Last minute plans end up being one of the best memories. And my last minute plan to visit Saudi Arabia is no exception. Saudi Arabia is the birth place of Islam and hosts holy sites in Mecca and Medina.
The holy place of Muslims in Mecca, Kaaba, a cube-shaped building is a place of worship that many Muslims all over the world flock to fulfill their Islamic faith. Muslims circumambulate the Kaaba seven times in a counter-clockwise direction which is one of the rituals of pilgrimage during Hajj and Umrah. The golden door of Kaaba is opened once in a year when the King unlocks the door and cleans the walls with rose water followed by the guests he brings with him. The magnificent structure is covered with Kiswah, an embroidered black colour cloth made of 670 kg of silk and 150 kg of gold threads.
On the other hand, Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, mosque of Prophet Mohammed in Medina is mesmerizing. The most notable feature of the mosque is the Green Dome, followed by twenty seven sliding domes at the roof and 250 world’s largest folding umbrella converting the open plazas into fully covered outdoor rooms.
Every person has 2 stories, a story they tell and a story they hide. And here is a tale of an amazing woman I met in Nabawi mosque in Medina. Many people distribute chocolates, dates, sweets, etc. in the mosque and there are Hadiya (gift) counters too. It was just before dawn, when I was sitting in the plaza outside the mosque and a 10 year old girl gave me 2 pieces of brown dates. She also gave 2 brown dates to the woman sitting next to me. The woman’s face was covered with a veil so I could not guess her age. Our conversation began with an eye contact when I saw “smile lines”, wrinkles around her eyes. I asked her if she was a local to which she said, “I am a Bedouin”. This conversation was just normal as one would have with a stranger but as dawn broke, the conversation unfolded like never before. To my great surprise, that woman started reading my mind, she answered before I asked. At first I thought, maybe I asked but she read that doubt too in my mind and said, “No, you didn’t ask”. That made me a bit uncomfortable and I started thinking if I should stop talking to her. My discomfort was palpable as I started fidgeting with my ring. She held my hand, I could feel her soft satin gloves, and then she said, “Stop thinking and start living”. She continued, “We often think so much that we imagine situations which do not exist and get trapped in those imaginary situations.” Then she narrated few things about me which nobody knows. The sun had risen while she spoke like a rising wave, grabbing my attention and making me oblivious to the surrounding.
I was carefully listening to her and then she stood, bent, looked at me and said “While we reminisce those memories, they never come back to us. And if they ever come back, we no longer need them.” These were her parting words. This experience was something unexpected rather strange which I could not recite to anyone but thought of expressing it in words.
While there are no rivers in Saudi Arabia, the country fulfils its water needs through aquifers. The ZamZam Well is the most famous well leading to one of the underground aquifers.
While my initial impression about the country was of a dessert land but the clock tower in Mecca and the lively city of Jeddah astonished me. Every year millions of Muslims from all over the world visit these magnificent holy structures in Mecca and Medina. The heritage tours in these cities give a flavour of Islamic history. How wonderful it would be if people understood and followed the meaning of the word Islam, derived from the Arabic root “Salema”: peace, purity, submission and obedience.