Al Madina Al Munawara is the most peaceful city on Earth. Inside the Prophet’s mosque you hear nothing but silence and the occasional flapping of bird wings as they take flight (and if you are lucky enough, spot a cat sleeping in one of the corners).
If I get to choose a spot to die on, it would be inside this serene place. But like everything else on Earth, it’s not perfect: thanks to the presence of the veiled and unfriendly religious policewomen. The tranquillity of the place is killed by the sound of their annoying voices giving endless orders. They were not really happy with my long shirt and wide trousers.
Every time I went for prayers, one of them would stop me and point out that the trousers were not wide enough (Note: I bought them from the maternity section. Nothing could get wider than that except for clown’s trousers).
To get some peace of mind, I bought a long piece of cloth and threw it on top of my clothes. I looked like a Roman partisan wearing a toga and heading to the senate. Despite that, the comments never stopped. Finally, I had to borrow an abaya from my mom.
The trick worked and they were silenced for the rest of our visit. Once while leaving the mosque after prayers, we were stopped by an old Egyptian woman who was illiterate. She handed us her money and asked us to teach her how to tell them apart. My mom and I were aghast by the woman’s naivety. What if someone took the money and ran away?
Being a primary schoolteacher, Mom gave her a quick lesson: the note with the stick and dot is a ten, the note with stick wearing a cap and a dot is a twenty and the note with the fat circle and a dot is a fifty.
The woman seemed to enjoy the quick lesson and thanked us profusely. As we parted, we begged her not to give her money to any passer-by! Our visit to Al Madinah included the mosque of Quba, the first mosque built in Islam. It was noon and the mosque was pretty busy as women waited for prayer time.
They were sitting on the floor, which made it hard to walk in and find a spot to pray. There was an Asian lady sitting with her legs extended in front of her. She didn’t budge like the rest, so I had to cross over her legs. As my first foot landed, I got a kick on the shin of my second leg which made me almost fall on my face. I turned my head in pure astonishment and saw the lady giving me a smug look. Within a few seconds it turned into an: “Ouch!” followed by Mom shouting at her.
The unlucky woman got kicked back by Mom who was right behind me. I shouted in Arabic: “Mom! Don’t spoil your Haj!” Mom replied back: “We haven’t started yet! Plus, this is my second Haj so I’m not worried!”. I gave the woman an apologetic smile but she was still shocked, watching my mom in great horror as she crossed over her legs. It was time to head to Mecca to perform a quick Umrah. The Emarati ladies removed their veils as it’s not allowed while performing the Tawaf. Funny enough, they were disappointed when we couldn’t tell them apart by their voices.
The road to Mecca was almost blocked with traffic jam. It took us hours to reach the Ka’aba, the holy house of God… (to be continued).
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of:
The World According to Bahja. firstname.lastname@example.org