquillity, although yes once again it really isn't as calm as it used to be. So changes then? Well Madinah doesn't seem to have changed as much as Makkah really: the mosque has more umbrellas I suppose. Oh and there's a knee high plastic barrier a few feet in front of the Prophet's resting place.

We're staying in the hotel we used during our Hajj trip, and you can imagine how poignant that is. But I do also have strong memories of our previous visits here - the long absent street markets for instance.

Thinking about the peripheral I realised that considering the circumstances under which my last two trips to these places were, I've not really had a chance to chill out in these places for fifteen years or so. I preferred crowd avoidance to savouring all aspects of a visit - I didn't see the point since I had already been lucky enough to have seen and done a lot already.

For instance there was a time when you could leave your room on hearing the adhan and still make the first ten rows of the jamaat in the Prophet's Mosque - more often than not you'd even make the first couple. And you could spend as much time as you liked passing salutations to the Prophet - there were no ladies' time or anything either.

After two trips, I was finally looking forward to enjoying some of these again, but something tells me there won't be a quiet time to go any more. But I'm not sure it's the increase in numbers per se that irritates me; in theory it shouldn't make that much of a difference if everyone behaves in a decent manner. But they don't, and I think that's what I find being the problem.

Although I will always acknowledge the importance of these holy places, it does sometimes feel as if the majority of visitors assign godly attributes to them and the buildings and structures in them. We sometimes forget that the Kaba has actually been built (and rebuilt) by man, and the beautiful mosque in Madinah architectured and constructed by the Saudi Bin Laden group. On the one hand we criticise the clock tower in Makkah, but then in the same moment we allow ourselves to have our breath taken away by a Kiswah that was sewn in a factory a few miles away.

Perhaps as humans we're just designed to worship the tangible, but it's when we use that attitude to justify our fanaticism that it becomes unhelpful and even harmful to others. Yes, it's important to give salutations to the Prophet, but are we really gaining extra benefit by holding up a crowd while we read a whole dua book, take pictures and attempt to wipe the shiny gate that, by incidence, happens to surround him?

Meh. At the very least we should ban cameras from the two mosques.