Visiting Mecca and Medina for Umrah or Hajj: Traveling for a Muslims’ “Life Dream” Trip
Iranian writer Marziyeah Ebrahimi recounts a trip to Mecca and Medina for Umrah — a place where only Muslims are allowed to visit–The holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Here more than 750,000 people participate in the Hajj or Umrah every year. Below is an account of her recent journey there. –Ed
By Marziyeh Ebrahimi
Being a Muslim, this trip to Hajj becomes your first dream; to see the place which is the home of Islam history and the Holy Quran, where many Islamic sacred and religious places are located and many important Islamic events took place.
Saudi Arabia is the home country of the Prophet Muhammad. All efforts for doing this trip lay in visiting the “Ka’ba”, the first house ever built for the worship of Allah.
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The pilgrimage gives you the feeling of having gone through a life-transforming spiritual experience.
During an “Umrah” trip I traveled to Medina and Mecca as a pilgrim for worshiping God.
Before the trip
Although in Iran people register their names and wait years for their turn to participate in this holy trip, things for my trip were somehow different since I was going with a tour of our university without the need to wait.
Approximately all students in my university registered and it was a game of chance for only 20 lucky students. Surprisingly I and my close friend were among the 20 lucky ones! It was a tearful day at the university for both groups, especially for the 20, we cried out of happiness!
We and other lucky students from other universities were traveling together. We the girls were going to wear white from head to toe in a place where all woman citizens wear completely black clothes, in a country where the women still don’t have the right to drive their cars but yet they are very kind.
Inside the airplane
We took an Iran Air flight from Tehran to Jeddah; turned off the phones and tried to forget everything, even the final exam for two-weeks of travel and thinking about Islam. It was July and Tehran was very hot but tolerable. It took about two and a half hours to arrive by air.
It was about noon and when I get out of the airplane and I felt roasting in a few seconds. Soon we were transferred inside the airport hall and waited for luggage and visa check. Annoying Iranian tourists in airports is something that we all got used to. So we sat on chairs silently, looking at the ground.
Masjid-al-medina mosque in Saudi Arabia .
This was something that our tour guide asked us, as it was his 17th time traveling to Saudi Arabia. As visa check finished we again got outside in the terrible heat. Anyway, we were not going to stay very long in Jeddah.
We said our noon and afternoon prayers and soon we got inside a touristy cool bus with many frozen water bottles and fruits heading to Medina, Muslims Paradise!
From Jeddah to Medina
Although Iran and Saudi Arabia are located in a similar geographical region, for me it was very strange to see stone covered deserts; the scene that I never saw in Iran.
This beautiful desert which covers approximately the whole way from Jeddah to Medina saw us taking many photos out the bus windows!
Then the tour guide played a CD on the bus about the depth of Hajj and its social and personal effects. Some students where listening, others were reading the Quran, some were crying; they were still in shock about coming to Umrah!
We arrived after five hours of travel across the vast Saudi desert. The first thing which made our heart beat fast was the Masjid-al-Nabi mosque, which caused many students to start crying.
Worshiping and Prayers
There are lots of pilgrims from different countries in the prayers. They came from Lebanon, Egypt, Malaysia, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Persian Gulf coastal countries, many African countries, and even the U.S.
Call of prayers can be heard in all parts of the city and whoever hears it, leaves their job (even shops) without locking and no fear that things will be stolen and run to the mosque.
There is no theft in Mecca or Medina. Shopkeepers leave their shops open and just run to the prayers. I saw a young black girl who was running to the prayers, she had run from so far way that she was hardly breathing; she just wanted to be in the prayer.
The Prayer in Medina is very calming and gives a sweaty feeling to the heart and spirit. After the prayers, people start reading the Quran; it’s very calming inside the mosque, the beautiful architecture of the huge mosque makes you feel something different.
There is nothing annoying and you feel no stress, the environment is perfect.
I also sat near one of the beautiful columns and started reading my Quran silently, after a while a Saudi woman came and sat beside me and we started talking in Arabic.
Although studying the Arabic language in Iranian schools is mandatory and I have studied it for more than seven years, at first, it was very difficult for me to understand her strong accent.
She was kindly trying to tell me “read your Quran aloud”, so the angels on your shoulders write goodness for your will!
Shopping in Medina: Free Taxis!
All around the city of Medina, there are big shops and malls; Medina is a beautiful modern Arab city in which the weather is always nice even in July. One interesting thing in Medina is free taxis that head to big malls!
All big malls have an agreement with all the city taxis, the mall will pay for any taxi bringing foreign tourists there, also when your shopping is finished, the mall will give you another free taxi to take you to the hotel.
In malls, prices are surprisingly different from Iran, I bought a nightdress for $15, and this dress in Iran is about $90 to 130! It’s good to mention that it’s a custom in Iran that whoever goes to visit Mecca and Medina must bring home souvenirs for all relatives and every member of each family, so Iranians shopping is famous in Saudi Arabia.
They also accept Iranian currency, even those who sell on the streets. Many Arab people can speak Farsi. Being an Iranian, you never face language problems in Saudi Arabia.
Life in Medina
Medina is a very safe city. I was very relaxed leaving my hotel room at 3:00 A.M to take part in morning prayers. In addition to a huge number of pilgrims who dream of praying in the sacred mosque “Masjid-al-Nabi”, many citizens also take part in this early morning worshiping.
So the streets are busy even at three am.
Before the sunrise you can even enjoy buying cheap little souvenirs from little girls and boys whose job is selling things on a piece of paper beside the streets; many of them can speak Arabic, Turkish and Farsi and very easily change your money in Saudi currency!
Wearing white; Head to toe
On our last day in Medina, we went back to the Masjid-al-Nabi for our goodbye prayers, then we went back to the hotel. The tour guide asked us wear our white clothes since tonight and tomorrow morning are very important days in our travel.
We are going to be Mohrem which is not only wearing specific clothing but also is a sincere intention to perform the pilgrimage. We were very happy and chanting “Labayk, Allahuma Labayk, Labayk, La shareeka laka Labayk, Innal hamda, wannimata laka wal mulk, La shareeka Lak” which means “Here I am at your service, oh Lord, here I am – here I am. No partner do you have. Here I am. Truly, the praise and the favor are yours, and the dominion. No partner you do have.”
Prayers in “Shajare” Mosque
We got inside the bus wearing white, as we arrived in Shajare Mosque; we saw that there are lots of other tours, too. We have to say a prayer and then we will become Mohrem. It was very busy and very difficult to find friends if you lost them because everyone looks the same in white.
No difference between people, men, and women the same and simple! Me and my close friend were walking together and sat, getting ready for the prayers. After this prayer everything is serious.
There are lots of things people shouldn’t do like saying a bad word, lying, annoying animals, scratching the body, hunting, haircutting, covering the face, looking into a mirror, wearing sewn clothes (for men) and many other things.
If an ant sits on our face we shouldn’t annoy the ant and let it go itself. We should take care of everything. We said the prayers, people are very happy, there is a calming feeling all around. We went to the bus and now moving toward Mecca, we will stay in the hotel till 3:00 A.M and go to visit Ka’ba then to do the Pilgrimage duties that we have to do to become a Hajji!
We were chanting “Labayk” together inside the bus and some were crying, others were reading the Quran some were writing their memories in notebooks. On the way, there was a sign that said “Entrance of Non-Muslims is forbidden” since only Muslims are allowed to enter the city of Mecca. Being a Muslim means believing in the one and only God and the Prophet Mohammad.
First Look to Ka’ba and Tavaf
We woke up early in the morning and moved to Masjid-al-Haram, where Ka’ba is located. Our Tour guide asked us just look on the ground since we believe that at the first look to Ka’ba our wishes come true. So we were moving forward just looking on the ground, there are many groups coming from different nationalities.
Although it was about 4 A.M it was very busy. The tour guide asked us to sit and then put our head on the ground as the sign of worshiping; then he asked us to ask for our wishes and told us to raise our heads. We were exactly in front of Ka’ba, The beautiful holy house that we all were dreaming to see.
The worship in Ka’ba is different. We should go around Ka’ba seven times keeping the Ka’ba on the left-hand side (counter clock-wise), it’s called Tawaf, the people moving around Ka’ba never stop, any time of the year, any day, any hour, any minute, it’s always very busy.
Men and women go around this peaceful house and all the animals are also allowed to enter since God is for all the creatures, The Mosque which is as clean as a mirror.
My Chance: Ka’ba door opened
Rajab is one of the Hijri calendar months which on its 13th day is the birthday of Muslims holy Imam, The Birthday of Imam Ali (Peace Be Upon him). Our travel to Mecca coincided to this holy day. Imam Ali was born inside Ka’ba.
We were sitting in a corner and were reading the Quran, suddenly we heard people cry of happiness, everyone was running. We also tried to become a part of the crowd. I saw the King of Saudi Arabia and the President of Pakistan president come inside the mosque.
They are accompanied by a number of women. They walked up a staircase and went inside the Ka’ba and soon came out. Everyone wishes to be in their shoes.
People were watching and they were very happy that they saw the Ka’ba door open. Many people dream of seeing this moment. It was the highlight of my trip!
Other Tourist Attractions
Besides the two famous mosques in Mecca and Medina, there are many other mosques and places that the tour took us to see. The strangest part is the cave in a mountain that still after the time of Prophet Muhammad gives the very good smell of his body which is like a great perfume.
This smell is so strong that even your clothes as a visitor will take on the same smell hours you leave there. The environment around this cave and mountain is very silent and not every tour can visit there.
The Saudi government hasn’t yet constructed a road for it. Another one is “Hara Cave” is a very famous place in Mecca and is a place where the Quran sent to Prophet Muhammad’s heart. All tours go there, the cave is on a very high mountain and a bit difficult to climb but all pilgrims climb it.
Goodbye to Ka’ba with tears
Two weeks is enough to get used to this environment and made it difficult to say goodbye. We all have made friends with many Saudi and Malaysian women and after, we felt differently. We love Ka’ba and it was difficult to say goodbye, but not much time was left to our flight back to Tehran.
We should go to the hotel soon and deliver our luggage to the tour. They will send them separately we just keep our passports and white clothes; because we want to enter Iran with our white clothes. Our families waited for us for hours at the airport since normally there are delays in Hajj flights. They love to see us in white. Can’t stop the tears, we left the Ka’ba.
Back home in Iran
It’s a custom that relatives come to the airport when people come back from Hajj or Umrah. They also write a welcome on a cloth hanging in front of the house. Tonight we have lots of guests, we prepared them dinner and they all brought me presents. And I should give them their souvenirs. They call me Hajji!
Hajj & Umrah
The pilgrimage is the religious high point of a Muslim’s life and an event that every Muslim dreams of undertaking. Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, can be undertaken at any time of the year; Hajj, however, is performed during a five-day period from the ninth through the thirteenth of Dhu Al-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Muslim lunar calendar.
Entering into the state of Ihram and removal of Ihram is carried out in the same manner as for the full pilgrimage. During this trip, I was on an Umrah.
The focus of the pilgrimage is Ka’ba which was rebuilt by Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) some 4000 years ago. Today, Ka’ba stands in the middle of a large courtyard of Masjid-el-Haram or the sacred Mosque. The courtyard of Masjid-el-Haram contains, besides Ka’ba, the Muqam-e-Ibrahim (place of Ibrahim) and the fountain of Zumzum. Ka’ba is the first house ever that was built for the worship of One and Only God, Allah.
It is also called “Bait-Ullah” (House of Allah), “Bait-ul-Ateeq” (the Oldest House), and Baitul Ma’amoor (Inhabited House). Muslims, all over the world, face towards Ka’ba to offer their prayers. This house and the places around it have several signs that have been manifested by Allah
Around the Ka’ba is a mosque that has a rectangular shape with rounded corners. Pilgrims offer prayers in this mosque by making circular rows and face towards the Ka’ba.
Marziyeh Ebrahimi is an Iranian young journalist with five years’ experience as a journalist in ISNA. She received her B.A & M.A in journalism and now works as a freelancer with many magazines and newspapers. She also is a researcher and has taken part in many international conferences. She enjoys writing about travel, music and visual arts.