He was a tall Arab man with dark skin and he was wearing the traditional red/white arab head dress with the agal on his head. He directed us to our fully air conditioned bus where the children and I climbed straight inside to escape the heat while Mr S made sure the bags were safely deposited in the luggage compartment underneath the bus.
And then slowly, all the other people in our group climbed in. As you might have guessed, a group of Muslims from London would comprise of people from many nationalities. There were Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians, Afghans and Egyptians. There were actually four other families travelling with children, and from that only three families were with young children. One particular family had five young children with them but they also brought along their grandmother - I can't imagine what a challenge the journey would have been for the parents if they had to handle all their kids by themselves! The first thing that our guide - who said his name was Sheikh Al Abbasiy - informed us about was the prayer times. He said, in the way teachers like to prompt their students, "After all, we all came here to......?" And like good students the people in my group answered, "PRAY..!" At that moment, I blew out a long breath of air. I thought, "That's right. This is it. We are here to pray." I looked at the children and prayed that they were up to it and everything would be fine.
A few weeks back, at home, Little H had asked me, "Can we bring Wii to Saudi Arabia?"
Mr S and I had looked at each other and we both had shaken our heads simultaneously. "Nope."
"We are going there to solat ye," I said, "not to stay at the hotel to play Wii..."
And surprisingly, there were no groans nor complaints in response. And I had stressed to them many, many times;
"In Mekah and Madinah, we must go to the Masjid to solat, ok?"
"Five times a day, ok?"
And I had gone through with them other things as well to prepare them for the trip. I had drawn roughly the maps of Saudi Arabia a few times to show them our journey on paper, drawn the Kaabah and Masjidil Haram to show them the actions for Umrah, taught them the dos and don'ts of the ihram, the talbiah and the niat for umrah.
I'm proud to say both Little H and Big H memorized them all, mashaAllah. Kids! They are like sponges that absorb anything... it is really up to us to provide the good things for them to learn.
We were kinda late to go for our first solat at the Masjidin Nabawi.
The wait at the hotel lobby for our room cards took a good thirty minutes and we had about 20 minutes before the Zuhur prayers started.
After rushing the kids and then ourselves to wash, do our ablutions and change, Mr S and I took the children in hand and walked to the mosque in the blinding heat of the sun.
It was really, really burning hot. There was wind, but it felt like wind coming from a furnace and it did nothing to relieve us.
The nearest gate to our hotel, which was less than 5 minutes walk away was the gate next to Jannatul Baqee, where Saidatina Aishah r.a. Saidina Uthman Al Affan r.a. and numerous companions and family of the Prophet SAW were buried. All the shops were closing for the Zuhur prayers, everyone was walking towards the mosque in a brisk pace and we joined them - all walking in a straight line for the Central of Madinah.
The boys followed Mr S - simply because the men's entrances were numerous and directly in front of the gate - so the boys didn't have to walk with me in the heat. I wasn't certain of where the women's entrance was because I still haven't gotten my bearings but I followed the train of black robed throng of women walking slowly beside the mosque. I found that I had to walk all the way to the back area of the mosque, in the heat, around all that yellow tape surrounding certain areas outside the mosque (that made the walk longer than it should be, of course), to enter.
It was a challenge indeed but I walked fast, slipping through slow moving crowds where I can, determined not to be too late. It was easy when you're walking all by yourself without your kids in tow - it was like I was a single young woman again, free to do whatever I want, without any responsibilities, at least for half an hour of solat time.
The few women entrances were blocked by people standing to be let through by the strict women guards of the mosque, clad all in black jubahs and niqabs. Handbags were opened and checked on entry - handphones were not allowed so I slipped my small Motorola underneath my bra strap just below my left shoulder beforehand. Phones are vital in Mekah and Madinah in my opinion - it's the only way you can meet up back again with your family or friends in the mass of people - especially in Mekah.
I stepped into Masjidin Nabawi and felt the air conditioning and marble flooring cooling me down even though it was packed. Stepping in between lines of people already in their prayer lines, moving quickly in front of some who are praying before the start of the Zuhur prayers, I made my way further in, further in front of the prayer lines to find a good spot.
About three minutes later, I found an empty spot near to the 'walkway' across the middle of the prayer lines, near to the front but not near enough that I got to pray on the carpet. I realised that I was late - solat was going to start in a just a few minutes - so I faced the fact that this first time, I could not pray in the first few safs.
And then I heard the beautiful sound of the Iqamah. All the women around me started to stand up to correct the lines, Qurans were sent to the shelves, some empty spots were filled, little children were put down and handbags were put safely right in front of their owners.
The Bilal called out 'Sauf! Sauf!' and then, the prayer started.
I raised my hands in Takbiratul Ihram following the Imam to start my prayers and out of nowhere, tears started to flow down my cheeks like a perpetual stream.