|Boarded SV flight with these horses...|
|...arrived 9 hours later in Madinah Al-Munawwarah.|
The radiant city of Madinah greeted us with its beautiful sunset. As I walked out of the aircraft to the tarmac down below, hot air gushed over my face, giving me a taste of how the rest of the trip was going to be like. Reminded me of summer in Dubai two years ago.
|Welcome to Madinah!|
A bus took us to the terminal building, where we cleared our passports and picked up our bags. As we were about to exit, an airport staff shouted “Passport control! Passport control!” and pointed at a counter near the gate. I was puzzled. I already had my passport stamped, what else did they want?
I saw other passengers leaving their passports at the counter where several guys in white shirts were waiting. No checking or stamping. No recording who already handed over theirs and who hadn’t. No segregating into tour group or family. Simply giving their passports into the hands of Arab men – no question asked.
I was hesitant. Why wouldn’t I? They practically wanted me to walk around a strange land with no identification!
But seeing everyone else doing the same gave me a little confidence. So I gathered my family’s passports and handed them together in one stack. If we were going to be fugitives in this country, we better be fugitives as a family!
|Terminal 4 of Prince Mohammad Airport, where we left our passports.|
We got out of the building, feeling a little strange about what just happened and very much uncomfortable knowing that we were technically illegal immigrants. I heard other passengers complaining that it was against the law for those guys to take our passports. I thought so too. At that point, I started to get worried. If anything happened to my family’s passports, I would be the one to blame.
A while later, our tour leader came over and explained to us that it was actually a normal procedure. Upon arrival, umrah pilgrims must leave their passports with the authorities. The passports will only be returned at the end of the trip, shortly before the pilgrims leave the country.
Why? No idea. Perhaps the Saudi Arabian government was being kind, helping pilgrims to keep their passports safe. Perhaps they wanted to make sure you wouldn’t stay longer than you should. Or perhaps they actually didn’t want you to leave too soon, because they just love to have you in their country.
|Waiting to board the bus that would take us to the hotel.|
|Arrived at the hotel. Tour agents handing out room keys.|
We quickly went to our room and freshened up. It was about 11 pm and we hadn’t done solat jamak Maghrib and Isha yet, so we decided to go to Masjid Nabawi and do them there. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that the mosque was only short walk from the hotel. I swept a quick glance over the impressive structure and was immediately awed by its beautiful architecture.
But the main mission for the night was to perform solat, so we had to get inside quickly. The strange thing was the mosque had so many doors, but not even one was open! Could it be that the mosque was close at night? Impossible, never heard such a thing.
We walked around the mosque looking for an open door. I must tell you the mosque was huge. So huge that we felt tired simply circling around it. Not to mention that we just arrived after a long flight. Finally we saw an entrance near the tomb of Nabi Muhammad SAW. But it was for men, so the guys went in, while us girls continued our search for an entrance for women.
|After one complete circle, we saw an open door at the ladies section.|
Entered the mosque, performed solat and read doa. It felt so surreal. There I was, in the mosque of Nabi Muhammad SAW. I looked around me and saw other sisters engrossed in their own ibadah. Done with mine, I slowly walked out of the mosque. Saw a row of zamzam water dispensers along the pathway, so I stopped for a sip. Took a breath, held the view and thought to myself, “What a wonderful night.”
|Lights illuminating the beautiful Masjid Nabawi.|
|If one picture could describe the night, this would be it!|