When my mother cautioned us about the crowd she experienced just the week before we arrived, I was not quite prepared for the fact that the Sunday we arrived was the first day of the one week school holidays for the Arab nations. And due to the political situations, uprisings and wars, most of them couldn’t get visas to travel to other countries and so what did all these Arabs decided to do? Flocked to Medina and Makkah for their umrah of course.
My first prayer at the Masjid Nabawi in Medina was barely into the gate of the mosque. Every other spot was filled up. I was a bit bewildered, because the last I could remember, there were plenty of space in the courtyard for at least 5 F1 cars to do the Schumi.
During breakfast, the ustaz leading our group told us that after all these years, he only experienced this type of crowd during Ramadan or nearing Hajj period. For this crowd to be happening at this time of the year was quite amazing, even to him. The husband’s theory was however a bit different. He was of the opinion that with the recent happenings around the globe and all the calamity that came along with it, people are more aware of their mortal vulnerability and hence started spending their money for ‘cleansing’ before it is time to ‘go’. Oh well… :S
By mid-morning, I began to notice just about how many people there were and in the intense summer heat of the desert, and the shoulder to shoulder crowd most of the time, I had to force myself to throw my irritability a few thousand miles away. Patience. Patience… I kept telling myself. There were Arab high schools on ‘Umrah school trips’ what with their school flags and teachers with loud hailers. There were the many groups of pilgrims from Turkey–and there were seriously a great number of Turks (Easter break there) and the huge groups from Indonesia who were also on their one week school holiday break.
The biggest test in Medinah, to me was the first visit to the Prophet’s, Uthman’s and Umar’s graves at the Raudhah. The last time I was there, although it was quite difficult, it was nothing and I mean nothing compared to the stampede that I myself was caught up with this time round. Due to the crowd, all the pilgrims were divided into continents/areas. There were Asia, Turkey (which included other European nations), Arab and India. An ustazah from Indonesia was in charge of leading our group and when we went in through gate 25 at 8ish am, it was already jam packed and the Raudhah was not even opened for the ladies yet!
There were many women ‘mosque-police’ guards with their loud hailers screaming ‘Hajjah! Hajjah!’ while directing the different groups of pilgrims to their respective waiting areas. While waiting our group were lead in non-obligatory prayers and we just sat there in the mosque, all crammed up like sardines, waiting for our turn to meet the Prophet and step on that piece of heaven on earth where all our prayers would be lifted up unconditionally, as promised by the Prophet himself.
I watched snippets of what happened when Justin Bieber in KL on video and if every young girl tried to surge onto stage to touch or get close to their idol, imagine throngs of thousands of female adults from every soil of the globe you can think of trying to surge into a space no bigger than my living room, for a chance to be in the presence of their most beloved and his companions, and be on that piece of heaven-Raudhah, the area in front of his grave to make prayers for any of their wishes.
The mosque-police, may Allah bless their souls –must have the most nerve-wrecking job in the world. Since pilgrims come from all walks of life and all kinds of colours and habits and languages, crowd control and logistics was impossible to my naked eyes, but miraculous if it even worked. Despite posters and banners in so many different languages before the Raudhah area cautioning the women about the safety precautions and to enter the Raudhah in an orderly manner, not to push and shove as insya Allah, everyone would get a chance, the desperation of thousands of women to get what they wanted surpassed everything.
The moment the barriers were opened by the male guards to indicate that the Ladies visiting time was officially opened, no one cared about following the continental groupings earlier on, no one cared about which group they were going with, no one cared about anything but to jump up and run towards the Raudhah. Remember that scene when Ahmad Nisfu in the film Madu Tiga tried to stop his 3 daughters-in-law from coming into the house he was guarding? There were the Ahmad Nisfus in the male mosque-police guards shouting ‘Hajjah!Hajjah!Sabr!Sabr!!’ when the barrage of women ran into them, some almost toppled from the chairs they were standing on while holding on to their loudhailers.
Our group linked arms as we were wary about protecting our two grannies from being the victims of the stampede. There were about 15 of us from our group and along with our ustazah, we slowly inched our way into the Raudhah. When we finally made it in there, I just broke down. It was such a harrowing experience just to get into there and when one was finally in there, although at every second being pushed and shoved STILL, the feeling of being barely a meter away from Rasulullah, Uthman and Umar peace upon them all, was out of this world.
We formed a barricade by linking hands and forming a circle. 3 ladies from our group would pray their 2 rakaats at any one time in our self-made barricades so as to ensure their safety that they wouldn’t be trampled upon when they were making their prostrations. While this was going on, the ones making the barricades continued to be fighting the current of women still trying to push their way in. The Turkish ladies used their huge sizes to gain advantage, the Arabs swayed their big behinds to push their way through and the small and flighty Indonesians squeezed in under, crawled from below, ‘selit sana sini’– oh gosh.. all kinds. I was almost hit by an old lady from Kerala as she was frustrated that she couldn’t get an inch closer to the Prophet’s grave.
Once all of us had our turns, we just stood there and was ‘naturally’ pushed out by the crowd out of Raudhah. The whole harrowing experience made some of us cried still. It was too much for me. I am claustrophobic and somewhat agoraphobic too and I could just use one word to describe that first day in Masjid Nabawi– harrowing.