(here 1/4) Second recommendation letter

 Tawhid Umrah group, As-Salaamu alaykumOur umrah will begin at Madinah. I came to Madinah
after Makkah and much prefer thisoption. For one thing there are required rituals at
Makkah and when they are done, it is better toalso be done with the visit to Saudi Arabia. I love
d Madinah in many ways and there is much more tosee as far as historical sites, but I put my heart
into the first part of my hajj trip and then was moreheart-spent by the time I had still more than a week to go. Three days is just perfect.Some information about the lay out: The hotels are
a better quality with bigger rooms, andmuch more accessible to the mosque for the same pri
ce than in Makkah. In both cities we are stayingclose enough to walk for each of the five daily pra
yers. At hajj season it is not uncommon for peopleto walk a few kilometers to get to the mosque. Inde
ed, others stay so far away then just camp out inthe Haram and only return to their hotel accommodations at night. It is much more preferable to havethe flexibility to move in and out of the mosque.
The layout of the city of Madinah is more serene, cleaner broader avenues. The mosque is
pretty much all on one floor (unlike the Haram thathas three floors). So it is spread out, giving the
hotels more ways to make access. Here you will seesigns that strictly separate the women from the
men. We will never be able to pray all together asa group in Madinah.
There are distinct entries into the women’s sectionand strict times for the women to visit
the grave of the Prophet (alayhi salaam). The two women’s sections are cordoned off with guards set
up to prevent men from entering, including men whotry to assist say an aunt or mother in a wheel
chair. The men have doors that lead directly into the grave site. If we are lucky we will first enter
at aprescribed prayer time, join the jama’ah and then the men can pass by and give salaams to the
Prophet, Abu Bakr and Umar (whose grave sites flankthe Prophets). All of this is behind an ornate
screen so that is all you will see.
However, the prophet said, “Whoever prays two rak’at on my rawdah it will be as if he/she
prayed a thousand salah”. The mosque is covered with red carpet except at the rawdah where the
carpet is green, so there will be no mistaking it.
The rawdah is at the space of the original mosqueerected by the Prophet himself. A remainder: the mosque has been expanded in stages through-outMuslim history. The minaret bases are more ornate in the rawdah area and there is the mimbar(stairs used by the khatib, or imam giving khutbah)
and the mihrab (niche showing the direction ofprayer). This whole area is more ornate and distinc
t in color from the remainder of the mosque—which is itself quite beautiful.
You will be allowed to make two raka’at here and then to proceed past the grave site. Do not
raise your hands in du’a the Saudis will push you.
Do not linger too longer, the guards will push you.
If you know this before hand, you can maximize yourinner experience and minimize the affront due
to the outer experience. Where ever you pray two raka’t make your du’a while kneeling. It is less
likely that someone will push you here, unless it is crowded and then you have to make do because
everyone is here for the same experience as you areso tend to get pushy. Be patient. Remember we


do not pray TO the prophet, but we can ask for himto intercede on our behalf. We pray FOR the
prophet and TO Allah.
If you walk past, you can raise your right hand andsay As-Salaam Alaykum to the Prophet.
Perhaps you will hear him respond to you. Listen with your heart not your ears. Stay for as long as
they will let you and in fairness to others waitingto proceed and then pass on. There is a sign out
front forbidding cameras and smart phones but people bring them in all the time. Use your
judgment; you have been alerted to the possibility.
In any case, be discreet about photos. Here and elsewhere .There are special times when the grave site is NOTaccessible to the men and these are timesmade exclusively available for women. After fajr, after ‘asr and after ‘isha prayer were the designatedtimes when I was at hajj and if I remember correctly at least the after fajr time is regular through-outthe year. Then the female guards will walk the women through in groups. The groups are also given alecture (although the content will vary depending upon the language and is NOT really about history[of the mosque] or even sirah (biography of the Prophet) as I was expecting. It was more aboutetiquette. Thus we walked and then were seated in increments through a curtained off walkway tothe part of the mosque that is open to the sky (although it has moveable domes that slide over whenit is the greatest heat of the day), seated again.Then when we were seated outside the rawdah there  was more talk until it cleared and they allowed usto proceed in groups of hundreds. The space theygave us then at best could hold 75 people so it wasalways crowded beyond capacity. Again, pushingand stepping over people were the norm.I am hoping at this off season they will be allowing women to past by and give salaams to the
Prophet. I have made hajj but have not been allowedto do this.
Outside the mosque is a very large court yard withwhite cooling marble tiles. I was there in
November and they were actually too cool. But for the month of June they should be just right.
Amazing what we can build. There are huge automaticumbrellas that opened and shut during that
season but I suspect they will be open all day against the sun and heat and only shut at night.
More about Madinah and the Prophet’s mosque in thenext post. For now I hope you are
making your ritual preparations. Remember to make du’a for the safety and success of our journey.
I wanted to give you a word about proceeding with regulating the salah, when working, going
to school and busy with your day outside your home.
It is preferable to lay out your prayer rug andface Makkah when the time comes. However, out of re
spect for our minority status this should bedone discreetly. If you have an office, or can find
an empty classroom, it would take only 3-4 minutes
If you cannot find a private space, find a seat alone and do not make the full prostrations. People do
this on airplanes in airports, on buses in bus stations or trains. Allah is the Lord of the east and w
est so can accept your prayer even in this modified formula. The important thing is to teach yourself
discipline in your remembrance.
Third recommendation letter
Dear fellow Pilgrims As-Salaamu Alaykum,It is with a heavy heart that I have learned I will
not get my wish fulfilled. I had hoped withoutthe throngs of hajj I might be permitted to walk cl
ose to the grave site of our beloved Prophet (saw)and say my greetings. I was denied this on my previ
ous visit but now I have learned from a Saudifriend that this is standard all year long: women c
annot visit this section of the mosque in Madinah.
We will be allowed to pray 2 rak’at on the rawdah at select times each day, but will not be permitted
to enter the part that passed in front of his grave.
Let me turn instead to some logistical matters in the city of Madinah and the mosque itself.
When the Prophet (saw) was invited to begin the newcommunity of Islam he continued with
revelations from Allah for another 10years. Duringthat time, he fought four battles. We can visit the
places of these battles, especially Uhud, where themartyrs were buried after the battle was over. So
at Uhud there is a major burial ground. There is also a burial ground just beside the main mosque,
which can be seen through-out the day through a fenced enclosure. Women are also not allowed to
enter this grave site, but we can see it through the fence. At select times men can enter the
enclosure. Aishah and several other wives of the Prophet are buried here. Imam Ali is buried here as
well. These graves are not marked, so unless thereis a guide who knows this history one grave is
indistinguishable from another.
We should probably also visit the mosque with two qiblahs (markers for the direction of
prayer). Muslims used to pray towards Jerusalem. But by command from Allah the direction of
prayer was changed to the direction towards the kaabah in Makkah. When the Companions learned
of this, they changed their direction in mid-prayer. Women will enter to a balcony over the main
prayer hall and we cannot see below us. But all mayenter and pray 2 raka’t.
In all these things we can experience walking wherethe Prophet has walked in his struggles
to establish Islam so that even we—more than 14 centuries later—may know the love and light of
Allah. Off the path of these particular historicaland spiritual memories, the city of Madinah is
thoroughly modern with businesses, public transportation and of course the hotels, near the mosque
that allow us the comfort of visiting the mosque for prayer. If we linger in the mosque before or afte
r prayer there are copies of the Qur’an on stands setup throughout the mosque. There are also
containers with Zam-Zam wate,r so we can have a drink if we need it. No need to bring cups or water
of our own.
If you wish to read translations of the Qur’an youwill need to bring your own because these
are not provided. In addition, we should sit in contemplation (muraqabah) of the blessings and
challenges of fulfilling our own Islam at this timeand in the presence of this sacred historical plac
As I said, this mosque was expanded throughout Muslim empire and you will notice some of these
developments if you take a careful look when you are in the mosque. These days there are even
underground parking structures, which coincidentlyare also divided by gender. By that I mean, there
are some parking for only men and there are some for families. There are few mosques throughout
the rest of Saudi Arabia where women are permitted,so while these measures are somewhat
archaic, they also allow for privileges not available to women elsewhere.
Some might wonder why there are even mosques in thegeneral vicinity of the main mosque.
Everything stops for salah. Stores do not continueto run their business, but rather shop keepers will
close the doors, pull down the guarding rails and join the salah. When the distance is such that return to these businesses is not so convenient then theywill also attend to mosques closer to their
businesses. As for these businesses, everything youcan need or imagine will be available in these
shops. I will make a few recommendations here.
It is good to wear some water proof slippers into and out of the mosques, here and in
Makkah. They are for sale as cheap as 1 Euro at theshops. That way if you are enjoying some time at
the mosque and need to perform wudu, these are thebest shoes. You do not want to enter the
mosques having more expensive shoes to place on theracks because, yes, these might be taken by
others. I do not know if they are just out right stealing or confusing them; so having something you
do not mind losing is probably best. In fact, as many slippers look alike you might choose to carry
yours in a plastic bag into the mosque with you.
Of course we need to find places to eat our meals and there are endless varieties of foods
available and very cheap. No one will have to worryon this account. My hotel before happened to be
one half block from the mosque entry that was flanked by gold and essential oil shops and a
Starbucks! Many people buy gold when in the two main sacred cities because the quality is good. All
shop keepers will have someone who will speak yourlanguage, so business can be conducted even if
you do not know Arabic. In fact, most shop keepersare not Arab. Even if the shops are owned by
Saudis they do not manage the shops but have workers from other parts of the Muslim world.
As some of you know the Prophet (saw) loved essential scented oils and some of the best is
available in these two cities. These also make great gifts for those who could not join us. There are
endless shops with trinkets of all price ranges. Ithink I bought a dozen dhikr beads when I was there.
New prayer rugs, and books related to the sacred sites the sirah of the prophet and many other
topics are available. They also sell clothing items, some of which I would like to recommend. Almost
all are made somewhere other than in Arabia, including China but still you get to say you bought it onumrah. Men’s jalabiyah, both the peasant ones and the white one popular in the Gulf region are cooland comfortable, making it a good choice in betweenwearing your western clothes which will be
made of heavier fabric and thus not as cool. I bought two abayahs, women’s all black dress, because
all I needed underneath was a short sleeve shirt and loose pants and I could keep cool yet completely
covered., Women must cover their hair in both cities and in addition to what I brought with me there
were all sorts of styles available. Likewise headwear for the men is for sale though not required in the mosque or elsewhere.
One thing made in Saudi is a plethora of dates andnuts. If we visit the date market, there are
many options of quality (and color) as well as dates stuffed with almonds to enjoy. These make
nutritious snacks and in addition to fresh fruit (also not from Saudi) we can store a few in our rooms
,as there is usually a small refrigerator in the rooms. Bottled water is available in the shops near the hotels and we might want to buy a larger containerfrom which we refill smaller bottles as we go
outside of the mosque itself for the tours and optional sightseeing. In preparation for the umrah to
Makkah if you have not purchased your ihram you canfind those here as well. Two un-sewn white
cloths about the size of a large beach towel s makeup the ihram. I will discuss these in detail later
, as they are required. Women can wear anything they wish, but I prefer to wear white, at least for the rituals. Then I return to my own regular clothing or the abayah for convenience.
We might want to purchase an umbrella, as they sellcheap ones near the mosques and it will
help with the heat when we venture to see the battle grounds, the date market the mosque with two
qiblahs, etc. The less we bring in our bags, the less trouble we have getting those bags on and off for
the journey. However, my roommate bought so much stuff when we were at hajj, she had to
abandon some things to the hotel workers in order to get her bags closed! So if you do expect to
make any purchases think about leaving space for this in your suitcases. In a pinch, yes, you can
purchase an additional bag as well. They do sell everything so do not anticipate that somehow you
have returned to the Stone Age!
I hope you are continuing with your spiritual practices and polishing up your ritual
requirements. You might wish to fast a few days inpreparation. Remember I said it is like preparing
for an Olympic event. There is both inward and outward preparations necessary. The Prophet used to fast on Mondays and Thursdays and if you like we can all choose a day to fast and observe it together even though we are in different parts of the world,
it helps to know that we are preparing TOGETHER. I myself have begun taking long walks to
make sure I am ready for completion of the sa’iywhich as I said, is a little less than 4 kilometers
. I do almost everything in my car, so at my age, I mightbe a little out of shape, and wish to perform all these rites on my own two feet, in sha’ Allah. As youare all considerably younger than I am, I will prob
ably be completing these alone, except the tawaf.
But we will talk about Makkah in the next few letters and updates.   (… next week 3/4)