Previously in this series: Introduction and parts 1 to 5
While Masjid an-Nabawi is the main attraction in Madinah, for now, I’d like to cover some of the other attractions in the city. There seems to be a standard ‘tour circuit’ in Madinah – places of historical and religious significance (called ‘ziyarahs’). Many of these sites are marked by masjids, and on our third morning in the city, we covered the main sites.
Quba – on the outskirts of Madinah – was the place where the Prophet s.a.w. and his travelling companion, Abu Bakr r.a., arrived and first stayed after emigrating from Makkah. The Prophet s.a.w. established the first masjid ever here – Masjid Quba – and there are several religious virtues to the place (which you can read about here).
It was a bit weird ‘touring’ a masjid. While it is a tourist attraction, it’s also a place of worship, and something doesn’t feel right about hordes of people inside snapping photos and walking around like it’s a museum. But given the rarity of the visit for many of us, I can understand the desire to want to capture the moment – especially for those that would be taking pictures and videos home to show their loved ones; though proper etiquette should be adhered to at all times.
One of the most important tips to consider before you visit such a place is to do your research – to know your history. Our teacher back in Cape Town had advised us of this: your stay in each place is short, so try to learn about the place before you go so that when you’re there, your experience is not primarily one of learning about the place (which you could gather by reading from a book at home) – but one of feeling the history and spirit of the place. Do your preparation so that you can make best use of your time.
What I liked best about this masjid was the courtyard in the middle: a beautiful open space that radiated peace and light. Ironically, it reminded me of a masjid back home – the one next door to the location of our Hajj operator’s pre-Hajj seminars.
We interrupt your ziyarahs for this commercial break
Madinah is famous for dates, and our next stop was a date farm. But we didn’t actually get to go in to see much of the ‘farm’ area – most of the time was spent in the date shop that was filled with visitors like us, everyone clamouring to buy those famous Madinah dates for the people back home. Being a non-fruit eater, the place didn’t hold much appeal for me – but it was interesting to see so many products made with dates. I almost got fooled into wanting a chocolate bar – until I saw it was a date chocolate bar.
The site of the Battle of Uhud
Next up was the site of the Battle of Uhud – which was an event packed with lessons for Muslims. The site contains a masjid (which we didn’t go into), the graveyard of the martyrs of Uhud (which includes Hamza r.a. – the Prophet s.a.w.’s uncle), and the infamous hill – the strategic point that the archers left in the battle, thereby turning the tide and causing the Muslims to lose the battle.
The graveyard itself was an emotional site. If you know the commitment and bravery of those Muslims that died for the sake of Allah, you can’t help but make dua for them, and wish to have the same valour and strength that they did.
The major lessons I took from the place are the importance of obeying the leader (assuming it’s a good leader, of course) and the requirement of being brave in the battlefield – never turning your back (which is a major sin), like the 300 or so soldiers that abandoned the Muslim army before the battle.
In today’s times, we may not face physical warfare, but our religion is constantly under attack from Islamophobes, atheists, Christian fundamentalists, and others – so we need to know how to defend our deen, and we shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for what we believe in, even if we’re the ‘strangers’ in the society (which, by the way, is a good sign, as the hadith says: ‘glad tidings to the strangers’).
Also at the site is a flea market where ladies sell herbs of Madinah, umbrellas, and other trinkets. Good business for them, but it’s sad to see this great historical site including a makeshift commercial hub, which distracts many people from fully appreciating the significance of the land they’re standing on.
Tourist spots generally do include this kind of setup, though, so be prepared for it. And if shopping isn’t what you came for, try not to get sucked into the many ‘bargains’ and rare items that can lure you. Keep your shopping short and focus more on the significance of the place you’re at.
Next up, insha-Allah: The cave of Uhud, Masjid Qiblatain, and Saqeefah garden.
- When going on ziyarahs, take cold water for drinking and staying cool. Also take a snack if you think you’ll need it, and be sure to take an umbrella / something to cover your head and neck (in addition to sunblock – which should be on already).
- For ziyarahs, try to leave your hotel in a state of wudhu, because when visiting masjids, it’s sunnah to pray 2 rakaats to greet the masjid – and with a limited period in each place, you don’t want to lose precious time having to make wudhu.
- Whether you read a book /article, listen to a lecture, or talk to others – do your research about the places you’ll visit before you actually go. Time at the actual place is limited, so get the knowledge first so that when you’re there, you can make it a spiritual experience and a reflection on the historical significance – and not just a history lesson (which you can get any place else, any other time).
- When visiting masjids and other sacred sites, respect the people there and maintain the proper etiquettes of the place. If there are rules posted on a notice (e.g. no photography), follow the rules – and don’t disturb people by raising your voice.
- If you buy dates to take home, make sure you seal them properly, or you may have trouble bringing them into the country. Your Hajj operator should be able to advise you on this.
- When learning about historical events, try to extract lessons that you can apply in today’s times – and your own personal life. For example, the Battle of Uhud teaches us the importance of obeying the (good) leader and not giving into your own desires. It also teaches us the importance of being brave and not turning your back when faced with attack. In today’s times, if we aren’t facing physical war, we are facing ideological attacks from a range of sources – so educate yourself about your deen and don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in, albeit using wisdom and the best of speech.
- Try not to get diverted by the shopping opportunities at historical sites. Focus on the spiritual and historical significance of the places, and minimise your purchases – or go back on your own (i.e. without the whole group) if you want to indulge in that.
What happened next?
Update: The entire series (30 parts) is available at this link – post by post. Alternatively, you can download the complete series as an e-book in PDF format. Feel free to share with anyone you think may benefit.
Image sources: All pictures taken by me, except the first shot of Masjid Quba and the shot of the Archer’s Hill.