In Madinah, praying for Myanmar


IF Makkah represents the majesty and glory of God, Madinah is all about His love and mercy. Madinah embraces and welcomes you like some long lost friend, with its endless shower of blessings and benedictions enveloping you. This is my third visit to Islam’s second holiest city and Masjid Nabawi — my first as a Haj pilgrim.

After Haj, all pilgrims visit Madinah to pray at the Prophet’s Mosque and offer their respects to the Last Messenger, peace be upon him, who suffered a great deal to bring them the gift of faith.

While Haj itself is a life-changing experience, what one encounters in Madinah is totally out of this world and beyond words. The awareness that the one who they grew up loving and venerating all their lives and who remains their bridge to God lies sleeping close by is a surreal experience. And the stronger the bond with the Prophet the more intense the spiritual experience. You cannot understand Islam without connecting with its Prophet.

Few people can control their emotions when they visit the Prophet’s Mosque. You may plan and plan a million things to share with him but when the fleeting moment arrives, you are hardly prepared. You just cry and mumble something incoherent.

Masjid Nabawi is magnificent and easily the most beautiful mosque in the world. Its slender, resplendent minarets and endless arches and arches as far as you can see make it a treat to watch. The old structure built during the Ottoman era has been seamlessly integrated and woven into the latter extensions added under successive Saudi monarchs.

Today, it is the second largest mosque on the planet, after the Grand Mosque in Makkah and is capable of hosting at least quarter of a million worshippers at a time. It’s always teeming with worshippers who occupy every inch of space available including its endless, vast courtyards at the time of prayers.

During the day when temperatures are at their peak, the Mosque opens up those giant umbrellas that nearly cover the whole open sky, protecting the worshippers.

The Saudis do a fine job of hosting Haj, the world’s biggest congregation, which attracted more than 3 million people this year, and managing the two holiest of mosques. The efficiency and patience that everyone demonstrates in providing various services and managing vast crowds of pilgrims must be seen to be believed. In Madinah, they seem to be even more patient with pilgrims.

After all, Madinah is special. And all those visiting the holy city are considered special as they are the Prophet’s guests. There is something about this city that is hard to explain. There is an unmistakable aura and halo around the city. It perpetually glows, radiating a light of its own even during the day. It’s truly magical.

Madinah enjoys a unique place in Islamic history. Indeed, Islam’s history and that of its phenomenal growth began here after the Prophet’s historic migration from Makkah to Madinah. The city welcomed and sheltered him when he was being hounded by his own tribe in the city of his birth.

By hosting him, Madinah virtually challenged the rest of Arabia and its bloodthirsty tribes who had ganged up against the new faith and its Prophet. In fact, they were plotting to kill him the night he fled with his comrade Abu Bakr to Madinah.

No wonder Madinah enjoyed a special place in the Prophet’s heart and in Islamic history. Even after Makkah fell within a few years, Madinah remained his home and eventually became his last abode. It remained the seat of power when Islam spread to the length and breadth of Arabia and beyond.

It is here from this mosque that the first great Caliphs ruled the vast empire of faith. The fate of powerful empires like Rome and Persia was determined right here in Masjid Nabawi.

The awareness of this history makes visits to this great mosque and the city even more special. To most believers though, Madinah is special because their beloved Prophet lies resting here. It is the home of their beloved — the city of love.

The last time around when I visited Madinah, I had called my mother in India from inside the mosque to tell her I had conveyed her salam to the Prophet; she had been overjoyed and cried. Today, both my parents are not around; I offered salam on their behalf. I also prayed again and again for my people and the dispossessed and persecuted everywhere.

God knows we need those prayers and divine help like never before. We stand at one of the most critical points in our history. Today, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and in a few decades it is expected to overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religious community. Yet Muslims are perhaps the most persecuted community in the world, utterly helpless in the face of tyranny, genocide and oppression.

The madness in Myanmar is a world apart from the peace and tranquillity of Makkah and Madinah. But throughout this Haj, the helplessness of Rohingya Muslims has been on the minds of most pilgrims.

Many of us here have been endlessly praying for our helpless brothers and sisters in Myanmar and elsewhere. What else can one do? Prayers are all that we seem to have. But what about those who have the power and infinite resources at their disposal? Why are they silent? Why do they not do something? What are they waiting for?

Watching the spiritual grandeur of the two holy cities and the ceaseless ardor and passion of the faithful, it is hard to imagine that this lot can ever abandon its own to be slaughtered and raped by a ruthless mob in uniform.

But that is the truth. The Rohingya, the world’s most persecuted religious minority, according to the UN, have been forsaken once again at the most critical point in their history. For many around the world, Myanmar is like another planet.

The stray and feeble voices of protest by the UN and rights groups have so far fallen on deaf ears. World leaders are busy with far more important things like the tantrums of North Korea and mind-numbing intricacies of Brexit talks. The massacre of a few thousands Muslims is hardly earth-shattering news. Especially when the Ummah itself doesn’t seem to care.

Yet many around the world are watching the Rohingya genocide with interest. For what happens in Myanmar and how we respond to it may serve as a template for many such conflict zones around the world. Already, there have been calls by our Hindutva friends to turn India into a Myanmar for its Muslims.

With our indifference and inaction, we are not only betraying Myanmar’s Muslims, we may be paving the way for more such tragedies in times ahead. The Islamic world should put to use its considerable political and economic clout and resources to stop the Rohingya genocide. If we do not act soon, there will be a catastrophic price to pay. That is the message from Haram.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist. Email: