MAURITIUS 2019

MAURITIUS 2019

By far, Mauritius is up there with one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the privilege of visiting. From the unrelenting kindness and hospitality of the local residents to the pride of their culture and landscape, there is so much to appreciate when visiting.

Most notably, the landscape transcends everything I’ve ever seen – the tranquillity is like nothing I’ve experienced before. The hills are the greenest I’ve ever witnessed, the sea holding different shades of blue, it’s a nature lover’s paradise. We stayed in Flic en Flac, a village on the west coast overlooking the sea. With the ocean on our doorstep, the sunsets were truly one of a kind – every day was a different canvas of pastel colours.

An added bonus on our trip was being upgraded to our very own villas in the five-star hotel next to ours for absolutely no reason, and we were hugely grateful for the gesture. With an outside pool and seating area, to a huge walk-in bathroom suite and wardrobe, we were well and truly spoilt. It was something we never expected and to receive a perk like that really brightened up our trip – after all, the holiday was to celebrate my graduation from university and my parent’s anniversary so it made the entire holiday incredibly special.

In terms of activities, we actually kept this holiday very relaxed and spent most of our time on the beachfront soaking up the sunshine. During the ten days we spent on the island, most days were beautifully sunny with the odd overcast afternoon here and there. I personally love nothing more than sitting on a beach for most of my day, either reading a book or having a nap and it was so nice to be able to actually do that this time! My parents normally prefer exploring when on holiday but even they joined me on the beach, so it was lovely to wind down and just enjoy being present on a sunlounger. We did, however, do a bit of exploring whilst on the island. We visited a few waterfalls and took part in a waterfall hike –  we were rewarded with stunning views of green hills, amazing waterfalls and the ocean as a backdrop.

One of the best experiences of Mauritius for me personally was the wildlife – in particular, the monkeys. They were surprisingly tame, patiently waiting on a roadside or on a wall for tourists to feed them. Naturally, monkeys, as with most wild animals, can become relatively aggressive if they ever feel under threat so some did lash out every now and then when approached by an overly-eager tourist wishing to capture that all-important Instagram shot. But overall, they were relatively gentle mammals who enjoyed nothing more than playfully fighting with each other over scraps of banana. Oh, and the babies were nothing short of adorable.

My trip was hands down one of the best travel experiences of my life, primarily because it was so chilled out. We were incredibly well looked after by everyone – from travel guides to hotel staff, they were warm, welcoming and keen to share their knowledge with us.

The holiday took a slight turn for the worst on our final evening when I accidentally ate a cashew-based curry (didn’t realise it contained nuts in my defence!). When the hotel staff realised I was having an allergic reaction, they quickly called for transport to escort me out of the villa to a nearby hospital. Long story short, after various scans it turned out my severe stomach pains were not just from an allergic reaction, but also from an ovarian cyst! I was given a load of pain relief and kept in overnight for observations before being discharged the following morning so we could catch our flight (within three hours of leaving the hospital!). But the hotel staff were very sweet, enquiring after my health when my parents came back from the hospital and apologising profusely before we checked out, despite it being no one’s fault.

I’ve popped a few pictures from my trip below to give a small insight into the beauty of the island. I cannot recommend it enough, and would love to visit again if the opportunity presents itself!

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One of the many unbelievable sunsets by our villa
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Waterfall hike
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Hike view #2
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View of the villa pool from my bed!
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Snoozing kitty
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Monkeys!
All photos were taken by myself on an iPhone.

A x

Marrakech 2017

Marrakech 2017

From the alleyways to the Atlas mountains, my trip to Marrakech was one of astounding beauty and culture. I was inexplicably lucky to have my parents take me to Morocco to celebrate my 21st birthday, and although it took off on a rocky start, it’s safe to say I had an amazing time absorbed in the culture and traditions of the city. My parents really outdid themselves with the choice of Riad and its location, as well as a perfect birthday dinner. I couldn’t have been happier.

On our first day in the city, we visited the captivating Secret Garden: it was beautifully tranquil, surrounding us with trees and plants of every kind. As you’re all probably well aware, I am no stranger to intense heat, and I absolutely loved the climate. It reached roughly 30 degrees by the time we arrived at the garden, so whilst my parents climbed up the tower, I sat in on the terrace overlooking the gardens and it was absolutely perfect. The gardens were kept in perfect, pristine condition with seats scattered across the grounds and quaint water features here and there. Did I mention the heat?

Unfortunately, as a result of relatively unmanaged asthma and weak lungs, I landed myself in hospital that same evening with an asthma attack, and spent the better part of that evening and the following day attached to oxygen tubes and a nebuliser. My dad was adamant we ought to leave back home for England so I could receive proper treatment, since my breathing was incredibly laboured but I refused to leave only 24 hours into our trip. With some IV steroids and 18 hours of oxygen tubes and nebuliser treatments, I recovered and discharged myself with albeit fragile lungs, over the moon to finally be able to breathe again. That night we ate in a picturesque Riad courtyard (a traditional, Moroccan house) relieved after the events of the previous night.

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On our third day in Morocco, we visited The Majorelle Botanical Garden. Walking around in 30 degree heat is no small feat, but the gardens were beautifully landscaped. It didn’t take us long to explore the whole place, plus there were no places to really sit down once we’d finished but other than that, it was a fantastic experience and made one forget where we were.

The fourth day brought us to the Atlas mountains, one of the adventures which really heightened our cultural exploration of the country. The air was fresh and cooler, with a perfect breeze and the views were like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was a picture-perfect landscape of rolling snow-capped mountains amidst green hills, with small Berber villages dotted all over. Visiting the Berber villages really took my breath away; a 9000 year old heritage preserved within the mountains, where they live a life of complete simplicity. No one had phones, computers, or any electronic device and the children were blissfully happy playing with each other amongst the animals on the hillsides. The feeling of content was contagious despite their minimalistic style of living, and it saddens me that they rely solely on tourism to preserve this historic, authentic heritage. We visited a Berber household, and I cannot describe just how accommodating and hospitable they were. We were greeted with warm smiles, fresh bread and mint tea without any hesitation. What struck me the most was seeing young, perhaps six-year olds, begging for money for to buy essentials since they only relied on tourism to get by, and the look of sheer pleasure and happiness on the ladies’ faces when we gave them money made my heart hurt. I urge as many of you as possible to visit the Berber villages if you travel to Morocco – it puts things into perspective and makes one realise the luxuries and privileges we, in the West, take for granted.

(A quick note – buying gifts from the Berber community itself is much more beneficial for their livelihood than in stalls and markets in the alleyways in Marrakech. Of course there is plenty of choice in the alleyways and it’s an enriching experience but the Berber communities make all their gifts by hand, from carpets to plates to jewellery. Buying from the communities will help preserve their heritage and support the families.)

We explored the city on our fifth day, wandering through the markets and alleyways and venturing into the square. There’s quite an exciting buzz in the square, whether it be during the day or at night, with countless events taking place across the area. I personally, however, do not approve of the treatment of animals in the square, where monkeys were kept on chains for entertainment for the tourists. Other than that, it was rich in culture and a fantastic visit. We travelled by horse-drawn carriage across the city, passing the old and new town. I highly recommend it as it’s a brilliant way to see the sights of Marrakech without trekking in the humid climate. The only downside is to be weary of the pollution, especially if you have asthma or a lung condition: the majority of Moroccans travel on motorbikes and travelling on a carriage will result in the inhalation of these fumes.

The final day took us through the alleyways one last time and we immersed ourselves in the art of Marrakech, from hand-painted plates to canvas paintings. I was beyond excited that my dad bought me a canvas – the artists capture the essence of Moroccan culture and landscape perfectly in their choice of colours.

It was with a heavy heart that we left Marrakech and it’s intertwining of Eastern values with Western influence. The people were so accommodating and polite, always looking to help us in any way they could and offering us the best bargains as well as little gifts and presents along the alleyways. The only hiccup was the pollution, as it does hang heavy in the air, but I’d love to explore more of the new and old towns if (or when!) I return. A special thank you to Patrick and Caroline at Les Trois Palmiers El Bacha Riad for taking such great care of us, and to their staff for their overwhelming hospitality and kindness, always ensuring we were happy and well looked after. I’ve never come across such lovely people.

A x

DUBAI 2016!

DUBAI 2016!

My favourite city, with the best food to offer worldwide (in my opinion!) Dubai is what my parents and I call our “home away from home.” It’s somewhere we can escape to when life in England gets too stressful, and these past few months have been exactly that. This year, we stayed at JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence) – having visited it briefly last year, we fell in love with the beach front and all it had to offer in terms of restaurants as well as atmosphere. All in all, we spent very little time actually at the beach, because let’s be honest, 42 degrees is not sunbathing on the beach kind of weather.

JBR was an interesting experience; unbeknownst to us, it’s where most of the nightclubs and bars were, hence the extraordinary number of  people walking around half-naked, and the odd few tourists seen stumbling across the beachfront, visibly and embarrassingly intoxicated. Ultimately, people are allowed to dress however they like, but what I find ever so slightly disrespectful is the utter disregard some tourists had for the culture and country they were in. Dubai is part of an Islamic country, and thus tourists should show some consideration of the cultural and religious values that the country holds. I think some have a misconception that Dubai is a very liberal city and thus, it’s not necessary to adhere to the strict values that its neighbour cities, such as Abu Dhabi, hold. Despite 84% of Dubai’s residents consisting of foreigners and expatriates, I still believe it is fundamentally important to respect the cultures and values of the country you’re in.

It’s also interesting to note that different parts of Dubai, despite it only being a city, vary in the extent of strict culture; for example, JBR is known to be the least conservative area in the city, whereas if you travel further east, you’ll find there are less tourists, less expatriates and more Emirati nationals, and thus, they’re more conservative in their traditional/cultural values.

Anyway, enough about that. Here are a few snaps of my favourite moments during my time in Dubai.

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JBR Walk 
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Dubai Mall 
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Umbrella St 
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Cheesecake Factory: one of the best aspects of Dubai!

This year, we decided to explore a little further out of Dubai instead of staying in the city, and it was the best decision we made this year! The East Coast is one of the (not so) hidden gems of the UAE and the tour took us to Al-Fujairah, the Indian Ocean, a beautifully hidden fishing village called Dibba and the Middle East’s smallest and oldest mosque.

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A rug market situated amidst mountains
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Markets amongst mountains
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More rugs!
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Greenhouse market
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Al-Fujairah
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Beach, ocean and mountains – what could be better?!

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Sandy Beach Hotel – Al- Aqaa

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Al Aqaa

I think my favourite part of the trip, however, has to have been visiting Abu Dhabi. Last year we visited only briefly but I immediately fell in love with the culture, despite it being somewhat more conservative than Dubai, as well as the calm and relaxed atmosphere. This year we swallowed our fears and went to Ferrari World, home to the world’s fastest roller coaster (and boy they weren’t kidding about being the fastest!) I’m already looking forward to revisiting Yas Island and Ferrari World the next time we visit Abu Dhabi, and we’re definitely staying there longer to explore the area a little better.

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So many cars!
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Italian themed stores and restaurants inside the theme park

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Yas Mall
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Yas Mall

Something that (obviously) stood out to me was how much art I stumbled across whilst in Dubai – from wall murals to paintings, every other street had some form of artwork that everyone and anyone can appreciate, and it added to the ever-modernising appeal of the city.

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Found at JBR Walk
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Also found along JBR Walk

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The interior design of this cafe was breathtaking!

All in all, Dubai certainly did not disappoint this year; in all honesty, however, I would not stay in JBR again – if you’re visiting Dubai for the nightclubs, alcohol and bars then yes, I would recommend it but otherwise, I think I’d like to stay in downtown Dubai, by the Marina perhaps. Nevertheless, the holiday was truly wonderful, just what I needed before I began university and I’m already counting down until I go back! I’d like to thank my parents for giving me such a special holiday, and for forever spoiling me as they always do.

A x

The Saudi Experience

The Saudi Experience

Whenever people hear that I’ve come back from Saudi, I’m usually greeted with a raised eyebrow, an uncomfortable side glance or a “really? Saudi?” I thought I’d shed some light on my experience there, culturally, not just spiritually.

Firstly, the strictness people associate with Saudi Arabia is relatively accurate, but this is fundamentally due to a strictness in cultural lifestyle. Additionally, what we in the West may consider to be “strict” is the norm for them. More and more often, I find myself talking to people who condemn the lack of freedom in their dress code; it’s conflicting, because on the one hand, it’s completely irrational to dispute another country’s cultural values when you don’t live there yourself. However, the lack of freedom for women is a growing concern within the East, especially in Saudi Arabia with more women desperately seeking freedom, independence and the desire to become something greater than a daughter, wife and mother. While it’s not exactly desirable being covered from head to toe in black garments in 35 degree heat, it respects the religious values of the kingdom, especially with it being an Islamic country.

Furthermore, it’s also imperative to understand the differentiation between orthodox Muslims and liberal Muslims: the latter of which is increasingly growing in the East. Once girls get their first period, they’re required to ‘veil’ – wear a burqa and niqab (face veil). As this necessity doesn’t extend to all Muslim countries and is not obligatory within Islam, it therefore becomes a cultural aspect of living in Saudi Arabia for the orthodox. Whilst some see the burqa as oppressive, other see it as liberating. This conflict is also very evident with Saudi women. Hearing stories of women’s experiences in Saudi, I’ve come to understand that women breaking the moulds set to confine them to their gender. The age of stay-at-home wives and daughters is slowly coming to an end as young members of the Saudi royal family are seen to be wearing jeans and dresses instead of the traditional burqa. Maybe we’ll see a drastic increase in western clothing becoming a prominent part of Saudi culture in a few years.

Finally, whilst on my travels I noticed the undeniable amount of wealth Arabs are born into. From families of seven travelling in first class on flights around the world to hands and necks adorned with gold, it’s clear that the rich, have a good life out there. Yet, when you pass a shopping centre and turn onto a side road, slums slowly come into view with children sitting outside, begging for money whilst the elders take refuge in the shade. They’re not wealthy enough to afford a fan, or pay electricity bills. This paradox of extreme wealth juxtaposed with extreme deprivation within metres of each other brings to light just how little is being done for the people of Saudi, 15% of which live in poverty. Since the assassination of King Faisal, a King who had great ideas for Saudi in his plans to liberate the country and introduce more freedom and independence as well as financial reform designed to help the people, the country has digressed. The royal family live with an abundance of wealth at their fingertips: the people’s money. Instead of projecting this wealth onto poorer parts of the country, helping eradicate poverty and poor living standards for those who can afford very little, the royal family are seen to be travelling across the world, to their villas in Spain and Cannes or apartments in central London.

My love for Makkah and Medina stems from a spiritual enlightening I gained whilst on my pilgrimage. My love cannot extend to Saudi Arabia as a whole, simply because of the explicit inequality which is grossly overlooked by the country’s wealth as a whole. The people’s money is not being used effectively. Women are awfully restricted in that they still cannot drive; if they don’t hold a valid driving license, they cannot vote. They’re required to travel with a chaperone. They cannot take part in criminal proceedings as they’re considered forgetful and too emotional. Saudi has a long way to go to achieve gender equality and freedom; something which may never be achieved, predominately due to Wahhabi sects exercising their beliefs on how one should live their lives as a true Muslim. It’s the 21st century, but it appears Saudi are still centuries behind.

A x

 

Umrah 2016: Medina

Umrah 2016: Medina

Medina: The Prophet’s (ﷺ) holy city and final resting place. With it comes immeasurable peace and tranquillity, a sacred place of historic, Islamic beauty. The Prophet’s Mosque, Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, is said to be one of the largest mosques in the world yet during prayer times, the entire mosque is packed full of people.

We pretty much spent our time doing exactly what we did in Makkah and the only thing we really wanted to do which was complete our five daily prayers in the Mosque. Whereas Makkah is well known for being sacred, Medina is beautiful in its historical value. Hearing the call to prayer every couple of hours didn’t just reach our hearts, it reached our souls. What’s even more spectacular is seeing such a large number of people come together at the sound of a prayer, in absolute silence, entirely absorbed in worship.

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Al-Masjid an-Nabawi at Fajr

The most humbling aspect of entering Medina is knowing that our beloved Prophet ﷺ is buried there. Sadly, due to a large number of people and short time slots, we were unable to visit the tomb. The organisation of visiting hours for the tomb was terrible, I have to admit; when the doors opened, people ran towards the Prophet’s ﷺ tomb-like their lives depended on it. Islam clearly teaches us not to idolise or worship anyone other than God; The Prophet also warned us not to run in an act of desperation, the same way one should never cause harm to a fellow Muslim (i.e by pushing, shoving, crushing) whilst reaching his tomb. It’s a shame that many of those who visited the tomb on the day I went completely discarded these teachings they supposedly hold so dear. My father’s toenail was ripped by men crushing each other to catch a glimpse of the tomb. My foot was run over by a wheelchair. It was absolute chaos, and I urge the Saudi’s to organise their crowd control because it is unsafe.

Nevertheless, the Mosque and the tomb are truly breathtaking in their intricate beauty. Islamic teachings believe there to be an empty grave along with the Prophet’s ﷺ tomb, said to belong to our Prophet Isa (Jesus, peace be upon him) when he returns to the world for forty years. Knowing that the tomb was the closest I could ever get to the Prophet ﷺ not only brought me closer to Islam, it also filled me with pride in being part of such a peaceful, beautiful religion. In Medina, there are countless opportunities to learn more about our beloved Prophet and his teachings/what he lived for. For example, he spoke of equality within mankind, regardless of their religion or belief. He spoke of gender equality.  He fought for his life, for his religion and for his people, to convey the message of Allah. (SWT)

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Al-Masjid an-Nabawi

Alhamdulillah, it makes sense for the city to be as beautiful as the religion itself.

Whilst in Medina, we also explored historical sites such as Mount Uhud, Masjid Al-Qiblatain and Jannat Al-Baqi. Each site holds stories of the Prophet’s ﷺ heroic struggles to convey the message of Islam along with other historical tales. To be on the same land, in the same place as our beloved Prophet is a truly enlightening spiritual experience. I can only hope and pray that all my Muslim followers and friends experience what I have because it is like no other.

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View from the top of Mount Uhud
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Mount Uhud
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Graveyard of the Prophets
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Qiblatain Mosque

I want to thank my wonderful grandparents and my parents for making this trip possible. Their determination for us all to experience this and so early in my life has had an immeasurable impact on me and I’m grateful beyond words that they’ve given me this gift. Inshallah my prayers for them were heard.

On a final note, I want to thank Allah for allowing me to experience this trip and everything He has to offer us. Coming back from Makkah and Medina, I spent the following weeks incredibly sick with my ongoing health conditions amidst new bugs I’d picked up along the way. Allah (SWT) looked out for me whilst I was in Makkah and Medina, blessing me with perfectly good health and no pain. Although these past few weeks have been the most challenging yet, I’ve embraced the peace He’s bestowed on me; every time I feel scared, nervous or in pain, my soul goes back to Makkah and I remember His plan for me is still in motion – I just have to ride through the worst of it. When I needed it the most, He gave me the strength to go on, to fight my body. Whenever life gets tough, or there are obstacles in the road, I can now embrace the peace my soul has finally found.

And I know I can make it through to the other side.

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Maghrib Prayer on our final night in Medina (Photo: Mama Hamid)

لآ اِلَهَ اِلّا اللّهُ مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُوُل اللّهِ

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UMRAH 2016: Makkah

UMRAH 2016: Makkah

الحَمْد لله

Having just returned from the most life-changing trip I’ve ever had the privilege of going on, I’m juxtaposed in my feelings of heartache at leaving a beautiful city behind and excitement at the prospect of going back again in the near future.

Before I arrived in Makkah, I was nervous and apprehensive at doing things wrong but all the worries of my life back home were washed away the second I stepped foot in the holy city. The night we landed we were exhausted from a long flight and made the decision to begin the pilgrimage of Umrah the following day so we could complete it to our full potential. Driving from the airport to the holy city, we were astounded at how modernised it was; lights and sculptures lined the streets leading up to the Holy Mosque. The roads were packed with cars, everyone travelling to the mosque for Isha (night) prayers.

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Top level of Masjid Al-Haram

Setting foot inside the exterior of the mosque (expanded to accommodate the ever-increasing capacity of visitors worldwide) the first thing to hit us was the sheer grand scale of the Sacred Mosque. The interior was packed with Muslims trying to get in as fast as possible to visit the Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam. The intense rush of people hastily making their way towards the Kaaba is quite overwhelming at first but as soon as your eyes find the Kaaba, everything falls away because, at the moment, it’s just you and God. The outside of the Kaaba was packed with circles people performing Tawaaf (one of the rituals of Umrah.) The rest of the visitors were either praying or simply sitting in front of it, making the most of being in the presence of such a sacred part of Islam.

The following morning, after Fajr (pre-dawn) prayer, we made our way to the Aisha Mosque to recite our intention of performing Umrah. From there, we travelled back to the Sacred Mosque and began the Tawaaf which consists of circling the Kaaba seven times, passing the Black Stone at the eastern corner. Following the seven rounds, we proceeded to Maqam Ibrahim (The Station of Ibrahim) where we performed the prayer as mandatory during Umrah. Finally, once this was completed, we made our way to the Zam Zam wells. It’s said to be the purest and freshest water on the planet, with sacred qualities improving health and wellbeing in all those who drink it. I personally believe this to be the truth as my health was the best it has ever been whilst in the Sacred Mosque.

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Sitting in front of the Kaaba

 

From there, we made our way to Al-Safa and Al-Marwah to perform Sa’i – walking between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah seven times. (3.15km) Once completed, we performed the mandatory prayer and thus, completed the ritual of Umrah. Sa’i was definitely the most challenging aspect of the entire pilgrimage, as we were walking barefoot on marble for nearly two miles. Nevertheless, once this was completed, a beautiful feeling of serenity washed over me and that’s when I found an inner peace radiate within me.

For the remainder of our four days in Makkah, amidst performing our daily five prayers, we visited other holy sites in the city. Most of the time I was inside the Sacred Mosque, sitting in front of the Kaaba and it was blissfully peaceful. My relationship with God grew ever-stronger as I know He listened to every prayer. It sounds awfully cliche but this was a life-changing experience for me in that it transformed my entire perception of the religion, bringing me closer to God. I embraced everything Islam has to offer and came back an entirely new person, spiritually. Once you enter Makkah, your heart never wishes to leave; being back in London is great for me health-wise, but my heart is still in Makkah and I’m desperately longing to go back as soon as possible.

I can only thank God for making this trip possible.

سبحان الله