This past week, from March 9th to 18th, I had the honor and privilege to travel to umrah (Islamic pilgrimage) with the Islamic Center at NYU. This was my first time going on umrah and before I left, I had quite a mix of feelings but overall, the only word that I have to correctly describe the experience is: amazing. Umrah and Hajj are pilgrimages in the Islam religion that one is considered lucky to be able to perform. Umrah is voluntary and Hajj is required atleast once in your lifetime if one is able to perform it. It’s been a few days since we landed back in New York and I’m still coming to terms with the fact that being back in my “normal” life no longer feels normal.
To begin, I’d like to talk about what my thoughts and feelings were before we left for Medina. I was very overwhelmed as I made my way to JFK and I remember thinking things such as “I wonder if this trip will live up to my expectations” and “I’m not sure what I got myself into”. These thoughts were rooted from feelings of unfamiliarity and insecurity. I had grown up thinking of ever going to umrah or hajj as a foreign concept since no one in my family had ever been before. Many family members had tried to go and made dua to be able to perform these pilgrimages but never had the chance. I knew umrah was something that I really wanted to do at some point, but also unfortunately something that other things often took priority over. All in all, I didn’t know what to expect because the one question that all my feelings boiled down to was “why me?”.
Before we got on the plane, I had just gotten off the phone with my mother and my aunt (her older sister) who were both really happy for the opportunity that seemed to just fall into my lap but I could hear the pain in their voices through their happy and encouraging words, I had first hand experienced the emotional duas that both of them made to be able to be invited to the Holy Cities and I didn’t understand why their duas weren’t given to them but mine was. The tears that they cried imaging being able to walk in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and standing in the presence of the Holy Kaaba resonated in my heart as I cried confused tears of my own.For me, the two of them are model muslimahs. They embody the very essence of the type of person I want to be in the future, being someone who can balance deen and dunya with a grace that is nothing short of admirable. I stood there thinking about them and wishing it was them about to get on that plane instead of me. Wondering if they, or someone else would be able to make better use of the time there than I would.
This worry didn’t leave me until we landed in Medina, almost 24 hours later (because of a long layover in Jeddah airport). When I got off the bus, put my stuff down and took my first steps into Masjid al Nabawi, I felt instantly at peace but more importantly, it was as if I had come home. The sensation was consuming and hit me all at once, I was overcome with love for a place that was just an idea in my head only a short day ago. A place that I didn’t realize I would grow so attached to in the days to come.
For those that have been there, you might understand how welcoming the atmosphere is in our Prophet’s (pbuh) beautiful city. You might understand that no matter how much time you have to walk around the masjid and pray in it, it never seems like enough. You might understand why the tears just flow down your cheeks thinking about how much history you’re surrounded by. You might understand the feeling in your stomach as you go give your salaams to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and acknowledge the fact that he says salaam back. You might understand why my heart was so full when I was there, or you might not, but there are no words that can accurately describe the peaceful winds, mesmerizing sunsets, and amazing architecture that Medina and Masjid al Nabawi are home to.
Medina also gave birth to some of the most amazing friendships that I’ve made in my life. Alhamdullilah I have great friends in my life already but I met some girls on this trip that became my family in just a few short days. There’s something to be said about meeting someone and immediately clicking. I realized after meeting certain people that no one comes into your life when they do for no reason at all. Allah (swt) knows the reason and we don’t always understand what His infinite wisdom is but I do believe that we all met where we did and got along as much as we did because we were meant to. Being from different parts of the US (& Canada), we probably wouldn’t have ever crossed paths had we not all decided to go on the same trip for whatever our personal reasons may be. But now, only a short week and a half later, I can’t imagine my life without all the people I shared experiences with. Whether it be from going to the rawdah and creating a barrier so women could pray and send their salaams to the prophet, waking up for fajr, climbing up to the cave of Hira, or performing our first umrah, I’m thankful for every moment and every person.
Medina al Munawara was what gave my heart peace and alleviated my fears before we proceeded to Makkah al Mukarramah to perform our umrah. Makkah is home of the Holy Kaaba and you can feel the powerful pull of the city before you even enter into the vicinity of the Holy Mosque. When we were on our way there, I was filled with feelings of disbelief. My confusion as to “why me?” still didn’t go away even though I was coming to terms with the fact that I was about to see a place that I had only visited in my dreams. A place that billions of people around the world prayed towards 5 times a day. A place that I felt a connection to without having ever been there before. Understanding and acknowledging the fact that the only possible reason I felt so emotional upon our arrival was that I had an innate attachment to the birthplace of my beautiful religion.
Though there were instances throughout the whole trip where I felt as though my patience was tested and times that I thought I was too tired to go on, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s been a few days now and I still can’t seem to get rid of the space in my heart that I think can now only be filled by going back. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting going into the trip, but I know that whatever it was, the experience surpassed it tenfold. These cities are so blessed in so many ways mash’Allah and you can feel that powerful, peaceful pull with every step you take. From every historical site we saw (such as Mount Arafat and the Cave of Hira), to every prayer I performed, I have truly never felt closer to Allah (swt) and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) than I did when I was there, but I’m so thankful that feeling didn’t go away when I came back home. I left a piece of me behind but somehow I still feel whole. I came back with a newfound belief that no matter what happens, Allah (swt) hasn’t given up on me so there’s no reason for me to give up on Him. Finally for the past few days, I haven’t been able to think of anything to ask for because I know that all my duas will be accepted if they are right for me and I’ve been praying for this belief and conviction since as far back as I remember. All I can say is alhamdulillah, alhamdullilah a million times over.
May all of our duas and umrahs be accepted, may we be invited back soon, and may we be forgiven for all/any of our shortcomings or mistakes, inshallah.
Below are some of my favorite pictures from the best week of my life: