In Part 2 of our Umrah with young kids series, we recap on our time spent in the holy city of Madinah and wrote down some useful tips for families whilst there.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Medina is a sanctuary from that place to that. Its trees should not be cut and no heresy should be innovated nor any sin should be committed in it, and whoever innovates in it an heresy or commits sins (bad deeds), then he will incur the curse of Allah, the angels, and all the people.” (See Hadith No. 409, Vol 9).
1. Orientate yourself in the vicinity!
In Madinah, we stayed in Leader Al Muna Kareem hotel, and our hotel was about 3 minutes walk away from Nabawi Mosque. We only had to walk down the pathway, cross two roads and we would have reached the gates of Nabawi Mosque. Our guide led the group to the mosque together to perform Maghrib prayers on the same day that we reached Madinah.
Nabawi Mosque is huge, and there are a lot of people at the mosque at any time. The first thing you should do is to take note of the gate that you enter from. For our umrah group, it was pretty easy as our gate was the left-most one, nearest to the ladies’ entrances, and the shops nearest to the gate were pretty recognisable despite the Arabic spellings of the names.
One elderly uncle from our group got separated from the group during prayers on the first night and he didn’t return to the hotel for dinner. That night, the men were activated to search for him but to no avail. Thankfully, he eventually found his way back to the hotel.
2. Choose a strategic after-prayer meeting point
Apart from the first few Jemaah prayers, the umrah group went to the mosque separately for the rest of the Jemaah prayers. Initially hubby and I would agree to meet at the mosque gate after prayers, but we realised that it could get pretty crowded so eventually we decided it was easier to meet outside Starbucks. Some families in our group made arrangements to meet back at the hotel, which is also a convenient meeting point if you don’t intend to do any shopping.
3. Be prepared for Bag checks
There were strict bag checks at the entrance of the mosque. Among the things they look out for were toys which appear life-like, e.g. animal toys, dolls, soft toys, action figurines. A fellow Jemaah’s daughter was carrying a doll which was taken away from her. Our boys had a play-doh set with human figurine parts, and those were taken away from us too. Thankfully we managed to retrieve both the doll and the play-do figurines after prayer. (They usually place these items in small plastic boxes at the entrance, so do take note which box your item is at and you can retrieve them back after prayers.) Similarly, do ensure your kids do not wear t-shirts with images of action figures either and avoid bringing picture books, just to be on the safe side.
4. Bag your shoes/slippers
Bring along a small bag to keep your shoes in when you are praying. Trust me, it’s easier to have your shoes with you then trying to locate your shoes from amongst the thousands of pairs outside of the mosque or in the shoe storage areas at the mosque entrances. Hubby and I brought along a drawstring bag each which we found to be very convenient as we can easily sling them around our body. My mum and dad used plastic bags, which worked well for them.
5. Family prayer spaces
In Madinah, the boys were mostly with my mum and I. There are separate prayer areas for women, one of which which was out of bounds to children. I prayed in that area once for Subuh when the kids were still sleeping and mum offered to take care of them in the hotel room. Most of the time, I’ll be at the larger family friendly prayer spaces. What my friends told me were indeed true, there were plenty of families with young children in both Madinah and Makkah! Being among other families made prayer time less stressful as people were generally tolerant of the level of noise made by the children. People were also very friendly and generous. The boys (especially Dani) made friends easily and the kids kept receiving small items of food from the fellow Jemaah. We felt really blessed.
6. Be at the mosque early for prayers!
Especially for Maghrib prayers and on Friday Jumaat prayers. The mosque tends to be extra packed then. We were late for one Maghrib prayer and we had to pray on the cold marble surface of the mosque exterior compounds. It was extra challenging praying outside than inside because there was a higher chance of the boys wandering off further than they should while we were praying. Thankfully they didn’t and they were contented snacking and playing with their toys.
Reaching the mosque early also meant that you need to have more activities to engage the kids for a longer period of time. I usually had about 5 to 6 different sets of toys/activities in my bag and an equal number of snacks, and I’ll then take them out one at a time so that they would always be entertained. The good thing about reaching the mosque early and settling the kids down early is that we can also pick a good spot. I try to avoid the front-most row in the prayer area as Dani who was just learning to walk then would wander off on his own, especially if there were other kids in the prayer area in front. He did that once before! I also tried to avoid being close to the cupboards and pillars (where there are usually Qurans) because again, there were a few times Dani knocked his head against them.
We usually remain in the mosque after Maghrib prayer in preparation for Isyak, as the timing in between the two prayers are very short. We found it convenient and if the kids were settled, I used the time to read the Quran and make extra supplications and prayers.
7. Best time for Rawdah…
is without the kids with you. I didn’t go to Rawdah with the group (they went in the morning, after Subuh on the day after we arrived). Mum went along with the ladies in our group and she said that it was very packed and they had a long wait. The ladies supported one another so that all had a chance to perform a short prayer and supplication in Rawdah. I decided to go over at night, left the kids with husband and I made my way to Nabawi Mosque. I was at Nabawi slightly after 11pm and there were still many people outside the mosque. It was a different sight to Nabawi then what we saw in the day – empty prayer halls, people sleeping outside and around the mosque exterior compounds, workers cleaning and packing up for the night, refilling Zamzam water and so forth.
Mum suggested that I wore black tudung and jubah so that I can blend in with the locals, and I did. Before you can enter Rawdah, the mosque officials will group us according to the region we come from – Asians in one group, Arabs in one group etc. You will then move from one waiting area to another with your group. Going alone means I could easily move from group to group, and before I knew it, I was already part of the group that was the next to enter Rawdah.
The ladies in black were among the officials controlling the crowd and letting us in group by group.
Sign reminding us not to rush in and injure one another, but to wait for our turn. With Allah’s grace, we would be able to enter.
That’s me, one step away from the green carpets indicating the region of Rawdah. Almost there.
Once you are in Rawdah, I would suggest you move all the way in, as front as possible so that you can avoid being trampled on by others while doing your prayers. People literally step and cross over one another, just to find a spot to do a quick prayer and supplication. On my second night there, I managed to reach the front-most row of Rawdah, away from all the pushing and shoving. Both nights I was out at about 1am. Don’t go too late because I think they’ll close the entrance to Rawdah soon after. Rawdah for men is 24 hours though.
There are many people whom you can give sadaqah too, elderly and kids being the two most common group (hence why our kids received plenty of goodies). You can also go to the nearby shops and waqaf items for the mosque such as Quran and foldable stools for prayers.
We enjoyed the site visits and excursions because it was a break from the daily routine of going to the mosque and back. These usually took place in the morning, after breakfast, and we would be back by noon for lunch and Zuhur prayers. When we stopped by mosques for a visit, we would perform 2 rakaat sunnah prayers and we’ll try and take turns with the hubby /parents where possible so that the kids need not have to enter the mosque. Among the places we visited in Madinah were Quba Mosque (we had ice cream from the ice-cream truck outside the mosque!), Mount Uhud, kurma and souvenir shops etc.
10. Best time to shop is…
After Subuh prayers. A lot of shops will be lined outside the mosque, and according to my Chief shopping consultant (the mum), the best deals can be found then. Most of the jubahs we gave as souvenirs were bought then. Of course it is important to meet the husband first and hand over the kids to him so that you can shop at ease.