Didn't say anything here earlier on because I didn't want to make a biggie out of it. But I'm safe at home now and recovering nicely from the jet lag. For you who didn't know, I was out and about in Mecca and Medina for the past 10 days.
While I was there, my favorite moments are:
1) Iktikaf inside Masjid Nabawi - what a beautiful/surprisingly comfortable/highly organized/majestic mosque
2) Seeing Ka'bah for the first time with my own eyes
There are others but those 2 are on top of the list. I am so compelled to tell you how impressed I was looking at their lifestyle there, how they apply Islam in everything - how Islam should be portrayed to the world. Islam is not just a religion there but also a lifestyle, it's in their actions and in their daily conversations.
So what follows are only my mere observations while I was there, what makes there different from here.
It's peaceful there
How it is so peaceful there, when it was time to pray, everyone including the shop owners closed their shop (they just covered the front door with a piece of cloth as a sign that it's closed temporarily - no lock) to get to the mosque for jemaah prayer. And guess what, everything was there when they get back. I once saw a couple of boxes of jewelry in the middle of the street (they were restocking that morning), everyone passing by could see what was inside and yet, everyone walked by as if nothing happened. The crime rate is very low there - I believe a result of practicing law of Islam.
The people are oh so kind, especially in Medina. They're polite creatures, always extending hand to people in need. As a guest, you will notice it immediately. I was expecting their snobby ways but luckily that's not true. The rich didn't mind mingling with the poor - something that really caught me off guard. Nice surprise.
They understand the value of little things
For the first time in my life I witnessed how everyone understood small but meaningful stuff in executing jemaah prayers. When the bilal calls for the solat, everyone in the mosque stood up and get in line (the saf) - this we all know. You have to stand close together so there's no huge gap between you and the people next to you. Although it's not compulsory, it's important to fill up space left by others in front of you after gap is closed. In Mecca and Medina, this happened very quickly so they could start praying right away - as you can't move that much after you angkat takbir. Seems a simple thing to do right??
Sadly in Malaysia, sometimes they don't do that, I'm guessing we're lack of understanding, that we don't understand the value of standing close to the imam. Sometimes we come in groups, we refuse to part with friends even we're only to be a saf ahead of them - seriously, you're not going to lose them, we have mobile phones! =P Everyone in the mosque are brothers and sisters in Islam regardless of race or where you come from, the people we have to defend and befriend - why so reluctant for ukhuwah?
There's one more thing I'd like to highlight - they know there's no such thing as solat sunat ba'diah Asar and no solat sunat qabliah Maghrib. What a breath of fresh air. Not a pretty sight if we see this happening.... urrgghhh - we're trying to be better muslim by performing solat sunat but we don't know the right practice - sad isn't it.
They celebrate the right event
It's the Ramadhan they have been waiting all year, not the Syawal... =P True we should celebrate both but we're so looking forward to raya we spend alot for it when we should spend more attention to Ramadhan. They buy new clothes for Ramadhan for tarawikh prayers and they spend alot of money donating for iftar (breaking the fast) at the mosques. They know any good deeds done during Ramadhan is rewarded multiple times more compared to other months. That's why you see alot of locals come to the mosque to pray, to cite Quran or just to sleep (I'll explain why). Some even use their lunch break to come make tawaf sunat around Ka'bah - shouldn't take long but their lunch break is long. Tawaf sunat is much much encouraged if you have the time.
Sleep in the mosque? Why not? Niat iktikaf, no matter what you do in there you'll get pahala. People lying down like dead bodies scattered around the mosque. Unsightly view in a holy place? Next point explains it.
Mosques are well kept
In Saudi, 1/4 of their income is spent on the upkeep of the 2 mosques - Masjid Nabawi (Medina) & Masjidil Haram (Mecca). I don't know how to describe the inside of these mosques, they just amazed me. All I can say is wow (was that gold on every pillars??). No matter how many people inside Masjid Nabawi, it will stay cool because of its advance air conditioning system. For muslim community, mosques supposed to be the center for any community activities. So you can hold meetings there, gatherings, small classes, anything beneficial - it's not only for prayers, a fact that so little known here, let alone practice it. Saudi government knows this very well, so they employ locals to manage the crowded mosques 24/7. At one time you can see alot of them instructing/guiding guests around the mosques. The Quran are all wakaf (you can take it home) and accessible from wherever you're sitting. The mosques are always clean, no stinky smell and always stocked with zam zam water for drinks.
You know the capacity for each mosque? More than 600k for Masjid Nabawi, tmore than 800k for Masjidil Haram at one time. For running it 24/7, that's high efficiency in action people.
Ladies, as long as you cover whatever supposed to be covered, you're good for prayers
Here we have to put on white telekung for prayers. This is not compulsory in Islam. I guess because white represents cleanliness and it's been like that since forever in Malaysia. Your baju kurung is actually enough, you only need to take ablution and then straight to the prayer mat. See how easy it is if you're traveling? You just have to keep it clean from najis that's all.
They value their language and lifestyle
I have to say arabic language is the most elegant language in the world. I had my doubts when I took french (as a side thing when I was studying), but arabic now sits on top. It's really easy on the ears. It can be soft or hard depending on your tone of voice. They don't bother to learn English, not sure that's a good thing but it's probably because they're speaking in Prophet Muhammad's mother tongue. There's a sense of pride I guess. For muslims, if you learn arabic you'll gain more pahala, just because. But really, if you understand arabic, even just a little bit, you'll recognize the words on the street and you'll see the difference the way they talk right away. Selawat and istighfar and zikr is always there, and salam is everywhere! For us maybe it's abit weird but for them it's already a lifestyle they're not ashamed of.
Most of the time, only men go out to work and shop or to run errands. Most women stay home, they don't work and they keep the family together. Local women there are all clad in black when they're going out. If you get the chance to see them closely, they're actually alluring. This is just me, I don't know how others think. And I think they have georgous eyes! Fuiyo, I couldn't stop admiring myself..heh!
Anyway, I didn't feel I was ready to go at first but after coming back home, I can't wait to go there again. It's not really the fun of travelling I'm after, it's the experience you can only get in Mecca and Medina. You know what, now I'm really thankful for Jacob and Foong for approving my leave. This could be one the best thing that ever happened in my life!
Masjid Nabawi, shot taken from in front of hotel we stayed in. You can see the entrance. Pretty close to the mosque, 5 min walk.