It is 12.10 am on the 8th of Ramadan and I just got back to the hotel from tarawih. From the hotel to the Masjidil Haram, by right is just a 5 min walk. But not after tarawih. I just took an hour to reach the hotel. Not with a crowd of one million people coming out of the masjid simultaneously. Last year’s Ramadan, the attendees hit a record high of 3 million people (2.5 million visas were issued out last year for the last ten days of Ramadan and another half a million was from the Arabian peninsula itself). Hence, just a quarter way through with just a third of the attendees, things are already starting to get busy, festive, intense, exciting… Depending on how you look at it.
Makkah is one city which never sleeps. 1400 years ago it claimed its fame as the trading centre of the world, where merchants came to trade from all kinds of land, even before the birth of the Prophet pbuh. It is no different now. It is still a trade centre (of course not the forex-market shares kind) and with billion dollar revenue from Hajj and Umrah industry, it is a city with anything that money can buy — well, anything halal of course. It is so rapidly changing and developing by the minute that once you have a gap of say 24 months from one visit to another, you will find certain landscape remarkably changed. We experienced this. We were here barely 14 months ago, and yet the hotel which we stayed in last year and the surrounding areas have been reduced to debris.
The whole area, filled with hotels and souks–are now just flat lands getting ready to be reconstructed. From last year’s visit, I shall rewind to 14 years ago for my first visit. I couldn’t recognise anything from that visit anymore other than the Masjidil Haram and Hilton Hotel. The whole area where we once stayed had become a mega hotel-shopping complex, the much talked about Safar Towers and its humongous (and controversial) clock tower, bigger than that of Suntec City Singapore. All around Masjidil Haram now is rapidly becoming, if it has not become already, ala Beverly Hills, with big names hotel franchise and in place of traditional souks which just 10 years ago coloured the landscape, are now huge air-conditioned mega malls (much to my chagrin btw, as I found the old souks really flavourful).
When we arrived in Medinah on the 13 of July and already noticing the changes, my husband just couldn’t resist a jab at me with a sting for Singapore. He said “…and you think Singapore is rapidly developing? Can you all compete with Makkah and Medinah?” Haiyah, of course not lah waliao. Nak compare the Lee dynasty punye wealth dengan The Saudi Kingdom punye harta dunia, mana boleh lawan beb?
Hence, I had to smile when I got an email reply from a friend back in Singapore. I had written to him to apologise in being late in wishing him Ramadan Mubarak, as Internet is very slow here. I had not added that Internet is slow because many service providers simply crashed over the last few days due to the super heavy concentrated usage by probably hundreds of thousands of people. He replied back with “…kita tahu di Mekah tidak seperti di Singapura dan Malaysia, pantas dan maju”…Errr. 😀
I don’t blame him though. The selectiveness of the Saudi government in giving out visas to enter Makkah and Medina makes it still elusive to the outside world, whom may not be granted entrance unless they are pilgrims. Both cities are called The Haram or in Malay we call it Tanah Haram, whereby no non Muslims and non halal products can enter. Both cities, 6 hours drive from each other, are pretty much cut off from the secular world, be it the press or laymen. Some of my non Muslim friends who knew about this trip via my FB updates dropped concerned messages telling me to be careful with the food and water and asking how do we get about here? I guess they must be thinking we are crossing deserts with dishdash clad tribal Bedouin guides and drinking water from cactus and frying grasshoppers for dinner? Hehe. And here we are in a super comfortable hotel, with chef cooked meals and free wifi. And dusk to dawn free flow of refreshments, walking on roads better than the freaking full of holes Malaysian roads- complete with a road-sweeper every 5 metres all the way till we reach the Masjid. How do we move around? Roomy cabs- continental cars, no less. On top of that all, our water source is free flow from the most well-guarded well in the world, the Zam Zam well. The purest form of drinking water on earth.
Makkah. The place I call home for 35 days this year as His special guest. The place decreed for every believing person to visit at least once in his or her lifetime. The place full of cranes everywhere, giving engineers, architects and construction workers jobs for as long as they need them, the centre of the earth to which direction all believing people pray towards in unity 5 times a day. Makkah, the birth place of our beloved and where the kaabah stands regal and divinely protected. A place I want to keep coming back to, year after year. Ameen.
Pictures taken lst night before and after Terawih.