By Aijaz Zaka Syed
September 15, 2017
If Makkah represents the majesty and glory of God, Madina is all about His love and mercy and that of His Last Prophet (pbuh). Madina embraces and welcomes you like some long-lost friend, covering and enveloping you with its endless shower of blessings and benedictions.
This is my third visit to Islam’s second holiest city and Masjid an-Nabawi or the Prophet’s Mosque – my first as a Haj pilgrim. All pilgrims visit Madina after Haj to pray at Masjid an-Nabawi and offer their respects to the Last Messenger (pbuh) who suffered a great deal to bring them the gift of faith. Peace be upon him.
While Haj itself is a life-changing spiritual experience, what one encounters at the Prophet’s Mosque is beyond words. The awareness that someone who they grew up loving and venerating all their lives and who remains their bridge with God lies sleeping close by is an intensely emotional experience.
And the stronger the bond with the Prophet (pbuh), the more intense the spiritual experience. You cannot understand Islam without connecting with its beloved Prophet (pbuh).
Few people are able to control their emotions when they manage to get near the site their spiritual guide is resting under that large dark green dome. You may plan a million things to share with him but when the fleeting moment arrives, you are hardly prepared. You just cry and mumble something incoherent and cry even more.
Masjid an-Nabawi is magnificent and easily the most beautiful mosque in the world. Its slender and resplendent minarets and the endless arches that stretch to as far as you can see, make it a treat to watch. The old structure, built during the Ottoman era, has been seamlessly integrated and woven into the latter extensions that were added under successive Saudi monarchs. Today, it is the second largest mosque on the planet after the Grand Mosque in Makkah and is capable of hosting at least a quarter of a million worshippers at a time.
It is always teeming with worshippers who occupy every inch of space available, including its endless, vast courtyards at the time of prayers. During the day, when temperatures are at their peak, the mosque opens up those giant umbrellas that nearly cover the whole open sky, protecting the worshippers.
The Saudis do a fine job of hosting Haj, the world’s biggest congregation, which attracted more than three million people this year, and managing the two holiest of mosques. The cool efficiency and enormous patience that everyone demonstrates in providing various services and managing vast crowds of pilgrims must be seen to be believed.
In Madina, they seem to be even more caring and patient with the pilgrims. Fellow pilgrims suggest that even the cops and cabbies of Madina are more civil and polite than their counterparts elsewhere.
After all, Madina is special. And all those visiting the holy city are considered special as they are the Prophet’s guests. There is something about the Prophet’s city that is not easy to explain. There is an unmistakable aura and halo around the city. It perpetually glows, radiating a surreal light of its own even during the day. It is truly magical.
Madina enjoys a unique place in Islamic history. Indeed, Islam’s history and that of its phenomenal growth began here after the Prophet’s historic migration from Makkah to Medina. The city sheltered him when he was being hounded and tormented by his own tribe in the city of his birth, Makkah.
By hosting him, Madina virtually declared war on the rest of Arabia and its bloodthirsty tribes who had ganged up against the new faith and it’s Prophet (pbuh). In fact, they were plotting to kill him the night he fled with his comrade Abu Bakr to Madina.
No wonder Madina always enjoyed a special place in the Prophet’s heart and in Islamic history. Even after Makkah fell within a few years, Madina remained his home and eventually became his last abode. It remained the seat of power when Islam spread to the length and breadth of Arabia and beyond.
It is here from this historical mosque that the first great caliphs ruled the vast empire of faith. The fate of powerful empires, like Rome and Persia, was determined right here in Masjid an-Nabawi.
The awareness of this history makes visits to this great mosque and the city even more special. To most believers though, Madina is special because their beloved Prophet (pbuh) lies resting here. It is the home of their beloved – the city of love.
The last time I visited Madina, I had called my mother in India from inside the mosque to tell her I had conveyed her Salam to the Prophet (pbuh). She had been overjoyed and cried. Today, both my parents are not around and I offered Salam on their behalf. I also said Salam and prayed again and again for the dispossessed and persecuted people everywhere.
God knows we need those prayers and divine help like never before. We stand at one of the most critical points in our history. Today, Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world and, in a few decades, Muslims are expected to overtake Christians as the world’s largest religious community. Yet, Muslims are perhaps the most persecuted community in the world, utterly helpless in the face of tyranny, genocide and oppression.
The madness in Myanmar is a world apart from the peace and tranquillity of Makkah and Madina. But throughout this Haj, the plight and helplessness of Rohingya Muslims have been on the minds of most pilgrims.
Many of us here have been endlessly praying for our helpless brothers and sisters in Burma and elsewhere. What else can one do? Prayers are all that we seem to have. But what about those who have power and infinite resources at their disposal? Why are they silent? Why do they not do something? What are they waiting for?
Watching the spiritual grandeur of the two holy cities and the ceaseless ardour and passion of the faithful, it is hard to imagine that this lot can ever abandon its own to be slaughtered and raped by a ruthless mob in uniform.
But that’s the truth. The Rohingya – the world’s most persecuted religious minority, according to the UN – have been forsaken once again at the most critical point in their history. For many around the world, Myanmar is like another planet.
The stray and feeble voices of protest by the UN and rights groups have so far fallen on deaf ears. World leaders are busy with far more important things like the tantrums of North Korea and mind-numbing intricacies of Brexit talks. The massacre of a few thousand Muslims is hardly earth-shattering news. Especially when the Islamic world itself doesn’t seem to give two hoots.
Yet many around the world are watching the Rohingya genocide with interest as what happens in Myanmar and how the so-called Ummah responds to it may serve as a template for many such conflict zones around the world. Already, there have been calls by our Hindutva friends to turn India into a Myanmar for its Muslims.
With our indifference and inaction, we are not only betraying Myanmar’s Muslims but we may also be paving the way for more such tragedies around the world. If we do not act and soon, there will be a catastrophic price to pay. That is the message from the Haram.