Sweat trickled as we walked hurriedly towards Masjid al Nabawi, or the Prophet’s Mosque, for the Jummah prayers. It was noon and the sun shone brightly upon the City of the Prophet, sallalahu ‘alaihi wassalam. Some sisters have advised me to go to the masjid at least a couple of hours before the prayers, in order to get a good place inside. But then I read this hadith and didn’t feel the need to go rush:
‘The best rows of the males in prayer (in congregation) are the first ones and the worst are the last ones, and the best rows among females in prayer are the last ones and the worst are the first ones.’ Muslim 4:880
It was love at first sight; the Masjid al Nabawi is beautiful. The hot sun, the warm breeze of Madinah, and the massive crowd all melted away as I looked up at the masjid and its minarets. The massive marbled courtyard seemed like open arms welcoming me to an embrace. “Come,” said an inaudible voice from somewhere within myself. And I walked towards its gates, drawn by my faith and love for Allah and His last messenger, sallalahu ‘alaihi wassalam.
The ladies section was packed. I held Mom’s hand firmly, making sure we don’t lose each other in the rush. Women started to lay their prayer rugs in the courtyard, which is partly shaded by the huge electric umbrellas. When we reached the entrance of the masjid’s ladies’ section, which I think there are about six, the lady guards told us that it’s full inside. I still looked in, hoping to find even a small space for us. Well, there wasn’t. Even the walkways were packed.
When I turned around, a couple of minutes later, women had already settled on the platform right in front of the doors! I quickly secured a place behind a pillar, just besides the door, and opened up Mom’s folding chair so she can sit and rest her feet. I took out the plastic bag I had brought, placed our slippers in it, and tucked it under Mom’s chair. I stood right next to her and offered the two raka’at nafl prayers. By the time I was done with the prayer, I looked back and found women occupy all the three steps and the entire courtyard behind us! A lot of them had to sit under the sun.
The ladies’ section was still in frenzy when the Friday sermon started. Sisters coming in late insisted on entering the masjid, pushing past the lady guards, who eventually raised their hands in despair. Women desperate to offer their prayers inside the mosque walked over us, some with their shoes still on, their bags hitting our faces as they made their way inside. As the time for the prayer drew closer, the crowd increased in number. I remained seated, made zik’r, and read the Qur’an. The chaos all around me seemed like a blur as I concentrated on supplicating. I felt a cool breeze blowing from somewhere, perhaps from the air condition from within the masjid, and it felt very good.
I’ve never prayed in such a small space before. There was hardly enough space to make sujood, let alone sit comfortably. I was literally curled up like a ball whenever I prostrated. But that didn’t matter at the time. Each time my forehead touched the cool marble of the masjid’s floor, I submitted myself completely to Him, seeking forgiveness and asking for patience. Tears flowed as I concentrated on the beautiful verses of the Qur’an as the Iman lead the prayer.
We remained seated after the prayers and waited until most of the women left the masjid. Twenty minutes later, there was enough room inside so we walked in. The guard checked my bag, making sure there’s no camera or cell phone with a camera in there, and let us in. I had both, but she somehow didn’t notice and I was able to get in. “It’s okay,” I told Mom, “I’m not going to take pictures, anyway.” Honestly, I was tempted to sneak a few pictures; but I didn’t dare try.
Inside, all the walk ways were lined with water coolers filled with Zam Zam. I marveled at the architecture and interiors. Unlike other mosques where they usually make a separate room for women (with me usually feeling not a part of the congregation), this masjid erected wooden screen dividers within the same grand hall – making me feel that I am indeed a part of the congregation.
We offered all our prayers in Masjid al Nabawi, for the reward of each salaat is a thousand fold in this blessed masjid, InshaAllah. Masood and I had fixed a meeting place in the outer courtyard, near the escalator that leads below the parking lot. That’s where men commonly come and wait for the women.
The alley right in front of the masjid’s gate filled up with men and women selling stuff (tasbih beads, prayer rugs, scarves, slippers, and caps). They either bring their push carts or spread a blanket/mat on the street. Within a few minutes, as we struggled to make our way out, I found the vendors hasten to pick their stuff up and ran towards the other direction. The policemen had arrived.
After the Isha’a prayers, which were able to offer inside the masjid, Mom and I lined up behind the screen doors that separate the ladies’ section from the men. Ziyarat, which included viewing of the Prophet’s, sallalahu ‘alaihi wassalam, grave and pulpit, would start in thirty minutes. I peeked through the screen and saw men set up cardboard dividers in the men’s section. When the screen doors of the ladies’ section would be opened, we will have to pass through the men’s section to get to the place for ziyaarat, hence the need to set up dividers.
Thirty minutes turned to forty minutes with no news of opening the screen doors. The sisters started to feel agitated. I continued making zik’r. I realized that the more I paid attention to the sisters, the more irritated of their behavior I became. Some were pushing wheelchairs behind us, almost driving the wheel over Mom’s feet. I opened up her chair and had her sit besides a pillar, where she could be safe from the pushing and the wheelchairs. My feet began to ache from prolonged standing. To keep my mind off it, I looked around and observed the beauty of the masjid, and when I looked up, I saw that the dome has disappeared! I was looking straight at the dark sky and twinkling stars. So the roof was retractable. Cool!
Finally, an hour later, the first door to the left had been opened. I was trapped in a sea of women and learned about the door being opened by the number of sisters suddenly flocking towards that direction. I grabbed Mom’s hand and slowly inched towards the open screen door.
It was the men’s section past the door. After the Isha’a congregation, men were allowed to make the ziyaarat first and were instructed to clear the area after an hour to give way to the women. Within the men’s section, temporary partition had been erected leading up to where the ziyaarat actually starts. There, women guards guided the sisters on which direction to proceed. On my left, my eyes caught the green cloth with Qur’an verses in golden thread: it’s the grave of the prophet Mohammed, sallalahu ‘alaihi wassalam. An almost 6 feet tall temporary wall stood between us and the room where the grave of the prophet Mohammed, sallalahu ‘alaihi wassalam, is located. Tears welled up, as I thought of all the pain and rejection he must have had to endure in spreading the word of Islam. I silently wished him Allah’s blessings, ashamed of standing there, feeling so small and guilty of all the mistakes I had committed. More tears flowed as I recalled all the Sunnah I’ve known but somehow didn’t follow. I stood there, making a promise to myself to read as much ahadith as I can, and to live my life as close to his teachings as possible, InshaAllah. On his right was Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him. And to his left was Omar, may Allah be pleased with him. I wished them both Allah’s blessings. What an honor it is for them both to be buried next to the Prophet, sallalahu ‘alaihi wassalam.
Sadly, I saw sisters committing grave mistakes whilst making the ziyaarat. A huge number of women started offering salaat facing the prophet’s grave. Some lifted their hands in prayer, invoking the Prophet, sallalahu ‘alaihi wassalam. Some threw themselves on the wall and started wailing. I’m surprised why the guards are allowing this sort of behavior. Then I thought about the number of crowd coming in all the time. It’s almost impossible to control them.
When Mom and I made our way into the crowd towards the rawdah, the crowd got out of control in an attempt to rush in first. We were pushed badly. I wasn’t worried about myself at all; my main concern had been Mom. Also, I had promised myself prior to leaving the U.A.E. that I would never push anyone, no matter what. I would never hurt a fellow Muslim in order to fulfill a religious obligation. So I told Mom, “Let’s do this next time, InshaAllah. We’re just going to end up hurting others or getting hurt ourselves.” Then we turned around and made our way outside the masjid. Masood was able to make the ziyaarat though, as the brothers were less aggressive.
- Bring your own folding chair if you need to sit when offering salaat. You can easily buy one near the masjid, at 30 Riyals. It’s quite light weight and easy to carry around. Do not, however, leave it unattended. Someone will definitely get it.
- Bring a prayer rug or something to spread on the floor when you come in to the masjid just in time for the prayers.
- You may want to bring your own Qur’an to read while waiting for Jummah prayer to start, since the sisters may have already taken the ones available in the masjid or you may not find a way to reach the shelves amidst the crowd.
- Don’t bring cameras or cell phones with cameras; you won’t be allowed to enter the masjid. Ladies’ bags are thoroughly checked. The security in the men’s section, however, isn’t strict. Photography is allowed from the outer courtyard of the masjid.
- Sisters, be extremely patient. You’ll get pushed a lot. Once you leave your space inside the masjid, forget about it. Women will even occupy the sujood space in front of you. The men, I am told, are less wild.
- Do not walk in front of someone who’s offering a sala’at, but expect others to do this to you.
- You can bring empty bottles or containers to fill Zam Zam water. Try to drink only this water while you’re in Madinah and Makkah. You can always have your regular bottled water anywhere in the world.
- If you plan to stay in the masjid for a long period of time to read Qur’an or make zik’r, bring something to eat, like nuts, dates or granola bars.
- Try to offer all your salaat in the Masjid al Nabawi.
- Salaat for janazah is offered after every Fardh prayer. I encourage the brothers and sisters to learn about this prayer and try to offer it.
After coming out of the masjid that night, Mom and I headed towards the shoe shelves to collect our slippers. I had placed both pairs in disposable bags and neatly put them away in one of the shelves. We found, however, that both our slippers went missing! We searched everywhere, checking every shoe rack carefully. With only our socks on, Mom and I walked past the huge court yard of the masjid and across that street outside (shown in the picture above). We bought new pairs of slippers from the nearest shop.
TIP: Bring a string bag to put your slippers in so that you can bring them inside the mosque. If you must leave your slippers/shoes outside the mosque in one of the shoe racks, try putting each slipper/shoe in a different place. If you end up losing your footwear, panic not; there are several shops nearby that sell slippers.