Detail on one of the doors of Masjid al-Nabawi where Prophet Muhammad is buried in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. Picture: Yazeed Kamaldien

Madinah, Saudi Arabia - The reaction that overcomes one when you’re moving closer to the grave of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is unexplainable.

Among hundreds of other Muslim pilgrims at Masjid al-Nabawi, the mosque where Islam’s prophet is buried in Madinah in Saudi Arabia, I could feel myself trembling slightly. Perhaps I felt nervous.

Humbling myself, looking down, I greeted the prophet and prayed for his companions Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab buried next to him.

It just happened like that - each time I went past the prophet's grave to greet him since my arrival in Madinah.

This ancient city meanwhile calms the soul. Prophet Muhammad loved it so dearly and it is where he made his home after his idolatrous birth-city Makkah rejected his monotheistic preachings.

Over the last few weeks, Madinah has been at its busiest with the approaching hajj, Islam's fifth pillar commanding all Muslims to journey to the Kaabah in Makkah at least once in their lifetime, if they have the means.

Pilgrims, or hajjis as they are called in Arabic, usually stop in Madinah before going to Makkah, although this is not part of the hajj rituals.

 

 

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Masjid al-Nabawi is an architectural marvel. Its walls are detailed with calligraphy and patterns. Its doors are covered in gold-coloured signage. Its outdoor umbrellas that open to shade pilgrims from 40°C heat look like the outstretched petals of towering flowers.

In the brief time that I have been here, I’ve met hajjis from Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Chad, Denmark, Iran, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Phillipines, Togo, Turkey, Senegal... the list goes on. This represents an ideal Islam; a home for all races and nationalities praying to one God.

Apart from holding the prophet’s grave, Madinah also showcases Islam’s historical landmarks. Pilgrims can visit these places and connect with the roots of their religion.

For example, there is Mount Uhud and its valleys where the first Muslims were slaughtered by their opposition from Makkah. The Muslim fighters, known as companions for spending time with Muhammad, are buried at Uhud.

 

 

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There are also two other important mosques in Madinah, namely Quba and Qiblatayn. The latter is where the direction in which Muslims pray was changed from the al-Aqsa mosque in Palestine to the Kaabah in Makkah.

Madinah is not only for praying though, even though the rewards for praying in the prophet’s mosque are far greater than anywhere else apart from praying at the Kaabah, regarded as the house of Allah (God) on earth.

During the evenings, in particular, Madinah is set alight with pilgrims shopping for gifts for family back home.

This spiritual journey to Saudi Arabia, which feels as old as time itself and having carried many souls on its route, often comes after great savings and sacrifice for many pilgrims. Families bid the hajji a bitter-sweet farewell as the journey is viewed as a little death. It is as if pilgrims are returning to their creator.

 

 

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And so pilgrims buy gifts for their families back home, bargaining for trinkets, scents and traditional Islamic clothing.

But despite all this shopping, as each prayer time draws nearer, pilgrims hastily en masse make their way to the mosque.

And then one witnesses people of all colours dressed in all colours form row upon row of faithful worshippers. Some groups of pilgrims travelling together wear the same clothes to make sure they do not lose each other, so they can recognise each other easier in the crowds.

Walking among the crowds of pilgrims, one hears languages from around the world all around you. And yet they are all speaking to the same God.

Cape Argus

* Yazeed Kamaldien is on hajj as a guest of the Saudi government.