Four Things I Didn’t Expect on Umrah

Before leaving for Umrah this spring, a lot of family and friends offered me their words of advice. They told me that my shoes would certainly go missing. That it’d be crowded. That praying next to people from different parts of the world would feel incredible. They were right about all that and then some, of course. But there are a few things I experienced that no one told me about. I didn’t expect this stuff at all…

1. Praying with the cats & birds

In Makkah, my family opted to pray in one of the new sections of Masjid al-Haram. With all the closed-off areas due to construction, it was cooler and more open inside there than in one of the older niches. While it was a farther walk from our hotel, we found solace in the space away from the cranes and crowds.

And so did the cats and the birds.

Yes—there was a cat walking on the carpet of the Haram, and multiple birds flew through the space. It was pretty beautiful to pray to our Creator in the same indoor space as a few different species.

2. Taking in the sight of the full moon over Masjid an-Nabawi

I’m already a sucker for the moon when I see it in the night sky from my bedroom window, so when I saw it shining down on the masjid of RasulAllah (peace be upon him), I had to just stop and stare. Thinking back to that moment now, this nasheed from my childhood comes to mind…

Tala’albadru ‘alayna
Min thaniyyatil Wada
Wajaba ash-shukru ‘alayna
Ma da’a lillahi da
Ma da’a lillahi da

Oh the white moon rose over us
From the valley of Wada
And we owe it to show gratefulness
Where the call is to Allah

Ayyuha al-mabu’thu feena
Ji’ta bi-al-amri al-muta
Ji’ta sharafta al-Madeena
Marhaban Ya khayra da
Marhaban Ya khayra da

Oh you who were raised among us
Coming with a word to be obeyed
You have brought to this city nobleness
Welcome best caller to God’s way
Welcome best caller to God’s way.”

That, and the following from Shamaail-e-Tirmidhi:

It is related from Jaabir (Radiallahu anhu) that he said: “I once saw Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihe wasallam) on the night of a full moon. On that night he wore red clothing. At times I looked at the full moon and at times at Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihe wasallam). Ultimately I came to the conclusion that Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihe wasallam) was more handsome, beautiful and more radiant than the full moon.”

3. Walking where the Prophet (peace be upon him) walked

Not only walking, but praying, drinking Zam Zam, and remembering with our feet planted on that same land upon which Muhammad (peace be upon him) stepped. On one of our walks back from the masjid to our room, my dad simply stated the fact, “This is where Nabi salAllahu alayhi wa sallam walked.” It was something we all knew, but hearing someone say it out loud really drove the point home.

4. Not being on a spiritual high the entire time

I was sort of banking on my first Umrah to be like a wake-up call that would inject inside me an absolute, pure, and true love for praying right when it’s time and reading oodles of Qur’an in one sitting and keeping my tongue and lips moist with the dhikr of Allah nonstop. I thought I’d cry in each prayer and learn how to free my heart of every spiritual disease and never want to go back home.

But, um…that kind of wasn’t the case. I still lost focus, got sleepy, and wasted some time doing worldly things. Sighing loudly right now…

I guess Umrah was a wake-up call. In retrospect, knowing that I couldn’t get myself to the level I wanted to be at with the Ka’ba in front of my face shows me just how much work I have to do. With Ramadan right around the corner…it’s time to start taking things a little more seriously.