In my two-day travel to reach Medina—the first stop for my pilgrimage—I was surprised to discover numerous families making the long journey from Fremont, South Africa, and Pakistan to do Umrah. My children are complaining about our upcoming summer rafting trip in the Grand Canyon—I wonder what they would say about ten-days of praying, visiting mosques and holy sights—half way around the world.
Family of four— travelled from South Africa for Umrah
In talking to Sahar, an affable fourteen-year-old Afghan American girl from Fremont, I found out it has been her dream to do the pilgrimage. I asked, why not Disneyland or Hawaii? She shrugged and said she doesn’t know. Sahar was traveling with her parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles to do Umrah.
Siblings from South Africa—elder brother and sister, in the foreground, work at their mother's hardware store, the younger brother goes to school.
Seeing that it’s not yet Spring break, I asked how about school? She noted that she completed her schoolwork in the fifteen-hour flight to Dubai.
And your friends I asked, do they think it’s weird you’re going on a pilgrimage for Spring break? She said her friends are very happy for her.
My co-pilgrims and me at the battle of Uhud sight (I'm on the furthers right with white headscarf)
Unless you have a relative or local contact in Saudi Arabia, all pilgrims must travel with organized tours with similar itineraries for Umrah—first stop in Medina and then off to Mecca.
I'm finding the children to be very generous in posing for my photos.
Medina is the capital city of the Medina Region in Saudi Arabia with a population of 1.2 million. At first glance the city is quite unremarkable—with monochromatic khaki colored crumbling buildings, unruly traffic and garbage-strewn sidewalks. What brings millions of visitors to this city are the various holy sights, mosques and historical locations where Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH) fought for survival and advancement of Islam.
A glimpse in the back streets of Medina
The crown jewel of the city and the main attraction for pilgrims is the Al-Masjid-Nabaw, also known as The Prophet’s Mosque. Prophet Muhammad, PBUH is buried in this sight, making it the second holiest place in Islam. The spectacular mosque glows like a flawless diamond as light emanates from genuine gold light fixture perched high on ornate, tiled towers. This breathtaking sight countered my vision, prior to this visit, of a gloomy edifice where women are draped in black hijab reciting the Quran solemnly and praying for forgiveness.
My first glimpse of the Mosque
The spectacular mosque glows like a flawless diamond as light emanates from genuine gold light fixture perched high on ornate, tiled towers. This breathtaking sight countered my vision, prior to this visit, of a gloomy edifice where women are draped in black hijab reciting the Quran solemnly and praying for forgiveness.
Women at Friday prayer.
What I found is a place of joy, where children are playing chase, families are gathered around a picnic between prayers and over a million Muslims gather every day to pray five times a day.
Pakistani pilgrims picnicing with the mosque as a backdrop
Through these photos I hope you will get a sense of the beautiful energy surrounding this holy sight and a glimpse into the lives of authentic Muslims.
Many take naps or rest between prayers.
Holding hands and spinning is universal game for girls
Little boy from Pakistan, also doing the pilgrimage